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[P]
The Technical Elite?

By Stubbs in Culture
Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 10:22:58 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

Are we, as a society at risk of excluding those who are technically illiterate from the "Information Revolution"? Guy Kewney, in this months PC Magazine outlines the dangers of not providing access to this technology to people, not only in an affordable way, but in a format and language they can understand.


Without wanting to quote too much from his article (that is only the inspiration for my piece, the two should complement each other), Guy points out that at the moment anyone can walk into their Citizens Advice Office and find out most of what they want, and warns that increased relience on the net to deliver this information will lead to the closure of Advice Centers in smaller towns, leaving only those able to access and work a PC, with access to the information.

A little background before I continue. Here in the UK we used to have a public transport system we could be proud of, trains that ran on time, trains that went to a far greater number of stations than they do now, and trams and busses that would take you to virtually any part of the town you wanted to go. Now we have a rundown & fragmented train system. They are late more often than they are on time, and the busses are mostly smelly, horrible things, also late and uncomfortable. The decline of these services is blamed on the introduction of the motor car (not the only reason, but for simplicity and these articles, lets assume it is). This has had the effect of taking the services away from those who need them the most, the elderly, those in rural areas and the poor. I'm saying this because I know there are countries out there that still have fantastic public transport systems.

This is as far as Guy's comparison goes, but I think that it's going to be far more literall than that. Lets take BT's ADSL roll out for example. It's only being installed in exchanges in the most havily populated areas at the moment. The areas BT reckons will have high demand. Fair enough. This new braodband access will no doubt drive up demand for services such as online shopping, bringing the benefit to those who have broadband access. But what about the people who could really do with this service? The elderly and especially the elderly who live in rural areas? 20 miles from the nearest supermarket. (You would think that small village shops would thrive in such a situation wouldn't you? But no, the motor car has put paid to that idea.)

OK, so lets suppose now that

  • Broadband access is available everywhere.
  • The British government's plan to give everyone access to the net is in place.

This still leaves the problem of technical literacy. It's a good bet that the majority of people who use a web browser can actually read, but can they understand what they have read, and apply it in a constructive way?

Recently I set up a suite of PC's in a public library. These PC's had access to a huge number of educational CD Roms, ranging from Primary Schools (Elementry School in the US) Maths & English right the way through to advanced languages & even a set of MSCE training CD's. However it often dismayed me to see these PC's being used to look up the latest football scores, look up the latest cheats for their Playstation games, or read their email. The resource was going to waste. The library wasn't bothered because as far as their statistics showed it was being used, and that's all that's important right?

The Government, local councils and the BBC are all making an effort to educate people in the use of PC's, and the information that they can access with it, but it's up to people to actually make use of the courses these opportunities. It's not as though it's difficlut, some schemes are even being run in pubs, taking the tutoring to the people instead of the other way around. Unfortunatly, I dont think this will be enough.

The people who provide information on the net need to make it simpler to understand, people who use the internet need to make the effort to increase their literacy and the people who provide access, such as BT, need to make sure that people can easily access that information from a lot more places.

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Poll
Who do you blame for poor net access in your area?
o Government 5%
o Telco's 41%
o ISP's 11%
o Equipment makers (Cisco, Lucent etc) 0%
o Other 2%
o No-one, my net access is fine thankyou very much. 39%

Votes: 96
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The Technical Elite? | 41 comments (41 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
I can see where you're coming from (2.66 / 6) (#1)
by FeersumAsura on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 09:06:23 AM EST

I have to agree with many of your points. I live in a village in the north West of England. Due to the poor quality of the phone lines and the exchange ISDN isn't even available and some houses can only connect at 2Kbyte/s. This is not due to a DAC just corroded lines. The worst thing is were only 6 miles away from Barrow-In Furness a large industrial town with a population of 70,000.
However, I feel that the tone of youre article implies that somehow it is our fault that some people can't use computers. If people can't use a computer that is not our problem. Windows is a simple system and my 4 year old cousin picked up IE in less than an hour.
BT SHOULD give decent cheap broadband access. But it is not the governments role to ensure that people can use computers. Libraries have computers and if people want to use them for fun, let them. The internet is not just for educational purposes.
The country has a real need for more money to be spent on basic skills education. Next to America the UK has one of the highest rates of illiteracy and xenophobia (are they linked?). Until most people can are literate to a high enough standard the internet will be beyond them. It is not our duty to simplify it to bring the medium to the masses. The masses should rise to the medium. Nobody talks about re-writing classic novels to make them more accessible to the average person. So why should a technical system populated by mostly technically aware users be compromised for those who can not or will not learn.

