Thursday, October 4, 2007

Big Babies

Perhaps not required reading, but certainly an interesting little volume for security practitioners: "Big Babies, or: Why can't we just grow up?", by Michael Bywater (Granta, 2006).

Bywater, now a Cambridge academic, first grabbed my attention through his acerbic "Bargepole" column in Punch magazine, back in the 90's. His latest epistle advances the notion that politicians, media and Big Business all conspire to keep us in a state of infantilism; we Want It Now, we want what celebrities have, we want to be like celebrities, hell, we want to be celebrities. Our culture, the Mummyverse, requires not much more of us than to be silent, consume and die, and is happy to invoke various bogeymen - mostly recently, the spectre of The Terrorist - in order to get us to Shut Up And Do What We Are Told.

Bywater touches on subjects of interest to infosec professionals: privacy, the "new religion" of risk assessment, transport security, advertising copy for software. He reaches a climax with a list of 50 ways Not To Be a Big Baby, many of which have long been among my own favourite rants (and to which I will probably return, in due course), such as:

"27. Cultivate commensality. The art of dining together is one of the great cornerstones of civilization.

"28. Never do business with a company offering 'solutions'. It is a pernicious weasel-word, not just because it is pompous and self-aggrandizing . . . but also because it is telling us that we have a problem. That, since we are grown-ups, is for us to decide.

"30. Demand - and display - good manners."
The book is an over-the-top polemic, of course, but that's its best feature. But as you chortle, it is hard not to realise Bywater is providing an insight into your own uneasy feelings about the changes in our culture. A hefty six-page bibliography confirms that this is not just a stream-of-consciousness rant but the product of some serious research and thinking.

Still, it's funny as hell, and enormously satisfying.

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