It was every driverâ€™s nightmare. I was stuck at the BMV for two hours as they worked on a "computer problem." I went to get my license renewed – six weeks before my birthday so I would have plenty of time to spare. Yeah, right.
When the technical glitches occurred, I couldnâ€™t leave because they already killed my old license. So four of us unlucky souls got to witness how not to run a business. I cringed as the lady spoke to tech support in Columbus. "Whatâ€™s the monitor?" she asked. "How do I know if itâ€™s on? We already rebooted three times." Very painful for a techie to listen to.
I told them Iâ€™d gladly hop over the counter and take a look but they couldnâ€™t allow that. So after 120 minutes of my life passed, I got my driverâ€™s license renewed, scary photo and all.
Think the Digital Divide is just for schools and charities to be concerned with? Try wasting a couple hours while a worker has trouble with tasks you consider to be trivial. Thatâ€™s a byproduct of the Divide.
The term "Digital Divide" has been overused to the point of being a clichÃ©. In essence, it points out the gap in knowledge and access between technology haves and have-nots. The divide has been declared by some to exist between races, genders, ages and geographic location.
In recent years this gap has closed dramatically as people have recognized that, as society becomes more reliant on technology, a lack of computer skills will keep many groups and individuals behind the curve. Witness the BMV employee.
Have you gone to a UPS location lately? To send a package you no longer fill out a paper form. You need to use a display, keyboard and mouse. Thatâ€™s no problem for most of us, but can you remember your first attempts at using a mouse? Itâ€™s not an intuitive process. Many seniors especially have a difficult time mastering the mouse, yet they need to send packages, too.
How about the auto mechanic? Open the hood of your car and take a look. It takes a trained mechanic using computer diagnostic equipment to work on our cars. No skills, no job.
Watch TV and count how many times a newscast or other program will encourage you to visit their Web site for more information or to vote on an issue. No computer skills or access and you are left out.
And speaking of voting, imagine if computerized voting becomes a reality. A touchscreen display is childâ€™s play to many of us, but it may intimidate some tech novices from exercising their right to vote.
It also directly affects your business. If there is a limited supply of people with the tech skills that you need to operate, your business will suffer. Plus you have to deal with all the other people out there who may not be up to speed. A skilled, competent community helps us all.
There are four components to the divide – access, connectivity, skills and content. Having easy access to PCs is an important and manageable part of the problem.
As a longtime volunteer for the nonprofit Computers Assisting People (www.capinc.org), I have seen the access situation improve significantly. In fact, CAP has donated thousands of PCs (and printers, scanners, etc.) to more than 250 nonprofits in the Cleveland area. CAP has helped set up dozens of computer labs throughout the community so that residents have a place close to home to learn and use computers.
Connectivity matters, too. To really take advantage of all that PCs have to offer, you need to be connected to the Internet. The $30 per month for a home DSL connection may not bankrupt you anymore than a $10 dial-up fee, but it is cost prohibitive to many in our community. Fortunately, libraries and many local labs offer free Internet connectivity.
Skills, of course, are essential. Just having access to a connected PC is not enough. People need the basics but also need to be exposed to the great potential that can be tapped into with some extra work and training. Nothing frustrates a CAP volunteer more than checking on a donation and seeing it unused six weeks later. We have learned that just giving someone a PC will not solve the problem. Those who have paid with sweat equity consistently get more out of the PC than those who are just handed it.
Content is an often overlooked area. By content I mean good, useful applications or Web destinations for people to go to and the willingness to visit. If a student is given access and connectivity and spends all his computer time visiting a sports or music (or worse) site, the potential remains untapped. If he can be convinced (by peers, role models, parents, etc.) of the enormous opportunities available by straying from entertainment sites occasionally, big things can happen.
We saw it at CAP as a Glenville student parlayed his volunteer time with us into a full college scholarship. Or when a single mother got her first job. Or when a middle-aged man got a better job.
We see it now as men recently released from prison learn job skills and even start their own entrepreneurial ventures. We see the soldier returning from Iraq who no longer is satisfied with his factory job and comes by to pick up tech skills. Talk to a CAP volunteer for dozens more examples.
Cities that have higher percentages of their population familiar and comfortable with computers and the Internet will outpace those cities with a large Digital Divide. Period. A skilled workforce, an inclusive, entrepreneurial community and yes, even a shorter BMV wait are all possible and should not only be expected, but demanded.
Think the photo of entreprenerd Dan Hanson is scary? You should see his new driverâ€™s license. Send birthday greetings (Aug. 12) and other comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.