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A Single Version of the Truth Takes a Whole Toolbox

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, October 2, 2012

In his 2008 book The Big Switch, Nicholas Carr draws lots of comparisons between electricity and information technology. When the United States began generating electricity, it came from a thousand sources and there was no electricity-sharing grid. Worse, different power sources were generating different kinds of power, with varying voltages, amperages, and protocols (think direct current versus alternating current).

Eventually, through the rough-and-tumble of capitalism and some heavy-handed government meddling, the country converged on a single power system for the public electricity grid, and a variety of other industry standards governing electrical use in everything from cars to lithium batteries. That process took a few decades. To this day, as lightning strikes prove, electric devices are at risk from variations in that system. A whole network of uninterruptible power supplies—more ubiquitous than you might realize—now has to supplement the system.

The process of standardizing and safeguarding information will probably end up taking longer. The inputs are all over the place. The outputs can be wildly different from each other. That much parallels the story of industrialized electricity.

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