I'm so pre-emptive I'd nuke America to save time.
Nothing new (2.71 / 7) (#2)
by B'Trey on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 09:06:53 AM EST

This is really nothing new. People who are illiterate miss out on the vast wealth of written material. People who are computer illiterate miss out on the wealth of online material.

The net is becomming more and more prevalent. In the same time frame, it's becoming cheaper and more easily accessible. Access to the net isn't limited to computers now, and it's likely to be less so in the future. When television first came out, it was limited to the rich and to those in high population areas. Over time, it has become so common that even the poorest families in developed countries usually have at least one television set. Right now, the net is still in transition from a toy to a tool. By the time it becomes a necessity, access will be a problem for only a small fraction of the populace, much like illiteracy is a relatively minor problem today.

Literacy or Interest? (3.00 / 6) (#3)
by acestus on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 09:16:30 AM EST

You seem discouraged that people are using the computers in your local library not for their intended, constructive use -- namely, education and research -- but for email, games, and sport scores.

I am not unsympathetic. This, however, doesn't imply technical ineptitude. If users know how to find this information, they could probably find concise encyclopedia articles or even work their way through tutorial software. The issue here is not that they are incapable of using the 'net, but that they aren't interested in looking up articles on 1066 and all that. (In the end, I think that once a user can operate a mouse, they can operate simplified computer interfaces.)

Now, this does not, of course, do away with other problems that you've mentioned. It is interesting to note the great difference between the introduction of the first phone lines and of DSL lines: phone lines could run for huge distances without destroying the signal; DSL lines can run some ten kilometers. (The actual distance escapes me.)

I am confident that wireless networking will eliminate this problem. Eventually. In the meantime, it is a serious one. I don't think that on-line services will replace in-the-flesh services for the most part, especially in cities where internet access is rare or slow. Still, as voice-over-IP and related technologies take off, it will affect the economic condition of the rural poor and middle-class.

Are there solutions to this problem?

Acestus
This is not an exit.
You're Correct (2.66 / 3) (#6)
by Stubbs on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 09:30:07 AM EST

You're correct, using PC's to "surf the net" and use them to educate themselves is not a sign of technical ineptitude, quite the opposite, it implies a certain level of technical skill. My disapointment was at the fact that (at an individual level) people didn't use them to their full potential, and therefore meet their own full potential. There were a couple of families that used the suite regularly. Dad doing his MSCE, Mum learning French (or was it German) and the two kids using GCSE English, Maths and Science CDRoms.

[ Parent ]
Disapointed for yourself? (3.00 / 1) (#12)
by muddyfunster on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 09:54:37 AM EST

>>My disapointment was at the fact that (at an individual >>level) people didn't use them to their full potential, >>and therefore meet their own full potential. Are you sure you're disapointed for them and not for yourself? Having taking all that time to set the facilities up for the people to use. Why does the full potential have to be educational rather than recreational?

[ Parent ]
Because education is what it's for. (none / 0) (#30)
by Stubbs on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 08:08:43 PM EST

The suite was set up to provide aneducational resource for the Borough, not a recreational one, had that been the case we would have spent the money of 3D graphics cards & Quake III :-)

[ Parent ]
And is that really bad? (3.50 / 2) (#11)
by El Volio on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 09:52:13 AM EST

You seem discouraged that people are using the computers in your local library not for their intended, constructive use -- namely, education and research -- but for email, games, and sport scores.

And is that really a problem? Granted, it might not be what you choose to do, but there's something to be said for having a tool that's so versatile. Personally, in a given day, I might spend several hours reading/discussing on k5, more time finding technical information for my job, but that doesn't mean I don't take time to check sports scores, check personal e-mail, and yes, read about games.

The point is that the Internet is not just what we want it to be. It should be, in part, what we want, but also what other users want. A lot of geeks dread the "corporatization" of the Net because they're afraid of not being able to keep doing what they want on it. So shouldn't we be more tolerant when other people have the same desire, even if the specific uses are different?

