29 March 2005

Online or Flatline?

The Jenius concludes His excerpting of "Puerto Rico: Online or Flatline." Please hold Your Applause until the final phrase, edited to take advantage of this Most Jenial Forum:

Nothing was ever achieved without an idea, and sustained economic growth at any level requires systematization and profitability. But the fundamental change here is the transference of productivity, the core processes that foment economic growth, from the physical realm to the intangible one of information and knowledge. This change is what has transformed the actuality and future of a global economy. We are now linked by data and information flowing continuously. We continue harvesting, mining, building (with information and on it): The terms are the same and the basic functions they conceptualize remain almost intact. The difference is the exponential power of its output.

Imagine a contest where many aggressive teams are studded with unevenly large numbers of players, irregularly armed with enormous mechanized weapons that require constantly massive levels of fueling and repairs, playing on a battlefield that is uneven, broken and highly-contested. Let loose a tiny team, on foot, upon that field, with old second-hand weapons in poor shape. Allow them no safe havens, no means of defense from the potential chaos around them.

Watch them. Watch as they react to the overwhelming confusion with despair, hopelessness, single-minded focus on just one action they can control (such as polishing their useless weapon, tallying up the wounded or watching some other team play) or to some, answering the atavistic need to survive by seeking to ally themselves with any other team. To go it alone, the tiny team must spend most of its time assessing and pondering rather than taking action. Mistakes are deadly; success is quickly swept away. The rules make the game more difficult, more restrictive, often apparently favoring the larger teams and the better weapons. The battle, as such, never changes, and if it does, it is to become bloodier.

New game. Open field. Any number of players on any number of teams with any number of tools, because the teams and players and tools can change hands. No one trades weapons: Tools are traded to accomplish creation. Safe havens wherever you want them. New rules expanding the playing field are required. Teams can grow big, but in an ever-widening playground, big is relative. The contest shifts from high ground to low ground to canyons to new ground, but because everyone fits on this field, there is no permanent advantage. Everyone has the newest tools they can muster and many have tools no one has ever seen. The game, the field, the tools and the players are infinitely malleable and capable of infinite combinations. Winning is no longer a matter of being last: It is a matter of being first.

Is this allegory a paean to idealism? Is the “knowledge economy” the ultimate expression of human potential? By no means. And is it idealistic to point out real-world examples, such as Apple, Dell, Java, Linux, Microsoft, Netscape and so many others that follow the pattern of “one idea, supported by a few individuals, achieving critical mass in short time and becoming a major success”?

The system, under any of its names, is by no means perfect. And yet, the powerful potential it has shown and continues to promise far outweighs the risk, and in fact, the only risk one cannot overcome is ignoring the change. Clinging, for whatever reason, to the out-dated notions of an economy ruled by dimishing resources, lorded over by the illusion that “bigger is better”, paralyzed by the perception that “we can’t do that here” or unable to see the widening expanses of opportunities because one is caught up in a small cloud of pettifoggery, is the biggest mistake one can make, whether individual or nation. To engage in that mistake now is debilitating: To continue in it will be fatal.

It is not my nature to be pessimistic and much less a doomsayer. To add anything to the many cries of “Wolf!” and “The sky is falling!” that bombard us almost daily is not one of my life goals. Plus, we have enough on our collective plate as it is. What I do strive for and want to accomplish is to convey the idea, the deep sense, that we can make a difference, right now. That we can take control over matters that were formerly out of our grasp and that by doing so, we can substantially change our future’s outlook.

And because “can” implies choice, to urge us to choose.

Data is not information. Data is isolated fact. Information is data in a conceptual framework. One can be give data and information. But knowledge requires personal investment. Unlike data and information, the transformation to knowledge cannot be given, it is an active process that can only be completed by choice.

The knowledge economy is thus based on choice. A person, company or nation chooses to belong to it and chooses to acquire the skills needed to compete in it and profit from it. It is one’s choice what to focus on and in what way. One can choose to modify or innovate, create or destroy, expand or supplant. And it is a matter of choice when one decides to act within the knowledge economy. And of all of the choices, it is precisely "when" that has the greatest pressure attached to it. And the greatest pressure of all is the decision when to commit to it.

For an individual, the decision may have no time limit. The knowledge economy does not change everything, and there will be, ostensibly, plenty of ways for people to earn their living that have nothing or very little to do with the use of abundant information flow. However, society will remain competitive, monetary success will still be tied to competitiveness and to be competitive will increasingly require greater tools for acquiring and creating knowledge.

For companies, the decision has an ever-decreasing time limit. The countdown is not yet at zero, but it can be measured in “hours” not “days”. As with individuals, some companies may never need to commit, but those will be very few and will occupy their naturally small niches based primarily on physical talent and unique, personalized production.

But at the state and national level, the countdown is now in “minutes,” if not “seconds.” This is mainly because of the nature of government: Due to its size and excessive complexity, a government is slow to adapt and change. In general terms, governments rarely lead economic change, preferring a stabilized status quo. But economic change does not mature or become sustainable without significant changes in Puerto Rico's government (preferably by choice rather than force.)

If we are to achieve our most promising future, the process must begin now. We are not too late. But we will be, if we choose to let others, far less capable and far less interested in our future, choose for us.

There you have it. The Jenius Has Spoken.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

my turd is bigger than your turd. have you seen maria? you know, maria from el salvador? the one with the internet connection? oh oh, i have to go. i think i'm choking on a refried bean.