A special guest post by Jimmy James Bettencourt
The way IT is managed is totally borked. This is a travesty. But a change is coming. A change we can use.
Listen. I work for a not so large educational institution in the middle of a major country that you have probably heard of. I’m required to use a desktop at work that runs Windows, and a laptop that runs Windows. The laptop is not really required, but when I insisted that my college provide me with a laptop for teaching (so, in a sense, I require it) they provided me with a managed Windows laptop. Whatever. My point is that the laptop cannot be used for teaching because it requires forty five minutes of dicking around with virus checking before it runs effectively enough to open a presentation file. My desktop, once started and once the evil Outlook is fired up, takes about an hour to chug through syncing and virus checking before I can use it.
The reason for these problems, and many other problems in the computer world in the business or institutional setting, is very simple, but no one will tell you the truth about it because they are afraid. Indeed, I am afraid. Which is why I appreciate Greg Laden letting me post this item, pseudonymously, on his site. Recently, I wrote an email asking for a small change in the way my computer system works so that I could do some specific thing more efficiently (I wanted to install Cygwin), and I also asked for the installation of OpenOffice.com office suite instead of Microsoft Office. This request had to be processed via my IT department’s manager, who refused the request. Not only did he refuse the request, but he also sent an email complaining mightily about my request to my boss, my bosses boss, and my bosses bosses boss, which pretty much means the Governor got a copy of this complaint. Someone along the line spilled the beans to me (I’m not saying who).
So what is the reason that everything in institutionalized IT is fucked? And why is this fucked-upness going to end soon? If you are an IT manager, this truth is going to hurt, so sit down and put on your helmet. If you are the victim of IT managers, you’re going to like this.
The reason is simple. It is a combination of the Agency Effect and Inequality of Access to Information. The second item first: Inequality in Access is, in this case, a combination of information being hidden, obscured intentionally by IT professionals, and simple differential of what people know. In this case, this means that IT professionals know stuff that is very important but that no one else in the decision making process knows. The other word for this is “Having your boss by the short hairs.”
The Agency Effect is less widely known, but more widely relevant. And it is quite simple. The agent always acts in the agent’s own interest. That’s it. What this means is the following. You are in charge of the computers in your agency. There is a threat of attack by a virus. There are two ways to thwart the threat. One involves some training of all computer users, and the implementation of a 90 percent effective software solution that won’t get to much in the way. The other solution requires no user training but is a 100 percent solution but will hobble all of the computers so most people will not be able to do their job. If you are an IT manager, which do you do?
Remember. You are the agent. The agent always acts in the agent’s self interest. You don’t care about the goals of the intuition or the goals of the other agents in the institution. You could care less if everybody’s computer becomes as useful as a new wart on their collective asses. All you care about is that your ass is covered from any kind of virus attack. And implementing the second solution will involve no training, and training involves interacting with the other people in the institution, and you have spent your entire miserable career pissing off everybody within ten miles of your little IT enclave so you really don’t want any interpersonal interaction with anyone.
Obviously, solution two is your choice. Never mind that at any other level, from any other perspective, measured in any rational way, number one should be your choice. You pick number two because you are an insular, selfish, socially ignorant drone.
That’s the agency effect.
I do not know the solution to this problem, even though I’ve suggested that the problem will go away. The reason I know the problem will go away is simple.
I saw an IT media drone on the TV earlier today who made an astute observation followed by the dumbest thing I’ve heard anyone say in, I dunno, hours at least. (This was Jose Antonio Vargas of the Wasthington Post, being interviewed on Countdown.)
He noted that the Obama Team is (like a) silicon valley startup, and the White House is, as he put it, “an institution.” In so noting, he was talking about the fact that the Obama Team uses high tech cell phones, emails, hot laptops, and so on and so forth, and the White House does not have plug in or wireless internet access in every room or other modern systems of communication, IM or even access to Facebook.
That was a good observation. The dumb part was his answer to the question “What will the Obama Team Do?”
The answer was, unbelievably unless you realize that this young man was Yet Another IT Drone Fuckwad, “Oh, well, the Obama team will simply have to adapt.”
Hmmm…… well. Let’s see.
I do not think so. No. I think the Obama Team, the S.V. Startup, The Wired, will not adapt. They have been operating from the Community Organizing base, took the reigns of power. No, no, they Took The Reigns of Power. Of the entire country. And they show up for work the first day and discover that the power center is sitting there deeply ensconced in the mid 20th century.
No. They will not adapt. They will insist on change. They will make change. And they will lead the way in a national, nay, GLOBAL revolution of Those Who Are Trying to Function against The IT Agents.
This is the beginning of the end of the tyranny of the ignorance, the tyranny of the slovenly agent, the tyranny of fear of technology. Universities and businesses will fire their IT managers, convert their servers into anchors for the row boat, and get Google accounts. Windows upgrade paths will be circumvented. The True Cost of Computing will be realized … memory chips, baby, memory chips. Give me any decent processor, upgrade the memory, install Linux, get a Google account, and you need very little more. The vast majority of the “services” provided by IT departments will be obviated, and their asinine self-interested bad decisions will no longer get in the way because they won’t exist.
The end is near, IT manager. Near.
sed ‘s/managed desktop/bite my ass/g’ < my_life