Point of View: The Problem With Solutions

Sometimes our quest to make things easier only makes things harder.

by / September 9, 2008

This month's cover story looks at some different ways government uses technology to make getting around a little easier. But if you think about it, the very fact that intelligent transportation systems exist is the height of tragicomic irony. After all, automobiles, and the interstate highways we drive them on, were invented to enhance life, not hinder it. Yet today, public- and private-sector entities are scrambling to develop technologies that will, they hope, take a bit of the awfulness out of the nightmare road travel has become.

How does this happen? Why do so many technological breakthroughs end up causing as many -- or more -- problems than they were meant to solve? Is it simply the nature of the beast? Possibly, but the more likely answer is that far too few of us have it in our nature to really look beyond the horizon. Even Eisenhower's interstate highway system suffered from this lack of vision. In hindsight, it seems ludicrous that planners would neglect to design the highways for massive scalability. Somehow, a project envisioned and implemented by the once-supreme commander of the Allied forces and U.S. Army general is now, a little more than 50 years later, crumbling under the weight of shortsightedness.

It's maddening in many ways. Why can't anyone ever just get it right the first time? But to err is human, and imperfect humans create imperfect systems -- such as wireless networks. Staff Writer Hilton Collins reports on the best practices for securing government wireless networks. Again, here we find something marvelous, something that didn't even exist a few years ago, hampered by problems that wouldn't exist had wireless technology not spawned them itself.

In our quest to make it easy, we seem to always make it so much harder. Contributing Writer Merrill Douglas delves into the latest and greatest strategies for IT project management. That's right, the technology created to simplify our lives now has its own multibillion dollar industry dedicated to its management.

At least we have Contributing Writer Patrick Michels, who reports on a technology that seems unlikely to do anything but improve the lives of kids facing hardships. Michels evaluates Texas' plan for electronic health passports, which detail the medical history of foster children. Kids who move through the foster care system often take with them a cryptic medical past. But even something so seemingly innocuous must nonetheless comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations. And that means a security infrastructure must be built around the passports as well.

Sometimes it's enough to make you long for a dirt road pointed west and a trusty steed, or even a log with some stone wheels, to carry you into the sunset.


Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.

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