The New Divide

I remember wrestling with that age old conundrum called the Generation Gap when I was a teenager: we complained that our parents never understood us. I also recalled growing up in a developing country where we looked upon visitors from western countries with awe, unable to figure out how easy it was for them to drop hard-to-get dollars for expensive purchases and holidays that we could only salivate over. These were enormous chasms to cross at the time. Now I am a senior, and I crossed over to the developed world forty years ago. I no longer have to deal with the generation gap and have dollars to drop on personal needs. I should therefore  feel that I have crossed the bridge. But something else looms now, and that is the technological divide, one that keeps widening daily for me.

I have always been comfortable with emerging technology. I saw the opportunity that personal computers and software presented when they were mere expensive toys in the early 1980’s and sacrificed my lunch hour to learn Excel on the only PC in the office at the time, when the accountant (who used it) was away on his break. When the internet was breaking out of the university loop and entering the commercial arena, I seized the opportunity to go for night classes and  learn about websites and the world wide web. In fact, I gave up a career in the travel industry to enter the software business for 12 years. I even ran courses on how to make the first generation of social media work as a promotional tool for writers. But the faster I ran, the slower I felt I was advancing—technology was moving faster. It was only going to be a matter of time before I became a Luddite.

I think it was when the “self-help” and “google it yourself” culture took hold that I really lost the race, for I had no time to look things up anymore. There were no formal courses either, all guide books and training manuals had migrated to You Tube and you had to search and look up everything yourself. Besides, start-ups were proliferating, along with new business models that either sustained themselves (Amazon, Google, Facebook et al) or vanished along with their start-ups (everyone else but Amazon, Google, Facebook et al in the dot.com bust) that it was hard to get a fix on what technologies to latch onto and invest my limited time into mastering. Text was giving way to video, Artificial Intelligence was taking over manual processes. I had to limit myself to only the technologies I needed in order to get through my daily work. Gradually, everything I had learned became obsolete. 

The hierarchy, as it relates to income earning potential (Hollywood actors notwithstanding) seems to be reserved for those who work with technology—or who create it—residing at the top of the pyramid. And Hollywood, beware, your wages could be in for a tumble one of these days, for AI and advanced computer simulation are making avatars in lieu of humans, and very soon high-grossing actors may be reduced to voicing-over movies starring robots. I can see Hollywood studios salivating when they are able swap out a $20M per movie star for a 24/7 non-paid avatar.

Another divide that separated and created differences among us in the past, the cultural divide, is surprisingly narrowing as the techno-divide spreads us apart. Cultural differences will disappear when we all use the same techno-speak, eat the same food, travel only via armchair and computer screen, dress in ubiquitous fashions that all can be bought on Amazon across the world, read the same social media, and live similar, restricted work-from-home lifestyles due to a hostile and pandemic-riddled environment. And here too, the only differentiating factor will be the degree of access to, and the adoption of, diverse technological applications.

Yes, we will still be left with haves and have-nots in this new world. The haves will be surrounded by screens wherever they are, be it a smart phone, laptop, or voice recognizing digital personal assistant at the end of a phone; they will have computerized houses, cars, and other vehicles; their data will be in the cloud, retrievable or uploaded from anywhere; they will not ask questions, for knowledge will be at their command (text or voice). The have-nots will still be working it out with their time-worn tools, finding out that their traditional sources of information are drying up or are harder to access (try getting customer service on the phone these days, or try taking public transport to a library, or just trying finding public transport where one can travel safely without catching a bug,).

We have no choice. We have to get with the program, or be left behind. “Don’t worry, if you don’t know, look it up,” is the mantra. Or, “There’s an app for that.” Just make sure you know which app.

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