Two new talks

I have mentioned elsewhere that doing less public speaking was an intentional decision. I took some time off and now I’m slowly taking some time back ON. I did a great webinar for the folks at WiLS on how to teach online privacy in the library, my usual talk. Then I made two new talks, one at the request of a local senior residence and one for a local Lifelong Learning Institute. Different and all new topics and both of them I’m really happy with. If you might be interested in me giving one of these talks at your event, do let me know.

First, a talk on my quest to visit all of Vermont’s 183 libraries. You may have read about the guys who are doing this in Boston. I am jealous of their website but also maybe not in total agreement that rating libraries is good for morale. I did a talk with some library history, some library trivia, and a few good jokes about Vermont. You can see my slides and notes here or read the entire talk here.

Second, the talk about scams is more of an outline that I talk over (so no built-in narrative it sort of flows where the conversation takes it. People are concerned about the ways people rip people off and this is especially the case in the online world where a lot of people, particularly older people, can feel out of their depth and not at all sure if they’re doing the right thing. I wanted to give sensible, practical advice that wasn’t just stuff like “Never click on an email attachment!” because, quite frankly, that is dumb advice.

slide showing trivia facts about vermont's libraries readable at the URL given

Next week I get on an airplane to give a keynote talk at the MD/DE Library Conference. I’m pretty excited. If you see me there, please say hello.

the problem with digitally divided government

 saying "democracy begins with you, get out there" in from of local high school

[another edited post from a mailing list discussing digitally divided citizens. Some people were reflecting that their elected officials don’t remember being offline. In Vermont we have a different issue]

In Vermont where, at least where I live, ​our elected officials are themselves digitally divided and so can’t always make good choices for the populations they serve. So issues like:

  • What does a good website look like?
  • What is a “normal” way to use email?
  • What is reasonable to expect people to do technologically in 2016?

Are all determined by people who do not have much of an idea of the normative expectations in the space and who have to make decisions about those things. So to these three points…

  1. We have Vermont Health Connect debacle, very expensive and costing the state a hundred million dollars. People managing the program didn’t recognize that a website without a LOGIN button was actually not a good website (among other things). I’ve written up my feelings at length here.
  2. My state representative shares an email address with her husband, that is her only point of electronic contact. They’re both lovely people, but they’re not just citizens, they are sort of like role models and this is not a good tech lifestyle to model. Our local local library has a privacy policy to account for couples or even families with shared email addresses. Which is sort of good, people deserve privacy, but also bending over backwards so people don’t have to get themselves an email address which is normative in 2016.
  3. I serve on a town board. We get notifications for dates and times of our meetings in postal mail.​ We receive all of our documents in postal mail. This is inconvenient and wasteful (in both time and resources) but our town clerk is not that tech savvy and this works for her and the majority of the board. It won’t change until she retires.

Vermont recently changed their Open Meeting laws to tell towns with websites they needed to put notes from government meetings online within a few days of the meeting happening. Some towns opted to take down their website because they felt compliance would be too onerous. And all of these decisions happen at a town by town level.

People without a good understanding of the tech ecosystem are vulnerable to people who want to sell them things and can’t properly evaluate what they are being sold. I spend a lot of time just outlining what “normal” is to people and then getting a lot of aggravated “Well this way has always worked for us, kids today and all their electronic gadgets…!” pushback. So we do need to attack the problem of the digital divide from both (all) sides.

What about those 15%?

I’ve been refining my library talks lately. The one I’ve given a few times over the past year has to do with the 15% of Americans who still don’t use the internet (no phone, no home internet, no work internet, nothing). How do we work on this issue? Part of the good news is that the new Lifeline Program guidelines from the FCC do include “digital inclusion” (that is, making sure people can use the tools not just have access to them) as part of what the program is supposed to accomplish. This is good. And people have access via their libraries. This is also good. But some of what needs doing is creating a safe place where people can learn technology without being harassed by messages of hazards and pitfalls and social gaffes, often perpetuated by people trying to sell you something. And this messaging starts with us, librarians and educators and people who see these 15% as part of our daily lives. Positive messaging is more important than we give it credit for. This talk goes into detail about ways to do that and important things to think about in our own speech.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 11.06.03

how the broadband sausage does or does not get made

The Vermont Department of Public Service will hold public hearings to gather public input on the final draft of the 2014 Vermont Telecommunications Plan. The Plan addresses the major ongoing developments in the telecommunications industry, including broadband infrastructure development, regulatory policy and recommendations for future action. The Department will hold two public hearings in Orange County on the public comments draft of the Plan prior to adopting the final Plan. Middle Branch Grange, 78 Store Hill Road, East Bethel, Vermont, September 18, 2014, at 2:00 p.m.

telecom meeting

I went to this meeting. There weren’t even going to be any meetings in Orange County, the county where I live, until someone showed up at one of the Barre meetings and suggested them. So there were two meetings in Orange County last week. One during the day in Bethel and one in the evening in Strafford. Unfortunately the weather didn’t totally cooperate so there was a local power outage for some reason and a forecast of a hard frost that evening. So a lot of the farmers who would have shown up at this even had to stay home and cover plants and do other things that farmers do when the weather starts getting cold.

I’ve been doing a lot of leisure-time stuff in keeping with my theme this month but today I went to work. I sat and listened to multiple stories of farmers and other neighbors struggling with digital disinclusion. I took some notes and I made a statement. This is the polished version of what I said.

My name is Jessamyn West, I’m a technology educator in Randolph Vermont and I wrote a book about the digital divide. I have three points I’d like to make

  1. We’re interested in results, not projections. A lot of the data we hear talks about when we’re going to have everyone online, or points to the number of people who have this technology available. I’d like to know why people aren’t online and what we’re doing to work with those people. Saying that most Vermonters have access overlooks the chunk of people with no access who should be the focal point of future build-outs. This report talks about how Burlington Vermonters have a choice of ISPs and overlooks that most of us have almost no consumer choice at all.
  2. And while we’re getting people access, let’s make sure they all have the same access. People talk about 3G and 4G as if they are the same as cable or DSL. They’re not. They come with bandwidth caps, overage charges, and a lot of concern about impending lack of net neutrality. Similar to how, back when people had dial-up, some people in more remote locations had to pay for the phone calls in addition to having to pay for the service. We’re seeing the same gap now with remote users only having satellite or cellular-based access. We should strive for everyone having equitable access.
  3. Most important to me is what we call the empowerment or the usability divide. I heard a person earlier say she wanted to get access to the internet so that she could run a website for her small business. Just getting access isn’t going to give her a website. She’ll need resources and likely some human help in order to be able to do that. And where does that come from? It used to be that the digital divide was just “People don’t have access to computers” and then it was “People don’t have access to the internet” and now that most people have access, sometimes only through their public library, we are still seeing participation gaps. These gaps align along the same lines as other structural inequalities like poverty, educational attainment, age, race, and disability status. The people not participating are already facing multiple challenges. We know this. We need to find a way to support those people and not reinforce those inequalities.

The hardest to serve have always been the hardest to serve; the challenge of getting everyone online is going to necessarily mean having a plan for those people as well as everyone else. Thank you.