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Arts and the NBN

By John Schumann - posted Friday, 26 November 2010

Out the outset, let me declare that I'm not a complete Luddite. Nor am I a tech-head. But I can generally work out, within 10 minutes or so, whether I'm up to resolving an emergent computer problem myself.

Last week my office computer wouldn't connect to the internet. Drama. I shan't bore you with the details but suffice to say my 10 minutes elapsed pretty smartly and I found myself on the phone to a young person on my IP's help-desk. Nothing wrong at their end. Must be at my end. Could be the modem. Or maybe I should check the line with Telstra.

Grrrrrr! Do not speak to me of Telstra. I first moved into my office some years ago and even then I understood a little about internet speeds and telephone lines. I asked Telstra for two separate copper lines and they kindly installed a "pair-gain" line, carefully omitting to tell me that a "pair-gain" line limited my internet options to a dial-up service with a maximum speed of 56 kps. On discovering this I rang Telstra to grizzle. After being duck-shoved around for an hour or so I was told that there were no broadband-capable lines available at my exchange (I am 1½ kilometres from the Adelaide Town Hall) but if I signed up with Bigpond, a line would become available quite soon. However, if I opted for another provider, I would find myself in a queue of indeterminate length. Telstra is quite unlovable.


This got me thinking about the national broadband network.

According to Google, a few months ago there were over 1000,000 broadband connections in Australia. Assuming the roll-out of Stephen Conroy's fibre-to-the-home national broadband network happens, there'll be a ship-load more and there's no doubt that this will change the way we live. Over time our lives and our homes will become digitised in ways we can scarcely imagine. Equally, there is little doubt that IT frustrations such as my mine will increase dramatically in number and intensity.

The Government's "internet filtering" scheme is unlikely to make things much better.

In this I feel a bit sorry for Stephen Conroy who, I suspect, has little personal interest in internet censorship. If Mark Latham's Diaries can be believed, there wasn't much love between Rudd and Conroy. I wonder how much this had to do with the fact that it was Rudd initially who loaded Conroy up with the implementation of this deeply unpopular policy. Conroy, for his part, is taking carriage of internet censorship rather like one would take carriage of a brown snake in a sugar-bag: gingerly and without much enthusiasm.

But back to the roll-out of the NBN. It will require IT engineers, tech-heads and geeks as far as the eye can see. But if this digital revolution - and that's what it is - is to bring real, lasting and accessible benefits to ordinary Australians, a new way of thinking is called for.

The opportunities and benefits that could flow from the national broadband network will need to be identified and promoted to ordinary Australians with tremendous flair and creativity. Sadly, flair, creativity and new ways of thinking are not qualities that one ordinarily associates with the grey-faced mandarins the Government will inevitably assign to the task.


In the NBN roll-out, there'll plenty of jobs for party hacks, mates, geeks, tech-heads, bureaucrats and patient, IT-savvy youngsters at IP help-desks. But there's also serious role in here for our social scientists, our poets, our historians, our artists and our philosphers - those whose vision of the future is informed by a genuine understanding of what it is to be human.

Can the Gillard Government see this?

Will the Gillard Government have to the courage and the vision to engage the arts and humanities community in something real and tangible this time - as opposed to star-studded photo-opportunties?

Time will tell. I, for one, won't be holding my breath.

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About the Author

John Schumann is a writer/performer and runs his own Strategic Communications company in South Australia.

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