Waiting for yesterday’s technology

Welcome to Macleans.ca’s new tech blog!


Photo by Bonnier R&D

Picture this: you wake up to discover your baby has a weird rash. You log on to the Medicare website which connects you to an available physician via video chat. She checks your baby’s digitized health record, has a look at the rash, prescribes an ointment, and keeps you from burdening your pediatrician or the local E.R.

You then drive your other kid to school. You punch in the destination on your smartphone. A predictive GPS traffic database is pinged, which determines that though traffic is smooth now, it could soon get jammed up, based on 300 other drivers who just punched in similar destinations. This group is split up and directed to a dozen alternate routes, and congestion remains light.

While you drive, your kid finishes his homework on a tablet computer. It’s a French translation assignment, conducted in collaboration with a sister class in Paris that’s working on an English translation assignment. Your kid finishes the work, IM chats a bit with the French kid he was paired with, and then forgets the screen in your car. No biggie—the school will lend him a tablet for his classwork. They’re as cheap and ubiquitous as USB keys, and he can pull the finished homework assignment from the cloud.

You get to work and slack off a bit, checking out a song your friend just posted online. It’s a clever remix of a Beatles track. You send it to your car for the ride home, and an automatic payment of 99 cents is handled by your ISP—66 cents goes to your friend, 32 cents to Yoko and Paul et al., and a penny to your ISP, who dropped monthly access fees and now posts record profits by providing an insured and encrypted payment layer over the Web. You then quickly vote on a municipal bylaw through Facebook, and finally get to work.


Is the above a techno-utopian dream of the future? A starry-eyed vision of what next year could be? No, it’s a description of what last year should have been. All of the technology described above has existed for years now. But we are being held back. Legacy industries, lazy governments, obsolete laws, and pokey bureaucracies are among the culprits.

Meanwhile, as technology itself becomes more open and inclusive, our conversation about it gets more geeky and insular. We obsess over industry horse-races—LCD vs LED, HDMI vs DVI, 3G vs HSPDA—and the relentless, ever-tightening cycle that starts at novelty and ends at obsolescence. We are addicted to the promise of the next gee-whiz invention.

But invention isn’t the issue; implementation is, and that’s what I’ll be focusing on in this space. I’ll be posting thoughts, opinions and stories about the worldwide push to upgrade to yesterday’s technology. I’ll be featuring news of those who refuse to wait and are working around the barriers.

Hell, I may even review a gadget.

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Waiting for yesterday’s technology

  1. Very cool. It's going to be interesting to follow along. Also, the post reminds me of a de Tocqueville: "Knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others."

    • +1 on the interesting part!

      For those who are not familiar with Jesse, he runs a regular tech podcast called "Search Engine". It was once was part of the CBC, but has migrated to TVO around a year or so ago. If you have the time and the inclination, I encourage you to check it out!

  2. Wonderful news!

    I am very tired of our claustrophobic and incestuous horse and buggy tech world in Canada, and will be following this with interest.

    It's more than time that we joined the 21st century.

    • "horse and buggy" you must run with one of them Amish crowds… I'm still viewing the wheel with scepticism. Mark my words, this thing still may not catch on!

      • LOL yep, can't be too careful about these new-fangled gizmos

    • Emily, you seem to be suffering from Thumb Trolls.

      • Yeah, even if I just laugh it's thumbed-down.

        Luckily I don't take it personally. LOL

  3. "You then drive your other kid to school. You punch in the destination on your smartphone. A predictive GPS traffic database is pinged, which determines that though traffic is smooth now, it could soon get jammed up, based on…"

    …you having rear-ended a school bus while punching stuff into your smartphone…

    Humans have a way of gumming up the most useful technologies.

    • Or you could just do it before you drive off, so you know where you're going. Or speak to it.

      Surely we can talk and drive at the same time, having done it since cars were invented over a century ago.

      • You're assuming people will be sensible and responsible. From the number of people I still see using hand-helds – or texting, or reading, or applying make-up – on the 401, that's not a safe assumption. Even hands-free isn't always safe; I've seen a number of drivers with bluetooth sets talking with both hands at 120 kmh.

        That said, affordable, safe and appropriate integration of tech CAN be a good thing; we just need some way to get rid of all the idiots.

        • We could also start by asking why, in such a smart world, this person is driving her kid to school?

