Zombies!!! – The Undead Technologies Among Us

Is a zombie technology eating the brains out of your organization or, worse yet, your personal life?  You know what I’m talking about.  The applications and devices that stumble around on rotting, obsolete limbs.  They’ve long overstayed their usefulness, unaware they’re dead but not gone. They feed with an insatiable lust on our time and attention and in the process turn us into … well… them.

In the world of work, there are thousands of COBOL programs muttering through our halls waiting to lunge out at us, diverting us from productivity to the sustenance of their undead existence.  More recently that new app or new mobile device policy shows up at the door all spiffy in new clothes and fresh faced, only to decay into a dirty, threadbare, unintelligible monster pulling us into a dark corner never to emerge again.

Our Own Personal Zombies

In the good old days, most of our personal encounters with zombie technology came through the intermediary of some bureaucrat.  We might get battered about a bit as they struggled to fit the reality of us into some truculent program created in search of some long gone efficiency.  The stink of rotting purpose might linger as we grumbled about the wait at the DMV but pretty quickly we were back in the light and sunshine.

That was before the internet and mobile technology.   Allof the sudden we’re forced to deal directly with the grisly automatons of the brainless websites, the morons of texting and driving, the ever so friendly but clueless voice response systems.  If we’re lucky, all they want is our currency and trade. Worst case, some malevolent shaman is sending them shambling off to do us real harm.

The crux of the matter is that even the best technology can’t compensate for bad process, but really good process might improve bad technology.  We’ve all seen the poorly architected, fragile technology succeed wildly through wily marketing, whole cottage industries of support, and the occasional intervention of blind luck.  “Would you like Windows with that?”  And we’ve seen really sweet, well thought out technology wither on the vine from the lack of sustaining integration and deployment with the mass market or just our departmental business process.

And don’t let the “P” word lull you into thinking that zombie technology only roams the halls at work.  All I ask, gentle reader, is that you substitute the word “habit” for “process” and then we can talk.

Zombies – Shiny and New – Get Them While They’re Hot!

The problem is that almost no technology shows up looking undead. COBOL was as an huge innovation in its day as Facebook and the iPad seem to us now.  The zombie emerges slowly over time as our needs, wants, and understanding mature and evolve, but the technology doesn’t.  The zombie technology is frozen in time at the moment some Digital conjurer baked the passing Analog stream into a set of fleet, but rigid bits and bytes.  No matter how dazzling and innovative when new, it can’t easily regenerate a new incarnation to address some unforeseen situation.  Any incarnation of technology moving from the ethereal Digital world to the rough and tumble Analog stream slowly acquires that ragged, falling apart look from repeated impacts of new, unaccounted-for reality.  “Would you like Facebook or iPad with that?”

The funny thing (if you like that kind of humor) is that there is a completely human predecessor for this Digital behavior.  It’s called ideology.  On the upside, you get some visionary true believer like Frank Lloyd Wright that creates uplifting architecture that just isn’t so great for actually living in long term.  “Would you like Steve Jobs with that?”  On the down side you get nut jobs like Osama Bin Laden or that guy who drags his family around to the funerals of our soldiers with some bizarre message about divine retribution in the face of honor and sorrow.  Somewhere in between, you get folks like our current round of politicians that have lots of ideas, but can’t seem to do basic math.

In every case, Digital or Analog, someone with a kind of tunnel vision cooks up a set of rules away from the messy facts and complexities of life as it is lived.  Armed with that convenient, second order picture of reality, they come charging out into the real world, hacking away at anything that doesn’t fit their particular version of a rosy picture.  God forbid you have brains, ‘cuz they’re hungry.

Being the Anti-Zombie
What’s a poor human to do as the moaning zombie mob closes in?  Despite iRobot, The Matrix I, II and III, and all the Terminator movies, Digital and the other various stripes of fundamentalism aren’t all that flexible, and that’s our out.  We don’t win by being better zombies than the zombies themselves.  We win, at work and at home, by constantly evolving our selves to account for new realities.  We win by leading with empathy and a healthy suspicion that we don’t know as much as we think we do.  That’s the baseball bat to the zombie cranium.

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