TUMBY BAY - My children were born in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
By the time they reached the truly cognitive stage of their lives, we had already swapped a Commodore 64 computer for an Amstrad that ran on floppy disks - and when I say ‘floppy’ I mean things as big as saucers that actually flopped when you picked them up.
My son and daughter were part of the first generation of children born into the digital age and they haven’t looked back since.
I can remember going to the local chippy and buying fish and chips wrapped up in newspaper but they’ve had no experience of anything like that. Chicken and chips come in little cardboard boxes that nowadays you order online.
Sometimes I feel sorry for them but they just laugh in their ignorance and call me an old fogey.
What they don’t seem to appreciate is that a lot of people in the world don’t yet live in the digital age and have little hope of ever doing so.
For large numbers of people, computers and digital gadgetry are just modern novelties that have no relevance at all.
A lot of those people live in Papua New Guinea. They live ‘in the village’ as the smart young things in the city are apt to say in slightly disparaging tones.
For those ‘villagers’, modernity is measured by kerosene lanterns, nylon fishing line, shortwave radios, the occasional newspaper and, if they can get them, books with paper covers and pages - things that are perfectly adequate additions to their traditional lifestyles.
We in the West see fit to close down things like shortwave radio because we think it is obsolete.
We talk about the end of books and tell everyone that digital readers are the way to go.
We watch newspapers and magazines go out of circulation and just shrug and consult our iPhone for the latest news.
What we don’t realise is that those things we dismiss as old and obsolete are actually very important to a large part of the world.
We also don’t realise that many people are perfectly happy with their obsolete things and have no desire for anything more modern.
While shortwave radios and books fit nicely into the simple rhythms of their lives, a lot of the digital stuff we take for granted can have a jarring and confusing effect.
This is something that a lot of our aid agencies have yet to learn.
Introducing whiz bang digital technologies into some of these communities, even with the best of intentions, can often be a lot more unsettling and even destructive than we realise.
Instead of making life easier for these communities there is a huge chance we will actually make their lives more stressful, intimidating, confusing and unpleasant.
While we might think that shortwave radio services are obsolete there are a lot of people out there who don’t. The same applies to newspapers, books and other old fashioned ideas.
What we need to do is think these things through before we assume that just because we don’t use them and there are more modern alternatives they can be arbitrarily discontinued.
This is clearly what happened with Radio Australia’s shortwave service.
That the Australian government cut the funds to the ABC to the extent that they decided to abandon the service speaks volumes about their lack of understanding of such issues.
While the world might be embracing technology, places like Papua New Guinea still largely need the old stuff. They still need shortwave radio and they still need books and newspapers, just like they still need kerosene to put in their lamps.
No smart app will ever change that fact.