Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Step Away from the IT

Working in the IT industry, it's heretical to suggest, "Step away from the IT." But, sometimes, maybe we should.

I am not alone. Recently, the American Thinker ran a nice piece by Matt Patterson, entitled, Step Away from the Computer. In it he suggests:

...I do not advocate entirely forsaking the conveniences and necessities of the Digital Age. We need them for work and play, and I love my iPhone as much as the next person. But we need to learn how to turn it all off if we are to reclaim the noble soul that humanity has heretofore held but which is now rapidly slipping away. This technology, any technology, must be our servant, not our master. Prometheus brought fire to Man to assist us in life, not as a replacement for it.

Not as a replacement. Good advice.

I've been thinking about how much we use, or are used by, IT lately. It affects me physiologically - I have to wear "cheaters" to see my computer screen; turn up the headphones to hear my Nano; my hands ache at the end of a long day of typing, among other ill-effects.

Walking down K Street, I see people almost getting hit by cars, busses, engrossed in their iPhone or Blackberries. Workers tethered to iPods, going to their offices, listening to music or podcasts, numb to the day around them. Coffee drinkers at coffee houses, instead of bantering lively, typing away as they jack into the free Wi-Fi with their laptops.

A lot of important stuff must be happening.

I think back to a congressional staff briefing we held a decade ago. We were working to increase a tax break for small businesses to purchases computers - the theory being that IT, as opposed to office furniture, was a more productive asset to a company and the economy.

At the briefing, the Illinois Representative hosting the event talked about the importance of getting IT into offices, into our lives. But then he took a slight detour. He began lamenting that America manufactures, well, virtually nothing. And how, lacking that, we are losing our ability to lead the world. We haven't anything physical to sell - no tangible goods. And, in the "old world order" that meant power.

About 80% of our economy is services-based - wealth based on things we do instead of things we make. With the flattening of technology and knowledge, worldwide telecommunications networks / Internet, and cheap overseas labor, our role as the world's leading manufacturer got compromised decades ago. Real, global competition for that title mounts daily.

Today, intellectual property (IP) - i.e., ideas and expression - plays an ever growing role for U.S. leadership, underpinning, as Alan Greenspan has noted, about 1/3rd of our $15 trillion GDP. And while IP helps things like toasters, cars and computers work, you cannot touch it with your hands.

Touch. Hold. Nurture. All these actions you can't do with IP.

This is not to bemoan or belittle its importance to our economy and lives. Working to protect valuable IP from poachers is part of what I do for a living. Rather, for me it serves as an apt metaphor, or reminder, for our use of IT - which, sometimes makes me feel like it's much ado about...nothing.

Along these same lines, I had a particularly memorable conversation with a co-worker recently. At the end of the day, we both agreed, all of our work, letters, statements, bullet points, one-pagers, press releases, pictures - everything - they'll occupy the space of less than something incalculably small. Almost nothing.

Of course, life is what you make of it. Stepping away from computer every once in a while might help you make more of it.

posted by Mike Wendy @ 3:03 PM | Capitol Hill , Communications , Copyright , Generic Rant , Human Capital , IP