Image courtesy of NAPT.
Austin, Texas: Native American Public Telecommunications, Inc. (NAPT) presented the SXSW Interactive panel "Popping Your Bubble: Stories of the Digital Divide" on March 9, 2012.
The primary focus of the panel was on people living and working in rural areas and communities of color and what tactics they can utilize to overcome their limited broadband access in a connected world. Panelists included moderator Eric Martin of NAPT, Allison Aldridge-Saur of the Chickasaw Nation's Division of Commerce, Dee Davis of the Center for Rural Strategies and Dean Davis of the College of Menominee Nation's Community Technology Center.
The panel was open to questions throughout the presentation from audience members. Here is a quick recap of what you missed if you were not able to attend the panel or SXSW Interactive this year.
#1 What is the biggest road block to people accessing the Internet today?
Overall, it comes down to money and speed. There's seven billion people in this world and two-thirds of them are not online. If you look at the United States, as a country, we've gone from first in connectivity to eighteenth on the list. The reason that we are disconnected is because a lot of communities lack the funds and thus do not have the affordability for access or training on the technology. Also, not all broadband is the same. Even if you have access, speed is needed. In many rural communities, downloading something as simple as educational lesson plans could take up to nineteen hours. Finally, the ability to have Internet access in the home is a constant struggle for many families and business professionals in rural areas and communities of color.
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#2 How can you best design your website for maximum user-friendly interaction, particularly for a rural audience?
The average person in a rural setting is going to be unfamiliar with standard computer language and flow chart navigation. Take the company logo as a link back to the website's landing page, for example. Many will not know this. When trying to reach a rural audience, keep your site's design simple and explanatory. Consider placing the word "Go" as a green button, versus leaving the navigation up to assumption. Companies need to think about using "bread crumbs" as we call it where it provides users a way to find their way back on a website. When you abandon the bread crumb method for a flatter navigation, you can lose the less-experienced web visitor. Also, make sure to have clickable hyperlinks and images that are easily recognizable to someone in the early stages of using the Internet. As Allison said, "You've already gone down the wrong design path if you think everyone is going to know everything already."
A follow-up thought is to design a mobile application first and then design the website to match the app. What are the key functions that people are going to be utilizing in the geographical context of when they are accessing your company's app? Doing this will lead to a cleaner, more functional site with user-interface recognition by keeping the branding and navigation relatively consistent.
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#3 Are there any other countries that have different methods of deploying broadband that we can learn from?
Dee recently returned from a trip to Australia and was impressed with their initiatives to unite the country through Internet access. In its last government election, Australia--a country the size of the continental United States but only a population roughly the size of Texas--decided to construct a 40-45 billion dollar fiber build-out to get Internet everywhere in the country. They did not have the mindset of getting games and movies out to their citizens, but to instead be a leader in a global economy. "Their whole nation is turning on to this huge commitment to the future," commented Dee.
Allison also added, "Geography becomes less of a barrier to economic growth when you have Internet access. We need to try to supply communities with infrastructure."
If we want people in Indian Country to have a chance to compete in the next phase of our emerging economy and particularly in those rural areas, then we need to re-imagine how we're connected.
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#4 Examples of how the lack of broadband has negatively impacted someone's life:
Dean recalled that last summer at the Menominee College extension program that everyone was afraid to get online because of the stereotyped "bad things" out there--viruses, inappropriate sites for children, identity theft, etc. The Menominee College offers classes to youth, adults and elders in the community. The paces of the classes adjust to make the Tribal members feel comfortable and willing to learn. Soon, as they start to grasp that this technology is beneficial, they begin to learn on their own--setting up cameras, Skype calls, Facebook accounts, etc.
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Allison recalled how rural communities don't really have fair representation on the online map. She's concerned about having increasing sophistication at exponential rates causing whole communities to be even less present in discussions of what's happening nationally until they are eventually forgotten. To keep businesses in small towns afloat and members abreast on political issues, they need to have a voice and stay informed--particularly as small town newspapers diminish leaving few or only one news source available.
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#5 Regarding marketing initiatives, what are some that have failed to return on investment due to lack of broadband access?
Allison thought of two marketing initiatives that didn't achieve their desired results due to the lack of broadband access. First, a company had success the previous year with a "tractor give-away." However, when they opted to give away ten iPads to their customers, they were only able to give away seven. Reason being is that people didn't show an interest in the rural setting because they saw it as only a money-eater when it came to securing Internet access or having to subscribe to something--not to mention a new device they'd have to learn with no one to educate them on it.
Secondly, the marketing campaigns focused on pay-to-click Google Ad Words. The user might see the ad and click on it, but in a rural setting, it is likely that any sale will occur offline. You have to remember who it is that you want to pitch to and how you can make sense of that experience for them. If we can imagine an economy where everyone participates, then those who are currently out-of-the-loop can take a bigger role and help move things forward.
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#6 Why should the Digital Divide matter to the people on the connected side?
Looking to the future, it is estimated that we are going to become 90% metropolitan where the wealth is centralized to eight major places. The country is in a tight financial spot right now. So, we must decide on the connected side if we want to limit the growth to just a few responsible parties or do we want to bring in more people to help with the load? If a town loses a store, it could mean driving thirty miles to the next nearest location. As Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota put it, "The thing about small towns is that everyone is needed."
Both Dean and Allison feel promise in the hopefulness of participation. Both could feel their communities starting to connect--both youth and elders alike. The need for contact with one another is a great feeling and technology can bring us there. Also, once you start to take a liking to technology, you'll only want to explore new things. There is a long way to go with literacy, education and access. What does this mean for this group of unconnected people and their respective cultures? Native Americans and Alaska Natives in particular are sensitive to decades of exploitation and many are upset and leery of what technology could do to further that pain.
