Technobility : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


by Peter de Jager

Years ago, in those far off days when I was a willing captive in a corporate cubicle, I overheard a heated argument between an applications programmer and a client, (referred to as an 'enduser' in those days before customer service enlightenment) "You're a Techno Peasant," bellowed the programmer. The rest of the argument is lost in the myths of time, but 'Techno Peasant' stuck in my brain.

Now, we could (and most likely should in a future article) discuss the relationship between clients and computer folk. In particular, how bellowing insults at your client is not exactly how one gets ahead in the world. But for this article, I want to focus on the unusually powerful image of "Techno Peasant" and the complimentary image it immediately brought to mind that of "Tech Nobility."

First, let's examine the Techno Peasant. What does it bring to mind? For myself it conjures an image of someone who is a slave to technology. Not only in being dragged wherever technology wants to go, but also in our inefficient use of the technology available to us.

It does not refer only to novice users. It includes power users. It refers to the relationship between the user and the technology. Who's in control? Who's in charge? Who's leading?

Being a Techno Peasant is not so much about 'Do you know how to use this product?' It's more about 'Do you know when to use it?' and even, 'Do you know when NOT to use it?' Here are two examples.

Once upon a time, there was a systems manager who went out and bought about 75 copies of the latest version of Windows (Version 3.1). He bought it because it was the latest and greatest product from Microsoft and certainly an improvement over their last offering.

About three months after he'd bought this large pile of shrink wrapped boxes, I walked into his office. Getting into his office was a bit difficult since I had to maneuver my way around the still shrink wrapped boxes piled to the ceiling. I asked him why they had not been opened and distributed to his clients.

His response? He'd gotten very busy on another cool project and didn't have time to get to the installation process. Since his clients weren't beating on his door for the new version (they were too busy using the old version), installing the 75 new versions and putting the several thousand dollars of the company's money to work was not his highest priority. (To the best of my knowledge they were never installed.)

Nor was his manager too concerned. This particular computer manager was always asking for new stuff, and since things seemed to be progressing, and since the manager didn't really know anything about technology, he was content in his ignorance.

The computer manager was a technical genius. He was, without doubt, a whiz when it came to technology. His manager was clueless as to how the company's money was really being used. They were both, without question, Techno Peasants. Neither of them were in control.

On the flip side, here's another story.

I was visiting with one of my clients. One of her more onerous tasks was to create a weekly newsletter. To do this, she was given the very best of tools, a high powered Mac with one of those huge screens capable of presenting 2 legal sized pages of text at the same time.

While we sat and drank a morning coffee and enjoyed some casual small talk, she worked on her Word document. Finishing her last spellcheck and proofread, she printed out the document on her high speed, high resolution, expensive laser printer and closed Microsoft Word. Retrieving her printout, she launched PageMaker and began to key the document back into PageMaker as coffee spewed from my nose. I could NOT believe my eyes.

I asked what in the name of all that was Holy was she doing and received this reply, "PageMaker doesn't do a spell check, so I enter everything into Word and then when it's ready, I key it into PageMaker. What's wrong?"

Breathing deeply, trying to avoid a cardiac arrest, I gently moved her away from the keyboard. I brought up Word alongside PageMaker and she gasped in disbelief. I then highlighted all the text, copied, and moved the mouse over to PageMaker, then pasted the text. "How did you do that?" was her barely audible query.

Her company had supplied her with the very best of technology, but not the training necessary to use it. She did not know you could run two applications at the same time and did not understand the concepts of copy and paste. Her lack of training had condemned her to life as a Techno Peasant.

These are anecdotes. They are not representative of every user. For one thing, both anecdotes relate to the PC world, but there are also, I assure you, similar stories relating to much larger, more complex, and costly abuses on machines vastly superior in processing power than the Mac.

In the past, I've described the IT industry (that's all of us computer folks) as a bunch of heat seeking missiles. We're not really interested in what's best for the company. We're interested in what's hot. Some of us, although we act with the best of intentions, truly believe that what our client needs is the next upgrade. When all they really need is to learn to use what they already have better.

