The technology gap is increasingly defining a large number of crucial social and political questions.
From the ways that we purchase food and get connected with necessary services to the ways that we engage in politics; from the formation of social groups to the ways that students do their homework; technology and access to technology defines the ways that we are counted, heard and connected to community.
In post-industrial cities like Cleveland, especially in neighborhoods experiencing gentrification, the technology gap is coming to amplify inequalities that have arisen in the 21st century. This is no more true than in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood, one of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in Cleveland, as well as a neighborhood in which 1800 of the around 4000 households do not currently have a computer in the home.
Communities that have been traditionally employed in industrial and manufacturing industries are becoming unable to find work. These same communities are at risk of being displaced by rising rents, increasing property values and the tendency of city officials and local non-profits to listen to the needs and wants of newer, wealthier residents over those that are often silenced.
As these shifts occur communities that are at risk of displacement are faced with an economic situation in which their traditional places of work, which paid standard, living wages, are being replaced by service industry work.
All of this is occurring in a political situation in which participation in community decision making has shifted to online platforms. This combination of economic restructuring, gentrification and online political discourse means that not only does wealth inequality perpetuate, but is exacerbated, and all in the absence of the voices of those most impacted.
There are many amazing local initiatives that are attempting to provide computers for people across the entire metropolitan area. There are other initiatives that are working toward universal internet access. These are both incredibly resource intensive, and often lead to limited hyperlocal impact due to scale.
We, at Guide to Kulchur, are asking different questions:
What would it look like for us to undertake a project of providing universal computer access to one neighborhood?
What would it look like if we did this with recycled hardware?
What would it look like if we did this with the community, instead of for the community?
By leveraging our deep, meaningful connections in the community Guide to Kulchur is attempting to answer these questions.
Rather than solutions that only address part of the problem we are attempting a comprehensive approach, providing access to computers, the training necessary to use them and the skills necessary to participate in the increasingly technological economy.
And we will do this not through a program that is developed and then imposed on a community, but through a collaborative, democratic and empowering process.
With the tools in hand we can change this neighborhood, we can end the silence that many poor residents are relegated to, and we can do this together!
For more information on the topic of the technology gap and the impact on low income residents please see the following resources: