Monday, July 22, 2013

The Wi-Fi racket

Today I'm having a sook.

My Canberra Times column, 'Laptop dogs growl at cost', bares its teeth at hotels charging absurd prices for Wi-Fi and internet access. (And, yes, I know: it's backslash, not forward slash. Mea culpa.) A sample:
When I was a boy, the internet was an unknown boffin experiment in the United States. Telephones were plugged into walls and had clicking dials. Cameras had hinges and winders for rolls of film. Desktop computers blinked at you with a letter, colon and forward slash. To run programs, you typed ''run''. 
Nowadays, my entry level smartphone is faster and more powerful than my old Commodore 64. In the past decade, it has become normal for me to access high-speed internet and process wirelessly, in a few minutes in a cafe, more information than my father's Control Data supercomputer processed in an hour. 
So, here I am in the gobsmacking Buck Rogers future, and I'm whining about the price. But innovation does not magically erase the need for criticism. Most technology is rightly unnoticed, often unconsciously, as we use it. Not because it is easily designed and manufactured, but because technology is a means to an end. It is invisible because it intertwines with our intentions; or our needs and wants. 
In other words, technology is something we are often supposed to ignore - until it fails, or simply is not there. We can be impressed by scientists and engineers, or annoyed by hotels' dodgy service. We can be more or less knowledgeable about gears or circuits. But the technology itself does not warrant grateful amazement. 
Every new generation of tools becomes commonplace; every ''revolution'' becomes the status quo. And so it should. That is how it is best used, and how innovation is encouraged: against a background of ordinary use.
(Photo: Spoorjan)

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