What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Data mining. Every time I start thinking that data mining is becoming too invasive and privacy becoming too fragile, the interent reminds me that it’s still pretty far away from going Skynet and killing us all. You see, I know this because companies that specialize mining “big data” keep feeding me ads about how to find and finance the “perfect engagement ring.” I’ll admit to having a passing interest in gemstones, but I can’t claim a need or interest in actually buying them. I have neither the inclination or reason to do so… and I’ve never once searched the internet for one. The cloud might know our reading tastes and hold the secrets to our collective perversions in our search results, but in many ways it doesn’t feel like the interent knows me at all.

2. Domestic enemies. All newly hatched federal employees take an oath of office. The one I took isn’t too far different from the one taken by a typical Army officer or even the one sworn by members of Congress. Unless I missed an unprinted annex or codicil, though, my oath to support and defend the Constitution didn’t include an oath of poverty and it certainly wasn’t an oath of unpaid servitude. That there are near on 400,000 people who swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic currently fulfilling their oath without pay is an embarrassment – made all the worse because each day they bring back more an more “unpaid help” in order to avoid inconveniencing anyone. Excuse me? It seems that if you’re going to have a shut down of something the whole point is to make it as inconvenient and painful as possible. And these twatwaffels are sure as blue hell “inconveniencing” the people they expect to pay out of their own pockets for the privilege of coming to work. I blame President Trump. I blame the leadership in both the House and the Senate. I blame every single member of Congress who uses this as an opportunity to grandstand. And I increasingly think I know who the “domestic” enemies are that our oath featured so prominently. 

3. Blood. Blood as a rule doesn’t bother me. I can see people bleeding and not flinch. The rivers could run thick with the stuff and I’m not sure I’d notice… but let me be strapped into a chair at the local doctor’s office and have someone start sucking vials of my own precious life-sustaining fluid from my veins and I’m apt to go all cross-eyed and pasty. I just feel like medical science should do us a favor and step beyond the age of leeches here.

My generation…

One of the most shocking moments of my early career was realizing the level of discomfort most of my fellow employees felt when dealing with issues of technology. On the outside, I made the (unfortunate) assumption that government was full of code breakers, supercomputers sending men to the moon, and software that could track anyone, anywhere. I suppose those tasty bits of tech may exist somewhere, but the most advanced piece of hardware that anyone in my agency has is their Blackberry (already two or three generations out of date). It’s fair to say I was shocked and appalled at the number of people in government who just don’t get the role technology is going to play over the coming decades.

We’re in the leading edge of that future now. Utilities like Facebook and Twitter may have a toy-like simplicity – I’ve heard my own leaders dismiss them as “for the kids” and nothing more than a drain on productivity – but as more traffic is driven to the web, as electronic communication in its many forms continues its rise, the fact is that this is going to largely be the way people communicate in the future. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you received an actual letter from someone under 40?

The age of instant communication and access to the sum total of all human knowledge is going to level the bureaucracy, whether the bureaucracy accepts it or not. It’s happening already – those with a little bit of savvy are using basic tools like Dropbox, Google Chat, or SharePoint to circumvent the cumbersome “authorized” communications channels that stovepipe information to “collaborate in a matrixed environment.” Instead of sending a request for information up the chain-of-command and waiting for the answer to come back down from on high, we’re reaching out directly to the person with the information we need. That person may sit a few desks away or not even be on the same continent. The beauty of the age is that location doesn’t matter. The future is going to look like the cloud, not like a hierarchical org chart.

There’s more information stored electronically than we could ever hope to archive in the biggest file room. Electrons and knowing how to use them are what’s going to be left when we as an organization realize that the old forms are no longer viable. Information has always been power. Managing and controlling the flow of electronic information is going to be the “institutional knowledge” of our time. I don’t think command-and-control model of management will ever go away, this is government after all, but we few, we happy few who know how to make the electrons hum are going to be the voices of power behind that throne… if only because the king doesn’t know how to turn on his computer.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.