Monday, October 10, 2011

Does Not Compute

What is the one thing without which the "information age" could not have come into existence?  Brilliant individual technology wonks, among whom Steve Jobs was rated tops?  Shrewd young risk taking entrepreneurs?  Large scale corporate investment?  The deregulation and redefinition of the communications industry?  The general rise of today's right wing laissez-faire free market political theology? The Reagan Revolution, globalization?  No, none of those things.  The answer is the science behind the technology of computing.

Science, pure science has driven breakthrough after breakthrough in the high speed transmission of electronic impulses in ever more powerful and smaller miniaturized devices.  And the basic science itself was funded and driven in the main by public, that is to say government, spending.  To be sure, much of the research which led to the development of critical elements like integrated circuits and semiconductors was conducted in private facilities such as Bell Laboratories.  But the long haul financial support necessary to bring these advancements forward came from the public purse. 

And that is just shorthand for saying our collective effort as a society.  It is the same source from which came the resources to halt the free-fall and avoid the total collapse of capitalism during the 1930s Great Depression, to whip the Nazi menace, to outstrip and wear down the scourge of the Soviet Empire, and to close down the distance between ourselves and the universe beyond.  These are among the things that we as a society have been called upon to do in the past, and that short term profit seeking investment could not bring about.

So, with the passing of Mr. Jobs, it seems like an appropriate time to make a clear assessment of the totality of resource allocation and economic decision making which is required to build a decent, strong and successful society today.  It is a mistake to overly romanticize and credit the role of mere packaging, marketing, and high profile hucksterism of the sort that Mr. Jobs epitomized.  After all, had he and his school age chum, Mr. Wozniak, not had the support facility provided by Jobs' parent's garage or been relieved of the need to get summer jobs for spending money and tuition like so many other kids,  they would not even have been able to take advantage of the technology all the rest of us had already paid to develop.  And the idea that goverment spending does not play a critical and indespensible role in our economic well being today simply does not compute.


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