15 November 2006
I met with Doug Coombs at the Knowle West Development Trust. Doug began by talking about the fantastic potential there is for new media, whether through text, images, photos or video. However, what concerns him is the situation regarding the have and have-nots, and how this situation basically comes down to money.
Doug told me that he liked the idea of accessing ‘pods’ where people can access new media in cafes and youth centres and other public spaces. Doug talked about this as being one way of overcoming the fear some people may have of the computer, in order to reach more people.
Doug talked about the need to overcome barriers in order for people to want to utilise new media:
1 Financial barriers
2 People’s fear of using new media
Doug expanded on this second point saying that there was a language and a culture associated with new media that may alienate some people. He also underlined how, for people who may be near the edge, financially and in terms of issues they may be facing, such as crime and drug use, the value of using new media was not necessarily apparent. He said that the question that new media would raise for many local people would be ‘what’s in it for me?’ and that is an important question to take into consideration.
Doug reflected on the contents of the connecting Bristol Website in relation to the above. He suggested the need to translate some of the contents that have been written in a certain way, such as ‘showcase and link disconnected neighbourhoods’, which doesn’t clearly say what the bid is about or what it means. He said that it is important to deliver the opportunity presented by the digital challenge, in an appropriate, simple, but not patronising language, without any IT or management speak.
Doug pointed out that there is probably no need to reinvent the wheel and that it might be useful to look at ways in which other disadvantaged communities have used new media usefully and effectively. I told Doug about the work at MIT as an example of other work in such contexts.
Other key points for Doug were the challenges there are, for anyone involved, to encourage, involve and motivate others. Therefore soft skills and experience in delivery of media based project work are essential to help more people join in.
Doug then talked about how someone who, for example, may be homeless, with a series of problems they want to work through and a counsellor. Through digital media he mentioned how important it was to disadvantaged people to use new media, to find out things and be able to do things for themselves. This could help build confidence and self esteem, to help them move forward.
Doug said that primary research is important; getting out there and working with people and giving people time to articulate their views and know that their views about digital media are valuable. Doug said that everyone’s view is valuable and so should have the same value attached to it, and the greater the variety of views taken into consideration the better.
Doug talked about the need to create understanding amongst people of the bid, and what it is about, by breaking it down in order to indicate what future opportunities might be stimulated through extended connectivity. Doug said that he thought it was such a large subject to try to explain,that it needs to be condensed into simple statements so that people can respond with questions and take it from there.
Doug then talked about the language of the bid at the moment, citing ‘three interconnected strands of work’ and saying that it isn’t really specific enough, and doesn’t say how or why it might be relevant to someone who isn’t engaged in conversations that use that type of language already. For example, what is ‘showcasing?’ Doug asked ‘how will the three strands be achieved?’ and said that until that’s defined it’s difficult to see how people might fit in.
Doug said that to take advantage of increasing activity in delivering the digital challenge there needs to be enough capacity and expertise to realise it. He said that we need to ensure appropriate skills were available to aid delivery.
Doug also said that in the future,it is important for people to actually meet with each other , face to face, rather than everything being influenced by the priority being about digital connectivity. He said that whilst the internet may be a great enabler it can also lead people to not get out so much and can become addictive; for example the current growth in on line gambling; which just adds to the opportunities there are for people to become worse off and socialise less. Doug pointed out how there are massive ethical as well as economic and social factors to consider.
Doug said that as with most things in life, you can’t tell people what’s right or wrong, but you can ensure that people are aware of what’s possible.
Doug then talked about surveillance and how people’s use of computers can be watched. He talked about our electronic footprints and how this relates back to the barriers there are for people in using new media, because anxiety about being watched is one of the things that fuels people’s fear of new media. Doug then talked about how new media ‘moves forward’ and the agendas that influence the direction that it goes in.
Doug said that whilst the bulk of new media, such as broadband, etc., provides opportunities, there are also down sides that need to be mentioned, but that as an enabler it can be fantastic.
Doug said that the priority in Knowle West for the use of broadband, etc., is in assisting education and supporting greater educational performance. He suggested that there may be web based environments that might appeal to the way some people learn, especially if the school environment is one that doesn’t appeal.
Doug also talked about some of the economic benefits of being on line, and how easy it is to compare prices of products or services, to ensure you get the best deal.
Doug then talked about how some parents could feel left behind if their children know more than they do about new media. Doug underlined the potential for the use of new media to lead to isolation. He talked about how, whilst we might feel connected through using the computer to communicate with others we also run the risk of no longer being sociable with those around us; in this way connecting through the internet can lead to disconnecting with those around you.
Doug said that the educational potential for using new media to develop skills and to improve understanding of the world we live in is great but that there are many pitfalls along the way, such as connectivity leading to isolation from the family. Doug highlighted the consequent importance of the project working with a balance across the generations and communities, so that mew media eventually becomes accessible to all.
Doug told me that KWDT are very supportive of the Connecting Bristol bid, based on what KWDT have learnt through working with KWMC and through observing the apparent benefits of KWMC’s work for the local community.