Data Processing Progress,
500 B.C. to 2000 A.D.

Francis Vale

Early information retrieval scene, circa 500 B.C: A bloodied slave staggers into the royal palace, collapses, and dies on the floor. The prime minister removes a tattered piece of parchment from the dead man's hand. On the parchment are two x's written in the poor soul's own blood. These are data. The PM knows that this data are a prearranged signal indicating the enemy are about to cross the river and attack. This is information. The ruler, however, also knows that the enemy's army is as strong as his own, and a new war will be catastrophic for his county. He thereupon negotiates a peace treaty. This is wisdom.

1990's-style Information Transfer: In a recent TV ad, a bunch of harried business people are stuck in a paralyzed tangle of big city traffic. From a stranded cab, they frantically try calling their customer to say they are running late because of this abominable rush-hour bottleneck. A woman in the front seat reaches over and yanks the cellular phone out of the hands of her colleague, who is sitting in the back of the cab. She plugs his cellular phone into her laptop computer and faxes off some architectural plans for yet another tacky real estate development to their customer's machine. End the ad, and return to continuous televised coverage of O. J. Simpson Trial reruns.

This is progress?

Admittedly, there are powerful arguments for getting timely data into the hands of those who need it. User satisfaction can be a powerful motivating goal for the liberation of information via the Internet and Web servers. But in reality, such readily available information is actually a liberating philosophy for managing an organization, as well as your professional and personal life, in a whole new way. However, without the underlying structural geist to accommodate this data liberation, many organizations, and users, will lose, rather than gain, from the promise of the Internet. Notably absent in all of the rosy Internet/Web scenarios that are being bandied about is that many people -- for many different reasons -- do not want to act on the data; even though it is readily available and the information it contains is accurate.

Stalin, for example, had reliable espionage data that the Americans were creating the atomic bomb during WW II. But Stalin chose to ignore this information for a long time because he believed it was an American trick to get the Russians to needlessly expend a lot of money and effort. A more recent example occurred at an aggressive and well known semiconductor company with one of the best data gathering/dissemination/control systems, anywhere. This semiconductor company is also very tightly managed -- some might even say micro-managed. A short while ago, this company dropped the ball, and many millions of dollars suddenly went kapoof! The data indicating that this fiasco was coming was probably on the company's system. However, this organization's overly tight controls probably caused some people down the line to clench up -- whether consciously or unconsciously doesn't matter -- and hold back on the true information context of the data.

The moral of the story: the free flow of data means nothing if the organizational/personal paradigm is not in place to use it in a meaningful way. A lot of needless organizational wars are going to be fought over Web servers and the 'net. That is because many people still cannot discern see the differences between data, information, and wisdom.

The Bottom Line

Home Users: The Web and the Internet mean that your kids have found another way to spend hour after hour seeing things you wish you they didn't. Never mind. At least the V Chip-equipped TV is not being used, so now you can watch Dynasty reruns in peace.

Business Users: A free flow of information is just too painful and threatening. And the necessary social and managerial re-engineering will cost you a whole lot of money. Spend it instead on nice junkets to Internet/Web conferences.

Power Users: How come your cubby buddy has his 3D VR Web Force home page running on an eight CPU SGI Reality Engine, and all you have is a dinky 386 PC Web server with Linux? Do nt pass Go, and forfeit your white plastic pocket protector.

Copyright 1996, Francis Vale, All Rights Reserved,

21st, The VXM Network,