Addressing the Digital Divide WITHIN Your Organization

Try teaching social media to someone who still looks at this day after day

If it wasn’t for my brother and I, my mother would still have a VCR that blinks 12:00 because she couldn’t figure out to change the time on it and never saw any desire too.  Despite fixing it every time I was there, she never saw a problem with it. About five years ago, I finally bought her a DVD player and upon opening the box, I was greeted not with a “thanks!” but a “why do I need this? Our VCR works fine.” Merry Christmas Mom!

Five years and hundreds of presentations later, I’ve realized that my mom, while frustratingly not interested in technology, wasn’t the anomaly – I was. I work at one of the largest technology consulting firms in the world and a vast majority of my clients work for the U.S. Federal Government, yet every day, I’m reminded of the fact that while I may think of them as Luddites, they think of me as a huge nerd.  While using Twitter may seem almost passe to me and the other social media “evangelists” out there, it’s important to remember that the not only does the vast majority of America not use Twitter – the vast majority of your colleagues don’t either.  And like my mom, they probably don’t care or see why they should.

Everyone talks about the digital divide that exists in America between those with access to information technology and those who don’t, but the digital divide that gets talked about far less is the one that exists right in your office. Look around you – there are many people in your office who:

  • Have no idea what a browser is
  • Print out their emails and schedule each day
  • Carry pounds of binders and notebooks with them every day
  • Think you know everything when, in reality, you just know how to use Google
  • Still use a flip phone
  • Ask you what a URL is

Realizing this fact (that I’m a nerd) and accepting that most people don’t share my passion for technology (because I’m a nerd) has helped me as I create presentations, write proposals, talk with my clients, and mentor my colleagues. You see, I used to get frustrated when I’d give presentations, and upon telling people to open their browsers, I’d hear, “what’s a browser?” Because, as my frustration would mount – “how can people still not have a basic understanding of the Internet???!!” – their frustration would escalate as well – “I can’t stand when people tell me I should be using some new tool when my way of doing things works just fine!” Instead of an opportunity to learn about technology that can help them, our mutual frustration led to an almost adversarial relationship. Not good. Now, I’m focused on empathizing rather than converting and explaining rather than criticizing. This means that people are focused on the information I have to give, not on defending their position. And, I’m able to actually listen to their concerns and frustrations without feeling the need to defend my position.

When you read this and go back to your office today, consider empathizing instead of criticizing.

When You Hear

Don’t Say This

Say This

“What’s a Browser?”

“Seriously?”

“The browser is your window into the Internet – there are many different browers, including Safari, Internet Explorer, Opera, Firefox. Let’s see which one you have.”

“What’s a Tweeter?”

“Haven’t you watched ANY news in the last two years?”

“The site is called Twitter and it’s an Internet site where people can share 140 character messages, links, status updates, and locations with other people”

“Why would I bother with sending you a text when I can just call you?”

“Because if you call me, I’m not going to answer”

“Texting is great way to communicate with someone in short bursts, often when talking on the phone is not feasible.”

“I don’t know how you have time to tell people what you ate or where you are at all hours of the day!”

“I wouldn’t be talking about time management when you’re the one who prints out every single one of your emails”

“I don’t.  That’s why I only use Facebook (or Twitter) to share interesting links, talk with my family/friends, and/or ask questions of my network.”

“When was Company X founded?”

Send them a link for Let Me Google That For You

“This is a great example of where we can use Google to find the answer really quickly – let me show you.”

Use these opportunities to teach more and more importantly, to learn more. Rather than writing these people off as lost causes, we should be doing our best to bridge this digital divide and understand that we too can learn from their experiences. Ask them why they still cling to their old practices to understand how you can better frame technology in terms that make sense to them, not to you. Use them as sounding boards for your next great social media or tech idea – after all, even if you have the greatest tool, it’s not going to mean anything if the nerds like you and me are the only ones using it.

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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    Make sure that you’re addressing the digital divide…within your organization ([link to post])

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    RT @sradick: Make sure that you’re addressing the digital divide…within your organization ([link to post])

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  • Don’t tell our secrets! I rather enjoy allowing people to think I am much smarter than I really am (thank you, Google). In all seriousness though, I remember when we first started trying to get our leadership on board with new media and one of our Principals explained to me and @mbingram that early in his career he saw someone put a mouse on the floor and try to use it like pedal for a sewing machine. Technology has advanced at a dizzying pace over the last 15 years, and it’s important for us “nerds” to not only communicate the value of new media but recognize and acknowledge the value that more traditional tactics continue to bring to our organizations.

  • Kishan Kariippanon

    Great read! Thank you.

  • Boilingsound

    Great perspective on how different we are with regard to technology. Watch you’re typos. This may be a ‘new media’ article, but grammar shouldn’t be thrown aside.

  • Twitter Comment


    Great post and reminder. RT @sradick Make sure that you’re addressing the digital divide…within your organization ([link to post])

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    Small things you can do to address the digital divide within your organization ([link to post]) – via @SocialBttrfly

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  • Great layout of conversational connecting through the divide. I find myself as a social business analyst when implementing innovated technologies analogies have been my best friend. When implementing saleforce.com and explaining the functionality of the Opportunity and how it worked with the business. I used the Chrysler Town and Country all decked out minivan taking a road trip to Chicago from Minneapolis. When I explained functionality using this analogy the 4 people in the room totally got it. Then they started driving the functionality because they understood it on their terms. It was probably one of the best discussions I had across the digital divide!

