The techno-universe: wonder or wasteland?

The Technology Beat

By Kerry Kelly

Technology: Friend or foe? Naughty or nice? A help or a hindrance? The debate has been getting a lot of attention lately.

Most of it the Orwellian kind.

For all the technological pros that people will concede — the convenience of instabanking, or the benefits of computers in the classroom — the cons promptly follow.

Technology leads to isolation, it prevents true communication, it’s intrusive.

Polls like the Popcorn report warn about “cocooning”, the phenomenon of technology shutting us off from the outside world, leaving us home with only our computers and our cable for companionship.

This image has struck a sour chord with technophobes who see shades of Big Brother staring out of screen savers and taking our phone messages.

But the dehumanizing hand of technology doesn’t have a stranglehold on the country yet. The reason: only a small minority of the population is on line.

That’s because technology is expensive. And no matter how great the intention to offer the world to the world, the price tag attached makes it elitist.

Admittedly, more and more Canadian households are becoming interested in computers and the Internet. The last A.C. Nielsen Internet survey found 20 per cent of users access the Internet from home, while work and school access count for a combined total of only 17 per cent.

But according to the latest Statistics Canada poll only 4,165,000 households in the country have personal computers and only 1,500,000 have Internet access. In comparison to our population of more than 28 million, that’s not exactly a microchip epidemic.

Systems cost a lot of money to set up and even more to maintain. A basic computer, monitor, keyboard and printer can run close to $2,000. Even a simple word processing program costs hundreds of dollars. Add Internet access fees and you could trade in your virtual tour of Paris for a real one.

If cost deters many from jumping into the wonderful world of technology, there are even more people who are being held back by nothing but themselves. Blame it on age, attitude, or inclination, but many people aren’t enthraled by the ease of home shopping or virtual banking.

This year the government offered the option of calling in tax information. A great idea to many. Saves on paper, saves on refund time, hey, it even saves a stamp. But ask a woman who lived through the Depression, the Second World War, see how willing she is to give out her personal family business over the telephone.

In recent issues of Mademoiselle and Cosmo magazines, advice on email etiquette warned against saying anything through email you wouldn’t say in person because you can’t control who’s going to read it, and there’s a permanent record that can be traced back to you.

It’s good advice, but that kind of article doesn’t lead people to embrace voting for their leaders in the land of point and click. Or giving out their social insurance number, or other personal information, over the phone for the privilege of doing so.

Technology at this point is still an oddity. It’s been here a while, it has shown us its tricks and many are impressive.

But in the scheme of things it’s fairly new, and changing all the time. People are suspicious of change in the best of circumstances, but when there’s a big price tag attached to that change, and when you can’t get all the (millennium) bugs out even at that price, it doesn’t help things along.

In the long run, technology has made it out of infancy, but it’s smack in the middle of the terrible twos.
You can’t stop progress, but you can rest assured that while technology is growing by leaps and bounds, Canadians are accepting it with baby steps.