The conventional wisdom up here is that Northern Ontario needs to be tuned into the telecommunications revolution (read bandwidth) that is enabling the rest of the world to acquire Attention Deficit Disorder.
I was in Chapleau a while back and found the town to be completely equipped with wireless communication from one end of town to the next on an experimental investment from Bell Canada and FedNor. They beat Toronto, which is deploying similar technology, by a year.
Laurentian University is studying the impact of this investment on the lifestyle of the community. It will be interesting to see what develops.
Some days I wonder about this stuff.
A good friend of mine, who has not only built a successful animation business in Northern Ontario, but has also been a successful investor in media and technology stocks over the years, has been my mentor when it comes to “new media.” He always told me, and I always believed, that notwithstanding the media platforms that come and go (cell phones, Blackberrys, iPods, refrigerators, computers, or flat screen TVs) the world would always be about content.
This made sense to me. Of course that was convenient for me to believe as I’ve spent my working life creating content of one kind or another, most of it on paper. His calm words kept me unruffled when I got nervous watching Google replace newspapers as a preferred source of news with young adults, and the Internet replace CD’s as the distribution point for music.
I believed him, even as I watched kids disappear into “Game Boys” or teenagers into instant messaging, or otherwise sane corporate executives into their Blackberrys. Or mature people actually thinking it is just fine to have a loud cell phone conversation in the middle of a restaurant, while others go home and play poker on their laptops with people they have never met. I believed him even after my daughter bought a Tamagotchi (for more on Tamagotchi’s go to www.tamatown.com ).
A Tamagotchi, for those of you who do not have an eight-year-old girl in your life, is a little plastic information device masquerading as a human being. You can be its mother or father. They can talk to one another if you have the latest version and it costs less than $15. They die, you can win points, and they have babies. Kids get up in the morning wondering what kind of night their Tamagotchi had. It can become a little intense.
Only after I read an article in this month’s Vanity Fair by Michael Wolf about the cult of Stephen Jobs did it occur to me my friend might be wrong. Maybe it isn’t about content at all. Maybe it’s about machines ... machines that get smarter and more seductive every year – machines we can’t live without.
I’m not sure it is possible to be a conscientious objector anymore.
Machines dominate. If you had to choose between being able to read and write or read and type, which would it be?
What skills are we coming to value today? Is it sitting down and thinking about a problem and coming up with a solution, or do we promote being fully electronically integrated with colleagues? Checking quotes in the bottom part of your monitor, opening and replying to e-mails while listening in on a conference call and simultaneously Googling for more information on someone who just joined the conference, all while keeping one eye on the soccer game on the flat screen?
What we do, and how we learn and communicate has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. Not only is it complicated; it is instantaneous. Not only is there no time for reflection, reflection makes us uncomfortable.
So what changes us? Is it the movies we make or the fact that we can watch them on cell phones and do 10 other things at the same time? It’s not the content, it’s the chaos.
The machines are changing us. They make us fat, less human and they cut our attention span.
Be careful for what you wish for?
Michael Atkins is president of Northern Ontario Business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .