Revisiting technology saturation

I went back to Illinois again, for a friend’s wedding and to visit my family, and this time… I brought an iPad.

In a post from 2 years ago I described my friends and family who are not librarians and technologists, who use the internet and computers very differently than I do.  Let me update a few:

  • The eleven-year-old girl who could master and manage having 23 different online pets, make playlists in iTunes for her new iPod, and search Google for information on Harry Potter, but hasn’t ever really tried to do anything else with the computer or the internet.  I didn’t see this particular kid, but I did see my teen cousins, and was reminded of Christmas this year, when Ryan, 13, spent an afternoon setting up and loading music onto his 11 year old sister’s iPod Touch, and who also configured his new Kindle without any help or intervention.
  • A friend who “doesn’t have time for email”, who, when he last went online to find the answer to a question he had about his new stereo, realized he had over 200 email messages and just ignored them.  This is still true, but he and his wife both have Facebook profiles, which they mainly use to play games and share photos of their girls.  We also communicate by text message, a LOT.
  • My mom, who has a desktop computer, a photo printer, a regular printer, a digital camera, a cell phone, and digital cable with a DVR… but no internet connection, and no home phone number to allow dial-up.  Deb now has broadband on her ancient but effective computer, and recently told me that she gets why I’m online so much, now that she has home access to the internet.
  • My aunt, who is a regular public library user, both for (a huge number of) books and computer use, who refuses to get digital cable or a home computer with internet access. She has an email address (Gmail, set up by me) which she’s never used. She still doesn’t use the gmail account, or have a computer other than the one she uses at the public library.  What she does have is a Kindle.
  • Another aunt, living in a lovely brand-new-construction home with every possible amenity except broadband. The cable only goes as far as the house across the street, and the phone company doesn’t offer DSL. All bookwork for the family chiropractic practice is therefore done offline in her home office.  Broadband has been acquired, and a wireless router installed.  I suspect this was mainly to facilitate use of the iPod Touches that the grandkids have, and for easier access to the Amazon store for the family’s Kindles.  The books are still done in the basement in paper, though I hear my uncle got computers in his exam rooms to allow for electronic charting.
  • A friend who knows that his girlfriend and his teenage daughter both have MySpace pages, but has never looked at them — “I don’t bother. They’re smart people. They won’t get in trouble, and I just don’t care that much.”  The whole family has now moved to Facebook (and it was fun seeing both Christian and Leslie change their relationship status to Married after the weekend’s festivities), but they still aren’t really living online — except for the daughter, who, as a college sophomore, is, well, a college sophomore on Facebook.

So that’s intriguing to me.  Goodbye MySpace, hello Facebook.  Facebook and texting replacing email.  Kindles everywhere I turn, and more broadband penetration.  But still, the internet isn’t stop 1 in their days.

But it could be.  I brought the iPad with me.  I showed it to my mom the night I got home; at first glance, she said, “Oh, I’ve read books on Karen’s.” But when she realized it was an iPad, not a Kindle, we spent an hour or so playing with it, and she was intrigued.  So then I took it to my aunt and uncle’s for Saturday dinner, and showed it off to them.  They all liked it, too — “Could I take this on a plane, and watch movies?” and “Can I read my Kindle books on it?” and “Oh, that’s not so hard to figure out” and “How much can it do without the internet? Oh, that’ a lot…”

And then I gave it to my cousin Ryan when he arrived.  He’s 13.  His sister Katie’s 12.  Ryan wants one.  I handed it over with a smile, and the warning, “It belongs to the College, so don’t drop it.”  And I got it back five hours later.  He was surfing the web, showing YouTube videos to his dad, and I think he tried out every app I have and fiddled with most of my settings, though I got it back nearly the same as I handed it over, just with less battery.

He still wants one. BAD.

And that… right there… is our audience.  Our users.  Public or academic, the teenagers are the future user of our services and institutions.  I don’t know that Ryan knows much about how he could, can, or does use information, but he does know that he likes the form factor, the flash, and the utility of the iPad and similar devices.  And it’s not just fanboy desire.  The kid already has an iPod Touch and a Kindle.  He knows what he likes, and uses his devices confidently.  And he likes the iPad.

So it doesn’t really matter how much I like it, or how much my life does or does not resemble my friends and family.  What matters is what I learn from them, and how we respond as a profession.

I’ll let you know if I come up with any answers.  🙂

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