The Gildered Age

By Michael Schrage, CIO |  Networking

"Ultimately," Gilder writes, "the Brahmins are no match for the revolution of the Untouchables. The latter will become free agents, and their intelligence, distributed around the end points of the network, will take control." The new network will be "faster, dumber, unlayered." Messages will "careen around on their own. Let the end user machines take responsibillity for them."

The Shock of the Infinite

Mass multimedia madness? Maybe, but Gilder makes a persuasive case. Ignoring for the moment that he writes very well and that his anecdotes and asides enhance the credibility of his technical claims, understand that Gilder's core argument is economic. In fact, his grasp of the economics of technological abundance and scarcity will command the attention of the global business community. CEOs may not appreciate why low-Earth satellites should be used for wireless networking instead of cells, but, by God, if there's one thing they do get it's supply and demand. Gilder, better than anyone, can articulate meaningful business scenarios describing what happens when infinity invades a marketplace.

"Every age defines itself by the resources it wastes," Gilder keenly observes. "Our agrarian forefathers wasted human time. The Victorians wasted coal and iron, and the 20th century wasted electricity. During the past decade, the world had to learn to waste transistors. Now it needs to learn how to waste bandwidth and begin rebuilding the world yet again."

That scenario will spawn daily management nightmares for CIOs. They won't have to artfully manage constraints; Telecosm proffers a future where CIOs (should we now call them CBOs for chief bandwidth officers?) are continually called on to find innovative ways to productively waste bandwidth. Managing infinity requires a radically different mind-set than managing scarcity. Just how many CIOs are designing and implementing architectures based on the premise and promise of infinite bandwidth? Today's rhetorical question becomes tomorrow's business imperative. What the Internet is to the telegraph, the telecosm must be to the Internet. This next decade will be even crazier than the last.

Masters of the Infinite

If Gilder is to be believed -- or even taken seriously -- then it's as clear as a fiber-optic strand that CEOs and their boards have little choice but to prod, poke and push their technical people to reconcile tomorrow's telecosms with today's enterprise resource planning systems, ASPs and netcentric and mobile computing. There's nothing quite like having to conduct a comprehensive strategic and capital budgeting review because the boss who barely uses e-mail has read a pop technology book, is there? Good luck!

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