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Opinion

IT to The Rescue: This Time, It's Cloud Computing

A Brief History of How IT has Saved Us from Governmental Stupidity

The computer has played an essential role--maybe the essential role--in the economic development of the United States since the days of Tom Watson’s prediction that six of them is all that we’d ever need.

Many will tell you that key economic decisions were the primary driver of success. Wrong. Recent history has shown that economists don’t have a clue. In fact, the so-called dismal science is not really a science at all; theories often start from conclusions then engage people in a mad search for data to fit the conclusion, and results cannot be replicated by other economists.

It’s information technology, ie, the computer, that has been the mighty silicon engine behind economic growth, for decades. Today, with the American economy looking as grim as it’s looked in 80 years, it’s up to IT to come to the rescue again. This time, it’ll come in the guise of Cloud Computing.

Here’s a quick review of IT and its role through the decades. As the decider, I provide helpful references to the key IT movie, the key book representing the overall spirit of the times, and the key IT developments.

(Note: I keep political stuff out of my writing, unless I’m making a deeply cynical point, so no mention of war here. Yes, I know war is bad and I know many people have very strong feelings on the topic. My focus here is on the economy overall, and how IT has affected it.)

1950s
Key IT movie:
“Desk Set”
Key zeitgeist book: The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, Sloan Wilson
Key invention: the transistor
Key hardware: the mainframe 
Key software: COBOL
Unfortunate government decision: creation of the military-industrial complex
How IT trumped governmental stupidity: enabled ‘the organization man,” brought new levels of efficiency and productivity to business.

1960s
Key IT movie:
“2001: A Space Odyssey”
Key zeitgeist book: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe
Key invention: manufacturing the integrated circuit
Key hardware: the minicomputer
Key software: VMS
Unfortunate government decision: believing in the domino theory
How IT trumped governmental stupidity: enabled companies to do business worldwide in almost real-time, diffusing risk and creating vast new business

1970s
Key IT Movie:
“Star Wars”
Key zeitgeist book: Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler
Key invention: Ethernet
Key hardware: the personal computer
Key software: VisiCalc
Unfortunate government decision: letting credit-card companies establish fees
How IT trumped governmental stupidity: it didn’t, but it did liberate leading-edge buyers from centralized IT control for the first time. The revolution was on!

1980s
Key IT movie
: “Tron”
Key zeitgeist book: In Search of Excellence, by Tom Peters
Key invention: CD-ROM
Key hardware: the LAN
Key software: the GUI
Unfortunate government decision: the embrace of supply-side economics
How IT trumped governmental stupidity: lowered barriers to entry for small companies and individuals, enabling a new climate of entrepreneurialism and agile business.

1990s
Key Movie
: “You’ve Got Mail”
Key zeitgeist book: Sex, by Madonna Ciconne
Key invention: flash memory
Key hardware: the laptop computer
Key software: the Worldwide Web
Unfortunate government decision: sticking with Alan Greenspan
How IT trumped governmental stupidity: created a 24/7/365 business culture, lowered barriers to entry further, and created a generation of young businesspeople who got their asses kicked early, hardening them for real success in the future.

2000s
Key IT movie:
“The Matrix”
Key zeitgeist book: the Koran, by Mohammed as told by Al-lah
Key invention: smartphones
Key hardware: the iPhone
Key software: social networking
Unfortunate government decision: allowing liar loans and letting them be included in derivatives
How IT trumped governmental stupidity: well, more like it matched government stupidity this decade, enabling millions to while away the hours online rather than worrying about their intractable financial problems.

2010
Key IT movie:
“The Social Network”
Key zeitgeist book: The Big Switch, by Nicholas Carr
Key invention: Cloud Computing
Key hardware: blade servers
Key software: virtualization
Unfortunate government decision: printing money faster than anyone can spend it
How IT will trump governmental stupidity: the barriers to high-end IT have been lowered for all, worldwide. New efficiencies unheard of in the static computing world will emerge. IT will matter because it’s available to all. It’s our only hope.

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.