Surfing the New Age

2 March 2015

After a lengthy absence from an experience, place or acquaintance, we readily notice changes that have taken hold. A roller coaster ride, for instance, is more exhilarating than on the occasion of that twenty-first birthday party some years ago. The garden surroundings of a building are more substantively landscaped. A person’s face shows the pressures of life’s trials, as well as many winters of rigid cold and burning, summer sun. This year, I have returned to study to undertake my Master’s degree. In undertaking this tertiary study compared with my undergraduate years, the last five months have provided daily reminders of significant changes in the nature and use of technology.

In an Orwellian 1984 prescience, computer applications, technological advances and big data are now the big determinants of our lives. Such advances enable the rapid and easy exchange of information, moving imagery, ideas, historical learnings and understandings about our diverse world. Especially noteworthy here are the implications of recently-legislated federal meta data laws and increased surveillance powers.

At this early stage of the 21st Century, electronic devices in the palm of our hands and upon our knees provide us with many benefits. These activities and our enrapture with them, were rightly described by Monica Sestito in an earlier edition of Farrago this year as a ‘silent homage’. To the endearing chimes of the Old Arts clock heralding a new hour, we now work on our electronic devices completing assignments. We touch and swipe our devices, emailing, tweeting, texting and facebooking our whereabouts and sweet nothings to loved ones and friends. We are frequently and easily subject to mind wanderings and neuro-switching between ‘apps’.

The enjoyment gained in the use of our free hours is immediate.  While sitting at table in Union House, for example, a lunchtime email can be sent to a friend in London and received in eight seconds – free of charge. This contrasts astonishingly with 1983, for instance, wherein a letter was written on paper, by hand. It was then folded, sealed, addressed, stamped and deposited by hand into a letter box some 70 metres away – all at a cost today of $3.00. Upon reaching its destination eight days later, the envelope’s contents would inform the reader of university life in ‘the land Down Under’. It would also describe the unifying force that helped us out of the economy’s doldrums following our historic win in the America’s Cup yacht race that same year. The Prime Minister at the time would, in the event of absenteeism among staff in the ensuing day of celebrations, pre-emptively admonish any unforgiving employers as ‘bums’.

Long gone are the clunky, green-screened Disk Operating Systems (DOS), noisy dot matrix printers and 5 inch floppy disks of my formative undergraduate years. Changes wrought by technology have conspicuously changed our habits and communication methods. In this age of instantaneous communication, “they were not contactable” is no longer an easy throwaway line. Forever gone are student households and residential colleges that were equipped with only a landline telephone from which hand-written messages were taken. Scraps of paper were then adhered to bedroom doors or noticeboards.  These informed the recipient that ‘Your mum phoned at 8.00’ or ‘We’ll all be at Naughton’s tonite’.  Among other messages included: ‘Phone Belinda after 9.30 tonite,’ or ‘Where are you, Mr Unf**king Reliable?’

For today’s students, the search capabilities of online library facilities is more important. Just like the exploration of space, computer IT systems now possess programs that venture to the outer reaches of research and knowledge. In addition, a student can easily access their student portal to ascertain academic requirements. Thanks largely to the invaluable Student Services and Amenities Fee, we can see what our interest groups have recently done or are organising. Alternatively, one can simply listen and watch a Radiohead performance online at anytime.

Through many windows, our lives are now enlightened because of these advances in technology; they broaden our understanding of the diverse and interconnected global community in which we all live. What lies before us are potentially more benefits – presently inconceivable – of technological change.

As for me, I now happily return to South Lawn to submit an assignment – or simply surf the net in that quiet homage. Yes, that roller coaster ride has become more exhilarating.

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