14 September 2005

Technology and Bureaucracy (Part 3)

(Part 1)

In his excellent book, The Soul of a New Machine, Tracy Kidder remarks that the computer is a "status quo" technology because it facillitates the running of bureaucracies; additional uses, such as matching the power of bureaucracies to do mass mailings or archive research data, are relatively unthreatening to the bureaucracy they are used against. Kidder, unfortunately, doesn't dwell on this point; the review I linked to, while generally favorable, correctly objects that it is by and large a heroic portrait of the people who introduce new technology products. The point, though, about technologies helping either bureaucracies or their opponents, has been a fascinating one to me for decades.

While the stand-alone minicomputer that Kidder wrote about was obviously suited mainly to making bureaucracy more efficient, it's a little harder to see how the internet, let alone, 3G and PDAs, would do so. For the last three years I've tended to harbor a furtive hope that blogs would strike a mighty blow against bureaucracy's steady encroachment on all forms of reality. At night, as I lay in bed waiting to fall asleep, I wondered what utter defeat would look like: a cyberspace in which useful websites used technology that required costly developement tools to implement, shutting out people who did not make money from their sites; or else, internet service that furnished users with "smartbrowsers," browsers with search-engines that confined the user/subscriber to selected sites.

I have to say that I think the PDA, so far, looks like it is turning into this. The cost of implementing new 3G technology has been so great, and PCS providers have sunk so much into market entry, that suspect those providers are the devils in a faustian bargain with governments that sold them wireless channels. They're going to recoup that money through commericals, not user subscriptions. That, and consumerist quietism, are strangling us.



At 7:58 PM, September 14, 2005, Anonymous Barbara said...

Very interesting. I work in IT and feel strangled by bureaucracy. I gained some useful insights from your blog.


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