Let’s Pour New Wine into Old Skin

Marcia Forbes PhD

Purist Christians may oppose me for seeming to challenge the biblical writing about pouring new wine into old wineskin. Using this as a metaphor with reference to the social media revolution now on in full swing, I am loudly proclaiming the gospel that new wine can and should be poured into old skins! Persons 50 years and older sometimes have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the world of new media. Not so this old wineskin. Although sometimes intimidated, I embrace the new technologies and what they allow us to do.

I will admit to resisting certain aspects, like posting everything on Facebook and making every thought and daily activity the subject of tweets. However, my latest self-reinvention and way of service to country, in particular the youths, involves preparing a website, www.marciaforbes.com, to be launched in a few weeks time. This exercise, engaged in with tremendous support from my web designer (God Bless him), has been a journey into the wonders of new media and social networking. In ever session with him, and these usually go for 3 or more hours, I am like a child, full of wonder and amazement at the seemingly endless possibilities and opportunities the internet offers. But to what extent are Jamaicans embracing new media technologies?

During my time as Chairman of the Spectrum Management Authority (SMA) as well as Permanent Secretary with responsibility for Telecommunications, it bothered me greatly that information pertaining to computer penetration levels and internet access was so difficult to come by. At the recent opening of the impressive new downtown home of the SMA, in my conversation with the President of the Jamaica Computer Society (JCS), I was disheartened to hear that the situation has not changed much, despite the efforts of STATIN and the JCS. Importantly, if we as a country do not know where we are on a matter as fundamental as computer penetration, how can we properly plan for the future?

If there is a digital divide in Jamaica, what is the nature of this? Who has access to a computer and to the internet? What are the differences between urban and rural computer and internet penetration levels? With respect to adolescents, the age group of my research focus, what are they really using the internet for? Are they capitalizing on opportunities which such access allows? Or, as found by Horst and Miller (foreigners who studied cell phone in Jamaica about 6 years ago), are they mainly using it to chat and to forge sexual liaisons? Coming out of my earlier research work, it became clear that many youths are using the cell phone and internet in ways which would confound adults. Computers in schools may be more about sex than studies!

I encourage parents and care-givers to embrace the idea of new wine into old skins. In today’s world, we need not worry that the new wine will burst the old skins since things and times have changed and 60 is the new 40, as many of my older friends (aided and abetted by technology) can attest. Engagement with new media broadens one’s horizon and offers scope for new ways of attacking old problems such as researchers’ ability to connect with certain ‘audiences’ in cost-effective ways. Not that new media is a panacea; each technology comes with its own challenges.

As I begin gathering data toward a book which will explore the role of the internet and cell phones on adolescent sexuality in Jamaica, I intend to use the internet to its fullest potential to facilitate this. This includes tweeting on a regular basis to build a devoted set of followers and making information which young people may find useful available on my Facebook and website. Kick off of www.marciaforbes.com will include a poll question soliciting information as to where Jamaicans of different age ranges access the internet. Is this at home, in office, internet cafe, community access point or elsewhere?

Based on information from an overseas publisher, 2010, is the year that Generation Y (those born 1982 to 2000), the 1st native on-liners, will outnumber Baby Boomers (those born around 1950 to 1960). Ninety-six percent of Generation Yers are involved with social media. Social media is said to have overtaken pornography as the number one on-line activity, with Facebook leading the way. If Facebook were a country, it would be the 4th largest in the world, with its fastest growing segment being –Guess who?-- 55 to 65 year olds, the Baby Boomers.

The idea of their parents and even grandparents accessing them via Facebook is off-putting for many young persons. I’ve heard them talk. But Gen Yers need to wake up and realize that new media is not their private domain. Old wine skins are getting in on the act and must continue to do so! As time evolves and social media via new media technologies takes root in Jamaica, I want to be among those who track this evolution. The changes are rapid, with convergence blurring the lines of life as we knew it. Jamaica stands to benefit, but only if we put the information super-highway to more productive uses. Less sex talk and suss and more productive processes via cells, computers and the internet, even as we await further and better particulars of penetration levels etc., etc.