To devote yourself to the community is an extraordinary thing. How does it happen? For Simon Hare it started with his family motto: “be curious, try everything and learn everything you can”.
In Simon’s family people were just human animals and animals were people too: their menagerie of a donkey, chickens, cats, guinea pigs, geese and two black Labradors in Scotland were accorded the same love and respect as anyone else. Meanwhile Simon’s father worked for a company producing the world’s first micro-processors – he brought parts home for his children to play with and showed them that iconic photo of an ant and a micro-chip.
With those firm foundations in social justice and technology, Simon left high school determined to work for either the CSIRO or the ABC, somewhere he could contribute to The Public Good. The ABC won out and he ended up in radio, spending 20 years being “Mr Media-Head”. Sometime in 1990 he remembers being in a windowless room in the State Library Computer Lab attending an introductory course about something called The Internet. He remembers being so excited he phoned his father to tell him about this incredible network that was freely available, handing out knowledge to the world, “like a global WEA (Workers Education Association)”.
Soon after that, Simon came to Blackheath for a 6-month trial in mountain living and never looked back, becoming a champion of community projects from the Pool Protests to the Pantomimes. In Blackheath Pool he discovered a facility built by the community and protected for over a century; it represented everything about Blackheath that he still finds valuable today: “The Pool is the heart of the community. It brings together all Blackheath’s subcultures & ages in a way no other space can – there’s nothing like being (nearly) naked in The Pool for a sense of equality.” Having decided to stay in Blackheath, Simon looked around for opportunities to build something else that could bring as much cohesion to the community as the Pool.
“I was looking for community and in Blackheath I discovered it really did exist.”
Simon is now the unassuming CEO of Cyber_Shed, a Blackheath project promoting Digital Inclusion. Cyber_Shed started small in 2013 with two computers and has grown to fill a room in the Digital Cottage where anyone can book a free session to learn about anything from basic Internet Access to all the complexities of Social Media. Simon and his team of volunteer tutors provide classes throughout the week.
The tools Cyber_Shed teaches are at the core of ‘digital literacy’ – the knowledge, skills, and behaviours that allow people to stay connected with far-flung family, participate in the broader community & stay safe online. For Simon, digital inclusion is a social equity issue and Cyber_Shed offers one-to-one tuition about the online realm in a non-threatening, jargon-free environment. The aim is to open up new worlds of possibility so that no group or individual is left behind.
“Social media is a cornerstone of modern life. If you don’t have access to it because you don’t understand it, then you are severely disadvantaged.”
Locally based & community operated, Cyber_Shed understands the very particular issues Blackheathens face, both online & from living in the bush. With those issues in mind the Digital Cottage has expanded its services to offer Desk Hire – a Smart Desk service to rescue Blackheathens from their daily commute into Sydney. Some people can happily work from home in their PJs forever, other people find that after a few days their self-discipline wanes and they give up trying to explain that finance spreadsheet to the dog (one more time, Fido!) and go out to buy bread they don’t need just to have someone to talk to. A Smart Desk offers the discipline and adherence to WHS standards of a formal workplace. You book a desk in a quiet office with high-quality computers, printers and Wi-Fi but your commute is only 5 minutes. Best of all, the cost (only $25 per day) can be tax deductible for you or your employer. The only things you’ll miss out on: domestic interruptions, sunrise over Parramatta and yet another morning tea for someone you don’t know.
“I love seeing students have “Aha!” moments as an apparently insurmountable barrier falls away … and then, later, seeing them take flight online.”
And what’s on the horizon for Cyber_Shed?
By providing a remote work location for Blackheath, Cyber_Shed is at the leading edge of the future of work. BANC supports the co-ordination of the project but Simon would like to see Cyber_Shed become self-supporting and open every day of the week with a mix of age groups participating in collaborative learning.
“An hour of code; A lifetime of change”
Cyber_Shed mostly caters for the more mature Blackheathen but now there are opportunities for kids to stay ahead of the pack: Kids Coding is coming in 2017 offering hands on experience with programmable Arduino Chips and Robot-building.
“The Digital Fixers’ Fair”
Got a computer that stopped working that you can’t bear to throw away? Cyber_Shed is planning some Digital Fixers’ Fairs for people to get together and share their knowledge to fix and upgrade old computers.
Most Cyber_Shed services are free – check the website for details. And if you’re feeling the urge to support digital inclusion, you can sign up as a volunteer tutor on the Blue Mountains
You can find the Timebanking website here
Simon was interviewed by Carla Billinghurst, a local writer, educator, and committee member of The Big Fix.
Photo by Trish Davies