Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Knowledgeable Skeptics and Omnibores

I took the Pew survey on information and communication technology (ICT) users I learned about on Walt at Random. It turns out that Pew considers me an "elite user" of ICT, but still thinks I'm a Lackluster Veteran, just like Walt Crawford. He found fault with the terminology, and I have to agree with him. Walt preferred the phrase "Experienced Skeptic." I like "Knowledgeable Skeptic," but it amounts to the same thing. Skeptical Sophisticate was another possible description I considered.

Here are the category descriptions that Pew uses: Omnivores, Connectors, Lackluster Veterans, Productivity Enhancers, Mobile Centrics, Connected but Hassled, Inexperienced Experimenters, Light but Satisfied, Indifferents, and Off the Net.

Notice that Lackluster Veteran is the only one that seems derogatory, and it's the only one that doesn't really describe the category of users at all. It's not that the veterans are lackluster, it's that they think the technology lacks luster. I think Pew considers the veterans lackluster, though, because these veterans aren't "passionate" about their technology, the way Omnivores are. I usually call this omnivorous category Frustrated Trendsetters, but considering how annoying "passionate" ICT users often are, I think I'll start calling them Omnibores.

I still can't figure it out why anyone is ever "passionate" about any technology. A cell phone or a laptop is a tool, useful in its place, but hardly possessing salvific qualities. ICT is good when it's needed and wanted, but hardly necessary all the time, and hardly worth the excitement. I can say this with authority, because I am an elite ICT user.

Technology is a means to an end, but the Omnibores often babble about it as if it's an end in itself. Is anyone ever passionate about a hammer or a nail file? Are there people whose lives are so sad or empty that they get passionate about their cell phones? Contrary to all the evidence of human experience, are there really people so purblind that they think ICT is going to bring on an enlightened new age? Or that the technology of the moment is more than a passing fad in the long history of technological fads? I like useful tools as much as the next gal, but I also have a balanced and rich enough life that I don't have to pant with enthusiasm at whatever new fad comes along. I know a lot, and use a lot, but don't have to keep filling my empty head with the latest technological desiderata to keep myself occupied. I use tools as means to achieve other, richer, more human ends, not just to keep myself mindlessly occupied and entertained, or to promote my career by driving the bandwagon around the country and trying to get people on the "cluetrain."

It's possible the intent was to describe the user rather than the technology as lackluster to offset any skeptical criticism. People who wet themselves with excitement when they get a new text message or hear "2.0" in conversation obviously lack any skeptical or critical capacity. Everything's just HOT to them, and they promote every new fad indiscriminately. For us Knowledgeable Skeptics, it's tempting when confronted by these Omnibores just to mutter "moron" and keep moving. The Omnibores sense this, and they want to poison the well against critical intelligence, knowledge, or skepticism. Though lacking in critical intelligence or skepticism, they're cunning, these Omnibores.

It's easy to be kindly to the Inexperienced Experimenters or even the Indifferents, because the Omnibores can feel superior to them in technological knowledge. But it's harder to act that way with Knowledgeable Skeptics, because we know about and use a lot of ICT and we know how ridiculous the hype is.

So to all the Omnibores out there, I have this kindly request. Please stop wetting yourselves with excitement over the latest fad. Someone has to use that seat next, and it might be me.

26 comments:

Miss Brodie said...

Apparently I'm 'connected but hassled' (tell me something I don't know). I've no objection to the tag, but the longer description doesn't sound like me at all...

I was slightly bemused by the question 'Do you ever send or receive text messages on your cell phone?' It's all I ever do with mine; the calls are too damned expensive! Is texting a peculiarly British phenomenon?

Beth said...

I'm a Connector, which I think is a generous, but kind of misrepresents me. I do not have a "feature packed" cell phone (actually, I guess I do--I just don't use most of the features--cheap Tracfone) and the only time I use it is to call home if I'm late or need to make a private call from work. The only time I use a computer at home is to check our family e-mail and I get online for about an hour on the weekends. That's about it. I do fit the demographics though.

