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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 23rd year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Cat vids and porn?

4 May 2017

As a kid, I recall spending endless hours in the local library, pawing over just about every book there was in the non-fiction science section.

The trove of information to be found in these books was entrancing and as a young lad with an insatiable lust for information about science, this was my utopia -- my happy place.

Of course learning from books, especially a disparate collection of works by different authors, each aimed at a different level of comprehension, is not always the easiest way to assimilate complicated new concepts and disciplines. This meant that along with the euphoria of discovery often came the frustration of not being able to understand what was being read.

Never the less, I recall with great sadness, the day I realised that I'd read all the books on chemistry, math and physics that our small-town library had to offer. If I wanted more then I'd have to get the library to order-in books specifically to my request.

But let's skip forward some 55 years to today.

Today, I don't think I can actually recall the last time I stepped foot through the doors of a *real* library -- you know, the ones with paper and ink in them.

Just about everything anyone could want in the way of reference and learning material is now available online at the press of a key, the gesture of a mouse or the swipe of a touch-screen. Oh how the world has changed.

As a youngster I would get highly frustrated when I read about some bit of technology or aspect of the scientific world and found that there was no further reference material available. These days that's rarely a problem.

Complex topics are also not the learning challenge they used to be. If a text leaves me scratching my head I often find that there's a useful YouTube video of some university lecture somewhere that makes things far more accessible and comprehensible.

To be honest, I think that perhaps the best aspect of modern life is the ready accessibility of this seemingly limitless mine of information and tuition. If I'd had this when I was a kid, who knows what I may have ended up learning, doing and discovering.

So why the hell do the vast majority of folk seem to use the Net solely for entertainment -- watching short videos of cute cats or porn?

I still find it incomprehensible that so few people actually use the Net for what it is best at -- widening your knowledge and understanding of the world around us.

Okay, so maybe I'm looking at this from the very narrow perspective of being a geek but surely geeks aren't the only ones who get a real high from learning new stuff.

Why aren't more people taking advantage of the incredible opportunities for learning that the Net offers? And it's not just learning -- there's also access to an amazing array of products, materials and devices that were solely the stuff of science fiction when I was a lad.

Lasers are now just a few cents a pop from Banggood or Ali Express. Back in the 1960s they were only found in labs and cost a king's ransom. I'd have killed for a feeble ruby laser back then -- and now they're a dime a dozen (almost). Fantastic!

I recall that my own electronics lab (if you could call it that) back in the 1960s consisted of an old multimeter (kindly given to me by an ex-auto-electrician), a power supply cobbled together from a few old radios, a soldering iron I inherited from my grandfather and a vast array of valves, sockets, resistors, capacitors and other components "salvaged" from discarded PA amps and other "old gear" being tossed out by others.

Today, anyone can knock together a pretty descent lab with a digital multimeter, temperature controlled soldering station, an impressive array of brand-new components, a DIY reflow oven and even an oscilloscope for less than a week's pay. Gobsmacking!

So, with all this potential available to people, where's all the innovation?

Where are all the really cool things that can and should be done with this free knowledge and dirt-cheap technology?

Why aren't folk spending at least some of their spare time gleefully accumulating new knowledge and understanding from the Net -- then applying that to come up with clever new things?

Why is everyone ignoring the opportunities that, just half a century ago, so many would have killed to have?

I really don't know -- but I'm going to have to stop writing now because someone just tweeted the most adorable cat video and I'm going to have to put it on my Bookface page to share with all my equally indolent "friends". Oh, then I've got to watch the new series of Orange is the new Black on Netflix. Ain't the net wonderful?

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