The Digital Mystique: An Interview With Author Sarah Granger

Image courtesy of Seal Press

Recently released, The Digital Mystique: How the Culture of Connectivity Can Empower Your Life–Online and Off by Sarah Granger, officially launches this week as the most comprehensive guide on understanding, strategizing, and optimizing your online presence and activity.

Written for both experienced and novice users, Sarah Granger meticulously combs through the professional and personal ways you can use connectivity to enhance your everyday life.

I first met Sarah almost 15 years ago when we both worked at Artloop, a startup seeking to connect art lovers with historical background, museum, and collector information. Even then she had such an incredible sense of what our relationship to the internet could accomplish. Over  the years, as I moved from West Coast to East Coast then back to West Coast, I managed to keep in touch with Sarah, mostly thanks to our digital options. I sat down with her recently to discuss her new book and explore The Digital Mystique.

Sarah Granger did not start out intending to be an expert in digital media. Growing up, she was more interested in being a planetary scientist. Her family members were early adopters of technology, buying personal computers almost as soon as they were available, and she began using them as interesting tools. Through college, Granger began writing more and kept coming back to the intersection of technology and society. She credits her early exposure to technology with providing her a fundamental base that allowed her to view the development of our digital age with a unique eye.

My own theory is that while the brain is developing, early exposure to the structure of programming, technology mechanics, and digital problem solving creates learning pathways that form a foundation of understanding that is different from those who are not. I, for example, did not own a computer nor have an email address until college. I did not start learning to program until I was in my thirties. My husband, on the other hand, was exposed at a very early age like Sarah. His father was able to and interested in experiencing the future as soon as it came in consumer form, and by 15 my husband was working in tech support. The way I approach and understand technology is so fundamentally different from my husband (and even my kids) and I am certain it is at least in part because of our different experiences.

What about kids today then? Is there still a sense of wonder around technology? Granger says yes, but in a different way. While digital natives have a better understanding of how to manage their personal ecosystem, they tend to lack the mechanical knowledge that used to be essential. Still, this current generation that has never known life without the internet manages to create a sense of wonder by pushing the the boundaries of what is possible in very entrepreneurial ways. The key now seems to be how to use all of this digital access to community and business in a meaningful and authentic way, whether you are a digital native or not.

I asked Sarah if any portion of the book developed in an unexpected way, and I was not surprised to learn that the chapter “The Kids Are Online” opened her eyes the most. Every parent I know grapples with this topic. Coincidentally, Granger’s daughter was becoming a tween as she wrote this book and the online world grows more complex every day. She began to understand the perspective of other parents better and the fears they may have about online or technology use by their children.

Granger says her own experience and research did well to remind her that parents and kids today are dealing with the same issues, just in a different time. She had the same conversations with herself that her own parents did about digital engagement, and follows the same prescription her parents did: honest and open talks about safety, letting the child lead in how much technology they want to use, and focusing on why they want to use it, not how. The generation we are raising, however, is living in the smallest world that has ever existed. Their extraordinary world view and opportunity to access information is worth the few small and smart steps parents should take to be safe and mitigate problems.

Granger also touches a bit on gender bias in the book, mostly because it does exist and it is important we know how to handle it. For example, online trolls can affect our ability to articulate our views comfortably and tend to target women. Sometimes it even affects things we don’t even recognize. Most of the contributors to Wikipedia, for example, are men, and therefore there tend to be fewer entries about women, even if  they were significant to the period of history, movement, or industry. Wikipedia happens to be set up in a way that is most user friendly to those who are comfortable with programming, which is mostly men. This really isn’t anyone’s fault, but it exemplifies the subtle and not so subtle things we need to think about and change to prepare the next generation.

In all, Sarah Granger takes all of her background and knowledge to illustrate that we are experiencing an extremely interesting shift in culture and having people constantly online poses an interesting challenge. She shows through her own story, as well as the stories of others, how the power of community can change lives and how taking control of your online experience can enhance your life.

Admittedly, I was pretty cocky when I first started reading The Digital Mystique. I thought I was pretty experienced in connecting online and off in the ways that benefited me the most. Well, the book certainly took me down a notch. While some parts were familiar to me, the book gave me so much more food for thought than I expected. The sections on controlling online image, joining communities that allow you to be safely vulnerable, creating or upholding a loved one’s legacy, and more left me deeply touched and poised for new plans of action. Her writing is simple and easy to read without feeling that it has been compromised for anyone at any level of digital mastery. I could say that my favorite part was being surprised and delighted that Granger included one part of my own digital story in the book (and that was a lovely moment!), but it was the mosaic of personal anecdotes that made me not only rethink some of my own online strategies but also made me feel wholly connected to a entire community out there doing the same thing.

Disclaimer: I received a free preview copy of this book for review purposes.