Do you remember a fellow named Bran Ferrin (vice president of Disney Imagineering), speaking at ACORD’s annual conference in 1998, and his belief that the Internet was the equivalent of fire for mankind? Did you chuckle?
The late Michael Dertuzos (director of the MIT Computer Lab) spoke to us in 1999 along the same lines. I recall him waltzing around the stage while flailing his arms about, suggesting that cyberspace was not “somewhere out there”, but something that becomes part of our everyday lives whether we realized it or not.
Very often many people dont realize this, while others lack appreciation for the intensity of its potential influence.
I often talk about the digital dividethe gap between business and information technology that every good chief information officer must bridge to succeed. Perhaps my biggest challenge is helping business people understand IT and industry standards in the face of an ever-changing and increasingly complex world.
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Sometimes its helpful to step back and look at the big picture. I often look at other disciplines that deal with change and complexity to look for parallels that I can translate back to our business. So lets go back to the beginning where it all startedthe “Big Bang,” of course.
The physicist Theodore Modis points out that evolution has not been a continuous, uniform process. While change is ongoing and continuous, the rate of change and its associated complexity will vary. He counsels his students that evolution (of any kind) includes jumps and growth spurts with periods of stability in between. He goes on to say, “The 20th Century alone features more turning points in the history of mankind than the previous five centuries put together.”
Squeezing together all these turning points or milestones has made life more complex, and many people are unable to cope with the new world order.
So what does this have to do with technology?
On his chart of 28 canonical milestones starting with the “Big Bang” and the origin of the Milky Way, he lists the Internet as number 28. Fire is number 15.
Mr. Modis points out that the year 2028 may represent the peak of the S-curve that resulted from the last few historical milestones, including the Internet. He claims that we are traversing the only period in the history of the universe in which a single lifetime (of 88 years for the Baby Boomers) can witness changes coming from as many as three evolutionary milestones.
The issue is our ability to deal with change and complexity.
The bottom line is that the Internet is a really big deal in terms of human evolution, and we have yet to seriously plumb the depths of the meaning of connecting every person on earth to a common network.
Larry Downes, author of “The Strategy Machine And Unleashing the Killer App”–and the keynote speaker at this week’s 2003 ACORD Conference–describes the importance of open standards in a big-picture way.
One of his points is that the uncertain future will bring new devices, new technologies and new trading partners as well as a number of surprises along the way. Therefore, building an IT infrastructure that can anticipate what we do not know is difficult.