:News from the new wild western electronic frontier.
Connecting the Clouds
  New Zealand Internet history now available

“The future has already arrived. It's just not evenly distributed yet,” science fiction writer and visionary, William Gibson
Redistributing the future
Keith Newman asks: Are we using our tools or are they using us?

We’re in the midst of an historic shift that could liberate us from office bound routine, revitalise communities and our participation in digital democracy or further enslave us to the tools that are already demanding so much of our time and energy.

The risk of becoming too enamored with the increasing array of smart devices and applications that enable us to use the internet anywhere at any time is that fail to define where these tools are taking us and why.

Technology has created a tech-tonic shift and we need to get our bearings; a good place to start is the inspiring and graphically rich Down to the Wire (http://downtothewire.co.nz) ‘history of the Internet’ pages.

This comprehensive and creative web effort is the ideal companion to Connecting the Clouds: The History of the Internet in New Zealand (www.nethistory.co.nz ), tome I was commissioned to write by InternetNZ in 2007.

Shaping the edge

By respecting and acknowledging the pioneers who bought the Internet and related technologies to New Zealand and presenting a clear timeline of events and related commentary, both inform vital discussion on what’s taking shape out here at the literal edge of the world.

Knowing our history, whether personal, cultural or technological, helps provide context for the journey. If we know where we’ve come from and how we got this far we can get a better idea of where the next wave of visionary thinking might be taking us.

The history of computing and the internet is littered with prognosticators who got it wrong and inventors or investors who were wiped out by the next wave they didn’t see coming. The primal catch cries at the dawn of the computer age were that we would soon be working a four day week and broadband would see our ghost towns repopulated with vital new businesses and wealthy knowledge workers.

The reality for most of us is that rural is still remote and struggling with under par communications and we’re working longer hours than ever before, often struggling to keep pace with the technology and the new skills required to meet workplace and social demands.

Overwork ethic

Competitive pressures require us to do more with less. Instead of translating that into smarter thinking and working, too often it means less people to share a growing workload, the wages are lower and there’s less time to contemplate what happened to our three day weekend.

The seductive promises of technology still have us believing the brave new world is just around the corner once we master the latest, slimmest, fastest, smartest tools.

New Zealanders generally working longer hours than those in most other western nations, but it’s not been showing up in terms of productivity. There’s little evidence it has increased our export revenues, our quality of life or delivered the keys to future wealth and prosperity.

The huge shift, particularly in the past two years has been the pervasive use of social networking, which probably says a lot about our real world and virtual desires. We desperately want that more leisurely lifestyle but the goalposts keep moving.

We want to be involved, connected, part of a community of likeminded people in mutually beneficial relationships that go beyond sharing photos, videos, music and bucket list updates.

Google, Skype, Facebook and YouTube for example, have given us common tools to communicate in a rich and increasingly interactive way. We clearly like this, and in the process of finding friends we never knew we had and reconnecting with our wider networks, a growing sense of context is emerging.

Real social networking

The promise that broadband internet would reverse the great exodus from our rural, provincial or small towns is not so far fetched. Like so many New Zealanders I left the provinces in the 1980s to extend career opportunities that were otherwise unavailable.

I lived in Auckland for over 25-years and mostly loved it but as a writer, with a wife who is an artist, I can live anywhere as long as there’s good broadband and social connections. Clearly one is provided and the other is something you have to develop.

From our new home in the a small coastal village of Haumoana I can view the ever changing light reflecting off Cape Kidnappers and see more stars on the velvet black of a cloudless nightsky, than I ever could in Auckland. In the 18 months of living here we have felt more in touch with the seasons and the tides, enjoyed homegrown produce and caught fish along the shingly beachfront just across the road.

We have been welcomed into a community where people smile and wave and stop for a leisurely chat without looking at their watches. I haven’t worn a watch for the past year. In short I feel revitalised.

Having broadband means I can still ply my trade as a scribe, writing and researching for books or mainstream and trade publications. I still spend far too many hours looking through the wrong window in my endeavors to earn a living but there’s less of the old anxiety, more of a desire to go for a walk and a sense of being part of a real community.

Beyond broadband

Most New Zealanders are still struggling to get basic broadband of at least 3-5Mbit/sec but we’re told we’re on the cusp of the promised land of fibre to the home. As we awaken to the transformational capabilities of gigabit fibre, small towns and rural communities have a very real opportunity to reinvent themselves for the return of the diaspora.

On a recent walk I discovered the green piping being dug into the curbside a km away is in fact fibre – the future is getting closer every month. So how will that impact my business, my street or community?

Down to the Wire and Connecting the Clouds provide foundational history of what it took to get this far and the obstacles and challenges along the way. It’s imperative we don’t repeat the mistakes; instead of cramping the visionaries as has happened in the past, we should listen to them and give their ideas room to breathe.

We’re in the middle of writing history; when the dust settles if it ever does, will we have found the creative balance between online and street level social networking? Will we be using the tools of technology to live the life we dreamed and have redefined ourselves as a nation with a more evenly distributed future or will we have become "the tools of our tools" as Thoreau put it? Let’s ramp this discussion to the next level.


Connecting the Clouds
Signed copies available from the author
Cost: $NZ34  Postage and packaging within New Zealand: $6
Total: $NZ40
Orders: wordman@wordworx.co.nz
Australian customers add $NZ15


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