Nicholas Carr: IT Departments Face Extinction: Page 2

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Q: So the Fortune 500 would be the last to get on board?

Right, although what I think is going to happen is that they’re going to take advantage of the technologies that underpin the Web delivery of IT, things like virtualization and so on, and, in essence, recreate their internal IT operations as internal utilities. And I think we’re seeing that already, as we see the big consolidation wave and the virtualization wave go through big corporate data centers. In essence, they’ll become their own utility on a grid. And as that happens then they’ll have more flexibility in complementing what they provide themselves with what’s available from Web suppliers.

Q: Is it true that sensitive information would need to flow outside the firewall in this scenario, or are you suggesting that just the processing power resides outside the firewall, and no information would need to flow back and forth?

I think it’s both. On the one hand, I think you’ll have software-as-a-service companies that will lie outside of the firewall. And we’ve seen even big companies seem to be quite happy to allow some of their more sensitive data, whether it’s payroll or customer accounts, be processed by outside companies. Now there are regulatory and other issues that are very important to worry about. But I think we’ll see increasing data flow outside the firewall, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s less secure; we’re also going to see advances in encryption and other technologies.

But you can also draw on outside processing power and storage capacity, without necessarily having your data go outside the firewall. So I think both of those models offer attractions to companies, and we’ll see very much of an hybrid IT model, where some stuff is going on inside the firewall, and other things are going on outside of it.

Q: Your thesis suggests that this is a golden growth period for software-as-a-service, and a good thing to invest in.

That’s right. I think I think we’re going to see a continued boon in those offerings. Whether that’s going to be dominated by small start-up companies – and certainly there are hundreds of them now – or whether the big guys like SAP, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft are going to ultimately wade in and start to dominate, that’s also possible. So I think software-as-a-service is going to be a big growth area. Whether investors in it are going to make a whole lot of money, that’s another question. (Laughs.)

Q: Turning to your ideas about the cultural implications about the Internet: Your theory about the “great unbundling” suggests that the Web will facilitate myriad tiny niche markets, disconnected from one another, rather than a big global family.

In the book I talk about what’s driving this shift from a technological and economic perspective, but then you also have to look at what the social and cultural effects are going to be. And they’re not all rosy as far as I can see.

What we’re seeing is this unbundling of culture into component pieces. That’s a broad trend; newspapers being unbundled into individual articles, music being unbundled into the tune, and you can go on and on. That’s one of the essences of the Net; because it’s essentially free to distribute information, you can break it down to the lowest common denominator.

But what happens is, we’re also seeing enormous growth in personalization technologies. The danger here is that we end up with not what the Internet optimists had been hoping for, which is a more harmonious world, a more harmonious society, but more balkanization, as people begin to filter their information flows to concentrate on stuff that matches their existing ideologies or their existing biases.

Q: It’s a disconcerting trend, perhaps.

Right. And you can see evidence of it happening if you look at the political blogosphere. [In the book] I talk about a couple of recent studies that show how conservative blogs and liberal blogs are these two vast, but almost entirely separate, segments on the Net, with very few links and very little traffic that goes between them.

Academic research into psychology and society shows that if you constantly feed people information that supports their existing opinions, what happens is that it strengthens, and even radicalizes those opinions over time. So if we end up being able to filter information so that we just receive mainly the stuff that backs up our existing biases, it’s a very real scenario that we could have a greater polarization, at least on a political level.

6) Your concept of “iGod” is intriguing. Are you suggesting that there’s a spiritual aspect to the human-machine relationship?

Not really. I’m more looking at the ultimate power of the Net to begin influencing the way we think, the way our memory works, the way cognition works, and to have this almost godlike power.

This goes back to an observation about technology, which is that, as we use it, it begins to shape the way we act, the way we behave, the way we process information. And what I theorize is that, the major medium for the last 500 years has been the printed page; and that began to be pushed aside with television, but there’s really evidence – particularly if you look at young people – of it being pushed aside almost altogether now by the Internet, as the Internet becomes the universal medium.

What the Net provides us is a very different model for how we take in information. It’s not the linear model of the printed page, because of hyperlinks and those kinds of connections. It’s a much more fragmented, much more of a model that puts an emphasis on the speed with which we can take in lots of information and jump between information, rather than sitting down and concentrating and contemplating for long periods.


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