Computers’ impact on lives of the famous

In 1986 most Kiwis didn't use computers regularly and email was a means of communication available only to universities and government research institutes. A few well-known New Zealanders speak about the impact computers have had on their lives over the past 15 years.

In 1986 most New Zealanders didn't use computers regularly and email was a means of communication available only to universities and government research institutes.

Computerworld asked a few well-known New Zealanders to speak about the impact computers have had on their lives over the past 15 years.

Opposition leader Bill English bought his first PC in 1984.

"I paid $5000 -- when the dollar was worth something -- for a Sanyo computer with a floppy drive.

"I used it to teach myself about spreadsheets, word processing and using a farm accounting programme.

"This was achieved after hundreds of hours of frustration because I knew nothing about computers and, living in the backblocks, didn't know anyone else who knew anything about computers."

Now, English says, he uses them every day to look at the internet, deal with email and write speeches.

The websites he visits regularly include www.stuff.co.nz, artsandlettersdaily.com "and I keep an eye on what the children are using".

Asked what difference the advent of the internet and email has made to his life, he says "it has sped it up - it gives me better access to national and international media and commentary".

On the other hand, he says, people expect replies to their emails immediately, "but it has helped me run a far-flung electorate."

TVNZ Breakfast show co-host and Mike Hosking says in 1986 he had no contact with computers.

"I was in radio and computers, certainly PCs, didn't exist -- it was tape and records."

Now he uses them "every day for work - radio is completely computerised, links between the presenter and announcer are by computer, preparation is done on it and ads are played off them.

"The same applies to TV. If you look at the breakfast set, each of us has a laptop, where we receive information via the [news] wires and messages from reporters from around the country. There is less and less paper -- even the autocue is driven by a computer."

Websites he visits regularly include TVNZ's nzoom.com and government sites.

The internet "hasn't changed my life as much as I might have thought, though we buy our groceries on it and my wife banks using it, but I'm yet to be convinced that it's particularly useful, short of seeking specific information for research and work".

Email is a different story, however. "I can't remember the last time I wrote a letter -- most of my correspondence is by cellphone and email. It's changed the way I communicate."

Newspaper columnist Joe Bennett didn’t use computers at all in 1986, but now uses his "every day" for writing and sending emails.

"Once in a while I buy a book from Amazon or elsewhere and sometimes I use the internet to look for information, but it is very rarely any use for the sort of thing I want to know. Books do the job a lot better."

As for the difference the internet and email have made to his life, "email is hugely convenient as an instant and cheap postal service -- it’s a marvellous practical invention.

Otherwise the internet is of little use to me and, I suspect, to most people. It certainly doesn't constitute a revolution and especially not a knowledge revolution. Knowledge is something you know and computers and the internet don't know anything -- they just store stuff.

"Everything in a computer remains predicated on human heads and hearts. Take human heads and hearts away and computers are just cars in a wrecker's yard."

His final verdict on the internet: "It's clogged with self-interest and, predictably, has become a global bazaar, with vendors everywhere screaming for attention. Liars, beggars, crappy goods, sex and the occasional nugget of excellence are buried under the trash."

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