hands held

the final frontier

computers and the invisible people


without a modem...

Yes, this is another modem/Internet article.
In fact, without a modem and email access, it would never have got here at all.
As a former member of the SA Public Service, I thought I knew about being invisible.
God knows they tried to shut me up and keep me out of trouble (S/He probably got a good giggle out of it).
We don't exactly do good by stealth in the public service, it's more like good by stubborn-ness; no weight of budgets and rationalization can quite displace the belief inherent in those two words: public service.
I hope it never will.


invisible country

Anyway, "Go to the country and for God's sake shut up and keep out of trouble" they said kindly.
Did you know only around 10% of South Australians live outside of Adelaide?
Talk about the invisible people.
Sikh farmers in the Mallee, homesteads further out in the GAFA [Great Australian F___ All] than you can imagine, people isolated from services and information we all take for granted: when I was writing a report on country conditions (I can't behave all the time) I spoke to a TAFE Principal in the West of SA who said he had the biggest classroom in the world.

I think that was when I first got really excited about computers.


communication bridges

I date from the punch-card queues, have used and taught computers in all sorts of places, but until I started trying to reach all these isolated people by Open Learning, I hadn't used a modem.

Some years back, via a PC-based system called Optel, and providing all the equipment in all the different places worked (!), I could teach Maths in several widely-scattered locations at once.
Needless to say, the Mac-based Electronic Classroom proved to be much more reliable and easier to use.

Not that I needed much convincing. From the old mainframes to the BBCs, Amstrads and clunky MS-DOS machines, I'd seen nothing to touch a late '70s HP programmable calculator for style and ease of use, until we got Macs at work.

My students, all of whom were even more isolated by serious learning barriers, each leapt at a Mac like a dolphin at a slice of raw fish.

Interesting, I thought.


the little people

It took one of the people most isolated from information, most invisible in our community, to show me the real difference.

Five years ago, I bought a Mac LC III, so I could go on with work at home.
My just two-year-old 'helped' unpack.
I set it up and turned it on, and she asked if she could use it.

"Sure" I said (her older brother had used a Microbee at the same age, with help), "Just wait till I get back from the toilet [this is a real-life article] and I'll get you into something."

The toilet, like a doctor's waiting room, is a place where you may have to hang around even if there isn't anything to read; I was surprised not to have 10-secondly toddler reminders voiced through the door.
"What is that child doing?" I thought with all the trepidation of experienced parenthood.

By the time I came out, she was drawing in ClarisWorks 2.0.
The first words she learnt to read (at two) were New, Open, Save, Print and Quit.
She's seven now, has email penpals and spends literally hours writing, drawing, exploring CDs, all known as "Just talking to Elsie" [now upgraded to Quadra].


invisible barriers

So toddler Trinh talked to Elsie "and all Elsie's friends around the world", and people all through country regions are getting local-call access to the Internet.

"It's like magic," I thought, "Breaking the language and distance barrier like that!"

Strangely enough, after all these years of battling barriers for my students and clients, I've crossed another frontier by myself, my friend's modem at hand.

I could have used a starship crew, or at least Dr McCoy.

Despite previously being able to read, write and travel (not to mention talk and get into trouble), I became even more invisible than your average country person, by contracting CFIDS (Chronic Fatigue Immuno-Dysfunction Syndrome).

May 12th (I think) is our day, guys, look out for the blue ribbons where people are well enough to get out and wear them.

Anyway, four months in hospital had a lot in common with delays in the toilet, since I couldn't read or write, or concentrate for that matter.

Nowadays I'm bedridden and largely off the air.

Country disabled people are among the most invisible.
I am grateful to my Disability Support Advocate, Ros Frazer in Berri, for telling me about the Disability Information and Resource Centre (DIRC) BBS, 'Common Ground', with some free 1800 time for country people in the evening
[disabled people, their carers or advocates can register online at 1800 654416; Adelaide residents please contact sysop David Wallace on 82807551].

It took me months to get as far as connecting, but thanks to that modem (and my Powerbook 140 [laptop], of course) I had a means of communication again.

I 'met' people with cerebral palsy, blind or deaf people, people who'd had strokes; and we were all equal, however slowly and inaccurately we typed, on Common Ground.

We had access to information, newsgroups, software, and to each other.


a new journey

Since then, when I'm able, I've been a human Number Five: INPUT!!!

I've gorged myself on newsgroups (there really is something for everybody), I've cursed Netscape and Internet Explorer, and their makers and the makers' ancestors unto the fourth generation, like everyone else, but have been able to find a vast variety of information on the 'Net.

I've found software and discussion, and have ventured into IRC (Internet Relay Chat, live), but most of all, regardless of the pain and debility and whatever time of the day or night it might be, I am not alone.

Even if I can't get out of bed, can't move properly or hold a phone, can't form words to talk properly, and it's 2 am... I can wake up my laptop, goose the modem, and email or chat with a friend anywhere in the world.

There are so many wonderful people out there.
People with a common interest or need will build networks and support each other.

Although some of your incoming email messages, from net-hyenas that prowl for email addresses anywhere, do make you wonder how widespread is the assumption that anyone with a modem needs help with their sex-life, or is a sucker for get-rich-quick schemes (? strrrraaange people), a modem is a gateway to adventure, a freedom of the city, a bridge that crosses all kinds of barriers.

Go on. Go where you've not gone before.



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