My first exposure to computers was in a typing class in high school in 1983: half the class had typewriters, half had computers, and then we all switched to the other machine midway through the school year. I wasn't especially entranced by the computers - I liked the typewriters better. I had a job at the newspaper in my hometown at that time and used a computer there to input my stories. A computer was just a word-processing tool to me. After university, I went into marketing and PR for nonprofits, and computers were just something to type on. But then, in the early 1990s, I saw my first Apple Macintosh, and ended up going into debt to buy one in 1993. Now, I could DESIGN ads on my computer, not hand it over to a printing house to typeset. I could create my own presentations. I could also access something I couldn't at my job: a new thing called the Internet, via America Online. I loved the AOL communities and I especially loved USENET Newsgroups. Because of all that interaction with others online, my life has never been the same!
I learned to use all this tech in my own little apartment. At another job, I was the internal communications manager, and the head of PR at the company, a consultant, said he didn't want anything to do with the Internet. As a result, I was in charge of putting together 11 websites, one for each affiliate. Since I was still learning HTML, I recruited some students from a nearby university to help me. I found two, and one suggested they do the work from their own computers in their dorms, because ours were so ancient. I said "Sure!" I had no idea this was virtual volunteering. My online community experience and my work with these two volunteers landed me a job with what was then Impact Online (now VolunteerMatch), directing the new Virtual Volunteering Project. Four years into that job, I got recruited by the United Nations to run the online volunteering arm of NetAid, which became www.onlinevolunteering.org. I've been all over the world, working in Germany, Egypt, Afghanistan, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine and more, I've written a book, and I've met untold numbers of people, all because of my journey with tech. Digital tools have been completely tied up with my professional life since the 1990s. And on a personal level, online communities regarding my personal interests have brought me friends, played a role in how I met my husband, prompted me to attend all sorts of wonderful events and travel to some amazing places.
I cannot imagine my life without the Internet and computers.
Interest in my expertise in virtual volunteering and online communities really waned around 2015. I felt that virtual volunteering was so mainstream now, people didn't really need me anymore. And then came COVID-19. I am overwhelmed with inquiries and requests. I've ended up creating a series of free videos on my YouTube channel to train up people new to virtual volunteering, so they can begin creating roles and activities immediately - things are too urgent now for me to try to fill every request for basic training.
For more women to be online, we need much more training for women, in women-only spaces if possible, and increased access. Training shouldn't just be how a particular app works: women need training in how to establish themselves online, how to assume leadership roles online, how to handle harassment, how to present themselves professionally, how to be an activist online, how to recognize misinformation, how to promote online civility, how to know when you are being manipulated online, how to recognize when a young person is being radicalized, etc.
I want every woman to know where to find the credible information she needs most, whether that's weather information, market information for whatever she grows in a garden, health care information, how to get in touch with an elected official, and on and on. In a world where technology could be leveraged to its highest potential, women are able to pursue their dreams regarding careers, regarding personal interests, regarding personal needs, and if she chooses, a family.