Carol Blog Computer-phobia. Total REMIX

Computer-phobia. Total REMIX

Twenty years ago I was working at a women's shelter. It was 1994 and our recently acquired electric typewriter (that was shared by all of the staff ) was considered to be state of the art equipment.

Each time a new resident arrived at the shelter we prepared her case note file with a wad of lined papers that were placed inside of a clear, thin plastic folder. The intake sheet, referral notes & medical information were at the front and we added enough blank pages to document the facts, accomplishments highs, lows, dramas and dreams during the woman's time as a client of our service.

It was a very hands on process and integral to the ritual and routine of welcoming a new resident into the Shelter and the challenges and opportunities that living in supported accommodation presented for her.

The best part of creating the files was selecting one of the scenic calendar pictures for the front cover. We added visual imagery and evocative scenes of nature to client files knowing that by the time she left the shelter, those hand written pages would reveal some very confronting case notes that she may ask to see one day in the future or that could requested by the courts as evidence in custody and child removal cases.

One day we received notice that all staff were booked in for computer training and unlike stress management or dealing with difficult behaviors’ training, it was mandatory. If we weren't on shift that day, we would be paid to attend and for a small budget agency that meant only one thing. This was very serious. Very serious indeed.

I am reminded of the opening scene in Chocolat where the townsfolk are gathered in the small church and are startled by the loud wind that flings the door open as the woman dressed in red makes her way through the snow storm.

Big changes were on the way and we were not at all ready for them. We would have liked to shut the door and computer training to go away but of course that is not what happens in Chocolat land.

The training day came around quickly, staff went along reluctantly and a few of us were a bit subversive, insisting that typing notes is not the same cerebral, hands on process as writing them and would therefore diminish the content. We laughed at one another's slow typing that sped up on the words the and for and our well behaved protests were received good naturedly by the trainer but of course, they bore no fruit.

We were a tiny voice in a small suburban shelter calling out as the tsunami of technology began to crash down on small non government agencies everywhere. Seasoned shelter workers know that hoping and wanting things to be different is pointless when the tides are not in your favor. So we started to paddle.

In the not too distant future all case notes and client related information in our agency would be created and stored on the security locked computer. Goodbye calendar pictures, hand written files and the occasional drawing to illustrate a point and hello passwords, security codes, firewalls and virus updates.

The computer moved in and it was received with the warmth and affection of an arranged marriage where the duty bound honor the protocol but are left wondering about the long term future of such a loveless union. The colorful, full size calendar pages were retired to the Craft Cupboard and lived out their remaining years in the hands of small children who made them into collages and mothers who pinned them onto the bathroom wall, seeing a possible future in the sunrises and seascapes.

By the late 90’s the shelter was floating, swimming and at times drowning in a global ocean of technology that linked everyone into cyber space for the first time in human history. We gave birth to a web page and my in house newsletter C.H.A.N.G.E. had to live up to its title as we joined the growing numbers of agencies that were no longer carrying out their work using scissors, pens and pinboards.

If someone had said to me : One day you will write (in less than 50 words) the winning entry to a Culture, Technology & Entrepreneurship Conference and spend time in the presence of creative leaders, innovators and cutting edge content creators in the field of digital technology I would have said :

I don't even know how to spell entrepreneur...

In these high tech, digital times it is easy to forget that only a short time ago a day at the office was defined by landlines and typewriters. Important information was disseminated by secretaries and managers or displayed on pin board notices. Telegrams that transmitted tragedies and the unexpected were much cheaper than an over seas call in a world where the public phone box was integral to every day life. Only the most senior members of an organisation carried beepers and later on, heavy mobile phones with enormous batteries that were too large to fit in a pocket.

Many older workers in human services today still think in feet and inches and can’t tell you how tall they are in centimeters. The changes have been rapid and all pervasive yet paradoxically is ancient history in the lives of the current generation who were introduced to computers in primary school and have been calling their grandmothers on mobile phones for centuries.

Fast forward from 1994 to 2014.

I left the Shelter 10 years ago and in the decade since have developed community arts programs that includes digital story telling in marginalised areas. I create pdf downloads of art based life coaching tools for busy women who have forgotten how much they loved creativity as a little girl and social media has enabled me to inspire women in Canada and America to initiate the women’s colouring circles that I created in Adelaide a few years ago. I have Skyped and swiped the television screen by mistake after too many hours swiping on the iPad and I regularly transmit stories via mobile phones, stories that can lift the spirits of a grieving friend thanks to the 3 million cat videos on youtube.

