Tech Gifts—for People Who Truly Need Them
These days gift-giving holidays are all about gadgets: cell phones, educational toys and smart devices for the home. Families lucky enough to take technology for granted have a big advantage. Not only do they have the fun of giving the latest techno-gizmos, they are also more comfortable figuring out how things work, navigating virtual spaces and doing the inevitable problem-solving.
Because technology plays such a big part in education as well as adulthood, easy and early access for everyone would be great. Instead, we face what’s often been called a digital divide. Families that don’t have ready access to technology often fall behind, creating a bigger gap between haves and have-nots.
During the holidays, when people who have more look for opportunities to share with people who have less, it’s worth thinking beyond warm mittens and turkey dinners. Consider participating in one of these efforts to make the digital divide less of a chasm.
1. Donate money. The simplest way to get technology into the hands of kids who wouldn’t otherwise have it is to donate to well-run organizations.
- One Laptop Per Child has an ambitious goal: Get a rugged, connected low-cost computer into the hands of every child in the world. The laptops weigh less than a lunchbox and come equipped with simple software that allows children to read, write, record, measure and make music. With partners around the world and in low-income regions of the United States, they already have distributed more than 2.5 million computers. (One.Laptop.org)
- The Rural Technology Fund was founded by a tech executive who had limited access to computers when he was growing up in rural Kentucky. His organization helps out-of-the-way schools get equipment and books that will ignite a spark for studying electronics, programming or engineering. The organization also gives scholarships to students from rural communities who hope to pursue careers in technology. (RuralTechFund.org)
2. Adopt a classroom. Public schools are another way to give kids access to technology. Teachers usually know what would make a difference in their classrooms, and playing Santa can be very rewarding.
- Your local school district. Find out whether teachers at your child’s school have technology on their wish lists. Or make a gift to your local school foundation. If your district is affluent, consider reaching out to a school in a community that has more challenges.
- Donors Choose is one of several websites that give teachers a chance to explain how they would use specific pieces of equipment. The site makes it possible to search by location or curriculum. In many cases, a relatively modest donation will put current technology in the hands of teachers eager to use it with their students. (DonorsChoose.org)
3. Donate Equipment. If family members receive tech gifts during the holidays, you may have used equipment to donate. Or share the joy by giving another child a game your child loves.
- The Non-Profit Locator helps donors identify local organizations that might need equipment they aren’t using anymore. Enter a zip code to get a list of local agencies and detailed information about the kinds of equipment they could use. (DonateTechnology.com)
- Child's Play gets video games to children’s hospitals and shelters for kids who have experienced domestic violence. A map on their website shows the organizations in their network. Each group has an Amazon wish list, which usually features popular video games and systems. The website also includes a helpful guide to therapeutic games that help children cope with pain, boredom and anxiety. (ChildsPlayCharity.org)
4. Volunteer. The holidays are also an excellent time to make resolutions about doing good in the new year. Regardless of whether you consider yourself a geek, you can find ways to help children learn about technology.
- Code.org hopes to make computer science a standard part of the curriculum, just like biology or chemistry. The group provides lesson plans for grades K-12 and organizes an annual Hour of Code campaign, which has reached 10 percent of all students in the world. They actively recruit volunteers to help with the Hour of Code and equip them with a helpful toolkit. (Code.org/volunteer/guide.)
- Community Corp identifies volunteer opportunities for people who have more technical expertise. Their search engine allows you to find virtual or in-person projects in a variety of areas (CommunityCorps.org)
5. Set up passive donations. Perhaps the easiest way to support these (and other) charities is registering with a site that makes a micro-donation every time you do something simple like searching or shopping online.
- Goodsearch is an ordinary search engine powered by Yahoo that makes a tiny donation to a chosen charity each time you search. For families that do a lot of research, the numbers add up. Their sister site, GoodShop, makes it easy to donate a fraction of every online purchase to good causes.
- Giving Assistant is a coupon marketplace that offers discounts from big retailers like Best Buy, Kohl’s and Bed Bath and Beyond. A percentage of what you save goes to the charity you designate.
Whatever you decide to do, involve your kids as much as possible. Encouraging them to imagine life without their beloved devices may very well be the gateway to a lifelong habit of empathy and generosity.
Carolyn Jabs, MA, has been writing about families and technology for more than 20 years. She is also the author of Cooperative Wisdom: Bringing People Together When Things Fall Apart, available at Amazon and CooperativeWisdom.org.