Preaching to the pagans

28 Aug 2006

I have a very good friend who professes to be a ‘pagan’ but only in the sense of not being a follower of the god of technology.

He is one of the many people who were very busy in their chosen trench when someone came out with the PC and started something that hasn’t stopped yet.

To my friend, technology is something too complex to attempt to understand and moving too fast to try to catch up with. He finds himself increasingly looking at the table when in the company of technology types as they analyse and parse the latest acronyms coming from the ‘techygods’.

He was recently persuaded to take a PC with internet access, however, and has begun to make tentative steps into the world of Google and email. He likes the usefulness and facility that it means because he can now communicate with friends and can research his favourite subjects. He has found a meaningful use for the technology and he has mastered the skills to make all the connections he wants.

He has crossed the digital divide and he has every reason to be happy. While he is still quick to put his hands up and warn me not to come out with even more acronyms, he will eventually realise that the jargon is not important. He has a computer and he can use it for what he wants. That is what it is about for most people.

I recall a few years ago when Mary Hanafin was the Information Society Minister she mentioned how she was always puzzled by how computer manufacturers had the habit of producing brochures that meant almost nothing to the pagans, as my friend describes them.

She didn’t understand how the detailed technical description could possibly lure people into the internet age and thought it was a bit of a waste of time.

While I don’t or can’t profess to be a marketing person, I can accept that the activities of these companies in this regard may well have paid off in terms of their status as the main provider of computers to ‘ordinary’ people — even, I guess, a lot of pagans.

And I suppose there are those who will argue that the success was very much brought about by the tactic of flooding the newspapers with the adverts full of technical fuzz.

But I would argue that even producing flyers with the computer name and fairy tales (and I’ve no doubt that there are those who would argue that a lot of the stuff they printed was, in a sense, a little fanciful) would have done the same thing because the more you see it, the more the brand is established and recognised. And, of course, there is the facility to buy online, which is very handy.

But I have to say that one of the remaining frontiers in the information society space is actually the number of pagans that we still have to convert.

While there is a good argument that no matter what you do there will always be leaders and followers, the critical thing is that if we don’t bring people along there is a real prospect that we will swell the ranks of the pagans and, consequently, Ireland may find itself being branded as technologically backward.

The most recent flyer to fall out of my newspaper was one advertising “hot summer offers” for which you can “buy now and pay later”. The brochures came loaded with the usual “Dimension 3372X” boasting an “Intel Celeron D Processor 398 (379GHz, 547FSB, 256kB cache)”, not to mention the super-duper RAM.

There is loads more of this technical jargon if you care to look through it but you have to ask yourself how an ordinary decent pagan is going to react to such product revelations. I mean, what in name of God (the god of technology, I suppose) is FSB and what’s the difference between “539FSB” and “500 MHz FSB”? Do they bite? Do you feed them? What can you use them for? And what’s the difference between an “M” processor and a “D” processor? Will it help you to get to heaven if you use one instead of the other?

Looking at the figures coming from the likes of the Central Statistics Office, it is clear that there are many pagans out there who are not convinced that they should be making investments in technology.

So is there any chance the computer companies could go a bit easier with the obscure technical stuff and spare a thought for the heathens?

By Syl O’Connor