The Future is About Information, Not Tech

Today is yesterday’s tomorrow, and things look simultaneously different from and the same as they did before. So today’s tomorrow will seem both familiar and different. Technology changes faster than people do, and people don’t always change around technology in predictable ways.

No, I didn’t inhale the pungent air too deeply at the Arcade Fire concert I just attended. I’ve been going back over a month’s worth of blog posts and news clippings, and pondering the uneven progress of progress and its relevance to information technology and the enterprise.

Take data security. It’s incredible that in May 2008, The Wall Street Journal’s estimable Walt Mossberg still warns readers that most security breaches are perpetrated by means of “social engineering”–people conning people into giving up their passwords.

That followed a piece in The New York Times about “whaling”–phishing for senior executives who fall for an e-mail scam that puts scary malware on their machines. And then there was the mind-boggling article from Britain about workers trading their passwords for chocolate bars.

The point is, human nature doesn’t change with technology. We like to watch movies about genius hackers, but if someone offers us a candy bar on the way into the video store, we’re likely to trade our cows for magic beans.

That’s the brilliance of books like William Gibson’s Neuromancer and films like Blade Runner: They don’t predict a utopian future where technology makes people better; they predict an updated present where cooler gadgets are wielded by (and against) people who are just as flawed and scared as we are.

Of course, technology does change business, as well as our everyday lives. I’ve blogged in recent weeks about the coming of pervasive wireless networks and the powerful devices that will connect to them; considered the many initiatives under way to create a so-called cloud of computing power and applications to which we’ll all connect as easily as we plug a toaster into a wall socket; and looked at a report from McKinsey & Co. and Sandhill Partners that says software as a service is already the leading driver of innovation.

But the real question is, What will we do in our brave new world? How will we behave?

Watch the original Star Trek TV series and you would expect gender roles to change less in the next few centuries than they actually have since the show was made. Cue up a sci-fi film from a generation past and see scientists in white shirts and ties, with ashtrays on their desks and cigarettes between their lips. Not exactly the world of science today.

My guess is that a lot of basics will stay the same: That’s why Shakespeare and Homer still resonate today.

And the same applies to the way you manage technology–and the way technology influences your business. The essential wants and needs of your customers, employees and shareholders don’t change that much, no matter where your software is hosted or what devices you use.

The future is not about technology–it’s about information. So a lot of the principles and values that applied in the pre-industrial age will still apply tomorrow, regardless of which technologies we end up using.

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