ISOC Internet Treasures
By Christine Maxwell, Vice Chair, Internet Society
Welcome to "ISOC Internet Treasures," a new e-OTI feature spotlighting:
- Individuals throughout the world who have given back to their
communities by helping their neighbors get connected and benefit
from access to the Internet.
- Stories about individuals around the world whose personal lives
have been profoundly affected for the better by gaining access
to the Internet.
Who are ISOC Internet Treasures? In some cases, they are people
whose knowledge and expertise have helped others gain access to-
or derive considerable benefit from-the Internet. In other cases,
they are ordinary individuals whose lives have been transformed
by the Internet. This feature, particularly, offers mentors an
opportunity to highlight young people's personal efforts to better
In the increasingly networked world in which we live, individuals
can and do make a difference. From presenting examples of special
efforts to overcome personal or professional obstacles, to offering
innovative models for using the Internet to improve lives, "ISOC
Internet Treasures" intends to serve as an ongoing source of inspiration
for the Internet community at large. Internet Society chapters
and individual Internet Society members are encouraged to nominate
individuals who deserve recognition as ISOC Internet Treasures.
Nominations can also be put forward by those who are not currently
Internet Society members.
If you can suggest someone you would like to see featured as an
ISOC Internet Treasure, please fill out the form and e-mail it
Thank you, and I look forward to sharing many ISOC Internet treasures
during the months ahead.
ISOC Treasures Editor
ISOC Internet Treasures: Christon Bacon
By Hope Hill
Isolation has always fueled the divide between the haves and the
have-nots in urban America-and for that matter, around the world.
Christon Bacon, a 13-year-old African-American teenager, has spent
most of his young life isolated in urban poverty in one of the
wealthiest areas in the world: the capital of the United States.
He's not terribly different in his segregation by class and color
from that of many of his peers around the country. In America's
low-resource or no-resource neighborhoods, isolation of the poor
from both the middle class and the more affluent is still a stark
reality in most American cities.
It has been argued that it is not income alone that accounts for
the social and emotional consequences of poverty. It is rather
the inequity of access to available resources in the form of job
opportunities, quality educational institutions, and socialization
opportunities in communities that help reinforce prosocial values.
A Matter of Survival
Christon attends a Washington, D.C. inner-city school, where he
rarely has an opportunity to use one of the two or three computers
in his classroom. His teachers don't generally teach with the
Internet or with cable or with satellite hookups. This is quite
different from classrooms just six miles away in suburban Virginia,
where many youngsters have computers on their desks. Despite that
divide, Christon will be held to the same social and intellectual
standards of excellence and will be expected to navigate socially,
technologically, and interpersonally if he is going to compete-or
perhaps even survive-in a global economy.
Living in one of the most dangerous areas of the city, Christon
has to walk a fine line between knowing the streets and not being
of the streets. If he is to stay alive to see 40-thus defying
the statistics for many of his fellow African-American male peers-he'll
have to navigate serious crime, interpersonal violence, high rates
of homicide, the lure of gangs, and above all, the fast money
that can be gained from drugs in his neighborhood.
Support of a Social Network:
How It Can Make All the Difference
Family support, strong values, and a positive social network have
played important roles. Yet, not unexpectedly, Christon's ability
to traverse the limits of poverty into the world of seemingly
endless resources is made possible by his affinity with the Internet.
For on the Net, Christon has access to the same information and
free intellectual and social resources as his more affluent peers
in the wealthy suburbs of Washington. The divide starts to narrow
a bit each time he becomes engrossed in a new skill that he essentially
has taught himself.
When recently asked about how he acquired such skill in Web page
design, he answered in a matter-of-fact tone: "Oh, I just went
online and learned HTML and then set up my own Web page. OK, I
thought, I think I'll learn it this evening!"
Like most of his friends, Christon has a need for respect and
affirmation from his peers. But instead of looking for those primarily
in girls, cars, or money, Christon seems to have developed a real
sense of personal pride as he talks about what he can do online.
He has become known in his circle as someone who knows his way
around the Internet. While his friends are hanging out on the
corner, Christon is reading about the latest version of Windows.
Neither his mother nor his grandmother, with whom he lives, is
a computer whiz. Christon's a self-motivated kid. Intrigued by
some computer books his uncle had lying around, he picked up an
MS-DOS manual one day and couldn't put it down. His creativity
and energy gush forth when he gets into his Internet and computing
magazines. Christon is not a computer nerd, though. He has other
interests and demands on his time, including helping his partially
disabled mother, who is raising three children alone. He is a
bright, inquisitive, and disciplined youngster who has become
a self-made computer whiz. He's dying to know more and more about
the whole world of computing and the Internet.
Surprisingly, Christon's spirit did not really seem diminished
as he described how his home Internet service gets turned on and
off depending in part on his family's financial resources.
Accessing the Internet for Fun
What's his idea of fun? According to Christon, it's searching
for new information, new computer applications, and new programs;
visiting cartoon chat rooms; and e-mailing friends he's met online
from Texas, California, and Minnesota. Visiting cartoon chat rooms
sounds like a typical childhood activity-rare for many of the
boys Christon's age who are preoccupied with beefing (fighting
with someone or a group of people) and the inevitable retaliation
of the streets. Two of Christon's peers were killed by gunfire
just the other day while unloading groceries out of a car after
a basketball game. This was a normal activity set in the context
of some abnormal, devastating behavior.
The Role the Internet Plays
What are the roles that the Internet and computing play for Christon?
He will tell you they have helped him stay out of trouble because
he often would rather work on his Web page and find new information
than hang out. Perhaps he's right when he says he's even been
able to avoid some fights and other violence in the street by
focusing on the development of his Web page.
What would help Christon flourish? Interest and support from others
around the world; the opportunity to get to know children and
adults from other countries; and consistent experience with computing
and development of skills.
Christon is a youngster who rather than being considered "at risk"
is definitely "at promise," and he will tell you that the Internet
and his developing skill and expertise are partly responsible.
Christon has been able to avoid some of the risks of the community
as he has turned toward cyberspace. He's reached out for the skills
and information despite some odds.
Recently, Christon told me he's interested in learning more about
business. Apparently, he attended a business seminar with his
mother. That seemed to have sparked his interest-and we know what
can happen when Christon's interest gets piqued.
Christon Bacon is growing up in one of the toughest areas of Washington,
D.C. He's had to learn to be street savvy just to survive. He
has chosen to be Internet savvy as well, perhaps unknowingly,
to survive the divide. What would it take for him to flourish?
Who would pass up the chance to build a bridge to a youngster
who has already started building his own? He's as close as the
Christon would be thrilled to received e-mail from Internet Society
members. His e-mail address is email@example.com, and his Web page is located at http://maxpages.com/tecknopower.
Hope Hill is Associate Professor of Psychology at Howard University,
Washington, D.C., U.S.A.
Join the Internet Society today: http://www.isoc.org