Shrinking Digital Divide ; Not Everyone Is Happy about the Way Technology Is Spreading into All Aspects of Our Lives, but No One Denies That It's Happening, Either

The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), February 16, 2014 | Go to article overview

Shrinking Digital Divide ; Not Everyone Is Happy about the Way Technology Is Spreading into All Aspects of Our Lives, but No One Denies That It's Happening, Either


The

You wake up. You roll over. You check your phone.

On your drive to work, you tell Siri to play Bruno Mars through your Bluetooth-enabled car stereo.

Between bites of lunch, you update your Facebook status. Between bouts of work, you send out a few tweets.

Get in bed. Check your phone. Fall asleep. Repeat.

This daily scenario, unimaginable to most of us even five years ago, has become a reality for millions.

As smartphones, iPads, Google Glasses and other Web-connected devices infiltrate nearly every aspect of our lives, from the classroom to the bedroom, the rickety roadblocks we're constructing to keep that technology out of certain spaces and situations are tumbling more quickly than we can possibly track.

"Technology's role in our lives? It would be hard to argue that it's not moving faster today than ever in the history of mankind," said University at Buffalo professor and social media expert Michael Stefanone. "I would predict that we're going to reach a point where people stop accepting this change and they start becoming active in the conversation around what technology's role is."

In Western New York and across the Web, those conversations are just beginning to enter the mainstream. The tech onslaught and the challenges we're throwing up against it are becoming visible everywhere: In coffee shops and classrooms, at family dinner tables and in local libraries. The

challenges can be violent or subtle, from a moviegoer's deadly attack on a man who was texting during movie previews to a police officer's decision to ticket a California driver who was wearing Google Glass.

As the era of constant connectivity approaches, some are welcoming it with open arms.

Others are trying to hold it back by throwing up little challenges, each one a tiny analog sandbag in the face of a digital tidal wave.

Cafe culture

When you walk into Prish Moran's Sweetness7 coffee shop at the corner of Grant Street and Lafayette Avenue, chances are you won't see a single person chatting on a cellphone. That is, unless you peek into the old-fashioned wooden phone booth Moran installed near the door for exactly that purpose.

The booth, which could easily be mistaken for a kitsch decoration, is a subtle suggestion to customers that they are in a community space where the old rules of social etiquette remain in effect.

"There's no signs. People instinctively do it," Moran said on a recent afternoon in her cafe as a dozen or so patrons chatted with one another or worked quietly on their laptops. During an hourlong interview, only one customer used his cellphone, dutifully leaving his comfy spot at the long wooden table in the center of the room and squeezing into the booth.

Stepping inside the booth, a cramped space designed for the smaller bodies of the mid-20th century, is like stepping through a wormhole and into the early '80s. A hand-lettered sign covered in graffiti inside the booth reads "This is a business phone. Please limit calls to 5 minutes," evoking images of salesmen in suits and ties out of "Glengarry Glen Ross."

Moran said the booth is less a challenge to the intrusion of technology than an appeal to our forgotten manners. In her Grant Street shop, she said, the clientele share a built-in suspicion about the pervasiveness of technology. But in the other location of Sweetness7 on Parkside Avenue in North Buffalo, where Moran also installed a booth for cellphone conversations, attitudes about what's appropriate are markedly different.

"If you notice looking around, there's not a soul sitting here on a cellphone. Actually, there's not a soul sitting with their phone out on the table, so what does that mean?" she said. Customers at her Parkside shop, she said, are much more likely to chat loudly on their phones and to need to be asked to use the booth.

To some extent, Moran - herself the proud owner of an iPhone that she checks upon waking up - realizes that her phone booths work better as nostalgic gestures than serious bulwarks against the onslaught of technology. …

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