Information is currency. But, just like cash, it can prove elusive for some and plentiful for others. In our increasingly digital era, the ability to access the Internet is the key to greater opportunities. And yet, the digital divide persists, meaning that citizens from different groups are missing out on the Internet revolution.
One glaring example of the information disconnect revolved around Internet access at public libraries. The free service is one of the few ways low-income residents of communities receive access to the Internet. According to “Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at Libraries,” 77 million people use libraries to access the Internet annually, and 44% of people below the federal poverty line relied on public access terminals. In addition, 26 million people used public library terminals for government or legal services. Still, demand vastly outstrips supply.
Unfortunately, wait times for terminals can stretch across hours, and if the computers go down, there is no way to alert people beforehand. This caused patrons endless distress; many used public transportation or scheduled their library usage around their work schedules, which meant a wasted trip.
I discussed with a library staffer creating a simple SMS alert (text message) that people could subscribe to that would notify them of the status of the computers. The idea was well received, but stalled in the implementation phase.
Another moment I kept returning to when conceiving this project was working with local teens – and how they had absolutely no idea that legislation for a nightly curfew and restrictions to public space were being debated. When they heard the news, they were outraged. One boy got out of his chair yelling, “I would like to testify!” But the week before, I had watched a Washington Post reporter try to find teens to comment on a story, and tweet about his inability to find someone to go on record.
Latoya Peterson*, “Making Sure News And Information Gets To All The Public,” JSK: John S. Knight Fellowships at Stanford 2/8/13
*yep, as in the Owner/Editor of Racialicious!