If the ghost of Christmas future came to the lakes area what might show up in the mists of time not yet spent.
Mike O'Connor, who is listed as a curmudgeon emeritus from St. Paul on his business cards, was the keynote speaker who looked at technology in the lakes area Tuesday at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa. O'Connor is a dot.com business founder -- GoFast.net. The technology session, sponsored by the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce, drew about 120 people on a seriously cold morning.
After his presentation, O'Connor, said one of the big threads in this region is the fact that the infrastructure is not that great for the Internet and there are battles to be fought with area phone companies.
But infrastructure may in the end be the easy part of the puzzle.
"The interesting part is if you presume the Internet is there and everybody can get online, then what do you do when people arrive?" O'Connor said. "It's no longer the realm of the geeks."
And what technology can provide and what it may mean to communities comes in questions of leadership potential, productivity and growth.
O'Connor said the Internet offers the ability to do things more easily, faster and cheaper. And once the gee whiz factor recedes in the background, he said what will emerge is all the things people can do differently.
For business that can mean manufacturing quality will get better, O'Connor said. There will be opportunities to create better competitors as businesses in the Brainerd area get into the online world and find global customers and challenges.
O'Connor said there are bright and dark sides. In education, he said it is important to give teachers a chance to become better with the Internet so their comfort level increases. That may open a different world of teaching, he said, adding students can actually meet and talk to children from far -away cultures and distant places.
Libraries may gain new importance as public sites for access to technology and the Internet will give more people access to original research in libraries around the world.
O'Connor said more people will learn and be more critical of digesting information on the Web and rely on traditional sources of information, such as news agencies, to act as filters.
"I think the press still has that role," he said. "We'll get smarter about being our own critic."
And he said the other side of the information glut is the ability of anyone to put up a Web site and share information in this great cauldron of free speech.
"You make all these connections that you wouldn't have made otherwise," he said.
And that brings us back to the lakes area and technology. O'Connor likened the Internet to a huge town square. People have to remember to be cautious at times and keep their purses or wallets closed as they would prudently do in any large gathering. Privacy is another huge issue that has yet to be settled.
But O'Connor said he expects the comfort level to improve for people still adjusting to the technology age. He said the geeks started the infrastructure for the cyber town square. The greater culture followed. And, he said, one of the goals is to bring in more people with a wider range of experiences because the town square gets better with that input. Knowledge is shared. People interact. Retail exchanges happen.
What the Brainerd lakes area has to figure out is how it is going to tap its strengths, O'Connor said. That was what the 120 people who attended the meeting Tuesday were going to explore.
The session considered technology as a thread in everything people do and had a goal for participants. The goal was greater knowledge about technology use in the lakes area and perhaps more importantly -- its potential. In fact, O'Connor's keynote address was titled "What Could Be ..."
Brainerd High School students worked for hundreds of hours to create a video presentation of technology as a thread in the garment of the Brainerd lakes area, using interviews, narration and images.
Participants worked in smaller roundtable groups. Information from the meeting was being gathered by the chamber with a decision expected about approval for additional funds and a direction to continue. A steering committee is expected to meet in January to review the information and look at the next steps.
O'Connor said it is important not to overemphasize the planning portion. He said sometimes it is best just to take a leap.
"Just getting in and trying stuff is really the key," he said.
Two age groups that are moving fastest on the Internet are kids and older folks, O'Connor said. But he anticipates the comfort of those many in-between people to rise in the next year or two. He likened the change to the arrival of the fax machine where they trickled in until nearly everyone seemed to have one.
"We're clearly in that rapid penetration right now," he said. With a chasm between have and have-nots in technology terms, O'Connor said it is important to have access. Companies provide free e-mail now and libraries or cyber cafes can help provide technology to more people.
"I think that is a great rallying point for a community to focus on," he said.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.