So I looked around / And noticed there wasn’t a chair
It’s funny what a few weeks at home does for the flag waving. A few days back, feeling vaguely and irrationally offended, I was almost about to rush in and defend New Zealand from Stephen Fry’s attack on our internet connections after he (now famously) tweeted:
“[New Zealand has] has probably the worst broadband I’ve ever encountered. Turns itself off, slows to a crawl. Pathetic,”
Because — and just because — it isn’t always.
Once or twice, over the years, I’ve had decent internet in NZ. And there is a cafe in Ponsonby with free wifi (no I’m not telling you where it is).
There was a time of course when we were up there. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Telecom ASDL first arrived and Ihug offered their satellite download/terrestrial upload thingy, we almost had it sorted. Travelling to parts of Asia and Australia allowed well connected folks (read: people who lived in small zones of Auckland and Wellington) to scoff at many of the places we visited.
We were faster than Singapore — or at least a very, very lucky few of us were.
Of course we paid for it — Telecom’s Xtra was insanely overpriced (I had a bill for a grand once from Telecom when my staff decided that streaming Virgin Radio from the UK was a pretty good time-passing thing to do, and other invoices came close) although I was lucky enough to have been given free Ihug connections right up until the time Vodafone took it over, so I guess that compensated a little.
But mostly it’s shite as the world has passed us digitally by, so defend it I can’t and won’t.
This post makes the case well for our fixed internet being rubbish and doesn’t even deal with the nonsense of NZ’s mobile data (for which I pay approx NZ$25 per month with unlimited data where I now call home), and wifi (Pan-Asia, almost universal wifi — free — in cafes, bars, restaurants, malls, hotels, airports and so on, thus allowing me mostly not to bother with the aforesaid $25pm as my phone flits from hotspot to hotspot).
However, if I write such things I’ll be accused of whinging. We are allowed to say these things if we live in New Zealand but we are not allowed to make comment if we return from abroad — thin skinned doesn’t even begin to describe the fast rising anger that accompanies any returning New Zealander making any comparison with the rest of the planet that isn’t gratiously positive, and without qualification.
So I won’t.
What I will make comment on is the increasing disconnect between the world as she exists and is increasingly existing, by the inevitable use of the redundant phrase: Developed.
And while we’re at it: OECD.
Inevitably the commentary in this case revolved around the position our country’s internet speed and connectivity rated when compared to other ‘developed countries’ or the OECD. And it’s both disingenuous and utterly detached from the 21st Century’s reality. It implies that we are somehow part of a small privileged club that the rest (i.e. the ‘undeveloped’ or ‘developing’ bits) sit outside of.
So lets look at the OECD.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is a grouping formed in 1961. It was, at the time, a fairly reasonable representation of the most advanced nations on the planet, using either tech or economic rulers, and the majority were either in Western Europe or North America. We, with Australia, were tagged on as part the western grouping.
However, the world changed. It changed substantially, and the creaky old OECD, whilst it has added a couple of countries to the listing, now looks like a representation of the world as she was long, long ago. One wonders where Singapore is? Malaysia? Thailand? China? Taiwan? Argentina? Brazil? UAE? Kuwait? Saudi Arabia? All of whom have infrastructure, access to education and healthcare, relative poverty levels, employment, IT etc at least equal to several of the OECD countries we so eagerly place ourselves next to as a measure. When it comes to roading, public transport, cost of living relative to wages, and connectivity almost all those counties make us look semi-neolithic.
And the same could be said of the phrase we so adore: the ‘Developed World’ (intentionally capitalised as we would with the titles to all fiction). Bernard Hickey (who actually makes excellent sense economically sometimes I think, and is a realist in the face of the national economic delusion) is forever rabbiting on in Nana Herald about ‘the developed world’, making an assumption we are part of this horse-has-long-bolted club that we love to think we are part of.
There was a time, of course, and it wasn’t that long ago, when arguably we were part of something a little like this. We were part of the industrialised, privileged overclass that, despite almost being thrashed in WW2 until the USA and the Soviets saved our butts (and even then the defeated were quickly re-embraced back into the club), and being a part of the losing team that fought to a draw in Korea, and was beaten soundly in Vietnam & Iraq, was the self anointed meister and comptroller of Planet Earth.
And we still don’t seem to have gone past that.
We, in New Zealand, talk of the Global Economic Crisis without blinking, when the reality is this ‘global’ crisis exists mostly amongst the so called Developed Nations — and even more precisely, amongst that above linked list of the OECD nations.
Much of the rest of the world is doing nicely thank you, with booming economies — although dangerously overheated, if you heed the endless warnings from the prophets in the so called developed nations. The same ones who got 2008 so very wrong.
So we live in a fantasy and we measure ourselves against that.
In the same way we spoke fondly until the last part of the 20th Century of the UK as home, we now instead attach ourselves to a world which has long since passed, and it a way that no other country I’ve visited does — aside perhaps from Australia who even more slavishly regard themselves as a player in a long past Western Alliance that has struggled to deal with a post cold war reality defined by the morass that is America’s endless 9/11 wars. However, even they seem to have grasped that the grouping we think of as our elite members club is largely a delusion.
That bird has long since flown.
Even American Exceptionalism seems to have been battered just a little in recent years post Iraq then 2008.
Before anyone gets irascibly hot and bothered, it’s not that our time has in any way passed, nor that we are a lesser nation or now subservient to another new grouping (although some of the awful ignorance and self-righteously entitled racist commentary that surrounded the Crafar Farms debacle you’d think we had armed child-roasting barbarians bashing at the gates). No, it’s just that the world we like to think we are part of, the “Developed World” no longer exists as an identifiable entity beyond our national collective consciousness.
People in Shanghai live longer than New Yorkers, there are worse slums in the vast housing estates of the UK than any city in Malaysia and the public transport in any city in of the Asian nations I listed above is better, more efficient, cleaner and cheaper than anywhere in Australasia, London or New York City.
Instead of placing ourselves arrogantly as part of some entitled elite that no longer exists it may be time to push that aside and enter the wider world we are now part of — like it or not.
I promise the next post will be gloriously positive.