Summary: network use by non-nerds
From: Pablo Halpern (
Date: Fri, 12 Aug 94 17:32 CDT
Hi netters,

Sorry this took so long; I've been just too busy (I'm sure many of you 
cohousers know what that's like).

In July, there was a discussion in cohousing-l about the possibility of 
setting up a computer network for use by an individual cohousing community. 
The network could be used for community business such as distributing 
anouncements or meeting agendas or for actually discussing proposals. Of 
course, each resident could also send EMAIL to other residents. A related 
benefit was that such a network could have a gateway to the internet, 
providing much cheaper internet access for all of the residents than if 
each one subscribed separately to an internet service.

My concern about such a network was that only the "nerds" would use it, 
thus reducing its usefulness for community business, which necessarily 
involves the non-nerds in the community as well. But other people felt that 
computers were getting easier to use and that a community network would not 
necessarily be limited to nerds. In order to explore this idea I posted a 
survey back on July 12th in order to find out how many cohousing-l 
subscribers are sophisticated computer users and how many use the net just 
because its so damn useful and/or enjoyable. I reasoned that the topic of 
cohousing-l is primarily not computers and so it should attract nerds and 
non-nerds equally. Thus, if non-nerds really do use the internet, 
cohousing-l is as likely a place to find them as anywhere else.

**** Now, as to the results ******

I received direct survey responses from 33 people; thank you all. I also 
received a number of comments, which I summarized below. My survey was 
rather vague and unscientfic, so I often had to interpret people's 
responses.  People fell into the following rough categories:

        1. Nerds (definition below):                    19 people
        2. Heavy non-technical computer use:             6 people
        3. Light computer use (mostly WP and internet):  6 people
        4. Somewhere between categories 2 and 3:         2 people

        Total                                           33 responses

== What I meant by "nerd" ==

Basically, I use "nerd" to mean someone who is an expert in a technical 
subject that is looked on as misterious to those outside the field. It is 
generally applied to certain people in the fields of science, mathmatics or 
high technology.

Some computer programmers wrote that "nerd" usually refers to someone with 
poor social skills, who persues his/her technical subject to the exclusion 
of all else, and who "doesn't have a life." Given this definition, it is no 
wonder that many people object to being called nerds.

When I use the term, I am "reclaiming" it much in the way certain feminists 
and spiritual groups are reclaiming the words "crone" or "witch." I use it 
as member of the club, somewhat tongue-in-cheek -- the way Jews tell Jewish 
jokes. I acknowledge the negative connotations and also acknoledge that at 
some points in my life, I was a "nerd" in the negative sense. For this 
survey I basically used it as a short-hand for a technically sophisticated 
computer user.

== "Addictive" nature of internet access ==

When refering to EMAIL and internet access, a common theme in the comments 
I received was the "I don't know how I did without it" syndrome. People use 
EMAIL to stay connected to many things, including other members within 
their communities and the larger on-line cohousing world. Among the 
less-technical users, EMAIL use often started because of a specific need 
(cheep overseas communication or a work requirement) but has now almost 
become a necessity. Although the survey numbers did give solid evidence 
that people would quickly embrace a community network, I do get some 
encouragement from non-nerd comments like these.

- Pablo

Pablo Halpern              (508) 435-5274         phalpern [at]

New View Neighborhood Development, Acton, MA
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