Over in the US, my colleague Michael Kanellos muses
that Europe always punches below its weight in IT — and that this could change because we're more switched on over environmental technology than elsewhere.
Well, up to a point. I don't know how many ARM-based processors Michael has in his life, but I'll bet there's an order of magnitude more than there are with Intel on the label. Not everything Euro-techno feels it necessary to proclaim its existence by stickers on the keyboard, or justify itself by building feudal empires. We're getting over that (sorry about all the invasions) but I hope we've learned that Tim Berners-Lee and Linus Torvalds can change the world to better effect than gunboats and patent lawyers.
We might not make that many physical things any more, but European IP is out there big time. As are Europeans: from the early days of Nasa, when a good quarter of the staff were British (a certain chap called Werner von Braun was also involved), we're as happy to export ourselves as our gizmos.
In fact, to use a word beloved of the young chaps and girls who are preparing to inherit the world, the whole business about who does what where is increasingly random. Take Apple's iPod, iconic symbol of the American ability to reinvent a business: designed by a Brit and with Scottish chips inside, it's made in China. And it gets fed by the music industry via the net, two entities where international boundaries are entirely artificial and fitfully maintained by old thinking trying to hold onto old power.
What flag does Linux fly? All of them, and none.
The only sane way to imagine the new order is as a whole world: that's the way the information and financial systems naturally work, that's the way the knowledge spreads and that's the way the new kids act. Whether by coincidence, synchronicity or the natural way of affairs, that way of thinking is also the only way to comprehend the environment, the biggest challenge to peace and happiness we face. At the same time as the problem becomes pressing, we appear to be adapting our ways of life, industry and thought to best deal with it. Yay for humanity.
So it's not in environmentalism per se where Europe leads America and the world; it's in thinking outside the borders. At the same time as the US is clamping down on furriners to our general annoyance — the Canadians are particularly irked at being treated like terrorists — and China appears to want a world modelled on 19th century imperialism, Europe is still busy absorbing more countries into the Union and throwing more borders away. That's not been a painless process, but by the sainted name of Marconi it's got us some damn fine mobile phones. (Nokia. Motorola. Enough said.) And guess what: if you get rid of the borders through mutual consent, culture, industry and people prosper. The United States, of all places, should know that.
So, if the future's not US vs Europe vs Asia vs Tonga vs the Vatican, what is it? It's us versus ourselves, using every ounce — or gram — of innovation, intelligence and insight to find ways to put judo throws on our instincts for laziness, greed and insecurity in the face of the unknown. And that means using a Chinese laptop with an American processor running an international operating system to find information from anywhere and give it to everyone — much as I'm doing right now — without thinking it the least bit threatening.
We can't do it without you, America, and you can't do it without us. Deal?