Taking part in last Friday’s “Broadband Comes to Harlem” was a great pleasure for me. The open event felt much like a town hall exchange with seniors, students, politicians, policy makers and anyone wanting to learn more about broadband availability and how it can improve their lives. I had the honor of meeting Florence M. Rice, the host of the event and the founder of the Harlem Consumer Education Council (HCEC). At 91 years of age, Ms. Rice is just as active and committed as ever in her quest to keep Harlem’s citizens informed and empowered.
I shared with those gathered my experiences with my Grandmother in rural Berkeley County, South Carolina, and how the “protocols” of the past had the potential to perpetually stifle one’s ambitions. Affordable and available high-speed internet can and will take any granddaughter beyond the structural limits of those “unpaved roads”, and has the capacity to boost the confidence and abilities of an entire household.
The adoption numbers affirm that seniors in America are just learning the benefits and joys of being online, through word of mouth or from peering over the shoulders of their children and grandchildren as they type away and share memories, pictures and a host of experiences. They are re-discovering old friends and making new ones. They are realizing that fascinating information is just a click away, and that access to hobbies and places to visit await them. They are saving time and money by purchasing goods and services online and spending less on transportation by accessing essential government information and services with these technologies.
But all of these benefits come with some realities that we, as decision makers, must take into account when we enact policy. An elderly man expressed his fear of possible invasions of privacy should he log-on and begin to share small bits of information in cyberspace. I tried my best to reassure him that current technology has come a long way toward ensuring web safety, and to be cautious when sharing important information to the people and entities with whom he interacts during his time on the Internet. I told him that the same common sense approach we use in our daily interactions with others completely mirrors the behavior we should demonstrate on line. It felt good to dispel at least some of his fears and for the others assembled to hear our exchange.
I really loved my time in Harlem. Meeting Ms. Rice was an incredible moment for me, and I plan to return as soon as I can to see the library’s computer area buzzing with even more activity and to meet more people dedicated to improving their community.