Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How Do I Feel About the Brave New World?

I have been involved in IT since the late 1970s and have actually been a part of the evolution of computer technology that has led us to where we are today. Personal computers, cell phones, “the web”, social media were not even on the radar when I started my career. I was a computer programmer-analyst for the Defense Dept and wrote COBOL code for a mainframe computer. There were no personal computers – all computing was done on a very large central main computer on a carefully controlled schedule – paper reports were generated and delivered to end users. The turnaround time for a new program from specification development to successful execution and report generation could take months. Those that engaged in this work had to have significant technical training and aptitude. The most advanced changes during my time there were the development of the use of computer terminals connected to a mainframe (that didn’t even have to be in the same state) for local processing and the incredible new program called word processing. Many of you may take for granted the ability to spell check and fix text errors on the fly and move chunks of text easily around in a document, but I have the perspective of having typed my college papers on an electric typewriter. Word processing was an amazing change that revolutionized and sped up all that was to follow. From that time, the personal computer and networks were developed, the World Wide Web, client server platforms, relational database systems. I learned to create my own websites using html, develop databases and use standard query language to access the data in those databases. As we discussed in class, new fundamental structures have been developed to allow everyone to share content with the world – you don’t need to know html to create a standard website. Then came social media with its incredible power to break down the barriers of communication and knowledge and launch the world with warp speed into the world of information. However, with this came the challenges about how to use and control this new world and harness it for use in government and business. Some of the these challenges are mentioned in the “Technology & Public Management Information Systems” by Bretschneider & Mergel namely how to manage standardization and integration; information security; privacy; the constant and immediate need for information; and the dispersing of incorrect and damaging information. Over these last many years, I think I have kept up pretty well with all the changes in IT, but I must admit that social media, while I know how to use it, is the most daunting. It seems to me almost like information overload – multitasking expectations at their most oppressive and that to be useful at all must overcome the challenges as described above. But, I guess it’s a good thing I am taking this class because social media is here to stay and cannot be denied. My hope is that by the time I finish this class, I will see the light and see the ways that the power of this new ‘information processing’ can be used successfully in government.

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