For the Week of December 20, 2004
Next year will be a very tough time for America.
I don't know if the dollar will crack as I described in The Chinese Century or not. Life's dramatic arc is always more unexpected than what fiction can provide.
But I do know that we've chosen distraction, war, and economic insanity. These are precisely the tools used by Hitler, and if you don't like the comparison, frankly, tough. The same tools have been chosen by many others throughout history, and the end result was always the same.
Empires extend until they get overextended and broken. It's a lesson every other nation on Earth has learned through its history. It's the one lesson America has yet to learn, but it will.
Meanwhile, change will go on. America is no longer the indispensible engine of change. There are plenty of other places with the capital, talent, markets, and education needed to carry on the cause.
So let's talk about what changes we might see.
The greatest change is a new paradigm, wireless networks and miniature devices. Instead of having wired networks you must control with a TV, typewriter, and tape recorder, we're seeing smaller devices that you can hold in your hand and some that even think for themselves, living in unwired environments that seek intelligence from network servers and the programming within them.
This is what I call The World Of Always-On. As I said last week we're starting to see evidence of its coming. We're seeing it in sensors embedded in shirts, usually tied to low-bandwidth cellular networks, and in phones that have all the power of a PDA, even a laptop PC. (Samsung has a phone with a 1.5 Gigabyte hard drive. )
As I have said before what we need for all this to come together are a common platform and applications. A "killer app," one everyone feels they must have, is what sells the platform.
Voice was the "killer app" for yesterday's cellular networks. The Web was the "killer app" for the Internet. What might be the "killer app" for broadband sensor networks?
The answer is security.
Security is a good that everyone wants, and there is no longer a countervailing force of "rights law" to protect us from it.
If you look inside the U.S. budget for 2005 and beyond, you will see billions being invested to create perfect security, even robot armies of the night. These won't work in practice. (To see how they fail, check out Turtledove's "Worldwar" series , and understand that we're the lizards.) But the desire for perfect security can create a platform of wireless connectivity, and sensor-based applications, that will benefit everyone.
Whether the task is to secure a port, a chemical plant, or a rail network, it's obvious that machines must substitute for people because we will never have enough people. Chemical sensors, cameras, robots, and other security devices can all be linked to broadband networks, their data fed to a central server that will analyze it for anomalies, and it's the results from that analysis that will bring the people.
That is an Always-On application space. You can put a ton of money into creating the first application for that space, because its value is unlimited. If it prevents a single 9-11 type attack it's paid for itself, and even if it hasn't, who is to say that it hasn't?
Once the first model is created, you take it down the technology curve. Large consulting companies bring it to office buildings and factories. Then the parts are productized and OEMs bring it to smaller enterprises. Once the software runs on standard systems it reaches the mass market through stores, rising up the demand curve, from hobbyists and gadget freaks, until it becomes simple enough for anyone to have and part of the mass market.
So it's very likely that security will provide us with the Always-On platform that medical, inventory and automation applications will then ride on. It's got to start somewhere.
And it starts, for certain, in 2005.
I urge everyone who reads A-Clue.Com over to Mooreslore to enjoy my ongoing online novel, The Chinese Century. I hope it's as much fun to read as it has been to write.
In partnership with ZDNet, I'm now helping to produce a special blog on Open Source .
I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout , a new kind of marketplace for cellular data services.
My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .
Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."
You are encouraged to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know . Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
Cynicism is the mortal sin of my generation.
We had a lot to be cynical about. Vietnam, Nixon, sex, drugs, and all the rest. Every institution we looked to in our youth failed us.
So we grew into adulthood without ideals, and now America pays the price for that. Because when you don't really believe in anyone, you're bound to fall for anything. This sounds like a contradiction but it's not.
When you have solid values you can measure what you're told against what you trust. When you lack that foundation you will buy false promises.
Those who know the value of a dollar are frugal, which is the route to economic success. Those who fail to value a dollar are spendthrifts, which is the route to ruin. We grew up without that value and are spending ourselves broke.
