Over the course of my schooling, there were a few poems that stuck with me. Early in my writing career, I wished to be a poet. To stand and deliver my poetry out loud. I did, for a long time, chase that dream. There are bits and pieces of poems that fit into my lexicon now because of that time and that dream. The two that I most often use when talking to technologists is Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle…” and probably even more iconic and applicable to the world of technology in which I speak and most often converse is the line from Percy Bysshe Shelly’s immortal Ozymandias. “Look upon my works ye mighty and despair.”
The latter often used to explain to people that there are no great works if they can be forgotten. There is no statues that stand between us and our destination. Technology, as it exists today, is a way station, a moment in time. A river that flows beside us near us, but stays ever in its banks. As long as we respect the river, it will not jump its banks and wipe away what we are building.
This technology age in which we live has many possible outcomes that are exciting. Analysts and experts say we are in the information age. But too much information resides in places we cannot search for it to be an age of information truly. Or perhaps the analysts aren’t telling us of two information ages. The initial creation age where information is built, systems are built to store information and us as humans move from the reality of Fake News to the reality of verification. Then rises the second information age, where information is verified and ubiquitous. More available information leaves this initial information age as the statue of Ozymandias was. Up to its base in sand, a barren desert without nothing to be seen by the travelers. On the base on inscription “Look upon my works ye mighty and despair.” The first instance of Fake News. For there is nothing to be seen.
I wonder if 100 years, or 500 years from now, archaeologists won’t be standing, in front of some ancient computer reading analysts proclamation of this is the dawn of the information age. We have arrived, and now information is everywhere. Laughing, they turn around to welcome future 8-year-olds, who having already memorized the entire history of humanity up to the point we are now, look at the fluid, bending screen and ask polity. What is this that you are showing us, teacher? The archeologists are smiling and gently step to one side so the teacher can speak. “Class, this is the excellent analysis of 100 years ago. That they were in an information age.” The laughter ripples through the group of students. One young girl raises her hand.
“Yes, Millicent.” The teacher says the child’s hand in the hair.
“They thought that information was stored and then consumed?” The child asked.
“Yes,” The teacher answered. The children, the class, the teacher and the archaeologist all hung their heads for a moment. All of them realizing that the glorious statue in front of them, the mighty past age of information, was not. It was the mighty Ozymandias. Standing there, in all the glory of greatness, revealing behind him a barren desert with nothing to be seen.
There are two poems that to this day resonate and echo in my heart. Sadly, they also echo and resonate with my profession. Rage, Rage against the declaration of the information age. We should know, we should understand, that declaring this an age of information will only cause presentations to future 8-year-olds who will, upon seeing our great information age laugh. Let’s stop now, before we as the great future joke, build our statue in the desert. Let us not be a cautionary tale that is told as a reminder that no one is greater than time. That information as it is isn’t an age yet. Do not fall into that good trap, which lost cause. The information age lies there ahead of us. Let us not build roadblocks. Let us not rage now that the information age is here. Let us instead go gentle into that good future. Go gently into that good age that lies ahead of us. We are preparing information now. Someday let’s not be a joke.
“What did you learn at school today son?” A mother asks gently.
“Well, the best part of the day was when we heard an ancient computer, something called a podcast where great analysts rose out of the desert and proclaimed 100 years ago the information age. Our class laughed for a long time mother. It was a funny joke.”