Friday, 20 June 2008

Help with mobiles I’ve just been going through some responses to a ‘community survey’ about learning opportunities, with an open question asking what courses people would like locally, and I came across this response – ‘Help with mobiles/telephones.’ I think it’s quite enlightening in several ways. Culturally, we share a peculiar pretence that mobile phone technology is user-friendly. But many of us (certainly including me) can only get started by virtue of our connection with a knowledgeable young person or techie. No-one seems to offer short courses with follow-up support, even though the basics are common to most devices. And who do you turn to for advice on selecting a tariff or contract? We know enough about this technology to see how it can help many people to sustain connections that otherwise are hard to maintain. But we don't necessarily think about appropriate support. In my experience, very little of the policy debate on 'digital exclusion' (as it is sometimes called) refers to the use of mobile devices. Having the cultural capital, we deny or elide these cultural exclusions, and ageism is one of the more depressing reasons for that I suspect. I think someone saw this little questionnaire as an opportunity to stick their hand up quietly and say 'help' - 'this technology could help me, but where do I start?' If there are colleges and community centres out there running such courses, I'd like to know about them. The pic is from the Grameen Foundation's remarkable Village Phones project.
If we had been consulted If your council decides to remove an identifiable component of your neighbourhood and give it to someone else, without consulting you, how do you respond? Victorian-style cast-iron street lamp columns in St Andrews, Bristol, the Beeb reports, were being replaced with more efficient, modern ones. The originals apparently were being refurbished to 'enhance the heritage' of conservation areas elsewhere in the city. David Cemlyn, 66, chained himself to one of the posts and decided hunger strike was called for, saying: Isn't it strange you have to chain yourself to a lamppost at seven in the morning to get the council to talk to you? This corporate approach seems not to be unique to Bristol - something similar happened recently in Ealing, where one resident said: They know full well if we had been consulted there would have been an outcry. In Bristol, as I understand it, the issue has been resolved and hopefully Mr Cemlyn is eating again contentedly, job done. But I'm curious. How much does it take just to ask people? Does this sort of thing suggest deliberate surreptitious attempts by authorities to change people's neighbourhoods without them noticing? Is it a question perhaps of insufficient funding in the 'consultation' budget, or dogged compartmentalised blinkeredness on the part of staff? Or are the officials perhaps genuinely puzzled that anybody's interested? In Bristol, there's a faulty light reporting system but it's not the same thing is it?

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