[ Parent ]

UK-centric (2.28 / 7) (#4)
by meadows_p on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 09:18:26 AM EST

Sorry, I had to say it. This article is very UK-centric, remember what the first W in WWW stands for, blah, blah, etc. etc.

Hyperlink patent (3.66 / 3) (#5)
by FeersumAsura on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 09:21:45 AM EST

Remember which evil monopoly has the patent on hyperlinks. you've guessed it <a href=www.bt.co.uk>British telecom. How come a US based article is thought of as being of world wide interest while one which is UK centric isn't? Is this double standards.

I'm so pre-emptive I'd nuke America to save time.
[ Parent ]
Sorry, it was meant to be sarcasm, of a sort (3.33 / 3) (#8)
by meadows_p on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 09:33:29 AM EST

Sorry FeersumAsura, we seem to be argueing quite a bit here! I'm from .uk as well (Reading, Berkshire to be precise), I was (perhaps a bit to obscurely) trying to point out that most of these country-centric stories tend to have a lot of relevance in other countries, not just the one mentioned. I'll be more specific in future. (That'll teach me to post immediatly after the Friday lunchtime pubbing!)

[ Parent ]
Just down the road then... (4.50 / 2) (#19)
by spiralx on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 10:49:41 AM EST

Since I'm from Staines, on the Reading train line :) And God no Ali G jokes either... *shudder*

Anyway, I see that the point of this story is going to become more and more relevent over time, and his point about Citizen's Advice is a good one. There has been a trend in this country at the moment of shutting down essential services in rural areas to justify costs, and a huge outcry about it. And whilst net access could cover some of these losses, these are the places that will be lagging behind due to the costs of upgrading infrastructure.

It's not endemic yet, but it certainly will be within the next twenty years. Unfortunately, without some kind of impetus from something like the government, it's just not profitable enough to put all of the required infrastructure in place...


You're doomed, I'm doomed, we're all doomed for ice cream. - Bob Aboey
[ Parent ]

That's as may be. (3.00 / 2) (#7)
by Stubbs on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 09:33:08 AM EST

Be that as it may, but I think it's a world-wide issue. I only use British references because that's what I know. <p.I did make the effort to visit #kuro5hin last night to try and find out US terms for British education levels (Primary School = Elementry School)

[ Parent ]
It was meant to be a joke. (4.33 / 3) (#9)
by meadows_p on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 09:38:36 AM EST

Sorry, It was meant to be a joke. To tell the truth it's refreshing to actually see a story from the .uk perspective, rather than seeing all of the .!US kuro5hiners piping up about US-centricity. Obviously whoevers posting, their outlook is going to be coloured by their experiences, which will be mostly based on their country of origin. Hopefully we can learn to more readily accept our peers from around the globe.

[ Parent ]
In the US, let's not forget Jesse. (none / 0) (#40)
by Narcischizm on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 05:33:18 PM EST

Jesse Jackson is trying to narrow the digital divide in the US with (presently) the help of President Billy. This includes providing computers for the masses with government funds.

[ Parent ]
Author is from UK, subject affects everyone (3.00 / 1) (#10)
by maynard on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 09:42:01 AM EST

The article is written from the perspective of the author's locale. But his points are still general enough to be of interest to this US citizen. Previously, a guy had placed in the submission queue an article about Donald Knuth speaking in a Canadian University. That was too regional because so few could attend the sessions (I'd still like to read a story about having attended Knuth's speech though). But by definition, everyone in this forum needs inet access somehow. I liked the article and voted +1.

Cheers,
--Maynard

Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.
[ Parent ]

Waste (2.66 / 6) (#13)
by Beorn on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 10:07:04 AM EST

However it often dismayed me to see these PC's being used to look up the latest football scores, look up the latest cheats for their Playstation games, or read their email. The resource was going to waste.

You must be joking! Educational CD-ROM's are little but digital versions of books, which you'd find in the library anyway. The real revolution with the net lies in the wealth of information available on subjects you'd never find in a library, and the new forms of communication it enables.

I would be dismayed if library PC's *weren't* used for looking up football scores, finding game cheats and reading e-mail.

