Saturday, April 18, 2009

Impermanence - the birth and death of technology

It's been a tough week for tech support. My staff and I are battling our first run of viruses. While our history of health may sound improbable it is true. We've gone over 10 years without an substantial infection. But our run is over. We have been toppled from our high horse, our years of innocence ended. While it has been a pretty isolated event it has made us appreciate the relative bliss we have enjoyed and what a drain an infection can have on our time.

Our freedom from viruses was won, not by chance. We have been careful to protect our computers with virus protection. We have controlled downloads with our firewall. We have chosen Macintosh and Linux computers whenever we can. We have done our best to restrict users to non-administrative accounts where viruses have limited power. But despite this best effort, we have seen viruses chew up the computers resources to a point where the computers are useless.

The most frustrating part of this event is that it has dominated my staff time. After hours of trying to clean the computers, we decided that a re-image was the fastest and most effective way to bring the computers back in service. Since the computers were older, Windows computers, we had to resurrect images that have been on the shelf for 3 or 4 years. Because we have lived free of this problem and given that imaging Windows is not something we invest in heavily, this was a very time consuming process.

These things happen. The world of technology is very dynamic I know. But somehow this struggle slapped me in the face this week. It put the grand experiment into new perspective. Though I don't deny that my staff and I are in the support and maintenance (not the innovation business), I like to thing that we are creative in what we do. But no matter how creative we think we are impermanence is our constant companion. Like the reality of death in our culture, it is the "uncomfortable truth" of our work.

Technology is marketed as a youthful endeavor - sexy, engaging, innovative, fresh, new. The attraction for technology is to make life easier and to some extent it accomplishes this ideal. Technology is forward looking. What new great innovation is on the horizon? What new tool is going to connect us, help us communicate, improve productivity. There is no doubt that technology has moved our society ahead with these goals. But the Madison Avenue, profit making, engine of industry has veiled the practical reality of making things work and keeping them alive.

Even as we battled the legacy of our old computers and their sickness, my staff and I tried to find time to work on the latest initiatives. New projects, new software to incorporate, new business processes; the wheel of birth continues to turn. These initiatives are fueled partly from necessity and partly from an obsession with the latest gadget, or a hope that life will be easier with the adoption of the next great technology. But ours is not to question why, just to advise and support.

But birth, like death, is a painful process right? It requires time for gestation. Sometimes one gets a little nauseous, perhaps to the point of throwing up. And when the bundle of joy emerges, it changes your life. The little one has to be fed. There are diapers to change, late night feedings. But despite the pain and inconvenience, the presence of new life is a joyful event. And just as the birth of a child has it pain and pleasure, the adoption of new technology has these aspects.

As I've struggled with my frustration this week, I've tried to understand this cycle of birth and death. I'm trying to be patient and realistic with both. I often feel deceived by the promises of new technology and challenged by the retirement of the old. But why should technology be any different than the rest of life. My job is simply to meet the day to day, ups and downs with equanimity. If I can maintain my balance, I expect I will be a better arbiter in the adoption - mantenance and retirement process.