I currently volunteer at — and helped start — Free Geek Twin Cities, an organization focused on computer education and responsibly recycling e-waste. Recently, I helped found Open Twin Cities, a group of technologists, community leaders and public servants dedicated to using technology to enhance our communities.
Both of these groups aim to ensure everyone in our community has access to and can benefit from technology in the metro area and beyond.
This is a far-reaching goal — and why I’m excited that the City of Minneapolis does so much to promote digitial inclusion and is launching a new effort on Thursday.
About 82 percent of Minneapolis households have computers with Internet access, but they’re not distributed evenly across communities and demographics.
Only 57 percent of Phillips neighborhood residents, for instance, have home access to the Internet, and 25 percent of African Americans reported no home access, according to the 2012 Minneapolis Technology Survey.
For those of us who have it, it’s hard to imagine not having regular and easy Internet access. But for those without easy access or with limited knowledge of how to use the Internet effectively, everyday life becomes much more difficult: searching and applying for a job, paying bills, finding housing, or researching the near-infinite amount of knowledge online.
The ability to use the Internet and related tools is referred to as digital literacy, and the gap between those with and without regular access is referred to as the Digital Divide.
Thursday marks the kickoff of Minneapolis’ year of major citywide efforts to promote digital literacy.
Many business and organizations are opening their doors (more than usual) to help residents become more digitally literate. These include such places as Free Geek Twin Cities, Project for Pride in Living Learning Center, NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, Pillsbury United Communities / Waite House Neighborhood Center, and University of Minnesota – Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC).
You can check out more details about this event and intiative here.
There are, in fact, many places in the Twin Cities that provide free computers and Internet access. Often referred to as Community Technology Centers, they provide a much needed service to the public. The Technology Literacy Collaborative (TLC), a network of individuals and organizations that support digital inclusion, has mapped all of these metro centers.
But, even with nearly 200 of them, it is still hard to ensure that everyone has the access they need. It can be difficult to promote these services because the people that need them most do not have Internet access, so word of mouth is often the most effective approach.
As the year progresses, the city will be holding community meetings to discuss how digital literacy has changed and is changing. The meetings also will deal with how to start conversations that can best address the issue.
To find out more and to keep up to date with the city’s digital inclusion efforts, please go to the City of Minneapolis Digitial Inclusion page.