Okay, so this blog made it through last week’s column relatively unscathed from reader commentary. That can only mean one of three things: you all fully agree with what I’m saying; you all think I’m a rambling crackpot not even worthy of response; or worse, nobody’s reading this stuff.
Whatever the reason, it’s incumbent upon me to continue, since I’ve made the commitment to do so. If nothing else, my further actions will serve to school the politicians on how to carry through with promises made.
After geeking out on the infrastructure and industry elements of northern technology last week, I’m going to turn my attention to two more global matters that our next government could well improve by geeking out themselves: civil society and the environment.
In a sense, government and technology are the same thing. They both share the same primary directive: serve the people. And they both tend to often conveniently forget that objective.
Technology, especially, is too often used for its own sake.
To turn this narcissistic attitude upside down, the next government needs to make sure all of its technology-based programs make public service a priority in a recognizable fashion. In short, the government should turn its technology efforts into a social industry.
With this mindset, and to expand on my “ombudsman” idea from last week (despite the inaccurate name), the next government should set out to define a set of standard ways in which they engage the public through practical applications of technology.
This set of standards should not be defined by general technologists nor, for that matter, by politicians.
Instead, to keep the focus on real people, the government should form a permanent body composed of people expert in matters such as communications, process, health care, social work, public infrastructure, architecture, arts, law, and community building. The people in this group should have direct connections with real, live, honest-to-goodness citizens and understand their needs and wants.
Through a process of evaluation, research, and public consultation, this body would define, maintain, and govern a set of technology directives and standards that the government would be bound to implementing. It would be important that this body, while based on public policy and technology, remain non-political.
Members of the public who have problems with government’s implementation of technology could submit complaints to this body and have them investigated. New governmental technology initiatives would be submitted to this body for approval prior to implementation to ensure adherence with their directives and standards. Furthermore, this body would manage the commissioning of governmental technology projects to local industry.
Additionally, this body would be charged with promoting and evangelizing the government’s technology-based programs, both through communications and other means. For example, tax credits could be offered to early adopters of new programs and services to help build a support base and spur word-of-mouth adoption.
Of course, through this body, the government must also ensure that its citizens are capable of taking advantage of new technology-based services and programs.
To that end the next government must develop a support program for people who cannot afford to purchase and support client technologies independently.
For example, direct-education programs must be offered. While Yukon College does an adequate job of educating people for certain types of technology applications, not everyone suffers well institutionalized learning (yes, I’m looking at me when I say that). That said, they’re likely the perfect agency to custom-design learning programs to support government initiatives.
The government’s education efforts must be in direct support of its program and service efforts and focus on the practical aspects of their implementation. In some cases, this should take the form of in-home learning.
Technology-purchasing programs must be offered to lower-income families and individuals. Not everyone can maintain a current set of required technology in their homes. As a result, consumers too often purchase the cheapest kit in an effort to keep up, yet find themselves spending more time supporting its deficiencies than actually being productive with it.
Through a published set of standards, the government must identify a constrained set of technology that will support their services and programs efforts. They must then enable lower-income citizens to acquire these goods.
One possibility here is a bulk-buy deal with a major computer manufacturer with a “twilight” recycling program built in. This standard set of technology could be leased or loaned to low-income households and then, once its life-cycle is complete, a recycling program could be initiated.
In fact, this last matter represents the simplest act that the next government can and definitely should take: establish a subsidized technology recycling program.
There’s a an awful lot of junk tech gear floating around in the world and it is chock-full of evil substances like mercury and lead. When computer monitors, for example, end up in the dump it’s a total disaster for the local environment as heavy metals and other dangerous chemicals leak out into the soil, water and air.
The Yukon has some respectable volunteer-based computer recycling programs, but they have very limited capacity. The next government needs to step up and offer structured support and substantial funding for an officially-sanctioned technology recycling program.
The primary user of the system, of course, would be government itself. So they would have to lead by example and ensure that all forms of technology they utilize get disposed of in an environmentally-friendly – and publicly reviewable – manner.
But citizens won’t monkey-see-monky-do the bureaucrats. We need more incentive than that, and the best one of all is money. So, although no “deposit” has been paid on technology and therefore no “refund” is available, (as there is with plastic bottles and their ilk), there must be some form of financial incentive offered that would drive people to dispose of technology responsibly.
I don’t believe cash is the answer, probably a tax credit would better serve the purpose. Government could, in turn, take advantage of revenue-generating opportunities that permit the trade in of old electronics for a small payback.
In the long run, however, an environmental tax on things like new PCs and monitors may be a good idea. We pay this on tires and batteries already, yet get a free ride with our geek wares which, in some cases, pose a greater environmental threat than that automobile paraphernalia. This doesn’t make much sense.
Next week I’ll carry on to how the next government can recoup some of the expenditures I’ve proposed here while also strengthening the local technology industry.
First published in the Yukon News on Friday, September 29, 2006.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Canada License.