Wednesday, July 10, 2013

NetHui - What Are We Doing Here?

Tonight was the cocktail evening. There was a comment a little earlier in the day about how the audience seemed a little flat and how this was possibly because the shininess of NetHui had, in it's 3rd year, worn off.

It's been really disappointing. The main auditorium has been, at most, 1/2 full (and that's being generous) at any one time.

Interesting... I had thought it was because it was feeling a little ... unstructured. While in previous years I'd have a solid day of focusing on one stream (with the option to go into other discussions if the particular subject in the education stream just wasn't doing it for me), there's been a rather rough smattering of sessions tagged with "education". Some of the titles for the sessions kind of left me wondering "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" as well - e.g. Issues, issues, issues.

I got a little curious and started to talk to some other people about this. The first one shared the same concerns as me. It feels like we're talking about exactly the same old things. Nothing new is happening. In 3 years, we've managed to talk about the same problems and the same concerns.

I, tongue in cheek, mentioned that there is no real big driver for your average use for ultra fast broadband (UFB) during a panel discussion - something that was talked about in 2011 when talking about Pacific Fibre - which ceased operations in 2012. This dominated the rest of the talk on UFB. While people said we'd find a purpose for it, I sincerely believe that the uptake of UFB will be much slower than ADSL due to problems around content. i.e. Sky TV have deals that exclude the distribution of certain content within the country from any other distributor. Which basically means UFB is going to be a bit of a niche product. It's a niche over represented at NetHui. I for one can not honest see a compelling use for it as I've lived my life without it and it doesn't suck not having it at the moment.

The second person I spoke to about this said that she believed that the problem was that the subjects are structured around those same old problems. People are concerned about the same issues. We haven't gone away and produced solutions - and I would argue that we're restricted on this front to a certain degree due to government. Amy Adams' speech specifically excluded any sort of discussion.

The new CEO of Internet NZ, Jordan Carter, has been less than inspiring. He's given instructions like "raise your hand if you know what a domain is" - to which the whole room raised their hands in a less than enthusiastic manner. He's kind of come across as knowing something that we don't. The things that concern us don't concern him for whatever reason which then raises the question, is he representing the concerns of the average New Zealander? And if he's not, then what is InternetNZ really for? As bad as any politician in terms of getting stuck on semantics rather than taking the intent of a question.

For my part, I've tried to talk more about the Drop In Geek Cafe rather than Manaiakalani directly because I've already talked about Manaiakalani for the last 2 years. There isn't too much to report there. They've since shifted to Chromebooks. The community wifi is still a work in progress. I'm looking to move onto something more interesting and challenging.

The participants of NetHui seem to be quite endeared to the technical rather than the social. So when talking about "access", I think in terms of access to other people/stories/experiences rather than worrying too much about things like "fibre to the gate". Yes, there's an issue there - RBI (Rural Broadband Initiative) - is prohibitive at best. I was talking to someone who was saying that they're still stuck on dialup. BUT it's a bit like money. Is it about the money or what you can do with the money?. Same question. Is it about the connection or what you can do with the connection? You may have the fiber but if you're not talking to anyone, then what's the point?

There's been a little bit of debate around the idea that the Internet is a great big copying machine. It is... kind of... but that descriptive misses the communication point. It's a median for communication. It's always been about communicating ideas - and that's only getting better with the addition of collaborative features.

So what is my big take home from this conference? We're essentially on our own. I keep hearing "there's no leadership from the top" in education circles to which I say, stop waiting for that leadership and lead. But then someone said something along the lines of "How does fiber get poor Rangi a job?".

Boom! I know - right?

There's something there. Just at the edge of consciousness. We're starting to see it and while it's scary and new, it's also really interesting and could be really good. There's probably a great deal of you not seeing what I'm seeing here. It's there though. Just at the edge of consciousness.

Let's tie it into the International keynote. In the 1600's, a guy named John Wycliffe essentially upset the church by translating the bible into English. The (then new) printing press allowed him to replicate it and get it out there.

New technology leading to a great big time of change.

What did this do for people? The bible was now accessible. It was in "the vulgar" - i.e. anyone who could read English could read the bible. This decentralized the church to an extent in that people could have a personal relationship with god.

Jump to now. Government's telling us what's necessary and not engaging with us at all. People can't find jobs. What are we doing here?!?! There's no leadership from above!

Are you seeing it?

We are our own agents for change - we have our own destiny's in our hands. The conference is already full of people stepping up and taking on that leadership that they feel is missing. But it's more than that. Everyone is capable of leading. We've got the communication tools to be able to do it. We can no longer sit on our hands and wait for someone to tell us what to do. We can not afford to sit around bemoaning the lack of a job. We have to get out there and create our own jobs and opportunities and take on our those destiny's as our own responsibility.

Okay... so I might have overplayed my cards there. It may not sound all that interesting or exciting and at the moment it sounds like a whole lot more work. But I think it's coming... In years to come I'll point out this blogpost as a shiny example of this time of turmoil and how everyone had predictions and the like. If I am right though, it'd be quite the paradigm shift. We'd get to the point where it'd be hard remembering how we did things any other way. Much like how the Digital Information age has lead to us finding it hard to remember how we ever learnt anything before the Internet.

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