According to a recent article, $1.5 million of federal stimulus money went to produce Internet videos. The money was earmarked to get inner city residents online by creating programming that would appeal to them. Of that, $230,000 went to producer Robert Townsend, and $700,000 to other vendors to produce “Diary of a Single Mom,” an online soap opera about a growing up in poverty. This is just a part of a $28 million Commerce Department grant which created One Economy, a project intended to wire the inner cities to the Internet.
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It is the most ridiculous idea I’ve heard of since a friend suggested that his Solitaire playing during work hours was a way of familiarizing himself with how to use a computer mouse.
The idea that there is nothing on the Internet that appeals to people in the inner city is ridiculous. It’s based on a faulty premise that somehow inner-city people are different than others; that TV dramas about fabulously rich people, attractive lawyers, and doctors who never get messy are only appealing to white suburbanites; that people living in poverty want to see a story about living in poverty. If this were true, comic books wouldn’t be about superheroes; they would all be about pimply fat boys with thick glasses who get beat up on the way to school.
According to the article, One Economy has spent $18.9 of the $28 million granted and has created 142.47 jobs. But more importantly, they generated YouTube hits. In fact, Episode One of “Diary of a Single Mom” almost generated five thousand hits (which I expect to increase dramatically after this post).
But in the era of social networking, there are things more important that attracting an audience. “Diary of a Single Mom” has also generated fifteen thousand Facebook likes, which is almost five percent of the likes generated by MSNBC, the lightly viewed cable news station, whose bottom-of-the-page ratings make them easy to find on the Nielsen charts. “Diary of a Single Mom” also has more than 600 followers on Twitter (which embarrassingly, is more than me).
If the intention was attracting under-served communities to the Internet, I could suggest a few more:
Senior citizens are still having a difficult time figuring out how to use the menu buttons on the TV remote, much less a mouse. Let’s set up online slot machines to get more senior citizens online. As an added bonus, we could hook up the slot machines directly to the Social Security Administration so their monthly checks would be directly converted to tokens, thus eliminating the need for greedy capitalist banks and greenhouse gas emitting shuttle buses.
Despite using libraries for daytime shelter, few homeless people have found interest in the computer stations that are installed in every public library, because most library surfing is limited to educational information only. If we simply remove the firewalls on public library computers, the homeless will take a new interest in nude photography and short-subject films.
While most of our technology is manufactured in China, few Chinese citizens have unfettered access to the Internet. It’s a shame that our debt holders cannot fully access the Internet. Since they paid for “Diary of a Single Mom,” they should at least be able to monitor their investment. Furthermore, we should build a China-accessible site on Tienanmen Square that goes into details well beyond the mausoleum of Chairman Mao.
Millions of people cannot access the Internet, because they have jobs and responsibilities. Mandate that employers allow employees to at least ten minutes every hour so they can catch up on the latest Internet fads. It will teach them how to use a mouse.