Saturday, February 11, 2006

Technology and Homeless People

How Important is Voice Mail?
As I sit here at the NEOCH offices on a lazy Friday afternoon, I have found that our connection to the internet is down. It has made me realize, as it makes anyone realize, how reliant we are on the web. This much is obvious. But, what I think isn't obvious is how technology we take for granted helps to widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I am in no way selling the ideal that technology is inherently evil. Technology exists as an inert pile of matter that, without reason or independent thought, lacks all capability for good or evil. So as to not ramble on, I will leave this topic behind.

I work on the Cleveland Community Voice Mail project here at NEOCH, which provides free voice mail to the impoverished of Cuyahoga County. Someone without a phone lacks an important tool required for attaining a job and qualifying for vital social services. All mission statements and well-worn PR declarations aside, if one cannot put a phone number down on a job application, the boss cannot get a hold of them. Employers are fickle people and will look for any reason to throw out apps in an attempt to cut down on the oversized stack. No phone number means no chance.

However, there was a time when a phone number wasn't necessary because phones were not that common. Back then, a homeless person was not at as much of a disadvantage as one is today. With the advancement of technology, so, too, comes the necessity for this technology. As society becomes more and more reliant on more and more stuff, those who cannot afford to have a lot of stuff will find themselves at a heavier handicap. This is all especially true with cars, credit cards, Bachelor degrees, cell phones, and the topic of my theme, the internet.

I want to say, "Think about that the next time you tell someone to 'Get a job!' " But, being a post on the NEOCH blog, I can't help but feel I am preaching to the choir (you are the choir). This is nothing revolutionary, but an observation of our rapidly digitizing nation and its effect on isolating populations within our communities. Having constant access to the internet is something we assume everyone has, and anything less is a minor annoyance between calls to the cable company.

I guess what I'm trying to point out is how scary the future is for the homeless if nothing is done about the matter soon. While the rest of the nation races up a ladder, snatching at the elusive golden snitch, the homeless are trapped on the same rung they were sitting on in 1776. This has less to do with the manner of the homeless and more to do with the state of the society they live in. It makes me sad, and this seemed to be a good forum in which to share that sadness. What can we do but try to ensure that the necessary tools are readily available? A ditch can't be dug without a shovel. A home can't be built without a hammer.

--Josh K.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.


Kevin E. Cleary said...

Very true. Interesting especially because I was mulling over posting about the same topic on Friday while sitting in the office. -kev

Harmony said...

THANK YOU for addressing this topic.

I remember being on a "digital divide" discussion list, trying to put forth my experience as a formerly homeless person as it pertained to internet access, and being virtually ignored because the issue of homelessness was just too much like the scary big elephant in the living room which no one wanted to recognize.