Well it’s been quite a wait, but with another round of SLQ computers being decommissioned and generously donated, it is almost time for the Creative Community Computing (CCC) workshops to kick off again. CCC is all about bridging the Digital Divide. For a little background on this concept — here is a primer by Daniel Flood, our Creative Production Manager and originator of The Edge’s CCC program.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination (1962), Arthur C Clarke
There has been a lot said about the Digital Divide; by learned people, from academics through American presidents over the past twenty years and it seems a little glib to recap in a very short time and space. To save the clicking through to another page and losing your attention — let alone momentum — following is a short summation of the thought process around the subject, some ranting between the facts and the foundation on which the remainder of the words planned for these blog entries can be built on.
The Digital Divide is the gap between the technological have and have not. It concerns itself with the inequity of access to computer technology and internet, the gap in knowledge that has developed with regards to computer technology and the resulting disempowerment which frames digital technology as sacred objects that should remain closed to the masses, rather than tools to be used and ultimately, broken.
Let me take a few moments to unpack the densely packed statement.
We live in the Digital Village, where (developed world) borders cease to have any real application. It is a connected space of democratic authorship, where all citizens have the right to speak and to be heard — reasserting that rhetoric and reality are often uncomfortable bed-fellows.
This Digital Village is a class based world where the merchant class serves as the socio-politic engine of momentum.
The Digital Divide has covered thousands of type-face pages around and about itself over the past ten years. With good cause; it’s a real issue, even in the light of falling technology prices and the onward march of Moore’s Law into its own irrelevance.
The disempowerment was not always prevalent with regards to computer technology. In the 60s through the early 80s, ownership of a computer equated to a working knowledge of the technology. To use a computer, the user faced the command line and a need to have memorized a catalogue of arcane commands with which to make the machine dance like a proverbial monkey. It was not friendly or easy, but it was open and transparent.
The first commercially available Apple computer was a build it yourself kit, an irony considering Apple’s evolution into one of the leading industry exemplars of the closed computer system.
Times changed and the personal computer found itself in the formative years of becoming an industry distinct from the computer sciences. In the late 80s and through the turning century, knowledge of a computer’s workings was no longer a requisite of ownership. The command line gave way to iteratively richer Graphical User Interfaces (GUI), and the tinkering that typified the early days of the computer industry was first made complicated by proprietary screws and was later legally discouraged in the United States of America and effectively throughout the developed world.
Personal computing had become an industry, building obsolescence and dependence into its business model. Users are asked to trust the technologist’s wares and go about the business of consuming technology, maintenance became the realm of the authorized service technicians, disempowering the user’s capacity to maintain their consumer electronics and occasional prosecuting them for opening the beige box (IE. modifying the PS3 to run Linux, building Hackintosh systems etc).
This is not to suggest that people are not building and repairing their own computers. Swap meets held around Australia every weekend and the growth of discount hardware retailers are proof contrary, places where enthusiasts gather parts to construct their computers.
Enthusiast is the key word, not the wider community but a small human repository of the technical information. Building your own computer is not part of the mainstream. Repairing computer technology — as stated earlier — is the work of authorised service technicians. The construction of computer technology is painted as a complicated process, requiring a capacity for deep technical understanding and the qualification to call oneself a ‘nerd’.
Which is crap, ‘and anyone who tells you differently is selling you something’.
The repair and construction of computer technology are skills that should be made available to everyone and the Creative Community Computing program addresses this gap with underserviced communities in Queensland. The Creative Community Computing program works with recycled computer hardware and Free & Open Source Software (FOSS). It teaches rebuilding and repairing the hardware, installing software and engaging creatively with the computer. When the workshop program concludes, participants take the computer home with the knowledge of how to keep them in working order.
Past CCC workshops have been delivered in partnership with MDA, QPASTT, and the Edmund Rice Flexi Schools. We are looking forward to partnering with these groups again and reaching out to other communities for the 2013 series of workshops. As every particpant leaves with a functioning computer we tend to run out of systems pretty quickly so we’ll be looking to source computers from outside SLQ. If you have or know of a dozen or so computers laying around idle, please let us know!