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Sunday 2nd December: "World Computer Literacy Day”. The campaign is designed to highlight the digital divide and to increase access to information technology for disadvantaged communities.

The challenge this year was a simple one: a Techfast! For one day only, the organisers asked people to give up technology. This is the diary of one man’s epic struggle not to succumb to the allure of the blinking red light!

Sunday 00.06: A lovely evening; my wife and I run a community choir, and their inaugural concert is a great success. Lots of clearing up to do afterwards, however, and so it is ages before I can settle down and watch the BBC iPlayer highlights of England vs New Zealand All Blacks on my laptop. I don’t notice the time, but it’s pretty ironic that I have broken the fast in under  10 minutes!

I stir once in the night, reach for my phone to see what time it is. But it’s not there. Immediate panic: Did I leave it at the concert venue? In the car? I bury an urge to get out of bed and look for it, and go back to sleep.

08.20: Wake up, make a cup of tea, find my phone, place it on a pile including laptop, BlackBerry, Notebook and mp3 player: Techfast has begun

08.25 My wife announces that "well done” emails are flying in about the concert… onto her BlackBerry of course.

08.50 In bed with the papers, but an urgent email has come in to Cindy from another choir member (she knows the editor of the local paper, and he might do a feature on the choir if we can get info to him, and pictures, by the time he gets to his desk on Monday morning at 6am). Can she have immediately a copy of the previously circulated press release? I sigh. It is on my laptop!

In order to get around my personal Techfast restrictions, I relay verbal instructions to Cindy to send on to the choir member - how to extract text from a previously circulated PDF file.

09.10 I decide to make TechFast Day the feature of this ASDAN blog, so I reach for… a paper and pen! At least I can still write without using two thumbs and emoticons!

10.40 Much mirth in the Frank household. No one can quite believe I have not looked at my BlackBerry as yet. As CEO of ASDAN, I tend to be "always on” and this really does make me a slave to the blinking red light!

11.15 Old friends arrive, and we go for a pub lunch without mobile or BlackBerry. Halfway through the meal I realise with some chagrin that I would have surreptitiously checked my comms devices a good few times by now.

The discussion turns to the notion of a digital divide. One of my friends states, " You don’t miss what you’ve never had.”  True, but wasn’t that the same attitude the privileged had towards "education for all” in the nineteenth century?

14.30-20.30 What sort of addict have I become? Here is a short list of things I couldn’t do during the afternoon and early evening:

  • Check the football results
  • Order a copy of "Skyfall” for the choir from an online sheet music company
  • Check PRS (Performing Rights Society) guidelines for community choirs
  • Check the football results
  • Weather for tomorrow
  • What am I doing at work tomorrow?
  • Transfer money to son’s account at University
  • Do some audio recording (because we have a digital system)
  • Email reminders to people I’m meeting in Durham, Sheffield, Leeds and Haverhill during the coming week
  • Check the football results

I was getting tetchy and nervous. It was so bad that I cleaned out and reorganised the family medicine cupboard, something I’ve been meaning to do, if the expiry dates were anything to go by, for the past five years.

I then wrote a letter and walked down the road to physically post it. In a post box.

22.30 Went to bed. I’m almost used to it by now and it’s helped me to think about the bigger picture;  we all know how easy it is to take things for granted and not fully understand or appreciate the gap between the "haves” and the "have nots”.  Twenty first century communications mean that we are so plugged in to an interconnected world that global wealth and poverty are inextricably linked, giving the illusion that the gap is smaller.

So the next time someone asks me to recommend a good CoPE Section C challenge for the Communication module, I will recommend that learners experience life for a short while without the technology to communicate and reflect on what this means for them and the local, national and international communities to which they are connected. Challenge-based learning at its best!

Merry Christmas!

Marius Frank



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