Monday, 11 July 2011

Café Connect 4 – Wednesday 6th July, Isle of Barra

Leaving the peat bogs of Lewis behind, I headed south via the stunning beaches of Harris, to catch the first of three ferries for the day (Leverburgh - Bernerary) with no contingency built into the schedule…

…and then through North and South Uist to catch the second ferry (Eriskay –Ardmhor, Barra). When checking-in at Eriskay I noticed a local flyer advertising the ‘Mobile Chippy Bus’. Genius.

Once on, I spotted some 'Flexible Integrated Transport Services' in action! The Grillburger van man was distributing his deliveries to other (non-food business) drivers on the ferry, for wider circulation afterwards.

On the ferry some eager passengers pointed out basking sharks – with the Captain halting the ferry mid-crossing, allowing them to pass – and later, a group of seals.

Once on Barra, and with minutes to spare, there was no time to hop over to Kisimul Castle…

… before locating the elusive ‘Youth Café’ hidden within the Community Hall and the not-so-elusive speaker, Ruth Wilson (dot.rural Enterprise & Culture Postgraduate Researcher).

The champion, Murdo, eventually located the keys to the Hall and Café Connect number 4 got underway.

Unfortunately Ruth delivered her talk, entitled ‘Facebook and the Fate of Barra: The digital evolution of social life on a small island’, to one of our smaller audiences – in the rural locations we’re reminded that it really is all about quality not quantity – but stimulated, undoubtedly, the most interactive and in-depth discussion to follow a talk.

Perhaps it was the earlier start time (all other Café Connects commenced at 7 pm, unrestricted by the ferry timetables), or that such an initiative is new to Castlebay, or the fact that the social media networks weren’t fully utilised locally (i.e. the Siar FM Facebook page) beforehand...

With fantastic input from two members of the audience, Jane and Peter, the following points were raised during the 90-minute discussion:
- The impact of the Internet in the media, e.g. the Pope’s first Tweet.
- “Whatever wonderful things the Internet might bring, a hug is not one of them.
- Isolation, community and well being all supported (or not) through social media platforms such as Facebook.
- The different uses of social media in remote and rural areas, compared with towns and cities, and its affect in weakening/strengthening community.
- Parallels with the introduction of previous communication methods (such as the telegram, the telephone…) receiving similar receptions.
- The blurring of social lives; where does one end (‘real’ friendship) and the other (online relationships) being?
- Examples of local uses of Facebook included playing scrabble with relatives living in other places, and connecting with other, similar businesses (in this case a network of proofreaders).
- Those living on Barra not really considering themselves as ‘remote’.

It was also great to learn that Barra boasts an avid group of ‘Bumble Bee counters’ (something which may be of particular relevance to Dr Rene van der Wal and our Bumble Bee, Natural Resource Conservation project) and the suggestion to explore potential collaborations with the Co-operative.

From these discussions with real end users, there’s no doubt that Ruth’s research has been actively shaped.

It already appears that the audience turnout is directly dependent on the efforts of the community champions, and is inversely linked to the local population size; the fewer people in the community, the stronger the community networks and thus, the greater the demand and demonstrable support for such initiatives. After today’s Café Connect, it also seems that a smaller audience fosters more engaging, and multi-way, discussions.

So, what next? Another ferry! We boarded the Castlebay-Oban ferry and once we’d set sail, we were closely tailed by a group of playful dolphins.

How much can you squeeze into one day? 226 miles, three ferries and a Café Connect.


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