A young guy hunched down in front of a poster at the train station, copying down train departure times. The sight stopped me dead in my tracks, without me knowing at first why I found this so – anachronistic, helpless, inefficient, shocking? I didn’t really know what I was feeling, just that it seemed profoundly wrong in this day and age.
I think some subtle clues about the situation made it seem obvious to me that he’d come there especially to copy this information. The picture perfectly represented the old concept of information being something local, accessible only when one is physically present at a place it is posted. This concept of local information no longer occurs to me with most information, and certainly not with something like train timetables. I may even look up the next train via my phone while standing on a platform just meters away from a poster containing the needed information. The internet is where information resides now, and it is accessible from wherever I am.
Yet there he was – a guy half my age, somebody who should have grown up with the internet, resorting to an information retrieval technique I’d assumed outdated for him and his peers. He was not even taking a photo of the timetable with his phone camera, or writing a note on his phone, which I’d have considered more obvious solutions. It was pen and paper, no different from 20, 50, 150 years ago. (I did a quick check on my phone there just now to see whether trains where running in Germany 150 years ago.) The digital divide which is so often referred to as something between developed and developing country, between generations, seems to be a much more fractured border.