Odds and ends

February 8, 2012

Apparently the reason we didn’t get an email from Sam last week was because our email provider was blocking his for some reason. This week he didn’t copy me on the email he sent his mother so I don’t have it to post here, but he still seems to be doing OK.

Here’s the third part of the “beyond the blue” series of posts I’ve been linking here. It talks about the role that information technology needs to play in the new model he hopes will arise.

In particular, this means competing with other countries not by the cheapness of our wages or the laxity of our environmental regulations, but by building on our ability to increase the productivity of both capital and labor through the power of IT to reduce the cost of friction in society. The first challenge of the 21st century will be the race to build infostructure — a mix of hardware, bandwidth, software, and government and corporate practices that deliver the greatest possible benefits of IT in ways that dramatically reduce costs and delays throughout the economy. A lot of this will be about friction.
Readers of Clausewitz know that friction was his word for the inexorable entropic pressure that disrupts any plan of campaign. Bad weather, diseases in the camp, miscommunication of orders, the absence of good information, the hazards of a night march: all these could be examples of the kind of friction with which every commander must struggle.

As someone who makes a living in the IT field, I know that information technologies have a lot of unmet potential to reduce “friction” in our lives and businesses and governments. I also know first hand that there is a lot of friction preventing us from reaching that unmet potential.

But thinking about the series as a whole, I can’t be as optimistic as Mead that this is all going to work out. Do we still have a sufficiently strong moral foundation to build a new kind of free society on? Any society needs order; for a free society that means that individuals have to impose self discipline since the government won’t force it. Do we still have the work ethic and faith as a society that enabled earlier increases in personal freedom?

p.s. Congratulations to Taran on his mission call.


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