WebRef Update: Featured Article: Molly Holzschlag, and the Human Side of the Web
More with Molly Holzschlag
Molly: Part of my concern about how younger people are being educated about technology is that they are not being educated in the humanities, nor are they being educated enough in the sociological impact of technology. I've come across many people who are afraid of technology and who will make a strong argument that computers "have put me out of my job."
It's not that clear cut as that. However, there's a point made there that needs to be examined. The computer is an inert object; it's the people, and how we decide to use it, that make the difference. I think that part of the reason there are starving people in the world is not that we don't have enough food (I can't imagine how much food Las Vegas throws out every a day; you could probably feed several countries on that alone!) but that we don't distribute that food appropriately. So, when you think about that, it is not an issue of what we don't have, it's an issue of how we distribute it, and we're not paying attention to that. The Web is a perfect distribution means. We can use this to create that infrastructure. Are we doing that? In a limited way, perhaps...
Chip: Well, www.hungersite.com...
Chip: But, maybe some of that will come. That's a good idea!
Molly: Yes, but somebody somewhere, some organization has to make it so. It isn't going to happen, computers aren't going to figure this out on their own. People have to make it that way. At least for the foreseeable future, I don't believe these machines are going to be more intelligent than we are and automatically distribute food! We have to do the feeding, the caring, the nurturing. We, the people, have to do it.
Chip: Are you aware of www.novica.com? It's a site for world artists, brought together under the umbrella of an organization that provides the means for these artists to sell their goods around the world. The organization operates this Web site, takes care of the currency exchange and other business services.
Molly: That's the kind of thing I love to hear about, but how often do you hear about that, versus the new startup, the new IPO, or who got the venture capital funding? It's not a problem with the Web, it's a problem with how people are. Here's my concern: you look at the different media, every media that exists, be it a newspaper article, a radio show, a television show, all have the exact same potential. All of these media could be used for global improvement and sometimes they are, but for the most part, they're not.
I'd hate to see the Web turn into that because the Web is still the one [media] that is accessible to most people in technologically advanced societies and even in some that are not. So I have to say, there is something different with the Web, and I hate to see it being swept under the rug. And I also have to say that in the last two years I am seeing it get swept under the rug, or swept aside in the name of e-commerce.
Chip: Well, yes, and I think that is part of the genesis of "The Cluetrain Manifesto", because that is central to their real message, that the Web is about real people speaking in their own real voices to other people.
Molly: Right. What I want to do is to express my desire to have people think before they act as well as providing legitimate technology education.
Chip: I think I saw that you are involved with some youth activities at Covenant House.
Molly: Yes, Bill Cullifer of World Organization of Webmasters and I, with support from CMP Miller Freeman, the organization sponsoring these Web conferences, have done some inner-city school work. Bill figures out which inner-city organizations in a given city have some really interested, transitional, at-risk youth. These kids are usually between the ages of 14 and 20 who have been in some sort of at-risk setting, possibly for drug use, gang lifestyle, or they come from impoverished or disadvantaged situations.
We go in and teach those who have proven an interest in the Web in their youth programs. We do what we call a "Web Fair." We've received support from Adobe and from CMP Miller Freeman to just go into inner-city schools and have a day. I have never in my life been so profoundly moved by a group of people as some of these at-risk youth. They are so hungry for knowledge, for love, for all the things that human beings are hungry for, but even more so because of what they have been through. While I wasn't from an impoverished background, I do have some things to say to them. But, boy do they have a lot of things to say to me!
And that's even more important. I walk away so enriched, it's just unbelievable! And it's just an honor to be able to give to the world something like that. To see the light come on in their eyes, and just watch it happen, to see some of them take it.
It's so profoundly moving to see how people can really make a choice and get excited about this, and find a place for themselves and make it work. It's very inspirational! That's something I'm doing that I'm really proud of, that brings a lot of joy to my life. And I'm very grateful to those organizations that have been supportive, because we go in there by the skin of our teeth - no funding. I do all the support I can, I follow-up with these kids, get the books (sometimes my publishers will give me the books, or I will buy them). It's a very grassroots, slow movement, but I think we're starting something.
As Molly and I parted, I knew that I had met an exceptional person, one whose sphere of influence far exceeds the World Wide Web. There are those who are only ready to carry the stool when the piano needs to be moved. Molly isn't one of them.
About the Interviewer:
Maura "Chip" Yost's interest in computers began when she received a Commodore 64 for Christmas, which at the time she considered the electronic equivalent of a lump of coal. She worked for over 11 years as an employment specialist and workshop presenter, and holds an advanced degree in training. Chip has contributed several open publishing articles to Webreference.
You can contact Chip at: email@example.com
About Molly Holzschlag:
With almost 10 years of experience working online, Molly has authored or co-authored 12 books on HTML, Adobe GoLive, Perl and other Web Design topics, and is a regular contributor to several Web development sites, including Builder.com, IBM developerWorks, WebTechniques and DesignShops.com.
You can find out about Molly Holzschlag at: www.molly.com
Revised: May 9, 1999