Beyond the seven Cs
This is the real McCoy – 50–60 years from now whole history chips will be devoted to this time discussing how countries of the world either successfully or unsuccessfully exploited this moment. David Pearce Snyder, The Futurist lifestyles editor, Ninth International Conference on Thinking, Auckland, January 2001.
The world is in the midst of a genuine technological revolution of historic proportions as fields of endeavour converge to deliver a transformational impact to rival any previous social or industrial shift.
In New Zealand the metaphorical and literal tenders are out to complete the circuits of connectivity that will allow the true spark of creativity to flow across the nation and out to the world.
If New Zealand is to leapfrog back up the OECD pecking order it won’t be one idea or the action of any single group that creates the groundswell but an energising vision that can inspire and involve all New Zealanders, not just the technically literate. Connectivity has to become a lifestyle decision. The New Zealand promise, much like the Bush administration’s directive of 2004, that every household would have true broadband by 2010, could become a huge catalyst for change if only the bureaucratic foot is removed from the brake pedals of innovation and creativity.
With the right incentives, people could live and work where they want without having to worry about bandwidth bottlenecks. Migration from the major cities to middle New Zealand could deliver on the ancient promise of returning vitality and prosperity to communities previously written off as ghost towns.
Built on our formidable reputation for movie, documentary, and software creation we could become a haven for artists, writers and musicians, scientists, researchers and information workers. If our inventions and breakthroughs were valued, protected, and patented, our best ideas in every sector from agriculture to engineering, electronics, medicine, biotechnology and education could be exported, with the financial benefits remaining here rather than going offshore.
We could encourage the building of secure repositories to back up our own data and that of major international players, confident their secrets were safe from itchy nuclear-trigger fingers and terrorists plots. With expanded undersea-fibre capacity imminent, this would not only bolster our own brightest industries but attract offshore investment, perhaps with the proviso that the bulk of profits are reinvested here. All of this could turn our brain drain to a brain gain, encouraging skilled expats to return with their associates, eager to experience our connected lifestyle. Perhaps special incentives ought to be offered to those who bring their jobs back with them.
The early Digital Strategy vision identified connectivity, content, and comfort as the three Cs needing to be addressed to fully engage in the new global digital economy. Others suggested a further four: competition, which drives prices down and options up; collaboration, with the public and private sectors and community working more closely together; creativity, and finally; compassion, which puts people and relationships firmly back into what has so far been a revolution with a cold heart.
The government identified three industry sectors it hoped would deliver high levels of export growth: biotechnology, the creative industries, and ICT. The Digital Strategy has become an umbrella catch cry embracing what many in the ICT industry have been trying to champion for over three decades. We are definitely at the crossroads and there is no shortage of evidence pointing the way forward, so why are we still staring at the signposts?
Throughout this book the common threads include a call to significantly increase investment in faster, more widespread broadband, and an improved roadmap geared for tomorrow not dotted with outdated destinations. Will the government, having shaken up the telecommunications sector, unbundled the local loop, and split Telecom into three divisions, move back to the sideline, or take the game to the next level?
Preparing to advance
An important message has gone out rallying the troops to take new ground: “Send reinforcements we’re going to advance.” Passed on in a series of Chinese whispers it is feared a premature message might have got through, “Send 2/6d we’re going to a dance.” It is not yet time to put on the party hats. There is much work to do and it is important to know the right messages are getting through.
Is the government truly behind the ‘can do’ Kiwi attitude envied the world over and committed to removing all obstacles so our best could be put to the test, or are we being humoured by consultants and bureaucrats with their interminable art of frustrating the go-getters with administrivia? There is a serious need to rebuild trust all around, certainly to believe we have matured beyond empty election-year promises, dirty tricks, and PR persuasions where ‘confusion (is a) chief marketing tool.’
By late 2007 another round of high-level industry reports clearly stated that unless the government took a strong leadership role backed up with a multibillion-dollar investment to transition from worn-out copper to future-proofed fibre to the home, our chances of gaining traction in any of the OECD report cards will rapidly slip away.
Within days of plugging into the first few unbundled Telecom exchanges, Orcon and Vodafone had given some idea of what lay ahead by shaving $40 off residential phone bills. TelstraClear and Orcon were moving into the mobile phone space reselling Telecom and Vodafone services, and huge investments in wireless networking were being announced. The challenge was for Telecom’s competitors to move quickly to achieve the scale necessary to not only survive but thrive.
More acquisitions were in the wind, more partnerships between new carriers to share equipment at Telecom’s exchanges and relationships with urban fibre providers to get the broadest coverage possible. Broadband alone was not going to be enough, this opportunity was about long-term gains not only getting customers but keeping them, and delivering the sexy stuff: videoconferencing, IPTV, video-on-demand, VoIP, and a range of new added-value services.
Chris Lewis, senior vice president of Ovum Telecom Research, in his August industry report explained reinvestment was now more important than ever for the major carriers to avoid losing huge traction as other players encroached on their territories. “New generation networks, like the one Telecom is currently planning to bring into full service by 2010, are a pivotal part of this rationalisation; enabling a unified service platform for business and consumers alike that can deliver anything it or its competitors, who will remain its biggest customers, need to deliver.”
Lewis said traditional voice and even broadband and mobile services were reaching saturation point in developed nations and their profitability was declining. The conduit had been developed and exploited for basic services, now the focus was shifting to more specialised and advanced services including new media and content which would attract more customers but at lower margins. “In the current and future environment, where services are defined by the customer and other industries, the telco faces a squeeze: invest in the short term, while revenues are often falling, in order to be in the right position five or ten years down the line”
Telcos needed to change their commercial and organisational structures to compete in this broader world. “Given the level of investment needed to bring the network up to speed, and given the equally high costs of acquiring the skills and products to sell in the new media age, shouldn’t telcos face reality and try to become the most efficient wholesale providers on their particular planet and accept that margins on wholesale may well be greater than those in new media and IT products and services?”
How many more voices needed to be heard? After nearly two decades of letting the market decide it was clear that public-good outcomes would always be sacrificed for shareholder returns. InternetNZ and TUANZ had been stating for several years that the only way forward was fibre. Telecom’s former CEO Theresa Gattung had, only weeks before her exit, recommended that if the government wanted faster and wider deployment of broadband anytime soon it would need to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in partnership with phone companies and industry.
A steady stream of reports from the OECD and others continued to slam our slackness in getting broadband penetration up to speed, and while we’d held 21st placing in the OECD for two years after years of languishing at 22nd since 2000, we’d had plenty of time to consider the way forward. The ‘Connecting to Our Digital Future’ report  agreed a ‘substantial lift in investment’ was needed.
Within seven years, technology, research, film, medical, and financial services industries would require public data speeds of 100Mbit/sec with gigabit speeds following closely behind. By 2016 we needed to have fibre very close to the home, if not into the home. The estimated $10 billion required to provide fibre to 97 percent of New Zealand properties was a small price to pay when considering the growth it would bring to GDP.
The New Zealand Institute also urged the government to take a lead in the roll-out of higher-speed broadband to meet the demands of the future or forgo significant economic returns. If it moved ahead ‘with urgency’ this could lead to returns of $2.7 billion to $4.4 billion a year in an invigorated economy. Report author David Skilling warned we were about to hit the bandwidth wall with copper unable to cope with the demand and also advocated speeds of 50–100Mbit/sec for many parts of the market.
The dire state of our existing infrastructure and the huge investment needed to get up to speed had been clearly identified. Former Telecom chief technology officer Dr Murray Milner, had warned a year earlier that unbundling was too reliant on copper cables and it was likely to cost $1.5 billion to reduce copper loop lengths from 2km to 800 metres so 90 percent of New Zealanders could get 5Mbit/sec broadband access. It was almost as if his old employer had taken his advice with its late-to-the-table promise to inject $1.4 billion to deliver 10Mbit/sec to 80 percent of New Zealand homes and up to 20Mbit/sec to 50 percent of homes by 2011.
There was more activity in moving the infrastructure and competitive environment forward in 2007 than there had been in years but was the dominant player really turning over a new leaf or doing now what it always knew it must do to survive?
What was needed was a much clearer roadmap with identifiable times, destinations, and outcomes and clear rules for investment and competition. New Zealanders needed to know what they would be missing out on if this goal wasn’t achieved. Regardless of Telecom’s belated peace offering, the groundswell to go the whole distance was rising, the market was opening up, the pressure was on for the state to drive connected New Zealand forward, and the latest series of reports suggested this was our last chance to dance.