In any case, you should be careful with talking about a group of underpriviliged people that "we" need to rescue, without defining who "people" are, and precisely what's stopping them. Stupidity? Age? Lack of money? Lack of education?

Also, I think that most people who have grown up with computers will find it easier to deal with a government website than with a government clerk.

- Beorn

[ Threepwood '01 ]

Television: History Repeats Itself. (3.42 / 7) (#14)
by Carnage4Life on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 10:18:08 AM EST

As someone has already pointed out, the crux of your argument is that you feel that people who don't use the technology will lose out. Guess what, this scenario has already played itself out before with television. When TV use became widespread there were high hopes that now every citizen could get a taste of the high culture that only the rich could obtain previously (broadway plays, operas, musicals, etc), also the potential as an educational medium was constantly stressed. Instead what has happened? At least in the U.S. the average person would rather watch Survivor, Jerry Springer, When Animals Attack, etc than watch the programs on C-SPAN, PBS, TLC, The History Channel or the Discovery Channel.

The problem is not the technology but the level of education and the attitude of the people. In my experience (limited as it is), the same people who are informed enough to visit their local/state/federal government offices to solve specific problems can and already do use computer access from home or public facilities to perform a variety of tasks.



Perhaps I aught to look at myself for answers...? (3.66 / 3) (#16)
by Stubbs on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 10:36:25 AM EST

Your comparison with TV is a good one, and if I look at myself I am a good example of someone who has grown up with TV.

The problem isn't just with a lack of access (as I hope I hinted at in my article by mentioning the lack of use of educational tools) but as you say, with a lack of education that the net and PC's are for much more than just looking up trivial bits of information.

[ Parent ]

TV education (2.50 / 2) (#25)
by Beorn on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 01:12:50 PM EST

At least in the U.S. the average person would rather watch Survivor, Jerry Springer, When Animals Attack, etc than watch the programs on C-SPAN, PBS, TLC, The History Channel or the Discovery Channel.

If all you're watching on TV is Discovery, you're the one who isn't using TV to its fullest potential. TV isn't primarily a learning medium, it's too unfocused and visual. But it's a great medium for various types of low attention-span entertainment: talk shows, tv series, music videos.

Personally, I'm sorry to say, I've almost stopped reading books and watching TV since i got 24h connected to the net. Since I love both books and TV, this doesn't bode well for the future of either of them.

- Beorn

[ Threepwood '01 ]
[ Parent ]

TV's Fullest Potential isn't Jerry Springer & MTV (none / 0) (#32)
by Carnage4Life on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 10:23:15 PM EST

If all you're watching on TV is Discovery, you're the one who isn't using TV to its fullest potential. TV isn't primarily a learning medium, it's too unfocused and visual. But it's a great medium for various types of low attention-span entertainment: talk shows, tv series, music videos.

The only reason you believe this is because of the fact that the major channels forcefeed that crap to everyone day-in-day-out until we now believe that TV is merely an idiot box. The visual nature of TV is what makes it so great, you can experience various cultures, events and news with utmost clarity and perspective if the programs were so inclined. You can keep tabs on the government by watching congressional debates and hearings on C-SPAN, where does that exist anywhere else, even on the much vaunted world wide web? Where else can nature be viewed in it's utmost glory while it unfolds?

To claim that watching Discovery, PBS, TLC, etc. is not the fullest potential of TV and instead it is garish displays of tasteless human behavior (talk shows) or derivative sexually exploitative musical montages sometimes targetted at and featuring minors (music videos) are TV's fullest potential is rather myopic and incorrect.



[ Parent ]
Visual arts (4.00 / 1) (#35)
by Beorn on Sat Oct 21, 2000 at 09:33:36 AM EST

The only reason you believe this is because of the fact that the major channels forcefeed that crap to everyone day-in-day-out until we now believe that TV is merely an idiot box.

So few words, so much to disagree with. I take "we" to mean yourself. I certainly don't see TV as an idiot box, and I don't know how you got that impression. Or do you feel that all art that doesn't appeal to you rationally is beneath you?

I also resent your insinuation that I've been brainwashed by Big Media.

The visual nature of TV is what makes it so great, you can experience various cultures, events and news with utmost clarity and perspective if the programs were so inclined.

