Luddites, leave your tech nostalgia at home

Want to leave the data center and go back in time at 5 p.m.? Fine. Just fast-forward to 2011 when you get to work the next day

On April Fools' Day, NPR's All Things Considered ran a story about the Slow Internet Movement, based around a coffeehouse called Drip that offered slow Internet service on purpose, to cater to those who yearn for the old days of 14.4kbps modems and waiting 10 minutes to check your email. They even had someone describe the time spent waiting for data to arrive as a form of meditation.

It was a joke, and a funny one, but such people actually do exist. The All Things Considered letters segment the following week brought forth this comment:

James Sweeney got the joke, but asked: Am I the only one who was disappointed when they realized it was the gag story? He continues: I live a somewhat conflicted life. I am at the same time nostalgic for technology of days gone by, yet I work in the IT industry with current technology. But I resist new technology as much as possible. No smartphone, no Bluetooth, and yes, still dial-up at home. Others make fun of me, of course, and I was excited to be able to share news of this anti-bandwidth revolt with them. P.S., Mr. Sweeney writes: I still have my original Commodore 64 somewhere in the attic.

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I don't know Mr. Sweeney, but I know people like him: folks who work in IT every day, dealing with highly technical operations in the fastest-moving industry on the planet, who in their hearts prefer simpler times. Most don't bring their Luddite tendencies to work with them. But some do.

In fact, some bring it to the table during technical discussions, flaming the room with the IT equivalent of "fix old, no new!" There's definitely a time and a place for such caution, but I've found that these folks tend to pick their battles poorly -- and fight every change as though it were the end of days.

As a brief example -- one going back a way -- I recall a time when a senior IT member who was in charge of the AS/400 was absolutely adamant that the company did not need any of these new Intel servers. Instead, they could buy a bunch of AS/400 Integrated Netfinity Servers and keep everything within the AS/400 purview, never mind that they had been end-of-life for years. This old-school frame of mind can lead to a horrific waste of money in all kinds of pernicious ways.

A good example of this is the IT veep who takes a meeting with a vendor without any of his staff. That's already troubling, but if he comes away thinking he's being conservative by agreeing to buy a bunch more disks, servers, and licenses than are necessary for a particular project, "to be on the safe side" and to "guarantee project success," counterarguments are generally useless. IT winds up building a massive infrastructure for a minimal load or, worse, leaving tons of hardware and software licenses sitting in the storage room, never to be used. At a time when budgets are still tight, this can be intensely frustrating for, say, the network admin who's been trying in vain for years to replace aging and failing remote-site routers and firewalls.

At home, I don't care if you use a black Bakelite dial phone and kick back with an antique Trash 80 to write emails to mom. But at work, the instinct to stick with the old stuff you're familiar with, while reflexibly rejecting the new, is a good way to run your job and your business into the ground. I'm not saying you should be a pushover for the shiny and new, either. But at a time when tech is changing faster than ever and the pressure to move quickly while cutting costs has never been higher, you need to leave personal prejudices behind make the tough technology calls on their own merits.

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