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Morino Institute From Access to Outcomes: Digital Divide Report and Dialogue

    Premise Seven
Report Supplement
Using the Report

Premise Seven:
Make the Case for Applied Technology

Individuals and organizations who are committed to closing social divides should devote considerable time and effort to building the case for the relevance of technology within low-income communities. Given the evangelical fervor for technology that infuses many digital divide efforts, some may regard this step as superfluous. The truth is that most people, especially those in low-income communities, see little reason to embrace technology.

Worse still, many people fear or distrust technology. A September 2000 report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 57 percent of people without Internet access do not plan to log on. Cost is a factor for some potential users, but not for as many as one might think. In fact, UCLA’s Center for Communication Policy reported in October 2000 that only 9.1 percent of nonusers cite cost as the reason for not being online.

A crucial step for encouraging people to get over their fear and distrust is showing that technology can be highly relevant to their lives. One can make the case for technology in low-income communities in many different ways, including ambitious public-awareness campaigns and large-scale community organizing efforts.

Case in Point: It’s Not Preaching to the Choir

In September 2000, MIT graduate students Dr. Randal Pinkett and Richard O’Bryant launched an ambitious, well-designed technology partnership with the residents of Camfield Estates, a newly renovated low- to moderate-income housing development in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The idea was to help the residents, who already had a strong tenants association, build an even stronger sense of community by making it much easier for them to share knowledge, skills, and resources through a user-friendly online network.

Thanks to support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Hewlett-Packard, Williams Consulting Services, RCN Telecom Services, and many others, Pinkett and O’Bryant were able to offer residents a remarkable deal: In exchange for attending eight weeks of comprehensive computer courses, they would receive a free new computer (worth $1,000) and free high-speed Internet access (worth $50 a month).

Project team members, including Pinkett, O’Bryant, residents, and tenants association leaders, advertised the offer through flyers and a town hall meeting of the tenants association. Even so, residents in only half of the occupied units signed up.

"Despite the incentives," says Pinkett, "the remaining half of the development either did not see the relevance, simply were not interested . . . or thought it was a scam." More intensive outreach efforts have increased participation rates to about 75 percent. "For those who were not the early adopters, it has required nothing short of going door-to-door to demonstrate relevance," says Pinkett.

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