We all love banding around terms like ‘revolution’. It makes us feel relevant and part of something worthwhile. The danger, of course, is that we use them so often that they lose their meaning.
Consider ‘information revolution’, for example. Yeah, yeah, heard it before, seen the video, got the powerpoint. Here’s a prediction however: when the dust’s settled in a few decades’ time, when our realities are augmented and infrastructures virtualised, in other words, when all those things we talk about so much have become the paving slabs and tarmac of the silicon highway, we’ll be able to see that the revolution was about information. Isn’t that bleeding obvious? Well, no, not really, on two counts.
First, it is just one of many statements each vying for success. I’ve sat through plenty of presentations that say, for example, we have moved from mainframe to client-server to mobile, or indeed, from the information age to the collaboration age, or whatever. Marketers like to see revolutions around every corner, for fear that their own products are in some way dull and in the knowledge that the competition are doing the same. Each time, cynics and those who have been round the block more than once like to point out that they’ve seen it before, that its nothing new. In general they are right – we’ve seen it with social networking (“Started in the Seventies”), cloud computing (“Isn’t that just a mainframe”) and so on.
Second, the technology industry is stuffed full of geeky blokes who, to fall back onto unfair stereotypes, tend to prioritise tools over what the tools can do. Technology is a Toad Hall with a surfeit of toads, who absolutely have to have the next big thing even if they never use it to its full extent. We’re all guilty, at least the most of us are – even when we agree that the computer we had 15 years ago was good enough for most purposes. The end result is that, every time a new wave of tech hits, we spend the next couple of years re-learning al the things we should have known already – security, management, you name it.
Against this background, we are guilty of ignoring the very real revolution that has been taking place since the Second World War and the subsequent invention of the transistor. It was always about information, and it will continue to be. From business analytics to Youtube, from mobile point-of-sale to smart grids, our ability to collect, store, process and access vast quantities of information continues to drive us relentlessly into the future.
And so, to the cautionary note. However we think about technology today, whatever urges us to buy the sexy new gadget or transformative software package, as an industry we have a responsibility to transcend our desires to deliver new and improved technologies, and recognise our role in catalysing the revolution that is taking place in front of our eyes, for better or worse. We have seen some great things, and some not so great, happen as a result of our new capabilities. We all have a role to strive for the former, whilst protecting against the latter.