From Skype to Sneakernet

Posted on September 20, 2011 by Rusty Coats

By Rusty Coats, The Patterson Foundation Technology Partner

I spent the past few nights in a hotel room near Minneapolis, in town to visit my daughters. I come up in warm months to spend long weekends with them; from October to May, they come to Florida.  This is called smart climate policy.

It was a nice, mid-level chain hotel that rewards my loyalty with free stays and airline miles. Nice workout rooms, basic breakfast and in-room high-speed Internet, which is crucial.

Crucial, but unusable. Completely, utterly, hopelessly unusable.

Oh, the Internet was there. A beige iBAHN converter box sat on the pressed-wood desk, one side connecting to the wall and the other offering a fat Ethernet cable. But its 8-pin jack may as well have been spongy-rubber couplers built for a landline telephone handset.

Useless. Because I'm an iPad person and my daughters are phone people and if it isn't wifi, it's useless. It's old technology.

Calling a LAN cord "in-room Internet" in late 2011 is like calling a digital clock radio "in-room entertainment" – for early adopters like me and my daughters. Yet, for the declining number of people who travel with laptops, it's valuable and useful. Further, for those on the other side of the tech divide, the cord is just clutter – or, worse: it is a reminder of that tech divide.

This is the nature, irony and challenge of staying current with technology, and we feel it daily across initiatives at The Patterson Foundation.

Our initiatives span horizontally across areas of interest that honor the Patterson legacy – journalism, dementia, diabetes, the intersection of arts and education, the military and a growing number of others. These initiatives are vehicles for a larger vision of inspiring philanthropy by leveraging communication, finance and technology.

But our initiatives also span vertically. Beyond the obvious demographic diversity, each initiative touches communities populated by wide varieties of income, education and technological acumen.

Each has early adopters, middle grounders and late adopters. Each initiative has people toting tablets - some made of paper, some powered by silicon. Each has residents - funders, implementers, recipients – at all levels of the technological spectrum. A typical meeting in each initiative hosts representatives of these disparate tiers of experience, acumen and access.

The challenge in philanthropy - as in other sectors - is to find solutions that thread those communities. Sometimes it's a tech solution; sometimes it's a sticky note.

As a Lens Manager, I find that while scoping out technology platforms and exploring new directions such as gaming or social listening is essential to TPF’s effectiveness, it must be tempered with an understanding of that vertical span of early/mid/late adopters. Or, put simply, from Skype to Sneakernet.

Some people will need new equipment to leverage the new realities of TPF. Some people will need training. And some will need to learn to compromise.

Which brings us back to my daughters and I in the hotel room with its useless LAN cord. Rather than giving up on our needs, we made it work.

We went to the library.

About The Patterson Foundation Technology Lens

As The Patterson Foundation’s technology partner, the technology lens collaborates with the foundation and its partners on the most effective ways to leverage emerging technology, including recommending the appropriate platforms, tools, and processes to leverage for greatest impact.

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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