Marica's meanderings

Friday, February 11, 2005

Electronic tributes

The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.
Mark Weiser. The Computer for the 21st Century, Scientific American, September 1991, pp. 94-104. HTML draft
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I can't decide whether or not ubiquitous computing is now a fact of life. Sometimes I think Yes, it is and then I am brought back down to earth as I struggle to achieve the simplest thing with my computer such as checking my emails or waiting forever for a page to load.

Yesterday, I felt like I had joined the land of the living again - or this is how it seemed to me because I was home, in my own environment, and I could connect to the internet for the first time in a week. I have been away attending New Zealand's first Moodle Moot held in Rotorua. Fast on the heels of this I headed for Auckland to settle my youngest daughter into her new flat, ready to start her new life as a student living away from home. Throughout all this I yet again had internet access issues.

I have come to realise that having access to the internet has become a vital part of my existence. It is something I take so for granted until it is not available to me. I must admit as I saw all the emails rolling in to my Inbox I did begin to wonder as to why I was so happy to be back online.

The fact is that the internet is permeating our lives in ways which were unimaginable to us a short time ago. Driving along the motorway on my way home from work recently I noticed a huge sign advertising the URL for a religious group. Then yesterday I attended the funeral of a very close family friend, Ljubo Jakich. As we entered the church all the traditional things happened - we were asked to sign a condolence book, we were handed a programme outlining the details of the service and we were shown to our seats. While waiting for the service to begin I was reading the programme and there it was in bold print - a URL for a tributes page. I had never seen this before.

When I arrived home I went straight onto the internet to check out the tributes site:

Communication is important in life and it becomes vital when we are faced with a stressful event, like the death of someone close to us. For as long as the phone has been invented, funeral directors have received requests for information about people who have died:

  • Where is the funeral going to be held?
  • How do I find the church?
  • Where can I send flowers?
  • How can I send a message to the family?

Publishing a tribute on our website allows you to convey this information efficiently and effectively - and create a living memorial to the person who has died. Our website allows you to place a photo of the person, along with their funeral notice, the details of the funeral service, and information for family and friends sending flowers or making donations. Family and friends can read and place messages in a specially designed tribute book - you can also add tributes that have been sent to you, or were contributed at the funeral service. Tributes.co.nz is a fitting way to remember those close to you who have died.

As I read the tributes that had been written for Ljubo I started to think about stories and life caching. In the service we heard a number of special stories about Ljubo and his life. I had known this man my entire life and yet I learnt new things about him at his funeral service.

Then this morning when I woke up to the usual alarm and the news on the radio I was distressed by an item I heard. I thought I had misheard it. A woman who had been killed in a bike accident the day before had been named. Could this be the Di I knew? No, it couldn't?

Again I went onto the internet to scan the news site. I needed more information. I read in The Dominion Post:

A Wellington woman training for a triathlon with her daughter has died after she lost control of her bike and collided with a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The crash happened about 6.30am, when television producer Dianne Susan Oliver, 56, and her daughter were cycling on Rolleston St, Mt Cook, training for a triathlon...
"The driver has been spoken to and – as you'd expect – he's pretty shaken up, but at this stage we are investigating the possibility of a malfunction in the bike."

Di Oliver 1948-2005

Di was a film maker and we were students together in the Master of Communication programme at Victoria University of Wellington. She was a very talented, creative and energetic woman who will be missed by many.

I had to obtain the hard copy of a newspaper to find out the funeral details. Again in the death notice there appeared a URL:

Messages can be sent via the website http://www.lychgate.co.nz/ ...

Is Mark Weiser correct and are we in the midst of ubiquitous computing and the age of calm technology?

...ubiquitous computing will gradually emerge as the dominant mode of computer access over the next twenty years. Like the personal computer, ubiquitous computing will enable nothing fundamentally new, but by making everything faster and easier to do, with less strain and mental gymnastics, it will transform what is apparently possible. Desktop publishing, for example, is fundamentally not different from computer typesetting, which dates back to the mid 1960's at least. But ease of use makes an enormous difference.

After all I am publishing content on this blog without thinking about the process involved. It is relatively simple to do. I can even get a book published if I wanted to without having to approach one of the big book publishing houses. Weiser goes on to say:

There is more information available at our fingertips during a walk in the woods than in any computer system, yet people find a walk among trees relaxing and computers frustrating. Machines that fit the human environment, instead of forcing humans to enter theirs, will make using a computer as refreshing as taking a walk in the woods.

I can't wait until the time when machines fit our human environment. I believe we still have a way to go before this is a reality.

One of the things I have been exploring through my FLLinNZ project is how we can achieve a situation where the technology "disappears" in our online communications to enable a better quality human interaction. No matter what though I still think I'll always prefer a walk in the woods, or even better, a walk by the sea, than working at a computer.