[This week’s Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent.]

Let me be frank: Vanuatu is, in most ways, a backwater when it comes to technology. There’s no point sugar-coating it. We’re limited by numerous factors, some of them environmental and institutional, but the biggest problem we face is one of perception and imagination.

One of the most difficult aspects of high tech is that it’s intangible and therefore difficult to visualise. It’s everywhere around us, but when you ask the average person to explain what it does or how it works, they’d just give you a perplexed look and move on. We see the icons on the screen, and we know that with the proper incantation they can be made to do certain tasks, but we never really see it working.

A car motor may be incomprehensible to most, but at least it’s visible. We can watch the fan belt spinning and the drive train turning, we can hear if the engine coughs or sputters, we can see the exhaust and tell at a glance if something’s wrong.

Things aren’t quite so clear in high tech. Sure, it’s easy to see when the computer slows down, or when a sheet of paper gets stuck halfway through the printer. But consider this: most of us aren’t even aware that we’re interacting with high technology almost all of the time. We don’t think about the radio, the cash register, the DVD player, the bank machine or the mobile phone as different heads on a ratchet set. But that’s effectively what they are: interchangeable cogs in the same notional machine.

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