Those who grow up with religious faith may question it, even reject it, but we measure faith against faith and make a rational choice. Those who feel they're without faith will take it like hard liquor, become drunk on faith, which is what Mao was saying, and what "mega-churches" are selling.
The best shorthand is to look at the title of this piece, Cabaret. The musical was not just Lisa Minelli's greatest role . It was a study in Weimar attitudes, the attitudes that gave rise to Hitler. Those in the cabaret believed in nothing, following the horrors of World War I. They became victims to others who found belief, false belief, even genocidal belief, and who sought to impose it on everyone.
For Germans World War I was, like Vietnam for Americans, a war that came out wrong. Just like those Germans we grew up looking for scapegoats, and bought ideologies that promised them. Liberalism, secularism, easy scapegoats. Muslims are even easier.
Every generation that undergoes a war like Vietnam comes out scarred in the same way. It was that way for southerners after the Civil War, who turned on blacks. It was true, as I noted, for Germans, who turned on Jews. It was true for the French after 1870, who turned on Dreyfuss, for Russian Communists who turned on each other, and for Muslims today, following multiple humiliations, many of whom have turned on us.
The certainty of hatred is bred in the residue of defeat.
Because people live longer today than before, 2004 was not the generational election even I expected. It was an endorsement of the same old attitudes, dominated by the scarred veterans of My Generation.
The hope for change and choice must lie beyond us, in a generation that will reject us, as every generation rejects what came before.
Our task, as the losers in our own generation's war with itself, is to fire that rebellion against our compatriots, their elders. We need to preach idealism to the young, optimism to a generation who are being fed cynicism, and create causes they will wish to fight for.
Not our causes. Their causes.
Peace. The environment. Reconciliation. Humanism.
These are the underlying assumptions of the generation to come, but there has been nothing yet to truly challenge those assumptions, and energize those people, into a real force for good in the world.
Republicans won't do this. They're busy with their own trips, with Iraq, with oil, with hatred of gays, of uppity women, of intellectuals. They are what they are.
But as opponents we don't have to be what we are, or what they are. We can be what we like. And what we like is bound to be of interest to younger people, who are looking for something appealing to hang their lives on, young people who still believe, who have not yet been broken on the wheel of history as we have.
There are plenty of causes, large and small, to energize them. Once again, Howard Dean is right, absolutely, 100% right.
We must do the energizing.
That means we must localize our causes, find small efforts where the work of small cadres of young people can effect real change and energize them for more.
We must teach. We must teach history, we must teach science, we must teach technology and ethics, and the law as it should be.
Finally we must create dreams. It's in the dreams of people that you see the real future.
I'm something of a student of film history. There's a lot of futurism in film, because most stories are dreams. Look at the American films of the 1930s and early 1940s, the films that spoke to our parents when they were young. They all told similar stories, and gave similar lessons, about the value of community, of working together, and of believing that tomorrow will be better. Many of today's stories are quite similar.
Then look at the films of the 1970s and 1980s. Bonnie & Clyde, Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy. Individuals crushed and broken, destroyed. Futile gestures. Even the success of characters like Norma Rae was fleeting, because you knew the mill would in time be closed. Do your best, these pictures preached, but know that they're all crooks, that there's no real hope. Live young, live fast, make a beautiful corpse.
There are exceptions to these rules in both eras. Generations overlap. History isn't precise or neat. But when you do any experiment you look for the median, for the Bell Curve that describes a multitude of results, and what I've written above is, in general, true.
And I think it sets our task well. These are things we can do. We can write, we can teach, we can identify problems and push people toward solving them.
We still have ideals. I've seen it in the writing of everyone here.
Pass them on.
Best of the News
Clued-in is Dave Farber, the greatest shared list manager in history
Clueless are simple solutions to the problems of cameraphones .
A-Clue.Com is a free email publication, registered with the U.S. Copyright
Office as number TXu 888-819. We're on the Web at http://www.a-clue.com.