Overcome by technology

A cap of cloud on Granite Peak was once all  that was needed to forecast imminent rain, Gaye Coates writes.

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Paddy Coates was concerned his new tractor would offend his hard-working horse.

A cap of cloud on Granite Peak was once all  that was needed to forecast imminent rain, Gaye Coates writes.

BACK WHEN MURRAY’S GRANDFATHER was farming at Haupiri, technology by today’s standards was not a significant feature. Shearing could be postponed on a sunny day; a decision not made by consulting five different weather apps, but by the conviction gained by simply looking at a cap of cloud hanging over a mountain peak, confidently knowing this signalled imminent rain.

It is said that innovation and the adoption of it come from necessity and even in the 1920s when Paddy (husband Murray’s dad) was starting out, the need to increase productivity and have more efficient land use saw him take up “modern” alternatives. One of the family stories I am particularly fond of is the recount of a letter written by him to his later to be wife, Violet.

In the letter Paddy describes the purchase of his very first tractor and of his concerns that despite the improvements this innovative piece of equipment offered, he would offend his loyal and hard-working horse. Needless to say, tractors have remained at Haupiri, while the horses and stables are long gone.

“While introducing technology seems a reasonably simple process, the reality of adapting to it seems significantly less so.”

Over the decades of our time here, technology in a variety of forms has been steadily introduced on the farm. Modern machinery is now equally matched with digital “implements” of accounting software, payroll apps, proof of placement “brains”, digitalised diaries and computerised herd management systems. While introducing technology seems a reasonably simple process, the reality of adapting to it seems significantly less so.

I’m unsure why something that is supposed to be so useful produces such hefty, despondent sighs and exasperated groans from behind the office door? There are less than subtle glimpses of cynical humour in our children, knowing those sounds reflect that they are about to be asked yet again to sort out whatever new technology seems to be pushing the owner of the noises out of their depth and sense of control.

The week of Christmas saw these pronounced exhalations reach a cantankerous crescendo. The faithful desktop computer had after a decade of use developed symptoms of a terminal illness. The district landline telephone system with its wireless technology that was innovative in 1945 was no longer able to be serviced; the Sure Signal system that gave us our cell phone reception was turned off and the “I’ll get around to switching from Cash Manager to Focus when I have some time” became that very same week, an urgent “I have to do it now”.

The new satellite service to give us a telephone was switched on. We now have to count to 10 before we can say a hello that will be heard with any assurance and there seems to be a kink in the virtual cable connecting our “tin can” with the one suspended in the sky, constricting the conversation to a frustrating level of hesitancy and stiltedness.

The new cell phone solution of WiFi calling was not compatible with our existing phones and required the input of a tech savvy son coerced with the enticement of Mum’s cooking. The new computer seemed anything but friendly and Focus is yet to be a BFF.

So, it was with a sense of relief that the beginning of 2022 saw us as a family escape to a “disconnected” backcountry hut, devoid of any technology except the PLB designed to rescue us from any scenario that would not see us safely back one night later and a phone solely for the purpose of capturing photographic memories.

That night, amidst the background symphony of sandflies, a game of Scrabble began. The shift from companionable to competitive was an early transition with the exclamation: “That is not a word”. “It is” recounted the confident child. “See, here it is in the dictionary on my phone”.

Ahh yes… innovation not only comes from necessity, but from the innate desire in us all to win the game. The laments from behind the office door seem set to continue.