Does It Matter?

There’s an extended debate going on in the business literature these days over an essay, now a book, titled Does IT Matter? by Nicholas Carr. Carr’s thesis is that information technology has become sufficiently commoditized, and our baseline expectations for IT functionality so high, that no company in the future can expect to obtain a competitive advantage via IT alone. Back in the day, a manufacturing firm could implement a superior data processing system, say, and expect to stay a meaningful step ahead of the competition, at least until the competition caught up. Those days, Carr argues, are essentially over.

The blowback against Carr has been swift and powerful. I don’t have an opinion on the matter; my point is that it’s an interesting and compelling debate.

About to dip my toes into the blogosphere once again, I’m wondering about the same sort of question. Does IP matter? I think it does (and the authors of the blogs that I’ve linked to the left likely agree), but still . . . I wonder, much of the time, whether and how to broaden the appeal of that point. I spend a lot of time learning about the social life of technology by talking to thirteen-year-olds on campouts. Hacking, to many of them, is a way of life. I can get their attention when I connect what they do (which mostly involves evading various rights-protection schemes in the different subscription downloading services) with what I do. I sent a recent graduate of our local high school off to CalTech last year wondering about the IP implications of the networks he built in his basement so that he and his friends could play WarCraft all night.

I can’t say the same, though, about their parents; for them, I’m an ethereal academic. There’s a gap there that has to be filled. On a massive scale, we may need to connect debates about innovation and creativity to the day-to-day lives of the vast middle. Right? Or is the blog simply a way to work on my writing chops?