Voices of Digital Communities

The Smart21 and My Digital Inclusion Moment

Listen to the podcast  -  Follow me on Twitter Well, it's official. On Friday evening, we named the Smart21 Communities of 2010 at a ...

by / October 22, 2009

Listen to the podcast  -  Follow me on Twitter

Well, it's official. On Friday evening, we named the Smart21 Communities of 2010 at a ceremony hosted by the Swedish Consulate General in New York City, in honor of Stockholm's position as our current Intelligent Community of the Year.  (We also announced publication of our new book, Future Cities, which will soon be out on Amazon.com.  I hope you saw the charming address by lead editor Dr. Joseph Pelton on our Web site last night.  We'll have an archive version available soon.)

I'm pleased to have Dundee, Scotland - a Top Seven community in 2007 and 2008 - back on the Smart21 list in 2010.  One big surprise: a single American state, Virginia, added three names to the 2010 list.  That's one up on the Province of New Brunswick, Canada, which had two Smart21 communities last year.  Of course, they both went on to join the Top Seven.  So we'll see how the Virginians do this year.  On Friday, we also welcomed one Chinese and two Australian communities to the list, as well as three more from Canada.  I don't know what these Canadians drink, but I wish somebody would give me some.  There have been more of them on the Smart21 list than from any other nation. 

You can read profiles of them all on our Web site.  Producing those profiles taught me an interesting lesson about digital inclusion.  The selections were made final on Tuesday.  By Wednesday, I had found time to write only about only four of the 21.  I was at a conference most of the day Thursday.  So it was late afternoon when I got home, full of ambition to buckle down and, as the comedian Larry the Cable Guy puts it, "get 'er done." 

The house was dark when I entered and I started switching on lights.  Darned if the first bulb wasn't burned out.  Funny thing, though: so was the second.  I noticed that all the digital clocks were blank and it slowly dawned on me.  We had no power.  This happens every once in a while for a minute or two, usually because a tree branch knocks out a power line.  Not this time. After 15 minutes went by, I called the power company and learned that power had been out for an hour already and they couldn't predict when it would be restored.  Hmm. I started work on my laptop, grateful for a battery with five hours of life to it.  The autumn day drew to a close, the house grew chilly, and I was soon working by the light of an old oil lamp we keep around.  Not as romantic as it sounds.  Worse than the eye-strain was the fact that I couldn't double-check any facts or call up information we keep on our online collaboration platform.  No power, no router, no broadband.  There I was on the outside of the broadband economy, racing the clock to meet an important deadline for a think tank that studies the economic impact of - you guessed it - broadband.    

And then it occurred to me.  The library!  Lights!  Heat!  Broadband!  I drove to the town library and was soon back online.  Like communities around the world, mine had turned its library into an access point for those without computers or broadband access.  Not a big breakthrough.  Nothing to put on the home page of your favorite news Web site.  But for me, it was a lifesaver.  There are good logical reasons why we made digital inclusion one of our five Intelligent Community Indicators, on which our award program and all our research are based.   But it wasn't until Thursday night that I understood the emotional cost of being on the other side of the digital divide.  In the life of this knowledge worker at least, broadband has become like oxygen.  No big deal - until you have to go without it.

Robert Bell Co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum

Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.