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This chapter is from the book

What Assumptions Does the Book Make About You?

As you may have gathered from the comments above, this book discusses the impact of September 11th on the IT profession. As such, I assume that you, gentle reader, are involved in, affected by, or interested in the IT-related aspects of the terrorist attacks, and whatever consequences flow from those attacks. I can't imagine that anyone would not be interested in this perspective—but I'll admit that I'm biased, having worked in the IT field for over 35 years. I realize that there is more to life than computers, and that some people will prefer to focus on other aspects of the post-9/11 world—e.g., the economic, military, social, or religious aspects, as well as the possibilities of bio-terrorism, chemical and nuclear attacks. The fact that I don't dwell on these other areas extensively in this book does not mean that they should be ignored or de-emphasized; it simply means that I'm going to focus my comments, in this book, on the areas I know best.

While I do assume that you have a significant degree of interest and concern about IT-related aspects of the war on terrorism, I do not assume that you necessarily have the power or authority to change the situation in your company or your community. Obviously, if you're a "C-level" officer in a company (CEO, CIO, CTO, CFO, etc.), you do have such power; and if you're a mayor, a city-council member, a state legislator, or a governor, you can exert some degree of influence on public policy. But most of us barely have enough power and authority to influence our own lives, and that of our family and immediate friends; so why bother talking about cosmic issues and significant changes that are likely to take place in the coming years?

Well, even if you're only a humble citizen, you can still vote. And even if you're only a humble employee in a large bureaucratic organization, you can vote with your feet. If you don't like the way our public officials are responding to the high-tech and low-tech terrorist threats, you can vote for someone else at the next election. And if you feel that your company's senior executives are ignoring the threat to their IT infrastructure, you can look for a job in some other better-prepared and better-managed company.

Obviously, your single vote is unlikely to sway the outcome of an election; and elections occur at such infrequent intervals that disastrous crises could occur before the current set of officials is voted out of office. Similarly, my suggestion that you "vote with your feet" as a response to an unacceptable work environment is a rather glib one, in today's recessionary economy; the practical reality is that it might take months to find an equivalent job in your field, and/or your geographical area. And this touches on a theme that I'll elaborate upon later in the book: Our traditional "response time" to perceived risks and problems may not be fast enough to cope with today's fast-moving, chaotic disruptions.

In any case, one of my assumptions is that you want to have a better (and earlier) understanding of IT-related issues that could put you—and your family, your friends, your company, and your community—in harm's way in the months and years to come. To whatever extent you can act to reduce the chances of harm, by means of better information, so much the better. But it's also possible that you may conclude that your current situation (job, lifestyle, residential location) is untenable—and that because those who do control/influence your life (your boss, your elected leaders, perhaps even your bank or your hospital or your grocery store) are unwilling or unable to change, you're going to take matters into your own hands.

Much of this discussion would be moot if we assumed that the September 11th attacks were a "singular" event—i.e., an aberration, consisting of a single attack by 19 crazed terrorists. And some people do believe this to be the case; understandably, their reaction to September 11th is, "Yes, it was awful, and the after-effects may go on for a while. But fundamentally, it's over and done with, and our biggest priority is to get back to normal again." Such an attitude contradicts the publicly stated threats and warnings from terrorist leaders in the weeks following September 11th; and it contradicts the warnings of top officials from the FBI and other government spokesmen. But everyone is free to draw their own conclusions, and to make their own predictions about the future. If your assumption is that there will never again4 be a disruptive event of the scale and magnitude of the September 11th disaster, then this is probably not the book for you.

My assumption, which forms the basis for this book, is that there will be more events like September 11th. At least for the next few years, it's reasonable to expect that such events won't consist of commercial airplanes flying into office towers; after all, there is far too much scrutiny for such attacks to take place easily. But as we've all seen and heard from the endless commentaries in the media, we could find ourselves dealing with equally devastating attacks on bridges, dams, nuclear reactors, and other prominent sites. Or we could find ourselves coping with biological attacks, chemical attacks, nuclear attacks, or cyber-warfare attacks. Meanwhile, in the normal course of events on this planet, we could find ourselves coping with environmental "attacks" in the form of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, drought, or pestilence. There is no obvious reason to suggest that such environmental crises would be any more likely, or less likely, as a result of September 11th; but some of us are more sensitive about the consequences of a major environmental crisis than we would have been before.

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