What I believe is that visual input by nature has a stronger emotional effect than words. Like music, images jump straight past your rational, analytical skills, and strikes you on some basic, half-conscious level. Moving images doubly so.

This is why visual arts so easily end up corrupting the high ideals of rationalists and purists. Educational TV uses basically the same techniques as entertainment to capture attention: Flashing images, dramatic music, conflict-oriented angles. You simple don't see the dry objectivity of a science text book on TV.

Conservatives and progressives call this decadence. I say: If you want to learn, *read*, and let TV do what it does best.

To claim that watching Discovery, PBS, TLC, etc. is not the fullest potential of TV and instead it is garish displays of tasteless human behavior (talk shows) or derivative sexually exploitative musical montages sometimes targetted at and featuring minors (music videos) are TV's fullest potential is rather myopic and incorrect.

I'm not a huge fan of Jerry Springer, but I enjoyed the few shows I saw before it was cancelled in Norway. "KKK Moms", "I'm Proud to be a Prostitute", "My 15-year-old Son Wears a Dress", this is great garbage TV, where everything civilized has been stripped away and all that's left is sex and violence. This appeals to me, though I respect if others feel differently.

As for music videos, I've seen a few that completely blew me away, but I don't pay much attention to what goes on in that field, too much of it sucks. Besides, I don't have MTV any more, so I have to see them in poor RealVideo at Launch. But it's definitely an artform with a lot of potential, and I fail to see who it exploits. The viewers?

- Beorn

[ Threepwood '01 ]
[ Parent ]

Waste? (3.00 / 5) (#15)
by Kaa on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 10:36:21 AM EST

However it often dismayed me to see these PC's being used to look up the latest football scores, look up the latest cheats for their Playstation games, or read their email. The resource was going to waste.

That's a very weird statement for you to make. Let me try to rephrase it to make it clearer.

You installed some PCs in the library. Among other things they provide access to some reference and educational material (and let me point out in passing that most learning software that I've seen is a horrible monstrosity that has sane people running away from it screaming in less than five minutes). You expected people to use the PCs to access these materials. However, people did not behave according to your expectations. They did what was interesting to them, as opposed to what you thought would be useful to them. And you are surprised?

More, you say that the resource is wasted. How is that? People's use of computers is not and should not be limited by what you consider to be useful. It's not up to you to decide what's useful for other people -- they are perfectly capable of deciding it themselves.

Not to mention that calling email access "a waste" is stretching things a bit, in my opinion.

William Gibson: "The street finds its own use for things".

Kaa
Kaa's Law: In any sufficiently large group of people most are idiots.


It's a waste because... (2.50 / 2) (#17)
by Stubbs on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 10:40:59 AM EST

I think the majority of use of those PC's was a waste, They were wasting the PC's potential, and they were wasting their own potential to use that PC to better themselves. In my experince, the higher the level the CD is aimed at, the worse it is. The CD's aimed at a lower level are usually (nowadays at least) very good. However, how good or bad education CD-Roms is a topic for another article :-)

[ Parent ]
oops (1.50 / 2) (#18)
by Stubbs on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 10:42:50 AM EST

Sorry, that last bit was in reply to a different comment.

[ Parent ]
Wasting potential (3.75 / 4) (#20)
by Kaa on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 11:29:10 AM EST

I think the majority of use of those PC's was a waste, They were wasting the PC's potential, and they were wasting their own potential to use that PC to better themselves.

You seem to believe that anything done for the purpose other than making oneself better is a waste. You can probably get some monks and philosophers to agree with you, but normal people tend to have a different viewpoint.

When you watch TV, do you watch only "useful" programs? If not, you are wasting the TV's potential, are you not? When you listen to music on the radio, you are wasting the radio's potential and wasting your own potential to use that radio to better yourself. Shame on you!

Kaa
Kaa's Law: In any sufficiently large group of people most are idiots.


[ Parent ]
I don't (2.00 / 2) (#22)
by djkimmel on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 12:05:05 PM EST

I'd just like to point out that some people don't even watch TV. I'm one of those people.

I do agree with what you're saying, to an extent. TV and radio are generally entertainment devices and the majority of programming on either is entertainment. A quick survey of the local radio stations confirmed this, as did a quick glance at the TV guide.