        • If we can't have a technology because there are a few idiots out there, we won't get anywhere.

          In fact, cars should never have been allowed because some people will have accidents even without texting.

          • Not arguing all techis bad; I was more or less debating your claim that "we can talk and drive at the same time".

            There are people who clearly can't resist the temptation to abuse their driving privilege by driving distracted, so if we're going to add tech, it needs to be done in ways that minimize their "distractability quotient".

            Some of the high-tech equipment being installed in cars (touch-screen controls, for example) are often too fiddly and add to driver distraction; such items are NOT an aid to driving and thus bad tech.

  4. Looking forward to the column. I'd suggest fixing the feed so the text appears there as well though.

  5. Never mind the communications technology we don't have a connection between the separate parts of healthcare system. In a worst case scenario, if the rash turns out to be a diagnostic puzzle, the baby will need to be booked into a diagnostic waiting line, and a dermatology waiting line, and, if it's indicated, an oncologist line and then if needed separate surgical and cancer treatment streams. None of the parts of the system will be connected so an entirely new health record will be generated at each stop and it will be rare if any of the various practitioners actually speak to each other.

  6. Don't forget that among the culprits is simple capitalism.

    For instance, my GPS provider wants to maintain a competitive advantage over your GPS provider, so refuses to share its data as to how many are pinging which routes.. similarly with yours. And even if they both do, there's a third company out there that doesn't, so the routes are still congested.

    At the same time your kids homework is incompatible with the tablets handed out by the school, because they bought the cheapest sourced tablets out there which don't have the software functionality to read the format your kids assignment is stored in. Not that that really matters, because even if they did have the software functionality, your tablet-maker has encrypted and patented it's text mark-up and refuses to share it with other tablet companies in their quest to gain another percentage point of market-share.

    Not that that really changes your overall point, I just think it's good when we acknowledge that capitalism itself has some serious flaws that we may want to start looking at.

    • It's capitalism that made the hand held GPS cheap enough for anybody other than the US Army to afford. It was capitalism that invented the traffic signals to begin with. If it were up to a Socialist like yourself, such technologies would probably be outlawed because people would be TOLD where and when to drive. And I'm not even going to go into how capitalism has affected the wider automobile industry over the last century.

      As for technological incompatibilities, that will always be an issue when several different groups are going about developing a similar technology. But the *gasp* market has a way of discovering which is best. Now of course this often takes longer and is a more painful process than if some technology bureaucrat decreed which of the competeing techs would be implemented, but the long run results are always better.

      And the corporate world has come to understand that in the fast paced world of tech advancement, open-source products always win over proprietary solutions. The massive market share gained by Google's Android platform, almost over night, is a perfect example of this. There are millions of devices today that are running on different variations of Linux that 10 years ago would have required custom operating systems to be developed.

      One need look no further than this very website for an example of how the profit motive has advanced technologies and made our lives better. This website simply wouldn't exist if there weren't potential for ad growth online. The entire expansion of the internet can be attributed to greedy capitalists trying to find a new way to make a buck.

      • Sure. And your point has absolutely zero relation to mine. We're told all the time about the way capitalism can benefit us, and I don't dispute any of that. Far fewer are the times when we're reminded it ain't always a good thing — and that's what I'm trying to do. Capitalism has some wonderful aspects, no denying. But it's no panacea, and we'd do well to remember that.

        Incidentally, you seem to have the same problem many do, you don't understand that socialism is an economic system. It can run under any political system, whether it's one that's extremely oppressive, as you postulate, or one that's quite open.

        To say the corporate world has come to understand that open-source products always win over proprietary solutions is to show you have little clue as to what's going on in the corporate world in general. Might I suggest you take a look at the patent and copyright suits going on between Motorola et al to see how "open" the corporate world is.

        • Yup, we're moving beyond capitalism because it's not suited to this era.

      • I think the explosion of GPS usage can be better attributed to the fact that the US government opened up access to it’s satellites in the 1980’s for civillian use. Call it “Socialist” or not, the point is that US taxpayers paid for the creation and implementation of the program well before there was any free market level access to it.

  7. Hmmmmm….

    It looks like my 1st comment was swallowed into the ether?

