'Connected' 80-year-old analyst uses fibre to monitor major global issues from the comfort of home.
Talking to Waikato geopolitical analyst Brian Main, you could be forgiven for thinking he has leapt out of the pages of a John le Carre spy novel.
Every day, closely watching global conflicts to look for clues on how they might impact New Zealand, this 80-year-old is in communication with people all around the world - the US, Israel, the UK, Australia and the Middle East included - to share and collect information.
Who are these people? "Oh, I can't tell you that. But they are people like me; it's like a giant jigsaw puzzle and over the years a picture gradually develops that reveals the players (in conflicts) and their agendas."
It is how Main keeps communicating with these people as much as what he learns that is fascinating. A retired New Zealand Army major and former principal lecturer at the Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) he is, unlike many in his age-group, extremely comfortable with technology.
He has to be. As vice president of the Waikato branch of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs (NZIIA) he needs to keep abreast of world developments. Thanks to his fibre broadband connection, he is easily able to do so.
He says most nights he is up until 2am communicating online with contacts around the world: "The introduction of fibre and the high security systems that can accompany it has made my activities possible."
Much of this information gathering and sharing is channelled through NZIIA (an independent, non-governmental group) which aims to foster an understanding of international issues and "its impact on globalisation that New Zealand is now very much part of".
Being connected, he believes, is essential – even for (and maybe especially for) those over 60 as it gives them a huge window on the world. US research from last year showed that Americans aged 60-80 are spending more time on their screens, now spending more than half their leisure time connected. Meanwhile, only 14 per cent of Americans aged 65 and older were internet users in 2000, compared to 73 per cent now.
Main says while older people may not be confident with technology, the best help can often be gained from grandchildren or others in that younger age group: "They are only too willing to do so and don't mind having to tell you time and time again."
Here in New Zealand, a recent study by Chorus found 62 per cent of respondents aged 60-plus felt connected to their local community with over a third reading the news online at least once a day. Like Main, many expressed they're still looking to learn and discover into their golden years, with over 42 per cent interested in starting a new project in the next five years.
Main's connected life sees him examine issues ranging from concerns over global warming to the sourcing, processing and conservation of fresh water in a world where populations are rapidly expanding.
Access to water, he believes, could pose a threat to New Zealand's security in the future: "We have a situation now where there are 7 billion people on planet Earth and many scientists think it will ultimately only be able to sustain between 8 and 9 billion.
"Population explosion is accelerating global warming which in turn is limiting access to clean water," he says. "I can see a time when other countries will start looking at water-rich nations to invade in order to survive."
That eye on the future gives him an enthusiastic interest in life, carrying on from his 36-year army career where he served as a radio and telegraph technician and later as a military communications systems engineer. It was during the Cold War that he developed his interest in international affairs.
In his time he was sent on a Russian language course, posted to a joint US/New Zealand Antarctic research station operated by the US Marine Corps and trained as a UN military observer (a posting subsequently cancelled because of an international development).
Not exactly secret service stuff, but it is easy to see how he could have fit in as a character in a le Carre novel (the highly regarded British author has penned more than 20 espionage novels and, during the 1950s and 1960s, worked for both the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service).
Main also has a passion for teaching and, after retiring from the regular army in the mid-1970s, he went into academia lecturing at Wintec until his retirement in 2009. Initially he taught radio technology, maths and electronics, with advances in technology soon meaning his speciality morphed into IT.
"We actually used to build computers and programmes and I literally lived through the birth of modern computers," he says. "That's why I am very comfortable with technology."
Main is enthusiastic about his role with NZIIA and in his capacity as the Waikato branch vice-chairman has organised speaking engagements with many high-profile diplomats including the US ambassador and, more recently, the Israeli ambassador.