Why I'm Here: Cara Wilner

As we enter a new year, the staff at EveryoneOn has taken some time to reflect on exactly what brought us to work on the issue of the digital divide and what continues to drive us in our work. This post is by Cara Wilner, our programs manager. Find posts from other staff members here.

I was first drawn to EveryoneOn because of its work with the K-12 educational community. After graduating from college, I found myself interning with a nonprofit geared toward educating students and families on how to be responsible digital citizens. While I loved the platform and experience, I recognized that all the work was based on the assumption that students had access to technology both in and out of the classroom. I was only vaguely familiar with the concept of the “digital divide” at the time, but I knew this wasn’t the case for all students.

I realized that I wanted to be involved with efforts to ensure that it could be—that all students could have equitable access to digital tools in school and at home. I was fortunate enough to learn about the Connect2Compete initiative in early 2012 and got to join in right at the beginning of the movement to bridge the digital gap in the K-12 educational community.

The numbers were surprising enough—21 percent of households with school-age children without home access are at a disadvantage from their peers. But what struck me most was hearing from the families who were part of this “divide” and how they accommodated the fact they were not connected at home.

I learned that parents really did drive their kids to McDonald’s parking lots to try to access Wi-Fi and that young students had to figure out how to get themselves to a public library and be able to get their homework done during the 30-minute sessions allotted for computer use. I had thought these were just extreme cases, but I’ve come to learn that they are unfortunately representative of a very large number of students and families.

Along with addressing the needs of the K-12 educational community, I also love our involvement with the digital literacy training space. I sat in on an introductory computer and Internet training session at the DC Housing Authority and buddied up with a participant who said that she’d been scared to use a computer.

She was so excited to discover the Google image search feature—even a search of “cats” seemed to amaze her. It was crazy to explore the Internet through the perspective of a new user; it reminded me how lucky we are to have this resource available.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that it’s more than a rabbit hole of viral videos and Buzzfeed articles. I showed her how she can look up hours for her local library and directions from her house so she could attend more digital literacy training classes. She couldn’t wait to go home and tell her daughter what she’d learned.

For many, including myself, having access to a computer and Internet has become such a given that it’s nearly impossible to imagine life without it. While there are those who put themselves on “digital detoxes” to detach themselves from the access they constantly have, there are so many families who would gladly adopt digital tools into their home if they could afford them. Like the training participant, a lot of people don’t know half the ways they could take advantage of the Internet to improve their daily lives.

I’m grateful to be part of such a wonderful effort helping to connect the unconnected to the endless catalogue of resources available through the Internet.