Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Midwives of Nonprofit Technology

I've been mulling this one over for several days, not sure what to do with it. But I need to do SOMETHING.

It was the morning of New Year's Eve. Philip and I were reading in bed. NPR was on in the background. We were only half listening. It was "Talk of the Nation."

Then Philip recognized it was Andy Carvin speaking (about 12 minutes in). Ah, what's he up to these days? (We'd worked together at Benton and traveled in nonprofit/community technology circles back in the '90s.)

So I put down my book (or my laptop, most likely) and listened. Ah, he's talking about another "old timer" of nonprofit/community technology-- Steve Snow! I wonder how Steve's doing? Haven't seen him in years. Then I hear Andy use the "was" verb. Huh? And to make matters worse, he mentions another Steve in the past tense-- Steve Cisler, librarian and very active in Apple's early forays into putting computers into libraries. All this long before the Web came along in the mid-late 90s.

These two men were major contributors to birthing the "nonprofit technology" movement. And we lost them both in 2008. Cisler lost a battle with cancer back in May; Snow gone from a heart attack right after Christmas. I found myself weeping, but in anger.

What makes me mad? So few people bouncing around the current online aether even know about these and other fine folks out there who laid the groundwork of what has become a very vibrant online environment, rich with advocacy and social change and human services and culture-- back in the day when it was NOT ALLOWED TO SELL THINGS ON THE INTERNET! (People under a certain age, but not much younger than me, look at me like I'm out of my mind when I tell them that such a time existed.)

I was but one of the many "midwives" of nonprofit technology, many of whom have faded away or moved on to other ventures (as I did), some (I refrain from using the phrase "die-hards" given the recent deaths) who continue the NP tech work like the Energizer bunny. (Beth Kanter comes to mind.)

So I find myself on something of a desperate journey to track down the "midwives of nonprofit technology" (of whatever gender) -- to make sure they know how important they are, what a critical role they played, no matter what they may be doing or not doing now. (I just learned that one such midwife is recovering from her second bout of breast cancer!)

Maybe it's because I'm about to turn 50, an age I can't quite fathom. Just like I can't quite fathom that Steve and Steve are gone from this plain.

Who was your midwife? Or your organization's? Have you seen or talked to them lately? Have you told them the impact they had on your life? on your community? Do they know? Go find them. Tell them. Before they're gone.

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