Beyond the Digital Divide

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Beyond the Digital Divide

When Larry Irving coined the term “digital divide” in the early 1990s, he was fighting for those being left behind.

He stood on the shoulders of mentors who came before him, advocating for what he knew was right. No matter the cost.

The pushback was real — from the U.S. Department of Commerce all the way to the White House.

Irving was President Bill Clinton’s Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Communications. His research on the nascent internet revealed a stark divide.

“One group of kids, connected to the internet, was living in the future,” he says. “The other group didn’t know this future even existed.”

21st Century Challenges

Fast forward 30 years. Irving, President of the Irving Group, now sits in the Internet Hall of Fame, the first African-American to do so.

But as far as we’ve come, the digital divide persists, with a new set of 21st century challenges.

Social media. Disinformation. Political polarization. Social and racial justice movements. And the internet’s role in all of the above.

A lot is on the line, and Irving is still in the trenches, determined to do the hard work, and give a voice to the voiceless.

A New Role

In December of 2021, Irving took on a new role as Board Chair of PBS, the venerable public broadcasting institution revered by so many.

As we recorded our conversation, Irving had yet to hold a board meeting in his new position, but he has a clear vision.

Using the power of story and technology to bring our nation together, at a time when so many processes are tearing us apart.

Representation Matters

A common theme throughout our wide-ranging dialogue is the necessity of having diverse voices at the table. Multiple perspectives in the room as decisions are made. Especially at the highest levels.

Yes, representation matters.

And Larry shares several stories that show us how and why.

Waiting in the Wings

It’s a long way from Brooklyn public housing to PBS Board Chair, and multiple momentous roles and accomplishments in between.

Irving’s new role at PBS builds upon his continued, strong presence at the intersection of technology and media. And we need his expertise now, as much as we did 30 years ago.

The backstory is inspirational, and the chapters yet to be written are sure to carry on an already storied legacy.

Just as Larry Irving stood on the shoulders of those who came before him, I have no doubt there’s a new generation, waiting in the wings, to stand on his.

Additional Links

Northwestern University

Stanford Law School

Mickey Leland

Ron Brown

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