Have you ever, like me, lamented the fact that a friend/relative didn’t have Facebook? How do you show them your photos, keep in touch, remind them you care?

Yes there’s email, but what if they don’t have the internet? Don’t scoff. Many 80 somethings don’t and some people my age don’t bother. There is a thing called the ‘Digital Divide”, more of this later. Of course, with Malcolm’s version of the NBN, snigger cough, we’re all potentially without a net connection, at least for some things.

But I digress. When I was a young thing in my twenties off on the “Grand Tour” to the lands of my forebears, UK and Europe in my case, all there was available to me and my relatives was the postal service. Yes I could have rung, using a landline, but that was incredibly expensive. So every time I went somewhere new or interesting I bought 20 or so postcards and sent them home to Australia. Once a week I wrote a long letter to my mother or grandparents and every now and then I reported an escapade to a girlfriend in luscious detail. If I got a reply it took a couple of weeks. Photos took a week to develop and then a week to post, if I could be bothered. Postcards were easier. My mother rarely knew where I was or how I was managing.

Now my daughter lives in London.

You already know that I stalk her on Facebook, but I also tweet her photos of cute puppies, snow (recently), photos of me (when I know none of you lot are looking). We use Messenger on Facebook for private chats, she emails both my accounts, I email both of hers. We text each other using our Iphones. She sends me pics via Instagram and we skype.

Oh how times have changed!

So how do we communicate now?

Increasingly people are opting out of landlines (between 2009 – 2013 mobile only use went from 12% - 25%) with older Australians (over 65) continuing to rely on fixed line services more than any other group. (ABS, ACMA)

If you are renting the mobile takes its place, even for home owners. This creates issues for Polling. (If pollsters rely on landline owners for political feedback they are skewing older and missing younger voters altogether)  

We are so dispersed in our relationships these days; we move around, interstate, overseas. I take my ipad to the country to share Facebook photos with my mother and to show her what her granddaughter has been doing. I have friends in Melbourne, Perth and London because I have lived and worked there, Queensland too. If it wasn’t for Facebook I would lose touch.

Facebook is where you can share photos, view photos, see holiday updates, baby updates, family news. But some friends aren’t on Facebook. For me this means I hardly hear from them, don’t see their photos, rarely know what’s happening in their lives. This is difficult and so is trying to get the oldies to reply even when they do have an account.

This goes for the young too. My daughter’s friend Ayla says;

After living in London for nearly 5 years it’s been difficult to deal with how many milestones I've missed out on.... from highs such as family members getting married, friends having babies or buying houses.......Right through to losses and not being there for funerals or friends in their time of need. Facebook definitely makes things easier with direct access to statuses, photos, locations and chat. My grandmother even has Facebook! Facebook in my opinion is a wonderful platform for all of us to communicate on and in my case it’s definitely made the last five years much easier! I love it!

Facebook occupies the space of the personal. Its readers /interactors are diverse with varying degrees of attachment. It is both personal and sometimes disturbingly public.  If Facebook takes on the characteristics of a genre. It is personal and social, “easy, familiar”.

However, it includes where I work so I cannot be political, cannot talk about my area of work, must be circumspect.  This reduces my Freedom of Speech.

Employers can access your Facebook. Potential employers can check your Facebook before offering you a job. Facebook also “watches you”, places you into niches for advertising, categorises you and sells you to advertisers. Pop up advertising irritates some of my friends and particularly the adverts telling you how to lose weight or offering a dating service – based on your “status” or age.

According to Mumbrella (21 July 2015) Facebook is about to “supercharge” this connection between its users and advertisers.

We have established a fantastic platform in Australia based on our previous targeting capabilities – your age, gender etc. What we are doing now is taking the most powerful data sets in Australia – Acxiom, Quantium and Experian and giving advertisers and agencies access to that on the Facebook platform,” he said.

“We are supercharging our capabilities to help advertisers connect with the audiences that matter to them in a way that historically hasn’t been done in this market before.”

Asked about the potential for consumer backlash over privacy concerns Spencer Smith global data partnerships lead on the project said: “We take privacy very seriously and we want to give users more control.

