I am the 1%: How tech nerds can save the world

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I am the one per cent. That is‚ the one per cent of people who are tech nerds. I line up for smartphones on launch day. I listen to gadget podcasts. I know the speed of my SSD drive. I get Dr. Who jokes and put an Apple sticker on my toaster. I am the geek your parents warned you about.

So, I am almost genetically incapable of understanding why everyone didn't back the Scanadu Scout or the Pebble watch on Kickstarter or can't wait to try Microsoft's HoloLens. Tech nerds are jerks about this stuff.

"Why do admin assistants use Excel for tables of text?" we ask. "What is the appeal of an e-book reader with no backlight or WiFi?" "Why is that poor bastard across from me on the train still using a Blackberry Storm?" "How can you not tell the difference between a USB, micro-USB, Lightning and Thunderbolt port at a single glance?"

We are dismayed that most folks don't know what operating system their phone uses or which version of OS X or Windows is on their laptops. I mean, they are still using a web browser from 2013, for God's sake. How, we wonder, do they know how to bring their spoons to their mouths or not put their pants on their ears?

That attitude makes us about as popular at parties as a flatulent whiner in a yoga class.

I'm sure my sports-fan or child-rearing friends think the same things of me when I ask dumb questions like, "Why do hockey players fight so much?" or "How come you're so freaked out about French Immersion, car seats and peanut butter sandwiches?"

I know that for most human beings, technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Most people will suffer through the arcane menus of cheap, ugly, slow Android phones with crufty versions of the operating system on them because, well, they're inexpensive phones. And, even if they did see a fast phone sporting a modern interface, they probably wouldn't be tempted by it because they're used to what they've got and would rather spend their money some other way. Plus, it would mean change, and most normal folks hate it when software or technology changes. I don't get that, but I'm told it's true.

Yes, I know that for many lower-income folks mobile phones and computers are becoming necessary but also expensive realities. So, of course, they will opt for a flip or feature phone, a used Windows desktop or make do with access to free bandwidth at a public library. But a lot of folks who spend money on organic free-range almond milk and private viola lessons for the triplets also rock a cellphone that was popular before Miley Cyrus mistook her butt for a maraca.

I know that lots of folks are concerned that technology has killed conversation, destroyed privacy and spawned a spy state that can track, data mine and control its citizens.

Well, I know this, and I don't know this. I know rationally it's true and makes perfect sense. You can't watch Citizenfour or read about Bill C-51 and not get creeped out. But I also see the health, education and yes, human connections, that technology has manifest and see a balance there.

And I also can't imagine that folks can live in the world of wonders and magic that technology has brought, literally, close to hand, and can turn their back on all that world can offer.

And, I think the citizens (activist Steve Anderson, for example) who are doing the most to protect us, are also the ones who understand the technology best. They see both the promise and the danger, and use one to subvert the other. The one per cent vs. the other one per cent, I guess.

And so, I choose to aim for the future, or as close as you can get by lining up early in the morning for the next shiny thing. I'm not afraid of what comes next and I love living in the present as much as I can. I was born before colour TV, the Internet or digital anything, really. Now I'm like a senior at a Mandarin buffet. I want to enjoy all the good stuff, before it's too late.

Listen to an audio version of this column, read by the author, here.

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for rabble.ca on technology and the Internet.

Photo: Jenn and Tony Bot/flickr

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