So what were people doing on-line? According to ComScore in March 2007, 1.9 million New Zealanders aged 15 and over viewed 3.6 billion pages of Internet content, went on-line every other day and spent a total of 20.4 hours connected each month. The top three destinations were Microsoft sites (1.42 million), Google sites (1.39 million), and Yahoo! sites (1.1 million). New Zealand–based TradeMe and government sites rounded out the top five most-visited locations, garnering 977,000 and 621,000 visitors respectively. Other sites in the most visited category included Bebo, Wikipedia, Auto Trader, eBay, and Cnet networks.
In the year to July 2007, Nielsen//NetRatings and its associated companies suggested 84.5 percent of New Zealanders had Internet access, 69.9 percent from home and 46.9 percent with broadband access of some kind. The main drawcards were local news and information, accessing search engines, entertainment, overseas news and information, travel, auction sites, sports, jobs, properties, telecommunications, finance, government, computers and electronics, family and education.
The research company said 75 percent of surfers engaged in Internet banking, 68 percent read an electronic publication, 55 percent had received or paid a bill on-line, 50 percent had downloaded software and 52 percent had watched a video, up from 38 percent on 2006. Auction sites were another big activity (34 percent) and there was a slight increase in the number of people who investigated a purchase and then acted on it. Those using credit cards on-line showed a massive increase from 28 percent to 43 percent.
Nielsen//NetRatings’ overview of the most popular sites in October, based on page impressions and unique browsers, saw TradeMe with more than double the overall hits (2.69 million unique browser impressions) of nearest site Microsoft Network (1.02 million), then in descending order NZ Herald, Stuff.co.nz, Air New Zealand, ASB and Westpac Banks, the White Pages and Yellow Pages, the National Bank, TVNZ, TV3, BNZ, Vodafone, Telecom, Xtra, the MetService, Seek, Wises, and ANZ Bank.
Revolutions usually begin with hype and hoopla and promises of a new golden age with little or no forethought as to how to get to the envisaged destination or how to handle the fallout during the transition. While broadband is readily available it is still considered a relative luxury, and as a consequence the benefits haven’t filtered through to some sectors.
InternetNZ executive director Keith Davidson believed the Internet hadn’t really changed lives yet as many were still only using it for a bit of email and browsing. “We’re a bit scared of broadband because it’s expensive, not particularly robust and not particularly fast. We’re not working a day a week at home and reducing our carbon footprint because we don’t have sufficient confidence in this infrastructure to deliver. In the rest of the world the Internet is changing the way people do business and the way they work.”
Because some people used Internet banking and bought and sold a few items on TradeMe they felt they were endorsing the Internet but there was a lot of social change ahead. “A lot of changes are needed at the infrastructural layer through building community networks and that’s where the government needs to be the catalyst, getting people talking and providing alternate methods for deploying networks, other than just Telecom.”
Davidson said environmental issues would become an increasingly important issue. “There needs to be a change for our little country; our traditional exports of sheep meat, wool and dairy produce represent a big carbon footprint. The threat to our goods will only increase and we can’t do much else apart from exporting knowledge. If we’re going to be knowledge leaders we need the right infrastructure, the right educational processes, and to be training our techies and rewarding them rather than letting anyone who’s got half a clue disappear off overseas.”
In many ways this echoed 20 years of visionary but practical messages from the ICT sector. “It’s the same old, same old and while the government’s strategies are attempting to address these things by saying where it wants us to be in X number of years I haven’t seen a clear roadmap yet of how to get there,” concluded Davidson.
All the data we were being fed about life in New Zealand suggested we were indeed living in Godzone, a virtual paradise at the bottom of the world; one of the least corrupt and open nations, where it was easy to do business. Job confidence was at an all time high, unemployment at an all time low – and everyone had high levels of life satisfaction. We were a worker’s paradise, with the highest level of job confidence in three years, and continued faith in the employment market’s strength, according to the Westpac McDermott Miller Employment Confidence index.
Official unemployment was just 3.6 percent and had been under 4 percent since 2004. This was one of the lowest jobless rates in the industrialised world – lower than Switzerland and almost as low as Denmark. Westpac economist Donna Purdue said employees “emphatically believe current strong labour market conditions are here to stay … There has been a booming demand for labour and supply can’t keep up.”
An APEC international study found New Zealand had one of the ‘most open and flexible economies in the OECD’ in terms of meeting the goals of free trade within developed countries by 2010. It said wide-ranging reforms since the 1980s had made the regulatory environment one of the best in the world. The report noted the economy had continued to be opened up since the previous study in 2003, with more tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade being removed. It also praised New Zealand’s openness in recruiting foreign workers to fill skills shortages. The negatives were New Zealand’s large external deficit, ‘very low’ household savings and persisting strong inflationary pressures. APEC also pointed out the continuing dependence on commodity-based exports despite government efforts to diversify.
According to a study by the Legatum Institute for Global Development, New Zealand topped the world in terms of ‘life satisfaction.’ The Prosperity Index survey is “a measure of what makes life worthwhile,” said managing director Alan McCormick. The Legatum Institute ranked 50 countries according to two broad categories, ‘material wealth’ and ‘life satisfaction.’ These were rated on 20 diverse indicators including capital accumulation, climate and divorce rates. New Zealand got top ranking in life satisfaction due to strong civil liberties, health of the people, strong communities, and the fact we apparently had lots of leisure time. In material wealth, New Zealand ranked 11th, just behind Denmark.
In the ‘commercialises new ideas by exploiting innovation’ category, however, New Zealand earned a score of negative 2, compared to Ireland which scored 23, and had launched itself to the forefront of the technology sector. The countries with the highest material wealth tended to invest in technology and equipment, didn’t depend on foreign aid, their people were well educated and innovative, and they had responsible governments but not too much expensive bureaucracy. In the countries with the highest levels of life satisfaction, people felt they had control over their own lives. They had good health, lots of opportunities and good pay cheques. The Prosperity Index showed New Zealand outranked Australia in competition, education and leisure time, but Australia had higher incomes.
While the World Bank in its 2007 survey rated New Zealand at number two for ease of doing business, National’s Small Business spokesman, Lindsay Tisch pointed out the survey also ranked the country 16th in terms of ease of exporting and gave a low rating for its high business-compliance costs.
Comfort and confidence were essential components in the new vision; people needed to know their skills and aspirations were valued. We needed to know we had the right people in our talent pool; that we were educating and training people for the future they were going to have to live in, not one that continued to borrow from the colonial past. We faced impending disaster on both counts, with severe skill shortages across ICT and engineering and fewer people training to fill those gaps.
Another warning sign was the broadening chasm between the haves and have-nots. We had a growing, technologically aware and well-paid elite, a burgeoning middle class earning less than $35,000 a year (30 percent less than Australians),and a swelling underclass, which had difficulty paying for necessities let alone investing in a PC, Internet connection, Freeview box, or Sky subscription.
The nature of work was certainly being redefined. It was no longer a tactile thing for many of us, as we peered into screens and clicked and dragged text, symbols, and images ‘out there.’ The use of technology clearly contributes to the nation’s wealth and export earnings. If we end up working longer hours for lower wages than comparative economies and are denied a share in the benefits – for example the kind of tax relief fuelling the Australian economy – a sense of disappointment sets in, sapping the vitality a nation needs to rally around any kind of national vision.
If we are intimidated by the machinery, with little incentive to upskill or improve our work and social contributions, something vital bleeds away. With pressure to perform and bills to pay, weekends disappear, weakening family and community ties. In New Zealand a growing sector of society felt sidelined by the digital divide. Suicide rates, through economic and social pressure, matched those of the 1930s depression era. Without hope beyond Lotto-ticket fantasies, our national mental health would continue to decline. Without some inspirational sense of who we were as a nation, during this time of massive change, our identity crisis would only deepen.
As former Irish cultural minister Michael D. Higgins so eloquently put it during his visit to New Zealand in 2000, cultural diversity makes the community creative, while information technology simply provides a set of techniques with people learning to function but not understand. “The creative society enables the knowledge economy to emerge. The knowledge economy as a substitute for the creative society is a disaster. It’s a recipe for obsolescence and unhappiness.”
If you looked around it wasn’t too much of a stretch to see that New Zealand was being colonised again. This time the price was not muskets and blankets but access to our homes through the new digital conduits of commerce, broadcast, recorded, and on-line media. Our media were delivering endless movies, songs, and images and high-rotate imported content from elsewhere. So what content was going to travel down those bigger, fatter pipes once we had this coveted communications capacity? The bulk of Internet traffic was coming from offshore, and was unlikely to change significantly in the short term. So what did this mean for our own content and creativity?