That could actually become a motto for IT. We don't need better technology. We need to use the technology we have better.

Many years ago, when 286's were on the way out and 386's were on the way in (or was it 386's out, 486's in...I forget), I used to advise many of my clients NOT to upgrade. Instead, I'd advise them to purchase a very cheap utility. A product called Prokey sold at the time by Borland. I promised them that, with this product and a day's focused training, I would increase their productivity significantly and at a much lower cost than upgrading hardware yet again.

I never failed in my promise. It was astounding what a proficient user of Prokey could do, especially if the training focused on using the product specifically for the tasks they were assigned, rather than general training.

I know these stories are all too similar to thousands of other stories. I know giving someone a faster machine does not necessarily make them more productive. I know most users in the corporate world would be well served by a 286 machine running only a spreadsheet, a word processor, and perhaps a simple database. I know this article and these statements in particular, will be seen by many as sacrilegious. Honest news is sometimes hard to swallow.

Here's a question. Answer carefully, it's a test, and it's loaded. In the corporate world, as a rule, do we use technology properly?

With Y2K looming over the heads of most companies, the answer has to be a resounding NO! any other answer ignores Y2K. Any other answer means that Y2K is an acceptable result of the proper use of technology. I refuse to accept Y2K as an unavoidable consequence of using technology. Y2K is an abomination.

Nor is Y2K an exception. Some would argue that the reason Y2K is so big is that we left off 2 digits in a crucial piece of information and that's why the impact is so great. They would argue that it's unfair of me to state that we use technology poorly on the basis of a single error. Fair enough. I see their point, but they would be ignoring the following: Y2K is a problem because of a host of other errors on our part. Here's a small, incomplete list;

- Appalling lack of documentation

- Amount of lost source code uncovered by Y2K

- Poor quality of the programs besides date issues

- Use of dates to store other information

- Total lack of knowledge of existing application inventory

- Ignorance of management with respect to their dependence on computers

- Lack of responsibility of an industry that said 'Someone else will fix this'

So? What are we going to do about it, if anything? A question I get asked everyday is what will I do after 2000? I've been so focused on Y2K for the past 'few' years I've given it very little thought. Now that we're approaching the end of this project and most everyone is working on what they should have been doing years ago, I've had some time to think about the future.

I think the questions relating to the proper use of technology are important. As an IT professional, I'm honestly embarrassed by Y2K. We're capable of and regularly produce better work. I'd like to see us regain the respect our industry rightly deserves. Y2K is not an example of our best work. But long into the future it will overshadow every bit of good work we've ever delivered to a client in the past.

With all of this in mind, I'm launching a new site in a few weeks. It will link directly off and will be called will strive to answer, or at the very least will raise the question; How do we move from being Techno Peasants to being part of the Tech Nobility?

That's an ambitious goal. My view of how technology should be used will not necessarily be your view, or even the view of the person sitting next to you. The only way to overcome this hurdle is that must be interactive. It will provide a forum to discuss these issues. Will we always get the answers right? I doubt it, but we should at least be able to agree on the questions.

To do this, we will create something new. A new place to work in. An online University called I look forward to your active participation.

Yours very truly,

Peter de Jager

May 6, 1999

-- Mr. Bean (, May 08, 1999


This is all we need. I can hardly wait. Can anyone remember my predicting two months ago that De Jager's Y2K "switch" was integrally related to his planning the next career move? Y2K is over, you see, and now we need .....

I must be on the verge of being a marketing genius myself (tell my wife and children to stop laughing) since I am working on material arguing that we need to create an "intentional technology" discipline (awful word) that can make sense of

... the world as a passive receptacle of technology

... relationships between technology and ecology, human factors, depression and purposeless, etc.

... coincidence of technology developments and the rise of world tyrannies

... meaning of "self-reliance" on individual, community and regional basis

... more ......

Boiling down to, can we as individuals choose and use technology intentionally and how large can communal entities be that can do likewise? How can this be done without co-opting by world systems (can it)? And related questions.

Gee, I hadn't thought of making it an online university though. That might enable me to make a bit of a living out of it ......