In 2012 I married a man who left teaching to become a film maker, which at the time was a seemingly outrageous possibility for a mid life man with no background in film. He has been able to achieve his vision for working with traditional Aboriginal people to tell the stories they want us to hear because he recognised that technology creates a level playing field and digital media enables new partnerships to be formed to create projects that ensure traditional wisdom and knowledge are preserved and shared.

We have recently screened our first documentary at a launch hosted by the South Australian Film Corporation. It was filmed on a compact, HD camera and edited with equipment that not so very long ago would have required a vast editing suite and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead the light weight, heavy duty lap top and camera enabled remote Community access for filming in breathtakingly beautiful locations with an ease and reliability that was both unobtrusive and reliable.

My husband and I have spent our recent date nights in social media development forums and attending google hang outs and ad words training where the biscuits and coffee keep it just on this side of 'date'! We've learnt about the kinds of information that is gathered by a click of a keyboard and how there is a fine line between the cookie and the cookie monster if we fail to practice good digital hygiene in a world where advertisers are so informed, they can target people who wear a particular brand of clothing and are sitting at their computer eating tim tams between 7 pm and 9.30.

In 2005 I met the late and very great Peter Wintonick whilst he was Adelaide’s Thinker in Residence. He was a digital magician who used cameras and mobile technology as the eyes and ears for the kind of story telling that changes lives. We joked that he was the creator of Documeant2be's.

Peter Wintonick inspired me to go beyond my old community workers reluctant embrace of technology and engage with it as the powerful medium it is.

He envisioned a digitopia and was a larger than life creative visionary who, like a modern day Johnny Appleseed (pun not intended) loved to plant seeds of digital possibility that took shape and form in the imagination of friends and strangers alike.

20 years after the day we were sent to Computer Training I can spell entrepreneur because I have auto correct switched on. I know about augmented reality and location based apps that can communicate the memories of an old derelict building or map an evening stroll that will then tell you how many calories you burnt and what shape your walking trail has made.

Those calendars images that we collected and lovingly placed at the front of the files that documented the stories (that most of the women eventually outgrew) can now be created by selecting one of the billions of images available on line. The sunsets and ocean scenes on calendars that brought beauty to case files can now be digitally imported for those who believe in the importance of bringing colour and creativity into formal digital domains where files and policy and procedures manual exist.

I look back on the day we were sent to computer training as a turning point, a time when a group of homeless shelter workers were sent into the burgeoning era of technology, feeling like we were entering a place where Metropolois was meeting 1984. We shuffled powerlessly into the unknown, with no idea that in a few short years, technology would transform Maxwell Smarts infamous shoe phone into a portable media studio & empower people from all walks of life to tell stories, battle chaos and communicate like never before.

In April 2014 I won a ticket to the REMIX Event in Sydney because I was able to capture, in 50 words or less, how technology enables new forms of participation in arts and culture.

Who ever would have thought that day back in 1994 when I lead the protest about the arrival of the computer into our calendar girls space that I would be so very excited to be attending the conference where previously:

Hundreds of people eager to learn how culture, technology and entrepreneurship oppose, attract or mesh together and create business value, flocked to the state-of-the-art conference room of the US business and financial news giant Bloomberg to get challenged and inspired.”

I am a recovered computer cynic, an avid, passionate technology convert and I am thrilled beyond measure to have won the ABC RN Future Tense competition. I will blog, tweet, facebook, you tube and perhaps even podcast about the event because in 2014 pARTicipation is a multi media art form and the world, quite literally, is at our finger tips.

And our ideas can be beamed up in an instant Scotty!

I messaged some of the people from my old work team at the shelter to let them know my exciting news about the competition. (Good news stories are oxygen for shelter staff ). They sent messages via facebook, twitter, email and sms but I made sure to call our oldest worker, Thelma because …well… she still likes to talk on the phone and she never really got used to writing her case notes on the computer.

The world has come such a long way since 1994 and Thelma reminds me that whilst engaging with technology was originally an in house directive, it quickly became a choice for some of us. It is something that Thelma never really took a shine to whilst for others it became a new found passion, born as a result of a once very awkward arranged marriage.

Who ever would have thought!

Thank you to ABC RN and REMIX Sydney for opening this amazing REMIX door!

Carol Omer