Tuesday, November 25, 2008

This Techno World

Wi-fi is wonderful – when it works. And when you can connect properly. And when it doesn’t cost you a week’s worth of coffee for half an hour. These days we kind of expect the internet to be available whenever we want it if we are in a big city. Hong Kong is no exception. Once upon a time we’d send postcards or airmail letters – I can remember being in South Africa in the late 70s and writing my dad a seven or eight page letter every week. He probably nearly had a heart attack every time he got one. Wondering if I would ever make it home safely! Of course, by the time he read my letter, I’d moved on elsewhere and that drama was over.

Now we rely on emails to keep in touch, and I also use Skype. In France it was great to be able to connect easily and talk for free. By the way, the French pronounce it wee-fee, I was told. And when you’re feeling a bit lonely, emails from home can cheer you up and make you feel not so far away. It’s funny how the further away we are, the more simple it is to stay in touch. That’s not globalisation, that’s just technology.

So here I am in HK airport, catching up on emails before I fly home**, and everywhere there are signs saying free wi-fi. Do you think I can stay connected? And once I’m connected, every page takes about five minutes to load. The hotel I was staying at only had wi-fi in the lobby. Nothing like trying to do your emails with your laptop on your knees, slowly burning away layers of skin! And it was expensive too.

But just down the road, there were cafes where it was free to connect, or you could buy a 24 hour card for about AU$4 and get access that way. Everywhere people with laptops were doing their emails while drinking coffee or tea, or maybe catching up on work. Not so good to talk on Skype, however, with twenty other coffee drinkers listening in!

Mobile phones were also so easy – we just bought a pre-paid sim card (at a very cheap price) with a HK phone number and away we went. I read somewhere that the mobile phone business in HK is based on the premise that people buy new phones every three months (keeping up with the latest) whereas in Australia it’s every two years. So while I guess HK phone dealers are making more money out of actual phones, in Australia it seems the companies there are making their $$ out of access. And such poor access it is too. No doubt distance is a big factor, but does it have to be so hard? And do we have to be so far behind?

Technology is great, when you can use it the way you want to for a reasonable cost. When it intrudes in your life or sends you bankrupt (as with teenagers who end up with mobile phone bills of thousands of dollars), it’s not so good. Like most things these days, it’s whether you control it, or it controls you. I’m keen to see how the new arrangement with Google and book scanning/publishing works. I do hope it won’t be another situation where the author is at the bottom of the food chain and ends up losing out.

** Needless to say, my connection dropped in and out a dozen times so this blog post never went anywhere. I'm uploading back in Australia!

1 comment:

Kristi Holl said...

So glad you made it back safely!
Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog