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Abstract

During the 1990s, businesses began relying on the convenience of ubiquitous computer systems and on the efficiencies of digital networks. This new techno-economic dynamic prompted White House administrations of the 1990s to take note of public policy issues surrounding the "information superhighway" and the "digital divide." Yet, because the digital world seems intangible, relatively few policymakers connected the virtual world with its potential impact on the physical world [Frye, 2002]. A case study of a community organizing program was conducted to examine the digital divide in the United States and its connection to other factors. This field study of computer-illiterate people in a public housing community was undertaken to better understand the complexities of the "have vs. have not" divide so that effective public policies can be deployed to bridge the gap. Community members ran this program with assistance from volunteers and set their own technology learning plan to minimize their techno-disadvantage. Overall, the results indicate the importance of a community-driven organizing strategy. Even though the program was effective in that participants learned computers skills, their emotional state declined. Becoming computer literate did not eliminate feelings of isolation from mainstream society, which is considered a factor contributing to the divide. Those who are adversely digitally divided may also be divided by a culture of failure. Bridging the digital divide requires a more comprehensive approach--and not a quick fix. It requires a process that is, for example, driven by a local community program and strategy to initiate and sustain members' use of technology.

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