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NAME:
Alan Shaw
WHAT HE DOES:
Creates ways for communities to organize online
LATEST TRIUMPH:
Wiring a New Jersey housing project

With the Internet making the world smaller and smaller, it makes sense, says Alan Shaw, that neighborhoods shrink as well. “If technology can make it easy to communicate with people in China, why not with the person next door?”

In 1993, as a graduate student at MIT’s Media Lab, Shaw created a computer bulletin board system called the Multi-User Sessions in Community (MUSIC). With an $8,000 Wood Foundation grant, he moved Apple computers and high-speed modems into a dozen homes in his working-class Boston neighborhood of Dorchester and hooked them up to MUSIC. Within weeks, residents–some of whom had never met before–logged onto the system and organized a food co-op, a newsletter, and crime watches.

Dorchester is just the first stop. A school board used Shaw’s MUSIC plan to help outfit a housing project in Newark, N.J., with home computers, launching an online community of more than 70 people. Lynette Tucker, a 29-year-old mother of two, says, “Before, if I saw a person from the neighborhood walking on the street, carrying grocery bags, if they weren’t a family member I might just see them and keep on going. Now people will stop and help.”

More MUSIC is planned for a lower-class Chicago neighborhood, and for a statewide program reaching into rural Mississippi. “It’s exposing people to technology,” Shaw says, “and giving them a voice they might otherwise not have.”

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