I have to agree with AL's opinion on Omnivores--I know people like this--always the latest trend in their hands. And they spend big bucks on it too--instead of just waiting a bit for the price to drop like most normal people do.

AL said...

To miss brodie, I don't think texting is a peculiarly British phenomenon at all. On the other hand, cell phone use is relatively cheap in the US. I have a standard plan that's not terribly expensive that gives me more calling time than I would ever know what to do with. I think I am allowed to spend 2-3 hours every weekday, and all weekend, talking on my cell phone without getting any extra charges. Wouldn't that be fun!

Nathan said...

I think this connects well with this post as well:

http://images.forbes.com/free_forbes/2007/0507/176.html

Lavender said...

I just started reading, and I like that you are giving a different perspective. I took this quiz and apparently I'm an omnibore...but I'm not entirely sure why. I guess the fact that I own a digital camera means I'm involved with lots of video editing that I don't know about? They really seem to make some leaps based on that short quiz. I'm just confused as to where people are coming up with the *time* for things like second life...maybe if I had time to do all the "first life" stuff I want to do I would start looking for more, but I don't see that happening!

deargreenplace said...

nooooo....I'm an omnibore too. And yet, I have zero interest in video content and would never watch a film on my iPod. FYI, not male or under 30 either. As for "extensive suite of technology"...yeah right. Like librarians get paid enough to have one.

On the texting question, I notice that US folks are no longer using the term SMS? I barely ever talk on my mobile. Or my home phone actually. That's what texts and emails are for. Perhaps I am an omnibore, right enough. I hope people will still talk to me.

Max said...

Woohoo, I'm an Omnivore. Only 8% of the population falls into this group. Look upon me in awe, you Lackluster Veterans.

Seriously, though, if Pew puts me into this group then the survey needs tweaking. Perhaps more distinction between personal and work activities. At work I need to be somewhat of an information technology cheerleader but I wouldn't put myself into the Omnibore category. I will try to be alert to signs that I might be slipping.

Brent said...

So to all the Omnibores out there, I have this kindly request. Please stop wetting yourselves with excitement over the latest fad.

I guess I am one of them. Questions were deceiving though. I receive text messaging spam from T-Mobile. I don't do text though. And I do not watch video on my mp3 player, though I could. I suppose if I ever used public transportation again, I would soil a seat because if I don't, someone else would.

I do love being labeled, though.

Bunny Watson said...

The only technological device that has me excited (and that's because I think it has significant potential) is an e-reader like Sony's. They classified me as a "connector," probably because I replied honestly that I've used text messaging. However, that doesn't take into account the fact that the only reason I ever text is because my little brother's cell phone doesn't work properly and all he can do right now is text. Grrr.

Library Guy said...

I also fell into the Omnivore category...which I don't really understand. It must be because I own all but one of the technology devices listed...and the fact that I've been forced to watch Survivor on my computer a few times when I missed it on TV. I have, on occasion, posted a few things to YouTube, but don't make a regular habit of it. And, at the end of the day, I don't feel particularly engaged with digital content. I also have serious reservations about where the Internet is leading us as a society.

So, yeah, I think Pew really needs to tweak their survey a bit...

AL said...

My ridiculing of omnibores was obviously meant to be over the top, and directed specifically at the uncritical cheerleaders. I own all the devices except a video camera and webcam, am online most of the time both at work and at home, where a laptop often sits open on a table beside me, often as I read a book. I have many omnivore tendencies and am a heavy user of technology. I suppose that I'm lackluster because I don't particularly like it that cell phones and other devices make me more available to others. I just like it that it makes others more available to me.

Max said...

Come on AL. you don't think us PWOs (Pants Wetting Omnibores) were offended do you? Paris Hilton has to have a publicist to get labeled and all I had to do is take a survey.

AL said...

Maybe I'm just jealous that I'm not classified as an omnibore! I'm going to start text messaging everyone I know and put up webcam videos of myself on Youtube and take the survey again in a month.

