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13 October 2008

Diminishing the Intellect of Cab Drivers

Dear Anonymous,

I'm writing to respond to your comment to my blog post of last week about a taxi driver that had never heard of Google.

Here was your comment:

Anonymous anonymous said...

The Internet is an elite organisation; most of the population of the world has never even made a phone call.- Noam Chomsky

Does it make you feel good to diminish the intellect of a cab driver for not meeting your standards?

So, two things.

1. Noam Chomsky was wrong. Or at least he is now, I'm not sure when that statement was made. As of 2007, half the population of the planet own a mobile phone (you can read more about it here), and billions more have used one (or a landline). Furthermore, the digital divide in Australia has all but ceased to exist. Some people may choose not to use computers, but almost everyone in Australia has access to one, if not at home then at schools or public libraries.

And this wasn't the deepest depths of the outback. This was Launceston. A city. I visited a few of the public libraries in Launceston, and I assure you they had plenty of free computer terminals. With Google and everything.

The cab driver wasn't stupid. He seemed to have a pretty good grasp of the taxi's GPS (which is, in fact, a computer, but I didn't really want to get into that), and could hold his end of the conversation. But he was anti-intellectual, racist and narrow-minded (I won't repeat the things he said about the Indian family that had recently moved in near him - but they were unsavoury). That wasn't what the post was about. Which brings me to...

2. You're the one who inferred that my post was about "diminishing intellect". It wasn't. The anecdote was about how all adults who don't know anything about children's literature automatically and instantly compare all childrens/YA authors with Harry Potter. Even people who have never heard of Google still know about Harry Potter. And still think it's okay to imply that you're a failure because you don't have a castle in Scotland.

Sorry I didn't contact you in person to say these things, but you forgot to leave a name in your comment. But if you have any further questions/comments, you can either leave them below or email me at lili AT


Lili Wilkinson


Aidan said...

I'd just like to say to Mr. Anonymous that you are being quite closed minded to only see that as an insult to the technologically disadvantage. Nevertheless, it seems you can use a computer just fine.

Judi said...

Sorry Lili. In defence of anonymous, I must admit I also cringed when I read the post. It did read as elitist to my eyes on a several counts and somebody has already picked up on the 'only in Tassie' aspect - more elitism being displayed here I fear. Not having heard the conversation in its entirety we don't have the subtext of racism etc that you refer to (not at all uncommon in the populace in general, sadly) and which may have prompted a post that might otherwise have not even happened. So I'll stand up and be counted and can expect to be flayed by aidan. Cheers

Jam Tart said...

You know, if I was going to critisise someone the way our friend "Anonymous" has, I would at least have the guts to write my name!
And I loved that post! The popularity of Harry Potter and other poorly written books that shall remain nameless is sad, especially when there are so many better books and authors *cough*Lili*cough*.
I also didn't think there was any elitism, just plain astonishment. "Digital Virgin"'s certainly are rare these days!

lili said...

Hi Judi,

I'm truly sorry that the post made you cringe. It was supposed to be a funny anecdote about Harry Potter, and I genuinely didn't think people would take offense. Sure I didn't mention the guy's offensive racism, and I played up the humour of the encounter, because it made a better story. And I am a storyteller.

But you've made me think a lot about the word "elitism", especially in the light of the current vitriolic anti-intellectual hatred that's spewing out of the extreme religious right in the US at the moment. I'm going to let those thoughts mature a bit, but expect a related blog post soon...



Andrew said...

Hmmm... I think there's sometimes a fine line between condemning ignorant people and ridiculing those who are less priveleged/educated. Living in Darwin, I've learnt that one can often be easily mistaken for the other. I've certainly encountered times when I had an earnest desire to encourage people to improve themselves and their lifestyles through learning, especially in relation to technology and politics, only to be accused of being "elitest".

It's such a shame that in this day and age, where information and learning is so much more accessible to everybody than it ever was before, that people still perceive this as a class issue.

james roy said...

An interesting one, this.

I was in the car during the aforementioned conversation. In fact, I was the one in the front seat having the aforementioned conversation, and without meaning to sound like an apologist for whatever brand of elitism Lili has been accused of displaying, I’d like to add one or two comments.

