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partnerships:articles:novice [2017/06/12 10:20] (current)
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 +Letter to a novice
 +*Peter Durrant recalls his struggles to learn computer and the
 +Internet - and offers advice to a colleague.*\
 +Dear Colleague.\
 + With luck you will find the following experiences helpful as you tread
 +what can sometimes be a lonely road. But it can be extremely enjoyable
 +as you meet people from across the globe, or even a neighbourhood close
 +by, whom you might never have contacted before. Anyway, if divide the
 +'​road-to-becoming-familiar-with -the-Internet'​ into three parts it might
 +make more sense for us both.\
 + ​Perhaps the INTRODUCTORY PART of becoming an (inter)-net enthusiast is
 + (a) get yourself a computer. I started with an Apple-Mac and much of
 +what follows is based on their user-friendly approach. But this has also
 +created problems which I will explore later. I've since learned there'​s
 +some-one in the next village who reconstructs computers and sells them
 +cheaply so perhaps it's worth looking around for a reliable second hand
 +source. Once you have the computer in the house the next problem is to
 +learn how to connect the various parts. I'm a non-technocrat and it took
 +me a long time to realise that the connections at the back of the set
 +have signs on them which match the cords. I also had to hunt around for
 +a modem but, these days, they are advertised every-where. The On-Line
 +section in the Guardian on a thursday always has a number of offers but
 +many other adverts sometimes throw in the modem for good measure. It
 +seems common sense that the higher the V numbers are (does this mean
 +volt'​s) the quicker the whole thing will connect. Mine's 14.400 which
 +seems o.k. for me at my particular stage of development.\
 + (b) I've just realised I'm making the same mistakes that proved so
 +difficult for me when I started, a year and a half ago, from a corner of
 +my back room at home in Cambridge. PC means personal computer and it
 +took me a long time to even begin to get used to the language. But some
 +early clues are that '​down-loading'​ means printing-out from the screen
 +and the '​menu'​ is the various lists of selective options at the top of
 +the screen which alter according to the various the top of
 +each page. Whilst '​hard-ware'​ means what is in the machine and
 +'​soft-ware'​ is those almost oblong plastic discs you stick in the front.
 +Although I've never managed to understand, let along make it work, the
 +gibberish call 'file attachments.'​ Can anybody help me?\
 + (c) I found myself spending weeks trying to '​print-out'​ and if it
 +hadn't been for my teenage kids I would never have succeeded. You'll
 +need some-time to talk about starting in general so don't be afraid to
 +confess your ignorance and ask around.Even phone some-one up. And,
 +gradually, as you get started there'​s plenty of people around to answer
 +specific points as and when they arise. Although it's probably best to
 +look for another beginner since, once you've made a little progress, you
 +tend to forget how difficult it was when you started. Rather like our
 +driving tests.\
 + (d) on the print-out procedures try experimenting on menus with '​copy'​
 +but don't forget to black-out the type-face you want to save first. Then
 +look for a 'save as' sign on one of the menus, fill in what seem to be
 +the most appropriate boxes and switch to quit. Then return to your
 +e-mail system , nudge the top left hand box and hey presto, the original
 +message will appear and clatter away. After you have remembered to
 +switch on the printer and told it to print. Anyway, it's about learning
 +on the job although I'm biased since I went to evening classes and never
 +learned a thing.\
 + (e) I suppose this first part is about trying things out for yourself
 +and it's quite difficult to damage the equipment through simply playing
 +around with the keys. At this point you will have probably contacted a
 +host such as Compuserve who, in fact, make it really easy for you.
 +Especially with their free telephone line to Bristol. I eventually
 +changed on cost and other grounds to Cityscape where the getting on-line
 +instructions were'​nt nearly as good, although they are much cheaper, and
 +I'm beginning to think that an empathic host might be worth paying for.
