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MIT Aids in Technology Outreach

By Arushi deFonseka

Representatives from the organizations involved in the Camfield Estates-MIT Creating Community connections project met last Wednesday at Camfield Estates to celebrate its inception. The major goal of this project is to bring computer technology to residents in low income communities in order to bridge the gap of the “digital divide” which President Bill Clinton recently cited as the “key civil rights issue of the 21st century.”

As stated by Juan Evereteze of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “This (project) is to bridge this gap so that everyone will have the tools to move forward.”

Richard L. O’Bryant G, a Ph.D. student at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, has been working for the past two years on this project with Randal D. Pinkett, a research assistant at MIT’s Media Laboratory. This project doesn’t seek to address the issue of the “digital divide” by merely providing residents with access to computers.

“It is not enough to give them access because this will just make them consumers. We want the residents to be creators and producers of information,” O’Bryant said.

Wayne Williams, president of Williams Consulting Services, a company leading the training program for residents, said on Wednesday that “in five to ten years when we look at the Internet, we want a portion of it to be from the residents of this program.” YouthBuild Boston is also involved in training and support in this program.

About fifty percent of Camfield’s residents are participating in this project. Paulette Ford, the president of the Camfield Tenant’s Association, said that “just the fact that the kids will have access to [the computers] will change their perception of the world.” Indeed, this project is expected to help residents empower themselves and provide for more opportunities both economically and socially.

In order to participate in the program, residents had to take a two-hour survey to help determine the best way to integrate the Internet into the residents’ lives. “We are studying, through this project, the effects of this technology and if it will allow for increased social connections within the community. Our hypothesis is that it will,” Randall Picket said.

At the moment, participating residents are in an eight-week training program which began in the beginning of September. At the end of the training program, residents will have to pass a test to demonstrate their knowledge of maintenance and applications of a computer. Residents attend ninety minute classes twice a week. These classes meet Monday through Thursday and on Saturday at various times in order to accommodate everyone’s schedules. The instructors are all volunteers.

“We want to build both the physical and the intellectual infrastructure. By November, the computers should be in their homes,” O’Bryant said.

Several organizations are supporting this project, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Hewlett-Packard, RCN Telecom Services, Microsoft Corporation, and YouthBuild Boston.

Hewlett-Packard donated the computers that will soon be in the residents’ homes and RCN Telecom Services is providing the Internet connections.

“In the United States, 45 million people are connected to the Internet. Out of this, ten to fifteen percent have a fast connection. The Camfield residents will be connected through a fiber optic network that is on the property, thereby having the best services and fastest technology in the country,” said John McGeough, of RCN Telecom Services.