Computers have so much more potential. The specific ones mentioned in the article have loads of software that could be used to better oneself, and with internet access there is almost limitless potential for either bettering oneself or wasting time.

-- Dave
-- Dave
[ Parent ]
EMail & games don't bother me. (none / 0) (#29)
by Stubbs on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 08:03:05 PM EST

What concerned me wasn't the fact that these machine _were_ being used for email and browsing "pulp" sites, but that's _ALL_ they seemed to be used for by the majority of people.

[ Parent ]
Same Story in Canada (3.28 / 7) (#21)
by weathervane on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 11:29:23 AM EST

Canada is even farther along this particular road than the UK. Canada's federal government is comitted to providing all government information online over the next 4 years with its Access.ca project. Anyone with a brain will realize that this is meant to replace at least some of the government information offices.

I work for a related program, called Community Access Project (C@P). Basically, we put public access computers in community centers, schools, and libraries. We've been told that providing access for people without computers to Access.ca is going to be the rationale for our program in the future.

I like my job, I get to do a whole bunch of different things and I can imagine that my life serves a social purpose. But I worry about this sort of thing all the time. It's not the e-mail and games that bother me, frankly I think they're what the internet is best at right now. It's the people who don't come in to the sites, and are positively hostile to the idea of the internet. And there are others who are afraid of looking stupid and don't even want to try. People who find double-clicking a major challenge.

You see people who are afraid of hospitals and sometimes their health suffers for it. I think the same thing is happening very quickly with the internet, just like it has with vehicles and telephones. What was a valued service becomes a costly necessity.

And a lot of these computers are terribly slow and have even worse connections. Somebody mentioned 2k/s connections due to bad lines. Imagine trying to share that 2k between 3 computers, or even 12 486's on one line. Well, I do it every day, and then they tell me that satellite access is an unaffordable luxury. And they want to fly me to Ottawa for a conference I know will be completely worthless.

So, you have wealthy, educated urban people who will have high speed access (even free in some places), existing physical outlets if they need to talk to a person, delivery to the door, and all sorts of other network economy benefits. And then you have rural people, who are generally less literate, have less access to computers, and will still be stuck with 2k/s for a long time yet. And it's their branches and offices that will be closed as a cost-cutting measure, believe me.

I thought the Net was supposed to make rural life easier and less isolated?

If football scores and email are a waste... (3.00 / 4) (#23)
by djkimmel on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 12:12:18 PM EST

What about what I've been using the internet for lately?

In recent memory, I've spent about two hours a day for a week searching for information on a specific model of car. I have found some nuggets of useful information, but much useless or high priced information.

If you looked over someone's shoulder and saw them at Hotmail, you'd probably think they're wasting their time. But what if you saw that the message they were reading was from a mechanic offering advice about a specific car problem? Is that a waste of time?

You've seen people look at football scores and considered that a waste of time. What if they were looking at somebody's page with his 1/4 mile times for a car? What if they came across this page while searching for repair information for that car?

I certainly don't consider this a waste of time. I don't see how this is much different from using it to look up football scores or send email to friends - in either case, they are USING the computer, which will help them be more comfortable with it when they get a job that requires them to use a computer. In this case, they ARE bettering themselves and improving themselves in some way.

-- Dave

-- Dave
Fair enough (none / 0) (#27)
by Stubbs on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 07:55:55 PM EST

The choice of email in my article was a bad example.

[ Parent ]
Not a waste, just a different type of learning (4.16 / 6) (#24)
by tbcidy on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 12:34:10 PM EST

However it often dismayed me to see these PC's being used to look up the latest football scores, look up the latest cheats for their Playstation games, or read their email. The resource was going to waste. The library wasn't bothered because as far as their statistics showed it was being used, and that's all that's important right?

I disagree with the author that using computers for fun is a waste. When I was younger I was blessed with recieving a hand me down Commodore 64. The first thing I did with it was play games on it. Several weeks later I became bored with playing the games. I began reading through the manual and discovered this thing called BASIC. From that I learned how to program. However the game playing got me comfortable with using the computer so that I could do more advanced things like programming.

Go back a few years. I was already a library goer. I went to the library for one reason and one reason only, so I could get books to read for fun. I wasn't reading reference books or non-fiction books, that would not have been any fun. However if I had never read any of the fun books I never would be able to get through the books I now need to read for college classes or for my job.

