Working to Narrow Philadelphia's Digital Divide

May 17, 2011

When it was announced to the world that U.S. forces had killed Public Enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden, I got the news as a text message on my BlackBerry from a friend who'd received an alert from his online news service.

By the time President Obama officially addressed the nation, the news was old - 60 minutes had elapsed since the bulletin first hit my hip.

In the 24/7 news cycle around which our world revolves, being connected to the right information at the right time has become a matter of vital importance.

Sure, many of the folks living online are doing so socially, as friend requests fly faster than political promises on Election Day.

And if you want to apply for a job, more likely than not you will be required to do so online.

If you're trying to increase your learning, chances are you'll be asked to enroll via computer, and once you're admitted, your class will use online materials and may even be conducted online.

And recently it was announced that the White House will soon have the capability to text any cellphone in the United States to warn of impending danger, under a new emergency alert system scheduled to be rolled out in New York City by the end of this year; the rest of the country will follow in mid-2012.

Being "plugged in" is becoming necessary to our survival.

Sadly, too many people are left behind because they remain disconnected. The digital divide is widening within some circles, and you're more likely to be on the wrong side of the chasm based on your economic condition rather than the complexion of your skin. The bottom line is that if you're trying to figure out where your next meal is coming from, you're not going to be spending a lot of time on a smartphone, laptop, or iPad that you can't afford.

The good news is that Philadelphia is one of the cities leading the country in addressing this inequity. More than seven years ago, Philadelphia was ahead of the curve when it announced plans to make the city the nation's largest hot spot.

David W. Brown
Philadelphia Inquirer