Max said...

mmmm, Annoyed Librarian on YouTube - insert picture of Homer Simpson salivating here.

Anonymous said...

Get on the "clue train"? Uhmm...where have I seen that one before...a certain web taming Second Life evangelist, me thinks.

Brent said...

We need the first webcam librarian that costs 1.99/min for reference work.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how hard you have to game the survey to get labeled as Indifferent or Off The Net? Guess I'll go stare into the abyss some more...

Anonymous said...

They made me a "mobile centric", well, ahem. In general their description fits (my mobile *is* able to do video etc. although it's some 3 years old - I went for the most simple thing my provider would offer ... ), but I use it only for, well phoning, and for text messaging. And I send 100 eMails for ebery textmessage I sned and 50 emails for every mobile phone call I make (mostly to my wife to coordinate who buys what for dinner etc. ...).

Anonymous said...

The Pew quiz is way off the mark. I ended up in the "Light but Satisfied" category. I supposedly "came to the Internet late." Excuse me? I've been using the stinking Internet since before there was a stinking WWW. (Remember when we used to call it the WWW?) I was so proud to type all those UNIX commands on that black screen and to go "telneting" off to main-frame computers. Oh, those were the days.

Anonymous said...

I am either "lackluster veteran" or "connected but hassled," depending on whom you believe. Both fit, imo. In NYT the other day was an article about how the provision of laptop computers, one to a child, hasn't really made schoolkids any smarter. Well, duh.

Dan

Anonymous said...

Here's the 53 cents-a-minute library phone sex hotline:

WACKY-BUT-TRUE

Wacky-But-True: The Vienna, Austria, City Hall has launched a "sex hotline" to raise money for the capital's main public library. It's unusual, but it's not particularly raunchy: Callers pay 53 cents a minute to listen to an actress read breathless passages from erotica dating to the Victorian era. City Hall set up the hotline earlier this month to help the library raise cash for planned remodeling and expansion. Anne Bennent, a famous Austrian stage and film star, reads passages from the Vienna library's collection of 1,200 works of erotic fiction from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

http://www.wkmx.com/Article.asp?id=324261

-conspiracy theorist

Anonymous said...

"Is anyone ever passionate about a hammer? . . ."

Not a hammer ogler, are you, AL? Check out japanwoodworker.com for some hammer fetishization.

Technology worship for its own sake does suck. Too often progress is not progress.

Brent said...

Yeah, maybe that story was in my subconsciousness when I wrote that.

Nonetheless, whatever librarian does this first will be near popularity in comparison to Ms. Dewey.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 10:00pm,
I got Indifferent. Looking at the category descriptions, I would put myself in the Lackluster Veteran category. What answers makes me indifferent? I'm too indifferent to take the survey again to find out. Maybe it was my zero interest in putting up online personal content. I also don't do much online from home, mostly because my work connection is so much better. - Rottle

the library girl said...

I find the PEW survey questionable. The title of Lackluster Vetern doesn't fully emcompass my abilities with computers and other forms of digital technology. My decision to not use a cell phone or rely heavily on technology to communicate is associated with my desire to maintain personal one-to-one contact with people. However, it should not be assumed that I do not spend copious amounts of time designing interactive tutorial programs for the students I currently work with in my library. Most of the prgramming I am currently creating in on-line with video components.

I was wondering if my lack of cellphone, palm pilot, etc... was what determined my categorization of Lackluster Veteren. I don't feel the need to always be available. My time is very valuable to me, and often I think people addicted to texting, cellphones, etc forget that.

I am very in tune with technology, so I would prefer the suggested Sophisticated Skeptic or Technology Tuned-in but Turned-off.

J said...

Well I didn't agree with the results of the Pew survey - it labelled me as "connected but hassled" claiming that I felt overloaded with information (when I said I enjoyed the extra info) and said I don't utilise most of what's on offer (which is also bs). I think the results are inaccurate and if that's an example of Pew's findings from their surveys then I will not trust their results at all in the future.