As part of my "Blog Blog Project," I am publishing student voices from my classes at the University of Delaware. This blog was voted best by his peers in the class Digital Technology & Politics and comes from senior Eric Hastings. He examines the 15 percent of Americans who don't go online, and how they might be at an advantage.
It may be difficult to conceive, but there is a large number of Americans who are logged off the Internet. A recent Pew Internet and American Life Project report showed that 15 percent of American adults don't use the Internet -- at all. Forty-nine percent of this group is made up of adults 65 or older. Why? Perhaps these American adults do not feel the Internet has any relevance to them. They are generally disinterested in what's happening online, view web browsing as a waste of time and are simply too busy to use the Internet. I, as a college senior, stand with their decision; maybe they are better off for not being engulfed by the Internet's wonders. For us, those avid Internet users, the relevance of the Internet is beyond measure. But this relevance is becoming more of a reliance. The breakout of social media has created new forms of communication. The 15 percent of American adults who aren't in this group may have fewer "friends," but the intimacy of their relationships and information may be less influenced by complicated algorithms and corporations. Sometimes, it's better to not follow the crowd.
Take for example the hypothetical middle-class family introduced by Jose Van Djick in The Culture of Connectivity. Sixteen-year-old Zara cannot imagine a life without Facebook. The hypothetical teenage daughter has over 400 friends on Facebook. Do you know any teenage girls with over 400 real friends? Me either. In class, we have discussed our younger generation's increasing use of Facebook likes, Twitter retweets and YouTube shares for gratification. Social media have created a platform that fuels this superficial need. This incessant desire to promote one's self on the web is a trait those 15 percent of Americans adults don't seem to possess. There are two intertwined reasons that cause me to believe those Americans who are logged off have a more beneficial social life. First, relationships that these 15 percent of Americans have are free from corporate influence. Second, their relationships are shielded from the public eye and, as a result, may be more intimate and personal.
In 1984, Apple aired a commercial advertising their new Macintosh computer. The theme of the commercial used George Orwell's classic piece of literature, 1984, as a precautionary warning to consumers. The commercial showed a heroine save a room full of brainwashed observers from an overreaching, controlling figure. As van Dijk argued, the heroine was to represent Apple as a "rebel amid powerful computer industries." Fast-forward 20 years, and the irony is apparent. Apple, who promised to be a rebel and allow users to break the trend has created the exact opposite situation. The onlookers that were portrayed in the Apple commercial are now the millions of young Americans following the direction Apple and other super companies take them. Zara, the hypothetical teenager, most likely uses a Facebook application on her iPhone. Without her iphone, quick access to her social world is inhibited. Apple's products have an immense impact on the social life of American teenagers, and allow for a social platform like no other. With every move Apple makes, they are guaranteed a needy following that uses their products to find social gratification.
Yet the 15 percent of Americans who do not participate in online activities do not rely on such third-party influences. With every advancement Apple or other companies make, millions of young people are essentially forced to follow in fear of being left out. Our elders who choose to stay offline have no such weight on their shoulders. Their relationships are unaffected by the decisions of a corporation. Their social lives are geared toward face-to-face interaction, not hand-to-phone monotony.
As a result of this social media reliance, the majority of American's personal information and interactions are open for anyone with Internet access to see. But there is a portion of American adults who do not need the Internet to connect with their friends. They do not thrive on this public interaction. Far too often, I have seen a pair of teenagers in a relationship flaunt their love on social media for attention. It becomes a competition for whose relationship is more celebrated on the Internet.As Van Djick explained
For those American adults who abstain from using social media, their interactions are still just as exclusive as they were before the Internet harvested the social media boom. The love such a couple shares for one another is sacred, and not meant for public viewing.
Many of the habits that have recently become permeated by social media platforms used to be informal and ephemeral manifestations of social life. Talking to friends, exchanging gossip, showing holiday pictures, scribbling notes, checking on a friend's wellbeing or watching a neighbor's home video used to be casual, evanescent acts, commonly shared only with select individuals.
I think they are better off for missing the trend. While this 15 percent of American adults may be seen as outsiders, the minority or a statistic, they are not chained to social media as millions of Americans are. Yes, the Internet has many other profitable features from which these Americans could benefit. However, the authenticity and privacy of relationships is an aspect of life the social media platform has dehumanized. The generation of Americans who do not participate may find it more difficult to find information or quick news. But this is a small price to pay for staying out of the formulaic, even generic, way we communicate now. At least that 15 percent will know that their social lives are about quality and privacy, instead of quantity and spectacle.
-- Eric Hastings, University of Delaware