If we don’t get to see our own culture, our past, present, and possible futures beamed back at us, we risk losing our sense of place. We become displaced in our own environment, pulling in every B-grade reality TV programme to fill the gaps rather than fostering our own actors, programmers, artists, musicians, composers, writers, animators, software developers, editors, directors, and film and documentary makers. Local content is severely lacking and the statistics are often blurred through the number of repeats and back catalogue re-releases. So what are the new state-owned channels for?
Will digital TV open up the promise of fostering new local content and encourage community channels like Triangle, or will they find themselves priced out of the market? My own biased view is that Radio New Zealand National does a great job of reflecting the less frenetic elements of our culture back at us. Kiwi FM fought for years to launch, and there are many great Maori and community stations where people actually talk and share. But so often what passes for entertainment is juvenile fourth-form humour. Digital in all its forms must open the door to broaden the broadcast formula so we can enjoy all the flavours that are New Zealand and discover our true culture before we forget what the word means.
InternetNZ president Pete Macaulay believes it is important the wider issues of content are carefully thought through in this new environment. “Our legacy documents, the historic information, some of the wonderful recordings, they are all an important part of our story. I very much regret that I never recorded some of the histories my mother’s generation had inside their heads. We’re a non-oral-communicating society and we don’t repeat the stories over and over so they get transmitted accurately down the ages. They did this, they repeated … I remember my mother and her sister repeating stories over and over and they’d get emotionally involved in the story again.”
He said our stories are an important part of our humanness and need to be passed on. “That’s why story telling is so important and why when you sit a bunch of kids down for a story telling they’re entranced. There’s no video, no Disney, no commercial breaks, they’re just sitting listening to a story and they’re absolutely wrapped up in it.” At the core of the content component, he said New Zealanders need to get back to story telling; New Zealand stories in particular. We have, as a nation been culturally colonised by the Americans. We need to get back and ask the question, “What am I doing?”
KNOW WHAT I MEAN? The way we communicate is undergoing massive change, not only through the obvious upgrades and capabilities of the plumbing that enable devices to interconnect, but in how and what we communicate. Some feared the English language itself was under threat as txt shortcuts entered common use; even in exam papers and student essays some teachers and examiners considered this acceptable practice. So how were we going to maintain any degree of accurate communication in a world already littered with three letter acronyms (TLAs) and cute shortcuts?
Lawyers in particular had been singled out in the past for their appalling grammar, and yet what they wrote into contracts and agreements could have huge implications if what was said wasn’t actually what was meant. Even worse doctors, pharmacists, and others dealing with medication or offering critical advice needed to consider the full implications of badly worded electronic exchanges. Was a hospital specialist to take offence when he got a referral message saying SOB, or would he quickly realise this was the technical term for ‘short of breath’?
Increasingly there were legal requirements to save and store copies of emails and documentation, which in itself suggested long-term liability if things weren’t right first time. As for computer programmers, if they didn’t get spelling right in their coding and technical documentation, another set of problems arose. There was so much room for misunderstanding and assumption as we fired short messages, quick emails, and ill-advised anecdotes around the workplace and to clients and friends.
The way we learn is also changing rapidly, with on-line tools at our fingertips we can now find out anything we care to know. Doctors, lawyers, scientists, ministers of religion and other professions, once believed to be holders of the keys to knowledge and able to charge accordingly or hold sway with their influence, can no longer trade on this exclusivity. I can Google a medical term, call up the latest knowledge about microbes, molecules or the moon, challenge theological theory, consult all the scriptures, or check out my legal rights and possible courses of action on the Internet.
Having access to information is only ever part of the equation, understanding, interpreting, and learning from what is uncovered requires different skills. Transforming raw data into knowledge and paths to wisdom requires discernment and discipline. It’s important to look beyond the page and ask, what’s really going on here? The Web is full of side roads, distractions, and disinformation. Knowing what sources to trust is imperative. Churning out endless copied notes from various sources, certainly without crediting the source and at least thinking through the content to form your own conclusions, will have you labelled either plonker or plagiarist.
The truth fairy
According to the Wall Street Journal, blogging came of age in July 2007. It was ten years old and ranked third only to the invention of the printing press and the Internet for its impact on the communications world. With the arrival of the printing press, information was able to flow down to the masses but the blog, in combination with the many other forms of digital communication, had broken down crucial barriers in the way information flowed.
Maxim Institute on its web site had this to say about blogging:
And it wasn’t only ill-informed spin doctors and bloggers adding their opinion to the great Internet noticeboard you had to watch for. There are so many initially convincing urban legends doing the rounds that make you feel like you were a useless worm unless you add your signature to this or that call for social justice and pass it on to ten friends; or something so fantastic you just have to ‘cc’ it to your mailing list only to have your more knowledgeable peers question your discernment.
One colourful story teller caught me out many years ago with the one about the elephant who sat on the red mini thinking it was his circus stool. I believed the wonderfully affirmative toilet-door anthem ‘Desiderata’ had been discovered in an old church in 1692 but after posting it on my web site was informed it was actually written by Max Ehrmann in 1927, as Les Crane, who made a hit song of it in 1971, learned when he was sued for breaching copyright. I was actually going to use the statement in this book that the ideogram for ‘crisis’ in Chinese also means danger and opportunity, but on Googling I discovered it was another myth that had gained popularity after being misinterpreted by certain business gurus. Sucker no more, I now try to check the Skeptics Dictionary and urban legends pages to ensure fantastical-sounding bar-room tales, New Age ranting and dinner – party wisdom have some credibility before I join the chain-letter chatter.
If it sounds too weird to believe it probably is. And one source is not enough to establish a matter. Verify, validate, and confirm. Don’t become an inveterate spreader of spam. Here’s an eyebrow raiser that soon moved down to the chuckle bone:
Porkies on wikis
Even seemingly trustworthy on-line dictionaries and encyclopedias can contain wrong information. The Web is a work in progress, as are many so-called authoritative sites. In the United States, Wal-Mart, the CIA and the Mormon Church were caught out adjusting entries to more positively reflect themselves on Wikipedia. Someone was also busted trying to sanitise an article about the 1979 Erebus crash.
The article about the airline’s part in what has been described as the worst peacetime disaster was altered to state “pilots are divided to this day as to whether the responsibility … should rest with the pilot or the flight planning department” over the deaths of 257 passengers and crew. The alteration, which was later deleted, came from a computer using the Air New Zealand server. Cabinet Minister Jim Anderton said that, if true, the change was ‘outrageous [and] entirely erroneous.’ It was seen as a case of the airline – now 80 percent owned by the government – trying to improve on history.
The airline’s computers were implicated through WikiScanner, a programme devised by self-described American ‘destructive technologist’ Virgil Griffith to identify the computers making alterations to Wikipedia. The adjustment left unchanged the findings by Justice Peter Mahon’s Royal Commission that Air New Zealand executives had been behind an ‘orchestrated litany of lies’ to cover up the cause of the accident, including disposing of evidence and engaging in subterfuge. It also made no change to the assertion that Mahon’s findings remained, even though the Privy Council overturned the result because he had exceeded his powers and denied the airline a fair hearing. Anderton said the alteration suggested that Air New Zealand remained sensitive to allegations of blame for the Erebus crash.
The Wikipedia entry for Prime Minister Helen Clark was protected after several fake edits. One from a New Zealand–based computer said Clark was “once called Horris Edwards Clark but had a sex change after being teased at school most of her life.” Captions were also added to her air-brushed photograph, including: “Note that this photograph has been modified to hide Ms Clark’s harsh features” and “It should be noted that this picture has been digitally modified – it is NOT a realistic photographic image of what this person looks like.” The edits were removed.
Changes to Wikipedia articles caused an outcry in Australia, where Prime Minister John Howard denied ordering his staff to alter articles to reflect more favourably on his government. WikiScanner revealed that people using Australian government computer servers had made thousands of changes to Wikipedia articles.
Certainly the Internet gave a whole new meaning to freedom of expression but that was a double-edged sword. One commentator dubbed the Internet ‘the new toilet wall’ as it gave people the anonymity to say what they wanted about whoever they wanted as rudely as they liked. When John Howard decided to be hip and post his first YouTube video he provoked a storm of vitriolic feedback across chat rooms, forums, and discussion sites. “YouTube may look like a video-sharing site but it’s also much more than that, with viewers invited to become instant critics by posting responses and then engaging with other people watching the same video. Those who saw Howard’s less-than-scintillating global warming policy speech were not impressed. But ‘no thanks’ is not in the vocabulary of the contemporary poster,” said Andrew Stephenson in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Critics went over the top, abusing, mocking, even suggesting sexual assault of Howard’s family and making hugely defamatory comments about Howard himself. Despite constant purging of obscenities and profanities the comments kept coming. The moderating process itself infuriated many who questioned the right of certain parties to remove their comments, lamenting the end of freedom of speech.
What Howard entered was a world dominated by what Andrew Campbell, a psychologist at the University of Sydney, called ‘unaccountability.’ Control over YouTube postings is essentially in the hands of the person who uploaded the initial video, although the site said it doesn’t permit hate speech. Despite this, YouTube discussions, like those on many other sites, are often free-for-alls where anything can be said, generally with no legal remedy.
“The person feels they don’t have any responsibility for what they say. It’s kind of a free shot … If I could tell you exactly what I think right now and know there was no consequences whatsoever, why not take the opportunity?” Offered the same free shot, face-to-face in a room with Howard, Campbell speculates a different outcome, as “the human factor comes into it, the body language, the empathy and sympathy [raised] by offending someone directly to their face.”
Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur, believed civic discourse was being corrupted by the bile unleashed. “You go to any public noticeboard or any newspaper site and you can find the most disgraceful and disgusting things … I think there’s something about the Internet, which resembles Thomas Hobbes’s state of nature where life is nasty, brutish and short and very, very rude, where nobody has really made the effort to come up with a social pact where we all behave in a civilised way.” Keen, a former Internet entrepreneur, blamed anonymity and an activist minority who spend their lives arguing and insulting. “I don’t think the Internet is intrinsically cursed – I think the problem is anonymity and where you’ll find productive, respectful conversation is between people who’ve revealed who they are,” he said.
Shortly after the embarrassing tirade, Howard announced a war to ‘clean up’ the Internet with a proposed budget of at least A$200 million to filter, censor, and screen Internet users and content. His campaign, he said, was to help parents to protect their children from unseemly content and on-line predators. He also wanted a block or ban on ‘terror’ and ‘violent’ web sites. Every Australian family would be provided with a free Internet filter and the federal government would enter an unprecedented partnership with ISPs to filter pornography at the source. Australian Federal Police resources would be boosted immediately to expand checks on Internet chat rooms to detect child predators, and privacy laws masking sex offenders on the Internet would be altered. A ‘black list’ drawn up by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which covers Australia-based pornographic and terror sites, would be expanded internationally after consultation with the attorney general and receive 14 additional Internet regulators. Further waves of content control connected to Howard’s war on the Internet were expected.
So how do you deal with all these damn lies, statistics, misinformation, and mockery? You could take the John Howard path and try to legislate away the problems with an army of on-line bureaucrats and cyber police, or take advice from Elton John, who wanted the Internet shut down because he believed it was destroying music. He told Britain’s Sun newspaper:
The NZ Herald’s Sideswipe column picked up the subject. “But hang on, Elton. Didn’t you stream your 60th birthday concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden live over the Web? And haven’t you made your back catalogue available to buy on-line?”
The Internet is a great connector. Initially newsgroups were created as tools for collaboration on Internet-related technical projects where people could share ideas in a common space. It wasn’t long before far more than code was being worked on, social interaction became a major driver starting with a common interest among computer scientists in sci-fi, notably the Star Wars phenomenon. Soon Newsnet or newsgroup hierarchies were expanding to accommodate every kind of hobby and interest imaginable until there were more than 30,000.
The bulletin boards systems of the 1970s and 1980s created the same sense of on-line community and were gradually supplanted by discussion groups, Web forums and Weblogs. Today the social networking phenomenon has taken the world by storm and the tools being used are breaking down even more boundaries for like-minded people to find each other and develop on-line relationships.
Google admitted the main reason it bought YouTube, when it had its own highly impressive Google Video product, was not the numbers who turned up each day but the sense of community, the social aspects, the connections between members. Rather than programmers or content providers pushing content out to a passive audience, market trends were revealing the true power of consumers; they blog, podcast, email, text and chat on the phone, in chatrooms and in discussion spaces. They share ideas, criticisms, feedback and rate songs, movies, TV shows, fashion and forward information, film clips, music, articles and Weblinks to each other.
In fact YouTube had become a self-organising network feeding into the success of new brands and entertainment products and pushing dozens of new entrants into the pop charts. Once word gets out about something hot, and as users agree on worthwhile discoveries they rapidly reach what is known as ‘tipping point.’ The same principle of momentum applied to Flickr, Bebo, Facebook, and other emerging sites.
The Internet and the various platforms it is now available on, and the desire for connection particularly among youth, has stimulated an explosion of communication across all known barriers. What began as simply peer-to-peer file-sharing tools and chat rooms has become a full-blown environment. As with the bulletin boards and texting, youth-driven fads have quickly spawned a widespread intergenerational trend, with social networking now gaining appeal beyond the MTV generation, with businesses and politicians now taking a serious interest.
The idea of connectivity has always fascinated me both scientifically and mystically. I love those serendipitous moments when, through chance encounters, amazing outcomes are realised. Right place, right time – right? Or is there something else at work here? Does thinking make it so? Does being aware of what you would like to happen act as a kind of attractor or at least enhance your awareness of previously elusive possibilities? If we believe the Internet enables like-minded people to find each other, why should we be so surprised when they do and something greater than the sum of the parts occurs?
I had an early fascination with the One Hundredth Monkey theory initially outlined in Lyall Watson’s 1979 book Lifetide and later reprinted and popularised in an anti-nuclear pamphlet by Ken Keyes Jr. It seemed to offer intriguing insights into collective behaviour, suggesting there was a point of critical mass where a good idea became contagious and could facilitate major social change. The story itself was eerily empowering. It suggested there was a point in the evolution of an idea, an invention or a new way of doing things, that having gained traction, could, under the right conditions, spread like wildfire.
Watson, who has a PhD in ethnology for work done at the London Zoo with Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape, was writing about studies of Japanese macaques done in the 1960s by several Japanese primatologists. He alleged that the scientists were “reluctant to publish the whole story for fear of ridicule” so he had to “gather the rest of the story from personal anecdotes and bits of folklore among primate researchers, because most of them are still not quite sure what happened.”
Ron Amundson debunked Watson’s claim in 1985. Senior scientists involved in the work denied ever meeting Watson or that there was any corroborating folklore surrounding the monkey experiment. In his response in the Whole Earth Review in 1986, Watson said his data came from “off-the-record conversations with those familiar with the potato-washing work.” He also admitted the ‘One Hundredth Monkey’ story was “a metaphor of my own making,” based “on very slim evidence and a great deal of hearsay. I have never pretended otherwise…”
Watson had exaggerated actual research for a thinly veiled parable which was hijacked by New Age gurus and educators and passed on like some Internet chain letter as scientific fact. I had used elements of his ‘parable’ to enthuse people about a range of ideas since I first read it in the early 1980s; I wondered if this theory had something in common with how ideas, trends, and fashions spread through human culture. On discovering it was urban mythology, I reluctantly let the story go, as the facts dictated I must. However, the impression it had made on me lingered and was aroused again when I read about the ‘six degrees of separation.’
Mathematicians had apparently been toying with the probabilities of how connected people were. If you could choose any two people in the world at random, how many acquaintances would be needed to create a chain between them? Ithiel de Sola Pool at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Manfred Kochen of IBM collaborated on models to look into the theory but never made any significant headway. Then Stanley Milgram, a social psychologist from Yale University who had conducted controversial experiments on ‘the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience,’ conducted his own experiment on connectedness.
Milgram mailed a folder containing a letter to 200 people in Omaha, Nebraska, and 100 people in Boston who were told to forward the letter to one personal contact in an effort to try to reach a target person in Boston. The letter included this specific condition: “If you do not know the target person on a personal basis, do not try to contact him directly. Instead, mail this folder to a personal acquaintance who is more likely than you to know the target person.”
His experiment in 1967 validated elements of the theory which suggested that by association with any group of six people you could be connected to millions of others. Milgram, who died in 1984, called his study the Small World Problem and wound up with 60 completed chains of letters that averaged six senders. While he never used the term ‘six degrees of separation’ in his works, the term and his findings were popularised by the John Guare play Six Degrees of Separation (and later the film) and by the trivia game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which challenged players to find the shortest list of movie casts linking Bacon to any other actor.
Stanley Milgram’s experiment suggested to him that in the United States anyway, everyone was connected within six friendship links. He reported his findings in the first issue of Psychology Today back in 1967. However Professor Judith Kleinfield, writing in the same magazine in the March–April 2002 issue 40 years later – after examining Milgram’s papers in the Yale University library – claimed his idea of six degrees of separation “may in fact be wrong, or the academic equivalent of an urban myth.”
