Spring-Summer 2005

My Fuzzy Crystal Ball

I am very skeptical of those who call themselves visionaries, thus I hesitate to reveal the scene in my crystal ball. A few members of the OCCN Board have pressed upon me the importance of being ready for the future, whatever that may hold. Since my crystal ball is a bit fuzzy, I've chucked it over my shoulder and begun looking at this issue using the only methods I am familiar with — fact gathering and group discussions.

This past year, OCCN conducted a survey of Ohio CTCs to determine such data as number of individuals served, programs being offered, biggest obstacles, etc. The OCCN Board then held a strategic planning retreat with board, staff and CTC guests.

The result was an acknowledgement that technology and how our communities use technology is becoming less place-based. We have seen an increase of community-based organizations (some with place-based CTCs and some without) operating mobile computer labs (such as the Akron Urban League) and mobile media programs (such as the Neighborhood Network). We also realized the kinds of services being offered by CTCs is growing wider. Some CTCs only offer computer usage and training for basic computer skills, résumé writing and Internet access. Other CTCs have entered into access and training for multimedia, IT networking, and PC hardware. Beyond classes, some CTCs are running computer recycling centers and giving away or selling computers for the home.

Considering the immense variety of community technology programs and the inclusion of non-place based programs, the OCCN Board recently voted to change the OCCN mission statement. The new mission statement was broadened to include community technology programs beyond CTCs. The term the board created to define who we serve is “community technology service providers.”

The Board members who pressed me to be visionary want OCCN to be prepared for any technology changes that impact technology accessibility and usage. Such a charge leads into the question of how OCCN can help community technology programs be prepared for technological changes. A large part of the task for OCCN and our members is being open to creatively considering how new technologies can be used to respond to the needs of our communities. Two organizations that already operate with this foresight are the Southern Perry County Youth Art & Media Center (SPiCYAM) and the Appalachian Center for Collaborative and Engaged Learning (ACCEL). SPiCYAM provides rural youth technology-based art opportunities to focus their energies. ACCEL has discovered immense success utilizing online curricula as an alternative high school education.

Another issue that impacts both urban and rural Ohio constituencies and that needs to be addressed is Internet access. Dial-up access to the Internet severely restricts the users' access to online information. Broadband providers install broadband where it is economically beneficial to do so resulting in some rural areas not having access to broadband. Both rural and urban area CTCs and individuals struggle with the high cost of broadband.

When I accepted the OCCN Executive Director position in January of 2000, I heard repeatedly that CTCs would become obsolete, that computers would be so cheap everyone would have one in the home and they would all be connected to the Internet. Those visionaries were wrong. The role of CTCs may be changing but they are still very much needed, and the challenges and opportunities we face in Ohio have resonance with CTCs around the country.

The community technology movement is changing, as it should, to not only keep pace with current technology but to find innovative uses for it to benefit our communities. Considering that the community technology movement is full of solution-minded activists, I have no doubt the challenge will be met head on with a plethora of amazing ideas.

Angela Stuber Angela Stuber is the OCCN Executive Director and CTCNet Board President.


Great perspective piece Angela!

Other regions are organizing and we in Illinois have looked to the experiences of Ohio and California for insight. We need a space for discourse among those concerned with regional organizing, and the future of community ICT.

How is the strength of our movement distributed?
Where is is concentrated and strongest? Where is it developing?
How can we help further development within our region and encourage development in other regions?

I trust that a gathering of facts and a gathering of friends will provide answers.

Posted by: Michael Maranda on June 12, 2005 01:05 PM | Reply to this comment

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