“A little more breathing space”

April 23, 2014

Dionne Grayson, mother of two, hyper-energized, curious Brownsville resident, was nodding as we described what we were trying to do.

“Yes, that makes sense. We all have a million things we’re juggling. You want to find ways for technology to give us a little more breathing space? That sure would be helpful.”

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. We don’t want to come in with an approach that says “you should do X, and here’s a new way of doing it using technology.” You should vote, should eat healthy, you should save, should attend this meeting. You should …

People who are earning less than two thousand dollars a month have enough on their minds. What we want to do is find ways to give them a little more breathing space.

We basically asked Dionne variations on this question of what’s on her mind:

  • Where does your time get spent? 

  • Where does your “worry” get spent? 

  • Where does your money get spent?

  • Where does your frustration get spent? 

  • Where does your “I wish this…” get spent?

We simply want to sit alongside people like Dionne and to get a sense of how things that matter to them, good or bad, get spent. And then to see if there are ideas that are generated from the giant tech toolbox that we carry around that could help.  

Over a couple of hours our conversation with Dionne ran from being an at home mom to teaching on Riker’s Island to getting her kids into good schools to neighbourhood discussion boards to whether Park Slope Co-op is simply crazy (yes) to credit unions.  

It’s expensive to be poor in this city.

Here’s an unexpected anecdote that emerged when talking with Dionne.

Cell phones are banned in NYC public schools. Makes sense. But how does one enforce that? In prosperous schools, teachers can confiscate them. In neighbourhoods that are deemed high-risk – well, there’s a metal detector. Even in grade schools. So kids have to line up, sometimes outside, just to get into their school. Of course, there’s no way they can bring a phone in.

So what do they do?

Where there’s a problem, there’s an entrepreneur. Turns out Bodegas offer “phone concierge services” – kids can leave their phones at a local bodega for 1$ a day. Outside some schools, a van will be parked, offering the same service.

The entrepreneurs are ingenious.

But at the heart of this, as Dionne points out, is a huge hypocrisy. Let’s say you’re a working mother of two. You basically have to pay an extra $40 a month in these cell phone concierge fees, just because you’re poor and live in a “risky” neighbourhood. A fee well off moms don’t have to pay.  

As she said a couple of times “It’s expensive to be poor in this city.”



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