In western Cape Breton, a rumour persists that arching across the sky from horizon to horizon is an information highway, paved with technology that is already changing, and ruling, the world.
This highway, according to electioneers, is going to save all our struggling rural towns and villages, which once thrived on wood, fish, and coal.
There’s still plenty of wood, fish, and coal, but apparently nobody needs shelter, food, or warmth anymore, so rural communities live like squatters under a bridge, as a mysterious sky-high
force called broadband leaps from one urban tower to another, unfortunately raining no technological juice down
upon the sparse and unprofitable population below.
Now, just because we’re rural doesn’t mean we’re Luddites, shunning modern tools of communication and commerce. In fact, many here have access to the Internet via a medium called "dialup."
Of course, "dialing up" anything hasn't been modern technology since the introduction in the 1970s of "Dial a Bottle," so people click on a desktop icon and go off to make a cup of tea. This
way, dialup technology ensures that we continue to enjoy that laid-back rural lifestyle so often praised in literature and envied by those whose frantic urban lives are governed by high speed.
So you steep your tea, pour it, check out the state of your dialup, go back to the kitchen, read the morning paper, check again, and then pick up War and Peace to while away the time.
"Gee, I wish we had high speed," sighs the user in question to the telephone techie on the other end of a 1-800 number where your call
is important to us -- so important, that within the time
it takes for the movie version of War and Peace to download via dialup, a real, live voice is there to fulfill your wish.
The company does sell high-speed packages, you learn, and for a quadrupled monthly fee the company can Expresspost you the package. The package arrives 10 days later because... well, that's another rural story.... and you install it, click on the icon, and presto!... you wait.
Make yourself another cup of tea, perhaps, and wait some more. It seems that you've bought the package, not the service, but there's another, even higher-speed deal just waiting to solve your
problems, a deal so full of promise that you think you might vote for it instead of the last politician who promised to high-speed the rural world right into the middle of the global economy.
Okay, so there's another minor adjustment to the monthly fee and you're up and running. It works just great -- as long as you're not in business, don't need to carry out any business, and have nothing in your day-to-day online life that includes the dispatching or receiving of images, business logos, or family photos.
So you pour yourself another cup of tea, step outside, and gaze up into the starlit sky, waiting for a piece of the information highway to break off like the pavement on rural roads, and come cometing
down upon you and your computer, at the speed of light.
— Frank MacDonald is a columnist and author whose published works include Assuming I'm Right (Cecibu, 1990) and How To Cook Your Cat (Cecibu, 2003).