The recent developments in the Justice department case against
Microsoft should be enough indication that the worlds of technology
and politics have become more enmeshed than ever before. In the past, high-tech workers might have been able to ignore
the consequences of their political representatives, but today,
it is important for all high-tech workers to be aware of the actions
of politicians and the effects they can have on high-tech industries
and the careers of those who work there.
High tech comes into its own
As I have mentioned in previous columns, high-tech, in general
and computers, specifically have become an integral part of our
society. Every action, from buying groceries to banking now has
a technology component. This integration of technology into every
part of our lives has brought technology within sight of those
people we elect to represent us in governments of all levels,
local, state and federal.
You only need look to the news media to find examples of this
new found attention. In the past, regulations on the use and export
of encryption technologies would have been of interest solely
to military and other governmental entities. Today, though, anyone
can use encryption and it is becoming increasingly important in
day-to-day transactions. Limits on the use of encryption can cripple
a companys ability to do business, but freely available encryption
can allow dishonest people to hide their crimes behind a high-tech
barrier. Regardless of your position on encryption you can see
the importance of monitoring and understanding the actions of
our representatives regarding such an important topic.
Microsoft is only the beginning
The Microsoft anti-trust case is another good example of how government
actions can directly effect people who might never have considered
what operating system or web browser they were using. Not since
the breakup of AT&T have more people been interested in or effected
by an antitrust decision. We in high-tech careers are effected
even more directly than most so we must take an active role in
such decisions. We must stay informed and we must use political
tools, both traditional and high-tech, to make our wishes known.
The MS case is only the first of many anti-trust cases to come.
The Internet and the computer industry in general make it easy
for one company to profit unfairly at the expense of others. Worse
yet, one company can develop a monopoly position very quickly
compared to companies in other, more traditional industries. This
makes it all the more important for you to pay attention to politics
in the future.
What can you do?
In this growing climate of common interests between high-tech
and there are a few actions you can take to insure that you are
protecting your interests as a high-tech worker. First, stay informed.
Being knowledgeable about current issues and those that might
arise in the future will allow you to help educate your representatives
in the effects of their actions on their constituents. There are
a plethora of traditional and online media sources dedicated to
helping you sort through all the political issues and jargon.
This can range from the staid New York Times (www.nytimes.com) or (www.washingtonpost.com) to online rabble-rousers like SlashDot (www.slashdot.com) or Salon.com (www.salon.com). Staying informed is always your best defense against being blind-sided
by unforeseen laws and government policies.
Once you have the information you need, the next step is getting
involved. Too often high-tech workers are content to let others
fight their battles. This almost always results in incomplete
or misguided solutions. High-tech workers need to take a hand
in molding public policy in regards to technology. You have the
deepest knowledge about what is required and often know the best
way to implement any changes necessary.
You can get involved in many different ways. Letters to your representatives
are one of the first steps. You can send email to nearly any elected
official today, but a traditional letter still carries a little
more weight in government offices. You can also join groups or
political campaigns and help effect policy decisions at that level.
Everyone from your local neighborhood council to your Senators
in Washington can use information regarding high-tech issues and
how those issues can effect their constituents.
No one can voice high-tech issues in society better than those
directly involved in its creation, maintenance and application.
Take a few minutes to stay informed and get involved. The success
of your career may depend on it.