Digital literacy: might lightweight technology and proper help lower the stick?
I love figure skating (in the sense: love watching others do). It's a marvel of coordination and perfect body control. Strong effort so perfectly performed that an inexperienced one like me sees only grace and beauty.
We don't think this too much, but interacting with a computer and the web is no less complex. Once you gain a sufficient level of proficiency, all seems streamlined, easy, even obvious (forgive me).
The truth is, at least as I remember it for me and my acquaintances, it took years to understand the hows, some of the whys, and a bit of self-protection habits. A first obstacle was in our case cultural, and I guess still is: simply, computers were "just" complex calculators: with a background in applied maths, the way I conceived them was purely instrumental to large scale computations. We did not realize the communication potential until very late, and I remind quite well the early lack of confidence about the first e-mail attempts in early Nineties.
Above all, the experience was solitary on these times. Computers were common but not so widespread as they are today. And the web still, let me say, primitive?
I know, by personal experience, how much of importance was -for me and my friends- being "mentored" the lightweight way by people who already knew the trick. More than the technical skill, what I found precious was their example opened our minds, and built the critical mass of self-confidence on which to add our personal experience.
This mentoring was not something planned - it occurred purely by chance - nor it took a significant share of time. But ten twenty minutes were sufficient to formulate the first key "But then it is possible to...?"
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Not all people were effective as involuntary mentors to me. Unsympathetic or aggressive geeks (a common case) had more effects making me feel an idiot, rather than growing. I remember the best experience was with people "like me", and I guess a possibility to identify with them was crucial.
If this is true on a global scale, we need many people "like us". Practically-minded. Not delving themselves in some religion wars among systems. Supportive, rather than competitive. People who remember well when they were on their beginnings...
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For developing digital literacy, the "digital" is needed. This may be a problem, especially in low-population-density areas where operators may not invest on placing wires with no real prospective return.
In these areas, long-range wireless may prove a viable alternative. Maybe, by restricting the band somewhat? The act of communicating (reading, writing, or sending/receiving highly compressed movies or images) is not that band-wasting as some form of online gaming or Internet television, and might be accommodated with a bandwidth quite less than current standards. Lower bandwidth tends to mean (for physical reasons) longer range, more reliable and less costly on energy side than super-wide-band. Might this mean a global cover is possible? Maybe in not-for-profit mode?
I feel this is worth an evaluation.
Added benefits would include the possibility to disseminate remote areas with sensors, improving the coverage of existing meteorological/geological networks with an interesting benefit on, to name one, the global climatological models.
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To connect to the net a computer or something similar is needed. Computer technology may look "cheap" to whom, like me, lives in a relatively rich country. But the reality is, they still are a big cost in most areas.
Maybe, technology could help. I'm testing for professional reasons the Raspberry Pi. This is not an endorsement, but my feeling is this could be interesting. The cost of a single computer is around 30 € (still a huge cost in too many places), plus the necessity of adding a monitor, a keyboard, a power supply, a memory card, and some other expensive and delicate paraphernalia. Anyhow, it sees to me a step in the right direction: no moving parts like hard disks, extremely small footprint, robustness, and a lot of computing power - sufficient to hold and sustain a wideband Internet connection.
Many steps are still necessary: an inexpensive keyboard rugged enough to function years after exposure to quartz desert dust. A monitor large enough to be read easily but not so expensive as current ones. And, very low power.
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In my feeling and experience, there is a dimension of digital literacy which is not (necessarily) related to "communicating", at least apparently, and has to do with computer programming. Anyone of us (after proper mentoring ;-) ) can discover we all can write programs. This is an important step in developing a rightfully skeptical and practical attitude towards technology.
We're literally surrounded by computers, most often in the form of hard-to-perceive embedded systems. An average car contains an ABS, airbags, engine controller, speed display, and many other pieces which are computers, programmed by someone we don't know, and performing a lot of tasks we should better know of. This might be unrealistic, if we pretend to learn "anything". But could be of great help, if we want to live in this world as citizens.
Computer programming is unfortunately one of the activities where angry people seem to concentrate. I said unfortunately, both because this affects somewhat the quality of existing software, and because in reality the type of attitude and skill necessary to form a great programmer are quite right the contrary: empathy (at least, in the form of imagining how others could react to one's own techy masterpiece), desire to be open, resilience, no need to prove the World being the number one on the technical prowess scale. And, yes, programming can well be quite a "feminine" activity - even in the technical-practical sense of "quite perfect for the typical (?) female brain" (?).
A lot to do...
But persevering, one drop a time, million after million of drops, it cuts stone.