Sunday, April 1, 2012

Home Paige

I met a woman this week who is struggling to stay off the streets.  We’ll call her Paige. She has been homeless. Today, Paige lives with the scars of frostbite after having fallen asleep in an abandoned home.

No high school diploma. No GED. Her options are limited. Although you don’t need a formal education to apply for housekeeping work, you do need to know how to use a computer.

I suggested Paige go to the public library and experiment with a PC. She said she has many times, but can only spend 20 minutes keyboarding or surfing the Web before she has to step aside for the next person waiting in line.

Twenty minutes isn’t a lot of time to learn to navigate most any software, let alone explore something.

We have entered an era where a significant number of people like Paige will be cut off from participating in our society. They already have very limited phone access due to the cost of cell phones. Even cell services that are free for the needy offer minimal minutes. Try to find a pay phone where you can make a call for a quarter.

There was a time when office buildings, airports and train stations had lines of phone booths, complete with lamps, seats and phone books. You could reach out and touch someone for about as long as you liked, unless your call was long distance.

But in today’s world, there aren’t many pay phones and virtually no convenient, affordable pay computers. Paige told me how hard it is to complete an online job application in twenty minutes with her inexperienced fingers. When I suggested she pursue adult education classes in basic computer skills, she didn’t know where to start to look for help in her community.  

Paige doesn’t have a computer at home to Google resources. And even if she did, she’d have to be able to afford Internet access through her cable or phone company.

Now, Paige is grateful to have a roof over her head, but feels trapped because she’s walking on the information highway, while most travelers are rocketing along at the speed of broadband.  Paige and people in her situation may as well be living 60 or 70 years ago when many people didn’t have phones, and sometimes had to borrow a neighbor’s to make or receive an emergency call. The problem is, this is the information age, where virtually everything occurs online or with the help of the Web.

Seriously, when was the last time you used a phone book?  All the numbers and addresses are now just a few clicks away. What about an atlas or a road map? Type in your destination on your GPS system and you get turn-by-turn directions.

You and I can even read a book without ever making a trip to the library or bookstore. And turn the pages by swiping a finger on a glass screen.

But Paige can’t turn the corner on her life unless her fingers learn to run along the information highway. Very fast and very soon.

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