), tome I was commissioned to write by InternetNZ in 2007.
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.
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
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
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
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.