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.
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.
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?”
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.