Let’s put this in some kind of context.

When the cabbie in question gleefully related his story of the Indians moving into his suburb, and how he’d warned his neighbours that ‘if you let them in, they’ll breed like rabbits and take over the joint’ (did no one think to warn the Indians about the perils of their new neighbours?) I didn’t really know how to respond. I didn’t want to be rude, but at the same time I wasn’t terribly comfortable with where we were going. (Not the airport – I was perfectly comfortable with that – I mean the conversation.)

So I changed the subject. To football, once I learned that our driver was from Penrith, the home of the Panthers, and just down the road from where I live. We had an interesting exchange about the NRL finals, and how they’re televised in AFL-mad Tassie (much to his delight), and how he wanted Steve Menzies to win one more flag, but felt that Cam Smith had been victimised by the NRL judiciary, and should never have been slapped with a ban because the grapple tackle has been going on forever yada yada yada. He seemed pretty well-informed, is all I’m saying. So he was getting his news from somewhere.

Then came the question about what we each write, and after my response, the predictable discussion about how we must wish we’d written Harry Potter, and were we as rich as her, and how if we’d thought of the Harry Potter idea first we’d be living in a Scottish castle as well. And this is not a sign of gross ignorance – this is a conversation I’ve had with cab drivers, fellow aircraft passengers, waiters, teachers, doctors in emergency rooms, my parents. So I didn’t see that angle as terribly new or interesting.

But the internet? Google? Search engines? Seriously, folks. This man’s views, whilst ugly in parts, tedious and predictable in others, weren’t shot from the hip. He felt that he had a bead on everything he was talking about. As I said, he was clearly getting his information from somewhere. But as he said, it wasn’t the internet. He doesn’t even use a computer. And like Lili, I found that surprising, especially in suburban Australia.

Yes, the Amish shun electricity, telephones, cars and buttons, but they do it in a closed community that supports that choice. But I feel sure that even the Amish know something of the internet. Yes, there are places in the world where the telephone is unknown, but they’re a long way from Launceston. And by the way, it’s not about ‘only in Tassie’ as Jessica said and Judi picked up, but about ‘even in Tassie.’

I’m nearly finished...

The surprise I felt when I heard the cabbie say that he didn’t know what Google was, and had never used a computer, is similar to the surprise you might feel if you were to say to a friend, ‘Hey, you know how you drive to work in the city every day, and have to go feed the meter every two hours? Why don’t you catch a train – there’s a station right near your house, and another one half a block away from your office,’ only to hear them reply, ‘What’s a train?’ Even if they’d never been on one, they’d have to know what a train was, just from looking around once in a while. Wouldn’t they?

Or maybe not.

Anonymous said...

I have found this discussion very interesting. I feel the need to say that the digital divide is well and truly still in place - whilst computers are available not everyone has the skill, interest or desire to use them - I recently did a survey in country Victoria (and yes I know its the country and judgements might be made about that too!) and found that 30% of respondents had never used the internet - whilst 52% in the same area used it daily.

lili said...

You're absolutely right, anonymous. Not everyone uses a computer, especially in the country. But that's not what the digital divide is about. It's about having the OPPORTUNITY to use one, and it's not just limited to PCs and the internet - it also includes mobile phones.

It'll be interesting to see how these statistics shift once mobile internet penetrates the market fully - there are more mobile phones in Australia than there are people.

Anonymous said...

It's me (anonymous person no 2) again - the towns we surveyed have internet available in the community (library, neighbourhood house etc) - it is not the availability it is the knowledge, desire etc - obviously the easier it is to physically access then the higher take up will be, but we can't ignore that there is a signicant group who will NEVER (as in not even once) use the internet - just as there are people who will never read a book!

And it is not about intellect - I know of many senior managers who are quite unable or unwilling to use the internet.

And to further the debate - here is the Victorian Parliamentary definition of digital divide:

"Digital Divide
The lack of access to information and communications technologies by segments of the community. The digital divide is a generic term used to describe this lack of access due to linguistic, economic, educational, social and geographic reasons. "