Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Promethean Interventions

Like stealing fire from the gods, two technological initiatives to harness the power of the internet have bolted their way into Otautau.

A few weeks ago, the People's Network of Aotearoa in partnership with the NZ Digital Strategy and the National Library, installed two, state of the art computers, complete with webcams and headsets, in the Otautau Library. These computers are set up to deliver broadband services to the public for free.

As I would be remiss in not sampling their capabilities for our readers, I soon made the sacrifice. The computers work well except for the expectation of speed - broadband is more a far-off aspiration than a reality, but this is for a really good reason. Because the computers are used by children and adults, all webpages are scanned for viruses and pornography before they load. This slows surfing down but also ensures a high level of safety and security of content for all users. I can't argue with that in fact I'm grateful that they've gone the extra mile having watched two young children hop onto chairs for a bit of gaming after school.

With safety in mind, they've also made the computers so that no one can save anything that might be of a questionable nature to the hard drive. Again, this is a very good idea.

Despite the slightly slower internet speeds, 'skyping' is still possible. Skyping is the ability to make phone calls on your computer for free. Long distance and overseas calls are all possible and free thanks to the Skype technology. This is a really useful tool for those of us who may have family elsewhere but no computer or internet connection to stay in touch.

The other innovation comes from the Western Southland Promotions Association Inc (WSPAI). They started a community-building website a while back, promoting Western Southland to the world. To date, about 150 businesses, organisations and individuals throughout Western Southland have made use of the free webpages. A few podcasts have crept onto the site but more are expected with the loan of computer equipment to Otautau, Riverton, Tuatapere, and Ohai/Nightcaps communities. This equipment consists of a laptop, a microphone, a digital recorder and software to make mp3's. Email me to find out more about using the equipment.

Now, what is a podcast, you may ask? A podcast is like a radio program on the internet. It can be a few seconds or a few hours long. The idea is that people make programs that can be downloaded onto iPods or mp3 players. These programs can range from interviews and infomercials to the artful and sublime. The WSPAI folks in collaboration with the New Zealand Tourism Research Institute (NZTRI) have enabled the website to play podcasts so that anyone anywhere can listen to real folks talking about what makes Western Southland one of the best places in the world to visit and live.

Now, to some, these initiatives may not sound remarkable. Isn't everyone online? No. In the 2006 Census only 144 out of perhaps 290 households in Otautau said they had access to the internet. A free internet connection at the library in conjunction with the Western Southland website means volunteer organisations and businesses which normally would not be able to afford their own webpages or email addresses can now operate on the internet with the rest of the global community. They can also create their own podcasts which will promote their businesses, organisations and the natural wonders of this beautiful landscape that we call home.

So a big thank you to all involved for stealing fire from the gods and helping Otautau residents to make the most of the internet.

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