Digital Divide, Let’s Build a Bridge

December 18, 2008

For those that don’t know, the term Digital Divide describes the gap in skills between those with access to computers and digital technology and those without. I propose a way to build a bridge. The great thing about computers for the last decade is that they are mostly modular and they keep getting cheaper. Computers have gotten so cheap that there are completely usable machines out there that you just can’t sell because they are over 2 years old.

That’s where we come in. I personally have 2 desktop towers and a laptop that I don’t use because they are much slower than the computer I do use. They just sit in my closet collecting dust, even though all the parts work, and they would be perfectly suitable for a large amount of common computing tasks such as web browsing, emailing and word processing. All they really need is a sponge bath, a fresh install of a light-weight linux operating system and a little bit of loving and they would be ready for a new home. I know I am not the only one with computers like this, and even more so, many people have older windows computers that they think are broken because of all the spyware and viruses, but will be good as new after a cleansing format and fresh install of linux. For those computers that are really broken, there is a good chance that only one or two essential components are unusable, but the rest of the pieces are in perfect working order. From these we can create frankenstien machines that are stronger, better, faster… (queue your choice of daft punk or kanye west)

And this is where the real fun comes in. I’m not just talking about assembling a couple nerds like myself to process and distribute these computers, but starting a workshop for the very kids at the bottom of the digital divide. For those of us who grew up upgrading our video card for the latest video game, and putting in more RAM or installing that internal burner so we could share our pirated music, pulling apart and putting together a computer is no sweat. That means we should have no problem showing a few kids how to do the same. Then we give them an Ubuntu live cd and watch as they learn.

I know personally several people with the technical skills and the heart to support this effort, in the beginning we need not be too ambitious. As long as we can put a few keyboards infront of the hands of a few kids who wouldn’t have had the chance, we will have made a difference. I think there are several places this could take place, either at a local community center, or even on Campus. If we find ourselves getting more donations, we should be able to recruit more volunteers from the IT department at FSU. If we can start a sort of organization, perhaps we could raise a few funds from technology companies like Comcast that we could use to shop at the FSU Surplus Auctions for spare parts and extra monitors. We can also take this opportunity to responsibly recycle waste materials, which is not hard to do, but most people don’t know how.

So if you have an old or broken computer, let me know. If you want to help put together computers and teach some kids at the same time, let me know. If you want to help tweak a custom linux distribution and pack it with fun and educational software, let me know. If there is anything I didn’t think of, let me know!

Even if we are just throwing a few rocks into the river, lets start building this bridge!

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