Skip ahead a few years to the time when I was learning Linux. The first programs I ran once I got Linux working were games. This taught me how to compile programs, how to edit .files, and many other things that I would not have learned. I would have given up using Linux and just gone back to windows if not for the games.

A few months ago I got an email from a begining programmer. Her first encounters with computers went like this:

And then she saw something very very strange. A device that she had seen before, but never taken any notice to. A computer.
At first, she was pretty pathetic, always having to ask the librarian how to do anything and everything. She was terrified of breaking it and having to pay for it. But as time went on she grew more and more comfortable with it. She started to frequent an online community, and made the friends that she so desperately needed.

But her encounters with a computer interested her enough that she went on to get into a computer science program at college.

Looking up football scores, reading email and even looking up playstation cheats may not be the most valuable things in the world to use a computer for, but in all of them there is learning going on. Looking up football scores and cheats at least teaches you how to use search engines and online catalogs, so maybe the next time you need that fact for a research paper you know how to find it on the internet. Email gives you access to a world of people out there.

I will leave with a B.F.Skinner (a researcher into human behavior) quote (from memory so don't trust it too much):

An often ignore scientific methodology is: If you find something interesting, drop everything else and study it.

Moral: people have fun when they learn, conversely if someone is doing something they enjoy they probably are learning something, even if it is not what is intended.



Sounds like the makings of a nanny state (2.33 / 3) (#26)
by SIGFPE on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 02:23:21 PM EST

people who use the internet need to make the effort to increase their literacy

Why? It's up do individuals to make their own assessment of what is and what isn't important to their own lives. I find it strange to see someone dictate what someone else should know.

we used to have...trains that ran on time

Are you sure your memories haven't acquired a rosy tinge with age? :-)
SIGFPE
What if they don't understand... (none / 0) (#28)
by Stubbs on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 07:57:02 PM EST

How is a person to decide if something is important or not if they don't understand what it is?

[ Parent ]
So we gift all that is unknown? (none / 0) (#39)
by Narcischizm on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 05:21:25 PM EST

You are suggesting that we give people access to all that is unknown? No matter what, our governments should not be in the habit of requiring or providing hardware for our homes. Maybe the outlook is different on your side of the pond.

There is no solid reason to give boxen to the masses that is not based on the misconception of the digital divide. Here in the US, many libraries have computers. Internet for the masses. Sure, it's inconvenient, but then so is public transportation (where it can be found). Should we (using the same logic of giving away data access lines and computers) provide cars for every family without one, vs. the alternative of using that money to provide better public transportation? The correlation being, I think if any government is to take this initiative in hand, it should be to increase funding to libraries and schools for tech concerns, and the teachers to help that implementation be successful.

[ Parent ]
Let the great unwashed masses worry about it (3.20 / 5) (#31)
by Aladdin Sane on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 10:20:44 PM EST

The basic underlying premise, that there is a need to address the gap between the haves and have-nots, is bogus. The need to address the "technology gap" wherein the "technical elite" have an unfair advantage over the "technology poor" is a rehash of socialist/commie philosophy replacing "cash" with "technology" -- taking according to ability, providing by need. Taken to the literal conclusions of the philosophy, you get a world where people genetically engineered for looks (to remove the "beauty gap") live in randomly selected locations (removing "geographic advantage"), with their goverment issued comms/comp device (providing an equal "technology" playing field), and of course on the same salary (eliminating the "economic gap").

Learn to identify this fallacy and respond with a call for personal responsibility. People should be personal accountable for figuring out how best to improve their education and skills, working to achieve their goals, and for the success or failure of those plans. If you dissagree, do it on your own dime.


When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro

The key to personal gain. (4.00 / 1) (#36)
by final on Sat Oct 21, 2000 at 11:40:46 AM EST

"Personal responsibility," is a thinly disguised euphamisim for, "you go fuck yourself." By assigning "personal responsibility," you mean "I have achieved great things in my life. No person has given them to me. You, too, are cabable of achieving great things, but you are too lazy. So you go fuck yourself." The flaw in this argument is that we all live in a -society-, one that is willing to accept our goals as its own, and apply it's energy to those goals. You didn't achieve anything alone.

