Digital undivide: Keep your batteries charged and techies on your board

by Harrison Chastang

In the on-the-go digital age, one of the biggest frustrations is hearing the beep from your cell phone, smartphone or tablet indicating the battery is about to run down. Even if you were smart enough to have a charger cord in your pocket, bag or purse, it’s not going to help you recharge your device if you’re someplace without an electrical outlet or can’t stay in one place for the one to two hours required for your device to recharge.

New-Orleans-Jazzfest-Casa-de-Samba-dancer-0414-by-Harrison-Chastang-web, Digital undivide: Keep your batteries charged and techies on your board, Culture Currents
Intrepid traveler Harrison Chastang reveled with New Orleanians this month at the New Orleans Jazzfest. This is one of the Casa de Samba dancers. – Photo: Harrison Chastang

Losing phone power is not an option if you need to contact a loved one in an emergency or if you need to inform friends or relatives in a change in travel plans or other critical situations. The computer industry attempted to address this issue several years ago with the introduction of portable chargers that unfortunately did not provide much power for a full phone recharge.

That has changed with the new generation of portable chargers that will provide a full charge quickly. There are a variety of chargers that average about $70, which may seem a bit expensive but it’s worth every dollar when you are in the middle of nowhere and your device flashes the five-minute battery left warning.

I had an opportunity to test two types of these chargers. The Energi, from a company called TYLT, is a pocket- or purse-sized charger that has built-in plugs for both iPhone and Android devices and plugs into any USB device to recharge the unit. I had a phone that was down to 5 percent power when I plugged it into the Energi, and in less than an hour I had a full charge. While the device is charging, it can be used for streaming, phone conversation or cruising the internet.

Another device, the Astro 2 from Anker, is slightly smaller. It has just as much charging power as the Energi but has an USB plug to quickly charge an iPhone, iPad or Android device.

Both chargers have cords to charge both Android and iPhone devices and a USB cord to plug into a computer or USB wall charger. Both these chargers will allow you to use your device while charging and will provide a full charge in about an hour and both devices store enough power on a full charge to recharge a device twice. Both chargers can be purchased online and at Staples.

How tech workers can partner with communities

One of the issues concerning technology and its impact on working people and nonwhites is the perceived economic disparity that has come about because of the recent influx of tech workers to San Francisco and other Bay Area cities. Many of the complaints by people like Mission District activist Roberto Hernandez about the new wave of tech workers is that they are unconsciously using their high salaries to undermine long established African American and Latin American communities.

Many of these tech workers have been accused of having no knowledge or understanding of individuals who live in or the businesses and non-profit organizations that have served these neighborhoods, and they don’t understand the uproar when a group of tech workers buys a building and uses Ellis Act provisions to evict rent control protected tenants who can’t afford another apartment in the greater Bay Area, or a business like a Black bookstore or a Latin American art gallery.

Tech workers don’t understand why the anger is directed toward them in that well paid people in other professions such as law and medicine are also engaging in real estate speculation that is driving low income people out of neighborhoods like the Mission and the Fillmore and forcing out Black- and Latino-owned businesses.

One reason lawyers and doctors aren’t receiving the criticism of their tech counterparts is that these professions have established foundations that give millions of dollars to community groups and nonprofits to address issues and concerns facing low income people and people of color and have set up organizations that provide free or very low cost professional services to underserved communities. The Bar Association is an example of a professional organization providing services to the less fortunate.

New-Orleans-Jazzfest-Carlos-Santana-wife-Cindy-Blackman-0414-by-Harrison-Chastang-web, Digital undivide: Keep your batteries charged and techies on your board, Culture Currents
“Thousands of San Francisco and Bay Area residents were in New Orleans the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, better know as Jazzfest,” writes Harrison. Carlos Santana and his wife Cindy Blackman on drums put on a great show, he said. – Photo: Harrison Chastang

The Bar has created a program that provides top level volunteer attorneys to low income people in civil cases, and the medical profession has long been bound by professional ethics to treat sick people regardless of their ability pay – in theory. However, there has not been a similar tradition of philanthropy or public service in the tech community.

One company, LinkedIn, has created a new service called Volunteer and Causes which enables people working in the tech sector to offer to volunteer their services as board members of nonprofits or to provide tech related consulting services to nonprofits and community organizations. These volunteer opportunities can range from linking attorneys willing to represent low income people in eviction defense and other civil trials – where, unlike criminal trials, low income people have no right to government funded legal counsel – graphic designers who can help redesign a nonprofit’s webpage or logo, or an accountant offering to organize a nonprofit’s books or tax records.

Activists like Hernandez say they are not anti-tech and that it would be much harder to do community organizing without the tools from Google, Yahoo and other tech and internet companies. Activists point to how organizers have used social media like Twitter and Facebook to urge millions of people to march in protest of oppressive governments around the world.

Tech protests say that the tech companies and the people working with them need to become partners with the communities where their employees live and work. Hernandez says that can be done by having tech companies sponsor community events that have lost funding from traditional sources or to provide solutions to individuals and small businesses facing eviction because of the financial success of the tech industry and tech workers.

Activists say that something else the new generation tech companies can do is to follow the example of old school tech companies like IBM, which has for decades allowed its workers to take a year sabbatical to work fulltime with community organizations, schools, businesses and nonprofits that otherwise could not afford to hire a consultant or adviser with the level of business and technical expertise of an IBM manager or technical analyst.

LinkedIn’s Volunteer and Causes program is a good start in the tech industry’s challenge to become better corporate citizens and neighbors at a time when the financial and societal impact of the 21st century tech revolution could have devastating consequences for low income communities and people of color not employed or associated with the tech industry.

Harrison Chastang, news director at KPOO 89.5 FM, 1329 Divisadero, San Francisco, CA 94115, (415) 346-5373, and, a historic beacon in the Black community and one of the few remaining Black owned and controlled radio stations in the country. Tune in his news show Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 5:30 p.m., his jazz shows Tuesdays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m., and his Computer Show every first Wednesday at 6-8 p.m. He can be reached at