do u im + txt or r u 1 who dsnt?

There is a huge technology divide in society, but it is not where you might think it is. This divide does not separate those who have computers and those who don’t. It’s instant messaging. Whether the medium is MSN or texting on your cell phone, it’s clear that there are those who “get” instant messaging, and then there’s the rest of us.

By Tom Lee, Maplesoft May 1, 2007

There is a huge technology divide in society, but it is not where you might think it is. This divide does not separate those who have computers and those who don’t. It’s instant messaging. Whether the medium is MSN or texting on your cell phone, it’s clear that there are those who “get” instant messaging, and then there’s the rest of us.

By the “rest of us,” I refer my generation of 30- and 40-somethings who thought we lived and breathed technology. We were the first generation to hack openly and use the word “digital” freely in conversation. But, somehow over the past decade, we lost our sense of techno-hip.

Now instant messaging embodies all that eludes our worldview. Although we can surf and buy cameras online, we have no idea how anyone can have meaningful communication through a medium that encourages terse, out of context, ad hoc streams of mini-consciousness. When we discovered e-mail and newsgroups in the 80’s, we thought we were bringing the world closer together, not collapsing time and space altogether.

I have been undergoing some strong new media therapy in my role as the designer and host of our company’s new blogging site and our podcasts. These represent to me the antitheses of quality—and, as they say, “quality is job one” for most engineers. Blogs are impulsive commentary by people who are willing to share their most intimate thoughts with a world that may not care. Podcasts are radio-like programs that are produced on cheap equipment featuring people who most likely will never become movie stars.

It’s been a couple of years since we launched our blogging site and about a year since we launched our podcasts, and I am doing much better, thank you. Our blog site is thriving and we’ve been able to implement some innovative stuff like live math content publishing and even a travel guide for math and science types. Our podcast audience is growing and we’re becoming more adventurous with the content, including an episode where I do “remote” interviews with some customers in Japan.

The big hurdle for me really was the quality issue. In the new media world, speed and spontaneity are everything—sometimes at the price of quality and order. There is something fundamentally “un-engineering” about this. Ironically, when I started college, the first thing they told us was that engineering was a creative profession, but our medium is science or technology rather than a canvas or musical staff. Over the years, most of us forgot about such notions or simply wrote it off as academic drivel. Engineering creativity is about embracing challenges and change and developing innovative solutions. Our world now faces immense challenges, many of which may only be solvable through science and technology. This is no time for our profession to get boring.

Working in new media has been a great way to reignite the passion that brought me into engineering. The ability to explore and share the most interesting parts of our profession has not only been therapeutic, but it has contributed to our company’s overall customer service and promotional efforts. Doing something cool and helping our bottom line? That’s just sick—LOL.

Author Information
Tom Lee is vice president of market development at Maplesoft. He is the chief editor of