I got a Google Home for Christmas

A personal journey in technology.

Google Home:

  • I can tell the thing to play whatever music I want to listen to, streamed from Spotify, and even tell it to play it through my home theatre sound system.
  • I can ask it how old Lorde is.
  • Or whether the nearest supermarket or café is open.
  • Or where I can buy a new smartphone of a particular make and model.
  • And loads of other shit.

My son told me about these things a few months ago when he was thinking of getting one. But I looked at it and asked myself why I needed something like that, unless I get senile and can’t do all those things for myself, like doing a Google search on the computer, or tablet, or phone.

I was also concerned in this age of the Internet-of-Things about new technology that might be able to be hacked and used to eavesdrop. I wasn’t going to buy one. But now I’ve got one.

We’ve come a long way.

I was born in 1943 and for the first five years of my life we lived on a farm in the coastal hills of Hawkes Bay, miles from civilisation. We didn’t have electricity, or any of the things that ran on electricity, like electric light. But we did have a valve radio that ran off a 12V car battery. We didn’t have a telephone, or a car. None of the workers on the station had a car. My dad had a horse. On summer weekends all the families would pile onto the only motor vehicle, the farm truck, and head off to the beach for swimming and a picnic. That was fun.

When I was five I went to live with my grandparents who lived only a couple of miles from a school, just a short walk away for a five year old. I lived with them for about fifteen months. They were only about six or seven miles from both Napier and Hastings but they didn’t have electricity either. Or a radio. Or a telephone. Or a car. My grandfather had a bicycle and he was well known for biking for hours to get to where he was going. He biked four miles to work every day, eight miles a day. My grandmother was a power walker who would storm off two or three miles down the road to catch a bus to get to where she wanted to go.

My parents must have missed me because they moved into civilisation, or near enough, still out in the country. We were country people through and through. But we were just a couple of hundred yards from a country school. We still had a horse paddock at the school because half the kids rode to school. We didn’t have a school bus. Not even for the Pakeha kids.

And we had electricity and a telephone. But the phone was on a party line and you could guarantee that all the kids in a five or six mile radius would be listening to your conversations. We had electric light and electric hot water and the old radio now ran on electricity. But we didn’t have any other appliances like a washing machine or vacuum cleaner. The washing machine and vacuum cleaner came later, much later. Our mother did all of her cooking on the big old coal range until she finally got a small electric stove in the pantry to do some of her baking. The small stuff. Rather than firing up the big old coal range. And we got a car, an old 1937 Chevrolet coupe. We were technologically advanced at last. Nearly.

Mum didn’t need a vacuum cleaner. She just banned all cats and dogs from the house, and banned all boots and shoes. She banned all the men she didn’t like too. Standard country stuff. Mind you she loved her vacuum cleaner when she got one years later. We upgraded the car to an old Chevrolet sedan quite a few years later when the family outgrew the coupe.

But I was proficient in using country technology. My grandfather taught me to use a scythe and a sickle and a crosscut saw. He’d been a bushman in his younger days and even in his seventies could still cut down and cut up trees faster than men half his age, before the invention of the chainsaw. My father made sure I was proficient with a spade, shovel, rake, lawn mower, hedge clippers, hammer, saw, and all that stuff. Including the fence building and shearing shed stuff. Country technology included the all-purpose knife we all carried, the shotgun and the rifle. Ducks and rabbits and possums, and deer and pigs, you know.

That was it until I left home to join the Army when I left school. That brought on a technology revolution in my life. Well, I’d already used rifles and machine guns and wireless sets in the school cadet unit, but this was full on weapons and technology. I did that stuff for twenty years.

I did my training for a few years in Australia. That meant my first flight. I think it was the first flight anyone in my whanau and hapu had taken. When I got there in 1962 I discovered TV. They had TV in the barracks – black and white – we few New Zealanders were mesmerised by it.

