Politicians are often maligned, but they’re really good at one thing: generating emotional responses. I’ve met with a few and heard from quite a few more over the past few weeks (funny that — they must want something) and while they seem to have a lot to say, most of it just plain annoys me. Somehow I’ve become one of those "less-than-normal", non-mainstream people whose thoughts and feelings on any issue don’t matter because I’m "in computers" and so obviously not a part of the New Zealand mainstream culture. Frankly, I’m sick of it. And I’m sick of politicians who whine on and on about the whole Internet/IT/knowledge economy thing without understanding a word of what it is their spin doctors have written for them. I know that if you use the word Internet in "mainstream" life you must immediately use the terms pornography, fraud and scandal as well (or be forever condemned as "one of them") but I would have thought by now our politicians would have managed to grasp what the whole thing was really all about, even in the most rudimentary terms at least. Take the recent debate on education, hosted by Mike Hosking on TV One. Someone had asked how the various parties intended to make New Zealand into a knowledge economy and stop the "brain drain" and Nick Smith had answered with some trite party line — something about spending as much as they currently spend in the same areas they currently spend it. While that was boring and predictable, one of the other candidates shouted out: "When has New Zealand not been a knowledge economy?" which really just proves the point of the question, if you ask me. It also helps to show up two things: firstly, that the candidates have fairly low expectations when it comes to the intelligence of New Zealand voters. And secondly, that voters should have fairly low expectations of the intelligence of the candidates. I’m not expecting every politician to agree with my point of view but I do expect that when someone asks a question of a politician they are treated to an answer that would at least imply the politician had thought about the subject somewhat. The second politician I made contact with was Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, at the recent Magazine Publishers Awards. I didn’t talk to her directly, I left that up to editor Richard Wood, but I did hear her talk about the future of magazines. Apparently they’ll always be around because the Net is impermanent and people love to have something they can read in the loo. Without getting into the issue of laptops, palmtops or clean hands, I think the PM has missed out on the larger issue. Has she never read Salon or even Slate? What about Web sites that manage to break stories the mainstream media won’t even touch (who remembers Bill Clinton’s escapades — they were broken to the world via The Drudge Report). Sure, magazines have a tried and true form factor but that doesn’t mean their position is permanent. The last politician I want to talk about, sadly, is Maurice Williamson. I’ve tried really hard not to hassle Williamson too much about his sycophantic behaviour over Telecom, but this time really does take the biscuit. After Telecom announced it would redefine the way New Zealanders accessed the Internet with its 0867 numbering scheme, Williamson as Minister for Telecommunications capitulated so quickly it made my head spin. Now, with the scheme itself proving almost impossible to manage, Williamson has not called for Telecom to honour its commitment to providing a service at least as good as was previously the case. Instead, he’s saying we should give them time to iron out the wrinkles. Has he forgotten that Telecom wanted to introduce the scheme three months ago? If they thought it was ready to run then it should be working fine by now. They’ve had three extra months to get things going, so what’s the problem? It’s costing New Zealand businesses and surfers time, money and effort, and it’s certainly not helping our case for encouraging foreign companies to set up shop in New Zealand. How long must New Zealand Internet users wait before Telecom gets its act together? Fortunately, New Zealand voters have only a couple of weeks. Paul Brislen is Computerworld’s Y2K reporter, phone: 0-9-377 9902. For publication copy letters to email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
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