In my last post, I claimed that empirical data indicates that Nicholas Carr is wrong and that IT does indeed still matter. In today's article, I will take my claim up one more notch and assert that only (I)T will matter.
Perhaps Carr’s claim was just a bit premature? Maybe it takes a few more years until IT jobs begin to disappear in the big cloud? Many so-called analysts have been claiming for a while that the rationalization and automatization effects of cloud computing will cost IT jobs.
I believe that these claims are fundamentally flawed because they are based on the false assumption that the realm of IT doesn’t grow anymore. This kind of analysis only takes into account what we do today with IT and then projects that rationalization effects will require fewer IT pros.
The reason why comparisons to technologies such as electricity (Carr’s favorite) are totally beside the point is that innovation in IT is still rapidly growing, whereas those technologies that have indeed been commoditized haven’t seen any noteworthy innovations since their maturation process peaked. Or did you discover any new breathtaking features or capabilities on your power outlets lately?
Recent innovations in IT, such as smartphones and tablets, significantly extended the way we can use IT. And look what is happening in the music, film, and book industries. I could go on about the tremendous effects that social networks, mobile broadband, or the countless innovations in medical IT have on our lives, and I would still not cover all important recent IT innovations. The truth is that IT is only at the beginning of its long innovation journey.
Innovation in IT is accelerating. That means that those organizations that are able to adopt and embrace these new information technologies faster have a significant competitive advantage. Thus IT is not just necessary (which Carr admits) and matters (which Carr denies), it matters more and more because more than ever it separates ambitious, innovative organizations from those that are satisfied with the status quo.
But why will “only” (I)T matter? Unfortunately, a blog post is not sufficient to support this claim. Fortunately, someone else already did this in an amazingly detailed way. That individual is my personal hero, Ray Kurzweil. In a way, he is claiming the exact opposite as Nicholas Carr. I suppose he never wrote the sentence “Only (I)T will matter,” but I feel that this follows from his theory.
Notice that this is meant in the literal sense. In a nutshell, Kurzweil’s theory is that the technological advances grow at an exponential rate, which will lead us to the “singularity”, a time where technological innovation grows so fast that it is beyond the understanding of our current mental capacity. IT is not the only technology involved here, which is why I set the “I” in parentheses. However, IT will certainly play a crucial if not a dominant role.
I know this sounds like far-fetched science fiction, and perhaps Kurzweil is a bit too optimistic (or too pessimistic for Carr followers) when he claims that this will happen in the next 30-40 years or so. However, I believe this scenario is much more likely than a world where innovation in IT has stopped and IT has become a mere commodity. As a matter of fact, Kurzweil has collected an enormous amount of empirical data that indicates that exactly the opposite is happening. IT matters more and more and this at an accelerating pace. You don’t have to be mathematician to predict where this will lead us.
By contrast, Carr’s “analysis” is based on a flawed theory that is nurtured by a technology hostile philosophy. The main reason why he has numerous followers is not because he has convincing arguments to offer, but because many people share his fear of a future dominated by technological progress. Fearful people are an easy target for faulty but consoling arguments. And of course, every CEO and controller who hates to spend more and more money for something he has no clue about loves to hear that IT doesn’t matter anymore.
The main difference between Kurzweil and Carr is that Kurzweil is an IT veteran and innovator (playing in the same league as Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak) who made many predictions through the decades that already came true. On the other hand, Carr has no background at all in IT and is therefore, in my view, not qualified to say anything about IT that goes beyond the fact that he doesn’t like computers and the Internet.