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I provide that background to say that intervention is necessary to eliminate digital divide. The divide, space between people with computers and people without, is real and we must take steps to close it, and close it now, both nationally and internationally.
Here are a few recommendations on how to achieve that goal.
1. Encourage banks to set up “Cyber Clubs”, much like “Christmas Clubs” where people can make deposits into an account for future technology purchases. As an alternative to giving a child a doll or game for a gift, take that money and deposit it into account. These clubs can make group purchases during July 4th and Dr. King’s Birthday weekends offering additional buying incentives based on volume discount buying. They can also keep people informed of newest, latest and most effective equipment and programs to purchase. Financial management, i.e. “computer banking” computer user groups can be formed to use technology to enrich community.
2. Provide incentives for community organizations to offer free computer training to their membership. Teach basics necessary to write letters, get on and use web, balance a budget or record one’s family tree. Encourage business growth. With a computer, whatever one does best, they can do as a business. For example, if someone braids hair, show them how their computer can keep their books, appointments, send out customer mailings, encourage word of mouth, file taxes, etc. Sales development clubs, on web and off, can also encourage economic growth. These clubs can reach beyond national borders.
3. Hold more and targeted local, state and national and international “town meetings” on web with elected and appointed officials answering questions and listening to solutions from constituents. Network ideas with resources and people to accomplish mission.
4. Provide additional tax and financing incentives to open computer stores, training centers, wherever. It’s not just low-income people who need access and training. We all do. I still can’t believe many times I heard “I never thought I would ever be able to use a computer,” or “I’ve never even touched a mouse”
5. Encourage intelligent, cross cultural-religious-economic-racial-gender, etc. computer use. With computers we see quality of one’s ideas before we see body they are in or lifestyle they live. The opportunity to build bridges is to great to ignore.
6. Encourage non-violent conflict resolution through a computer. It’s tough to use a computer and a gun at same time. Also arguments over modems cause less violence.
7. Promote joy of computing.
8. Unconditionally computerize all. The only way that national testing of school children can work is if all children have access to same information at same time. All 14 years of school should be available on web. Any child who goes through a web-based education should be able to pass national standards test. This is not difficult if we allow needs of students to hold greater weight than needs of unions and school officials.
The systems for success are already in place. Community organizations, one-on-one at home sharing information, economic encouragement and technology already exist to expedite process. With sponsorship opportunities for computer hardware, software and humanwear, process can pay for itself via an empowered tax base.
Dr. Martin Luther King was right. In my experience, which began on computers in 1977 at ABC Radio’s WPLJ-FM, table of brotherhood that Dr. King spoke of in his I HAVE A DREAM speech is a table with a computer on it, and good people around it, using it to solve problems and have a good time. Just like he was a champion of civil rights, we must all become champions of cyber rights. Government, business, non-profits and individual intervention will not only close digital divide, but where there was a hole in ground, new opportunities will be found.
The real lesson from original American Underground Railroad is that those who have freedom, have a responsibility to share that freedom with those who do not. Until that’s accomplished, we’re just a slave system in another form. When that is accomplished, everyone is free with help of ‘a friend of a friend.’ Free to understand, grow, pray and prosper.
How does one champion cyber rights? If you know how to use a computer, find someone in your life that does not know and teach him or her. If you don’t know how to use a computer, find someone who does and ask them to teach you. Help your organizations and institutions become computerized too. Everyone has something to contribute. I personally recommend beginning with each individual saying their own prayers for divinely guided computerization.
Regarding question can anybody learn computers, bring to mind image of an illiterate person who has already learned how to read screens and push buttons on their ATM. We are limited only by our imaginations.
Finally, a message from Miss. Roxanna Dawson. I had issued a challenge to Harlem that I was actively looking for first person I could not train how to use a PC. Since cost of training is that it be passed onto at least two other people, I could not back up challenge with money, but thousands of people came anyway over a four-year period. Roxanna, at 92 years old, came and said she was that person I could not train. I asked her why and she said because she was blind. I asked her if she was totally blind or legally blind. I had read Huxley’s THE ART OF SEEING so I know difference. I put Roxanna’s fingers on home row keys and had her type her name. I made type big and she jumped back from screen and yelled, “I can see.” The people in training room at Minisink Townhouse went electric. She turned around and said with a smile of deep pride, “If I can do it, rest of your have no excuse.” For her second lesson, I sat her at a computer with a 26-year-old woman and they learned how to use a mouse together. In between practice and laughter, they talked about community issues at a level that’s helped me grow ever since. Healing can be found in networking.
In summary, since cause of problem is a lack of adequate computerization, solution is simple – computerize. It’s easier than it seems, and when done right, its rewards are tremendous.
J. Nayer Hardin is the founder of Computer Underground Railroad Ent. Nayer created a style of free computer training, How To Compute www.geocities.com/computerjoint, that’s helped over 3,000 people between the ages of 4 and 92 learn how to use a personal computer.
The training was covered on New York’s WOR-TV in 1997 and her classes were featured on local cable shows including Harlem’s Winston Gilchrist Show.