Monday, April 02, 2007

The Silent Minority

The Silent Minority

Two seemingly unrelated facts:
1.4 million Americans who have a computer in their homes refuse to get Internet access because they are not interested in anything on the Internet.

I’m the only person in my house willing to watch a silent movie.

Park Associates released a study of Internet usage. As with any study, parts have been pulled out of context and used for eye-catching headlines in the national news media – I encourage you to read Park’s press release for yourself and see the actual figures and their interpretation of them for yourself.

Over a million Americans who own a computer own a computer are not interested in anything on the Internet. To me, that’s the epitome of being uncurious. There’s nothing of interest on the net? Nothing at all? Considering the scope and breadth of the web, that seems unlikely – but realizing the full value of this resource is very difficult to explain. It really has to be experienced to begin to make sense.

As exciting and wonderful as the web appears on this side of the digital divide, there are those who will not cross over even though they can. They’re not just uncurious – they like it that way.

Which leads me to point two. I’m the only person in my household who enjoys silent films. In fact, a sure way to clear the room is to put one in the player.

Why the strong reaction? Acting in silent films relies on stylized body language to communicate emotion. Makeup is different as well, designed to make the face more expressive and readable rather than realistic. To watch a silent film, you have to shift your expectations a bit (but not lower them). It’s a little different than watching a modern film, but not tremendously so.

But that difference is the deal-breaker at our house. It requires the viewer to stretch in an unusual direction, and that’s where my family draws the line. I think the same may be true for those 1.4 million Americans. The net can be wild and wonderful, but it’s also big and messy and pulls you into new ways of reading and processing information. Whether its cinema or cyberspace, people are only willing to travel but so far outside their comfort zone.

And more’s the pity, because that’s where the really interesting things are happening.

- Ralph

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