CTCs: Partners in the Digital Access Movement

500 CTCs In Chicago - Public Technology Spaces

Editor's Note: Reprinted from Digital Access Update - Englewood Edition. July 2006 Issue. Copyright 2006 Pierre A. Clark and Digital Access Update. All Rights Reserved.

Teacher Antonia Stone created the first public access computer lab, Playing To Win, in Harlem in 1984, and at the same time launched the community technology center movement and the notion of CTCs as bridges across what was then recognized as an ever-expanding “digital divide”.

The Benton Foundation/MCI-sponsored 1995 report on technology access and non-profits confirmed what Stone realized more than a decade earlier—non-profit public technology spaces were important points of contact for introducing disconnected residents to computers, software and the Internet. In today’s broadband economy, of course, community technology centers play a different role, as public spaces for introducing technology tools, as hubs from which technology resources spread into communities, and as training centers providing residents with marketable skills that opened the door to lucrative job opportunities. Stone’s confederation of eastern-coast-based CTCs became the 1200 member Community Technology Centers Network (http://www.ctcnet.org), which is hosting its 15th Community Technology Centers Conference in Washington D.C. in late July 2006.

And now that we understand that public access technology spaces are really the framework that a CTC inhabits, we know that schools, libraries, non-profit agencies, Kinko’s copy centers, churches and public/private spaces besides standalone tech centers can also be termed “community technology centers”. The future for CTCs as the growth of the broadband economy accelerates will only grow in importance because millions of disconnected residents over the next decade will surf or design their first website, record their first podcast, or complete their first podcast at a public technology space.

In Chicago there are an estimated 500 public technology spaces created mostly by volunteers and activists through which tens of thousands of people each year learn, experiment and build their technology skills and literacy - with no funding or support from the City of Chicago or anyone else but other community residents.

The City of Chicago in 2001 once hosted a meeting at IIT where they unveiled a glossy plan to create 1,200 CTCs. (Let’s hope the 18-month old wi-fi access initiative doesn’t become a stillborn event like that one or the ill-fated CivicNet).

Fortunately, hundreds of people concerned about the future of public technology spaces in Chicago didn’t wait for the city. For the tens of thousands of people who use these public spaces, they are the true unsung heroes of the community technology access movement.

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