Keeping Up With the Joneses

Yup. Who'd you think we were keeping up with?

I came across a blog post today about a researcher who found a man who had never before used a computer.  User Testing in the Wild: Joe’s First Computer Encounter described how Boriss, the researcher, prompted and observed Joe as the inexperienced user tried to find a local restaurant for dinner.

What moved me most was not how frustrated Joe became, but how self-deprecating he was. He kept apologizing and insisting that he probably “should have learned this by now.”

I always thought that the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses” meant that we were trying to have the same luxuries our neighbors have. But with the speed of technology today, sometimes “Keeping up with the Joneses” just means not being left behind in the dust for the everyday things.

One may argue that any person can easily forego all the internet, computerized and electronic gadgetry that has been offered to us. I would agree I don’t need the latest Iphone (although I was drooling over pads with keyboards yesterday) but I would find it difficult to exist without a cell phone. As a Mom, when I explained to the school that, although I have a cell phone, I rarely use it, I received that quasi-polite glare of “But how can we possibly reach you if you aren’t sitting at home by the phone?” I still don’t turn it on unless I need it. When my cell phone has been dead or missing, trying to find a working pay phone has been a huge challenge. Not having the techno-gadget was a huge inconvenience then; since so many people have them, companies no longer feel they need to put payphones in convenient locations. Pick one up sometime; I’d be interested to know if it still works.

In the article, they don’t explain how Joe could live in a major US city having never used a computer. Maybe he never had the chance; maybe he never took the chance. But although he was apparently living his life quite normally without a computer, there was at least one advantage (discounts at a local bakery) that he needed e-mail in order to use.

I often hear someone remark “Everybody has e-mail…” or some other generalization. But according to the 2009 census 31.3% of households do not have internet access. It also says that 76.7% of all households have a member who accesses the internet outside the home, but that’s still only three quarters of the population.

Technology may be bringing us together with social media and lightning speed communications, but it is also creating a wider gap between the haves and the have-nots. There are more and more services that assume a person has a computer and internet access. Slowly, some of the services we take for granted are being replaced by more advanced, more convenient processes. If you don’t keep up, soon you won’t be able to interact in society at all. You’ll be left outside the castle walls with the other third of our population who doesn’t have the technology.

American businesses aren’t marketing to people outside the walls. Most of those people don’t have much money, therefore businesses have no incentive to appeal to them.

The writing world is heading that way too. Some agents will not consider a paper manuscript at all. And for pre-published authors like me, the resounding advice is to have as large an internet presence as possible. Not just a page on facebook and a twitter account, but a blog is a definite must. And an abandoned blog is worse than no blog at all.

I take pride in being able to say no to many of the delights that technology dangles before me. But I want to stay current, to participate fully in society and the writing world. And to do that, well, I’ll just have to keep up.

The shortlink for this post is

I spun this idea into a short Steampunk story on the fiction side of the blog, Under Loch & Key.

About AmyBeth Inverness

A writer by birth, a redhead by choice.
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