Thanks, De Jager! Now, I'm sure I'm onto something. I'll be watching and competing. Maybe I can be the Antioch (some may recognize a double entendre there) to your Rome.

The only difference between me and De Jager is, for me, Y2K hasn't happened yet.

-- BigDog (, May 08, 1999.

BTW, TechnoPeasant isn't such a bad idea, given a certain twist away from DeJager's usage .....

-- BigDog (, May 08, 1999.

As a contractor for many years, I have often referred to myself as a "technomerc" (technology mercenary).

-- vbProg (, May 08, 1999.

Big Dog,

Let's get together on this. I think we could give de Jager a run for his lecture fees.

Sincerely, Stan Faryna

-- Stan Faryna (, May 08, 1999.

I cannot believe I just read that article.

Mind boggling.

It explains a lot.

-- Andy (, May 09, 1999.

Would someone please spell out what is so objectionable in this de Jager article? (Not what is objectionable about the author!)

-- Tom Carey (, May 10, 1999.

Well Tom, the following statement gave me a chuckle, but I would assume De Jager meant it to be a bit of a stretch:

"I know most users in the corporate world would be well served by a 286 machine running only a spreadsheet, a word processor, and perhaps a simple database."

[As an aside, I used & taught early versions of PageMaker (up to 4.0) & I always stressed using a word processor for text input & then importing the file into PageMaker.]

In my experience, (corps under 100 employees), the vast majority of employees were GROSSLY underproductive due to subpar training on systems they used on a regular basis. I was given the unofficial title of software trainer at one small corp., then frequently not authorized the OT necessary to carry out the much needed training. Short-sighted managers, eh!


Satisfied? (not directed at you Tom)

-- Bingo1 (, May 10, 1999.

I do admit I have it in for De Jager professionally because I believe that he has profited from Y2K (nothing wrong with that in principle) while copping out on the problem itself. In other words, I do feel he either misrepresented himself early on or late. I could be wrong: it's just my opinion, but I am entitled to it. The other possibility, which I must admit this article clarified for me, is that he is far less intelligent than I gave him credit for in the first place.

If that is a "personal attack", call it personal. I think De Jager's work has a right to be critiqued however and his integrity is, IMO, legitimately in play.

Obviously, training is a legitimate, even desperate need. I just see something hilariously disproportionate between this new "initiative" and the fact that Y2K isn't even remotely "behind us". Is it just me? Don't you see that, Bingo?

-- BigDog (, May 10, 1999.

Successful marketing starts with positioning. --- Harry Beckwith, Selling the Invisible

PdJ is now attempting to re-position himself away from the Doom-n-Gloom of Y2K and into the bright future of the "Technobility". "Spandex jackets for everyone..."

Reminiscent of the "Softer Side of Sears" campaign, which BTW still hasn't persuaded many folks that Sears is a cool place to shop for clothes...

"Technobility". Such an elitist term. As if the ability to understand and use technology somehow conferred virtue on the user. What a bastardization of the term "noble". Puts my teeth on edge. Would be far more accurate for PdJ to use a bar sinister as part of this business' logo...

-- Mac (sneak@lurk.hid), May 10, 1999.

Short addendum:

The key to positioning is "standing for one distinctive thing which gives you a competitive advantage." PdJ will have a bit of an uphill climb here. He's made big bucks as "The Y2K Guy" and "the first person to sound the alarm" and so forth. He's well-positioned in that niche.

Outside of Y2K, he's just another consultant...

-- Mac (sneak@lurk.hid), May 10, 1999.

My prior post on this thread came in reaction to reading a number of posts by Andy which repeatedly struck a nerve, leading to said outburst. My fingers appear to be taking more & more control! Help! Apologies all around.

Yes BD you are certainly entitled to your opinion, as are we all. Whether one decides to offer up an opinion for public consumption is another matter. After all, an opinion is by one definition "a belief that rests on grounds insufficient to produce certainty" - Webster's Dictionary.

My own principles, in regards to an expressed opinion when it receives wide exposure as on this forum, dictate a responsibility to first do no harm. I have been lax of late in following my own guidelines.

