The fall of IT

Ah, spring, a time of birth and renewal. The birds sing, the bees buzz, and a young man's thoughts turn to corruption. Guess I'm not so young anymore. But I'm thinking of when this industry was, long ago in the early 1980s. I was selling personal computers from Timex and Texas Instruments and general-ledger software for the first IBM PC.

The Computer Dealers' Exposition was a show for a few thousand geeks. It seemed everyone knew they were part of something that was destined to be big, but no one knew when or how. So we were free to strive and fail and then succeed. Of course, the stakes were not the half-trillion dollars or so that churn through the IT industry today. Money, as Cyndi Lauper warned us, changes everything. The natural parasites of great wealth are bureaucracy and politicisation. Both are forms of corruption, but the latter is especially persistent. Bill Gates, Lou Gerstner, and many other effective executives know how to beat back private bureaucracy, but they are helpless in the face of politics.

Perhaps future historians will look back at 1998 as the year the IT industry began its dance with the government devil. I know I will. It's the year of Scott McNealy, in a cavernous hearing room packed with senators and press, whining about Bill Gates being "the most dangerous and powerful industrialist of our age". It's the American Engineering Association acting like a trade union, protecting members who've failed to manage their careers, by arguing that they can't get hired because US companies are too "picky" and prefer "cheap" foreign labour. It's encryption policy being set behind closed doors by the Department of Commerce, with proposals to let police seize your encryption keys with a mere subpoena. It's America's state governors straining to loose the nation's 30,000 state and local taxing authorities on Internet-based commerce.

Their argument? A base appeal to envy: tax-free cyberspace firms have an "unfair" competitive advantage over their tax-constrained terrestrial counterparts.

More regulation does seem inevitable. But I need to go out in the sunshine with my wife and daughter and think about renewal.