 +The '​host'​ is simply the agency you pay monthly, or yearly if you want
 +to save money. BT, for example, have recently entered the market at £15
 +per month inclusive of VAT and there'​s dozens of others around. What you
 +also need to ensure, and it is getting better all of the time, is that
 +your host is using a local telephone number. Otherwise you will be
 +paying for costs via one of the major cities. Oh, and '​on-line'​ means
 +simply that. That the system is working.\
 + (f) once you are on-line, and have accepted your e-mail address which
 +is usually your choice of words, and been given a pass-word which only
 +you know, then you're in business. You then use the mouse, and you get
 +much better at it as you gain confidence, to click, and usually
 +double-click on the boxes which seem relevant. After a while you get
 +really expert at '​drawing'​ boxes from one space to another. Especially
 +the waste-bin although don't forget you can also retrieve from here. Up
 +until the time you trash the lot, of course.\
 + (g) on an Apple-Mac the e-mail system is called Eudora, World Wide Web
 +is MacWeb and group discussions are through Nuntius. But most people
 +seem to agree that the e-mail system is the one which enables us all
 +best to relate to one another. With the Web as a back-up reference point
 +providing a number of useful and changing overviews of where that
 +particular debate is at. It's also worth remembering here that in order
 +for the Web Pages to be in existence there'​s any number of volunteers
 +around actually constructing them in the first place. As well as keeping
 +them up-to-date. Often for little or no income and may be we should all,
 +eventually, once we have learned the rules of the trade, join them.\
 + (h) you will quickly learn that the e-mail system will allow you to
 +contact anyone, anywhere and, at any time. Since the beauty is that it
 +will be waiting for you to access yourself to messages only when you are
 +ready. But you do need to know people'​s e-mail addresses and it is very
 +easy, particularly in the early days, for messages to be bounced back to
 +you because you have placed the dot, or an oblique, or something else,
 +in the wrong place. This is where, once you've made some contacts, that
 +the reply button really comes into its own.\
 + (i) whilst with the Web you also need to have an address which is
 +usually prefixed with http://www followed by their personal details. A
 +good one, if you are interested in community development issues is
 +Communities Online http://​​communities/​ but don't put
 +a full-stop at the end even although it seems appropriate. There are
 +also hundreds of Nuntius groups, or the equivalent, around where you can
 +zip in and out of but, and this is a personal view, you have to search
 +hard for not much useful information and contacts.\
 + (j) so before we move on to phase two I'd just like to say it's all
 +about networking and community development work if that's familiar to
 +you. Community work depends essentially on following through leads,
 +reading between the lines, being informed about a range of materials and
 +issues and knowing how to make useful connections with like-minded
 +individuals and groups. From the grass-roots upwards and the nice thing
 +about 'the net' is that it is esssentially an eqalitarian approach. No
 +hierarchies around and plenty of cooperation no matter what people'​s
 +non-net status.\
 + The MIDDLE PHASE is about consolidating your first, often quite
 +difficult, and isolated, attempts to become part of the gang. I've had
 +lots of ups and downs and often felt like packing it all in. But do stay
 +around and it does get better. So this section might be a little more
 + (a) how do you get into a forum, special interest group and link in
 +with like-minded people? Well there is a search mechanism around at the
 +start of my WWW system which is quite helpful. You simply try a range of
 +words which reflect your interests and this remarkable memory system
 +will then come up with some possibilities. You can also speak to other
 +people in the neighbourhood,​ or at work, who are beginning to explore
 +the system and pick up addresses and contacts from newspapers and the
 +mass of magazine in Smith'​s. Or, and this is when it began to get really
 +rewarding for me, you hunt around for some specialist information that
 +will provide you with some start-up help. I'm interested in community
 +development leads and I found some early addresses in community work
 +magazines and journals. And when you've found some-where you would like
 +to join, simply leave the subject matter blank and type in the main text
 +SUBSCRIBE, followed by your name. Or something like that, and
 +UNSUBSCRIBE when you want to leave. It does differ from place to place
 +but usually some-one will come in and help you out and there'​s often
 +instructions in those confusing lines of type at the top of the
 + (b) be helpful, and consciously learn how to relate to and with others.
