I’ve worked with a lot of people in the technology industry who think that technologists (engineers, scientists, IT workers) are, or at least should be, above politics. I’ve known lots of them who think they can engineer better lives for themselves and humanity without having to get their hands dirty. I think several things going on in the political landscape right now should convince anyone that’s not true. If anything, it’s time now, more than ever, to get involved in politics, especially if you’re a technologist.
For one, the Real ID act passed the Senate yesterday as an attachment to a military appropriations bill. After getting their clocks cleaned in the 2004 elections, Democrats have learned that no matter of principle — even standing up to a national registration database that will have the name, address, social security number, driving record, and more of every American in a single place, just ripe for hacking by identity thieves — is worth being accused of “voting against our troops.” So now we’ll all be “on the grid” at all times, unless you want to give up driving, working, or traveling completely.
That one not enough for you? How about talk of tripling the number of H1B visas available every year. If, like me, you spent 18 months sitting on the sidelines without work, I’m sure you’re really excited about seeing even more foreign workers brought in with sub-standard pay and benefits to work as indentured servants in order to artificially reduce job availability and wages in the entire industry. Oh, and to train a foreign work force that makes it even easier to offshore our jobs down the road.
Or how about bills showing up in almost every state legislature this year to forbid municipal governments from developing broadband or wireless networks? Never mind that solving the last mile problem is the key to unlocking an Internet explosion that makes the dot-com days look like a bake sale. No, instead we have to protect the cable and phone companies’ ill-gotten monopolies so they can keep their obscene profits.
I want to be clear here that it’s politicians on both sides of the aisle that are being led by the nose by lobbyists and industry robber-barons on technology issues. For once, I’m not demonizing Republicans alone. I’m saying to all you programmers, systems administrators, lab researchers, hardware designers, physicists, chemists, etc.: get in the game, and stop letting the Pointy-Haired Bosses who sign our paychecks make all the decisions. Get our government to see that technology can be a force for improving life for everybody, not just a vehicle for making profits.