Do You Remember Your First E-mail?
This blog originally was posted on the Broadband For America website and is used here with permission.
A few years ago I was working at a nonprofit organization, overseeing a digital inclusion project that provided low-income families with in-home computers and Internet connectivity. As a result of the program, it was becoming common to receive email communication from our clients; but one day I received an email from an address I did not recognize. The message had no subject line and I remember hesitating to open it out of fear of spam or a virus – it never looks good when the person running the technology initiative infects the work network. When I finally double clicked, the message contained one simple line from a client I had worked with frequently:
“This is my very first email, and I wanted it to go to you.”
To some, this may just be an email. To me, this was witnessing someone successfully cross the digital divide – become a “have” instead of a “have-not,” and join a segment of society previously unavailable. It was awesome.
Over my years spent working on digital divide initiatives I’ve watched many more families gain access to technology. I‘ve been asked a range of questions from “How do I save something I type” to “I heard it’s possible to find a husband online, where can I do that?” But, nothing has resonated with me more than that person’s very first email.
I cannot even slightly remember my very first email, and the chance that I commemorated it or notified the recipient is extremely slim. I imagine this is the case for most people on the “right” side of the digital divide. Consider how many electronic messages fly in and out of our inboxes daily – Tens? Hundreds? Thousands, perhaps? So many of us now press “send” on autopilot – literally able to create a new message with our eyes closed – never considering that this is out of reach for many Americans. A surprising fact is that 12% of offline American adults say that the main reason they don’t use the Internet or email is because they don’t have a computer, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. This is a rare concept in the sense that many now have email and internet access through multiple devices including smartphones and tablets.
This woman’s journey as a digital participant may have been represented by an email, but closing the digital divide is so much more than that – it’s having access to the job opportunities at the 80% of Fortune 500 companies that only accept online applications; it’s paying a bill online and incrementally saving money on postage and envelopes; it’s easily accessing healthcare information; and it’s being able to provide a child online activities to help with their homework.
I am thrilled to know that I have reduced the number of Americans who lack in-home technology access even by 1. Today, years later and with new programs such as Connect2Compete and various local efforts, I am ecstatic at the opportunity to work with others and connect the 100 million Americans still lacking access to Broadband.