Business Technology: Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Column - InformationWeek
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Bob Evans
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Business Technology: Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Column

Back in the day when The Columnist was king, no one would dare question him, Bob Evans says. How times have changed.

I don't know if I'm ready for this Web thing. You know, information mega-accessibility, flatter organizations, the democratization of knowledge and data, and all that. Oh, sure, I can understand it from a largely detached, conceptual perspective--in the same way that Karl Marx and Das Kapital played well in theory but stubbed a toe or two in the real world--but from the generally irresponsible, unaccountable, ivory-tower world of The Columnist, it's not exactly a treat. In the old days, I could veheme about this, bluster about that, hector about something else, and bloviate about a XY and Z, and, for the most part, nobody cared. The tree fell in the forest but no one heard it. Or maybe they did. But, like I said, so what?

And another thing: Back in the day when The Columnist was king--and if ever there were a time to plop down the line about how "in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king," it is now--none of The Grand Blowhard's colleagues would dare question him. After all, he had a special tap into the Vein of Truth, and woe to the one who cried "Bullcrap!" Well, let me tell you, those days are REALLY long gone--my colleagues, utterly ignoring my fancy but fatuous title, correct me and contradict me and castigate me and counterpoint me, and I really wouldn't mind that so much if they weren't generally--well, OK, almost always--right. Whatever happened to respect for your elders? Whatever happened to deference to The Columnist? Or, perhaps more appropriately, just how did I get so naked so fast?

Well, part of the problem is those danged readers--uh, excuse me, I mean "audiences," since people now don't just read but instead they listen and watch and scan and absorb and filter and parse and link and post and file and blog and, darn it all, fact-check! I sure liked it better when I could just spout off about how the Earth revolves around the sun every 24 hours, and no one would be the wiser! But when I made that oh-so-understandable flub about two years ago, did people just overlook it? NO! They sent E-mails, they responded, they spoke up--they CORRECTED me! (If I told you I put that astronomical artifice in there on purpose to see if anybody was listening, would you believe me? Please?) It's like when my ninth-grade Earth and space teacher said that the planet closest to the sun was Venus, and I respectfully said that's not true--as he said, "Evans, if we start quibbling about details, we'll never get anywhere." Ah, the Gilded Age...

So I trouble you with this angst because today I received an E-mail message with the relatively bland subject line of "Bad Bet," and at first I thought it was from a Jersey-based creditor who'd tracked me down, and then with a bit of a shudder through the lower tract I recalled that in a recent column I'd proposed a bet and attached a deadline to it ... and I'd clearly taken the wrong side in the bet ... egads, could this callous correspondent actually be calling me on it? Had he no bow-down respect for The Columnist? I opened the message, and here's what it said:

" 'I'll make you a bet: By the end of this week, Google will come up with an effective and privacy-upholding way to assist the government's fight.' (Bob Evans, InformationWeek, 1/23/2006)

"Has this happened, Bob?"

Now, my lawyers are hard at work on this: What precisely does this writer mean by "this" and how, exactly, are we to interpret "happened"? It's all so dreadful, I tell you--positively dreadful. If these people who are so hung up on accuracy and accountability actually have something to say, then let them go be columnists themselves--why should they torment me?

And then came perhaps the most unkind cut of all. My colleague Mitch Wagner, whose title is not nearly so grandiose as mine (but who in all seriousness every day delivers far more value to InformationWeek's audiences than The Columnist does in a week), not only failed to send me a note telling me my recent column was terrific, but he even went so far as to write a counterpoint column, slicing me to ribbons! And a few days later, Mitch sent me a message about how a terrific follow-up story on our site that supported his worldview and chopped mine off at the ankles rang up 50,000 hits in just over three hours. Not satisfied that I'd suffered enough, Mitch added this summation of the power of that story: "Further demonstrating that concerns about privacy are real, and not the domain of a few kooks at the EFF and ACLU..."

Man, in the old days of journalism, I coulda booted his irreverent but unimpeachable butt out the door and into the gutter! But today? Well, all I can say is two things: First, keep reading what Mitch and our InformationWeek colleagues are writing about privacy, because it's incredibly important. And second, I agree with half of Mitch's line--privacy is very real, and lots of people care about it, and I care about privacy as much as anyone. Here at InformationWeek, we started covering IT-related privacy extensively about six years ago, and have never relented, and I'm certain our coverage of privacy issues over that time is unparalleled. But I must disagree with my colleague Mitch about the EFF and the ACLU--he says they have "a few kooks," but I will stick to my guns and insist they have an overwhelming majority of kooks. And hiding behind the phony label of sticking up for the little guy, they make a mockery of what privacy really means to 95% of the American people here in 2006, and their contorted screeching only serves to confuse the real, true issues.

In closing, remember two sets of words from The Wizard Of Oz: the first when Dorothy and her crew are in the auditorium talking to the Wiz, and at one point he says, "SILENCE! Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz!" But later he says, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Bob Evans's forum.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

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