ellohay! West Michigan

Hi, I’m Marie-Claire -OR- Finally, an introduction to what you’ve been reading

Posted in discovery stages, projects by forgr on February 13, 2008

It’s time for an introduction to what you’re reading, and it’s time I introduced myself. For those visiting, all two of you, my name is Marie-Claire. I live in Michigan, I’m 27, I work full-time as an Interaction Designer at a design consultancy, I’m also an active volunteer.

I’d work full time with and for nonprofit organizations if they could reliably take care of my everyday needs.

I’m not a mom, a teacher, or a practiced blogger, and I don’t think I’m a good writer either (I used to have a blog in 2001 but I abandoned it because I didn’t have anything I wanted to say to the people who were reading it, I wrote about what I had for dinner. It was just terrible). Today I’m logging events with a loose goal in mind. Whether it’s technological/digital inclusion in the community, talking through Grand Rapids getting wifi, or getting whatever this IS out into the air. I’m just young and in love with passionate people and ideas.

I wish I could provide a definitive mission statement right here, but no, I’m learning to keep my expectations low these days, so I’m not going to have one here for a long time.

Moving on to the reason this post exists. A few weeks ago my husband and I started thinking about the history of the municipal wifi initiative that was started here in Grand Rapids, MI. About five years ago at least, we saw a yellow Sprint billboard on 196, or 131… can’t remember… with a map of Grand Rapids, that advertised wireless access all over the city. I’m pretty sure it said “Coming Soon” or something like that. We simply thought, “Score! That sounds cool!” I think I might have wondered how much it would cost, or if would be free.

Fast forward through five years of life, countless directly related instances and a handful of wifi-enabled devices… to now, naturally I have a lot more questions. My initial question is, what’s taking so long to get wifi here? Along with that question, I have at least 20 others readily available to ask the right people, for example:

Who’s in charge of this project?
What went wrong with Sprint?
What’s going on now?
How close are we actually achieving our goal?
Have the people in charge done their homework in picking a vendor or do we have consultants?
Do we have an appropriate vendor selected now?
If it launches soon, what is the plan to roll it out?
Do schools, businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, citizens know that it’s coming?
What can citizens do to help?
What can I do to help?
Did you including schools, businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, citizens in the planning process?
What about the people who don’t have computers?
What about the people who can’t afford computers and really shold have access to this?
Are there any technological/digital inclusion plans in place?
Will it cost money to gain access or will it be free? Yes, I’m still wondering about that one…
What are the restrictions?
Is there a plan set up for abuse problems?
Are there any training program plans in place?
Are we advertising this in our tourism department?
Is there a budget defined?
Have we blown that budget already?
Are we using other cities’ boards, benchmarking them, paying attention to case studies as resources?
CAN citizens actually do anything to speed it along or smooth it out?
Do schools, businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, citizens think it’s a good thing too?
Do schools, businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, citizens have plans in place to utilize this great gift?
Have we been able to definitely rule out getting wifi for free?
How far will the wifi reach?
Who will have access?
Who else feels as inquisitive as me?
Are we doing this right?
What will this do to or for our city?
WIll it bring us closer or brake us apart?

I know that’s a lot of questions. I know, I know. And I know things take long, but dang, you can’t dangle that carrot, watch other cities whizz right past you (technologically) and not start to wonder… what’s taking so long?

So I started writing all these questions down in my little notebook, partly because I have a terrible memory, but mostly because I need all these questions answered in one way or another. Yes, need. So, that one page expanded to three, then five, then then and I knew it was seriously stuck in my proverbial “craw”.

I talked with my husband, wrote even more, talked casually to co-workers, wrote even more, talked with my neighbors, my family, the nonprofits around me and wrote tons more.

And then ran into Scott during a lull at work, and sure enough he was thinking at the same time about the same subject. Right. So this is bigger than my little obsessive corner of the world. At least two people are (relatively) on the same page.

He emails me an essay of sorts that a close friend of his wrote about the Municipal wifi initiative in Grand Rapids. I read it, I get pumped. Three people are on the same page. Go.

You should also know that everything in heart says Yes, municipal wifi IS a good thing. And Yes, there is a digital divide in, at least, my community.

So that week I talk more with Scott, we go to lunch, and we know pretty quickly that this is bigger than both our little “craws” can manage to hold. I tell him about one particular instance in the cumulative countless directly related instances in the last five years. I talk about how the Red Cross could cut their costs and processing time for clients in HALF if the city had stable Wifi and the proper devices to use. He literally jumps up and down. I shit you not. He wants to start a wiki, he wants to start a blog about technology and wifi. He wants me to tell my Red Cross story and encourage others to do the same too.

I get really excited, I write more. I write down a list of projects that could be started here with Scott. I start researching other cities, other people who work Municipal wireless plans out for a living, I accumulate a lot of case studies, contacts, benchmarks, get more questions, draw diagrams, learn about how people are using the wifi, collect more links. I’m listing, sketching. I gain momentum here.

It’s important that you know that I wrote down a separate list of projects too, in addition to Scott’s and my list. This list was spawned after my husband and I helped our 12 year old Mexican neighbor get a really good slightly-used laptop from Craig’s List. I thought “Man wouldn’t it be great if we could do this on a large scale?”

