It seems like such a long time ago when I’ve heard anyone openly discuss a fear of the internet. I remember back in the days of dial up that a sizeable number of people truly worried for the health and safety of those online. Sure, nowadays we still have people who feel the need to police the internet to keep our children safe (let’s not even get started on the Australian Government’s move to censor a number of sites for adults also, putting them on a par with China for internet blacklisting), but generally most people have adapted to the internet as being part of technology and part of moving forward. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t check my emails, Google something or use the web to build knowledge in some form or another.

With all this in mind, you can imagine my surprise when during a recent talk (at the Ideas Festival, Brisbane) I was heckled by an elderly lady in her mid 70’s who stated that she “didn’t agree at all with all of ‘this’ and thought it was all ‘rubbish”. The ‘this’ she was referring to was of course the internet, the virtualisation of society and the general ease with which people interact online. Now, for all extents and purposes she was a little ‘off-centre’, however her very present fear and confusion at what the internet was made me realise that not everyone truly ‘gets it’.

After heckling me numerous times and trying to get her point across that people don’t meet in ‘real life’ anymore and that nobody meets at dances anymore where they can do the quick step etc, she came over to me at the end, held my hands as though I was dying and said “I feel sorry for you”. I asked her why she felt sorry for me and she said it was because I had no friends and had to pretend to be someone else online to meet people and lie to them and tell stories. She really had no idea that the internet wasn’t some big scary place where you could interact with friends, old and new and enjoy communication through a different medium to the telephone. She was convinced that I went on there to live in make believe land and speak to make believe people who aren’t real and who have no life. Now, without resorting to traditional jokes about the internet, it’s actually quite sobering to realise this misconception still exists. Even when trying to explain to her that it was simply a new medium to keep in touch with people, she didn’t understand it’s purpose at all.

What it’s shown me however is that no matter how technologically advanced we become and how easily new technology integrates there will still be some crazy old loon who is scared of it. Okay, okay that isn’t really what it showed me. What it showed me was that there are still pockets in society who don’t understand the need for technology and who will never quite understand what people get out of it. This saddens me, because to be fair, I think she could have danced the quick step in Second Life someplace.