by Gary North
I am having problems with my e-mail. It used to be, when I would send an e-mail, it would sit in the "Sent Items" box for about five seconds, locking up my cursor, and then go into cyberspace. No big problem.
Last week, things started acting goofy. I would click the "Send" button, the letter would automatically disappear from my screen (as usual), the (1) would appear in the "Sent Items" list, and my cursor would lock up . . . for anywhere from 30 seconds to 45 seconds. If a person sends 15-20 e-mails a day, a 45-second lock-up per letter is not good.
This went on all week. It happened even early in the morning. So, I sent the following letter to my local Internet Service Provider's technical support address:
It is now taking 30 seconds plus to mail out one brief e-mail. It's 5 a.m. I have noticed the slowdown all week. At 6 p.m. it can take even longer.
You are a literate person. Is there anything unclear about the letter? Do you understand what I was trying to communicate to the system maintenance person?
The next day, I received this letter from the system maintenance person:
Can you elaborate? Do you see a slowdown transmitting the message from your client to the server?
I stared at my screen, not comprehending what I was reading. Then I typed ("keyboarded") a brief reply and clicked the "Reply" button.
You're a techie. You therefore do not communicate well with normal people. I fully understand. We need you guys, even though we have no idea what you do or what you are talking about.
Jeff, a "client" is a guy who bought something from me, and who will probably buy something from me again.
A "server" is a waiter at a restaurant. "Hello, I'm Bruce, and I'll be your server."
Now, if you will ask this question in English, I'll be happy to answer it.
Why did I write that? It was really silly of me. I was trying to show Jeff that a breakdown in communication had taken place between me (Jeff's employer's client) and him (my hoped-for server). Jeff, as a full-time techie, does what so many of his peers do: he uses anthropocentric terms to describe inanimate objects. I, not being a techie, haven't a clue as to what he is talking about.
C. P. Snow's Two Cultures
Forty-one years ago, an English author, C. P. (Sir Charles) Snow, gained brief but widespread attention from the chattering classes with a book titled, The Two Cultures. The book — actually, a long lecture — dealt with the division of the world of educated people into the humanities and the sciences, e.g., "Jeff" and "Gary." Basically, Snow was putting into English — in both senses, linguistic and cultural — the insights of German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who, two centuries ago, divided reason into two aspects, the phenomenal (scientific cause and effect) and the noumenal (ethics, freedom, personality, and the non-explainable in general, including God). Snow's title for the book has entered the English language as a familiar phrase. The book was re-issued in 1993, with a 70-page introduction to Snow's 107-page lecture.
Snow was a trained scientist who never did much in the laboratory. He was also a novelist and a bureaucrat. He was dismissed by one critic, F. R. Leavis, as a public relations man for science. Well, why not? Every field needs a little PR these days. No one reads Snow's novels any more, but the title of one of them also has entered the language: the corridors of power.
I am told by an entrepreneur in the high-tech field that a successful company needs three people: a scientist/technologist who develops products, a salesman who can sell them, and a manager who can interpret for the other two and keep both them from quitting in disgust over the other's lack of understanding. Occasionally, one man can do all three tasks. Edison could. So can Bill Gates. But there are not many.
To this list of three, we should add an accountant to keep costs under control and a lawyer to keep the doors open.
I have come to appreciate Snow's phrase. I have developed Web sites with the help of a talented code writer who has become something of a businessman. The two of us share basic philosophical views, but we sometimes find it difficult to communicate. I have to explain what I am trying to accomplish, and he tries to tell me what the existing technology will allow at a price significantly less than a 70-year old, two-bedroom house in Silicon Valley (these days, about $800,000).
We do not think alike. I have come to appreciate this. Snow was not exaggerating. We approach problems very differently. Our minds really are different.
The Third Culture
I have also come to appreciate something else: what entrepreneurial innovators do in partnership with technologists is fast becoming beyond the scope of governments to regulate. The third culture — the culture of legalized coercion — is too slow to respond. It takes time for legislators, regulatory bureaucrats, and judges to figure out how some firm is making lots of money by adding enormous value for consumers through digits. Billions of dollars are generated before the regulators notice anything amiss, meaning something presently unregulated. Then they rush in to assert control. But they face a problem: they do not understand what the techies have wrought, or how.
The government hires its own technologists, but these are not cutting-edge people. The cutting-edge people are in the free market, trying to get rich. What cutting-edge people do is not easily regulated. By the time some innovation is placed under the control of some government agency, the third-generation product is on the market and the fourth-generation is in beta-testing.
Also, if things get too tight at home, a Web site can be set up in some newly independent island republic that has no income taxes for off-shore companies.
The third culture is now facing nearly impenetrable barriers ("firewalls") against its meddling: international entrepreneurship that runs through phone lines in all directions and digits that create wealth that flows across borders into cyberspace. Both of these flows can be encrypted. This is why England's House of Commons has just passed a draconian anti-encryption law, which will probably be overturned by the European Commission.
So, when I have trouble understanding Jeff, and Jeff needs clarifications from me in his preferred language, I do not get too upset. That's because Janet will not figure out what the Jeffs of this world are up to until they are doing something else.
August 8, 2000
Gary North is the author of Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church, which is available free of charge as a downloaded text at www.freebooks.com.