Blog Action Day: Digital Excellence As a Human Right

Blog Action Day: Digital Excellence As a Human Right

For bloggers around the world (including this one), today is Blog Action Day, which focuses attention on issues and trends in social justice. This year's theme - centered around human rights - proved to be challenge, until I realized that there was a basic concept which drives tech and the social good, that impacts individuals and organizaitons, from small community groups to large non-profits.

Digital excellence - the belief that digital access and literacy amongst underserved communities is critical to overall development - is a fundamental human right, and  key efforts in Chicago are driving that belief.

It seems almost inevitable - after all, polls show that 79% of adults around the world believe that everyone should have access to the Internet. A diverse array of organizations are working towards driving digital excellence by insuring that people around the world have access to technology, but more importantly, are able to use that technology adequately. Even a report by the UN Special Rapporteur in 2011 asserted that digital rights - especially as they related to individual expression and freedom of assembly - were human rights.

However, this concept is a hard sell in a culture where there is gridlock over agreement of health care as a human right - in fact, Vinton Cerf has asserted (like many others) that "Technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself". Of course, in a world shifting away from a skills, manufacturing-based culture to a digitally networked, knowledge-based culture, those without access to digital tools find themselves at a loss. For those who have developed strong digital networks, their contacts and information is parcelled out in the belief that they need to keep for themselves, seeing collaboration and cooperation as depleting - rather than enhancing - their individual professional growth at the expense of the greater community. For them, digital access as a human right is an abstract concept - not a working principle.

Thankfully, two organizations - the Southside Broadband Alliance and Greater Southwest Development Agency - have been working to create broadband and wi-fi access along the 63rd Street corridor on the southwest side. (Note: I have professional relations with both agencies, and neither one had solicited this article). Efforts are underway to focus more on "crowdsourcing" efforts (think Open 311), developing smaller networks that interconnect people, versus the outmoded idea of the "One Grand Database" of resources. City data is increasingly being opened up and used by citizens to learn more about local resources. These are small steps (which for some are not happening fast enough) which are critical in driving digital access and digital excellence,  fostering the development of digital, virtual, and social networks throughout the city of Chicago...and asserting the belief of digital access as a basic human right.

When I moved back to Chicago in 2006, one of the first organizations I joined was focused on driving technological excellence and social good. Back then, much of what we discussed promised optimistic results by empowering individuals and organizations. Looking at digital excellence as a human right, Chicago is only now beginning to lay the foundation towards putting that idea into practice...and I, for one, cannot be prouder on this Blog Action Day.

What are your thoughts? Do you see access to tech, digital networks, and/or software tools as a human right? Please feel free to leave your comments below. If you wish to contact me privately, please feel free to touch base via Linked In (please mention One Cause At a Time in your note) or via private e-mail. And as always, thanks for reading!

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