Perhaps, despite what I say, you still believe that you have achieved everything you have through personal sacrifice and sheer will power. Consider this: you are educated, I presume, so who built the building that housed the school you attended? Who paid for the construction? Who formed the bricks and laid them straight? Who poored the concrete and made the desks? You probably work; who constructed the vehicle you took to work? Who laid the roads that led you there? You read K5 on a computer, who built the components that comprise the system? Who transported the parts and placed the keyboard under your fingertips? Yes, people did this. Members of -your- society.

You're probably thinking I'm going to ask you to run down to the local charity and give everything the IRS hasn't taken this year. No. I'm saying that you need to stop thinking as if you owe everything you are and have to noone but yourself.

[ Parent ]

It is simpler than that... (2.00 / 1) (#37)
by Aladdin Sane on Sat Oct 21, 2000 at 10:41:41 PM EST

You are right and wrong. Personal responsibility does say "fuck you" if you want other people to subsidize DSL infrastructure at city prices in the countryside, or to remove the moral hazards of investments, such as helping people who have fallen behind by not investing in their own educations. It doesn't say that infrastructure is not important, or shouldn't be paid for.
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro
[ Parent ]
elderly issues (3.50 / 2) (#33)
by blintz on Sat Oct 21, 2000 at 03:46:29 AM EST

But what about the people who could really do with this service? The elderly and especially the elderly who live in rural areas? 20 miles from the nearest supermarket. (You would think that small village shops would thrive in such a situation wouldn't you? But no, the motor car has put paid to that idea.)

Why don't the elderly phone in their orders and have their goods/services brought to them by motorcar? (Do they have meals-on-wheels in the UK?)

Are you suggesting that BT buy computers for the elderly? And teach them how to use the internet?

The whole rollout to "high demand" areas first does seem unfair, but it is a business decision. One solution would be to organize the rural areas and organize your own net access or get gov't subsidies to help defray BT's costs.

The US passed laws many years ago requiring electrification/telco. (don't have the specific bill) in rural areas so everyone could have access to electricity and telephone service.

Rural areas (none / 0) (#34)
by Stubbs on Sat Oct 21, 2000 at 05:38:46 AM EST

Why don't the elderly phone in their orders and have their goods/services brought to them by motorcar? (Do they have meals-on-wheels in the UK?)

Because such a service doesn't exist in many areas. Tesco (a large supermarket chain) do have a delivery service, but again that's limited to certain stores, mainly the ones in towns & cities. The Meals on Wheels service is OK, but they won't go and do your shopping for you.

Are you suggesting that BT buy computers for the elderly? And teach them how to use the internet?

The British Government has suggested such a scheme, I'm not sure of the details, but basically business donate their old PC's and they get distributed to others.

One solution would be to organize the rural areas and organize your own net access or get gov't subsidies to help defray BT's costs.

There's no point getting subsidies, the service isn't available to buy in rural areas.

[ Parent ]

The problem isn't so much availability as desire. (4.50 / 2) (#38)
by Denjiro on Sun Oct 22, 2000 at 06:31:04 AM EST

I work tech support for an ISP, so theoretically I'm dealing with people who at least want to be able to use the internet. The problem isn't that the people are stupid(Although many are.) or ignorant(Although a large percentage are.), or that they don't have the resources to learn(They're on the internet, they have merely to look.). The problem is they just plain don't want to learn. They basically want a TV that they can send email on. To top it off in many cases they're offended that it's not. They get mad when you suggest that they actually exert themselves just a little and learn how to actually use their computer.

What I think will solve the problem would be integrated WebTV like devices being standard in all TVs and upgrading the infrastructure to get at least decent phone lines to all areas for modem connections. My reasoning being, most people won't learn unless forced to, and even then it's only what's required to get by.



web tv (none / 0) (#41)
by titus-g on Wed Nov 01, 2000 at 03:04:07 AM EST

sky.com already has email on their satellite decoder boxes here, be interesting to know how many people actually use it.

The box and installation is free (still?) and the email is included in the subscription for the TV channels, well that and local rate call charges and the cost of thier k/b .

--"Essentially madness is like charity, it begins at home" --
[ Parent ]

The Technical Elite? | 41 comments (41 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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