Naked Kings, and Surly Technocrats

By Francis Vale

During the roaring 1980's, money was crowned king of modern society. In the 90's, it is computer technology which wears the gilded headdress. And woe unto those who dare suggest that this kingly techno-personage might actually have no garments.

We now seemed to have spawned a large assemblage of Unabombers -- but in logical reverse. They don't abhor technology, nor seek to maim those who embrace it. Rather, these byte-bedazzled minions attack those who have the affront to question the sanctity of their new found digital kingdom.

That computers might not work as relentlessly advertised and breathlessly marketed by Microsoft; or that many self-advertised experts who proclaim deep understanding of such technologies are, in fact, Gatesian wannabes; or that there are classes of products which employ complex computer technology far more effectively than what is currently sitting on your desktop -- e.g., the computer-laden Cadillac STS I drove recently -- is just too much for these mirror-imaged Luddites to bear.

To even suggest that these increasingly Baroque, feature over-laden software systems might not be all that they are cracked up to be is equivalent to suggesting that their new lord king might be buck naked after all. So like any good royally-befuddled rabble, they swarm out of their silicon city gates and attack the questioning heretics.

This disturbing social trend has much broader implications.

It has been widely publicized that there is an ever growing economic gap between the upper and lower income groups in the U.S. In other words, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. In a democratic society, this type of economic disparity is a Bad Thing. It creates deep seated schisms in the body politic that can fester and eventually erupt into some very nasty clashes between the haves and the have nots. In much the same way, we are moving into a period of technological haves and have nots. And it is many of these techno-haves who will be getting most of the new economic power.

Thus, the more computer technologies become arcane, unwieldy, and overwrought, the more entrenched and enriched this new cyber class can become. Meanwhile, at the other end of the stick, we have an increasingly disenfranchised class who neither understand these technologies (but many of whom pretend to), nor are they gaining the economic benefits from these new systems that they supposedly should be.

In this techno-socio-economic context, it makes perfect sense for the cyber-haves (and pseudo-haves) to go ballistic when the often dishabille state of their king is pointed out to them. To expose the lie is to lay bare the shallowness of their argument: More technology is good, no matter how bad some of it might be.

The lengths to which the newly techno-religious will go to rationalize their ill-found faith is extraordinary, the current Internet craze being a good example: "Information will flow effortlessly! Whole segments of the population will throw off the yoke of data-encrusted fiefdoms! Corrupt nation states will fall! Greedy robber baron corporations will go into Chapter 7!"

Somehow, I don't think so.

One reason being that the Netscapes, Sun Micros, and Microsofts of the world are tripping all over their balance sheets to come out with new, barely baked systems, many of which deliberately seek to be incompatible with one another. If this continues, then in the end, it will be the techno-elite mostly talking to themselves, resulting in a kind of collective, digital onanism.

So, really, who gets all the Internet benefit? Indeed, how can the average consumer keep up with this blistering rate of largely contrived technological change?

The actual message being delivered is loud and clear, if you stop to listen: Either you are a member (wannabe, or otherwise) of the new cyber upper-class, or if not, well, just clear out your desk and go join the rest of the great unwashed.

And by the way, this doomsday missive also includes you, Mr./Ms. CIO or MIS Manager, for no one is immune when the raucous, benighted rabble rise up.

Funny thing, I can remember when Personal Computers were seen as being great human liberators. Instead, they now seem well on their way to becoming Personal Disenfranchisors.

As Pogo once said, "I have met the enemy, and he is us."

The Bottom Line

Home Users: You may buy a new Internet TV to quickly get on-line, but just wait until it starts asking you which plug-in of the week you want to support, or your ISP goes all flaky, or your TV set is bombed by an insidious new virus. You really thought this was going to be easy?

Business Users: No matter how much you spend, your grand new IT/IS plan will always be behind the times. You might as well just turn your corporate checkbook over to Gates, and be done with it.

Power Users: You're in Fat City! No one will dare fire you. Just keep dropping those meaningless, incomprehensible buzzwords around the office like budget-busting cluster bombs. Nobody will catch on that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

Copyright 1996, Francis Vale, All Rights Reserved

21st, The VXM Network,