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#7 How can technology help people stay grounded in their cultural traditions?
At the College of Menominee Nation's Community Technology Center, Dean Davis is offering usernames and passwords to enrolled Tribal members who can access their Tribal site's language preservation area to watch videos, hear audio and learn text to help teach the language. If members do not have access at their place of work or at home, they may come to the college and utilize various Internet work stations.
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Also, as a veteran, Dean knows firsthand the importance of the use of Skype and email to stay in touch with loved ones while on deployment. As Eric Martin mentioned, one-third of Native Americans of the age to be able to serve in the military, do serve. A huge chunk of them are on tours. The Internet is the only way to keep connected as opposed to calling and mailing letters which aren't always possible. Dean remembers visiting Skype stations that the military would have set-up. Also, Internet access allows our serving military to log-in to their Tribal websites and see what's happening back home or teach themselves the language while being stationed anywhere in the world.
Allison mentioned that most importantly the Native tradition of storytelling will stay vibrant with the use of technology. How interesting, fun and invigorating to take that storytelling and push it out into audio, video and various digital implementations and get youth fired up about some of these stories. The access and interest that youth have in this digital medium will keep our stories alive.
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#8 Closing thoughts from the panelists...What are your hopes for broadband?
Many Native Americans living on the Reservation have particular trades that can be marketed to have their creations such as traditional costumes, artwork and jewelry sold to fellow Tribal members and to consumers off the Reservation. Broadband is a great way to drum up ecommerce. Lastly, if you have youth or young adults who can teach the technology to other adults and elders, then the next thing you know, they'll be teaching themselves and their relatives--sharing their knowledge and continuing their curiosity in all that technology can do for us.
The audio from the panel recording will be available as a podcast for download and distribution to Public Radio stations serving areas on the unconnected side of the Digital Divide. Also, video clips from the presentation will be available on YouTube.
For more information pertaining to comments from the panelists and attendees, check out the Storify of the session's tweets. To join in on the conversation, please comment on the videos of the panel on YouTube or use the #dgtldiv hashtag on Twitter.
About Eric Martin
Native American Public Telecommunications, Inc. (NAPT)
Eric Martin has been with NAPT since 1996 and currently serves as the organization's Interactive Media Specialist. After obtaining his Bachelor's in Journalism with distinction from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he helped create NAPT's online presence working on live webcasts and podcasts. Martin primarily focuses on the opportunities that new media presents in being able to tell stories that won't necessarily work within traditional broadcast media. He has given presentations on webcasting, web development, new media platforms and radio broadcasting at the Tribal Technology Visioning Conference, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters' National Youth in Radio Training Project, the Aboriginal Streams Audio Streaming Workshop, the Great Plains Music & Dance Festival & Symposium, the Native American Journalist Association Convention and the Intertribal Native Radio Summit.
About Allison Aldridge-Saur
Chickasaw Nation - Division of Commerce
Allison Aldridge-Saur has worked in high-tech and web for over ten years. She holds a Master's degree in German Literature and Culture. As a member of the Chickasaw Nation, she jumped at the chance to leverage digital media to support the Tribal business initiatives that fund services for Chickasaw people and Native Americans. In 2011, she spoke at SXSW on "What Digital Tribes Can Learn from Native Americans" which explored what Native Americans know about Tribal systems and what holds them together and motivates membership. Aldridge-Saur also hosts a blog at http://chickasawallison.tumblr.com that is dedicated to building online community.
About Dee Davis
Center for Rural Strategies
Dee Davis is the founder and president of the Center for Rural strategies, a non-profit that conducts public information campaigns, produces communications products and consults with rural service, cultural and advocacy organizations on communications strategy. Davis helped design and lead the national campaign that blocked production of CBS's proposed show "The Real Beverly Hillbillies" on the grounds that the program ridiculed poor rural families and perpetuated stereotypes of rural life and culture. He helped plan and direct the national campaign that preserved key rural service provisions of the Community Reinvestment Act. Davis is a veteran of the fields of community-based media production and cultural development. Before founding Rural Strategies in 2001, he worked for 25 years at Appalshop, a rural media arts and cultural center. At Appalshop, he served as executive producer for more than 50 television documentaries on Appalachian culture and social issues.
About Dean Davis
College of Menominee Nation - Community Technology Center
Dean Davis is the technology coordinator for the College of Menominee Nation's Community Technology Center. He is a proud member of the Menominee Nation and a veteran. Before being charged with getting the new Community Technology Center up and running, Dean was a broadband instructor for the Department of Continuing Education at the College of the Menominee Nation and U-W Extension--building community capacity through broadband training and outreach.
About SXSW Interactive
The 19th annual SXSW Interactive festival took place March 9-13, 2012, in Austin, Texas. An incubator of cutting-edge technologies, the event features five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology, scores of exciting networking events hosted by industry leaders and an unbeatable line up of special programs showcasing the best new websites, video games and startup ideas the community has to offer. From hands-on training to big-picture analysis of the future, SXSW Interactive has become the place to experience a preview of what is unfolding in the world of technology. SXSW Interactive 2012 is sponsored by Miller Lite, Chevrolet, IFC, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Monster Energy, Samsung, Freecreditscore.com, Microsoft, Isis, Esurance and The Austin Chronicle.
Download the Panel Recap: Word
Download the Panel Image: PNG
Contact: Jessica Kinser, NAPT Marketing Director