The Hidden Human Cost of Government Going Green

In the necessary push toward a greener nation, we are leaving some of our most valuable citizens behind. While I am all for “œgoing green” and the overall “œgreen technology” movement, I can’t help but notice that the way the government has chosen to go about doing it is disenfranchising huge segments of the population.

Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with a number of people about the issue of the poverty gap and how it relates to technology, and the internet. Noticeably, the topic of green technology kept popping up in the discussion. Specifically, how the drive for forced compliance with new green tech standards like a paperless government is leaving our nation’s poor in the dust.

The problem arises when lack of knowledge and inability to access (or afford) the necessary technology now required to obtain benefits or jobs comes in contact with the immovable wall of government mandates. As our government makes its move to a paperless model it has begun requiring those applying for benefits, jobs, job training and other government services to apply via the web.

In many cases there is immediately an issue ““ either the applicant does not have access to a computer or the Internet or, if the government office provides access, there is a knowledge gap. The applicant often has no idea how to use the technology presented to them. According to people like Shireen Mitchell of Women Wired In this has been an ongoing issue reaching as far back as the misguided introduction of the ATM-style benefits cards several years ago.

When the three main technology issues facing the nation’s poor – lack of access to technology, inability to afford technology, and a lack of knowledge of how to use technology – meet the push by the government to go green and the enforced paperless standards, people are inevitably being left behind. On the surface it seems like an unsolvable problem, but I don’t think it has to be.

Granted, if we wait for the glacial process of government to a) realize there is a problem and b) do something about it, it may never get solved. We will continue to lag behind other nations in broadband access and slowly see our standing in the science and technology fields drop ever lower and less and less of our citizens find themselves able to compete in the global market, much less their local one.

To that end, I don’t believe that lobbying your representatives will do much in the short term. I think we should be lobbying for both equipment and access, but I don’t believe we should put all of our eggs in one basket. This is a problem that needs a proactive solution.

That being the case what can the technology community do to address the issue?

The answer lies in using the tools we few are so privileged to have to leverage our influence. Because we are influential. People do hear us outside of our bubble. Some of us are heard more than others, but everyone has a voice and, more importantly, a network.

We need to leverage that on and off line network, our social media contacts, our groups, web sites, and communities at the national and local level to exert pressure to fix this problem. Who do we exert pressure on? To a certain extent the government. To a greater extent the companies that control the access to the necessary equipment and pipelines that will get people online.

Now more than ever technology has become a basic human need. In order to compete locally and globally, people need access to a computer and to broadband Internet or they will be left behind, causing us to be left behind as a nation as well. We are the biggest users of this technology. If we organize, and speak with both our wallets and our voices, we will be heard.

Will it effect real change if we push companies to start donating computers and Internet access to the nation’s most needy? I would hope so, especially if we all make the effort to create one voice for change. Programs like One Laptop Per Child are a start, but they are not enough. We need more.

In addition to pressuring the big telecommunications companies and equipment makers to acknowledge and assist those who need it most, we need to pressure ourselves. Doctors and lawyers do pro bono work all of the time in their communities, and we should be doing the same. Go to your local centers and volunteer to train people how to use the tools of technology.

If you can’t volunteer, help find people who can. Use your network to touch and help people who need you, whether it is a church outreach program, an urban high school or a government training office. The first thing you have to do is be proactive, and you don’t even have to get off your ass to do it.