15 August 2011

Technology as analogy for politics

Analogies never fit exactly, but they still can be useful from time to time.

The history and current trends of Information Technology offer us an analogy for the political direction our nation will be choosing in the next election.

When desktop computer first began entering the workplace in large numbers, they were set up as "dumb terminals," allowing workers to log in to a personal account, but saving all files on a central mainframe. This model evolved into the one which is still familiar to most of us, the client-server model, where our files and work reside on our own desktop or laptop computers, but certain management and maintenance tasks are performed remotely from the server. This model has allowed for the evolution of laptop computers and more mobile businesses.

In more recent years, the rise of the smartphone has placed more and more data and applications not only on a mobile computer, but literally in the pockets of mobile workers. With the introduction of the iPad last year, the tablet market has exploded, with this new generation of mobile devices actually being considered as a replacement for notebook computers.

Along with this technology has come a "Bring Your Own Device" (BYOD) trend in the workplace. Workers, whose work and personal lives and hours frequently overlap, are less inclined to tolerate multiple devices, and would rather consolidate on a device of their own choosing. For their employers, this means giving up a lot of the centralized control which has characterized IT for the last twenty years. In exchange, they get workers whose autonomy and satisfaction leads to greater productivity.

So what's the analogy? On the one hand, we have a bright new technology that enables personal freedom and empowerment. On the other, we have a dusty old mainframe that promises to take care of everything, as long we stay seated at our desks and chained to the past.

You figure it out.

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