We carry more processing power than the NSA mainframe computers of just a few decades ago. We have more information available in our pockets than the Library of Congress. We can communicate from anywhere, anytime, and you don’t have to pick up the Red Phone in the White House to do it. Everyone has a voice in the social media realm, and not even the FCC can regulate away your thoughts and opinions online.
We’re advancing well in the digital age, and according to polls, many would sooner give up showers for a year, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, fast food and even sex to keep their Internet access.
We can solve technological problems beyond our forefathers’ wildest dreams, but we’re challenged to break political gridlock, compromise, make difficult decisions and forge a balanced, reasoned path forward.
I was brought back to reality on this when I was on a family vacation in Florida. We were walking by a fishing pier, looking for our next vacation adventure. My youngest daughter loves trying new things, so we’ve developed a tradition of trying to do at least one special activity when we travel.
This time, a couple of the fishermen at the dock ask us, “Where are you all from?”
I say proudly, “Washington, D.C.!”
The fisherman replies, “Sorry to hear that.” And his buddies next to him all start nodding their heads.
Washington, D.C., the U.S. capital, and the regular people from around the country are laughing, mocking it.
Living in Maryland, and working for the federal government, I appreciate the importance of the mission of the agencies that I’ve worked for, the challenges to keep America safe and cutting-edge, and the generally smart, dedicated people I work with.
Well, what happened?
- Partisan politics, brinksmanship and a divided nation desperately seeking to be one and healed.
- A seeming parade of politicians caught on the dole, doing drugs and even posting nude photos on Twitter.
- Too many budget showdowns, shutdowns, near-defaults, fiscal cliffs and sequestrations.
- A ballooning national deficit, and endless talk of cutting spending and entitlements and raising revenue.
- More legislation or regulations that people don’t understand, or aren’t sure they want or need.
- Perceived invasions of privacy through expanding surveillance programs and post-9/11 retrenchments on personal freedoms.
- More embarrassment from Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and others with untimely revelations.
- War weariness from a decade or more in Iraq and Afghanistan that leaves us, at times, with one step forward and two back in a stream of potential engagements like Libya, Syria, Iran and the Pacific region.
The consequences of these events show up in critical ratings and polls, as politics divide us, decision-making stalls and noble promises remain too often unfulfilled.
It’s not easy to turn around division and the deferring of difficult decisions that spans administrations and parties. The result is seen in the faces of everyday people who scoff at the political challenges we face as a nation.
But if we can send a man to the moon and create the Internet itself, surely there’s hope.
The tech industry is a great place for lessons in simple, practical guidance in problem-solving and progress that we can use in government.
Perhaps the innovation and focus we use to solve complex technological issues can be applied to political choices and compromise — where good ideas, products and services are intuitive like the iPhone, which doesn’t even come with instructions yet everybody wants one, and like Amazon, where it’s a few clicks to select, order and receive just about anything.
Technology offers a defined practice for tackling seemingly impossible challenges and takes an iterative approach for improvement and learning from failures regardless of affiliation or whose idea something was.
Thinking like tech gurus, the respect of the people can be established when we unify in D.C. to understand the people’s needs instead of political whims, solve problems instead of trying to win points, get the creative juices of freedom and prosperity flowing like in designing and producing a great new tech product, and create a future that’s everything to enjoy and nothing to laugh at.