American Tech Idol

By Tom Peters |

Remember David Cook? He was the guy who won the American Idol competition last month. Throughout the merry month of May the citizens of Beautiful Blue Springs, Missouri were all a-twitter (in the pre-Twitter sense of a-twitter) about David Cook's candidacy, because he is a graduate of Blue Springs South High School. Most of the local businesses had "Vote for David" signs prominently displayed, and several local charities were auctioning off David Cook memorabilia even as the memories were forming.

Until May I was a denizen of Blue Springs myself, when, in a move totally unrelated to the David Cook craze, I pulled up stakes and moved east a few miles out into the country on the eastern slope of Monkey Mountain. It was surreal watching a national TV phenomenon play out locally. Even some of my local BBQ haunts jumped on the David Cook bandwagon -- or chuckwagon. You couldn't buy a bag of mulch in Blue Springs without being reminded that David Cook was a local lad who had achieved fame.

The craze got me thinking about the nature of fame. Even information technology seems to experience something like an idol syndrome. We have our top tech trends discussions, which draw huge crowds yearning to learn more about the current tech idols.

Some tech trends become idol darlings before they're hatched. For example, it seems to me that for almost a decade now e-books have been striving to live up their premature idol status. The quiet adoption and diffusion of technology throughout a population always has interested me more than the rattle and clang of bleeding edge tech idols. Many technologies never achieve tech idol status yet profoundly affect many lives. Consider the lowly overhead projector. Perhaps I'm too young to remember the idol phase of the overhead projector. By the time I was in grade school in the 1960s it had diffused into almost every classroom.

In libraryland, many technologies and technological developments profoundly influence our services without lots of hoopla. The Plinkit initiative is a multi-state collaborative effort using open-source Plone-based software to create and or substantially improve the websites of small public libraries. A co-recipient of an ASCLA award, the project has received a little attention otherwise and has no hope of achieving tech idol status. When the rage over Library 2.0 concepts is becoming old hat, the idea of quietly helping small libraries imrove their websites is no hat at all. Yet the impact is enormous.

Of course, this idea-- that largely unnoticed activities ultimately may more profoundly affect  people's lives than the more publicized events-- is not new. Poets and prose writers have been reminding us of these obscure destinies for years. Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" comes to mind, as well as Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight", with its wonderfully quiet imagery of the "secret ministry" of frost.

Information technology is important, perhaps in ways and channels we cannot completely fathom. Idolatry and fame undoubtedly have their place and role, and I certainly don't begrudge David Cook or any tech trend their 15 minutes of fame. But stay tuned also to the quiet and unseen tech trends.