Why A Digital Excellence Conference For Chicago

September 2010 CDAA FlyerYou may ask the question: Why a digital excellence conference in Chicago and why should you attend?  Who are we who are presenting this conference and what relevance does the conference have for you? Our answer is: if you are a citizen of Chicago and if you care about Chicago’s future as a world-class digitally-empowered city, then our conference is one you should consider attending. Here’s why.


We organized the 1st Chicago Neighborhood Digital Excellence Conference And Technology Fair to bring together the people – tech activists, academics, government officials, non-profit staff members – who represent a movement to empower local community residents with access to today’s technology tools – computer hardware and software – and the skills to use those tools for job creation, information sharing and economic development. Our conference attendees are the grassroots experts whose often-times volunteer work every day with local residents empowers them with skills to use digital tools to improve their lives and create future opportunities.


It may seem quaint now, the idea of a digital divide where technology tools were available and usable only by a relative few. But a digital divide still exists, based on income and knowledge now more than mere access to the tools themselves, as you’ll learn at the conference.


When many of us in the neighborhood technology movement joined it,  computers were expensive devices that only a few understood how to use. We wanted our kids and neighbors to have access to these machines because we could see a future where knowing how to use computers to access and process information would be critical to our ability to find and obtain a job, pay bills, and connect with services.

Now $50 cell phones pack the power of yesterday’s desktop PCs. Networked desktop computers and laptops are, according to some studies, in 98% of our public and catholic schools. If you want Internet access, say the critics of the notion of a digital divide, you can get it through wi-fi, phone dsl, local fiber-optics, cable or mobile broadband wimax. You can watch TV-quality video on devices ranging from a cell-phone to a 24″ touchscreen monitor.

So why are we still talking about a digital divide? Because the things we want to do with technology tools today are vastly different than what we could do even a decade ago, and the power to do those things – to broadcast streaming video, connect with each other through social networking sites, attend classes online, shop for life’s necessities or tap into government info services – require the kind of broadband access that eludes many of us based on income and availability.

Karen Mossberger’s report says in part that a significant percentage of Chicagoans – as high as 25% – are disconnected from the internet and broadband access and cite income – ability to pay – as the reason. The gaps persist and are higher in many low-income Chicago neighborhoods.

According to Frank Olasz with Lone Star Consulting, as a nation the United States is 22nd in the world in broadband access and adoption. And James Carlini of Carlini Associates has consistently criticized the lack of the kind of high-speed broaband infrastructure – 1 gigabit versus the 54mb to 100 mb we have now – that is commonly found in other countries around the world and is essential to our competitiveness in the new world marketplace and ability to create employment and wealth-building opportunities.


In our six (6) morning workshops and afternoon roundtable sessions, we connect you with the experts – people like Denise Zaccardi, Sandee Kastrul, Rose Mabwa, Michael Maranda, Lowry Taylor, Licia Knight, Vincent McCaskill and many others – who are working everyday in communities on the front lines of the digital access movement, helping residents, non-profits and small businesses build their skills. You’ll meet some of the managers of the more than $21 million in federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program funding received by Chicago to provide training for 22,000 residents and hundreds of public computing centers and find out their plans for bringing those training resources to your communities.


What kind of city do you want to live in? We’re in the second decade of the 21st century. What kind of life did you envision living in 2010? By most accounts, we’re in the third year of a world-wide economic recession that supposedly ended a year ago, but the effects of which are still rebounding through our everyday lives. Chicago as a city was in the running for the Olympics – but its infrastructure and use of digital tools and resources weren’t world-class.

At our conference, you’ll network, share with and learn from the grassroots experts who have a passion for building a connected Chicago, the kind of city the Chicago Digital Access Alliance envisioned when it partnered with the Mayor’s Committee To Eliminate The Digital Divide on the groundbreaking report, “The City That Networks: Transforming Community And Society Through Digital Excellence.”

We invite you to join us at our conference. To register, click here.

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