IT’s day in political sun will return

Whatever your political views, the last U.S. presidential election cycle must seem like it was from a long-lost era. Remember how Al Gore would rhapsodize about the glories of the coming “information superhighway” and then josh about whether he had invented the Internet? Then there was all that half-facetious talk about a “Gore and Doerr” ticket, as in John Doerr, the venture capital superstar from Silicon Valley. The Gore vs. Bush race was often portrayed as one between the spaceman of the digital future and the cowboy from the oil-driven past.

Of course, by November 2000, the smart money already knew that the dot-com bubble had been pricked some six months earlier. But the media and most of the electorate had not yet caught on, and thus companies such as WorldCom, Enron and many of the dot-com highfliers were still seen as the harbingers of a bright new American future, and the endorsements and donations of leading high-tech CEOs were considered important coups, even newsworthy events.

Back then, we were all supposed to worry about how to close the growing digital divide. Many thought that government action was needed to ensure that Internet access was a fixture in every classroom and available in every home and that rural residents weren’t left behind by greedy broadband providers. We obsessed about the coming high-tech skills shortage and what the labor force of the 21st century should look like. The role of telephone, cable and wireless telecommunications providers was viewed as a top policy area.

Let’s just say that things are very different today. This year’s race pits two lawyers against two oil men, not one of whom has ever shown any real interest in the IT industry, its promise, its challenges or its future. The only time the IT industry has been part of the current campaign is when the topic of offshore outsourcing has come up.

The quality of that discussion hasn’t been inspiring, and it has mercifully faded during the campaign’s final stages. While it’s normal for many issues to get knocked off the front page during times of war, the IT industry’s lost eminence is particularly striking. Consider how many other topics now clearly resonate more deeply with the broad electorate — health care, gas prices, global warming, gay marriage, tax policy, even stem-cell research. These days, not even the governor of California goes out of his way to be associated with IT industry concerns.

Just as the IT business has always been characterized by periods of boom and bust, so have the public’s perceptions of our business. Thus, it seems safe to say that while the nation’s collective sense of the importance of IT went more than a bit insane during the bubble years, during this campaign it has perhaps swung a bit too low.

Will it ever fly high again? The answer is probably yes. Someday, when nanotechnology, biotechnology and RFID become more than just promises, investors, the media and the nation might once again swoon over the power of technology. If they do, the warm words of politicians and pundits will surely follow. 2008 is probably a bit too soon, but by 2012, it could all be very different once again.

David Moschella is global research director at CSC Research and Advisory Services, a Computer Sciences Corp. company. Contact him at [email protected].

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