No. 45 • 2021-10-28

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Above: Oct. 27, 2021 at the ExCITe Center: Reba Cherry (client of Better Tomorrows), Randy Debrauwere (Business Relationship Director, Unisys), and Mark Wheeler (City of Philadelphia, Chief Information Officer)

The Digital Divide Should Scare All of Us

It’s the time of year for scary movies and spooky stories, but here’s a frightening trend in the real world: the impact of technology is driving inequity (actually increasing the digital divide). The long-term implications of this on our society (on prosperity, democracy, social justice, privacy, and more) scare the heck out of me. I had the great privilege of writing an opinion piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer on this topic, which was published earlier this week. It’s the first of the “Rebuilding Philly” series, led by Drexel’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, featuring essays by Drexel faculty addressing a range of regional challenges. The thesis of my piece will come as no surprise to regular readers: The digital divide is largely misunderstood; rather than devices and connectivity, our focus should be on training and skills development to achieve digital equity. Below, I’m including a few items that were cut from the piece for length:

The 5 largest tech companies (Alphabet-Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft) posted more than $160 billionin profits last year. Their combined market cap is now over $9 trillion (the gross domestic product of Japan, the world’s 3rd largest economy, is just over $5 trillion). While they are the most profitable companies in the world, they are some of the least diverse: the employees of these (and most) tech companies are overwhelmingly white and Asian men.

It’s not just them. I work in higher education, the feeder to the tech industry. In 2002, a small fraction of degrees in computing were awarded to Black students (3.6% of bachelors, 1.3% of Masters, and 1.3% of PhDs). As of 2020, it’s essentially unchanged: 4.1% of bachelors, 1.8% of Masters, and 1.8% of PhDs). Getting into college requires a solid K-12 education, and many college-going students greatly benefit from out-of-school resources that some communities take for granted (after school programs, summer camps, internships, etc.). The lack of diversity in tech is a directly related to the absence of similar opportunities for poorer families (disproportionately students of color) and marginalization at every level of training.

Coincidentally, we hosted a digital divide-awareness event at the ExCITe Center yesterday, our first in-person event with external partners since the pandemic. We hosted partners from Digitunity, the city’s Office of Innovation & Technology, the Electronic Access Foundation, and Better Tomorrows to celebrate the generous donation from Unisys of 700 laptops to those in need. It is through broad partnerships like this that Philadelphia can become a model city for Digital Equity, and our efforts at ExCITe are fully aligned with this goal. This year, we continue the Digital Navigator help desk and will expand our efforts with new K-12 programs and connectivity and technical support for the elderly. We are seeking additional resources to further expand our programs. Stay tuned to our ExCITe Center newsletter for the latest on these initiatives.

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • Thriller [Jared Halley] Halloween special… Another virtuoso solo a cappella video performance, this time covering the Michael Jackson classic (the original music video scared the heck out of
  • Digital Inclusion Policy Priorities [National Digital Inclusion Alliance] A great list of specific policy recommendations to ensure a more equitable digital future for our nation.
  • Inventing the iPod: How ‘really big risks’ paid off for Apple [CNet interview with Tony Fadell] Following-up on the theme from my last newsletter, this interview with the creator of the original iPod captures much of the backstory behind the iconic device.
  • No Time To Die [All That Gaz] Honestly, I found the movie disappointing, but this is an interesting version of the theme song (originally by Billie Eilish). It’s a neat vocal arrangement, and extra props for the video, which uses only Animoji!
  • The Marriage of Figaro [Opera Philadelphia] Watching this wonderful staging of Mozart’s comic opera, filmed in 2017, I’m starting to actually think about attending live performances again. Now streaming on the Opera Philadelphia Channel.

What I’m creating…

We’ve started recording the Fall 2021 series of So Where Do We Go From Here?, my podcast with co-host Melinda Our Especially Spooky (Minecraft) Survival Server is now active. It’s the Drexel campus, overrun by zombies, giant spiders, skeletons, and all sorts of creepy crawlers. Use your knowledge of the Drexel buildings to gather the items you need to fight off the mobs and survive… if you can!  Join the Drexel Build Discord to get instructions to join.

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