I'm just reading Lynne Truss's 'Talk to the Hand' and the following paragraph leapt out at me:
"... the internet... is the supreme example of an impersonal and inflexible system which will provide information if you do all the hard work of searching for it, but crucially (a) doesn't promise anything as a reward for all the effort, (b) will never engage in dialogue, (c) is much, much bigger than you are, and (d) only exists in a virtual kind of way, so never has to apologise" (Truss, 2005)
I think it kind of misses the point about what the internet is capable of becoming or that there might be answers to the criticisms she makes. Apart from anything, if you look at web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, wikis, social networking sites, photo sharing etc then her (a) and (b) no longer hold sway. Her intro doesn't stand up to scrutiny either... RSS goes out like an obedient Golder Retriever, fetches lots of tasty little articles for you to browse, and deposits them along with your slippers so you can read them at your leisure. Yes, it's a big ol' thing, but if you're the one in the driving seat, then it's not so big and scary anymore... is it?
There is a real perception issue here though. I spoke to my father-in-law yesterday and he was surprised that there were free alternatives to Microsoft Office. Web-hosted apps were a brand new concept. Thinking about it though... fair enough. It's not like people who exist happily in cyberspace actively go out to preach to the converted. If you bought a computer with Microsoft software already installed as part of the price to make for an easier life (as plenty of computer users do), then it's not like Microsoft are going to be in a hurry to shout 'have you looked at free online services? What about Open Source?' Instead, it seems you're either in or you're out. You know about this stuff and use it... or, like Lynne Truss, the internet is a cold, alien, strange beast who you will never understand on any meaningful level. How to bridge the gap? Is it even worth bridging? I feel sure it is, but in the rush to innovate and explore these technologies, we're leaving behind a swathe of people with their misconception about what the internet is or isn't.