    Yes we always have to find ways to make the connections or we are just running around in circles. A colleague and I when collaborating on new technologies or apps we use our wives to bump our ideas up against they want easy, convenient, can be used while having kids in tow, and somewhat intuitive about them. They always provide the best questions as to why would I use that. Then it forces us to dig deeper for solid answers for bridging the digital divide.

    In the office is a whole other comment…..

  • Reilly_melissa

    Good post Steve. I’d like to add that jargon is also and issue that divides. The folks asking what a browser is may well use one all the time, but they call it IE, etc. The word browser just isn’t part of their vernacular. Just an example. My mother in law calls her mouse a modem, and she’s still on dial up — but she’s active user of the net and her computer. Your helpful hints will help encourage adoption by both taking away the mystery as well as the dividing jargon.

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    RT @bonniekoenig: Small things you can do to address the digital divide within your organization ([link to post]) – via @SocialBttrfly

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  • CynicFan

    This advice applies broadly across professions. Doctors and Lawyers have specializations which require significant amount of study and use to attain profficiency. They need to realize that the average person isn’t going to understand all the science, training, experience and education that goes behind the advice or diagnosis. Accountants, management experts, even woodworkers, electricians and plumbers all have specialized knowledge where they can’t assume that their customer or person with whom they are interfacing will understand.

    Tim

  • Steve – love the post and couldn’t agree more! As a former teacher, I am all about teaching opportunities. One thing to keep in mind though – chances are that ‘Luddite’ friend of yours has heard quite an earful from us ‘enthusiasts’ so be patient with them, don’t antagonize them, and ask questions that will help you understand their frame of reference.By understanding their point of view you will learn what is important to them. By learning what’s important to them you can figure out how technology can help them with whatever their needs are.

    Make it about them, not about the technology and definitely not about you!

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    RT @johnhaydon: RT @bonniekoenig: Small things you can do to address the digital divide within your organization ([link to post]) – …

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  • Bravo. I appreciate the reminder to all technologists to cultivate patience, kindness and an attitude of sharing our knowledge. Will share widely.

  • Anonymous

    Tim – now THAT’S a comment that we both agree on! 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Good point about jargon Melissa – should have addressed that more in the post, but yes, you’re absolutely right. I think there’s also a need for people like your mother-in-law to be open to learning the jargon too. No matter how many times I mention Twitter to my mom, she still laughs and calls it “that tweeter thing.” People learning and people teaching need to share in the responsibility too.

  • Anonymous

    Good point on making use of your wife in that way – who do you think proofreads my posts to make sure they make sense to the “average” person vice a social media nerd like me?

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    Addressing the Digital Divide WITHIN Your Organization [link to post] via @sradick

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    Addressing the Digital Divide WITHIN Your Organization [link to post]

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    RT @sradick Addressing the Digital Divide WITHIN Your Organization [link to post] This is great!

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    RT @sradick Addressing the Digital Divide WITHIN Your Organization [link to post]

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    RT @pinkatpink: RT @sradick Addressing the Digital Divide WITHIN Your Organization [link to post] This is great!

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    RT @sradick: RT @pinkatpink: RT @sradick Addressing the Digital Divide WITHIN Your Organization [link to post] This is great!

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    RT @sradick Addressing the Digital Divide WITHIN Your Organization [link to post] – good stuff here!

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  • Really smart post.

    Want to know where a giant digital divide exists? The theater. Yep. One the one hand, you’ve got a lot of fantastic theater groups using ALL the social media tools at their disposal like ninjas. (In fact, they have a LOT to teach more monied and larger organizations.) On the other hand, I recently worked with an actress who was anxious to get better known and work more, but refused to put herself on Facebook, thought Twitter was ridiculous, and she refused to text. THEN some smart person…smarter than me…showed her how these tools could help her…and she’s off to the races, making a digital reel, getting ready to make a website for herself.

    It’s about kindness and patience, isn’t it? Over and over again.

  • Twitter Comment


    Show empathy. 🙂 RT @sradick: Are you paying attention to the digital divide WITHIN your organization? ([link to post]) #gov20 #opengov

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  • Anonymous

    My clocks still flash 12:00 – I don’t really consider myself a techno-supremacist. There are people who program kernels, and engineers who manage to get a nuclear furnace to work.We are all at a different level. Some of us play solitaire, and some build maps for MMORPGS, and others code radiosity algorithms.I think the important thing to remember is that we all specialize in our own rights, and technology is certainly not the only specialization that matters.

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    Very true RT @sradick: Are you paying attention to the digital divide WITHIN your organization? ([link to post]) #gov20 #opengov

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    RT @sradick: Are you paying attention to the digital divide WITHIN your organization? ([link to post]) #gov20 #opengov ++1

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    RT @HartDanger: RT @sradick: Are you paying attention to the digital divide WITHIN your organization? ([link to post]) #gov20 #opengov

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    RT @digiphile: Show empathy. 🙂 RT @sradick: Are you paying attention to the digital divide WITHIN your organization? ([link to post]) #

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    Are you paying attention to the digital divide WITHIN your organization? ([link to post]) #gov20 #opengov

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  • Twitter Comment


    Great post & timely! RT @sradick Are you paying attention to the digital divide WITHIN your organization? ([link to post]) #gov20

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    RT @lbenitez: Great post & timely! RT @sradick Are you paying attention to the digital divide WITHIN your organization? ([link to post])

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