 +Once you have a bit of confidence it all becomes worth while. A lot of
 +people will not join in initially and this is called '​lurking. But,
 +gradually, others get to know your address and after a while you don't
 +have to keep on writing theirs down. Try Sellotaping the ones you use
 +the most to the side of the desk and you can always alter them as time
 +goes by. You will also pick up a lot of useful web-addresses from being
 +part of a forum which, again, will provide you with lots of individual
 +and group contacts. The subject line on your e-mail can often be of
 +considerable use here since, together with a quick glance at the sender,
 +it gives you some clues about the nature and usefulness of the
 + (c) one important point here is that there'​s some basic written rules
 +about how we all behave towards each other. Obviously politeness,
 +concern and keeping things brief are important but so is, when you reply
 +to others on issues which do not involve everyone, replying to the
 +individual'​s private address. As opposed to the general forum who may
 +not be interested in individual exchanges. In other words it's about us
 +all developing a sense of consideration in a system which can become
 +very demanding and complex.\
 + (d) at this stage it's as well to remember that when your Apple Mac
 +and/or PC needs some repairs you need to find somewhere in one of the
 +files to tuck away the external connections which you use most often. My
 +local firm wiped off, '​reformated'​ in their terms, my word processing
 +and internet connections. Which are the only two I use and it took me a
 +frustrating month to get them back. With no apologies.\
 + (e) as time goes by you will have the opportunity to become members of,
 +no joining fees here, of a wide number of groups and many people have
 +written about the good feeling of anticipation that you get when you
 +'​check-in'​ and wait for responses to your earlier conversations. You'll
 +also soon recognise other peoples styles of working, and I'm an early
 +morning person by the way which guarantees cheap phone rates. But you
 +quickly learn how to scan, subscribe, unsubscribe and to be selective.
 +Although if you can keep up to date on a daily basis it does help you
 +avoid being snowed under.\
 + (f) the only other thing I'd like to say on this part of what I hope
 +are some useful ideas is about costs. If you're paying for it youself it
 +makes sense never to compose e-mails when you are live on-line. There'​s
 +always a way of doing this when the modem is off and you then just
 +switch on and press '​send.'​ It also seems sensible, once you've checked
 +your messages, to play around, or look at them any time, for nothing, by
 +keeping the modem switched off. This is where the word-processing part
 +of your machine really comes into its own and it's always a sobering
 +thought that very few of us use more than ten per cent of its incredible
 + (g) it is also worth printing-out when you have something really
 +important to transmit. I did it with this e-mail and one is always
 +amazed how many mistakes are missed from looking at the screen itself.
