Un Largo Adiós

“Un Largo Adiós” (The Long Goodbye) es el título de una novela  de Raymond Chandler de 1953,  convertida en película por Robert Altman en 1973. La encarnación del detective Philip Marlowe por Elliot Gould fue muy buena. Hoy Un Largo Adiós es solamente un título excelente, que podría ser otro, para un adiós no muy largo que además sólo es un retorno.

Estamos a 4 de Julio de 2014. Es el Día de la Independencia en los Estados Unidos de América. “Independence” –what a fine word! Everybody should have one, and not only to be a more desperate consumer. En el Perú celebramos la Independencia el 28 de Julio de cada año. Y hasta ahora, con excepción de la Colonia, algunas dictaduras militares, guerras civiles, desplazamientos abruptos de la corteza terrestre  y varios problemas relacionados con el siempre postpuesto desarrollo nacional, nos ha ido bastante bien. Es, pues,  otra indepencencia: porque sin duda no existe una sola en el mundo, y hay otras historias e  independencias, y las hay tantas, que ninguna es excepcional. Pero bueno, íbamos a otra cosa.

Mis amigos, que no son pocos, que son verdaderos (e independientes) me han pedido que resuma lo que pienso sobre la tecnología informatica y especialmente acerca de la estrategia tecnológica de empresas y organizaciones. Espero que lo que sigue les sea útil.

Yo lo resumo así: There is a deep misconception running through the Information Technology professions, and in particular in the Security domains. By effect of this misunderstanding is it assumed that either an organisation or a strategy can be “led” by technology. Within this illusion, “technology” is taken as a cause and an ultimate driver for organisational change.

But, was it not the case that in the past 30 or so years the main lesson we have learned is that technology is merely a tool? Weren’t all the books and manuals of the various standards organisations like ISO, IEC, ITIL, ISC2, NIST and others clear that technology had to be aligned to business and not the other way round? And weren’t  all the IT Management courses in the world teaching us that technology was but an enabler or support of the strategic intentions of the business leader?

It is to negate all the wisdom and even the common sense accumulated during the past decades that we have to suffer now what I hope is the last onslaught of the technological mirage.

Don’t get me wrong: It would be an error to reject technology with moralistic arguments, for example saying that technology “should” not or “ought” not to be in the lead in business o other types of organisations. In fact, saying so would amount to an admission that somehow technology could be able to lead the way in any human endeavour. But this is not the case.

Technology, by definition and nature is only a product, a result if you will, of human collective action upon the world. It is the void, the gap, the emptiness that results from mass consumption and post cultural societies. In fact, it is the porous space that remains in the interaction between people. Technology, to be clear is not only limited but limits itself.

It can be demonstrated that technology (especially if posited as a precondition) in fact becomes a “stage” which from then on determines everything we do and every decision we make.

If instead of personal interaction we have now techno-mediated interactions, and if instead of real clients we have unknown or maybe semi-anonymous customers this is not because we are more “social” but because we are less so. The mirage of technology consists in re-presenting reality so that we end up saying that trade will be more social if it is done via so-called social networks. Just a question: when did human commerce stopped being “social”?

It is not because we interact more with people, but because we interact more with machines (secretly though we interact more solipsistically with ourselves) that we can then say that technology-mediated trade is “more social.” That is the reason I say we are experiencing a mirage: a visual illusion whereby the post-social appears as the the new realm of human integration. Meanwhile, a vast sea of anonymity and indifference extends around our individual lives.

So it makes no sense to be “against” technology or even to “fear” that technology would end up “leading” or commanding anything. It cannot do that because technology comes last in the arc of human activity it it itself caused and not a cause.

Wise technologists and engineers will understand from their own experience that technology is a result and not a cause because they will have seen a million times that anything technological is in fact an implementation, a construction which lies at the end of a process of selection and restriction. It is simply true that in order to put anything technically viable “on the table” –so to say– we pass through a series of steps by which we discard many possibilities and options pertaining the implementation.

To reiterate: to make something technological viable and actual, we select and constrain, and every act of technical design is an act of negation of the realm of the possible.

Evidently, this runs counter to the superficial glamour of technology (especially at the level of personal consumption) where commercialised technology would present itself as opening new possibilities. The truth is though that each and every technological commodity in the market is the result of large, systematic and irreversible decision chains by which dozens if not hundreds or thousands of possible solutions are discarded and even destroyed.

Yes, those solutions and options discarded are unviable and in many cases not practical, some may be fanciful and absurd. Some even dangerous. But, what tells us that the most recent incarnation of the engineering process is the best that can be done? It would be against all evidence to deny that the commercial technological selection process optimises its product only in the measure that it supports overriding parameters of revenue flow and capitalisation. These are good and valid measures of viability –no doubt about it– but these are only measures of the actual and the real. That is, measures of that what can be implemented.

In my view, technology lies always outside of the sphere of the possible, and always points to constraints. So the real question is not how “new” or original a technology is (which is another problematic issue as there are really very few innovations to speak of) but who imposes the constraints on the final technological product.

So my position is not that we should reject or abhor technology (that would be ridiculous as technology is not only relevant but also inevitable), but that we need to make sure that we know, that we understand the purpose of technology, its context and its meaning.

As technology is always a result, as it forever represents the actual, empirical materialisation of human action, by reasons of completeness we should ask for the meaning and the context of any technological decision. As the danger lies not in the fantasy of a technological leadership (something which cannot exist) but in forgetting that the pre-eminence of the technological actually makes us forget the implicit purposes and meanings which are embedded in it. Or worse, the danger is that we forget ourselves, our own human purposes and meanings and unconsciously adopt those that drive the techno-centric world.

For an organisation this plainly means abandoning its own business purposes and its own human context, and becoming framed and dependent of particular, selective, closed technologies which are in fact only engineered products serving other business models and other strategies. By effect of this technological oblivion, the organisation cedes its decision process and ceases to exist as an independent entity, thereby becoming a follower and not a leader in the realm of business and social interactions.

Because we are followers, not leaders the moment we take for granted that any technology (just because of its novelty or its inherited, transmitted gloss of the “information society”) is intrinsically good or necessary.  We become followers even and especially if we are “first adopters” of technological novelties, because then we take as our purpose (without remission) what is only the end step of the empirical selection process fit the massification of consumption and the rationalisation of marketing campaign cycles.

Unconsciously too, we run against the essential nature of freedom, independence and competition. We run against the benefits of capitalism itself also, when –by omission if not by action–, we end up favouring lack of innovation and change, and enforcing a dreadful uniformity where every individual and every organisation seem to be free only to choose what has been already chosen for them.

So there is no secret in my view of technology: it can be seen as a product (at the end of the arc of action) or it can be seen as a cause. He who sees it as a cause “personalises” technology and adopts technology as a purpose. He who sees it as a product, or as a tool, still keeps open the question of where the purposes and the meanings are.

Keeping this question open is my mission, as only in this way is it possible to enable other people to see the whole arc of decision, encompassing the Person, the Subject, the Agent and the Object. And only in this way is it possible to be complete.

Happy Independence Days, Happy Independence Years!