7 or 8 Myths that are Destroying IT

A short list of myths that have grown up around IT and how they are ruining an industry.

The Canonization of Steve Jobs as Patron Saint of Business Leaders.
The belief that Mr Jobs is the preeminent example to follow is held largely by a generation that has shown itself capable of forming strong emotional bonds to handheld electronic devices. People who know nothing of the significance of the 2600Hz tone, let alone how the future founders of Apple exploited it to hack the global telephone system. If a budding entrepreneur was to do today what Jobs and Wozniak did back then, he or she would be thrown in jail.

Apple’s innovation is also largely a myth and their success is based more on their products’ appealing visual design and a vertical business model that locks-in customers for further exploitation. However, you have to hand it to a marketing department that has convinced millions to all buy the same product in order to show that they are different. Not that this has anything to do with IT.

Apple corp avoid paying tax, avoid paying wages, avoid hiring, and through their delivery platform are turning the art and practice of software engineering into a publishing business where developers will have to finance their own development and marketing costs and receive for their efforts only that much of a commission that Apple will grant them on sales. As if writing software was no more costly than writing a song. But publishing is Apple’s core, so to speak, as the company gained its advantage by specializing in state-of-the-art desktop publishing systems. The move into application publishing is a logical one. For them. For software developers, being sold out by their own industry, it’s a disaster.

Possibly one of the stupidest ideas ever in IT, as people are beginning to find out from Edward Snowden’s revelations. It sounds good, being able to access your info from anywhere. What a great thing. It means you don’t have to carry all those heavy data files around with you anymore. It makes your mobile easier to carry if you let google look after your contacts and to-do lists for you. It also means that, at a stroke, you have thrown out all the data protection laws that were so hard to fight for, by choosing to put your property onto servers under no fixed jurisdiction with only the flimsiest of civil contract law for protection.

Online Savegames
Playing games online with real people is one of the most entertaining things you can do. Groups of complete strangers getting together in ad-hoc teams and having a whole bunch of fun and getting to know each other. What could be better? In fact gaming online has become so popular that many gamers have created entire websites and video channels out of their save games, often earning themselves a second income from their creations. So much so that games publishers are now muscling in, exploiting the inherent weaknesses of cloud-computing, and forcing gamers to save their games onto the publishers’ servers and to handover publishing rights, and most importantly the revenue they generate, in the process.

Now it’s the game servers who control how savegames are used, when and where they can be shown, who can see them, and how much payment is required from those that prove popular. But why should they? A savegame is the intellectual creation of a gamer in which the game itself was only the tool used in its creation. Games publishers have no more claim over the rights in a savegame than a manufacturer of power tools can claim to own your home. They are cheating their customers out of their rights, and spending a lot of money on it when it would be much cheaper for them to simply let gamers run their own servers, counter-strike style. If you created a savegame that a million people want to see then those one million hits – worth a good few thousand dollars – belong to you, not to some company you bought software from.

In addition the “always online” rule provides further possibilities for exploitation by generating the ability to force every gamer to upgrade at the flick of a switch. With these features one no longer purchases a game, one rents time on it and the software house will dictate what you can an cannot do with the game, claim ownership of everything you create with it, and keep a record of exactly when you played and for how long, where you were while playing, and everything you said to other gamers. Some even go so far as locking you out of the game you purchased because they didn’t like something you said on their forums. Will they soon start locking you out because you gave them a bad review, or because you don’t play long enough for them to generate sufficient advertising revenue from your presence?

Agile Methods of Software Development
The main subject of this blog and what can only be described as a management cult. The lunacy of Agile is difficult to describe and one can only get a flavour of it from the articles at the skankworks.net. Software development is one of the few activities that can be effectively carried out by distributed groups of people, and indeed one of software’s best selling points is that it can enable others to work remotely as well. Even extending, as above, to remote teams cooperating to play games. So what then is a customer supposed to think when software developers refuse to use their own creations and keep all their information in the form of hand-written notes plastered all over the walls? What are they make of a team who is trying to sell them software that will allow them to network and collaborate when that team insist that the only way to work effectively is by all being in the same office together at the same time?

Google is Your Friend
Do friends rifle through your mail? Do friends follow you around offering for sale to the highest bidder everything they think they know about your private life? Do friends run hundreds of scripts on your computer every day without your knowledge or consent? Do friends inform on you to the police even though you’re doing nothing wrong?

Social Media
The worst pestilence yet. If inanimate communications networks could be subject to disease, then social media is a pandemic. There is precious little “social” about it, indeed it is often anti-social. Strangers on trains and in bars, for example, used to hold conversations, before their eyes became glued to their screens. Social media has taken the humanity out of socializing, but it guarantees you will never meet anybody smelly online, and that’s the important thing. A flattering of one’s ego in exchange for information. Social media and the NSA play a good-cop, bad-cop routine from which they find out everything they want to know, and all at the jack-off suspect’s own expense. The suspect being you.

Computer Whizz Kids
A popular myth on both sides of the Atlantic. The UK’s whizz-kid mythology is largely built on the same foundations as those of St Jobs the Innovator. The UK has its Sinclair, its Berners-Lee, whacky boffin inventors who show that the British can sometimes be just as exceptional as Americans. In Britain they focus more on the whizz-kid’s scientific prowess, as opposed to the American obsession with business acumen. In the UK the whizz-kid image has become so entrenched that new whizz-kids are expected to appear with a regularity that is ripe for exploitation as a marketing device.

Thus, when a global IT company wishes to launch a marketing campaign in the UK it has a choice. It can go the traditional route and spend, for example, two million dollars purchasing TV commercials and taking out advertisements in newspapers and magazines, or it could look for some photogenic nerdish kid who has written some worthless nondescript app and bung him two million bucks for it, generating enormous amounts of free publicity by the national media portraying the event as “another British whizz kid discovered”. The fact that the app involved never actually gets published anywhere and the alleged whizz-kid invariably retires into an early obscurity are at best glossed over, or more usually ignored.

Britons get a warm and comforting feeling from the idea that one of their own made it big and don’t like to think that it all might just be a marketing exercise and there’s really no more chance of making it big in the UK through writing software than there is through buying a lottery ticket. As they say, the only Jobs left in software is Steve, and even he’s gone.