Saturday 15 September 2007

Embracing the internet

When I was working in the New Zealand Parliament in the mid 90's, I encouraged David Farrar to join me.

He was always more a political hack than I and we'd conspired on many a nocturnal political escapade over the years. I thought the combination could be engaging. Anyway, more on those antics when I pop back across the ditch next month.

David is the author of the highly read and is an Internet commentator in New Zealand. Here's a brief piece he wrote for The Christchurch Press


  • In 1996 when David started at Parliament, press releases were hand-delivered and faxed out. It took several months to convince every minister and their press secretary that there would be value in also emailing them out. No-one was sure if this internet thing would catch on.

    Today, despite the woeful state of broadband, New Zealanders have one of the highest uptakes of internet use in the world. For a growing number of us, it is not just a useful tool but a critical part of our lives.

    In 2007, most social intercourse of the under 40s is now done over the internet. People arrange parties over Facebook, they debate issues on blogs, they use email to keep in touch with friends all over the world, they chat with instant messaging and they date through online-dating sites.

    People post online masses of personal information about themselves. We have privacy laws and privacy codes galore, but the average Kiwi is in fact a very public person. People update their public sites with their mood, their latest social outing, their relationship status.

    But the real revolution is yet to come, and this is the combination of instant messaging, mapping, global positioning system (GPS) software and your cellphone. It will also pose privacy issues, beyond what we have encountered to date.

    Future cellphones will be GPS and internet-capable and will allow you to transmit your location to people you choose to. This will allow people to see, either on your cellphone or on any internet device, where your friends are.

    Teenagers will love it, until they realise their parents can use it to keep track of them. They'll be able to be in town and see on a map if any friends are nearby. You'll be able to locate a friend, if he or she lets you, anywhere in the world at any time.

    Privacy groups will be horrified by such services. They'll warn of the dangers of other people being able to find out your location, the dangers of being stalked, how a jealous partner could use it to spy on where you go.

    And while they will all be right, I predict the average young New Zealander won't care. We have a curiosity and fascination with new toys that overrides such concerns. As has happened so far, New Zealanders will embrace each and every new internet feature and service, judging the benefits and fun outweigh the risks.

    And all things considered, that's not a bad attitude to have; it is part of what defines us.

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