The Other Side of the Divide
You got it! Now What?
by Barry C. Tavlin
Do you remember what you were doing when you first "got it"?
Do you remember where you were when you first started to understand
that the Internet and the new technologies have the potential to
radically change the way we do things?
I remember when I first got it. It was a little over 10 years ago,
on August 20, 1991. It was the day after Boris Yeltsin stood on
a tank and denounced the coup that was then underway in the Soviet
Union. And that morning the text of Yeltsin's speech was there in
my inbox, on a primitive e-mail account I had with a service called
Peace-net. Someone had recorded the speech, gone to their apartment
in Moscow to transcribe it, dialed up to an Internet provider in
Norway and, from there, snuck the speech out through various networks.
The next morning I had it in my inbox.
Today we take this sort of thing for granted someone will
send an e-mail about a newsworthy event, and within hours it will
be forwarded around the world. But back then it was unheard of.
We've come a long way.
Do you remember what did it for you? Was it the ability to communicate
instantly and cheaply with people all over the world? Was it the
remarkable effect that assistive technology has in empowering people
with disabilities? Or the way senior citizens now surf the Web;
or the way children are growing up with so much technical literacy?
Or maybe it was how you can find out information about anything
in a matter of seconds.
Perhaps it was how people in remote corners of the world now can
have access to the full range of the world's knowledge and can more
easily participate in world affairs. Or maybe it was seeing what
you can do with handheld wireless devices or the possibilities that
tomorrow may bring.
Whatever did it for you, there's no denying that a major transformation
By now you're probably thinking: "Sure, that all sounded good
about five years ago before the dot-com meltdown, the consolidation
of the major telecommunications companies and the blatant swindling
by so many of the executives in these companies. Now the bubble
has burst." And you'd be right. Sure, the new technologies
have a great potential for communication, education, creative expression,
community building and democracy. But they also have great potential
for greedy opportunists, for corporate monopolists and communications
conglomerates, for scammers and spammers, for hate mongers, etc.
And we've seen numerous examples of all of it!
So now what? Should we just forget the potential of new technologies
now, and turn the field over to the telecommunications giants? No
way! There are still great possibilities in the new technologies,
and that is being proven every day in communities here in Los Angeles
and around the world. Instead, I'd ask you to consider how we can
help influence the direction of the technology so that it can be
of even greater benefit. How is all this technology being used to
address the needs of the community? How will it be used in the future?
How should it be used in the future?
What are people doing today to eliminate the "digital divide"
between the digitally enabled and everyone else? What can be done,
and what are people doing, to provide access for all and to go beyond
it to use technology to develop communities and better empower people
in all aspects of community life?
Some people have compared the Internet, Web, and broadband technologies
to the printing press in terms of the impact that they will have
on our society. I tend to agree. Imagine life before the printing
press. Now imagine your own life before the Internet and Web. Now
imagine life after it's been around for a while longer: the new
connections between friends, family and community; the improvements
for education and communication; the potential for assistive technology;
the engine for community development; the ability to inform and
organize people through online manifestos and real-time communication;
the channels for creativity, play and self-expression.
You've got something powerful there at your fingertips. How are
you going to use it?
Barry Tavlin consults on Internet technology and