Foursquare just gave me extra points for having checked in at airports continuously for the last eleven weeks. This is a dubious distinction. In that time I have been to Riga, Amsterdam, most major cities in Australia, Hong Kong, Washington and Dubai. As a result I have gradually lost my grip of reality. My circadian rhythms are no longer disrupted by jet lag as they have no idea any more what they are meant to be. I have seen so many amazing things, and met so many interesting people, that life is starting to blur. It is in this context that I am awake at 4.00 am writing this rant!
My travels finally brought me to Dubai – a place that has a very dubious grip of reality. Outrageous building projects; ex-pats chasing the beach front idyll and wandering round shopping malls in their spare time; and multinational corporations and ubiquitous international brands swamping any remaining indigenous culture. A nightmarish vision of a future protecting itself and removing itself from the rough edges of the real world.
I am clearly particularly attuned to this loss of a grip on reality at the moment due to my personal circumstances but it is also what troubles me generally about modern life. It is what troubles me about corporate culture. The gradual loss of a grip on reality, the slow anesthetization of staff through endless obsession with process, the loss of passion and true engagement. I saw this in the well oiled machine that was my hotel in Dubai. Superbly efficient systems and impeccably professional staff but soulless and inhospitable in a deeply unsettling way. While writing this blog post I have been engaged in an email exchange with the hotel reception. Despite me being on a pre-paid half board basis, and despite the provision of complementary water in their rooms, they sent me an invoice just for the water I had with my meal, They then and end their contribution to the ensuing time wasting email exchange with the salutation “be re-energized” – give me strength!
This feeling of unreality culminated in an encounter with my daughter’s ICT teacher at a school progress evening last night. It would be indiscrete to go into the details of the conversation, but both he as an individual, and those setting the ICT curriculum, have clearly lost their grip of reality. They are lost in the anesthetized world of Microsoft Office based process. This issue is endemic. He is not alone. My work for the last seven weeks has been with those involved in the provision of corporate IT in various forms and at various levels in all sorts of organisations. It was clearly “the good guys” who were going to self select and bother to turn up and hear me but their stories of working in IT left me troubled. As a community they are losing, or have lost, the plot. They are buried in process, banging on about Big Data, remote from the realities of the web based world their organisations now inhabit, and like those crazy buildings in Dubai soaking up energy and costing millions in a way that merely exacerbates our increasing divorce from the reality of the world around us.
If we don’t find a way to recover our grip on reality we will come a cropper. Remember how in the eighties the financial sector sneered at those of us sensing the unreality of their claims to be fueling growth of the economy? Look what happened to that. We need to break out of this advertising fueled running away, this buffering ourselves from the harshness of the physical world, wrapping ourselves in psychic cotton wool, kidding ourselves that our ever more complex and ever more pervasive systems are going to protect us. They are part of the problem. They are the boiling water that the frog is sitting in. We are deluding ourselves and fiddling while Rome burns.