I received a text message from my network provider a few days ago trying to get me excited about their 5G rollout in December. I checked out the more info link and discovered that with 5G I could now get instant online reviews of a product while out shopping, and one day might have holographic phone calls amongst other things that I also didn’t care about. I can see the fun aspect of it all, and the amazing cleverness, but I think it’s a big test of our collective willpower to resist tech fun at the expense of everyday life.
The lessons I have learnt since I first left Aotearoa 23 years ago have brought me to an understanding that life in a beautiful place with lovely people is a really good life. So many tech products use the metaphor of connection and interaction in their promotion, but there is still nothing more connected and interactive than in person communication.
Tech products are so flat in comparison with the rest of the world, and they know it. The information revolution is incredible, from writing and book publishing into the internet and smartphones. We know so much about the world now, it’s a beautiful thing. But how much is enough knowledge? Don’t we have enough? Let’s pause and review our progress. Let’s stop making new things, rolling out new networks, building new tallest buildings. Let’s just take a break.
A real change happened when computers got small enough to carry everywhere. People started being here and not here in a range of contexts. It used to be that you had to sit down at your desk in front of a machine with a screen and stay there. Talk on your copper landline, carrying analogue waves of your voice through a precious earth metal to the person at the other end of the line. The line was a physical entity, carrying the shapes of the voice, protected in a casing. These lines need maintenance as all things do, and if they are not maintained we will lose this means of communication. Digital telephony is not at all the same thing. There are lags and dropouts, signal is poor in some places. And the answer is to upgrade the system, increase the coverage, until the airways are so polluted with a radiation we know as little about as we did about nuclear power before all the horrors of that twentieth century experiment.
But the tech world is huge business. We have been sold upgrade after upgrade, and now here we are, at a point that quite a few people are taking an interest in how we can say no. 5G is a controversial technology, and I haven’t looked deeply into the research. But I think it’s time we started applying the precautionary principle, and stop adding new technologies while we are just discovering the many dark sides to the tech we already have. The airwaves are shared space, owned collectively, and we should have input into how they are used. I know it’s not likely that tech will stop being a mammoth global business in the very near future, but we can still hope.
I would say we have enough technology, we have enough knowledge, enough cool gadgets, enough ways to fill every waking moment with incoming knick knacks of information. Let’s learn to make chai or a loaf of bread or a treehouse. We don’t need holographic connection, we don’t need 5G.