I was spending time with a friend the other day who is about to have twins. I mentioned that in 2011 when I was pregnant I had to walk 20 minutes to and from work since there were no good buses to take and we didn’t have a car. She immediately said, “what about Lyft or Uber?” and then quickly remembered that they weren’t around back then. It made me think about how much technology has changed the way we work, communicate, and learn and has even changed how we commute. It has become so intertwined in our daily lives that we honestly can’t remember what life was like before.
I often hear people say, “I don’t know what I would do without the Internet.” Because I’ve worked closely with underserved communities for over a decade, I know that there are still millions of people in the U.S. who go without access to the Internet every day. They are excluded from the digital world where information and services are only a few clicks away. They lack the power to communicate freely with people all over the world and to participate in the online discussion that affects policy. Things like watching a YouTube video to learn how to do something, or finding an address on a map and getting directions, are taken for granted by those of us on the connected side of the digital divide.
Community Tech Network addresses only a part of the access issue. We know that people want to have the Internet at home, but they can’t afford it. So we do what we can to share low-cost Internet options like what’s available through EveryoneOn and free or low-cost computers available through Tech Exchange and Stride Center. There are also many people who lack the skills and are afraid of using the computer, so we provide basic computer skills and Internet safety training in four languages. When necessary, we connect learner directly with trainer to ensure that the learner has the space they need to ask questions.
I’ll admit that we think about this issue more than most, but at the end of the day, what’s important for everyone to understand is
- How reliant we are on the Internet and how having access to it improves our quality of life
- That without skills, many people still can’t access the Internet even if it’s freely available to them via their library or community center
- That rapid changes in technology cause other changes that need to be addressed, such as helping people gain the digital skills necessary to complete a complicated online job application or complete the GED
- That there are still 25% of Americans who aren’t online and that they are being excluded from accessing the most powerful communications tool in our lifetime
We see lack of access, both to the Internet and to the skills required to use the Internet, as a huge barrier that our society needs to grapple with. We simply can’t continue replacing our analog world with technology solutions and not recognize how this is affecting people. We’ll never stop technology from advancing, but we can have a conversation about how its continual evolution is impacting us.