My Dad turned 84 this year. That means when he was born computers were things that didn’t really exist outside of science fiction, if they had science fiction back then, which they probably didn’t.
But my father also isn’t much like the average octogenarian. He’s been a serious gadget guy for the last 40 years. He had a $1000 nixie tube calculator for his office in the 60’s. His first computer system filled a thirty square foot room. He had hard drives in the 1970s, and was writing database code until he was in his late 70s. Oh, and he hikes a mountain every week.
So when I got to my parent’s house and started to help my father out with getting his brand new Toshiba Vista laptop up to speed and in shape it was an odd bit of work. He isn’t helpless, and he’s genuinely curious. And he understands all the pieces of what it takes to use a computer in the Internet age, he just can’t quite put the puzzle together. And that’s mostly because he doesn’t have a fundamental feel for the Internet as an all purpose tool for answering his problems. If he sees that there’s a nail sticking up, he’ll look for a hammer, rather than trying to figure
Faced with an inability to get the wi-fi working, for example, he’d purchased two wi-fi routers. But it turned out that there was wi-fi on his dsl modem all along. He gets the general idea of what kind of solution is needed, but he can no longer dig down into the technical miasma to find the specific answers to his problem. He should be able to buy something and have it work, but the modern digital world doesn’t really work that way.
But as I was helping to get the machine up and working, and introducing him to the wonders of Youtube, I realized that in many ways my father is a great example of what differentiates a mainstream user from the digitally literate .
For a power user the net is their oyster. It’s an ocean with endless opportunities to plumb the untold depths of undiscovered content and information. And if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you can find like minded souls who will lead you to the richest veins of the most awesome stuff. It’s filled with places where I can give my info to get some info. And of course it’s the environment the current generation are growing in. So when they grow up they’ll turn into a single uber-organism. A giant cthuloid monster ready to give it’s hard earned cash to the next mega-trend faster than a japanese school-girl with a goth fetish.
But that said there is still a large audience of content goldfish happy to take whatever they’re given. They are only able to explore what is right in front of them, and will only understand what is explained to them. They are consumers, not explorers. Infinitely loyal, but very hard to reach beyond the end of a remote control.