Broadband Helps Largely Disconnected Populations with Civic Engagement

I call to check on my grandmother weekly. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have started chatting with her more often. Grandma Frankie is a social butterfly, so  limiting interactions to immediate family members means missing out on the countless other people in her community.

Last week, part of our conversation went something like this:


Grandma Frankie: “Do you have an iPhone?”

Me: “Yes.”

Her: “I just bought one today, but cannot figure out how to use it. Could you write down the iPhone instructions and mail them to me?”


This conversation may look familiar. It’s important that my grandmother is able to get online, especially when the coronavirus keeps her away from lifelong friends and church family. Learning how to do a Facetime call, login to a social media account, or ordering something online requires one-on-one coaching. But, I am committed to helping her navigate this uncharted territory. She deserves the benefits and is willing to  learn how to use new equipment to get online.

Last week, because of COVID-19 social distancing measures, my grandmother had to go to a doctor’s appointment alone for the first time. She was told that she could use her iphone to FaceTime family members during future appointments. She explained that to me in our weekly updates and I realized that increased digital literacy will give my grandmother and so many others like her what COVID-19 has taken away – freedom.

When my grandmother is able to get online (on her own) she can get the healthcare she needs, order the groceries that she wants, and contribute to her community. She really misses gathering in place with the ladies of her Bridge Club, who have met weekly for the last thirty years. Once I helped her download an app for the card game, she was able to play digitally with some of her friends that already play online. It’s a small gesture that keeps her stimulated and engaged.

It’s less important that Grandma Frankie can get online for bridge club meetings than what happens here. It’s a safe place for she and her friends to have candid conversations about community needs and activism, especially for residents in her demographic. Without in-person meetings, these conversations are few and far between, potentially excluding critical perspectives from the larger conversation that shapes our government and its priorities. Being able to get online allows my grandmother to help her insert her voice into the local civic dialogue.

While sending directions via snail mail might take a while longer than explaining how to use her new gadget over the phone, that handwritten letter is the first step to quickly exchanging text messages with her in the future. For our family, my grandmother’s new iPhone will ensure that she can fully enjoy and participate in an increasingly digital society.

Share this post with your friends