8 May 2003

Gone to the flogs
You have to read SPEAKING FREELY: Technological illiterates and WMD. If you read nothing else in the next blogcycle, read this.

When some bubble-headed TV newsreader admits on camera that he hasn't "figured out how to set my VCR", the FTI-meter goes to full-tilt. There is almost no way to measure the perceptual difference between the people who invented television and someone who would make such a remark. Ironically, they are both in the same business (TV) so we have the situation where beautiful techno-illiterates appear in everyone's life - a feat made possible by some of the finest techno-geniuses of history.


Welch became Wall Street's man because he was able to return, with mathematical regularity, increases in "shareholder value". His method, which earned him the nickname of "Neutron Jack", was to close down plants in the US that usually represented a couple generations of technological genius, and ship the tools to some Third World location where labor was cheap. He was called "Neutron Jack" because like the proposed Neutron bomb, it destroyed the people but left the buildings standing. For executing this plan, he was rewarded with wealth beyond wretched excess.


There seems to be a gap in consciousness between buying, maintaining and ultimately destroying technology and building the stuff. In the army, talking tough will get you into the very inner rings of power; talking about the nearly infinite ways that technology can be reduced to uselessness will get you stationed in Greenland.

And so a fashionably technologically illiterate groupthink replaces reason in the corridors of power. Questioning the existence of Iraqi WMD at the Pentagon in mid-March 2003 was a good way to get yourself called "French", even though the whole idea of WMD production by Iraq had become technologically preposterous.

Apart from excellent analysis the author rises to a pleasing level of snark as well. His ebook Elegant technology is next on my list, right after I finish the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I'll never go through a Rumsfled press conference without thinking 'telephone sanitiser' again.

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