On this season of Working, we left the East Coast behind and flew to Detroit. We’re speaking with eight people who are drawing on the city’s complex history as they work to create its future.
For this episode, which you can listen to via the player above, we spoke with Diana Nucera, director of the Detroit Community Technology Project.
As Nucera tells us, 40 percent of Detroiters are wholly without internet access—broadband or mobile. That can have severe consequences for those residents, especially as the city continues to transform and modernize. She worries that we’re creating a “digital class system” in parallel with existing economic divides, further reinforcing the gap between haves and have-nots. In the process, those without access can be cut off from job opportunities, social services, and even their own communities.
The Detroit Community Technology Project aims to help allay that situation in ways that respond to the needs and predilections of the city’s own residents. “The easiest way to explain it,” Nucera says, “is I help people make their own internet. And I also de-mystify technology in a way that allows people to teach it in a more community-oriented way.” Simultaneously, she and her organization work on a variety of other issues, including open-data ordinances and questions of net neutrality.
If Detroit is undergoing a revitalization, Nucera proposes, that process has more to do with the people who make up its communities than it does with the corporations that call it home: “What has kept Detroit alive are those neighborhoods that are very poor [and] those grass-roots groups.” In promoting digital literacy, she hopes that she can help Detroit residents determine what’s next instead of letting tech companies dictate the details of their lives. “The idea is that you’re not necessarily bringing experts to people, but you’re bringing the expert out in people,” Nucera says.
As the director of a nonprofit organization, Nucera’s role is also partly managerial. In this episode, she shares the details of that side of her work as well, while also talking about issues like fundraising. “I feel like my brain is always a year ahead. I’ve become really good at time hacking,” she tells us, explaining that in her line of work she always has to be thinking about what’s coming up.
Then in a Slate Plus extra, Nucera talks about the importance of net neutrality in Detroit. If you’re a member, enjoy bonus segments and interview transcripts from Working, plus other great podcast exclusives. Start your two-week free trial at slate.com/workingplus.