Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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10/27/2009
07:21 PM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
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Dealing With Digital Depression 2.0

I knew things had really changed when I came across a homeless man sitting on the ground at Columbus Circle last weekend, panhandling for $15 million to fund an "electronic Democracy project." One thousand dollars would go towards an iBook and $5 for lunch. He wouldn't tell me about his project in detail unless I put up some "serious money," but his request drove home how much has changed in our society since even the recession o

I knew things had really changed when I came across a homeless man sitting on the ground at Columbus Circle last weekend, panhandling for $15 million to fund an "electronic Democracy project." One thousand dollars would go towards an iBook and $5 for lunch. He wouldn't tell me about his project in detail unless I put up some "serious money," but his request drove home how much has changed in our society since even the recession of 2002-2003, never mind 1991.Then my colleague, Cora Nucci, pointed out a Boston Globe story about a homeless man named Kevin Boudreau, who posted an ad on Craigslist asking for

blankets, batteries, a radio, and "some assistance with equipment for building shelter"

Naturally, his ad was met with a lot of skepticism, at least initially, and as it turns out, he's currently not in a position to pick up anything people may want to donate.

But people are more generous than they're usually given credit for being, and clearly there are many who like to help. That said, we're not necessarily closer to closing this particular digital divide, which is the gap between those with stuff to give and those who need it. Restaurants still throw out leftovers, people still chuck unwanted furniture and clothes, and even businesses dump old electronics and equipment.

A site like Craigslist, of course, offers a great mechanism for allowing those sets of people (the needy and the generous) to find each other, but serious logistical barriers still exist.

For instance, Boudreau is stuck panhandling digitally in Boston, although there could be a great couch, or a $25 cash donation, waiting for him in Boise. But unless his potential donor is within walking distance, and moreover willing to meet him in person, there's no way for him to collect his funds.

We're part of the way there. Most municipal libraries now have Internet access, and there are some digital services for the indigent. But as our economy does a balancing act on the precipice of the first depression since the Great one, we still need to find ways to improve logistics and payment services for what some vendors euphemistically call "the unbanked."

Any ideas?

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