As we all know, February is Black History Month. It’s a month where we honor those who have made an impact on American culture for equal rights, those who have invented, those who have a helped others and those who have inspired everyone to be the best they can be, not only as a person of color but as a human. Last year for Black History Month, I started an online series called 28 Days Diversity where I would feature someone new everyday during the month of February for just being awesome in their own right. Even though it’s black history month, the goal for 28 Days of Diversity is to feature not just African-Americans but other minorities in the web/tech space. Also note that 28 Days of Diversity is not a popularity contest or an influencer list but a list of thought leaders in the social web sector, including entrepreneurs, bloggers, conference organizers, IT professionals and friends not ranked in any particular order who I have either met in person or followed online. Each post will include a picture, bio, two links from the selected person and this paragraph.
For 2011 I wanted to not just feature individuals but also address a topic that affects everyone. For 28 Days of Diversity 2011 each post/person will answer the question “How can we use technology to close the digital divide?” So for the next 28 days, come back to visit SocialWayne.com/tag/28daysofdiversity and 28daysofdiversity.com to see who’s on the list. For day 16, I would like to introduce to some and present to others the first 28 days of diversity couple: Anil & Varsha Chawla
Anil Chawla is a software developer, aspiring entrepreneur, and the founder of ExactByte, LLC. Anil started programming at age twelve and has been in love with computers and technology ever since. Until recently, Anil was a software engineer in the Emerging Internet Technologies team at IBM. After nearly six-and-a-half years in the corporate world, he decided to pursue his passion and start his own software development company. Anil’s current projects include social media applications tweetymail (http://tweetymail.com) and TheFriendMail (http://thefriendmail.com) which provide comprehensive email integration with Twitter and Facebook. When he is (rarely) not writing in code, Anil blogs about the impact of technology at http://marriedtoageek.com and his personal entrepreneurial journey at http://anilchawla.org.
How can we use technology to close the digital divide?
The digital divide is a strange phenomenon because technology is both at the heart of the problem and the solution. Two of the central issues seem to be 1) Affordable access to technology, and 2) Enough knowledge and understanding to effectively utilize technology. Although there is still tremendous economic disparity, I find the first issue to be much more straightforward. After all, one of the greatest strengths of technology is it’s ability to lower costs. The One Laptop per Child (http://laptop.org) program is a great example of how technology is coming increasing closer to overcoming some of the economic barriers.
So how can we better spread knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of technology to close the divide? The Internet has evolved from simply “connecting people to information” to “connecting people to each other”. I believe that this is the key. The ability to interact and share with each other gives us the opportunity to learn from and inspire each other. As the economics of technology continue to fall into place (particularly in terms of mobile devices), I believe that we will see communities grow to stretch across the divide and gradually bring people together towards a more equal standard.
Varsha works as a Product Manager at SAS in Cary, NC. She currently oversees email and mobile marketing, Business Intelligence, and mobile BI products. In addition to attending key marketing and social media events and conferences, she has been involved with local tweetups, the local chapter of the Social Media Club, and un-conferences such as BarCamp, ProductCamp, and AnalyticsCamps for the last few years. She recently participated in the STEM project, which encourages younger students to become involved in science, technology, engineering, and math. (Link to SAS’ STEM video). Varsha just presented her first workshop on using social media as a tool in the job hunting process, together with Anil, at the Meredith School of Business. In her spare time, she also writes blog posts internally at SAS, on http://marriedtoageek.com/ and on her personal cooking and recipe blog, http://varshachawla.com/. She is looking for a partner to help her launch the Raleigh-Durham chapter of Girls in Tech, so please reach out to her if you are interested in helping out!
How can we use technology to close the digital divide?
Answer: Many people are betting on mobile (specifically, smartphones and tablets) to provide easy access to the Web to those who still don’t have the opportunity to get online. I think that mobile will definitely be part of the answer, especially in areas where mobile has traditionally been spreading rapidly, such as Asia Pacific. I also think that closing the gap needs to start in schools. Of course, the lack of funding prevents many schools from purchasing computers and getting access to the technology they need to educate children. However, just as kids sell Girl Scout cookies and wash cars to get the funds they need to participate in extra curricular activities, they should be raising funds to start technology clubs and get hands-on technical training outside of the classroom that will serve them well in years to come. This means that school principals need to be made aware of the benefits and need for technical education. It also means that key influencers, such as successful tech entrepreneurs and executives at high tech companies might have to spend some time educating our teachers and local leaders – those who can make a difference. An excellent example of an initiative that I fully support and believe in is STEM. I think the gender gap will continue to close over time and am less worried about this than I am about children getting a leg up in the digital world. If minorities continue to show what they’re capable of, hopefully it will encourage more of us to try to make a difference.
You can follow the status of 28 Days of Diversity 2011 on http://28daysofdiversity.com, http://socialwayne.com/category/28-days-of-diversity/ and syndicated on BlackWeb 2.0.