New initiatives offer appetizer for tech-starved area
When I was a kid growing up in Grand Junction, the idea of being a web developer, or a filmmaker, or a sound engineer was an impossible dream. Those people were like magic to me. Whatever creative space they worked in was so far removed from my reality in western Colorado, I didn’t even consider pursuing those paths as real career opportunities until late in my college career.
Yeah, I had regular access to a computer in school, but my interactions were almost exclusively related to typing classes and searching for books in the school library collection. Only a handful of lucky classmates learned skills in graphic design or video production. In fact, during my District 51 education the most advanced piece of technology I worked with was a TI-83 graphing calculator, which my parents purchased for my algebra and calculus classes, and which I used to play Snake and Tetris.
During my entire public education, I never used a computer for a creative project. It wasn’t until I switched majors for the third time in college, and signed up for a media design class, that I was introduced to computer software designed for the career paths I never knew existed. Learning Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator, and experiencing how technology could be used to create, rather than consume, changed my life. I use that software everyday for work and fun, and having that strong technology knowledge base has made it easier to pick up new essential job skills like audio and video production.
Looking back on my education, I wonder what would be different if I had discovered these creative tools and software at a younger age. More importantly, I wonder, what if the next generation of students had equal access to these tech tools at younger ages? What would they grow up dreaming about?
Currently we are getting a small taste of what happens when students and creatives get access to technology and the opportunity to create. The Hi Fives Robotics Team, a local 23-student, inter-high school robotics club, qualified for a global robotics competition in only its fourth year of existence. And local band Snootch recently recorded an album at Mesa County Libraries 970West Studio, a relatively new facility providing the hardware and software needed to pursue a variety of creative projects and classes to help the community learn basic tech skills in audio recording, photography and computer use. These are both amazing accomplishments that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
While these recent advancements show western Colorado is slowly moving on tech-based initiatives, this region is still technology-starved and light-years behind similar-sized cities. Mesa County in particular has trouble envisioning itself as anything other than a blue-collar town, and it’s painfully obvious that as public debate continues on tech related topics — specifically, should we provide broadband service to the community? — our basic understanding of technology and how it can impact our county is severely lagging.
Do we even understand what technology is? Do we understand what broadband is? I’m not sure if we can effectively answer these questions. For most community members I’m guessing technology means a collection of products: the phone in your pocket, the laptop at your desk. I’m also guessing high-speed Internet basically equates to streaming Netflix and playing online games. If I can already stream movies and TV shows at home, why should I spend tax dollars to improve my connectivity?
In reality, technology and its benefits are hard to understand. How do you put a $70 million price tag on the collection of tools, services and machines, all working behind the scenes to make a product like your iPhone function smoothly, to a conservative, risk-adverse community?
As a kid growing up in Grand Junction with limited interactions with the tech world, I didn’t know what I was missing out on. Now as a young adult, I wonder if the generations behind me are still blind to the vast opportunities the tech world opens up.
If we are to move forward on any tech related issues we first need to educate the community on the benefits it stands to gain.
Providing opportunity and equal access to new technology is key. Resources like the Hi Fives Robotics Team and Mesa County Libraries are leaders and innovators when it comes to tech education, and the question is, how do we take their model and scale it up? When our kids and the community understand the options and benefits technology can provide, only then we can get busy dreaming about the future.