“What I found was disconcerting. Very few of his folders reached their targets. In his first, unpublished study, only three of 60 letters – 5 percent – made it. Even in Milgram’s published studies, less than 30 percent of the folders got through. Since then, only a few replications that actually spanned cities have been done. Of these trials, few folders made it through, especially across class and race boundaries. Perhaps people didn’t bother sending the letters on. That was Milgram’s explanation. But that seems unlikely. The folder was not a simple chain letter, but an official-looking document with heavy blue binding and a gold logo. If the subjects knew how to reach the targets, they probably would have.”
Web degrees found
Scientists in 2000 claimed the World Wide Web was developing according to the same organising patterns and mathematical principles observed among plant life in the wild. Rather than how many billion pages comprised the Web, they came to believe it was best measured by the average number of connections it took to link any two random sites. This resulted in the ‘19 clicks of separation’ theory, a scientific effort to help reveal the organic way in which the global network was growing.
Like the ‘six degrees of separation’ social connectedness theory, researchers at the University of Notre Dame estimated that any two randomly selected sites were connected, on average, by 19 clicks. “Based on this kind of information, we can construct more effective search engines,” said Hawoong Jeong, one of the Notre Dame scientists who claimed search engines typically covered less than one-fifth of all publicly indexed sites. While fascinating, other scientists believed it wasn’t particularly helpful. Oren Etzioni, developer of the search engine Metacrawler, said that wasn’t how people used the Web. He was more interested in their research on Web growth, which indicated something mysterious.
The Web is a lot like a living plant and for some unknown reason was developing along the same mathematical principles that govern the organic development of plants in the natural world. “It was a complete surprise for us,” said Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, a physicist at Notre Dame and principal investigator for the team that reported the ‘19 clicks’ findings. He and his students had in 1999 set loose a ‘robot’ search engine on portions of the Web to tally links and measure how far away each was from the other. Everyone expected the robot to encounter a simple, exponentially increasing number of links based on the assumption that links were distributed randomly. Instead the data clearly showed the links were distributed according to a more sophisticated and self-organising mathematical principle known as the ‘power-tail law.’
Another team of researchers, at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, found the same growth pattern on the Web through a different method of analysis. “It’s just like the growth of a tree,” said Bernardo Huberman. “The more pages a site has, the more likely it is that more pages will be added to it.” Just as the number of branches on a tree limb is greater near the trunk than out at the tip, growth on the Web takes place so that links with more associated links (or branches) end up closer to the Web’s ‘trunk.’ The point is that the Web’s growth appears to follow some of the same natural laws at work in ecological systems.
“What’s most interesting is how the Web’s structure has evolved without any central authority,” said Steve Lawrence, a computer scientist at Princeton University and at NEC, who is internationally recognised for his work on Web information distribution and access. ‘It’s ending up with a high degree of structure’ and somehow creating that structure on its own. The key to getting better search engines, many Web experts claimed, was to better understand how the Web was organised, understand why it’s growing like a weed, and how to use that knowledge to improve our ability to find information.
Then another team of researchers began to add further credence to the entrancing myth, claiming to have found that the circuits that make up computers, the computers that make up the Internet, and the people that make up a country all shared six degrees of separation.
Pages on the Internet were connected with hyperlinks, and people in a social network were linked because they knew each other. In an electronic device a link exists if two elements are physically connected. The ‘small world’ trait found in all three of these types of networks allowed information “to transfer very quickly since a small number of jumps connects any two elements,” said Ricard Solé, a professor at the Technical University of Catalonia in Spain and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute.
Complicated networks like the Internet and social circles share several traits, including the ability to transmit information from one node to any other node in six or fewer steps or hops between neighbouring nodes. Computer circuits, like these other complicated networks, were also scale-free, meaning they consisted of a few nodes, or components with many connections and many nodes with just a few connections. The findings, according to Solé, could point to ways of designing circuits that fail less often – an important trait for systems used in space exploration, for example.
The work also emphasised a trend; researchers were finding similar patterns in many places. “We look for patterns in complex networks, both natural and artificial, in order to see if universal [patterns] are present,” said Solé. Electronic circuits were a good place to look because they included intrinsic features that result from conflicts between the needs for low cost and high performance. ‘Something like that also occurs in natural systems,’ where systems compete for survival over time, he said.
The researchers analysed electronic circuits ranging from an old television made up of resistors, capacitors, and diodes soldered together on a circuit board to a digital microchip containing thousands of components. What they found was that as circuits get larger, they look more like the Internet. “There is a pattern of organisation in real circuits that reveals a process of optimisation as circuit complexity increases,” said Solé. Although circuits are designed to be efficient, “interestingly, there is another feature that has not been designed and that is also present.” The scale-free structure, with most components having just a few links to other components and a few components having many links, was not designed consciously.
In studies of scale-free node distribution in the Internet, researchers found “the Internet is extremely resilient to removal of randomly chosen nodes, but very fragile when highly connected nodes are attacked.” More fault-tolerant circuits could be designed by taking advantage of global attributes like small world connections and scale-free distribution. “A standard device will, of course, fail if a single unit fails, but a new generation of adaptive configurable circuits might take advantage of these properties in order to reach very high levels of stability against random failures.”
Six degrees of email
Meanwhile a team of sociologists at Columbia University led by Duncan Watts, an assistant professor of sociology and author of Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks Between Order and Randomness, began trying to assess the six-degrees hypothesis on a large scale, using email as the medium for building the chains.
The researchers hoped to not only learn how social networks were structured, but also whether useful parallels could be drawn between human social Webs and engineered systems such as distributed computer networks. Watts and his team sent out thousands of email messages to target individuals around the world. The goal was to wind up with hundreds of completed chains per target.
He wasn’t convinced that Stanley Milgram’s findings had been firmly established, ‘either theoretically or empirically.’ His pool of participants was too small to draw universal conclusions and not all the participants were randomly selected. So the Columbia University researchers set out to fill in the blanks by carrying out a larger, more detailed experiment over the Internet. The study prompted 24,163 email volunteers to attempt to reach one of 18 target persons in 13 countries by forwarding messages to acquaintances, and resulted in 384 messages reaching their target.
The experiment confirmed that a message initiated by a random person reaches its destination in five to seven steps. However it also showed that the primary avenues were not necessarily the highly connected social hubs that Milgram’s experiments pointed to. Participants in Columbia’s message chains that reached their targets were less likely to send messages to hubs (1.6 percent versus 8.2 percent) than those in incomplete chains.
The main reasons for choosing the next person in a message chain were geographical and work related, and those people tended to be acquaintances rather than friends. The results could improve knowledge bases and peer-to-peer network design, according to the researchers.
In his presentations Watts asked, “How small is the actual world and what would it take for any world at all to be small?” He suggested small world networks should be everywhere and that lots of important problems could be represented as networks from business and markets to economies, friendships, disease transmission, ecosystems, and historical events. In fact any system comprising many individuals between which some relationship could be defined and mapped as a network. He said a lot could be learned from collective behaviour and what happened when lots of people, each following their own rules, interacted. “Physicists, sociologists, mathematicians, biologists, computer scientists, and economists can all help, and all need help.” Interdisciplinary work was hard for specialists. “The jury is still out, but there is hope … perhaps the Science of Networks will be the first science of the 21st century,” said Watts.
Because New Zealand is becoming increasingly connected, the analogy of the six degrees has reached common parlance here, but according to number, eight wire principals had been customised. Telecom for example was now separated by three degrees. HiGrowth executive director Garth Biggs said in a CIO magazine profile in March 2006 that six degrees of separation was too wide a net for the New Zealand ICT community, with its estimated 41,000 members. “My theory is that there are about three, maybe four degrees of separation. People know what projects you’ve done or know someone who knows what projects you’ve done and how well you’ve done. You can’t get away from your reputation.”
Social anthropologist Rob Allen, responsible for innovative approaches to teaching, learning and assessment at AUT, said New Zealand was heaven for someone interested in social networks analysis and concluded the country could boast ‘two degrees of separation’ rather than the theoretical six.
Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point talks about the importance of the connector, the cheerleader, the maven, the networker and the salesperson, each of whom has an important place in the viral process of spreading ideas, and knowledge in real-world social networking. While appreciating Stanley Milgram’s small world experiment, he suggested one of the key points was missed.
