Among the lackluster veterans

May 7, 2007

Via Walt Crawford’s blog, I learned about a Pew Survey where you can figure out your ranking among technology users. For those who are interested in the report, it’s available as a PDF file. For those interested in where yours truly ranks, read on…

After taking the survey, I felt some surprise in finding out that I ranked as an “Elite Tech User” among American adults. Putting it in perspective, however, 31% of those who had already taken the survey for Pew fell into this category. When I think of “elite,” I generally think of those who are maybe among the top 5%-10% in some area of endeavor. Although this “everyone gets a trophy” (or at least 1/3 of everyone) approach doesn’t count for much, the Pew study divides technology elites into four almost evenly-divided categories, which make the rankings more useful. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) “omnivores” and “connectors” constitute the top 15%. Those who use ICTs to enhance productivity round out the bottom 8% of technology elites. I fall into the category just above that, which the Pew survey refers to as “lackluster veterans” (LV).

In his posting on the survey, Crawford takes issue with the label, which makes the LV subcategory sound like the “wet blanket” group among elites. It also makes the skeptics among elites sound like grizzled warriors who’ve seen it all, done it all, and don’t want to deal with technology anymore. However, LV sounds too much like a misnomer. Crawford’s suggestion for using the term “experienced skeptic” seems more appropriate, because we realize that totally disconnecting from ICTs offers few good options. On the other hand, we also have concerns about an overemphasis on these technologies in our everyday lives, and we realize the importance of finding balance so that our myriad devices don’t end up running our lives.

Listed below are paraphrases of the questions, and how I answered them (yes, I know the questions are phrased a certain way for survey purposes, but I figure my wording is close enough to get the gist):

    Do I feel overloaded, or do I like having lots of information available? I picked the first category, but my feelings are more complex in reality. I like the ability to find lots of information fairly quickly and easily, but I also get the sneaking suspicion that I’m missing something with which I need to “keep up.”

    Does technology give more or less control over our lives? The choices were “more,” “less,” or “no difference.” Again, my opinion doesn’t fit neatly into any of those choices. I think we can have more control if we use technology wisely, and less control if we let technology drive us. I considered “no difference” as an option to balance both, but the technological changes of the past several years have changed our lives quite a bit. I think I selected “less” control, but only because my concerns outweighed my warm and fuzzy thoughts about technology at the time. (I’m overwhelmed with things right now, anyway, which probably influenced my answer as well.)

    Frequency of going online at home: 3-5 times a week. I get on most days (more because of the class I taught this past semester), but being on the computer much of the time at work makes me want to disconnect while at home.

    Devices: With the exception of a video camera, Diane and I have or share at least one of each device listed in the survey: desktop computer, laptop, cell phone, PDA, iPod, digital camera, and webcam.

    Do you watch TV shows or news on devices other than a television: I actually don’t understand the appeal of watching something on a portable device. It might work for news or low-kinetic visuals, but I prefer to see shows and movies on larger screens.

    Text messaging: Something else I don’t understand. If I want to talk with someone immediately, I phone them. If I don’t need an immediate response, I send an e-mail and wait.

    Online activities: I have an online blog, but no webpage. I submit content for webpages where I work, but another department in the library handles design. I share some creative works (mainly photos) and I post comments to others’ blogs, but I don’t do remixes… at least not yet. Remixed film trailers sound like fun, but I just need the time, technological capabilities, and talent to pull my “visions” together.

    Availability to others due to electronic devices: As long as people understand boundaries, the ability to connect through portable communication devices seems useful. I like them for emergencies, or for contacting long-distance friends and relatives. However, I am vigilant about the possibility that some people might take unfair advantage of the expectations established by such connectivity.

    Assistance with electronic devices: I am generally self-sufficient, mainly because I focus on the essentials. However, just last weekend, my mother-in-law kept asking about certain features on a digital camera, which Diane and I don’t bother to use. She didn’t understand why, so I kept trying to explain that we only focus on the essential features. (I think one can safely say that Bradford’s Law also applies to features on electronic devices.)

    My productivity has increased due to electronic devices: I do most work-related stuff on electronic devices of some sort, with the exception of scribbling notes during meetings. Since I’ve been at the same job for the past several years, and I have used electronic devices that whole time, such an assessment seems difficult for me to make.

    Have ICTs improved your life?: In the sense of pursuing vocational and avocational interests, as well as communicating with friends and family, I would have to say yes.

As you can see, I have mixed feelings about ICTs. They can enhance the way in which we work, pursue hobbies, and communicate. On the other hand, I also feel that we need to remain vigilant about the expectations set forth by greater connectivity… especially if they prevent us from being able to disconnect and focus on the other things that matter in life.


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