Monday, October 09, 2006

Pretty Toys (With No Wires)

Thoreau was fascinated with technology, much like I and several billions other that are as well, though he realized that such excitement could be counterproductive. Witness a few quotes:

perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility. (Walden, 21)

Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. (Walden, 52)

Looks like we moved on from there, as the plans for the worldwide WiFi network get going. There are several learned reports on the benefits of such a system, on this such as this one from Harvard), not free, and this one, yes free. Strangely, there is not a single doubt in my mind that it will be constructed, and yet like Thoreau I must ask - what will it be good for? And will it add more than never having been invented in the first place?

Since I just recently moved, I just had the chance to realize what it's like without communication. I have to say that this move was relatively easier than our last move six years ago. One of the big reasons for that is the cell phone - at that time, we only had one which left one vital party (either my wife or myself) out of the loop. With two cell phones, you always know what's going on, and you save a lot of wasted trips to the hardware store, the cardboard box store, etc.

The other events which happened is that we had no Internet when we got to our new place. This, in and of itself, is an absurdity only dictated by cable companies who feel they must shut off your service and then send someone to reconnect you. But I have to say that it was hard to not have the Internet (disclaimer: my wife thinks I'm addicted.) Here's a simple example - say you need to find the closest Home Depot to get something for the new house, what do you do? Look in up on Google Maps, of course. Except you don't have the Internet, and you don't have a phone book either, nor anyone you can easily ask. Suddenly, it seems like a real pain to find the Home Depot.

My minor disaster is not the only one - looks like installing web access in disaster areas is one of the best things you can spend your money on, unlike well, bingo and puppet shows. Sometimes we only realize the importance of something when it's gone.

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