Complexity Created by Technology Needs to be Managed

Incompatibility Creates Problems

Developments in IT have created more problems than solutions because of the “incompatibility” among the various parts of the supply chain. Information becomes knowledge only when the means to process it is in place and the process does not “distort” the message.

Like garbled voices coming over crackling phones in yesteryears, unless the heaps of data that technology spews out is processed in a meaningful manner, the “zero point” potential of information as useful knowledge is hardly realized.

For this to happen, the “gatekeepers” of the information, the regulators of the medium of exchange and finally the consumers of this process all need to understand each other and “talk” to each other much the same way conversations between groups of people result in dialogue only when there is a bottom-line consensus as to the topic.

Marshall McLuhan famously said that “The Medium is the Message”. Hence, the next part of the “connection” is in determining how well the medium is regulated with common protocols and standards that service the medium. Finally, the end users or the consumers need to be aware of their own potential as both purveyors or producers and consumers of content leading to what Alvin Toffler calls “Prosumers” who produce and consume content at the same time.

Need for Synchronous Exchange of Information

With this background, it becomes apparent that unless all the parts of the grid are in sync with each other there is progress and hence developments in IT have created problems of each part being “out of sync” with the other.

Hence, the issues of internet censorship, controlling access to information and finally, the ignorance of the users themselves create a potent and lethal cocktail where the promise of IT is subsumed by the perils of each part being out of sync with the other. It is the position here that there is no single entity that is responsible for the “noise”.

Rather, the issue here is one of “multiplicity” creating complexity and when one adds the “death of distance” (with the medium being geography independent) to the brew, what one gets is a virtual “tower of Babel” where the message is lost. Since there is no understanding as of yet among all the IT companies on how to interact to produce synergies and with the regulators maintaining neutrality without stepping in, the resultant problems have made it worse for everybody concerned.

As happened in the case of Telecom with “Ma Bell” and with Big Pharma where size and consolidation through mergers and acquisitions was the norm to control the market, IT companies realised quite early on that unless they controlled all aspects of the supply chain in a vertical as well as horizontal manner, they were unlikely to capture the hearts and minds of consumers.

Openness versus Control

However, this was easier said than done since the whole edifice of IT is built around “openness” where unless one part of the supply chain knows what the other one is doing in a transparent manner, they cannot work together. Thus, even though Microsoft tried to own all the parts of the supply chain, it found that nimble competitors like Google undercut its domination by offering technologically advanced and user friendly software.

Hence, the point to be remembered about IT is that it is like a jungle with no one dominant figure and since technology evolves according to Moore’s law as well as in leaps and bounds, the dizzying pace of change means that there is always room for newer companies and newer offerings that provide cutting edge solutions.

What this means is that without a clear understanding on what makes the structure and what supports it, the old parable of blind men and the elephant is an apt metaphor where the various actors are groping in the dark trying to understand the beast called IT with no single player being in a position to “call it” correctly.

Though the solution to this might be found in monopolies like Microsoft that offer seamless connectivity between different parts of the supply chain, as mentioned earlier, IT by its very nature is not suited to the “big is beautiful” mantra and since IT is like a complex adaptive system that has a life of its own and evolves according to the dynamics of system theory, any attempt to “force” monopolies in IT is likely to fail.

Dumbing Down of People

Added to this is the shortened attention span that bedevils most users, options like using multiple search engines to enhance the quality of web searching are unlikely to take hold since the minds of the users are becoming “shallower” because of the fragmented way in which we think due to the widespread use of IT.

The point here is that the original intent of IT was to encourage depth but with the profusion of devices and gadgets and media (internet, games, multi-media) the end result has been the “Dumbing down” of the average user. This has led to a situation where instead of harnessing IT for meaningful purposes, we find ourselves getting lost in the deluge of information without processing it into knowledge. Further, unless consumers understand the nuances of production of content by themselves, the interaction between the aspects of producing content and at the same time consuming content is likely to be a rocky one.

Conclusion

The need of the hour is a concerted effort by all stakeholders to evolve meaningful steps for cooperation and understanding. Any media or technology that evolves over time needs a healthy balance between all the components with enough regulatory oversight. Given the fact that many judges do not understand the nuances of IT, the problem gets compounded as litigations take time to resolve.

As Thomas Friedman points out, the “great sorting out” of the issues arising from who owns the content, grey areas between giving free access and capturing user data as well as the overwhelming desire of many governments to curb the independence of the medium have all come together in a “perfect storm” that has grown beyond a menace to a full scale problem.


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