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Editorial: Coping offline in an online age

Wednesday October 23, 2019 Written by Published in Editorials

Some of us like to think we’re indispensable in our jobs, in our roles in the community. But when we can’t make it into work … well, we discover that life goes on.

We’ve had a few people call in sick over in recent weeks at Cook Islands News, and yours truly, the editor, was sniffing and sneezing last week – but the paper came out. It always does (touch wood!)

There have been plenty of others around Rarotonga hit by seasonal colds and flu and other ailments these past couple of weeks, up to and including heads of ministry. But the business of government keeps chugging slowly along, unperturbed.

It’s a healthy reminder for the workaholics that those around them will step up to make sure the important things get done – and the stuff that doesn’t get done probably wasn’t as urgent as we thought it was, anyway.

As they say, nobody died.

We need to learn to apply the same thinking to the internet. Because yesterday, when Bluesky cable and mobile internet connections across the island went down, everything ground to a halt.

Over the past 10 years we’ve all so redesigned our work practices that we no longer have alternatives to email and instant messaging and online research and cloud storage. If a person calls in sick one day, we can cover for them; if the internet calls in sick, we struggle to cope.

There has been much discussion about the decision by those engineering the new Manatua cable, which will connect Rarotonga and Aitutaki to the world, to not build in “redundancy”. Redundancy means that if one part of the cable breaks or crashes, another would pick up the slack.

Local cable provider Avaroa Cable Ltd and internet provider Bluesky argue they will still have the old satellite internet to fall back on, if that happens.

The question, then, should perhaps be directed at Cook Islands government and businesses instead: do we have redundancy built into our own systems, so we can still keep our businesses running on a day like yesterday, when the internet goes down? Can resorts cope without their online bookings systems? Can shops manage without eftpos?

As an editor, for an hour or so, I couldn’t access my cloud-based email, contacts files, letters to the editor emailed over the past 24 hours, international news agencies like Associated Press and Agence France-Presse (I couldn’t even Google to check the French spelling of the news agency’s name!) We couldn’t update www.cookislandsnews.com website.

So our reporters and I reverted to reporting the way we did back when I started out at my first daily newspaper, last century. We phoned people, we visited people to talk with them and take photos – we checked our facts the old-fashioned way by asking people questions.

And then we sat down at our desks, without email and internet, and we typed out our articles the way generations of journalists before us had done.

And you know what? The newspaper still came out – as it has almost every weekday since soon after World War II. – Jonathan Milne

(This editorial was written without the assistance of the internet or email.)