Today, I was at the Rally / GoogleFest / FlashMob (whatever you want to call it) in support of A2Fiber.
Yes, some bright person had the idea of trying to make people do a funky dance. Not a funky chicken dance, but it was bad enough. There were all kinds of people there — old folk, young folk, critters, the Mayor, lots of cameras and lots of interviews. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of our local Second Life and virtual world community members made a point of coming out in real life to support the rally.
I was there because I really truly believe that Ann Arbor is one of the few truly right places to try out a high-speed internet initiative. I’ve been urging folk to join the various online communities, attend events, do what it takes. This has been purely as an individual because I think it is important. I am not on any of the committees that have been working on this, although I know a couple people who’ve worked with the committees. I also am a member of the A2B3 community group that is really pushing for this. While I’ve been nudging other folk, they’ve asked me a lot of questions about “Why”, and this has helped me work through my reasons to think this is a good idea.
Where I started was thinking about my son. He is a special needs kid, but incredibly talented. Just he isn’t so talented with the skills schools are supposed to test. Dyslexic, dysgraphic and dyscalculic, he has problems with the 3 Rs, but put a computer in his hands or a Wiimote or drumsticks, and the boy is whiz! He figured our how to get around the security block on our color printer before he could read, and before our 15-yr-old daughter did. Now he’s the one in high school. The problem we have is that the school doesn’t have much in the way of computing infrastructure and doesn’t have the expertise to maximise the technology they have. He isn’t allowed to use the tech he knows best because the teachers lack experience managing computers in the classroom, and thus his computer creates problems. I helped with the National Educational Technology Plan event in Second Life, and I’ve heard what is possible when teachers are embedded in a technologically supportive environment and how that can empower both teachers and kids alike, not to mention dramatically enriching the abilities and alternate ways to assess the achievements of kids with special skills and needs. I can’t help but believe that access to the kind of tech represented by a high speed network could only facilitate expanding that kind of environment.
Then I thought about, of course, my self and my own job. I am the Emerging Technologies Librarian for the Health Sciences at the University of Michigan. My network stalled out while I was writing that sentence. It stalls out a lot. It is the nature of my job to test the limits of the systems I use, to push them as far as they can go, and do as much as I can with them, then share the skills and innovations learned with the broader community here at UM. Unfortunately, I don’t get to push things very far, and i spend a lot of time waiting for the computers and networks to catch up. I am pretty patient about it, most of the time, at least if people are watching, BUT … how much better could I do my job if I wasn’t waiting on stalled network connections so much of the time? And since my job is to help UM innovate, … wow, the possibilities. Actually, I am thinking also of the Medical Innovation Center and Jim Geiger, and the Enabling Technologies group with Ted Hanss, and the Dental Informatics group, and … I can immediately think of many groups that would be dramatically empowered with better networks, all of whom are doing amazing work to benefit others, from their own students to bleeding edge research collaborations to international partnerships with 3rd world countries.
So, how to let Google know that this is a good idea?
“Leave the sugary cereals on the shelves.”
I think Google made a small error in their promotional material for this competition by highlighting fast download times for movies. Yes, that is a great hook for getting people interested, but I don’t think Google really wants to hear about how every community in the US wants faster access to movies and entertainment. Unfortunately, once folk got that in their minds, some of them got stuck there.
So let go of the fluff, and think about what really matters, and how to use better tech to provide better service, be a better community, to do good. I overheard someone talking about how Dean Woolliscroft of the UM Medical School had mentioned that high-speed networks would provide enhanced capability to expand healthcare service such as telemedicine, home monitoring, distance learning, collaborations with other countries, and much more. Those are just the low-hanging fruit, the obvious new healthcare tech that could be used more pervasively and ubiquitously in an environment with a stronger network.
The mission of the University of Michigan is “to serve the people of Michigan and the world through preeminence in creating, communicating, preserving and applying knowledge, art, and academic values, and in developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future.” UMHS also has a great mission statement: “The University of Michigan Health System improves the health of patients, populations and communities through excellence in education, patient care, community service, research and technology development, and through leadership activities in Michigan, nationally and internationally.” The communities that together comprise the University of Michigan largely work sincerely with great motivation, intelligence and energy to fulfill these missions. That is a big part of what UM has to bring to any project of this scope — the vision, motivation, drive, commitment to take the project, the resources awarded and do their level best to make them all work for the public good at all levels — local, state, regional, national, international. Yes, that is what UM does and does well.
“Pass the beans, please.”
