Info superhighway is accessible
An information and technology explosion is overwhelming both private citizens and local governments throughout the nation, creating an enormous sense of opportunity and a profound confusion. Most Americans have some sense of the vast resources available through computer networks – at present encompassing some 30 million users worldwide – but many are unsure about how to tap into them. And few are aware of how tapping into those resources will change how they view themselves and their communities.
The Online Community: Smaller Cities in the Information Age, a report authored by Adam Slate and published by the Pew Partnership for Civic Change, Charlottesville, Va., addresses those issues. According to the report, “All over the world, nascent relationships will challenge the traditional idea of a community. Communities are commonly defined by physical boundaries, but with technology like the Internet, communities can form around commonalities other than geography.”
Already, towns like Dillon, Mont.; Peoria, Ill.; and Tallahassee, Fla. (along with approximately 50 other cities) are forging community networks.
Part of the confusion about technology stems from rapid developments in the field. Just a decade ago, computer usage by government offices, small businesses and private citizens was limited. Now, competition among both hardware and software vendors has shrunk component sizes, reduced prices and increased performance to the point that it has become inefficient not to have access to desktop computers.
But the value of competition aside, the wide range of competitive goods and services can be intimidating. However, as the report says, only a personal computer, a modem and a small budget are necessary to begin a foray into the information age.
“The information superhighway is not a miracle,” the report notes. “It is a natural evolution from other already existing communications and information technology.” The report attempts to clarify the array of options available by putting recent technological advances in perspective through comparison with currently popular and available vehicles for communication.
The hectic pace of the information age affects everyone. By embracing information technology, governments can reach large and diverse audiences while minimizing paperwork. They are using community networks as a means of managing their bureaucracies, promoting community cohesiveness and educating their citizens about further learning possibilities as well as community events. The fact that it is possible to reach so many members of diverse constituencies also allows for a more representative sampling of local sentiment.
Through online networks, individuals can connect to forum groups discussing a plethora of topics, including legislative summaries, local and global news, health care updates and special topics such as human service issues, the arts or other areas of personal interest. Specific segments of communities, such as the elderly, the disabled and youths, benefit from immediate access to a communications system where participation is possible without leaving home or school.
“The information superhighway does not accomplish anything that cannot be done otherwise,” says the report. “It just allows some tasks to happen more easily and perhaps on a larger scale than without this new technology. just as its development requires real planning, is the product of real work and costs real money, its utility will be sustained by the innovative thinking of real individuals.” The report is available from the Pew Partnership for Civic Change at 145-C Ednam Drive, Charlottesville, Va., 22903.