My Tech Freeze – Hala Batainah, Federal Director at Microsoft and YWCA Canberra Clubhouse Ambassador

27 June 2016

Hala Batainah is the Federal Director at Microsoft, and a passionate ambassador for the YWCA Canberra Clubhouse. To support the Tech Freeze Appeal, the self-confessed technology devotee relinquished tech for weekend. Here, she shares what she learned. It’s not too late to sponsor Hala – head to her EveryDay Hero page to donate, with all funds raised going directly to the Clubhouse! 

The challenge, should I wish to accept it, sounded simple enough.  For one whole weekend of June 18th and 19th, I would go tech free to raise much-needed funds for the YWCA Canberra Clubhouse. What is this Club that would tempt anyone, let alone me, to give up technology for?

The YWCA Canberra Clubhouse is a safe, innovative space where kids of all ages come after school to play, learn and interact with technology: gaming, computers, 3D printing, digital photography, coding and much, much more.

Would I accept? Of course, I said, happy to do it. I sign up, ask for donations from friends and family – who donated because they did not believe I would be able to do without my tech!

You have to understand: their cynicism was understandable. I am a big, BIG technology user.  Not just Information technology, oh, no. I am the one that marketers just love. I am the one that buys that gizmo which promises to cut my ironing by 50%, to reduce my garden waste by 30% or improve my speed-reading by 20%.  Yes, I am that person. New technology in the delivery of a new cream? I am there. New sleep aid headgear on Kickstarter? Yep, I am investing. Since the day my father presented my brothers and I with our first Atari VCS (yes, that far back) I was hooked on technology and went on to study computer science.  But that is another story.  Anyway, you get the idea.  Going tech free is painful for me.

So, I prepared. I paid all my bills during the week (creditors – please note, I only pay bills on the weekend – so you got a couple more days out of my money).  Incidentally, did you know 75% of all banking transactions happen on-line? Well that is where I live – not with the remaining 25% – who I assume use phone and in-branch services, but I digress.  I made sure all friends and family knew that I would be tech free on that weekend and I cleared the deck so that I would not be posting or reading Kindle (I use my Surface for that).

What I did not count on? Ah, I could prepare as much as I wanted, but I forgot a few key things.

First, I use my smart-phone for my music.  A day without music is a wasted day in my view. So without mobile and computer, I am pulling out my old boom-box (yes, I am that old) and old CDs (no vinyl for me) and playing music. But not the latest, because my music collection is online. Now you might argue this is still using technology, but I was not going off-grid here, just computer and mobile free.

Next, my in-laws bless them, send over a box of persimmons (like 100s). Great, love them. But none of the recipe books show me how to make jam out of them – yes, there was that much.  No jam making for me that weekend. I could have “cheated” and used my children or husband to look things up, but I did not think that was in the spirit of the weekend. So, a box of ripening persimmons sit on the kitchen bench all weekend.

I use Skype to stay in touch with my “spread across the world” family.  I was not looking forward to paying $2.30 a minute to call them on a land-line phone, so they did not hear from me on the weekend.   Maybe that was good all around.

And so on and so on. I had many examples where I wanted to look up something or needed an answer to a question or wanted to call someone and had to stop and either reassess or find another way of getting the answer.  Not efficiently I might add.

What did I learn?

Very simply I learned that technology helps me to understand things in new ways, to answer the big and small questions and to explain how things work: faster, cheaper and much more accessibly.  To be without technology or access to technology is to be restricted to a much smaller world; to a set of ideas and thoughts that are much narrower than the world that technology can open up.  If I only had to rely to myself, family or neighbours (i.e. people close by) then how far could I go and how far would I grow?

The weekend showed me how technology can broaden my horizons: to learn, experiment, discuss and reach out.  To engage with family and friends, many on the other side of the world, faster than the time it takes to boil a kettle. Almost (not quite there yet) as if I was face to face with them.  Technology opens the world.

Going tech free for one weekend showed me that while I am ok not to be a slave to my technology (I was already ok as I rarely work on the weekend or check my mobile obsessively), I was not ok to be disconnected or unhooked from the learning machine for too long.

In the context of the YWCA Canberra Clubhouse my passion for this cause and the absolute need to ensure everyone has access to technology only solidified after the tech free weekend.

People need access to enjoy the opportunity to learn for themselves and from others, to have their questions and their answers. The ability to reach out, ask for help, give help and to fully participate.  We cannot have a digital revolution and differentiate Australia in the 4th Industrial Revolution if we have a society where some have access to technology and some don’t.  Access to technology is a fundamental right; the same as access to education and health is fundamental.  To be techfree is equal to being edufree, healthfree, sciencefree and societyfree.

I challenge you to try it for one weekend if you don’t believe me.  You might just be surprised how much we depend on technology and specifically access to technology.  Go ahead, try it.  Please come back and let me know how you went. You will most probably need to use technology to do that.

Back in tech land and thankful for it!


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