One of the biggest problems induced by all this technology stuff is that it can become an end in itself, rather than a means to another end. So it would appear to be with desktop computers. We still sit in the era of the PC train spotter, incredibly smug at being the first to have the latest, greatest, most unique systems, and only rarely integrating them into the heartland of what we are doing, be that business or everyday life. The PC has not yet made it to being a part of our culture. Instead, we continue to make a culture of the PC. This, interestingly, was one of the underlying themes that arose the other week at a retreat of various IT notables - apparently I was there to make up numbers. It was interesting because the retreat was organised by Microsoft, which has a definite and prolonged interest in turning the PC into a world-dominating culture all of its own. Yet, whatever was discussed, the different cultures of the people in any country kept emerging as the key to understanding the way computers are seen and used. One thing is for certain, the PC is a very useful tool, but it has also had the effect of changing the rules of our culture. What is more, we seem to be now unsure of what the new rules should be. This can be readily seen in business. The traditional cultural model of business structure is that there are bosses who are good at management and, in particular, numbers of pecuniary persuasion. Okay, so the good at management bit is, in practice, open to considerable debate, but the theory holds good. They are then overlords to a range of artisans with the skills needed to make the business work. These can range from clerks and secretaries through to rocket scientists and IT staff. Now, while most secretaries know full well that they actually run the business most of the time, and most rocket scientists know full well that they don't want to (so long as the dosh exists with which to play with ever-more splendid rockets), IT staff are in a strange position. They now effectively manage the business, yet most of the time the tools and gizmos of management are more important than the reason for doing it. As an indirect example, while it is an acknowledged fact that a picture is worth a 1,000 words, most of the time the words are perfectly adequate. Yet the trend is now for everyone to send everyone else Emails with huge attachments which contain 3Kb worth of relevant facts and half a megabyte of Technicolor logos and similar worthless dross. The tools have become more important than the information itself. I find myself wondering how many business deals are now lost because a manager was waiting for a huge, logo-ridden file to download and unencode itself so that the information could be used. The computer obviously brings some cultural changes, but they are not difficult. For example, while kings once had scribes to do their writing, I doubt there is one now that needs to learn how to use a pen and paper. By the same token, it is time for IT management to stop being a race apart.
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