Monday 15 March 2010

Judging books by their covers

A few days ago, I commented on a blog. I don't normally do this. for a variety of reasons, some of which will perhaps become clear. But the post made me think, and I wanted to discuss the subjects the author had raised and so I commented.

Annoyingly, of all the subjects to get stuck on repeat loop in my head, the one of judging books by their covers is the one which wont go away. So in an effort to get out of the loop, I'm sharing, because it's a source of enormous frustration to me and one of the reasons I've been ever so quiet on a variety of subjects to this point.

Someone who shall remain nameless, in a place which shall remain unidentified commented that they used to judge whether someone was worth doing business with on the basis of whether they had a mobile phone, because they were the right type of person.

I boggled.

That was the way business was done in the late 80's/early 90's. I accept that. In the absence, perhaps, of anything else to go on, a mobile phone was an obvious indicator of someones worth in monetary terms. But is the world the same now? Is my value as a contributor to the current discussions on digital inclusion and infrastructure dependant entirely on my access to that infrastructure and the fact I am included? Is my monetary value directly correlated to my intellect? Does my experience of living 50% of my life in a connected web world become invalidated when it becomes obvious that I do not dress in Gucci and my iPhone is last gen and battered to death?

I think outside of the box, because I don't see the box. I question because I am curious, intensely so, about how the world is being shaped, who is contributing, what the rules are, who's speaking sense and who isn't. I am not alone in this by any means, I am not unusual. There are 100's of thousands of people just like me stating the obvious, pulling people up when they make silly assumptions, correcting peoples misunderstandings of the technology and what it will do. To the last, to the absolute very last, the thing which makes those people so valuable to our economy and our future is the very thing which is not visible in any kind of monetary way. If you looked at me, or any of my friends you would see nothing remarkable. We are not remarkable. And yet we are the people with the experience, understanding, commitment, passion, enthusiasm and drive to want to make a difference, to want to make things happen, who build the things people think there are no use for only to find that actually, they're fundamental. They build toys because they can, code music because they can, create digital replicas of reality, because they can.

That person, who made that comment, would look at me and dismiss. He is a businessman. He will be playing in the digital sandpit in the future and he will be playing by old rules which are no longer always true. The digital world works differently, connects differently. The terms of engagement are changing and those who play by the old rules, will perhaps not be as successful as they could be if they do not learn the new ones.

And while we're here and I'm having a bit of a rant about the new world order, yes, I come to you Mr Head of Age Concern. I listened with interest to someone referring to your comment that 'in two years the geeks will have taken over' or something along those lines.

My response to you is this. Shall we take our tech back now? Those machines which whiz and whir in your local hospital, those scanners and life support machines churning out vital data about peoples hearts and kidneys and livers and brains.....shall we take the software which drives them, the code which makes them whir and whiz, shall we take it back? How about the flight control software which I have no doubt takes you on your shiny holidays each year and means your likelihood of crashing has been reduced quite considerably considering the amount of tin cans flying around up there? How's your commute to work? Is the traffic control maintained and controlled by dynamic speed limits and traffic lights who have been given parameters to know and understand feedback from sensors and react to that input to give you a smoother faster drive to work?

If you were to surmise that this comment irritated me somewhat, you would be correct. Geeks have inherited the earth whether you like it or not. That comes with it's own responsibilities (yes, I am looking at some of my friends very sternly), but most of the geeks I know are stepping up to the plate finally and sharing and training and communicating what they know. That's a seperate post. It's not published, but it's written, and yes I know.

Anyhow, here's the rub. It's too late to decide you don't want to play in the new world. The new shiny world allows such amazing possibilities for connection and not letting people disappear off the social map, that I am struggling to comprehend why the Head of a charity aimed at assisting older people with the quality of their life seems to somehow fear this. We don't want to exclude anyone. Anyone. Everyone is welcome on the bus. Including you. But please, seriously, would you go and find your nearest friendly geek, sit them down, feed them coffee and cake and ask them to explain whatever it is you don't understand about tech and the web. You might not understand all of it, but they'll try their very best to explain the opportunities and doorways which all these magic little tools the geeks have designed for you to play with open up, and you know, it's okay to ask questions.

It is not okay to dismiss in one sentence the hard work, passion, enthusiasm and blue sky thinking which has been going on for at least the last 20 years and which allows you to live longer and more comfortably. Get on the bus. The people you are representing will thank you for it.

And finally. If someone comes along and tells me I misheard, didn't understand the quote, it was a misquote from the chap who quoted him initially, then I will concede and apologise profusely. But I fear he is not alone in his misunderstanding and I fear there is much work to be done in making the toys we take for granted more user friendly and intuitive than they are at the moment. But that's for the other post

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