Given all of the political upheaval around the world at the moment, much of it fueled or supported through social media and communications technology, it’s no wonder that news outlets are looking for experts to explain what’s happening. There is a Feb. 18th interview on the Wall Street Journal site with social media expert Clay Shirky: http://online.wsj.com/video/facebook-and-twitter-are-changing-the-middle-east/E0BAA515-5056-4F4A-AC5E-C684BADE46CA.html . This seems to have resulted from an article which he wrote for Foreign Affairs: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67038/clay-shirky/the-political-power-of-social-media. These led me back to talks he had done for TED: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/clay_shirky_how_cellphones_twitter_facebook_can_make_history.html and http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_on_institutions_versus_collaboration.html.
There have long been discussions about whether systems are “real.” Some take the position that the universe we know is comprised of systems which we discover through recognition. Others claim that systems are only a way of seeing things – a particular set of concepts by which we describe reality, but which are arbitrary and completely subject to the interpretation of each observer.
My journey to understand the basic principles of systems began informally in the early 1980s, and more formally in 1995. Progressively, I have been drawn back to earlier and earlier writers. Bertalanffy’s General System Theory was published in 1969, though he was working on his alternatives to a “materialistic” explanation for biology as early as the 1920s.
After an aborted attempt to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7, I decided to see how Linux actually works. There are some appealing aspects about Linux. For someone who was a teenager in the 1970s, there’s a sense about moving back to something simpler; back to cars where you could actually seen the engine when you opened the hood – and work on it. Back to standard transmissions, where you not only had more direct control but could feel it. The downside of that era was that while you could work on the car yourself, you also needed to with some frequency – and analogy that also carries over to open source.
Two days after my posting about PNC’s online banking system, I got a call from one of the techs in the department to which big problems get elevated (the ones you can’t call from outside PNC). He had also been with National City, so knew both systems well. He listened fairly patiently to my rantings, but had no real explanations for the past problems – other than that it had taken a full year to switch all the new customers over to PNC’s systems. He was able, though, to segregate my business from my personal accounts while we spoke, which immediately resolved the conflicts with payees and put the different accounts into different online areas, as they should have been from the beginning (one under personal banking and the other under small business banking, with separate log-ins.) Surprisingly, he gave me his contact information so that I could reach him for additional help as necessary.
The announcement that National City was being acquired by PNC Bank happened towards the end of October, 2008. It was many months before the signs on the local branches where I live changed, and not until the third weekend in February, 2010 that the online banking system switched to PNC. So basically, PNC had about 16 months to get ready for the switchover. Since then, it’s hard to believe or explain how many ways they have failed. (Admittedly, this is only person’s experience, but you can’t have this many problems just by accident.)
Convergences are always interesting. In the last two days I’ve been dealing with issues about location, identity and security, and thinking about how these related to questions of service.
Aside from all of the personal reasons that people do or don’t like President Barack Obama, his choice (or willingness, or apparent need) to intervene in systems at the highest levels has caused great consternation. Conservatives seem to see this as inappropriate or unnecessary government intervention. Liberals have been more supportive, but mostly about the expansion of services to the under-served, which could have been done in other ways without such large-scale change. So why take on such large and complex issues? Why not simply work incrementally with existing programs, as suggested by some in Washington?
The principles of laissez-faire capitalism are clear that government should not control business. This leads some people to think that government should have no involvement in business at all; that there is, or should be, a clear, bright line separating them. Obviously, that can’t happen. There is a constant dance about how they interact in terms of the total economy, but they are always interdependent. The debates being waged in Washington just indicate how complex this relationship is, and may indicate large shifts in the forces that balance them.
The idea that people hold “mental models” of the world may seem trivial or obvious, or both. Everyone has a way of seeing the world, affected by the cultures and the families in which we were raised, our own experiences, our personalities, and so on. Mostly, they account for our individual differences; why some of us are conservative and others liberal; some more optimistic and others pessimistic; some risk-taking and others more reserved and cautious.
I have reconstructed this blog, at least for now, to test some of my own ideas about systems and the ways in which I understand them. Comments, questions, retorts, and alternate views are welcome.