Anyway, I became proficient in the use of HF and VHF wireless/radio and how to erect aerials to get communications out of out-of-the-way places, like deep in a South East Asian jungle. I think the main technology in the jungle was the boots, pack and rifle, and the radio. Carrying the heavy spare radio batteries was a pain. The world was moving on and in 1968 I did my first computer programming course as part of an Army mobilisation plan we were aiming to shift onto a mainframe computer at a university. About the same time I bought a very expensive state of the art electronic calculator. Wonderful new technology. It cut a lot of time and effort out of some work. Today much more calculating capability is a small part of every phone.

In 1970 I went back on attachment to Australia for a few years and got to work with a mainframe computer. Not me personally, but to use it to make short work of a lot of what we were doing. With its card readers and storage and printers and other peripherals it filled the basement. Today much more than that basement full of computing power is in my pocket.

By the late 1970s my technology had grown. Whereas in the mid to late 1960s I had one or two radio operators carrying my radios, I now had two, three and sometimes four radio operators carrying my radios through the jungle. But they were the same radios we had used in the mid to late 1960s.

It wasn’t until 1980 that the Army got a facsimile machine. We had one at our HQ in Wellington, but only the operator was allowed to use it. It was a big old, clunky old thing too. Well brand new actually. But clunky.

So I left the Army and in 1982 got a desktop computer. In my last few years in the Army I hung out for desktop computers to seriously cut back on the paper work we had to do, but they didn’t get them before I left. After I left the Army I taught myself to use a PC and computerised the management and finances at a place I worked for a couple of years. I’ve had a computer on my home desk ever since 1982. I remember when I bought an 8Mb RAM card to upgrade the memory on my first desktop, and when I got 64Mb of hard disk. This laptop is running 4Gb of RAM and 500Gb of hard disk storage. There’s another 14Tb of storage on the desk. And it’s an old laptop.

Back in the day we had Chief Clerks and hoards of filing clerks to keep track of the paper, and we had typists’ pools to create all that paper. The head typiste was the gatekeeper to happiness and if you displeased her your work got pushed to the bottom of the pile and you got into trouble for not meeting your deadlines. True happiness was doing your own typing, and keeping only electronic files. Your electronic messages were handwritten, then passed to the Communications Centre where they typed up your message and sent it electronically on the Telex. SMS is great. Depending on the classification of those messages they might be encrypted by the operators before they were sent. Messages sent by WhatsApp, Signal, Wikr, Telegraph and Facebook Messenger are all encrypted these days. Straight off your phone.

!n 1986 Sir Wira Gardiner and I were contracted to the Board of Maori Affairs working alongside the Department of Maori Affairs and running a new programme. I had the only desktop computer in Maori Affairs. It caused a bit of a stir. They had a mainframe computer but you had to be one of the IT elite to use it; never for mundane day-to-day stuff. Then we decided we needed a fax machine. Maori Affairs didn’t have one. They communicated by telephone mostly, and by letter and telegram.

Remember the telegram?

We asked Maori Affairs for a fax. They said no. So off we went and leased one from the Post Office, and put it onto the Maori Affairs telephone account. They spent a fortune on telephone calls so we figured no-one would notice fax hire and fax calls. They never did. But we had no-one to send faxes to. So we started sending faxes to Maori Trust Boards and heaps of other organisations via the Post Office Bureaufax service. The fax would say “please ring so-and-so on such-and-such a number and ask him or her to call and pick up a fax”. We sent them far and wide. And very soon they all started buying their own fax machines. We sent faxes to all the Maori Affairs districts and they started asking Head Office if they could have fax machines. Head Office said “absolutely not” so the districts went out and bought them anyway. Soon Head Office was the only office in the Department without a fax. So we started getting faxes for Head Office on our machine. We’d read them of course and take a copy of the interesting ones before passing them across the road. Then Head Office staff started coming across the road to send their faxes. We’d read them of course and take a copy of the interesting ones. Some of the so-called “Maori Loans Affair” scandal of December 1968 passed across our fax machine.

