24. Wandering Samurai
For years I worked as an odd job man in tech. That’s the only way I can describe the life of a consultant, especially one with my profile. I hoped to be able to use my knowledge and experience (and minor fame) to help companies work on cutting edge technologies, pushing the frontiers of knowledge and practice. It turns out consulting is never about pushing the envelope of change. It’s about helping people take baby steps and teaching the basics of something they can’t create the capacity to innovate for themselves.
I got to see work from the outside for the first time. Usually, we’re so embedded in work that we can’t see it for what it is. For most companies it’s easier to make changes by hiring outside help than to rely on the people they’ve employed. The sad truth is that once people have been hired, they are typically condemned to be faceless cubicle workers, no longer viewed as trusted advisors, only as indentured slaves. This is the true face of work in our Western Democracy and everywhere else. Workers become downgraded to cattle or cogs in a machine of production. No one wants or expects anything from us. The mystery is gone. The person has been stamped for basic approval, and categorised for one minor purpose only. Only external advisors can be looked up to.
It was for this precise reason that I resisted being hired by any company. I knew that, as soon as I became an employee of some company, my status would be transformed into that of a minion and my capability to make any kind of difference to the world would be gone. Individuality within a larger organisation would take years to recreate, starting from the bottom again. I’d done it several times before when changing from physics to computer science, but I’d since been spoiled for too long by living off the reputation I worked for in academia to give it up so late in the game.
Around 2010, the term Internet of Things was coined in order to rebrand the long standing idea of Pervasive or Ubiquitous Computing that had been foreseen in the 1990s. The name “Internet of Things” was borrowed from the thesis of some student from Berkeley or Stanford. Silicon Valley analysts jumped on it, always happy to make the local students into the heroes of tech. Starved of novelty for too long, they hyped it. The commercial success of the Internet and the Web could now breathe new life into the old idea. This got the attention of network giant Cisco Systems, and that in turn led to the projects I worked on for…