How important is it that every member of a community is kept up to date on the expanding role of technology in our society? Enoch Fickling, the operations manager for Bell Atlantic’s Technology Center, thinks it’s absolutely essential.
What is the mission of the Technology Center?
Its mission is to educate the citizens of the New York area–and particularly the Harlem community–on technology issues and related products and services. We see it as an opportunity for Bell Atlantic to help bridge the digital divide, and as a way for the corporation to demonstrate its commitment to the community at large.
Would you describe what Harlem is like for people who aren’t familiar with the area?
Harlem is a wonderful, eclectic mix of peoples from all over the world. It is predominantly home to an African American population, but that population is also Caribbean, it’s Latino, it is Asian, and Caucasian.
We have the privilege of counting among Harlem’s residents Columbia University, the hospital systems, and several new businesses that are finding their way here, such as Disney and Starbucks. We have several large churches that have always had an active part in the Harlem community. Harlem is home to the Apollo Theater, it’s a Mecca for jazz musicians, for artists. It’s a wonderful, richly diverse cultural section of the city.
Can you elaborate on the issue of the “digital divide”?
By the time most children in Harlem are familiarized with computers or computer technology, they are in high school and maybe even beyond. In other areas of the city or the nation, that’s not necessarily the case.
In some places, non-minority students have access to computers starting in preschool. Our center is one of several initiatives that address that problem within the Harlem community. For example, one of these is an effort to build a backbone that will give Internet connectivity to a lot of the schools in the area.
What kinds of services are provided by the Center?
We have regular scheduled seminars that deal with all aspects of technology, from Internet access to e-commerce to Web hosting. We also have specialized seminars that are put on for community groups, business groups, residential customers, and we have a strong focus on education and the education process. On Thursdays we invite community schools and local groups such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and other kinds of training organizations to come in and take advantage of the opportunities for technology education that we have here.
Why do you think it’s important to introduce everyone in the community to new technologies?
It demystifies the notion that they’re “too technical” for most people to understand. We describe things in common sense terms, using plain English. We walk people through the basics, and as they become comfortable and familiar with them, we then ratchet up a notch so they can move onto something a little more complex.
Hopefully, they will have their appetites whetted enough to start using the tools and to begin to explore the possibilities that technology offers. When this happens with someone, that person is then in a position to take advantage of technology to improve his own life and the lives of his family and community. Everyone should have the power to do that.
And this a free service to the community?
Absolutely free. I’d like to invite anyone who is interested in coming to give us a call at 212-665-5000, and we’d be glad to send our brochure. We will also be launching our website soon.