Well, soon I got a call from the private secretary to the Minister for Maori Affairs, Koro Wetere. He said the minister wants a fax machine. I said ask Parliamentary Services or Maori Affairs. He’d asked them and they both said absolutely not. So off I went and leased one from the Post Office and booked it up to Maori Affairs. They never noticed that one either. Then I told everyone what Koro’s fax number was so the whole of Te Ao Maori could fax him direct. And they did.

Remember the fax machine?

Then the Board of Maori Affairs asked me to oversee the installation of a PC network, in one of the sections of Maori Affairs Head Office. The opposition from the IT department and from senior management was huge. But we got in the experts and built the first PC network in Maori affairs. It was magic.

A couple or more years later Wira Gardiner became CEO of the Iwi Transition Agency (Te Tira Ahu Iwi). I’d long since stopped working alongside or with Maori Affairs. Anyway in his first week on the job he rang me from his office (the old Maori Affairs) on a Sunday. He said how do I get into this PC network. I said I’m no longer authorised. He said you built it, how do I get in. So I relented and he was logged in in no time at all.

It must have been in the late 1980s or 1990 when I got my first cellphone, a Motorola Brick. It cost a fortune, had a short talk-time and took forever to charge. But it was magic. I was on the road a lot and my kids could call me wherever I was, and I would never miss a call from a business client. It was clunky though and I carried it in a small kete one of our whanaunga had woven for me.

The Brick

That’s twenty seven years ago. I’ve had dozens of mobile phones in that time, including a lot of Blackberries. I got a Blackberry as soon as they came on the market in New Zealand. Now into Android though, and interestingly, the current phone is a Motorola Moto G, the same make as my very first phone. That computer and communications device in my pocket has more computing power than a 1970 mainframe, and more communications power than I ever had in the military, which functions on communications networks.

The Internet came on stream. I hooked up to the Net about 1994 or 95. Got into email, and chat rooms. We chatted in chat rooms or on bulletin boards, or in the Use Groups. Remember those? Course you don’t.

The World Wide Web had been invented but it took the development of the browser to make it available to the ordinary user. I used the Web without a browser and was glad when Netscape arrived to make browsing easy. Then I noticed that there were hardly any Maori online, and that Maori stories and news were being appropriated and told through a Pakeha lens. That pissed me off.

So I went on a crusade to challenge all of those purporting to tell Maori stories, and built the first Maori website at www.maaori.com . It’s still there although I haven’t written any new stuff for ages. And I started Te Whanau Ipurangi / Maori Internet Society and built a few other websites and started a few other online initiatives.

Me and my small group of Maori Netizens were the first Maori into a lot of the social media, just having an ihu, watching as more and more Maori came online and subscribed to the various offerings.

Now in 2018 the Internet is old hat, email is old hat (none of my mokopuna use it), the World Wide Web is old hat, hardly anyone builds their own websites any more, social media stuff is getting to be old hat. President Trump governs via Twitter and the media sucks it up.

We’ve got solar panels on the roof, broadband to the home, we check what’s happening on the roof over the Internet; we’ve got wifi, satnav built into the car, a phone and tablet full of apps, online shopping, electric cars, portable bluetooth speakers, smart TVs, Fitbit things, VOIP telephones, VPNs, and all the rest. Coming at you is the Internet-of-Things; fridges and stoves and dishwashers and light bulbs and home security systems and teddy bears, all connected to the Internet. All with lousy security and easily hackable.

We’ve got mass surveillance by governments and corporations, and breaches of privacy, and identity theft, and online scams and fraud, and cyber-bullying, and a whole lot more besides.

But I wouldn’t be without my technology. And I do use the secure Tor browser, end-to-end secure cloud storage, end-to-end encrypted email, and end-to-end encrypted messaging and voice.

Now I’ve got Google Home waiting for me to say “Hey Google, stop eavesdropping”.