The Kinnear Centre in Banff is an impressive building. If one’s surroundings aid one’s mood and thought, The Kinnear Centre should be a womb of innovation. I am at a conference hosted by Cybera, and the session is on developing a provincial solution for Federated Identity. Conceptually I understand it, but technically it’s well over my head. Still, I enjoy participating in the audience. It’s moments like these that drag my mind out of the footsoldier mentality usually required by my job, and into a more visionary arena. I like ideas more than action.
Out the window an aging facility janitor ambles by, his left hand carrying a tray of supplies, his right arm swinging to offset the weight that you would think would be routine after years of service. Clearly his body is breaking down, pain in his back or hip causing a limp, but his face reveals nothing. Not pain or joy, seemingly oblivious to the beautiful fall day in the mountains of which he is part, and definitely oblivious to the fact that behind the windows nearby a group of people is beginning to plan participation in a technology solution with global implications.
So I thought, “What does it matter?” How is any of this, other than providing those behind the window with an opportunity for intellectual masturbation, making the world a better place? How is any of this improving the lives of those outside? The discord between what was occurring inside the conference room, with our lofty ideas of how technology should work, and what was occurring outside – a man of seemingly blank ambition whose life would not change if the conference weren’t taking place – was stark. Were we “doing technology” just for the hell of it, or is this the seed of innovation?
I used to think that every technological change needed to have a business reason, that doing technology for it’s own sake was a waste of resources. But now I see these exercises as just that, exercise; something to spur on creativity, to make the mind fit and push boundaries. The opportunity to build teams around something that may or may not work. This is play, and it should be part of every job.
While that janitor at the Banff Centre may never know anything about Federated Identity (wildly presumptuous, I know), maybe one day it has an impact that he doesn’t fully understand. Maybe it helps his grandkids get into university. Maybe it helps him get the appropriate emergency care. Maybe it helps his wife plan that once in a lifetime trip they’ve always dreamed of.
Maybe doing something for it’s own sake, if done well and with passion, actually matters.