Oct 21, 2010

Internet connects and isolates… Who you are and where you are still matters (a lot).

Hello “Eclatdesign (do not know your real name). I believe your comment (that I am reporting below) to my post about internet and old people living in the Apennine Mountains deserve a new section.
“There are not only old people living in little towns such as San Marcello, Maresca or maybe... Gavinana. Anyway I know old people that look for cooking recipes on the web, or simply surf the net to read the news or whatever they are looking for.... Internet is useful, it's a big window on the world and what happens there. It doesn't matter where the access point is located or how old is the surfer.... They (even the "olds") are able to use PC! and, finally, internet won't EVER replace direct experience but it is, actually, a quite good compromise...”
Having acknowledged that also young people live in small town such San Marcello, Maresca, Gavinana — although I strongly believe that demographic indexes describe a progressive ageing of the population — and that probably there are both females and males, the public policy in question was directed precisely toward such a limited part of the universe: old people living in the Apennine Mountains. That is what I understood during the TV roundtable. I could have used ‘elder’, I agree with that; for sure I would not employ the quotation mark: age difference — as any difference: social, cultural, political, ethnical, gender, religious etc. — is not a “problem” to bracket out to me, otherwise I should immediately quit my work as professor of sociology.
You stated that elder people, in general, can definitely use the web. I do not have empirical data to support neither your opinion (do you?) nor mine; nevertheless, my experience tells me that, still in general, they cannot (especially in Italy). Then, the point of the post is precisely if old people in the Apennine Mountains can navigate in the internet, which is sure a useful resource for anyone. My question is: who implemented such a policy (with public money I suppose, that is: mine, yours, etc., drawn from the heaviest taxation on labour in Europe), thought about a kind of digital literacy program? Once the digital highway is constructed, do they have the car (PC) and do they know how to drive it? Is there any money left (kind of important point in a time of economical crisis, isn’t it?) in such a policy plan to train older people?
Internet is not “replacing” reality, however it sure has influences on how people experience everyday life that deserve to be studied. Just think about a person who is walking, trying to relax a bit, in the street of Florence, Rome (or Gavinana, Maresca etc.; it does not make a difference: wrong, it does!) with his/her IPhone, constantly “connected” and receiving calls, sms, emails, fakebook etc. Is such instrument influencing the stroll? I believe so; and the point is not whether this is “good” or “bad”, but “how”: we need to interpret reality, virtual reality and the web of meanings and relations spun around the two. And, at the same time, it is opportune to put aside the debate “apocalyptic of integrated intellectuals” (Umberto Eco, Apocalypse Postponed, 1964/1994), towards mass culture and communication, but this is another story.
Internet can be a “big” as well as a “narrow” window open (closed) upon the social world; it depends — as for any communication instrument — on the usage. If, for instance, a person surfs the web not looking for “cooking recipes”, but mainly to watch porn movies (many people do), it sure becomes a huge window, which opens a limitless horizon limited to porn: postmodern pornoscapes, I would name them. Moreover, how is such a practice influencing the socialization process of a 13 years old boy or girl? How is this shaping the development of sentiments, passion, sex, and the relation with otherness in general? Furthermore, the web can connect as well as isolate people. I can think, using some sociological imagination, to social networks and at the same time to a-social networks. I can see web connections as means to promote sane and respectful encounters with otherness, to “love thy neighbor”. However, I can see the web also as an inhibiting apparatus promoting a vicious circle instead of a virtuous one. I can interpret being on line as an active experience or as a passive one, leading to self-absorption, egotism, or (see above) to an “onanistic” attitude toward otherness and reality.
Finally, it does matter a lot where “the access point is located or how old is the surfer”. It makes a huge difference being connected to the web in Sub-Saharan Africa or in Beverly Hills. And it does matter a lot if you are 13 or 80 years hold. This, of course, if: 1) we do agree that reality still counts — apparently (apparently) we do “internet won't EVER replace direct experience”, but I am not sure at all; 2) the “good compromise” you are mentioning is not just your or mine com-promise, dealing with your or mine reality, but if it is a “promise”, a oaths/vow for many people around the world. That is: to transcend oneself to really meet Otherness…