Everyone learned something at the Broadband Bridge’s Discovering Technology Fair at Bread for the City on November 5th.

This was our first ‘DiscoTech,’ as we’re calling it (with a nod to our friends in the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition, who set a great example) — and it was an experiment in mixing together people from all backgrounds and skill levels to share technology. As far as experiments go, this DiscoTech was a resounding success! (See Bread for the City’s full photoset on Flickr.)

We transformed Bread for the City’s still-new Northwest Center facility into a giant computer lab, with about 20 laptops set up throughout the space. About 200 people attended — many from our own computer classes (every Wednesday at 3pm in NW), or from the computer labs of other neighborhood hubs like Shaw Community Ministry.

Read the Washington Post’s coverage of the DiscoTech event here.

Some participants had never really engaged at all with a computer before, and they were able to receive active coaching from volunteer instructors. Others were fairly experienced and came with very specific things they wanted to learn. Volunteer skill-sharers came to us from DCWEEK, the Benevolent Media Fest, the Broadband Bridge’s network, many other organizations working to bridge the digital divide, and even from just down the block.

One of the most popular topics was email — how to create an email address, how to use it and manage it. Other consultations went well beyond the basics: people asked about (and got help with) downloading e-books, making web pages, finding resources to study online for tests like commercial drivers’ licensing.

Other very popular subjects included communications tools like Google Voice, Facebook, and so on. Several attendees were immigrants who wanted to learn how to Skype with their relatives in other countries. “I will always remember her face light up,” one volunteer said about one such successful lesson, which connected the participants with a family member across the world.

Sudi West of the Broadband Bridge led a session on mobile computing. “People really have a PC right there in their pocket,” says Sudi, “and there is great value to be had if you know how to manage your contacts and settings, install programs and use your phone to its fullest potential.”

In another room, Phil Shapiro and Jabari Zakiya led more adventurous participants in explorations of Linux software and open-source programming. Aiyi’Nah Ford of ‘The One Mic Stand with SimplyNay’ offered instruction on how to host a Do-It-Yourself internet radio program. Leshell Hatley of Uplift Inc led demonstrations — along with a troupe of young instructors ages 8 through 17 — on how to build robots. “My favorite moment was when this elderly woman declared that she wasn’t interested in the instruction manual,” said Leshell. “She said ‘I’m going to do it on my own!’” See more photos here.)

One of the most popular demonstrations came courtesy of the IT Computer Wiz Kids, who lured folks to their table with a large screen high-definition gaming display but kept them there with demos of how to dissect and reassemble desktop machines. “See what the computer is made out of, take it apart and put it back together — that’ll make you feel like you really have control over it,” explained IT Computer Wiz Kids founder Gerard Cooper.

Meanwhile, participants learned about how to build community wireless networks in their neighborhoods in conversation with folks from the Broadband Bridge’s pilot project in Bloomingdale, hackers from HacDC, and engineers and policy wonks from the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative.
Our friends at the DC Public Library came to talk about their free computer programming and other digital resources. Byte Back instructors were on site to demonstrate their computer literacy curricula.


And everyone wanted to know when we’ll do it again. The answer is: soon! And: you can help!

Would you like to be involved in the next DiscoTech event? We want to see one happen early in the new year — so email info@broadbandbridge.org to get involved. And sign up at the Broadband Bridge to stay posted on future activities.