If you take a long enough view, the future is certain. Whether through a Christian/Mayan mélange of apocalypse, or the more mundane operations of thermo-dynamics, sooner or later there is no future. From an equally lofty view point the past is pretty much fully baked as well. The show got started as either the casual casting of God’s mind on the emptiness around 40,000 years ago or the flicking of some cosmic light switch several orders of magnitude earlier. Smack dab in the middle is the present moment, feeling equally inflexible in its restraints of the laws of physics, recent history, and our own various attachments.
Yet change happens. Somewhere between that eventual nothing and this specific now, the future gets complex. Like a towering growler of a North Shore wave avalanching towards the present, all the possibilities, all the mysteries pile up in a roiling, thrashing maelstrom of choice, aspiration and longing. Eventually the gravity of time pulls that skyscraper down into a single specific present. The ride isn’t over, though, as all that accumulated momentum and energy then whistles off into a mid-term past that endlessly kaleidoscopes through the various lenses of our belief and interpretation.
And then it instantly repeats. Again. And again. And… well, anyways, like walking, if you stop to think about it too much, you probably can’t do it very well.
‘Scoping the Future
None the less, those of us swept up in the Analog/Digital tango might benefit from a closer examination of the repetitive nature of this rolling series of near random events we call reality.
The physicists and mathematicians among us know that a sine wave is a smooth repetitive oscillation, which brings us some of our favorite consumables such as sound and light. Those of us that know the physicists and mathematicians among us also know how challenging it is to try and follow them through a description of those waves collapsing into particles as we turn on the kitchen light. Which gives us a perfect metaphor for a day in the life of an IT professional.
Each and every morning we can count on something unexpected happening that will trouble the emotionless minds of our digital charges. We’ll have to rush in with some urgent patch, retreat into deep dive analysis of the problem, or, if we’re lucky, march into the undefined territory of new product development. If we’re lucky and stoned (aka working at Apple on the iPad) we might even get involved in something “magical and revolutionary.” Hey Apple dudes. Word of advice. Put your heads between your knees and breathe into a paper bag for a while.
At a more abstract level, any moment in the life of a sine wave inevitably contains its own opposite. If you’re riding the sine wave of certainty, you’re also riding the sine wave of uncertainty, surely as a Calvinistic destiny. In IT, we spend inordinate amounts of time hammering up cages made out of requirements and specifications, test cases and training manuals to drive a herd of needs into a corral of solutions. Then some sales person goes out and actually meets with a potential customer and suddenly we’re talking steam engines and not horses anymore.
The boxes can’t cope with that degree of uncertainty very well. But we, their technology nursemaids, can, if we decide to. We can dry those tears of 404 Page not Found errors and the temper tantrums of program ab-ends, given enough time. Being human in a digital age doesn’t mean becoming more like the machines, but rather getting back in touch with the things that make us human in the first place.
Like Any Good Parent
Raising our digital charges, helping them to become more productive members of our society as opposed to stumbling bureaucratic Frankensteins, requires us to employ our broader array of intelligences. The boxes need context, and kinds of context they can’t provide themselves. In addition to the expected analytical and systems intelligence, we need to bring our emotional, creative, and even spiritual intelligence to bear.
Emotions in the workplace! In the digital workplace! Flame on, you might say! Well, yeah, if we’re as dull and limited as our binary off-spring. The problem is not that we have too much emotion in the workplace, on the net and at home. It’s that we have too little facility with emotion, too little familiarity with the constructive application of passion. That first stirring of fear or anger, that single tick on passion’s Geiger counter are wonderful leading indicators of the need for focus, honed over years and generations of learning. The problems come when we let those emotions swirl into the all-too-common morass of useless, unharnessed energy and desire.
Same with our spiritual selves. I’m not talking religion here. Atheists are invited to come along. I’m talking about the part of our selves that makes meaning, that helps us understand what is significant and what is not. Like sancti-mommies run wild, left to their own devices the boxes will create an impression of significance for any output they produce regardless of real value. Ask the refugees from any failed SAP implementation.
Lord knows, I’m not calling for better, more improved self-righteous puffery at work or at home. We’ve got plenty of that, thanks to the likes of Karl Rove, Al Franken, Rush Limbaugh, Ralph Nader, Nancy Grace, and Glen Beck. What we need is more discipline and persistence in sorting through all the random stimulants to find those that actually lead us to our better selves, better organizations, and a better world.
The boxes are really good at helping us manage the floods of data along the sine wave of certainty/uncertainty. Making sense of all that data, knowing how it feels, figuring out what it means and managing our response… that probably still requires a human touch.