Quick, what country makes the best wine in the world? Although we might have a few readers who would respond with Australia, Italy or Chile, most would probably assume it to be France. To be sure, the French have an excellent reputation as producers (and consumers) of wine, and deservedly so. But for the most part, their wine-making methods have remained unchanged over centuries. Their motto is probably something like, “S’il n’est pas cassé, alors ne pas le réparer,” or “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Meanwhile, in California, wine manufacturers have almost made their craft into a science, trying to grow and harvest the best grapes and refining their extraction and fermentation techniques to get as close to perfection as possible. All this work paid off recently, when California wines were pitted against those from the Bordeaux region of France in a Cabernet Sauvignon tasting competition. In the end, the California “Cabs” took the top five spots.
So what does all this have to do with technology? Well, nothing, on the surface. However, the once-vaunted status of the French in wine making is comparable to the reputation of the United States in tech today. The U.S. IT industry and workforce are considered the best in the world, and with good reason. Yet some—including leaders in business and government—seem to act like our edge in technology is a given, something that can’t really be challenged. “We’re on top now, and we always will be,” seems to be about as far as their reasoning goes. They don’t really dwell on how we got there in the first place.
This attitude is dangerous because it can lead to laziness in thought and action. Although the threat to the United States’ technological advantage from rising countries such as India and China is generally overstated in scare-mongering articles in the mainstream press, the challenge they present should be taken seriously nonetheless. If the United States wants to continue to lead the world in IT, we can’t get complacent. This means not only investing heavily in technology research and education at all levels, but also ensuring that learning funds are well spent and training programs are accessible to as many people as possible. It also means preserving personal liberty and encouraging entrepreneurship for the sake of continued innovation and improvement. Fortunately, we have the edge where it counts right now. Let’s hope that we can keep it.