Tech_DELTA Release 05

Wednesday, May 10 2006 @ 10:52 PM EDT

Contributed by: jwitte

This Tech_DELTA takes a different view. The focus remains on technology (after all that is the purpose of this blog), but technology in a different sense. There is more of an emphasis on how technology (or, in some cases, lack thereof) is changing lives of people all around us.

--Jennifer Turchi and Jim Witte

The first story this week comes from a Wall Street Journal article by Joi Preciphs. Her article “Helping Bridge the Digital Divide” discusses a new program primarily in New Jersey that is helping single, low-income mom’s get their lives “back on track”. The program provides free laptops with Internet services. There is a catch however. The mom’s are required to participate in and graduate from IT classes, which are intended to help these women find higher paying jobs. Positive results have come out of the home-based programs. To date, 92% of the women in the first class (of 128) finished and graduated. Statistics also show that of those who finished, they have seen (on average) a 14% pay increase. Participants have said, “I know the focus on this program is skills and money, but it really gives someone like me—a single parent—hope. It’s that little step up to pull yourself out” and “It was like an elevation. Once I got my life on the right track everything fell in to place”. Women report helping others who are in the same situations they used to be.
Time to step back to take a more sociological view. For many families the struggle with poverty concerns more than “better labor market opportunities.” Constantly living “week-to-week, paycheck to paycheck” or relying on others, begins to wear on their self-esteem. By not only changing their economic status, but also their perceptions of self worth, these moms and their families are gaining something far more valuable than technical competencies and income—they’re gaining the confidence and strength to live their lives and care for their families and to reach out and help others.

The next topic is a little different. It’s something we’ve all done at one time or another—piggy backing off of a neighbor’s (close or not so close) Internet service. We’re among the first to admit it. Jenn has horrible Internet service. It works maybe 2 weeks a month and often she finds herself having to connect to a neighbor’s service, in order to check email and things like that. Jim has great service at home, but on the road will pick and choose among hotspots. He knows all the hotspots in his mother’s neighborhood—anything to avoid her dialup connection.
Two different recent articles take two very different views on this question. The first “Hey Neighbor, Stop Piggybacking on My Wireless” has a very negative outlook to open networks. Michel Marriott stresses the security issues with having a non-encrypted network. He says, “The best case is that you end up giving a neighbor a free ride…the worse case is that someone can destroy your computer…” Many owners do not even know that others are using their service. Others openly admit to knowing that neighbors and others are using their service, but for them it is a passive protest to the high prices of network services. One user describes it as “sticking it to the man”. (“Hey neighbor stop piggybacking on my wireless”, The New York Times) The other article, by Timothy Lee from The New York Times, feels that “borrowing” Internet service from others is not a horrible thing all of the time. He believes there are instances where being able to connect to a network through someone else’s service is crucial and beneficial. He quickly puts to rest the security concerns mentioned by others, but recognizes that education of network protection is needed. Lee sums it up perfectly when he says, “sharing your connection is just being a good neighbor. Think of it as the 21st century equivalent of lending a cup of sugar”. We say: “How true, how true.”

Can you imagine a place where you can be creative and productive that does not have a computer, a television, a radio, or the Internet? You are probably thinking, “Say it ain’t so!” Well…it’s so. Businesses are beginning to follow in the footsteps of MacDowell’s eight-week fellowships in New Hampshire woods that have been offering a reprieve and sanctuary for artists since 1907. These programs have proven to spark the inner artist in most who attend. Can’t ship your employees off to the boonies for eight weeks? A great substitution would be to create a “green room” or exterior garden where workers can spend a few hours a week with nothing but them and their thoughts. Some companies, such as Google, are already promoting creative work by allowing their employees to devote 20% of their time to projects solely their own. Chief executives and other high personnel recognize the benefits to these programs, but are weary of walking the fine line between “creativity” and technology. Believe it or not it is possible to live in a world without technology AND be able to get things done! (Joann S. Lublin, “Nurturing Innovation”, The Wall Street Journal).

Finally, though it’s already May (nearly summer in the South) we have March Madness still on our minds. As we read the articles about the “little guys,” (think George Mason) – win or lose we could not stop thinking about the technology. What about those small schools when it comes to the NCAA and national championship tournaments? I bet, four weeks ago if I had told you that the final four would consist of UCLA, LSU, Florida, and George Mason, you would have called me crazy. However, it is schools just as those that are taking the Internet and using it to their advantage. For $7.95 a month, alumni, family members, and faithful fans can tune in to their favorite teams’ games over the Internet. Administration and Athletic Directors have nothing but great things to say about the service. Because small schools such as Butler and Northern Arizona University are rarely on channels such as CBS and ESPN, for them it is a cheap, efficient, and positive way to expand their fan base and even their academic reputation. The positives from this—students who are athletes for these schools can finally feel they have the “national appeal” that the Duke’s, Connecticut’s, Vandi’s, and this year, George Mason’s have. What a boost in confidence! (Joe Flint, “Show Time”, The Wall Street Journal). And we know ya’ll be watching for those Clemson Tigers in the College World Series…