PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

The two-speed society
September 1998

Despite the best efforts of various folks to address the chasm between the techno-haves and techno-havenots, the distance between those with and those without "the plot" continues to grow at an alarming rate.

Yet there are some slices of UK society that have been given an "off IT" note by successive governments, and nothing has changed in this respect since May 1997.

Those of us who have to deal with the legal profession over traditional matters of simple leases will be acutely aware that the news of the arrival of the Penny Post has yet to filter through, and as for Mr Bell's new-fangled Electrick telephone, well, don't hold your breath. Yet the legal profession that seems to have the near monopoly of the political process these days - we are governed by lawyers; even the PM is a lawyer married to another lawyer.

But they seem intent upon looking after their own, allowing procedures and tactics that would bring any normal business to bankruptcy within weeks. How can this be? You ask. Well the answer is painfully simple: how do lawyers charge? For their time.

No amount of IT will therefore persuade Messrs Sue, Grabbit and Runne to do anything that reduces the amount of time that they are able to bill to their hapless clients, especially with a barrister for a PM, and another for the PM's wife.

And in this there is a case for leading by example. Most MPs have email (and carefully conceal their email addresses of course), yet many of them still regard email as some curiosity of communication, not to be taken seriously. Possibly because the legal process flatly refuses to get to grips with the issues and adopt the medium. And so this attitude permeates through the rest of upper echelons of our society, where little has changed in terms of techno-phobia from the golden age of eccentric British "gentlemen inventors", when the rest of the establishment declared that it was safe and sound to be seen to dismiss science and technology as something for the artisan classes to bother with.

Occasionally the forces of technological change become inevitable, and the City has been bitten in the arse many times by technology that overtook the G&T circuit and the old pals' clubs. But still that establishment does its best to live in a bygone age and not accept that unless everyone wakes up to the technology, then the country is at the mercy of other countries that will.

The City traders and bankers who pretend to know about technology stocks know as much about technology as a punter on the Grand National knows about the finer points of equine DNA. Both these classes of "investors" also follow their heard instincts.

In fact, the Stock Exchange is a dirty great big betting shop - except if the degree of insider trading and nobbling that goes on in the stock market went on in the racing game, then the entire racing industry would have been behind bars years ago. And don't lose sight of the fact that insurance markets are far purer forms of institutional betting

Despite everything that's happened to propel technology into our lives, a large slice of the upper echelons of the UK establishment still look down their noses at those who toil over keyboards for a living, although an increasing number are becoming closet IT tyros, quietly trying to catch up with the efforts of 12 year-old Piers or Sophie.

And as we have seen from experience of the Internet, you don't have to be a big player in traditional terms to make a big noise in technology markets. I long for the day when lawyers are globalised so that the blighters that currently lead a charmed life of exquisite protectionism are obliged to charge 50 for 50 worth of effort. Thanks<  to the marvel of modern communication, a legal practise in India or China could quite easily offer to do 50 worth of legal work for 50.

Then they might see the point of computers and the internet; otherwise these parasites' bemused but detached<  admiration for the magic of technology seems to be limited to the fact that all this IT stuff enables more customers to be able to afford their outrageous cartel-operated fees, while their own office admin costs go down.

(Guess who has just had a bill from a lawyer recently).