There's little doubt in my mind De Jager has profited handsomely from Y2K. I agree, BD, he may have misrepresented himself. How are we to know? Telepathy is not widely utilized in our culture. ;-)

Seriously, he may have come across evidence sufficient to change his outlook on Y2K. That he hasn't seen fit to share this information with the public is galling. But so what? If J. Q. Public decides not to put in preparations based upon De Jager's OPINIONS, what does this say about JQP? Mustn't we glean information from many sources when making any decision?

BTW, who is disclosing factual information on Y2K these days? Not my bank. Not my power company. Not my telephone company. On & on & on it goes.

So De Jager is no longer the heroic figure some made him out to be. This is an age devoid of heroes, at least in the public arena. My sincerest prayer is that more folks such as are on this forum step up to the plate, fill the void. Humanity requires it if we are to survive. Y2K is a subset of the problems we face. For another post...

P.S. BD stated, "I just see something hilariously disproportionate between this new "initiative" and the fact that Y2K isn't even remotely "behind us". Is it just me? Don't you see that, Bingo?".

No I don't see the discontinuity. De Jager seems to believe the worst that Y2K could have wrought is behind us. He is of the opinion that Y2K IS behind us. Therefore, his initiative is quite apropos.

You are an intelligent, passionate man, BD. I look forward to meeting you next week in D.C.

-- Bingo1 (, May 11, 1999.

Mac, sounds like we come the same side of the tracks.

de Jager has obviously taken Madonna Marketing 101 and he's "evolved" into his new persona. Gotta keep his image and his message fresh to keep his appeal up and the dollars rolling in. "Technobility" is just de Jager changing again...

Mike ================================================================

-- Michael Taylor (, May 11, 1999.

Did any of you happen to see this quote that Peter de Jager allegedly made?

Because what happened was people who had no right knowing about Year 2000, who had no control over Year 2000, now became aware that there was this big problem that people weren't paying attention to.

-- Kevin (, May 11, 1999.

My interpretation of the above quotation is this:

Insert the word 'need' in place of the word 'right'. The statement takes on a whole new meaning. I truly hope De Jager was misquoted or misspoke (sp).

More on the article later.

-- Bingo1 (, May 11, 1999.


That's a good point. He might have accidently used "right" when "need" would have been more appropriate. One of the nice things about e-mail is being able to revise word choices before sending. Too bad real life conversation can't be like that.

-- Kevin (, May 11, 1999.

Bingo --- I am also greatly looking forward to meeting you (I warn you, I'm very unimpressive)! What you say about "heroes" is certainly apropos ... De Jager shouldn't be demonized. Still, if a's post (elsewhere today) of Milne's post of De Jager's remarks are accurate (De Jager regrets that those outside of a certain circle discovered Y2K because "they didn't have a right to know"), you have to question this man's core character, IMO. Or, at least, I do.

-- BigDog (, May 11, 1999.

OK, OK, I get the picture.

My wife is a paralegal in a moderate sized law firm specializing in intellectual property, domestic and international. There are about 30 partners, about 30 support staff. Every employee has a computer, every computer is on the office LAN, several printers are available on the network, firewalls isolate the LAN from the Net, most intraoffice communication is by e-mail, much external communication is by fax-modem. Time-keeping, payroll, accounting, accounts receivable, documentation (recently upgraded to barcode ID's for every file), and of course word-processing, are in constant use.

It's really hard to see how this office could function using 286's. How could de Jager imagine such a thing? Canada can't be that far behind!

-- Tom Carey (, May 12, 1999.

Tom -- Indeed, most SMEs (even the tiny ones, let alone the ones with 500 employees) run a computing environment that is significantly more complex than larger corporations ran for their knowledge workers (I exclude back office) ten years ago.

Forgetting Y2K for a moment (hey, De Jager wants to, no?), even the great man's way of describing the post-Y2K challenge seems almost bizarre. Among other things, Prokey was cool and very useful, but quite incommensurate even then with issues of maintaining a sensible computing environment overall for anything other than mom-and-pop shops.

-- BigDog (, May 12, 1999.

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