Even our core mission values of education, research and service need good “bones,” a good infrastructure, a solid base to give them the power to do what is needed. UM would be much weaker, even impoverished, without the strong framework provided by the interweaving of communities and collaborations. UM is intimately engaged with Ann Arbor and the State of Michigan. The UM Road Scholars is a wonderful project that fosters community and collaboration across the State. Reach Detroit is another way in which UM provides support and education to local communities while supporting their own research, education & service missions. The University works hard to bring value to the state in which we live, to foster innovation and economic development and growth through collaborations and services such as the University Research Corridor and SPARK Ann Arbor.
Even closer to home, the University Libraries have in recent years created several positions for librarians embedded in their communities and specifically tasked with fostering collaboration. The Health Sciences Libraries have fostered collaboration and community engagement and service through new positions like the Outreach Librarian (Kate MacDougall Saylor) who helps us serve and reach the Ann Arbor and Michigan communities with health information and support, and Disability Services and Outreach (coordinated by Anna Schnitzr).
My own position of Emerging Technologies Librarian is another like this. I provide support for many of our outreach and accessibility initiatives in the areas of incorporating new and emerging technologies to help us help others, as well as providing support for use of new technologies in various other campus and local communities. Because of the nature of my job, specifics are always changing, but these slides provided a small glimpse into one month’s range of activity.
The University’s passionate commitment to making information and educational resources open, accessible and available to the world has already prompted previous partnerships with Google as well as many other institutions and organizations. From where I am standing, I see a community committed to making a difference, with a history of collaboration, poised to continue both through creative uses of new technologies.
“Sweeten with fruit; add volume with vegetables.”
It is the little things that make a meal shine in memory. The crackle of the bread, the light on the table, the freshness of the ingredients, the garnish and sauces. Just so here, where the affordances and intangibles are likely to be what makes the difference. There is no one thing I can point to about UM and Ann Arbor that are not also true of other communities competing for this. I like to think that the aggregation of myriad details makes us remarkable, but that is also true in other places. Here are a few of the things that I like about the idea of having such a rich opportunity here.
– We have a lot of early adopters in the broader community (not just at the U) who will gleefully embrace new tech and put it to use.
– We have strong community social networks already in place. The A2B3 community in particular is a resource unique to Ann Arbor – a social network both online and F2F that connects tech innovators and startups with regular folk, politicians, activists, artists, healthcare etcetera. A2B3 has promoted a ton of innovation and new tech adoption over the years, and will surely be instrumental in this role with any new infrastructure and resources.
– We are positioned nicely in the national tech corridor – close enough to easily demonstrate & disseminate innovation, while far enough from central to really see the power of the tech on its own.
– This is a really diverse community, with multiple cultures and capabilities, coupled with many of the most powerful intellects on earth, making possible applications that most likely haven’t yet been imagined.
– We have a great combination of a strong stable local community powerful in tech innovators while containing the full range of human needs and abilities, but peppered with students and other mobile elements that can take whatever is developed here and make it go viral, carrying it with them to new communities and encouraging adoption and innovation there as well. I could see a Diaspora of sorts happening, carrying forth the seeds of vision – what is possible.
For me, I’ve been in meetings over the past several months brainstorming ways in which augmented reality resources and activities could be embedded in the surrounding environment. I heard people talking about how to use fiber to support and promote a green community (and I don’t just mean Ann Arbor’s nickname of “Tree City”!). Last week our Second Life community was talking about things we’d like to be doing in virtual worlds (healthcare simulations, mathematical models, artistic immersion experiences), if only we had access to fast enough connections and powerful enough servers to make them possible. This is not just pie-in-the-sky, but having seen presentations by people who are doing this already with the top end Intel servers and fiber into their homes. But that wasn’t here, and was just one (incredibly lucky) person. I like to take new tech and push it to the limits, and see how much we can do before it breaks. I’m also fascinated by the very idea of this. How would it change the cultural assumptions of communication in a community to have ubiquitous high speed networks? Would it change the actual way we use our minds? What are best practices for healthy balance in use of technology?
Go, Go, Go, Google!
Whatever Google decides, UM will surely continue to work towards the same worthy goals we have now, with or without high speed internet. If some other community is lucky enough to get fiber connections and we don’t, the point of the project is to illustrate the value of high speed internet and justify its wider adoption. I would hope that UM would support and partner with other locales in creating, applying and assessing ways in which high speed network access changes the communities and individuals of those communities.
Go, go, go, Google, you know what they say.
Hang on now, Google, you’ll make it some day.
Sha la la, Google, you’re doing fine –
You and your dreamcoat, ahead of your time.
Sha la la, Google, you’re doing fine –
You and your dreamcoat, ahead of your time.
* (Dietary fiber tips from SparkPeople)