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The Virtual Pie Shop and Other Cyber Dreams : Technology: The Inner-City Computer Society promotes the practical applications of technology and the wonders of the Internet.


Tucked into the back of the shop, in a dark corner amid the clutter of cookbooks, bottles of seasonings and business papers, a machine that surely would have startled Raven Rutherford's grandmother whirs to life.

Rutherford's computer may not yet take center stage in her Mid-City storefront pie shop, but as she begins tapping into her e-mail, hear her dream:

Her shop on Washington Boulevard near La Brea "could be like a cyber cafe, with a few PCs all around here," she says. Soon, she will begin shipping frozen pies for sale in Japan through a distributor she met on the Internet.

"I like the technological part; it's just so fascinating. Your capabilities are endless," she says. "If my grandmother saw a computer in a pie shop, she would have been bowled over."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday November 13, 1995 Home Edition Life & Style Part E Page 2 View Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Incorrect Internet address--In "The Virtual Pie Shop and Other Cyber Dreams" in Sunday's Life & Style section, the wrong Internet address was given for the Inner-City Computer Society. The correct address is

Just a year ago, the only bytes Rutherford understood were the ones taken from her blackbird pie or oatmeal cake. That was before she joined the Inner-City Computer Society.

Members like Rutherford show what the society is all about, says co-founder James Liggins: sparking awareness of computer technology and the Internet among those who never thought it could do anything for them.

A year ago, Liggins, a Compton resident, and a handful of others in urban communities, launched the Inner-City Computer Society in a meeting room at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Inglewood. Now there are about 100 members, and the group has established a home page on the World Wide Web, the multimedia arm of the Internet global computer network. The page, which Liggins says has been visited by Net surfers from as far as Nigeria, provides links to other Web pages operated by multicultural groups, city, state and federal government agencies, employment and education services and others.

Acutely aware of the lack of computer ownership in inner-city areas, the group holds monthly workshops and seminars at Holy Trinity to stir interest in computers and the Internet. It also conducts field trips to high-technology companies.

"There is no substitute for exposure to the information superhighway," says Liggins, a business consultant who became a computer buff a decade ago while working for an aerospace firm. "No place can you go to get the answer to any question but the Internet."

Perhaps an exaggeration, but the group's concern that the expansion of information technology has not reached everyone is well-founded.

An October, 1993, U.S. Census Bureau study found that fewer than 14% of adult African Americans and Latinos owned home computers, contrasted with 27% of whites. In the workplace, 47% of whites used a computer, contrasted with 36% of African Americans and 29% of Latinos.

About 7% of households earning less than $10,000 have home computers, the Census Bureau reported, while 62% of those with incomes of $75,000 or more do.

"Nothing can solve all problems, whether it be the inner city, or Beverly Hills for that matter," Liggins says. "However, I do believe that broad access to computers, in the home, by inner-city families can expose them to opportunities and challenges that they would not otherwise be exposed to."

Ron Parker, a group member who runs Software Creations, a Carson-based information services firm, says cost is not so much a barrier to computing as a lack of familiarity with the technology. A computer set-up that would provide access to the Internet could be bought for $1,000 or less, Parker says, a price within grasp of moderate-income families.

"Our biggest obstacle is fear of the technology," he says. "It's an education process." The group's efforts have won praise from some who study the Internet.

"I think it's unique and representative of a trend," says Eric J. Heikkila, a USC urban planning professor at work on a database that will be available on the World Wide Web. "They are real self-starters not waiting for the technology to come to them."

The group has consulted Heikkila on his project, Monitoring the Metropolis, a Web site that will serve as a clearinghouse for information on local census data, community groups and education. Acknowledging some overlap in their projects, Heikkila has joined the Inner-City Computer Society and the group has advised him on his work.

Jay S. Mendell, a professor at Florida Atlantic University in Ft. Lauderdale who has canvassed the Web searching for sites related to central cities, says he could find no other active page quite like the Inner-City Computer Society's.

Besides a low rate of computer ownership in low-income urban neighborhoods, there is a dearth of Internet offerings addressing needs in those communities, he says.

"It's extra difficult to write something for the inner city," Mendell says. "The inner-city people I have dealt with really want to know where the business loans and jobs are. People have asked me, how does my page on the Internet show how to get a bank loan? The Internet doesn't answer immediate needs."

Still, the Inner-City Computer Society remains steadfastly optimistic that the Internet can help.

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