Tuesday, October 14, 2008

First Dispatch...

The following was graciously submitted by contributing author and guest blogger Patrick Fitzpatrick.

Recently, I returned from my fifth trip to the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. Despite three years of Federal financial aid New Orleans and its surrounding area still looks as though much is left to do; for every one new home, there remains ten or more abandoned.

This last trip a schism even more twentieth-century than any other became glaringly obvious to me as I returned to the camp / hostel that I stayed in after work. There is a large room in Camp Hope, as it is called, wherein there are two TV’s, several couches and chairs as well as ten desktop computers with cables for an additional dozen or more laptops. It was a Tuesday night after dinner when I strolled in to connect my laptop and check my email. As my laptop booted up I took a look around the room and noted something I never had before: there were 8 people besides me in the room, all white, ranging in ages of twenty-something to forty-something. Both TV’s were not on. All of us were turned inward, facing our computer screens, busily tending to our online lives.

Having grown up in a home where my father constantly harangued us children to “turnoff the TV and go out and play” it occurred to me just how much my life had changed.

Here we all were, NOT watching TV, despite its hundred plus channels, despite an ongoing election, despite the baseball playoffs. All of us were checking email, updating our Facebook, uploading the day’s photos to our blog and generally feeding the virtual aspect of our lives that is for so many such a large part of our modern day identity.

This scene drew me back to the 9th Ward. In talking with the locals, some of whom volunteered along side me, it became clear that their lives existed solely outside of any virtual world. They had no Facebook, no Flicker, no Blogger accounts. And here is where that relatively new schism of American society revealed itself: Internet access in the United States today remains a privilege of the few to the exclusion of the many.

Like poverty and homelessness how can anyone claim we have a fair and equal society if a large portion of our society is devoid of the access that so many others have?

To put it in real terms, I can, because I have a high-speed internet connection and a computer at home, make an insurance claim, apply for unemployment, sign up to volunteer, have food delivered to my door etc. etc. without leaving my living room. The New Orleanais that I met and worked with couldn’t. They have neither the computers nor the access in their homes. Some still don’t even have homes.

An argument could be made that perhaps if the people most severely affected by Katrina had the access that I have, their lives would be repaired more quickly.

As America closes in on the waning days of the presidential election the two candidates are bickering about how to fix a broken economy and take care of the ‘folks on Main Street’. Spending a week building houses in New Orleans shows just how far out of touch the world of federal politics from many of today’s Americans.


Fitz

~ coming very strong ~

...since 1969
  

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