The age of innocence

Recently I discovered that I am a middle-aged man. Now, at the age of 38, this shouldn't come as a surprise. I must admit, however, that it did. I suppose everyone is surprised when they reach middle age. How is this related to Information Technology in the Federal Government? Good question.

Let's take a quick look at the perspective of age. The Federal Government is just over 225 years old. The age of technology, starting from the Industrial Revolution, is just over 100 years old. The computing age is just over 50. And, although the Internet may be a round 20, the era of the 'Net is only about five years old.

Today we speak of moving in "Internet time" and keeping up with emerging market trends. What used to take weeks and months is now expected to be done in hours or days. For those of us who are techies, this is a fun time. "Shoot from the hip" hacking is now a quality in high demand. From a business case and production standpoint, though, these are what the old Chinese curse refers to as "interesting times."

If the Federal Government in general, and DoD specifically, are what you could call mature, then the Internet is barely in its infancy. What does all of this mean? It means we are in the middle of a great transition. Not one of Technology, though that is the underlying reason behind this change. It's a transition of our society.

Those of us who've been working in the on-line world for the last 20 years are like the mountain men and explores of the Old West. We are the Daniel Boon's and Davy Crockett's of the digital age. We blazed the trails and cut paths that the settlers of today now use to live and work in. Soon, the kids who are in high school and college today will be building the digital equivalent of the railroads and highways and cities of tomorrow.

This, finally, brings me to my point. We, the digital pioneers, have a responsibility to the generations that follow us. We must act as a bridge to the past and a guide to the future. Twenty years from now it's possible that young people of the time will have no concept of gathering information from books and papers. While this, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, we must lay the groundwork today for the systems of the future to be able to handle the information gathering and retrieval in a way that is not only technically efficient but also able to preserve the history inherent in the information. The social and political aspects of the Information Age are just as important as the technical ones. When drafts of policy are released for comment and feedback we must take the time and put forth the effort to participate in the peer review of these documents.

Policy is the foundation upon which technology is used to build the future. Being a middle-aged techie, it is my responsibility to make sure that the knowledge and lessons of the past are not forgotten in the rush to reach the future.

[Joe Klemmer has been working in the computer field for 18 years, 10 of those online. He can be reached at]