By Cindy Gomez-Schempp
Que Paso columnist
(Originally published in the High Plains Reader November 22, 2009 by Cindy Shawcross*)
The internet is a source of information unlike anything I had as a child growing up. In the span of time from my childhood to my adulthood, computers have become commonplace and powerful. Internet businesses such as Google have redefined how we live, work and do business worldwide. Children today use the internet for school on a daily basis, and the skills they develop (or fail to develop) will affect their job prospects and access to information in the future.
This powerful information tool is one that President Obama recently spoke of in China, discussing “open internet use.” He feels it should not be censored, saying, “I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free internet — or unrestricted internet access — is a source of strength, and I think it should be encouraged.
President Obama marveled at the opportunities available to his daughters to access information from their computers, noting “when I think about my daughters, Malia and Sasha — one is 11, one is 8 — from their room, they can get on the internet and they can travel to Shanghai. They can go anyplace in the world and they can learn about anything they want to learn about. And that’s just an enormous power that they have. And that helps, I think, promote the kind of understanding that we talked about.”
Our president recognizes that knowledge is power and that those who can access knowledge will be empowered by it. But censorship is not the only issue facing users. Access and affordability are also issues for many Americans, especially those who are living on restricted budgets.
The truth about access to internet and information services is this: those who can, do, and those can’t, don’t. Unfortunately, many minority groups and those whose incomes limit their ability to access internet services, simply have to find alternatives. Many people do not have computers or internet access from home. Many who do have computers do not have access to the internet or networks which link access to the internet from more than one computer. Some have access to the internet but with limited bandwidth, which restricts the information they can access.
The need to empower youth by allowing them access to computers and internet is also one that MIT’s media lab pursued with their “One Laptop per Child” (OLPC) nonprofit organization, whose mission is “To create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning.” The computers developed would be affordable (about $180) and given to children in underdeveloped countries.
Here at home, children need to access the internet too. Centro Cultural, a local nonprofit whose mission is “Helping Hispanics build better lives and stronger communities,” has been providing internet access to children (mostly, but not exclusively Latino) at a computer lab with 10 available computers (1014 19th St S, Moorhead). Children interviewed about their access to the internet say they face a variety of issues with accessing the internet when they need it, including having to wait in line to use the internet at home, depending on availability, bandwidth and hierarchy of family members.
Others who have no access use facilities like the public libraries or college campuses.
Perhaps in the future, programs like OLPC will be able to expand and provide children living in America access to computers and the internet. In the meantime, schools, libraries and community centers like Centro Cultural will continue to look for innovative solutions to empower youth to learn technology skills. For more information about Centro Cultural’s computer lab, contact Raul Fernandez at (218) 236-7318.
[Author’s Note: Centro Cultural has since lost its non-profit status and has closed its doors in 2014]
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*Original publication in HPR under the author’s former last name Shawcross and email. Updates to HPR’s website have inaccurately changed the name of the post publisher and date. Original post date listed above.
**Current contact email updated.