When Milgram analysed his experiment, he found many of the chains from Omaha, Nebraska, to a stockbroker who worked in Boston but lived in Sharon, Massachusetts, followed the same asymmetrical pattern.
Gladwell is a firm believer that when an idea is transmitted by the right people in the right environment a mass reaction can occur, particularly if enthusiasm can be sustained. He cites many cases in his book about trends and social behaviours that cross a threshold or ‘tipping point’ and go mainstream.
Among the famous networkers cited was Paul Revere whose warning ‘the British are coming,’ shouted as he rode on horseback through rural towns north and west of Boston from 18 April 1775, could have been ignored as the rantings of a madman if he didn’t know who to take his message to in each town. He was well connected and when he visited the publican or the local judge they believed him and rapidly sent off their own riders to mobilise neighbouring communities to counter the invasion. A rider with the same message who went to other communities but did not have the same connectedness would be virtually ignored.
Another example was John Wesley, by no means the most charismatic leader or necessarily a great theologian, but an organisational genius who started a ‘word of mouth epidemic’ 200 years ago. He would travel around England and North America delivering open-air sermons to thousands of people. He stayed long enough in each town to rally enthusiastic support, and encourage the formation of groups of 12 who met weekly and stuck to a strict code of conduct. Wesley travelled ceaselessly, often 4000 miles a year on horseback, reinforcing and encouraging. He was a classic connector with ties to many groups. His motto was ‘Do all the good you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.’
He was able to bring about fundamental change in people’s behaviour and beliefs and as a result the Methodist movement grew from 20,000 to 90,000 in the space of six years. Gladding said Wesley showed how small, close-knit groups had the power to magnify the epidemic potential of a message or idea.
Wesley also broke through denominational ranks, making a huge impression on the largely Church of England–based Clapham Sect, which met regularly for mutual support, and became highly influential in their efforts to bring about a new social conscience against corruption and cruelty. Parliamentarian and social reformer William Wilberforce, who persisted over many years in his work to abolish slavery, and Lord Shaftesbury, who campaigned against child labour and for better working conditions and care for the mentally infirm, were both followers of Wesley. Until his own death Wesley kept in regular contact with Wilberforce, encouraging him in his great work to end the lucrative slave trade that had brought wealth to the gentry but much misery to those who were bought and sold like cattle.
Connectors occupy many different worlds. They have a high connectedness, something intrinsic in their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability and energy. Within the ICT and Internet community in New Zealand there are many such people, including the late Trevor Eagle, the late Sir Angus Tait, and Sir Gil Simpson. Most of those who I interviewed for this book also qualify, and it is largely through their endeavours that we have such an organised and ‘uncapturable’ Internet environment.
Who would have imagined that in 2007 that little old New Zealand at the bottom of the world would have achieved such respect in the international Internet community? Its domain name-management policies, its loud voice among those calling for stronger representation for country code managers and its rejection of a proposal for local disputes, copyright, and trademark issues to be settled by some international body gave it huge mana among its peers in Internet governance. The clincher came in November 2007 when it was confirmed that another great Kiwi connector, Peter Dengate Thrush, had aced the top job, taking over from retiring luminary – ‘father of the Internet’ – Vint Cerf, as chairman of the board of ICANN, the US-based organisation that globally co-ordinates the Internet’s unique identifiers.
Another great Kiwi connector within the ICT community is John Blackham, who I have had casual connection with over 20 years since he founded Fact International. He recommended Gladwell’s The Tipping Point to me and no doubt to many others. He’s been a persistent campaigner for improving New Zealand’s ICT profile and encouraging and supporting other entrepreneurs. He was a founder of the Software Association, a former director of Trade New Zealand and was on the prime minister’s Science and Innovation Advisory Council. He not only runs his own company XSol, but has headed or been part of numerous cross-industry lobby groups interfacing between government and business.
In August 2007 Blackham was selected by Prime Minister Helen Clark as one of three New Zealand representatives on APEC’s Business Advisory Council (ABAC). Blackham is well known, well liked and respected and an enthusiastic purveyor of ideas. He convinced me to join LinkedIn based on the concept of building up trusted relationships between like-minded people. Although I haven’t quite figured out how to make the most of this social networking site – last count I only had 54 contacts on board, but apparently they’re fairly influential contacts as I am now only three degrees away from about 333,900 others who are loosely related to the wider ICT, arts and media, consulting and visionary community.
Visionaries, pioneers, and entrepreneurs are the kind of people who often see things coming way before mainstream business or government, and should be first port of call for decision makers before they even consider paying expensive consultants to produce more reports. Typically such people are well informed, and passionate about being in the best shape to meet the future. They have a full business and social life and still find time to get involved in the dozens of lobby groups, think tanks and industry organisations like ICT-NZ, TUANZ, the Software Association, IPENZ, ISPANZ, TCF and of course InternetNZ, whose highest calling is to watch over the evolution of the Internet and bring wise counsel relating to its development.
The new era of mass communications has opened extraordinary doors for sharing information and for innovation that goes way beyond what we might term traditional. If the traditionalists continue to defend against the warnings, exhortations, grand ideas and instincts of the digital visionaries and pioneers we risk ignoring the best early warning system we have, and dampening their natural enthusiasm to carry us through to the next stage.
In search of netness
Peter Macaulay, another tireless connector, who has run businesses, headed industry groups and consulted across the ICT industry for more than 20 years, has a vision for removing all bureaucratic and technological obstacles that prevent the nation’s fibre networks from interconnecting. He wants an investment pool created to join the dots for what he calls the ‘lily pad effect.’
Macaulay talks about the emerging state of netness, a term that conveys the extent to which individuals are linked to one another, which in itself requires a changed way of thinking. “What we’re saying is, you don’t need to have all the networks behaving as one. We’re getting so smart now that we can actually join things up even when they’re not connected; it’s already evident in equipment that runs on wireless and mobile networks, and laptop computers that run on five or six different connections. Mine runs on fibre connection in Wellington, on DSL in Auckland and out at the airport and I can choose whether I use my Vodem or wireless.”
He said netness is not just about technology but about relationships, about humans and their capability to build better ways of working. “It’s like texting. Kids took to texting when there was no good reason for it, yet it has become pervasive and it doesn’t require thinking about. All of us can now pick up a cellphone and send text messages. It’s part of our ability to collaborate. It’s just another mode of communication where we drop a short message or an email to someone which doesn’t require talking. It’s a nice layer that fits in between.”
More importantly, he said ‘netness’ is about the ability to collaborate in ways we never have before. “It’s about putting people together on a project even though they might be 600km apart and have never met. It’s about working with guys who are developing things all over the world, Vint Cerf, Gordon Cook, Bob Frankston and all these amazing brains that I can just tap into because someone has decided they want me to be part of that group.”
Eventually, Macaulay claimed, we collapse the six degrees of separation because in social communities like LinkedIn, netness makes us two degrees separated from anyone else. “It’s actually about developing stuff, where you are working with people who are of a like mind and trying to move in the same direction; you get a synergistic effect. It removes the concept of content from its current tendency to think about it in discreet ways. It becomes part of netness, whether your way of connecting is video, literature or streams of thought.”
He said his role was to make sure we were moving as quickly as we could towards netness, and his first priority is connection. “I was always under attack in the Digital Strategy secretariat for failing to balance connection, content, and confidence. My view has always been that there is one big C and two small cs. The big C is connection and the next most important is confidence. Content automatically flows. You can’t stop the stuff.”
When you provide creative people with the tools to work together they become collaborative and creativeness is enhanced. “The competition side is that human beings will perform better in a competitive environment where people can compete both against themselves and against others. Just watch America’s Cup racing: it’s a perfect example of a healthy competitive environment and how exciting it gets when people compete in a healthy way. I also put compassion there more because there’s a danger we miss out on the people oriented things.”
And not everyone is going to be comfortable in this space. “We have to make sure we can reach out to the people who are neither comfortable nor able to use this space and make sure that they get the benefits too. There are always going to be roughly 10 percent of the population who are Luddites, who will never use technology. As we move into netness we have to ensure that those people who have made the choice not to be in the connected world are still able to operate as citizens and function as healthy, creative, good human beings. That’s a component that hasn’t been taken into consideration at all so far.”
And there was no need to fear the changes we are going through as a society. “It’s not going to restrict us, it’s not going to turn us into zombies or automatons. It’s going to allow us to be better human beings, in every aspect. To do this we have to be sure we’re not being controlled by governments, corporations, or anyone with the wrong sort of motivation.”
