Connecting the Dots: Between Homes and Generations.

My teens were a tumultuous time. That can be said for anyone who has been through the gamut of being a teen I know, but I feel my teens were particular tumultuous in comparison to my contemporaries.

My father decided that something drastic was needed to change this bookish lanky boy. I needed to be hardened up; and a move to a small rural town was his answer to turning this somewhat effeminate boy into a strong butch manly man. Of course it didn’t work- all it did was make me still all these years still bitter- but I do know how to change a car tire, catch a sheep, and ride a ride-on-lawn mower so I guess he would argue it wasn’t all in vain.

And so we relocated (yet again) from the 9th biggest city in our country right by the beach, to the tiny rural town with a population of just over 200 people where my grandparents lived. As a teenager, I was appropriately devastated.

If you close your eyes and imagine rural New South Wales, Australia- middle of no where- the image you conjure up in your mind is Koorawatha. (Koo-Ra-Woth-Tha).

When we moved there it had a corner store, a post office, and a pub. The corner store closed down, as did the post office- so now you buy your milk + bread and pick up the mail from the pub. When I was back packing around the world I didn’t even need to put the street name down when sending post cards to my grandparents- Just their name and the post code was enough. Literally- everyone knows everyone.

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 10.30.41 am

I simply couldn’t wait to get out of there fast enough.

Fast forward to 2015 and not much about the middle of nowhere has changed. The only road that is tar is the highway going straight through it, and the only commercial activity in the town is the pub. The major change is that the railway line going through is no longer being maintained- the infrastructure is simply too expensive to keep up- its cheaper to move the canola, wool and wheat produced in the area by truck than train.

Deterioration of physical Infrastructure

Deterioration of physical Infrastructure

My grandfather is quite ill, so a trip out to visit them was necessary.

“While you are there, can you organise to sign them up to the NBN” My aunt said to me on the phone.

The NBN?

When I lived there you couldn’t even have mobile phone reception.

I now live in the city, but they have the NBN!

Of course- the thing with rolling out such a huge national infrastructure is that there is no magic wand that flicks a connection switch to everyone automatically- but Koorawatha! The roll out of the NBN in Koorawatha would have a similar if not even more significant impact on the community as Melissa Gregg’s study of Wilunga- the first rural site chosen to connect to the NBN.

When I was in high school we had to wait 3 months until the latest film even came to the local cinema (an hours drive away!).

I am the first to admit that when it comes to technology, I’m not as up with it as I would like. I not what in marketing terms you call an ‘early adopter’. I am happy to wait till the price comes down, till others try it all out first- then show me how to use it.

So while we drive in to town to speak to the Telstra shop, my grandmother set out some conditions for me:

1.we need to make sure the plan didn’t cost her more than she was already paying, and

2. she needed a plan that included free STD calls, as the being the location of middle of know where, in Koorawatha there is no one close enough to count as a local call when calling on the phone.

EVERY call from Koorawatha is an STD call.

I was going to explain viber and whatsapp and skype– but ‘one step at a time’ I thought.

“So, why do we even need the NBN anyway- what is it going to do for me?’ Grandma asked as we drove past nothing but barbed wire fences and paddock after paddock of wheat.

I knew I had to chose my words carefully- I couldn’t make it sound too grandiose or complex, but I couldn’t dumb it down to make the 2 hours drive there and back not worth it.

“I’m happy with what I have. I don’t need it fixed, its not broken” She continued.

I paused. I thought. If you could go back in time, how would you explain to someone how much impact the Internet is going to  have their life in  15 years time, so that they would actually BELIEVE you?

“Well, remember when you had your first mobile phone? And all you could do is call? And now you have an iPhone, and you can play candy crush and you have all your apps? Your Internet at home at the moment is like your old phone, and the NBN is going to be like your new iPhone.”

“Remember how Pops doctor has moved away and it’s too far for you to drive to see him now? With the NBN you will be able to make the doctors appointments with him just through the computer, and you and pop wont have to drive anywhere- you can just see the doctor in the lounge room.”

The trip to the Telstra store was not as successful as I had hoped- we had missed the deadline to signing up for the deal to switch to the NBN and still pay the same amount she was paying for broadband.

It seemed true that my grandmother’s adoption of the NBN mirrored that speculated in the Report on Household Take-Up: mainly in how the technology is understood, the perceived benefits of high-speed broadband, the costs and affordability of broadband Internet service plans, how households use or anticipate using Internet applications, and how broadband fits with – and affects – the existing household communications environment.

Whilst I was disappointed that she wasn’t able to get a plan that day, my Aunt called me a few days later to say it was now up and running. As a teenager when I lived in Koorwatha I genuinely felt like I was the only person in the world going through what ever issues it was that I was going through. In fact, in a town so small and remote- i probably actually was the only person going through those issues. But I am sure there were many other teens in the same isolated position. Just a vast distance separated us.

I believe the next generation won’t have that distance. They will have the connectivity that the NBN will provide, and create real connections despite the spatial distance, and not the kind of relationships that are lacking that Sherry Turkle discusses.

In her TED talk she laments that ‘we spend evenings on the social network instead of going to the pub with friends’.

That misses the point that for some of us- due to spatial constraints- that is the only connection available.

I look forward to seeing how the adoption of the NBN works for my grandparents, and closing the spatial distance between us through media and technology.

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