Thursday, June 18, 2009

Long lags and contrary forecasts

After reading Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline, I've been taken with the idea of causality with long lags. The question is whether you can see the relationship between cause and effect in prospect. Note that this is hard enough in retrospect and because of the lags many people miss the root cause of things. So, stirred by the recent events in Iran, as so many others have been, I'm going to take it as an affirmation of a prediction made by Stanley Fish last September - George Bush: The Comeback Kid.

I should note that I'm neither a fan of Bush nor of Fish. I voted for Bush neither in 2000 nor in 2004 and I've stopped reading Fish's blog, because most of the columns I found frustrating, too much argument for arguments sake. But this particular prediction resonates with me just now, so I want to give it its due.

The reasons seem to be clear enough. First, if you look at the heroes in Iran, one of them surely is the new social networking technology, notably Facebook and Twitter. When did those come to the fore? Under W., that's when. Second, look at what the war in Iraq did for the mindset in the rest of the region. It showed an alternative to the status quo is possible. The elections in Lebanon are a prime example. The war in Iraq may have done many other bad things, and certainly it was started under false pretenses, but it did plant this notion of an alternative to the status quo. Those are biggies. The rest is just connecting the dots.

If the Moussavi followers do indeed prevail, seemingly against all odds but now apparently a distinct possibility since the protests continue unabated, Bush's redemption will be secure. Amazing.


Downes said...

> if you look at the heroes in Iran, one of them surely is the new social networking technology, notably Facebook and Twitter. When did those come to the fore? Under W., that's when.

They came to the fore *despite* Bush, not because of him.

Do not confuse coincidence with causality.

Lanny Arvan said...

I don't know. The same cheap credit that fueled the housing bubble, I believe most folks would blame Bush for that, also fueled technology innovation.

In any event, I am not trying to absolve Bush. I am just trying to suggest that others who are not yet ready to do so will soon look at him in a far less sinister way.

Downes said...

From trhe point of view of tech, Bush was a disaster. Not long after he took office, there was the collapse of the tech bubble. It took years to recover from that. Just as the industry was getting back on its feet, we had the credit collapse.

Don't equate Facebook and Twitter with 'Technology'. What change happened during the Bush years was propelled by people working from their basements after being laid off from tech companies. In the larger companies, it was a time of stagnation - think Windows Vista and IE 6.

Most innovation came from overseas (or Canada). Think YouTube or OhMyNews. American companies gained by acquisition or litigation (this is what cheap credit _really_ enabled). The success of the iPhone, for example, resulted only after a series of lawsuits stalling RIM, makers (in Canada) of the Blackberry.

In the tech world, since the end of the Bush administration, it has been like a breath of fresh air. The stuff that's coming onstream now - like Google Wave and Opera Unite - will transform the web. People will wonder why we stalled for so long. People in the industry know. It was Bush.

Lanny Arvan said...

Sorry to be dense, but some of your points I don't get.

I do understand that Facebook and Twitter don't represent technological innovation per se, but rather show new behaviors that technology enables.

I don't understand, however, equating some of Microsoft's flubs with Bush. I attribute them, instead, to having a large powerful incumbent that is too tied to its old business. This has happened before and will happen again. Microsoft has been more innovative in some of its other business lines, e.g., XBox, where it wasn't locked into the old. Likewise, the first tech bubble I would attribute to Clinton more than to Bush, although the recession in the early part of the decade clearly happened when Bush was president.

I'm also unclear on what you envision the mechanism to be by which the U.S. Presidency hinders or empowers the tech world. Perhaps you can make that more explicit.

Downes said...

I'm not going to make it more explicit, I spent eight years arguing against Bush & I'm done ... you want to defend bush, you're on your own

Bryan's workshop blog said...

I think it's important to identify long lags in development, Lanny. Do you know this recent book, _The Shock of the Old_? It argues for the importance of older tech's long, long duration and influence.

PS: joining you in the not fan of Bush, not fan of Fish clubs.

Lanny Arvan said...

Bryan - thanks for the comment and the reference. I don't know that book, but will have a look.

The penchant for long lags is in turn a desire to understand fundamental causes. Not that I do, but I feel that's what we should be looking for.

I'm watching my own emotions bounce about what is going on in Iran right now. I've heard several interviews with Roger Cohen in the last day or so. In one he said all the protest is because people want basic freedoms. We tend to think that desire realizes itself. I hope so, but right now I'm not sure.

Bryan's workshop blog said...

The book is fun. Polemical, almost cranky, but offers solid evidence and arguments throughout.

Fundamental causes - yes, that is something for which we have a fondness. Maybe we can have more conversations about this, concerning technology and learning?

I'll have to avoid Iranian and US politics for the moment, alas. Too busy this month!

Lanny Arvan said...

Bryan - I verified that the book is not available for the Kindle, so it will join the queue of other books I should read but haven't gotten to yet.

Fundamental causes and technology and learning, hmmm. Yesterday on the Tomorrow's Professor listserv there was a post about not doing Wifi at a campus to save $$$, based on the idea that students already have cellphones and that is their preferred mode. Wifi seem redundant and expensive, according to the author. The post is noteworthy because of where it appeared. That listserv doesn't usually post technology stuff.

Maybe this issue of redundancy and cost savings will make for a big push to Web 2.0 stuff that universities don't host and don't pay for. If we can have this little thread that way, why not?

Bryan's workshop blog said...

We should compare notes on the Kindle, at some point. I use it daily.