All of the recent press about the digital divide between the people that have access to the Internet and those that do not made me feel both lucky and responsible. I'm fortunate because I can afford to provide my family with several Internet-ready computers. But at the same time, I'm obligated to do something to help those who don't have access to the technology due to economic and other reasons.
There are a couple of things I can do to help these people. I can give away some of my old hardware, which is still pretty Internet-capable. I also can volunteer at local community centers and schools, installing systems or even teaching people about the technology.
You can do a lot to help out, too. Simply put, we are the technology "haves." We have the education as engineers. Also, we have access to the technology, and we're savvy enough to understand it. This leaves us with two options. We can ignore the needs of our communities and watch them fall further behind the technology curve, or we can take action personally or through our places of employment. Often, we get so wrapped up in the projects right in front of us that we don't look beyond the goals we have set for tomorrow, next week, or next month. Still, we need to make the time. The future is approaching at warp speed, and everyone must be prepared for it.
The Internet is changing everything we do. At work, we use it as a communications tool, for research, and as part of the design process. Businesses are learning to leverage the Internet as well. Business-to-business and business-to-consumer activities on the net are growing exponentially. And as technology continues to expand our reach and improve our access outside of the corporate environment, more and more people will be attracted to using the Internet at home.
Many of these people, however, are "technologically challenged." They have little or no understanding of the Internet, and they lack basic computer skills. Yet these people—our families, neighbors, and friends—are the future of the communications age. Since we are its creators, it's up to us to provide the technology to the masses. We also have to teach them how it works, and more importantly, how to use it to become more productive while contributing to society.
What can we do to bridge this digital divide? How can we get the best results in the shortest amount of time, too? I don't have an answer yet. The technology at our fingertips, though, can be used to set up town meetings with community and educational leaders. Through those meetings, we can establish local goals and alliances to bring the technology "haves" in touch with the "have-nots." So far, for example, some team efforts have installed networks in schools and tied them to the Internet. But across the country, a lot more is necessary. What should we do? Send me your ideas.