    In any case – Fantastic to see you hear Jesse! Very much looking forward to reading your posts.
    For months, I've been grumbling and complaining about Maclean's weak coverage on tech matters,
    and even how they relate to politics. If Maclean's was a sole source of information, one wouldn't even know that Bill C-32 exists!

    Maclean's blogs have a wide range of well informed readers who post some good comments/insights, and I hope you will also take the time to engage in discussion. All the best to you good sir!

  8. The most innovative/outlandish thing here is what seems to be implied about a new copyright regime. Either way, I salute the hypothetical subject for being in the 0.05% of the population of upstanding citizens/chumps who make the effort to pay for their music.

    • Yes, copyright is going to be a huge fight over the next several years.

      • Why over the next several years? Do you believe C-32 will not pass, or do you believe it will be swallowed into the ether once an election writ is dropped?

        • I was talking about copyright over all, not this specific legislation….which like all other law on the subject is temporary as technology evolves.

          • Gotcha! The digital world certainly presents various challenges to copyright – all the more reason as to why legislation needs to have a balanced approach that enshrines the interests of consumers and content creators. Alas – C-32 is no such thing. It seems to be moving slowly, but my hope is that it will not reach maturation via an election writ at some point.

          • Even bigger than how we react to new approaches in technology, unless the song maker directly negotiated the music deal with the owner of the Beatles' catalog , it looks like Brown inadvertently changed worldwide copyright regimes into including a forced license provision.

  9. This is great news! I'm very much looking forward to more Jesse! Welcome to the community. And don't let the trolls get you down :)

  10. I have to use facebook to do stuff? this future is looking pretty crappy.

  11. In my opinion, tech stories have been one of the biggest weaknesses on this site so this is very welcome news.

    Good luck.

  12. Very glad to be here @SamDavies, and yes, I will be active in the discussion. Trolls, @sourstud? I've dealt with trolls…

    • Tech trolls are one thing. Highly polarized childish irrational partisan trolls (from all sides) are quite another. Alas, it does get childish at times, but seemingly nowhere near as bad as other news sites (CBC, T.Star, etc.). With that said, I expect you will crack your digital whip accordingly.

      • Oooooo, a digital whip, now that sounds interesting, I might have to go and get me one of those. ;-)

      • Stupid LIE-beral wait still Stephen Harper gets his majority then you're in BIG TROUBLE

        • huh?

          • Why od you hate the troops SamDavies?

  13. Don't give up on CRT just yet. I predict a big CRT comeback!


    • Touche. They still do the best black in the business!

      • Plenty of people working in graphics and animation do still favour CRTs for precisely that type of reason. Ironically, my comment was only partially facetious when viewed from that prism.

        • Also, they make great anchors.

    • I have a feeling in my belly that a big retro movement will come to fruition, and that 8-track will be all the rage. Today's youth simply has not experienced the pleasure of continuous rolling and that ever so pleasant jumping of tracks. Long live the 8-track!!!!

  14. I'll concede you're point about the App Store, but you've also got to remember that the 1st Gen iPhone's, before there was the App Store, ran only web-based apps that were all built entirely on open source platforms, and those are still incredibly popular, and will only gain popularity because of the variety of mobile platforms out there. I mean, building proprietary software for an iPhone, then a BlackBerry, then Android, and PalmOS, etc, etc, just isn't efficient when one can build a single web-app that is completely cross-platform compatible. And wider adoption of enterprise-level "cloud computing" will only further this.

    And no, I don't think of Google as selling smart-phones (and if you read anything about the customer service nightmare that was the release of the Nexus, I don't see them going down that road again). And yes, they're basically doing nothing but pimping out data about my on and offline habits. But in my mind, that does nothing to detract from the fact that they're leveraging and promoting open-source technologies the whole way through. I mean, we want people and companies to make money by using open source tech, no?

    • No big disagreements with any of that!

      I should add that I didn't mean to slam Google there or anything, should my comment have come off that way. Google just fascinates me because in many ways they're not in the tech business at all. Google is an information company that leverages technology really well, but they're not a technology company in the same sense as Apple or Microsoft or Samsung, even though they may arguably have a better grasp on many aspects of tech than those companies do!

  15. I would like to learn more about why Internet access is so expensive in Canada compared to other countries.

  16. Being born in the iPod generation, I hope one day soon this will become my daily routine, or something close to it..

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