A recent article in the Los Angeles Times lifted the lid on something the wired individual is beginning to experience more and more: being caught in a Realtime Knowledge Discontinuity (let’s call it RND for short). RND sufferers have the distinct social disadvantage of having real-time access to information that their companions, interlocutors, and colleagues do not, by sheer dint of owning a convenient information appliance like an iPhone. It’s a voluntary digital divide which engenders a social divide as well.
Whether it’s exact directions to a location, an answer to a trivia question debated by friends, or a phone number someone else is searching for, the RND victim is able to grab the sought-after nugget of information with a few quick touches of an interface, popping his or her head into the global information sphere just long enough to be the know-it-all on the spot, trumping everyone else with not just the information but the physical (ok, digital) proof in hand as well. “Jenny wasn’t at the party, you say? Oh, I beg to differ–let’s check Flickr and I’ll show you,” or “No, Cafe Savant moved three months ago, to the place across from the mall!” The innovations of mobile broadband, pocket Internet access and the Web let you find out anything, just about anywhere you have access. Growth of the semantic and geographic layers of the Web have increased the power of access by orders of magnitude.
Why is the person with the technology at the disadvantage? In part because of the social
stratification that information access increases. Not everyone wants to have the Internet at their finger tips all of the time, as the LA Times article points out:
Daniel Bernstein had one when he arranged to meet friends at a bowling alley
in Daly City, near San Francisco. The lanes were booked. Bernstein used
his iPhone to locate another bowling alley 10 miles away, find out how
long the wait for a lane was and get driving directions.
Bernstein, director of business development at an Internet company,
said his friends seemed more irked than appreciative. “They said,
‘Thank you, iPhone,’ ” and not very nicely.
Having real-time access to information reveals several contrasts between those who do and those who don’t: economic (I can afford it, you can’t), social (knowledge is power) and technological (I can navigate things you can’t). While it seems humorous now, this is an issue that bears tracking in the future: mastery of information has always been a social differentiator, but the speed of access, and the volume of information available, will exacerbate the differences.