Much ado is being made over the Supreme Court’s recent toe-dip into technology. The case actually involved privacy rights, but they were over whether or not an employer had the right to monitor or view an employee’s text messages on a company phone. The chuckling included moments when Justices Roberts and Scalia seemed to get wrapped around the axle trying to understand that messages passed through a service provider network rather than being delivered directly device to device. And there were repeated attempts by the lawyers and the Justices to equate texting to letter writing. Most of the confusion was over issues that would have been easily answered by any teenager. The horror.
Actually, I’m having trouble getting too worked up about it. The court is largely made up of septuagenarians, and totally composed of lawyers. Neither group is known for being particularly tech savvy. Further, I’d be surprised if you polled politicians in general if you’d find a majority were technically literate. The horror.
And I’m still having trouble getting worked up about that. It did get me thinking though, how should issues requiring specific domain knowledge be handled? The world in general is a pretty complicated place. It’s not just about technology, but global economics and banking is frightfully complicated. Military strategies in the age of wars without fronts and attacks ranging from the technological to the biological to the nuclear are extremely complex. It is completely unreasonable to expect politicians and judges to be up to speed on these and other areas such that they can make good decisions.
Historically, when dealing with a highly technical topic, experts would be consulted. What was required by politicians was the ability to assess the credibility of the expert and the implications of the proposed plan. Experts are still called on today. The difference is that in our current 24×7 news cycle, the experts are vetted by the court of public opinion rather than the politicians. All too often, it isn’t about which plan is best for the nation, it’s about which plan can be digested down to a sound bite and accepted by Joe Six-pack.
Participatory government is a good thing. However, having everyone involved in the minutiae of every plan and policy is not a good thing at all. The Founding Fathers created a representative government for a reason. It wasn’t just the impracticality of holding a national referendum on every detail in the 18th century. Rather, it was that having that many cooks inevitably spoiled the broth. Not that government should operate in secret, but recognizing that you elect a President, a Senator, and a Representative to do what they think is best. Based on their results, you decide whether or not to send them back for another term. It doesn’t work that way anymore. The campaign never ends. The news polls are incessant. The result is that our politicians have become puppets with many people pulling the strings all at once.
An open statement to anyone I’ve ever elected to office: if you need advice on computer networks, communications infrastructure, or similar topics, call me. Maybe I can help. If you need advice on military strategies, medical policy, transportation planning, economic development, or damn near anything else, I’ve probably got an opinion for you. But if you pay it any mind, you’re an idiot.
Einstein famously said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” As a society we’ve begun to habitually ignore the second part of that quote. We just want it simple. But the world isn’t so simple. And we, and more importantly our leaders, keep treating it that way at our own peril.