Technolust – the fifth column of the information counter-revolution

I’m going to start with a story about growing up in Tasmania in the 1990s.

The economy wasn’t great, with unemployment at around 11%, no economic growth to speak of and a high State debt. In these formative years, I was surrounded by both the defeatists and the hopelessly optimistic. Many said that the Tasmanian economy had no hope and had been on the downward slide since the end of Transportation. Others dreamed of the One Big Project that was going to save us all: the Mt Wellington cable car, the Oceanport cruiseship terminal, the enormous pulp and paper mill, the largest catamaran factory in the world.

The Oceanport company turned out to have $1 to its name, the catamaran company went bankrupt, the pulp mill dream ultimately saw a prominent businessman gaoled for bribery, a Premier resign in disgrace and the state’s largest company fall into receivership. The cable car dream quietly slinked away, only to return recently as the economy again started to go sour.

But in the intervening decade, Tasmania’s economy flourished. There was no One Big Project that achieved this. There were however lots of small projects. There was the ongoing success of the King Island Dairy. There were dozens and dozens of independent bed and breakfasts serving a growing tourist trade. There was the ever expanding Taste of Tasmania and Ten Days on the Island festivals. There were interstate expansions of home-grown beer and seafood brands Boags and Tassal. There was no one big project, just one big vision – a vision based on contested but broadly shared values of wholesome clean produce, pride in work and lack of pretention. Tasmanians still complain about their economy, but the improvement is obvious to someone like me who left 12 years ago.

Tasmania’s problem wasn’t a lack of big projects, funding or infrastructure.

It was a failure of self-belief. Continue reading

Julia Gillard, Terry Deary and the cultural problems with libraries

On Sunday Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a new ‘Reading Blitz’ program for primary school students.

As I read the Prime Minister’s media release (thanks @latikambourke) I was struck by the difference between the Prime Minister’s rhetoric and the ABC radio interview of Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings just three days earlier. In response to a question about why Tasmania’s literacy and numeracy results are so poor compared to the rest of Australia and the OECD, Giddings stated that

It’s true to say we have a lower socio-economic community here in Tasmania and some cultural problems with the value of education. That’s why we’re concentrating on the early years, that’s why we’re investing in getting mothers – pregnant mothers – into the class and school environment again so it’s not so threatening.

Having grown up in Tasmania I understand what Giddings is getting at. I was lucky to be raised in a family where reading for pleasure and valuing education both went back multiple generations. This was not, however, universal. I went to school with plenty of children who were raised in families where neither education nor reading were particularly prized, encouraged or modelled. My final year of school included students who achieved a perfect score for English and those who were, quite literally, barely able to read. Given that we all went to the same school it seems clear that the problem was not simply a lack of effort or testing from our teachers. Continue reading