Officials have eye on technology Conference: About 100 people discussed the benefits and hazards of a wired future.

October 18, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Imagine a county meeting where you can voice your opinion on a tax proposal, new school or development from the comfort of your own home. Or picture an online community college course where you're never asked to step foot in a classroom. Or how about commuting to work by walking from your bedroom to your study?

New technology may soon make these and other once futuristic ideas a part of everyday life in Carroll County, say government, education and business leaders.

"We want more information. We want it fast and we want it easier," said Maggy MacPherson, director of the county's Office of Information and Communication Services.

MacPherson was one of more than a dozen speakers at the county's first technology conference on Friday, which drew about 100 people from business and county and state government to brainstorm on the opportunities and perils of technology.

"After every technological advancement, there is some positive or negative impact," Christopher J. Oneto, vice president of the five-member county technology advisory board, which planned the event.

Most speakers embraced the positives.

MacPherson said the county's Web site ( has been a tool to promote tourism and disseminate information on government services to the public. A related site by the county Department of Economic Development will soon be available to lure businesses to the county, she said.

The Web site may help the government connect with younger NTC residents who are out of touch with civic life, she said. Such "netizens" are under 35, affluent, well-educated, and computer savvy, but not satisfied with their government, MacPherson said.

Other towns and counties have experimented with interactive town meetings and online government services to reach out to this group, she said.

Carolyn Fairbank, an independent county commissioner candidate who attended the conference, encouraged the county to pursue similar programs.

"I really like the idea of people getting involved even if they're sitting at home," she said.

In a presentation on technolo- gy and health and human services, Larry Leitch, county health officer, asked how his department could improve service by tying all the department programs' databases together, yet protect the confidentiality of the clients.

"Government, public library, business They all share the same thing. They want to make sure information is available to everyone," said Joe Hess, a member of the county's Technology Advisory Board, which was formed in 1996.

More than 70 million people in the nation use the Internet and the number is growing daily, said Jacques Dubois, a distance learning consultant for PBS.

About 800,000 of those are involved in long-distance learning using television and the Internet. Dubois asked the audience to consider the advantages of this kind of learning environment.

Instead of being tied to an academic schedule, students can take courses any time and from anywhere. Dubois displayed an example of a French course that allows students to work at their own pace and e-mail quizzes and homework to the instructor.

Many people are resistant to these methods because of traditional ideas about learning.

"At times, we have confused interaction with proximity," he said.

The demands of the information, he said, have less to do with technical challenges than with a willingness to think differently.

"It's not so much about technology," he said, "as it is our ability to change."

Pub Date: 10/18/98

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