This blog is about technology and society. It is about how humans, primarily Americans, incorporate technology and innovation into our systems by setting rules, defining boundaries, protecting the innocent, punishing the unjust, and recognizing/organizing entirely heretofore unseen sectors of economic growth.
We are lawyers by trade and training. We are well-versed in the ground-level, grubby and pedestrian conflicts where power is flexed and the initial shifts in position occur. Where people struggle to bring inventions to the world. Where they scrimp to finance the care and feeding of brilliant ideas. Where the keen people with money choose winners and losers. Where interested parties wrestle over business terms so they can work together. Where frustrated people wrestle over resources as they separate. Where judges, politicians, bureaucrats, and executives make the daily decisions that advance the acceptance of one technology over another, of one business model opposed to the next.
From our first coffee each morning, we immerse ourselves in the business of technology – creating it, developing it, funding it, elbowing a space for it within current rules, finding buyers for it, introducing it to new markets, importing it, exporting it, protecting it from competitors, aligning it with allies, and ultimately exploiting it for the client’s profit. We have seen excellent technologies die on the vine. We have seen mediocre technologies succeed against the odds. We watch plans come together and dreams fall apart. But mostly, we see striving by creative people to make a living and to leave a mark on the world.
Our interests are many and varied within those walls, but we will be limiting commentary in this blog primarily to the acceptance and incorporation of electronic and information-related technology in the rules of our society. Most of us do not pay adequate attention to technological progress in the life-science and pharmaceutical world. Other bloggers address that area admirably.
We see technology through the prism of society and see society through the prism of power. Competing powers driving an invention forward or thwarting its progress can write history. No technology survives without sponsors.
The tools that social animals impose to maintain order in society – rules, protections, and mores – naturally lag behind technological changes. We adjust to a fresh reality by tweaking the current social infrastructure, plucking a string that resonates throughout the entire room. In short, we react.
Sometimes we overreact. We restrict the exploitation of useful technologies until our social networks can fully understand them. Luddites will always present a prickly hedge of resistance to a new invention, but much societal overreaction to new technology is the outraged, panicked howl of the old guard awakening to realize that they will soon be left behind. And the old guard has money and influence. The old guard’s consternation counts. Today’s money can buy influence that tomorrow’s money can only dream about. For example, building wireless infrastructure tears at the wallets of those companies making money through landline delivery – cable, telephone, power. Even worse, building a carbon-free energy infrastructure tears at the wallets of our most powerful entrenched constituencies – oil companies, automakers, airlines – and all of the unions serving those industries. These dinosaurs hold the levers of power and use them to stall changes that would force their own evolution or death. Many magnificent concepts die on the rocks of resistance. Many others quietly wait for an opening to soar.
Sometimes we underreact. We occasionally allow a monopolist to emerge and crush all nascent innovators before society realizes that a market existed to protect. An Oracle or Microsoft can build an unassailable economic empire in a new industry before regulators know how to classify the industry or to carve it into existing protective structures. We often define emerging powers by their enemies. What would the Mongoose be without the Cobra to define it? Thinking this way can be deceptive when the power builds a niche in the shade away from significant notice. Like introducing the rat to isolated islands, lack of traditional foes allows it to breed so rapidly that nothing else can compete for resources. By the time we realize there is a competitive imbalance, it’s too late.
Society responds to power. The power of ideas can capture our imagination. The power of money can never be ignored. Through overreaction and underreaction to new technologies, a Hegelian synthesis can often build a balanced response. Our world is never perfect, and synthesizing laws, rules, regulations, and precedents in a responsive manner, accepting that innovation drives our economy may be the best social system that we could hope to achieve.
We want to know what we are becoming and how technology shapes that change. We enjoy peering far into the future where technologies that barely exist today become pervasive. We also enjoy following the stumbling, plodding pace of legal change in minefields like data privacy. Arcane topics that spark our imagination will receive equal weight to the court-ruling-of-the-month that everyone discusses.
We look forward to your comments and expressions of concern, disdain, despair, and enthusiasm. This should be an interactive forum. Thank you for taking the time to learn with us. We will be examining an unpredictable and fascinating society as it evolves into a completely unrecognizable world.