Mozilla, probably best known for its adorable vulpine mascot from the Firefox web browser, came to Charlotte last month to talk about the virtues of high-speed gigabit Internet connectivity and what can be done with it. Mozilla’s foundation has recently been connecting tech enthusiasts, digital literacy advocates, and other leaders through its Hive Learning Networks and gigabit city-based programs in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Austin, Texas; Lafayette, La.; Eugene, Ore. and Kansas City, Mo.
The Hive’s neighborly outreach, plus the recent arrival of gigabit broadband Internet service to Charlotte, is what brought Mozilla our way. Google Fiber Charlotte and NC Hearts Gigabit, (a project of CLIC-NC and an outgrowth of Charlotte Hearts Gigabit) , were pleased to host a small gathering for the half-day workshop.
Kicking things off in the Google Fiber event space in uptown, the workshop got an appropriately techie start by first defining gigabit. So, what is that, exactly? Well, giga is derived from the Greek word for giant, and, yes, it’s pretty big. A gigabit is a thousand megabits, which is a thousand kilobits, which is a thousand bits. 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000 equals a gigabit, one billion bits per second. (Bit, by the way, is a basic unit of information that generally refers to speed of upload or download. Byte, meanwhile, generally refers to storage capacity – the quantity of data.)
Mozilla’s facilitators helped the group visualize the possibilities of a world at Gigabit speed. They asked the group to rate their awareness of various gigabit-related topics like 4K video and the Internet of Things. They dazzled by showcasing gigabit-enabled success stories from Chattanooga and Kansas City, where next-generation applications being built there are making possible everything from scientific research to artistic collaboration. The conversation then turned pragmatic: sorting out what is working in the Charlotte region when it comes to using technology to meet community needs – and what isn’t. The event participants, ranging from digital inclusion and workforce developments advocates to smart city wonks and civic techies, each had a stake in the conversation.
Yet the workshop also offered a welcome opportunity to challenge pre-conceived expectations. Namely, that while the digital revolution has long promised straightforwardly positive advancements in economic development– new jobs created from technological innovation, the decentralization of work to anywhere with an Internet connection – the reality is, it’s been a bit more complicated in the execution. The upshot, fortunately, is that there are ways to get there – at least when Mozilla is your tour guide.
As Charlotte powers forward with its own gigabit networks, we hope the region will continue to work hard to find solutions for the complexities the Internet Age throws at us. This will mean helping people get jobs wherever they are, and with the skills they already have, using digital platforms; innovating the new financial products that can support broadband expansion, as well as mobile financial services that meet the needs of underserved groups; helping small business deploy technology strategies that make them more productive and competitive; and helping our region win the race for the jobs produced by Industry 4.0 so that we’re talking about up-skilling rather than job killing.
In the end, for community and economic developers and those we serve, the real opportunity is discovering what we actually want out of technology — after all, it is merely a tool — and how to get it. From application development to community development, and everything in between, we have a lot of work to do.
And, hey, if you’re reading this blog, you are an agent in that change. Charlotte Hearts Gigabit, and NC Hearts Gigabit look forward to continuing the buzz around the enormous opportunity of the gigabit. You can follow us on twitter at @NCHeartsGb
Who knows, we got the Hornets back, maybe we can be a Mozilla Hive City one day, too.