Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mind over matter

This afternoon I took a trip to Blackmill in the Ogwr Valley, to visit a community centre in a former chapel, to take part in a small adult learner's group finding out about computer security, part of the digital inclusion project run by Novasscarman's tech guys in various Communities First programme areas. It was good to listen to an experienced professional at work on these issues and a comfort not to feel entirely at sea with the subject material, although I do have some catching up to do in some areas. The group members all seemed to be about my age, I wondered if there were any younger people in need of acquiring ICT skills - the generation that missed out on that in schooling, or didn't use computers in their work life.

The Ogwr valley is beautiful, if lagging behind economically since the end of mining failed to bring any replacement job creation there. The scars of industry have greened over, but people living there have to commute to Bridgend or beyond for work. A nice place to bring up children, except that there's little to attract children back to stay at the end of their education years. I've seen the same in the Swiss Jura where the watchmaking industry was the main economic powerhouse for a century or more, both in factories and as a cottage industry. It has nearly all disappeared with the advent of digital clock mechanisms whose main component manufacturing bases are in the Far East. Where watches are still assembled there, it requires a small fraction of the size of the old workforce, so unemployment and rural de-population are inevitable.

One of the values of getting people up to date with computer usage and the range of tools available, is that they can find for themselves ways to pursue their interests, acquire skills and take initiatives that may benefit themselves and others. I heard the story of someone who had only used a most basic out of date by modern standards digital drawing and painting program, controlled by a standard mouse to create some remarkable art-works. High levels of precision control using a mouse are notoriously difficult to attain. Touchpad and digital pen technologies have been developed to overcome this limitation, but the artist in question had developed himself, either not knowing about alternative tools or not being able to afford them. That's what I call 'mind over matter'. The more ways that can be opened for ordinary people in deprived backwaters to discover their own creative gifts, the more hope there can be for the Valleys in the future.

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