Push the button
Clichés often have a reason for being clichés, and there’s no more cliché an editorial than the one that comes in the last issue of the year: the community resolutions editorial. This year, though, it seems there’s only one resolution worth noting. Please bear with us through a sustained metaphor that illustrates both the problems facing this country and community and the action that needs to be taken to overcome them.
This country is a computer—not this year’s model, but a few years older than that. A computer is a complex combination of systems—hardware, operating system, applications—all of which must work together for the system to operate at peak efficiency. (We’ll leave it up to you to decide who or what the user is.) You’ve seen what happens when a computer isn’t working well—suddenly the processor is using 90 percent of the system resources, and functions slow to a crawl. Hardware, like the sound card for example, ceases to function. Shortcuts or the quick launch bar have all the movement of honey in January. Applications will either refuse to start or abort in the middle of a job.
Most of the time, experts will advise, restart the computer. Sure, it takes time for the various functions to shut down, for the endless-loop processes to disengage themselves, and there’s a loss in productivity while you wait—with fingers crossed—for that friendly startup sound, but in the long run, accurate diagnosis requires a fresh start.
Now, not to be too impenetrable, let’s talk about the metaphor. The United States is made up of many complex systems. Our infrastructure—roads, banking, farming, housing, power transmission, environment, information transmission, all the support structures that build the framework upon which people of this country accomplish their work—is analogous to the computer’s hardware.
Applications could be considered the work that people do. For example, truck drivers drive on the roads, bankers work within and on the banking and information infrastructures, and construction workers work with the roads, banking and housing infrastructures.
For most Luddites, the operating system is the hardest part of a computer to understand. It’s the controlling software of a computer that tells hardware and applications how to interact with each other. There are many types of operating systems For the purposes of our metaphor, the operating system is the people who live and work in this country.
For nearly the whole of 2008, we, the operating system, have watched hardware and applications slow and cease to function. We’ve seen hardware failures on a monumental scale with bridge collapses, banking collapses, housing collapses, any one of which shows serious system issues, but the gravest problem is how the operating system reacted to it. We watched passively as, piece by piece, the system enmeshed itself in conflicts, attempting patch after patch, rather than taking a long look at the real problem: us.
This year, let’s get to the root of the problem. It’s time to restart the machine—spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, physically. Let’s resolve our conflicts and work like a series of interconnected systems again.
Reboot, people. It’s time to reboot. Until we diagnose our own problems, we can’t upgrade.