Summer-Fall 2001

Gathering Together: CTCNet's 10th Annual Conference
by Lauren Kadi

This year's CTCNet Annual Conference, Advancing Community Technology ~ The Next Wave, June 15-17, in collaboration with the America Connects Consortium and the Association for Community Networking, marks its ten-year anniversary, a milestone warranting a brief look back at its evolution from the one-day, twenty-one person "All-Affiliates Meeting" hosted at the Harlem Playing to Win community computing center in 1991 to the three-day five hundred person Annual Conference hosted at the Town & Country Resort in San Diego this year.

These gatherings began eleven years ago, when no CTC Start-Up Manual existed. Neither HUD Neighborhood Networks nor the resources that help sustain them existed; there was no America Connects Consortium, no Digital Divide Network, and Falling Through the Net had not yet been published. Funders had never heard of the digital divide-in fact, the phrase "digital divide" had not yet been coined, let alone around long enough to warrant debate about whether or not it was cliché.

In 1990 a new field was creating itself, but its practitioners were spread around the country and working in relative isolation. The idea was forming that these centers should link their efforts and share their resources. Small pockets of peer-to-peer contact had already appeared, but a larger gathering had not yet emerged. In 1990, the Playing To Win Network (PTWNet, the precursor to CTCNet) held its first Advisory Board meeting, followed the next year by its first "all-affiliates" meeting.

When CTC practitioners came together eleven years ago, they found that they faced similar challenges to those faced today. They discovered that they could replicate each other's success, that they could learn from each other's failures, and that they were not alone, that others were engaged in similar efforts, driven by the same desire to create equal technology access where it did not already exist. The same atmosphere prevailed the following year at the second all-affiliates' meeting. And again at the third -- and at each subsequent meeting, attendance grew and venues changed from individual centers to museums, universities, and hotels with conference facilities.

Attendance has expanded to include researchers and writers and representatives of dozens of national organizations that didn't exist eleven years ago, all dedicated to working on different components of the digital divide. We have receptions and keynotes and "session coordinators" for multiple tracks and concurrent sessions.

Early in the history of PTWNet, an affiliate member had this to say on an evaluation: "PTWNet counteracts that feeling that you're battling on your own. It gives purpose to the work you're doing. You're working toward a larger goal." During a recent conversation, a woman from Utah described attending a consortium meeting in another state, expressed an interest in creating a similar group in her own state, and mentioned her eagerness to attended this year's annual conference. These gatherings affirmed for her that no matter where she went, people working on community technology issues face the same challenges. "They remind me that I'm not doing this work alone."

The conference may look a bit different now than it did at the first All-Affiliates' meeting, but the most important pieces remain the same. Its purpose and strength remain simple: to have at least one occasion each year when everyone comes together to recognize that we are not in this alone.

Lauren Kadi coordinated the 2001 CTCNet National Conference.

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