Distributing the future
There have been some hard lessons in New Zealand’s Internet history so far. Those who paved the way are mostly still with us, in particular the Internet pioneers who cut through a confusion of protocols and technical obstacles 20 years ago to get the science and research community connected into the wider world. Then there are those intrepid souls who volunteered endless hours as part of the Internet Society, which inherited the labyrinth of domain name management and administrivia that overshadowed its higher calling as caretaker of the Internet for half a decade.
There were the early ISPs who battled against the former state-owned Telecom empire, which despised the Internet until it gained its own foothold and then tried to take control, and of course the competing carriers who struggled on an uneven playing field for so long while successive governments sat on the sidelines refusing to interfere in the free market where nothing was for free. Free market economics did not deliver full and open competition, the government in all its variations did not remove the roadblocks and lead the charge. Through not acting quick enough we gave away our leading edge at a critical time.
This book has been a chance to record the pioneering achievements that enabled us to get this far, to celebrate those who could see what was possible once we got the country connected. They foresaw the possibilities and potential and are still working to build the relationships and join the wires that connect the clouds.
I love the quote “The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet,” attributed to sci-fi writer William Gibson. But how could I be certain he had in fact strung those provocative words together? I’d spotted the quote on the Internet after all, which was full of mangled monologues and urban legends. The subject of Gibson’s alleged quote, and attempts to try and accurately source it, were covered in a Usenet thread in February 2004, in the end revealing it came from an August 1992 interview on the Fresh Air radio programme. Another source has Gibson making the quote: “As I’ve said many times, the future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed,” on an NPR Talk of the Nation broadcast in 30 November 1999.
Gibson, who coined the term cyberspace in his novel Neuromancer, was again being the visionary, and the power of his words were still evocative and inspirational. His economy of speech in that short quote suggested all the pieces to our puzzle were already here; we just needed to put them together in the right way. If we face a connectivity crisis, an identity crisis or a balance of payments crisis, then stepping back and viewing the problem from another angle may present the answers we need. In this case perhaps open fibre access now being rolled out by local authorities and private and public partnerships is an important part of ensuring the future is distributed more equally.
The problem we have been up against is the fortress mentality, the short-term thinking that looks to extract the maximum value in the shortest period of time, whether it’s between elections or AGMs. Unfortunately that strip-mining, trawl-netting approach does not take into account the long-term big picture that embraces heritage and culture and a legacy for future generations. Danny Hillis, former vice president of research and development at Disney’s Imagineering division and inventor of massively parallel computing, is fascinated with the possibilities that technology presents, but also concerned at our short-term view of the world and our failure to secure the future. He recommends a ‘new aesthetic of slowness.’
Like Communications Minister David Cunliffe said, the government is responsible for ensuring private interests align with the public good. “I hope Telecom and other market players are coming to realise that a series of short-term profit-maximising decisions must, in the end, be squared away with the long-term national interest.”
Of the endless reports that have been delivered to successive governments in an effort to help us lift our game, the one that remains front of mind is the progressive prescription left by Dr Porter in 1991, 1998, and 2001. In his 1998 visit Harvard professor Michael Porter said we had taken the ideology of the free market to the extreme and it had held us back. We needed to find and celebrate an energising national vision which captured our distinctive culture, circumstances, and history.
The country had gone through the painful process of privatising, reducing subsidies, and opening up our markets to the world but had focused on the negative aspects of those changes. Now it needed to look at the positive side, take an energising view of what New Zealand could be, encourage innovation, revitalise science and technology, and differentiate our businesses for economic growth.
That was a decade ago. We should by now be moving rapidly from the industrial era, which was all about making things from raw material and moving physical goods to earn our export income, to an era where we add value to our core assets, analyse and use information and transform it into ‘weightless’ economy advantages, which can be beamed at light speed to the world. Like our creative culture we need to hear more Kiwi success stories of entrepreneurs and business people who have cracked the international market, and there are far more of them than most of us are aware of.
If business is doing well and there is widespread support for innovation and new ideas we all do well. New jobs are created, wages rise according to the level of confidence of employers and customers, and there is a sense of forging ahead. When there is no business confidence everyone suffers, unemployment rises alongside the crime statistics and Lotto ticket sales and the number of people trawling through each other’s garbage on inorganic collection day.
Kevin Roberts, passionate advocate of all things Kiwi and New York–based head of Saatchi and Saatchi, believed New Zealand’s location at the edge of the globe gives us a mystical, even biological power but it needs more gravitational pull. This is a country that needs to identify, extract and activate its DNA. He insists we’re a nation of five million people, not four, with more Kiwis now living abroad that there are Australians outside Australia.
Being out on the edge is the most innovative and generative place in any system. “The action is at the margins, where there is freedom to create away from the orthodoxy of the centre. Ideas from New Zealand have advanced the world in many profound ways, but until now we have not had the metaphor and language to harness our unique global position. We’ve been stuck in a distant-isolated-small mindset and need to turn these factors into leverage.
“The world needs us precisely because we are its edge. This is our role. We need to be emotionally compelling, edgy … Our edge is the ace of hearts, and we must play this card in order to lift ourselves, to inform our risk-taking, to be our best.”
Roberts said New Zealand needed to embrace our edge positioning, revel in it and kick-start a global sense of community. “A large number of New Zealanders, including many of our most ambitious, qualified, literate, talented and influential, have left our economy to test their ambition in others. We need to bring them back emotionally and work together as a global New Zealand family. How can we win the hearts of export markets when we ignore the contribution of our biggest export product – our people – to transforming our underperforming economic effort? Love starts with family. Love will create Aotearoa whanau whanui ki te Aonui – the global community of New Zealanders. Five million of us to take on the world and win.”
Our technological literacy, the fact we’re a well-educated English-speaking nation, the quality of our innovators, the size and beauty of our underpopulated nation, our time zone which is ahead of the world, our lifestyle, our historical strengths in the primary sector – where we have amassed considerable knowledge – tourism, number 8 wire know-how, and our edgy creativity are our distinctive assets. Even our average temperature at 20 degrees Celcius, according to the anthropologists, is ideal for the human animal to operate optimally.
By all indications the interminable battles for equitable access to infrastructure and a true competitive environment are coming to an end, and the challenge now is to ensure that the new highways reach all citizens. It’s time to revisit the question: so what are all these networks for again?
In all the building and rolling out of copper, fibre, wireless and cellular and installing, configuring and achieving dial tone, compatibility, standards, interfaces and endless technology breakthroughs it’s easy to lose the end goal. Surely it’s to get on with the business of e-government; specifically e-democracy, e-commerce, e-learning, e-health, and all the other ‘e’ prefixes that streamline, simplify, and eliminate barriers and create efficiencies. Like those first telegraph and telephone lines, broadband will only magnify our ability to connect, create, collaborate, communicate, compete, and show compassion.
At the intersection
In his book the Medici Effect Frans Johanssen claimed extraordinary breakthroughs frequently occur at the intersection of apparently unrelated fields or disciplines. His theory is based on the remarkable burst of creativity that occurred when the Medici banking family funded creators from a wide range of disciplines, resulting in sculptors, scientists, poets, philosophers, financiers, painters and architects converging on the city of Florence in 15th century Italy. “There they found each other, learned from each other and broke down the barriers between disciplines and cultures. Together they forged a new world based on new ideas in what became known as the Renaissance. As a result the city became the epicentre of a creative explosion and one of the most innovative eras in history.”
He said the convergence of scientific disciplines and the leap into computational power are increasing the types of intersections available today. He gives numerous examples including how the study of ants enhanced telecommunications routing and gave rise to the development of a guidance system for unmanned aerial vehicles. Another intersection example was how Linus Torvalds, a self-taught 21-year-old hacker, created a free open-operating system against all the wisdom of the time. After being tweaked and improved by the on-line community, Linux grew from hundreds to thousands of users, becoming the preferred operating system for many top 500 companies. Johansson believed the intersection of disciplines across business, science, art, politics and cultures can result in revolutionary ideas that inject fresh insights and inspire new discoveries.
We are at a powerful intersection where computing, connectivity, competition, content, comfort, collaboration and compassion can converge. If we don’t back the visionaries, the creative people and risk takers who can see beyond the obstacles and break new ground, the same bureaucrats and consultants will continue to insist they know best while producing more reports; endlessly taking minutes and wasting hours. The pipe dream of unbundled triple-play gigabit infostructure can only become reality when we break the cycle of inaction with clear business plans, empowering vision statements and informed and experienced leadership from business, the community and government.
