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The 21st century arrives

Agriculture.com Staff 09/25/2006 @ 9:49am

It appears that we out here in the boondocks are about to be thrust into the 21st century.

This is thanks to my local telephone cooperative, which has launched an undertaking called "fiber to the farm." The object of this project is to guarantee a steady supply of wool and/or cotton to each and every rural resident.

No, that's not true. The "fiber" our phone company is talking about is fiber optic cable, which will bring broadband Internet access into our rural homes. And here I had thought "broadband" was simply a politically incorrect term for a group of girl musicians.

It's about time, I say! This is the first improvement in rural long-distance communications since a couple of cave guys stretched a string between a pair of SPOM (Spicy Pieces Of Mammoth) cans and uttered those immortal words, "Can you hear me now?"

The crew that is installing this newfangled cable recently reached my house, so I got to watch the 21st century arrive. My understanding is that optical fibers are quite delicate and don't take kindly to rough handling.

And what were they using to install this fragile stuff? A spike plow and a bulldozer. Actually, the plow was pulled by two bulldozers which were tied together by a steel cable that was roughly the same diameter as a summer sausage.

This drove home a basic truth about modern life: our world isn't run by Wall Street or Bill Gates or other such Masters Of The Universe. It's run by linemen and carpenters and plumbers. It has been said that plumbers have saved more lives over the centuries than have doctors. A seemingly simple item like clean drinking water can do such things.

One morning the cable crew was just west of my trees, so I trotted out and chatted with them. I mentioned that I had examined an exposed end of the pencil-thin cable they were burying and saw that it was defective, that a few strands of hair had somehow become embedded in its core.

"That's the fiber optic part," said the lineman. "Those other, thicker wires you saw are just there for strength."

It suddenly dawned on me that I am now totally at the mercy of technicians. Copper wire I can at least understand and repair: you strip back the insulation, give them a twist or two and viola! -- you have a connection. A person would need to have a microscope -- or a bionic eye -- to see well enough to splice those hair-like optical wires.

That's the downside. The upside is that we will soon have access to cable television and a high-speed Internet connection. Especially important is the Internet part.

A high-speed Internet connection will make my life much faster and more efficient. It doesn't mean that I will be more productive; it simply means I will be able to waste time faster and more efficiently.

Anyone who has an Internet connection knows that the main purpose of the Internet is to waste time. An endless parade of "Dilbert" cartoons marches across your monitor screen while the latest dumb blonde jokes flood your inbox.

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