 +As opposed to the printed word where punctuation and grammar, I hope,
 +can be easily corrected.\
 + (h) so, thanks for staying around. By this time you've become familiar
 +with the machinery and its various parts and have probably switched
 +hosts. I changed from Compuserve, not only on grounds of expense, but
 +also because it.was also dominated by American interests. Nothing wrong
 +with that, and it has probably got better by now, but it's helpful to
 +have national and european connections. I then switched to Cityscape and
 +I've had too many rows with them as they changed direction to meet
 +increased demand and I couldn'​t get back for weeks. So I'm looking
 +around for a user-friendly,​ informative and supportive host. Any ideas?\
 + ​Finally PRESENT, AND FUTURE, DEVELOPMENTS will be concerned with
 +continuing to build on, and consolidate,​ an increasing range of
 +electronic resources, new friends and contacts as yet often unknown and
 +untried. But there'​s large numbers of acqaintances around already and
 +together we can traverse the world. Literally and cheaply. Once you
 +realise from your phone bill that it isn't costing you very much more
 +than you normally spend then perhaps that's the acid test that you have
 +become fairly competent.\
 + (a) as you become part of these networks you will find that
 +relationships become warmer and friendlier. This week I wasn't able to
 +go to a meeting because of poor health in the family and, quickly, some
 +sympathetic e-mails appeared. Along with details of the agenda. We also
 +had an American party over last week to look at local services and soon
 +established e-mail links for a collective newsletter which appeared on
 +their desks in seconds on their return. Boston here we all come next
 +year. Whilst the International Association of Community Networkers, with
 +Madeline from Boulder County at the helm, joined by Heikki from Finland,
 +and David from Brighton,is really beginning to make internationalism
 + (b) at this point the skills and art of networking as an art-form
 +becomes something to really work at. You worry far less about becoming a
 +member of a group, taking a few risks and getting anxious when some-one
 +disagrees, usually in a civilised way, with one of your on-line
 +comments. You'll also find, as your confidence continues to increase,
 +that you can often just re-route information to a friend whom you know
 +is interested in a particular subject by changing the address and
 +re-sending it. Or you will become part of an NGO (Non-Governmental
 +Organsiation) that reinforces your interests by meetings, letters (it's
 +rudely called snail mail) and telephone calls. Nothing like an all-round
 +approach for moving on. Local media contacts seem also to be taking off
 +all over the place, with newsletters and magazines beginning to appear
 +to complement it all.\
 + (c) it also seems to me that we can then test out, and explore, some
 +really good community options. Communities Online, try, (with a little
 +help from our friends at BT), http://​​communities/​ are
 +well into community regeneration,​ our Cybercafe here in Cambridge has
 +recently started its own Online local information service and the local
 +councils are really well established if you look at the cc entry in the
 +address. This means that correspondence with MPs and others, who might
 +normally be difficult to contact, becomes routine. I was speaking, and
 +complaining,​ the other day to our district council about rubbish which
 +hadn't been cleared down our street. Last week I found myself listening
 +to Richard Luka, (more on loka@amerst,​edu) talking about his latest book
 +on technology and democracy. An e-mail on his return to the States
 +quickly led to a warm and helpful reply. And I've just heard from Anne
 +Campbell, the parliamentary IT innovator and supporter, letting me know
 +of local developments going on beneath my very nose. Which I hadn't
 +noticed until she told me about them.\
 + (d) the emerging lesson here is that social action can be linked with
 +an achievable directness. As opposed to having to circumvent endless
 +bureaucracies. But you're probably into other areas of interest and
 +there are specialist forums and groups around to meet every-one'​s
 + (e) I also need to say something about Apple-macs and PCs. It's
 +increasingly proving quite difficult to get software, together with its
 +entrance to the Internet, for the first so perhaps we will all end up
 +with dull old Windows. Bill Gates rules O.K. but the system itself is
 +still cheap, and flexible and it's up to us how we use it. In spite of
 +the fact that it all began from military bases wanting to
 +inter-communicate it's now, uniquely, become an open systems strategy.
 +One thing you will also have noticed here is that some people operate
 +from an office base and others from home. That's why, at week-ends and
 +holidays, the debate often declines and even disappears.\
 + (f) the other mistake we've made in community and social work, and
 +maybe your field too, is to have become too insular. But the web helps
 +us all to cooperate and willingly share information,​ identify our shared
 +values and debate the issues of the day. In a creative and helpful
 +fashion. I'll look forward to your e-mails and your latest ideas for a
 +web page sounds really good. Are you into Bulletin Boards yet? Remember
 +our exciting, but short-lived adventure with First Class?\
 + ​regards to everyone.\
 + ​[Peter Durrant.](mailto:​\
 + ​Coordinator.\
 + ​Humberstone NetworkingGroup.\
 + 5 Kentings.\
 + ​Comberton.\
 + ​Cambridge.\
 + CB3 7DT.\
 + Tel: 01223 262759.\
partnerships/articles/novice.txt · Last modified: 2017/06/12 10:20 (external edit)