Magically, somehow he and I will start this incredible workshop that provides great computers in exchange for like, 10 hours of volunteer time from the client, it would be simply for people who need computers. It’s a great dream.

There would be support, classes, everything is in three languages, we have passionate and dedicated volunteers, a web portal, free wifi, everyone could learn how to build and be able to fix their own computers, there would be a workshop with spare parts, all the machines would run Ubuntu and open office, everyone would get gmail accounts. We’d get national recognition for how awesome we were. We would get grants and have microloan programs set up for families to get printers and digital cameras.

I wrote drafts of a mission statement, (I later posted them here). I made floor plans for the physical presence of this now MAIN project in my head. I got carried away with the exhilarating process of its realization. But I’m beaming with optimism even as I write. I checked out books from the library on starting a nonprofit organization. I read for hours, make cute diagrams of the storefront and workshop, I talked with my brother about his friend in Oregon who does almost the same thing, successfully even.

Then I get an email from Scott that I knew was coming. He says that getting involved in any sort of project would be a distraction for him. I sink. I get angry, I get over it, all in 15 minutes. I’ll explain:

The thing with Scott is that he’s an inspirer. He (lovingly, I know) gets people excited, then seems to drop them into the water by themselves. I think of him now as a cheerleader, it’s an endearing quality, but saddening if you have low self-esteem and are looking for a real comrade in a project. I’m used to this from knowing him for close to five years. So I move on, I can start this by myself, he’s right Again. He’s got a life, I can handle collection of thoughts by myself at his stage. It’s okay. It’s okay.

I write back to him telling him about all of my doubts, thoughts and next steps on our wifi involvement thinking. I tell him about my new project focus.

He writes back expressing his desire to see me succeed in whatever I do, he suggests some next steps. I write talking about what I think I’ll do next, and how I want to talk to the woman in charge of the wifi project here in GR. I think I should talk with more people about more things.

I don’t get this excited about most things. I have, what I have to relearn everyday, are unrealistic expectations about most things. I get dropped hard and often. I want to trust people, but I get let down a lot.

Moments after I write to Scott, I contact and make an appointment to meet up with the person who is running the Municipal Wifi program in Grand Rapids. (I meet with her tomorrow actually. I’m terrified. I usually expect that I’m going to fail so I don’t prepare for things like this. I really should prepare this time. In school I used to over-prepare, but I’d make myself so nervous, that I’d actually do worse. I’m convinced I’ll blow it either way in my head.)

Another lull at work on a bright morning brings one new person into the experimental conversation. I talked myself into speaking to a group of others about this half baked idea.

I got emotional during this conversation, but others listened to me anyways. I talked about my close neighbors from Mexico, my hope for a better Grand Rapids, and involved I.T. guys everywhere, the need for a One Laptop per Child Local Edition, and I learned more about the history of the Grand Rapids Sprint debacle too, I get more perspectives. I was so relieved to hear discussion about this subject outside my own skull. Having more people is always good, so good.

Everyone likes the idea of the laptop workshop, they even like my floor-plan and ID tag sketch… I feel like a pretty big nerd, but I’m in good company.

We were interrupted and needed to go back to work. But now seven people are relatively on the same page. I then started a blog, this blog, while eating my lunch and invited three new people to contribute.

I posted my collections of notes here, I wrote about other cities, other programs. I made some categories, and tagged my posts. I hope that others will feel free to write here, it’s pretty informal really. I hope to be able to format each post a little better, not just link stuff up.

So there it is. That’s the introduction to what you’re reading. Please subscribe to this and comment when you can. I could use the feedback. Is thinking about wifi a good thing? Is starting a digital inclusion workshop a viable and interesting project that you think people here would be interested in participating in?

I’ll keep posting my notes, I have so many pages still to scan in, type up. I already need a volunteer or an intern to help my keep track of the stuff pouring out of my head.

Thanks for tuning and agreeing to taking part in the conversation. Wish me luck on my meeting tomorrow? I’m actually planning on preparing this time…

(I think I’d like to record the audio in some way… I might pick up a tape recorder tomorrow morning before work and ask her if I can capture the meeting.)


11 Responses

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  1. dollslikeus said, on February 14, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    I like the idea of everyone having a coomputer at least with some internet capapbilities. If we knew everyone in the world more we would distrust people less and we would be free to love one another more.
    Love and only love will bring world peace.
    We have more in common then we think. We all have family. Everyone on earth’s kid faces neighboirhood bullies they are everywhere . We all have death everyone has relatives dying of something. WE are all looking for the enemy and very few of us know it is the person inside of ourselves that is judging people we don’t know.
    WE all have God given family kids we grew up with that are more like brothers that arenot related to us.

  2. Scott said, on February 19, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    ah, mc, you are inspiring.

  3. sonicrafter review said, on May 16, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Wonderful work buddy, continue the good work.

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    Great post sir I love your blog.

  5. grand rapids virtual office said, on March 18, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I don’t
    know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous
    blogger if you are not already ;) Cheers!

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