PCs for People in the Star Tribune

PCs for People are partners in the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities initiative. They have received a lot of well deserved attention for their program, which refurbishes donated computers and recycles them back into the community, giving them to families and people who would not otherwise get a computer. The Minneapolis Star Tribune just did a nice profile on the organization, recognizing their tremendous growth…

From 30 donated computers in 1998, to 5,000 a decade later, the inventory grew and grew. The 15,000th computer was given away this year.

Nearly 80 percent of families and individuals served by PCs for People have never had a home computer, Elofson said. Recipients are typically people with disabilities, or on fixed incomes or elderly. Many rely on a library for computer use, but may have to wait hours for access.

The article also recognizes the ongoing need…

Their work is nowhere near done. In 2012, the digital divide in Minnesota remains big and stubborn.
About one in four rural households has no working computer, according to a 2010 report commissioned by the Blandin Foundation. The report found no significant growth in computer ownership among this demographic since 2007, suggesting a troubling plateau in adopting new technology.

The divide is deep in urban areas, too. A 2012 Community Technology Survey conducted by the city of Minneapolis reported that 82 percent of city households have computers with Internet access. But only 57 percent of residents of the Phillips neighborhood do, as do 65 percent of residents on the Near North Side. One-fourth of African-Americans said they don’t have Internet access at home, the report found.

This is problematic for many reasons. Job applications are now commonly done online. Schools use online tools regularly to communicate with families. Even health care providers are connecting with patients online.
“The demand [for computers] always amazes me,” said Casey Sorensen, PCs for People’s executive director. “They say, ‘My friend, my social worker, my job coach, told me to come in.’ They can make a donation or not, but they walk out with a computer.”

One conversation I’ve found myself having with colleagues lately is the difference between wired and wireless connection – which often is really the difference between using a computer or smartphone (or other handheld device) to access the Internet. For many folks (if not most or all) the decision to use a smartphone as the primary tool for getting online is economic. A smartphone is much cheaper than a computer. But there are some substantial qualitative differences between what you can do on a smartphone versus a computer. I love my smartphone for directions, for quick reference questions, for staying in touch with friends. But I don’t want to apply for a job on it. I don’t want to write this blog post on it. When it comes to “doing work”, I want my laptop. In many ways I think the folks at PCs for People are giving people a tool to do work. When we spoke with them in 2010, 85 percent of the people who got computers maintained a broadband connection for it.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, economic development, MIRC, MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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