An important aspect of the political system in most western civilizations is the separation of church and state. It’s what enables we, the people, to guide our collective fate based on real-world human, rather than abstract spiritual, values.
A global debate currently rages as to whether this separation still exists in the US. The matter, however, may be irrelevant. Another, more nefarious entity has clawed its way into modern civilization, replacing the position once held by religion.
In the latter half of the last century, technology established itself
as a cornerstone of our governance systems and barely anyone noticed.
Its place is not quite official, as once the Pope’s was to many
governments, but it still carries much weight and has a significant
impact of the continued development of society.
Like the narrow and abstract religious interpretation of the human
condition, technology, by its own limited and limiting nature, places
constraints on what we, as a society, can do. We no longer view our
destiny as what we as a species are capable of, we view it as what a
piece of technology will enable us to do.
Technology takes many forms, from a desktop PC to an automatic rifle.
But whatever shapes it comes in, technology often defeats the purpose
of humanity. We don’t meet up to talk, because we have email. We don’t
seek a peaceful resolution to a dispute, because we have a big gun.
Too many business and government agents currently take technology for
granted as an essential part of any new system or process being
designed. So indoctrinated are we with the idea of technology as a
panacea for our ills, that we too often fail to view solutions without
Furthermore, technology’s agents will introduce new systems with little
or no concern for — or consultation with — the people on whom they
will have an effect. How many times have you arrived at work to find
that you’re suddenly required to use a new piece of software for no
These types of attitudes have given technology and its largest
producers a place in civilization not held since just before George
Washington kicked the Church of England out of his new country.
Think of it this way: if the US is the new Roman Empire, then Redmond is the new Rome and Bill Gates its Pope.
In ancient times, political bodies bent and broke on the word of the
Pope. The shadow of his presence was long and effectively supported by
a massive network of influential agents. Messages from the Church’s
leader travelled across this network, causing governments everywhere to
unquestioningly follow the decree of a single man empowered by an
ideology rather than the will of the people.
This is not so different to how Gates’ ideology spreads and is enacted.
The modern priest is called the MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems
Engineer). The neophytes populate the showroom floors of box stores
around the world. Evangelists litter our contemporary social landscape
like cockroaches; there’s at least one at every dinner party.
It’s no wonder the Word of Gates holds such sway. You can’t turn around without some sod preaching Windows to your face.
This incredibly massive global network of Microsoft technologists is
embedded in too many organizations and holds too strong an influence on
those bodies. These technologists, based on that fact that substantial
organizational processes and procedures run on systems they control and
understand intimately, have significant say in decision-making
processes. And their place is held firmer than any trade union could
ever hope to guarantee its members: job security is assured by the
sheer ignorance of their managers.
In some instances this is because management bodies are scared of their
lack of technology knowledge. In most cases it’s simply because the
constraints of a single system make decision making easy: “We couldn’t
accomplish world peace because the new system doesn’t handle that sort
of thing. Besides, we have the technology to kill and it’s cheaper.”
I’ve heard of too many organizations that have made major strategic
decisions based solely on the availability and capabilities of
That’s not to say they should have used a competing technology. The
answer isn’t an alternative religion. The answer is the separation of
technology and state.
A book I read recently, “Business Process Management: The Third Wave”,
basically calls for the end of the technologists’ reign of terror. The
authors suggest that we must reduce our dependence on technology as an
essential aspect of business process and instead focus on the business
The same thought could be applied to society in general. It’s not about
how to force the newest iPod to enrich your life with music; it’s about
how to learn to sing.
On that note, to paraphrase the great hardcore band Rage Against the Machine, we’ve got to take the power back.
Contemporary decision makers in government and business alike must
seize back the right to make decisions from the geeks and
technologists. The systems don’t rule them; they rule the systems.
Citizens must insist that governments explicitly exclude technology
from the decision-making process and that governments operate
independent of them.
We need a revolution, one that will define a narrower place for technology in our society.
Ironically, China seems the most likely place for this to happen. With
a questionably extreme focus on the protection of its society and
culture, the government there has already shown Microsoft the door. And
that has Gates hissing venomous curses their way like some latter-day
Never mind an ideology, though, it’s unlikely we’ll be buying anything
other than plastic trinkets from the Chinese for quite some time. The
change must come from within our culture.
Unfortunately, I question the reality of such a call. The architects of
America had to take up arms to fight for their cause. We must put them
down. This will arguably take greater courage.
Copyright 2005 Andrew Robulack
First published in the Yukon News, Friday, September 16, 2005