“We are already in the US, UK, France and Germany (with partner categories) and we have seen a good response.”

Smith cited the platform’s ad preferences function which allows consumers to see why they are receiving an advertisement and opt out if they so choose.

“Ad preferences is one space where Facebook is helping lead by giving consumers more information,” said outgoing managing director Will Easton.

If Facebook is personal, encouraging exchange about the pedestrian and special aspects of the everyday, Twitter is public, political, anarchistic and unfettered. That is, it is if you are not a public figure, or cannot be identified. On twitter you can be anonymous and therefore you can be freer with your speech.

Twitter allows you to share thoughts, ideas, photos, loves and hates with so many virtual strangers – But- that’s just it, it’s mostly about connecting with people you don’t know. What I love about twitter is that you learn things, share information, knowledge and debate. It is political rather than personal.

There are more than 2.9 million Twitter accounts in Australia. A 2014 Sensis social media report found that about 19% of Australian internet users used Twitter, compared with 95% who used Facebook - the most dominant social networking service. https://www.business.qld.gov.au/business/twitter

There are some drawbacks. 140 characters can lead to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. And, like Facebook, it also includes advertising and may include porn. I’ve seen things I don’t want to see in both categories but blocking is excellent fun. A lot of advertising on twitter includes a “dismiss” button, like blocking only different. It can be annoying when not included, so I tell them so. At this point in time advertising on Twitter does not seem too intrusive though I’m sure it’s only a case of “watch this space”.

Social media includes some drawbacks for communicating that cross all formats;

Cass - One thing I can't help but notice is the tenuous nature of new media communication. When you can't easily convey tone, it brings a risk of mis-communication. In my mind, I think this is partly why conversations can escalate so quickly in emails, comments sections and message boards. I know personally I have been misinterpreted because I made a joke or was sarcastic - if the receiver isn't aware of that, it can make the sender look arrogant or rude, for example. This is ever present on Twitter.

We really need a sarcasm font. The person who devises this will make a mint!

But the biggest drawback is known as the “Digital Divide”.

At the most mundane level my mother cannot stay in contact with her Granddaughter in London, can’t view her photos and can’t easily get in touch with her. For some grandparents this online connection is their lifeline to family. For others it now means social isolation.

“The internet is becoming integrated in everyday life, so these people who aren’t able to access it don’t even know what they’re missing”. Scott Ewing, senior research fellow at the Swinburne Institute for Social Research.

So what happens if you don’t have a computer or internet access or if it’s too darn slow?

Living in rural Australia is an issue in itself and if you are older the telephone may be the only connection with loved ones, or snail mail. Mum still loves receiving cards but she is in an ever decreasing minority. Both Ewing and the ABS say that seniors on pensions or low super are most affected here. Only 46% of over 65s were internet users in a 2014 ABS report. An Anglicare Victorian report from 2013 found that 50% of those on low incomes couldn’t afford internet access.

The fact that Mum lives in a rural or regional area means that her access to a reasonable internet service is compromised, even if she wanted to pay for one. But what is the social cost?

As more and more services move online it becomes harder to access all manner of things you may need if you are not connected. Have you tried to make a Medicare Claim lately!?

But connectivity and communication via social media and the concomitant social isolation may be either accidental or by choice.

On ABC 702 this week (July20-24) an older woman said that she and her friends hate both social media and online shopping. They prefer to speak to real people.

The Digital Divide is not just about ‘access’, it’s also about attitude.

by Dr Sally
TV tragic, news junkie media PhD, Enviro Board and Director, human rights, hate injustice; dog lover wine lover Daughter of #farmer & #TradeUnionLeader @slsandpet

I haven’t used many references for this piece, it’s not academic, but I did use;
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/mobiles/digital-divide-still-an-issue-for-low-income-earners-20140226-33i7l.html#ixzz3ggieQO3s
Nic Christensen 21 July 2015 http://mumbrella.com.au/facebook-mines-for-offline-data-on-users
ABS 8146.0 Household Use of Information Technology, Australia 2012-2013 (released 2014) http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf
ACMA Older Australians resist cutting the Cord 21 July 2014 http://www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/engage-blogs

Dr Sally
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Dr Sally
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