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Technology Only a Tool in Search for Solutions to Poverty

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Technology can serve as a tool to bridge the digital divide, but it is unlikely to be a complete solution in helping people find jobs and escape poverty, according to a Penn State researcher.

"People really want to believe that the latest technology will help us do all these great things and liberate us," said Michelle Rodino-Colocino, assistant professor of communications and women's studies. "But it's also a way of putting off the big problems and saying, 'let's not touch these big problems because Internet access will turn it all around for us.' "

The researcher examined a plan in Walnut Hills, a diverse low-income community in Cincinnati, Ohio, to provide a wireless Internet connection -- WiFi -- service and computer training to poor, mainly female residents who do not own cars to help them become more employable and escape poverty.

The organizers of the Neighborhoodworks.net project named the ideal recipient of the program Vanessa, who was both a real person, as well as a representative of the demographic that the group wanted to serve. Vanessa was low-income mother of four, who did not have a car or access to childcare.

"It's really a digital divide argument," explained Rodino-Colocino, who presents her findings at the National Communication Association, today (Nov. 16) in Orlando, Fla. "But it's also a typical post-welfare argument that tries to avoid the political and larger structural problems and accepts the attacks on welfare as a given."

The project, conceived in 1999, was expected to become operational in 2007. While the computer training did receive funding and was provided by a local human services agency, the plan to provide free WiFi to the community failed.

Rodino-Colocino said that even if the free WiFi service was rolled out, she doubted the technology would s