How do we pull out of the slump, I hear you ask. Well, it’s easy. We start ditching more of the bullshitters and the fantasists. Particularly those happy-clappy evangelists peddling a sermon based around the proposition that we’re in one of the most awe-inspiring periods of technological revolution. Like, ever.
We’re not. We’re (as Stephen Fry wouldn’t say, even if you paid him to) so not. Take my favourite example the iPhone. The iPhone, lovely as it is, colourful as its icons are, isn’t much of a technological revolution. It’s a gadget that was cobbled together out of two (arguably three) technological hops and skips of the mid-1980s – the rest is half-cocked marketing.
We are, though, in a Stephen-Fry-sponsored era of monumentally tech-flecked witlessness.
Actually, its presiding deity is just as likely to be my old friend, one time drinking companion and former colleague, Derek (not his real name). Derek is a “character,” which is to say that he is a borderline alcoholic blessed with the gift of the gab – and, at the creative end of his repertoire, he does “voices” and party-piece monologues very much in the style of Peter Cook.
No-one was in the least surprised when he popped up a couple of years ago on one of the world’s most important committees on climate change. It turned out that he got the job on the strength of an advisory role he’d been handed at a major financial institution; and he’d landed the advisory role on the back of a speech he made at a heavyweight business conference. And he’d been invited to speak at the conference because he was a “technology” correspondent on an influential business newspaper.
Derek, famously, knows absolutely nothing about technology. He’s a press conference monkey; and, ironically, he specialised in covering other sorts of conference, filleting the technology papers and rendering them into something slightly closer to the language of Shakespeare.
Derek’s cv, now heavily doctored, is a joy. I’d provide a link to one of many online versions of it – but in the post-Leveson era, that’s a hostage to fortune I’d rather not offer up. Suffice to say, Kevin’s cv says that he has a relevant Oxbridge degree. Actually, he studied speech and drama at Redbrick Polytechnic and did a further year at Oxbridge Polytechnic (now rebranded as the Metropolitan University of Oxbridge), during which time he studied variants in the use of rhetorical devices in the soliloquies of Shakespeare’s tragedies.
So what, you may argue. Committees on climate change, you may add, aren’t very important in the whole scheme of things – and there’s only so much real damage they can do. And obviously you’d be right.
The real tragedy, though (a Shakespearean tragedy with rhetorical knobs on), is that Derek’s brothers and sisters are now running far more important things like media companies and ad agencies.
Take, for instance, Glen (not his real name), a chief technology officer recently returned from SXSW with tears of joyous rapture in his eyes, having heard Al Gore bear witness to the fiery truth that technology will cure all the ills of this world. It only requires that technologists make it so.
It goes without saying that Al Gore, a political charlatan of the very first water, doesn’t know very much about technology. But that’s OK, because Glen knows even less. Yes, he shared office space a while back with some third-rate code cutters; but Glen is actually a former Geography teacher. He was originally hired by an ad agency because he’s good a telling tall tales of faraway to small children. He hasn’t studied mathematics since his own days in primary school.
Does any of this matter?
You tell me.
But here’s a tip if you fancy an alternative way of curing (or at least making a start) all the ills of this naughty world. Every time you have someone come into your office burbling on about the exponential rate at which technology is evolving these days, ask them to point to one technological breakthrough this year (and I’m afraid that the Harlem Shake doesn’t really count, now does it?)
And if they struggle with that, ask them to point to one technological breakthrough in the last year. And if they’re still struggling, ask them to come up with one technological breakthrough this century. (Software systems designed to generate one million bits of meaningless data an hour about you or your customers may well be the most lucrative versions of the three card trick* ever invented, but they don’t count either, I’m sorry to say.)
If they still can’t help you, do feel free to show them that most awe-inspiring of Bronze Age technological breakthroughs, the door.
* The three card trick is sometimes referred to by its practitioners in ad agencies as “hunt the ‘lady’”.