Tough times we’re living in. In fact, it’s hard to get through a day now without having the phrase “tough times” hammered into your head by the parrots in the media… with “down economy,” “bad economy,” “slowing economy,” “recessionary times,” “difficult times,” “challenging economic environment,” and a veritable Roget’s treasure chest of other near-synonyms creating a maddening echo-chamber effect.
Technology is proving to be a sort of shock absorber in times like these. What I mean is that it keeps us connected, productive, entertained, and tuned in to our friends, family, and support group---or, helps us to tune into and groove on our own comfy little private world of passions and distractions—even when the news from the wider world is bleak. And when travel options are expensive or unavailable—as they were in the immediate post-9/11 period—or the parcel post is potentially toxic—as it was post-anthrax--information technology helped us continue to carry on a constrained semblance of a normal economy.
Tensile strength is the amount of stress that a connection can bear before it breaks. The availability of so many communication options gives our social sinews more tensile strength than ever. IT makes us a tougher fabric, harder to rend asunder, even under the stresses that come from terrorism, financial panic, mass layoffs, and other nasty facts of life.
Telecommunications is a tendon, a tether, a thick thread that resists twisting and torque, and then springs back into shape. It’s a tissue that binds our community, maintains the integrity and possibility of collective action, the resilience and resolve of common response, even in the harshest circumstances. I still take inspiration from the thought that the initial impetus for the development of the Internet was to create a national network that can survive a nuclear holocaust. Even if that particular hope was too dire, desperate, and naïve to survive close scrutiny.
Tell the nation’s technologist-in-chief, if we ever appoint one, to update that vision. Tell that person to forge a new vision of a resilient national backbone, one that can help us weather rough times, and carry us over to boom periods, but remain in place, operational, evolving, and commercially viable through the subsequent economic cycles, with only minimal government oversight or funding. Wait…that vision’s already a reality—it’s the commercial Internet that Sen. Al Gore and others envisioned in the early 90s and which quickly became a worldwide reality.
Today’s Internet is working fine, but can always stand improvement. If we create a national CTO, that person must respect the fact that this network is a global resource, not a US fiefdom. A US national CTO must collaborate and federate with their counterparts in other nations.
Try not to monkey arrogantly and unilaterally with a good thing, which some call cyberspace but is in fact now a key connective thread of the human race.