Communication at a Distance, by Missy G. Flinn
These days of physical distancing demand new ways of remaining social. We are all leaping into uncharted ways of staying connected in isolation. When we jump on one technology that allows us to meet as a group from multiple places–and just when everyone catches on–we learn that unscrupulous people are hacking into our newfound private space. We chase the next mode, rinse, and repeat.
Ohio Humanities staff are figuring out ways to deliver humanities programming to people who are obeying stay-at-home orders. Every weekday, we are committed to bringing you something new: Mondays, we share “Democracy and the Informed Citizen” podcasts, videos, and articles; Tuesdays you’ll find a conversation prompt to use when “meeting” with friends and family at home and far away; Wednesdays bring interesting blog posts written by Ohio Humanities staff; Thursdays articles from Pathways magazine will hit the waves; and Friday is dedicated to sharing books we are reading now. And we’re cooking up even more new programming–we invite you to stop by daily to dig in, and we hope all these communications will bring you new ways to have real conversations about real issues.
Our collective quest to find solutions for staying together while apart takes me back to some other significant times when communication at a distance was novel, and at times critical. This sound brings on the memories of these events.
Throwback 1: 1996
The sound takes me back to 1996, when a group of intrepid educators from Columbus Public Schools, The Ohio State University, and Columbus area nonprofit cultural organizations got together to form the Columbus Arts and Education Consortium. With a generous grant from a major communications provider, we examined the nascent topic of distance learning in the arts.
To do this, we had to use the new technology of email to communicate amongst ourselves. The nonprofit cultural sector was way behind on this. On the whole, cultural organizations are very conservative about spending money, and this new technology would take a chunk out of carefully prepared budgets. It involved having a dedicated phone line to a single computer, which was used to dial into the internet.
Thanks to the grant, we were able to get a connection for one person at each nonprofit institution. And an email account on Freenet, which was, as you might have guessed, free. As we dialed up, we heard that sound.
Throwback 2: 1970
As I dialed up to connect to my Freenet email account, this sound filling my cubical in the basement of the Columbus Museum of Art, it was instantly April 14, 1970, 3:08 a.m. and I was Jack Lousma at NASA’s Mission Operations Control Room. The script ran through my mind while the dial-up went through its noisy paces.
Fred Haise (Apollo 13): Okay Houston.
Jack Swigert (Apollo 13): I believe we’ve had a problem here.
Me (as Jack Lousma): This is Houston. Say again, please.
Jim Lovell (Apollo 13): Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a MAIN B BUS UNDERVOLT.
Me: Roger. MAIN B UNDERVOLT. (pause) Okay, stand by, 13. We’re looking at it.
By then the dial-up was complete and it’s 6:07 p.m. on April 17 and I am now Joe Kerwin at Mission Control.
Me: Odyssey, Houston. We show you on the mains, it really looks great. . . . Got you on television, babe.
The mission is a success. The lives of three American heroes are saved. A nation cheers.
For cultural organizations, the small triumphs–like getting email access for your fellow educators–are dear.
And intrepid groups of people today coming together virtually to push forward into the new ways of being a community, I think, is in its own small way kind of heroic.
Roger that. Over and out.