Nearly every day I come across another story about some new contraption that will allow you to ‘connect’ to the digital world, thereby making your life easier and so much more fun and productive. Being ‘connected’ means that you can organise your life 24/7 and rely on your devices, usually managed through your mobile phone, to become part of a world where you and everyone else can also be ‘connected’. But is life actually better, easier, safer and more fun with all of this new ‘connected‘ technology? Now don’t don’t take this question as coming from a Luddite, as I love technology in all of its forms, even down to its base levels, but I often cast a questioning eye on developments and ponder the value of many, especially when older and reliable is replaced by supposedly newer and better.
What made me think about this were several things that have happened since we’ve moved to the country and especially our recent connection to the NBN. As I noted in that earlier story, we’ve had pretty a reliable ADSL2+ for the last five years and the NBN has ‘technically’ improved our speeds considerably from what we had previously. However, while speed test results show improvements in download speeds of up to 3x and upload speeds of up to 4x, the reality is that things don’t really seem any faster than they were before. I have a reasonably good feel for this because I visit the same sites on a regular basis, as well as daily connection with this blog, so I know what to expect. And what’s revealing is that many across Australia are experiencing worse internet since they received the NBN than what they had before and that includes fibre optic, despite all the hype about the faster NBN. So have we gone forwards or backwards?
The internet is one thing and close on its heels, if not parallel, is the matter of mobile phone reception, which I wrote about earlier. Since the advent of the digital (GSM) mobile network, which replaced the analogue (AMPS) network and the subsequent analogue (CDMA) network used in rural areas, in many ways mobile reception has definitely gone backwards. In the analogue days, mobile phones would easily have a range of up to, if not more than, 50km. Nowadays you’re lucky to have a 1/10 of that range, especially in rural areas. Certainly digital has provided many advances, such as allowing TV, video, Facebook etc on you mobile phone, but for those in rural areas, the mobile black spots are still a significant problem. And, as an aside, the expansion of mobile coverage could well halt if recent government ideas are pursued (thankfully not). And, as I noted in this story, not all mobile phone users are considered equal.
And with the advent of the NBN, phone connection through copper landlines is now ending, except for some rare situations, which can also make communications problematic. We still use a landline, now provided via the NBN through VOIP, but when the internet goes down, so does the landline. Several years ago, the local mobile tower went out for nearly a week over the Christmas/New year period and at the same time we also experienced a number of power failures. The only reliable communications system during these outages was the POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) provided over the copper wires. The one thing that you can generally rely on is that when one system goes down, it’s highly likely that everything else will soon follow. So really, there is no longer a safe and reliable backup to our 100+ year copper phone network. And it’s ironic that back 40 or so years, copper cable was considered the safest means for certain communications.
Television is another technology where advancements have delivered a number of benefits but also delivered a lot of frustration. When we moved to our rural home, the first thing that became evident was the woeful digital TV reception. It didn’t matter what we tried with our antenna, cables or TV, the reception was always sporadic and often non-existent, depending on what channel you wanted to watch. The transition from analogue TV to digital TV has had much the same effect as that of mobile phones, as digital transmission and reception doesn’t have the range of analogue and is always affected by weather, terrain and vegetation. Without a clear line of sight, you’ll always be fighting for good reception. That was why we had to get satellite TV, but not without a fight, and can now at least view what suburban residents take for granted, though everything comes from northern Australia, along with the commercials (If that woman could cook more than the same pasta dish each night, the family would be a lot happier, so no wonder they don’t want to get back to he table).
And the while the internet has provided us with a plethora of communication options, social media, news etc some aspects, for me at least, can be quite frustrating, such as email. Whenever you conduct any sort of activity on the internet, invariably you need to provide an email address for any number of reasons. This then leads you to becoming the recipient of endless offers and whatnot, simply because you made say one purchase through eBay or the like. Even though I use a separate email address for such things (I have three in fact), it still doesn’t fully help, as you constantly have to unsubscribe from emails (sometimes it works and other times it just increases the emails) or set up your account to automatically delete unwanted emails. And what I really hate are emails that have no text and simply images with links, which my email client won’t display for security reasons (unless I allow it). You sometimes have to wonder what’s the point of sending emails with no text.
This was really just a rundown on some technology ‘advances’ that perhaps have been somewhat of a double-edged sward, providing benefits in one respect, but not so in others. But it’s the Internet of Things (IOT) that often makes me wonder where we are headed. There is an ever-growing list of such technology wonders but, as the list grows, we tend to forget what these marvels have supplanted and whether at times we’ve actually advanced. One of the first devices that hailed this connectivity was the humble kitchen fridge, introduced by LG in 2000. The idea was that the fridge would alert the resident when products were low or approaching their use by date. The problem was that product details had to be manually input as few if any products had RFID tags. Who really wanted to do this or pay more than $20,000 (in 2000) for a refrigerator? However, the internet fridge hasn’t died off by a long shot, it’s just that supporting technology to eliminate the manual input is taking a while to catch up.
But it doesn’t end there, we now have mobile phone/internet connected lights, BBQs, cordless drills, doonas, insoles, kettles, umbrellas, car keys, clothes pegs, torches, fishing rods, door locks, washing machines, pill bottles, Thermomix as well as strangers and on it goes. Of course nothing will ever go wrong with these devices, hopefully. And then there are the eventual security issues involved with everything being connected to the internet. While I don’t consider myself a Luddite, I simply don’t understand the need for just about everything needing to be connected to the internet or your mobile phone. I sometimes think that this is being done for no other purpose than to make a product appear modern, with no real functional value. I’m not sure where all of this will eventually lead or end, but all that comes to mind is a scene from the movie Wall-E.
Are we becoming so infatuated with technology that even the most mundane of basic tools needs to be mobile phone or internet connected? The problem is that when people start relying on technology for the most basic of things, they become totally dependent on them and when they fail, they often have no ability to cope. I remember a story some time back where an elderly man came across a woman at a shopping centre crying profusely, whereupon he asked what the problem was and was told the car’s remote wouldn’t open the door. The man asked if he could try and, given the keys, put the car key into the door lock and opened the door (that probably wouldn’t happen nowadays). It never occurred to the woman that the key still worked. True or not, we are fast heading in this direction. So the ‘wonders of technology’ can all too often become the ‘blunders of technology’.
And I simply had to include this (from the US):
Seventeen years after the Year 2000 bug came and went, the federal government will finally stop preparing for it.