Phones for Fearless is Bridging the Digital Divide
by Jonathon Narvey
"We're bridging the digital divide," explains Phones For Fearless executive director Irwin Oostindie. The Phones For Fearless campaign is giving artists and other residents of Vancouver?s downtown eastside cellphones and training in applications such as taking videos and posting them online.
Through doing so, they are potentially providing a model that could be followed across North America. Oostindie notes that those without Internet access or computers can have difficulty becoming engaged in the economy or telling their own stories. Fearless is a community arts initiative enabling involvement of the downtown eastside community in media making opportunities.
Oostindie says the Phones for Fearless project is still an experiment, but he could see the project being adopted in poorer neighborhoods elsewhere in Canada or other countries.
Many residents of Canada?s poorest urban area code haven't had access to technology they need, so the Phones For Fearless campaign collects cell phones for their use. Participants receive training on how to use the phones for such applications as taking videos and posting them online. It's an innovative project making use of social media capabilities to enact social change in ways even the manufacturers of mobile technology may not have envisioned.
Residents have been using the phones to record the heritage of an area in the midst of gentrification, promote their art, do citizen-journalism and improve communication and access to online resources about the area. One formerly-homeless participant, Walter Lynxleg, is "putting together a book of photos of people living in the neighborhood and the people trying to help them," according to Fearless partner Raincity Studios' website.
"It's all about providing relevant technology to those in need," Oostindie said. "When you look at a place like Bangladesh, people have Grameen phones, not laptops. In the downtown eastside, most people don't have desktop computers at home. What's appropriate is a mobile device, especially since cellphones are already adding more and more functionality.
"For poor people, they're most likely to have mobile IT devices than other IT gear. It's counter-intuitive, but that's what appropriate technology is about. We're looking at the next generation of tech, which is mobile."
About 90 phones have been dropped off so far and dozens of people have been trained in the technology, with small honorariums given to participants to help cover costs for several projects.
But its long-term success will depend on organizers' ability to leverage partners in the community, Oostindie says, noting the local tech community has really jumped on board.
If the Phones for Fearless campaign reaches its full potential, it could revolutionize the participation level of those in our society traditionally considered to be disenfranchised. In a neighborhood that includes a large number of Vancouver's homeless population and is enduring chronic economic problems, success for this experiment could give at least a ray of positive social change.
Jonathon Narvey is the
Principal Consultant of WRITEIMAGE.