Nov
09

Planes, Trains and Mobile Devices: How mobile technology is breaking down the digital divide

Filed Under (e-learning, mobile devices, smartphones) by Jeff Hino on 09-11-2009 and tagged , , , ,

A few weeks ago I boarded a flight to St. Louis for a conference and met a young man who made me realize how connected we’ve become with mobile technology, across not only distance, but across cultural and social divides.

On a typical connecting flight, the person in the seat next to me will be from thousands of miles away from my home , and sometimes light years away in their social, cultural and world view. Not surprisingly, this disparity can lead to just the briefest of conversations followed by hours of reading, listening to MP3 players, or watching in-flight movies.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dannysullivan/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dannysullivan/


My flight with Marc (not his real name) could have been that way. Our lives were vastly different: me–a white 50-something assistant professor from a small college town in Oregon, and Marc– a black 20-something car dealer from inner city New York.

But within moments of putting on our seat belts, we both had our mobile devices out, making our last-minute online connections before the plane’s door was closed. I had my new iPhone and Marc had his iPod Touch. There was an immediate connection as we nodded at each others technology, and the conversation began that would last for the entire three-hour flight.
Marc offered me half of his sandwich (I had foolishly neglected to get something before the flight) and we began comparing notes on our favorite apps. I described my latest hobby using Geocaching, with the iPhone’s built in GPS capabilities. Marc countered with Trapster, an app to alert you to the location of speed traps.
I shared a picture of my ride—a two-seater—with photo altered with ColorSplash. Marc countered with a photo of his motorcycle. I tapped up Cartoon-Wars, and Marc pulled up Wooden Labyrinth.

Eventually our conversation began to enter more serious territory–learning from mobile technology. I showed him how I could view science lectures on my iPhone from MIT for free on YouTube. We ruminated how open education is truly arriving, and learning about any topic (including the Theory of Relativity—another common interest) can be fully realized for free, on-line and while in motion.

We parted ways, with me promising to listen to his favorite music, rapper Juelz Santana, and Marc promising to look into the TED talks online. It was a wake-up call for me about how mobile technology can help break down so many walls, whether economic, cultural, or just the barriers set up by seat dividers.

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