It’s not a case of waiting around for someone else to do something but for each player to do what they can. That might mean connecting public-private open access networks and where necessary adding Telecom and TelstraClear to the mix. If the government can get over its fear of engaging with the private sector and actually commit to a long-term investment in our information highways, an enormous asset could be unleashed. As Macaulay said, the next thing you know everything will soon be a lily pad’s leap away from everything else. With that kind of connectivity the obstacles of distance and isolation disappear and we get to discover what we knew all along. It’s a small world after all.
The serendipity that existed even prior to the steam age must surely be enhanced and amplified by the connectedness of the information age? Are we ready for the ‘steam engining effect’? It only steam engines come steam engining time; in other words when James Watt came up with his steam engine many others were working on similar designs, he just happened to get to the patent office first. It’s an extension of Victor Hugo’s adage, “An invasion of armies can be resisted but not an idea whose time has come.”
Around the world, think tanks, science, research and academic institutes, industries and individuals are eager to leverage each other’s mental and computational power in the search for answers to life’s great and intriguing problems. In a collaborating and ultimately informed society, ideas like consensus, the power of the people and e-democracy can start to take on real meaning. So what breakthroughs await us in the next decade as sparks of creativity jump across New Zealand’s connected communities and out to the great wide network of networks?
Having suffered the humility of being a laggard so long, it’s logical that the technology has matured, is more capable and more affordable; that the pioneers are more experienced and resilient, and governments can no longer get away with saying they do not understand, or that the free market will deliver. As we move from the copper-constrained world to the light-speed era of open fibre we have another chance to address the imbalance. At stake is New Zealand’s future productivity, prosperity, prospects for advancement on the world stage, and the well-being of our grandchildren.
 Chris Barton, ‘Ringing the changes,’ NZ Herald, 13 May 2007
 Chris Lewis, senior vice president of Ovum Telecom Research, industry report, 15 August 2007
 James Weir, ‘Broadband needs state assistance – Gattung,’ Dominion Post, 1 June 2007
 Paul Clearwater, ‘Digital Strategy destined to fail without lift in investment,’ The Line, 20 September 2007
 Defining a Broadband Aspiration report: http://www.nzinstitute.org
 Tom Pullar-Strecker, ‘NZ needs $1.5b to replace copper cables,’ Dominion Post,18 September 2006
 ‘Nearly 2 Million New Zealanders Spent an Average of 20 Hours per Person on the Internet in March,’ ComScore, 25 April 2007
 Nevil Gibson, ‘NZ tops list as least corrupt country,’ NBR, 27 September 2007
 James Weir, ‘Job confidence hits a high,’ Dominion Post, 3 October 2007
 The current account deficit for the year ended March 2007 was $13.9 billion (8.5 percent of GDP), Statistics New Zealand said today. This compares with deficits of $14.5 billion (9.0 percent of GDP) for the year ended December 2006 and $14.9 billion (9.6 percent of GDP) for the March 2006 year. Statistics NZ, 28 June 2007
 ‘APEC: NZ economy one of world’s most open,’ Newsroom.co.nz agency story, 4 July 2007
 Helen Malmgrem, ‘Kiwis world’s most satisfied,’ NBR, 5 July 2007
 Based on 2006 Census figures: www.neon.org.nz/newsarchive/nzlwe
 ‘Now an airline’s fiddling with Wikipedia?,’ thetransitcafe.com, 3 September 2007
 Derek Cheng, ‘On-line jokesters have a go at PM,’ NZ Herald, 25 August 2007
 Andrew Stevenson, ‘Cyberspace: the new toilet wall,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 23 July 2007
 Darryl Mason, ‘Howard’s $200 Million War On The Internet,’ 9 August 2007, http://www.theorstrahyun.blogspot.com/2007/08/howards-200-million-war-on-Internet.html
 Sideswipe, NZ Herald, 4 August 2007
 Thoughts and notes inspired by the columns of my former Internet.com boss and media commentator Mike Walsh: http://www.mike-walsh.com
 Ken Keyes Jnr, The One Hundredth Monkey
 Ron Amundson, ‘Watson and the Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon,’ Skeptical Inquirer, Spring 1987
 Judith Kleinfield, ‘Six Degrees: Urban Myth?’ Psychology Today, March-April 2002, http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/index.php?term=pto-20020301-000038&page=2
 Tom Paulson, Seattle-Post Intelligencer Reporter, ‘1.5 billion Web pages linked by 19 clicks of separation,’ 7 February 2000
 Kimberly Patch, ‘Circuits show six degrees of separation,’ Technology Research News, October 2001
 Email Updates Six Degrees Theory,’ Technology Research News, August 18, 2003; and also in Science magazine, 8 August 2003
 Duncan Watts, Columbia University: www.icr.ethz.ch/taicon/events/watts/slides.pdf, Six Degrees: The Science of A Connected Age (W. W. Norton, 2003) Collective Dynamics Group, Small World Project, cdg.columbia.edu or http://www.smallworld.columbia.edu
 Divina Paredes, ‘Who’s who in New Zealand ICT,’ CIO, March 2006
 Yiddish for one who accumulates knowledge
 Gladwell, pp30, 34, 56–60, 69–70, 91–92
 Gladwell, pp172–173
 Gladwell, pp36–38, 46–49
 Eagle was posthumously inducted into the Flying Kiwi Hall of Fame which commemorates ICT greats at the PriceWaterhouseCoopers New Zealand HiTech Awards in November 2007. The founder of Eagle Technology at the time of his death in 2000 was chairman of 12 companies. For many years he took a leading role in the IT industry and was former president of the ITANZ. He shared the award with Bill Gallagher, CEO of multi-national manufacturing and marketing company Gallagher Group and son of Bill Gallagher Sr, who founded the company on the success of the electric fence. The company specialises in integrated security systems and specialised plastic products
 Sir Angus, who died early in 2007 was the first inductee into the PriceWaterhouseCoopers New Zealand HiTech Awards, Flying Kiwi Hall of Fame
 A global ERP software business acquired by Geac Corporation in 1990
 A term apparently coined by Sheldon Renan, founder of Wibiki, which relates to the extent to which the individuals are linked to one another. “The emerging fabric of ubiquitous connectivity – not the technology, but the difference it will make between our past and our future”
 Vint Cerf is often referred to as ‘father of the Internet’ and until recently was the head of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers)
 In 1992 Gordon Cook founded the Cook report, the first newsletter focused on the development of the commercial Internet. He continues to explore ways to show local communities, policy makers and enterprises the value of broadband Internet as a locally owned and controlled infrastructure for collaboration, innovation and business and economic development and innovative use of the Internet for business and economic development. It is a critical enabler of business activity through real time collaboration among geographically-dispersed entrepreneurs and critical for the creation of value creation, talent building in the relationship economy, http:www.gordoncook.net
 Bob Frankston worked on the original Multics mainframe time sharing operating system, used the predecessor of the Internet from 1969, worked for Lotus and Microsoft on consumer use of computers and championed IP Everywhere to help make networking accessible for home computer users: www.frankston.com
 Ned Ludd and his followers the Luddites destroyed manufacturing machinery across England over a five-year period from 1811 believing technology was destroying employment and their quality of life. Today neo-Luddites oppose computerisation for similar reasons warning us that technology is taking over
 References to “The future’s already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet” go back to Usenet in early 1996 and there are several variants of the quote: “The Future is already here (It is just not uniformly distributed)” on a blog called Whuffle, which aligned with Time magazine writer Bill Buxton allegedly stealing a line from Gibson on 3 October 2004 and further references to the quote, with attribution to William Gibson, that appear in 2001 and 2002, including one book, Reinventing Strategy, published also on 12 April 2002. Another source Free, Perfect, and Now: A CEO’s True Story by Robert Rodin with Curtis Hartman, in February 1999 which says “the future can be hard to recognise. It’s not evenly distributed; it’s hidden in corners.” The question arises, did William Gibson read this book? Did Rodin read Gibson somewhere?
 Communications Minister David Cunliffe, Telecommunications and ICT Summit, June 2007
 Address at the Future Active gathering, run by the New Zealand Software Association in conjunction with North Shore City in November 1998
 Kevin Roberts, speech to the New Zealand Stock Exchange: ‘Giving New Zealand the Edge,’ 19 September 2005: http://www.nzedge.com/speeches
 68 degrees Fahrenheit
 Futurist Applauds Kiwi Assets, (David Pearce Snyder, lifestyles editor of Futurist magazine) Keith Newman, nz.Internet.com, January 2001
 Frans Johansson, The Medici Effect, Harvard Business School Press, 2004
 A term coined by Charles Fort, a student and chronicler of anomalous, unexpected or hard to explain phenomena, which occurred outside of accepted theories.