Everyone deserves the right to feel overwhelmed

BlogHer Original Post

When I photograph, what I'm really doing is seeking answers to things.

-Wynn Bullock

Lately, I’ve been having the same conversation over and over. It always comes innocently out of the general inquiry, “So, what have you been up to?” I may mention attending the recent BlogHer Conference, blogging or photography, in general. Right around here, I get something like this:

“Oi. It’s too much. There’s too much to read, too many cool people creating amazing things I need to know about and too much technology I don’t understand. I am so late and the longer I wait, the further behind I feel. I know i need to get on the bus but I can't seem to catch it.”

I’ve heard this general angst in several forms over the past few weeks and I’m not sure what is sparking it but I can certainly relate. All those glorious choices in technology are liberating but it also feels like trying to swim while being repeatedly pounded by voracious waves, “Look at this! Do this! Learn this! Read this! Comment here!” Sometimes, it’s all I can do to scramble to my towel, have a lie down and snort out some sea water. While it’s distressing to hear this among my friends, it’s also heartening to hear that I am not alone.

Furthermore, I work in communications for the tech industry. I read and hear about companies trying to bridge the ‘digital divide’ in ‘emerging markets’ – which means getting laptops to citizens, mainly children, of third world countries. They want to bring Google to huts and yurts across the planet and I applaud them; everyone in the world deserves the joy that I Can Has Cheezburger can only provide. Quite frankly, I’m not sure how any nation can even hold conversations at UN cocktail parties without daily access to The Superficial . Well, you can make damn sure that the Jobs/Gates characters of the world will change that.

Nevertheless, when I hear the oft-repeated phrase “reaching the next billion users” I have to shake my head. What these well-meaning guys don’t realize is a good chunk of these users might be women living in the U.S.

Every year, I host an annual gathering of my best girlfriends – friendships dating back to pre-school and nearly every year since – at my family’s mountain cabin. This past May was the first time that my much wired pal, Val, attended (she is an evangelist for Adobe) and quite naturally, brought along her laptop. She fired it up one morning (wireless at 7,200 feet! Woo-hoo!) and I watched as all the women gathered around it like an old time radio, fascinated. I sat silently in the corner, like some Attenborough character hiding in the bush - with my camera, of course.

To my utter amazement, I watched Val introduce them to a whole new world. Though most had heard of Google, none had heard of FaceBook, Flickr, Photobucket or MySpace. (They are all mothers but their kids are quite young.) Most were still paying for their email, which they rarely checked. In a particularly hilarious discovery, Val enlightened them to the behavior of a certain Miss Spears and there was much clucking and horrified gawking at the starlet’s hoo-ha – a global event that they had been spared. The room vacillated between shrieking laughter and lots of tsk-tsking.

This morning, I received two emails from two women (both family members) who have resolved to become more engaged with the conversation that is the internet. The first is my sister, who admits to checking her email, “every six months or so” and yet, is hopelessly addicted to “World of Warcraft.” The other, my sister-in-law’s sister, after much teasing wrote: “I now have my computer on a desk. It was on the floor in the corner of my guest bedroom for months! I check it everyday! I'm learning to embrace technology, and make you proud sistah!”

Why the sudden change? Both women received new laptops which, apparently, are the official floatie device for anyone nervous about jumping in. When one is online nearly every day, it’s too easy to forget that not everyone spends their time likewise. (I lift my tiara to Mommy Bloggers everywhere at this point – I can only recline in awe.)

There is still plenty of demystifying to be done. I am constantly meeting women who want to explore their creativity online but get intimidated (as I do, every darn day) by their sense of limited tech knowledge. On a yoga retreat recently, I met a woman who was busy raising two teenage daughters (a phenomenally important task, I cannot imagine) but was also thinking about returning to her original love: photography. “I know everything is digital now and I’m fighting it. I just don’t know if I can do it,” she said.

There it is again! That psychological chasm, I know it well. There have been many times – several at the BlogHer Con – when the void in my knowledge felt wide and deep and somewhat uncrossable. Thankfully, women are never strangers to one another for very long and I’ve resolved to reach out to those who know more while reaching back to pull others forward. I resolve to start with this woman, helping her to access this new world.

Reminds me of a very funny, brilliant writing teacher I once had. She’d have a bunch of us over to her house and we’d sit around in her living room, learning and absorbing, reading aloud and critiquing. One day, I thanked her for passing along her pearls of wisdom. She laughed and said, “Heather, you have no idea. I learn this stuff about five minutes before you guys ring the doorbell.”

In that spirit, consider this a challenge: Take someone on, a reluctant guy or gal who is intimidated by technology, and lead them by the hand. Find that person who really wants to join the party but is afraid of looking stupid and take them to the dance. You'd be amazed at how much you know.

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