Taming The Machine | Free Digital Literacy | Abbadia, Italy

 

Documentary Photographer Emiliano Palei @ tamajano.com is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography.  From his project “PAAS ABBADIA’.  To see Emiliano’s body of work  click on any image.

 

 

 

PAAS (assisted access points to web services) was launched in the early 2000’s with the aim to fill the digital gap that separate those who are able to use a computer from those who do not.
A few years ago, unaware of PAAS’s existence, while having dinner at my house, I heard my father in law and an old friend of his fantasizing about creating a grassroots PAAS, using free software; they were talking about reuse and rights of citizenship. I tried to follow their reasoning, without understanding much, but enough to get involved and keen to take a deeper look into it. That was the moment I started to follow closely the history of the PAAS Point of Abbadia di Montepulciano, a little village in Tuscany in which I have lived in for a few years.

 

 

I discovered that within a few years nearly all the PAAS Points had been shut down before starting to operate. The first funds (allocated at the institutional level without detailed rules for implementation) were used to buy computers and to set up structured spaces, but there were no funds left to provide money for the instructors and to buy programs to organize the courses. The few PAAS points that were left in business have lost their main purpose (the educational one) to become what we call today the Free Internet point.
From the very beginning, I found it very interesting the symbolic aspect in the history of PAAS point of Abbadia, which tells so clearly how this small community could cope with an institutional void through people’s human and civic participation. Firstly with the constant and substantial presence of who, Cesiano (my father in law), conceived it , created it and has kept it alive so far.
With the idea to set up a local PAAS point, without public funding, relying on the people’s involvement, on the strict use of free software with a mindful reuse of scrapped computers or machines given by people who replace them with new ones, he has seen in this institutional impasse a real chance for active citizenship.
The idea became reality in March 2011 with free lessons given weekly by Cesiano. Attending my first lessons, a couple of years after the opening, made me decide to represent visually this experience. It was very engaging to witness the participants’s efforts and determination, trying to ‘tame’ this device (computer), so unusual in their previous life. The objective of my photographic research was founded on this extreme effort by human beings to get closer to machines , and it highlighted this contrast also chromatically.
The last part of my work hints at the participants heterogeneity, through a little window on the daily life of each of them. The attempt is to highlight the aim of the project, that is the chance given to everyone (without any economical or educational selection), although with big commitment and willingness (human availability) to access the first digital literacy, propaedeutic for conscious access to the web, that I’d call it a real right of citizenship.

 

 

IDEA

“Waste doesn’t exist in nature. We experienced it with the hardware (computers)!” That’s the beginning of the story of the PAAS Point of Abbadia, conceived and kept alive by Cesiano, retired bank employee, passionate supporter of free software.
“At the beginning our devices (computers) came from recycling stations”. Little by little people started to get familiar with the project (even by chance, the PAAS Point is located in the village’s center, next door to the general practitioner), then the first donations arrived. Actually they were often devices which had been replaced because very old and not always working. The working pieces have been put together with other ones to assemble the PAAS’s unusual computers.
“At this point it was necessary to find a sober operating system, able to operate with delicacy these old machines with very little compute capability. We turned to GNU/Linux and the alchemy was fulfilled. Thank to the providential help of Juan, an old friend, nowadays involved with Richard Stallman, the project creator of GNU/Linux (operating system made up of completely open source software), and founder of Free Software Foundation, Ong committed to the free software’s development and spread all around the world.”

 

According to F.S.F, a software can be defined as free software only if it guarantees the “four freedoms”:

Freedom 0 – Freedom to run a program for any purpose.
Freedom 1 – Freedom to study and modify a program.

Freedom 2 – Freedom to provide a program’s copy to help others (people).
Freedom 3 – Freedom to improve a program and to supply publicly the improvement to ensure the benefit to the whole community.

 

To be free to do these things means also not needing to ask or pay for the use of the software.
That’s how the original idea comes true: set up a grassroots PASS point, without public funds (no cost for hardware, no cost for software!) Totally counting on people’s participation, a strict use of free software and mindful reuse of old, scrapped devices.
That’s how the PAAS Point of Abbadia was born.

 

 

 

LESSONS

Lessons started in March 2011, on a weekly basis and completely free.
The fast increasing number of participants imposed the division into two groups, who two times a week shared the little PAAS’s room.
Right from the start Cesiano provided a ‘wiki platform” to store lessons content and to make them available anytime. So that who had time and an Internet connection could practice from home during the week.
The participants’ efforts to get into a completely unfamiliar logic was huge and often lasted all the lesson. From time to time the need of some certainty was necessary, a dive in the past and pen and paper could help!

 

 

The need of translating Italian was sometimes added to the complexity of IT language, since some participants were not Italian mother tongue.
Lessons had a starting time (9 pm) but they didn’t have an ending time. It all depended on the instructor and participants endurance, having already gone through a full day.

 

 

PARTICIPANTS

IRIO – 72 years old, builder. He has been retired for 15 years, spends most of his time in his passion, painting.
 
LUCIANO – 57 years old, manager of a plumbing company until 2008. Now he is retired and shares with his son his love and ‘daily commitment’ for backyard animals.
 
VLADIMIRO – 63 years old, house painter since he was 22. His presence at the PAAS goes beyond class schedule, he is committed in an historical research on the Chianina cattle breed origin (this work is starting to get interesting in the academic world for its accuracy, the extent of the collected material and important unedited information.
 
ITALO – 74 years old, since his childhood he was involved in his family business in the field of footwear, created in 1903, nowadays it consists of three stores in Valdichiana.
 
BORIS – 67 year old, carpenter. He has been retired since 2003, he manages an hectare of olives trees, a vineyard and a vegetable garden “for his own consumption”.

 
SERGIO – 46 years old, truck driver, he was born in Val di Susa, grown in Calabria, back to Piemonte due to his work, he has lived in Valdichiana since 2003. Now he is unemployed.
 

ADRIANO – 74 years old, Maths teacher than bank employee. He has been retired since 2002, he is now involved in his agritourism family-run business.

 
MARIO – 69 years old, farm worker then carpenter. He has been retired since 2001, but he is still committed to both activities just for pleasure.

 
ALFIA – 66 years old, she was born in Sicily, she worked for 40 years in Germany employed in a textile company. She has been retired since 2010 in Montepulciano.
 

RENATO – 76 years old, welder and digger driver, he has been retired since 1992. Photograph and self-taught historian (especially expert in Roman history “ from Socrate to the last Emperor”).
 

ADENIO – 67 years old, employee in several positions at Public Water System Company . He has been retired since 2006, he takes delight in making high quality wine for his-own need.

 
FATIMA (52 years old, house-maker, born in Morocco, she has lived in Italy for 12 years) and ALFIO 73 years old, ex builder, born and resident in Valdichiana, he has been retired since 1997). With Fatima he takes care of their home and of the huge number of plants through which they unify and interlace their origin’s traditions.

 
VARBINKA – 46 years old, born in Bulgaria where she lived until 2004, she has worked in Italy since then as a caregiver.

 
GIULIANA (67 years old, house-maker) and ANTONIO (74 years old, ex chef, he has been retired since 1997) – Now they are full time grandparents.

 

 

See also:

Emo Formichi

By Emiliano Palei

 

 

 

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