Overcoming scepticism in Nottingham

Jem Woolley, coda@codadata.demon.co.uk wrote this article in 1997.

It can take some effort to overcome suspicion about new technology. Groups in Nottingham are now taking a positive view.

When Nottingham's Community Computer Resource Centre - Coda - was set up in 1983 personal computers as we know them know didn't really exist and there was scepticism, even hostility, in the voluntary sector. Computers were viewed as threats to jobs and harbingers of more alienation in the workplace. Nevertheless, some people involved in community and voluntary action realised that the clock wouldn't be turned back and that, like any tool, computers were neither good nor bad in themselves - it was the use they were put to that was important.

Now many groups have their own computers and are more comfortable with them, although they are often used as little more than word processors and calculators.

There will always be areas of mystique and scepticism in computing and the main ones at the moment are virtual reality, artificial intelligence and the Internet. VR and AI won't generate too much interest at community group level until they become much cheaper and more accessible.

The Internet is a different matter: it is fairly cheap to use and has enormous potential for community development. Ideas can spread quickly with information accessed from all over the world. Forums can be set up for discussion and action. There is potential for decentralisation of power away from the traditional centres.

The downside is the suspicion that the Internet is viewed with and, as usual, this is partly based in reality and partly in fantasy. Most of the big media stories concerning the Internet have been to do with pornography and security. There are justifiable concerns about the ease with which images and text can travel across national boundaries and into every home and office.

Several groups in Nottingham are working towards a positive view. Coda itself now has an Internet facility available at cost price and provides training in this area. A forum has been started including Coda, Active Ingredient (a group of artists), Nottingham Community Arts and representatives from Trent University and Nottingham City Council. Working around issues of using the Internet for artistic expression and dissemination, this forum aims to increase public access to on-line facilities and encourage artists to work in the medium.

Coda is also researching ways in which small groups could develop their own web presence and go on-line. On a wider scale there is EMNET, and East Midlands wide network of private, public and voluntary sector sites.

One thing is sure: developments in computing won't stop yet, if ever. Even with all our justifiable doubts about the hype and the dangers of the Internet, maybe because of them, it's vital to be involved and setting the agenda. If we don't, someone else will.

Coda is Nottingham's Community Computer Resource Centre
Phone: +44 (0)115 952 6146
Postal: 7B Broad Street, Nottingham, NG1 3AJ UK

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