Zisman (c) 2003 First published
lives of most readers of the Columbia Journal have been
impacted, for better and for worse by computers and the Internet. Most of you use them at work, whether your
work is at a desk or in a garage.
least as many of you use them at home, following the news, e-mailing
friends and relations, playing games, and more. Even when we’re not
using them, they’re in the news, and not just on the business pages.
Computer virus outbreaks are as likely to be reported in the news
sections as news about AIDS or the West Nile Virus.
technologies can provide a tool for organizing for social change.
Zapatista rebels used computers and modems to keep in touch with their
supporters in Mexico and abroad. Informal networks making use of the
Internet helped build anti-globalization protests in Seattle and
elsewhere. And Canadian websites like rabble.ca and tao.ca
help provide alternatives to the daily news and tools for organizers.
These same technologies however are also a battlefield for corporate
alliances looking to gain control over your spending habits. Microsoft,
with its quasi-monopolies over computer operating systems and office
suite software has the largest stock valuation of any company in the
world and more than US$43 billion in cash and short-term investments,
(a war-chest that's growing at a rate of US$1 billion a month).
E-mail can keep far-flung family members in touch, and personal web
sites let you share your wedding photos with the world. Computer games
and the Internet can become a new-style addiction, though, or form a
new distribution mechanism for pornography and gambling. We're
bombarded with ads to convince us that our computer isn?t fast enough,
that it?s already to time to move up to this year's model.
In other words, computer technology is a tool. Like a carving knife, it
isn't inherently good or bad. A carving knife can be used to help make
dinner or to murder a stranger. The Internet can provide a voice for
points of view left out of the daily newspapers and can help sell the
latest fads; computers are a tool for networks trying to build for
social change and for corporations looking to track (and control) our
The computer and video game industry is now larger than the movie
industry; I'm sure that more is spent on home computers and related
tech toys then on TVs and home stereos. I'm still using the stereo
system I bought in the mid-1980s; few of us would want to work or play
on a computer from that era.
Nevertheless, it is possible to resist the advertisers' subliminal
hints that our computer and its software is already obsolete by the
time it's out of the box. Open source projects like Linux, OpenOffice,
Gimp, and Mozilla, created by unpaid networks of volunteers, provide free
alternatives to the commercial projects of Microsoft, Adobe, and
And your three or five year old computer probably isn't ready for the
scrap-heap yet. Despite the ads proclaiming Newer! Faster! Better! your
computer probably has years of useful life left in it. And (a real
benefit of the industry's constant upgrading) if you don't have a
computer (or need another one), you can get a still-usable recent model
for far less than the cost of this season's model.
In coming issues, this column will look at ways to use technology: to
keep safe on the Internet, to make the best use of affordable hardware
and software, to stretch the useful life of your computer, and more.
Feel free to check out my website (www.zisman.ca) or e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org)
with suggestions, comments, or cries for help. I'm not trying to sell