In a post-industrial society . . . what counts is not raw muscle power, or energy, but information. Daniel Bell "The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society"
Say you are wandering in downtown Washington, confused, a reluctant pilgrim in the information age. It doesn't make sense to you that a society can grow and prosper simply by shuffling around information.
Wander no further, pilgrim. Instruction can be found in an office building at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and K Street NW.
It's a standard-issue 13-story building with four elevators, 28 bathrooms and a liquor store that opens to the lobby. Strange as it may seem, at 1000 Connecticut Ave., in the dawning of the information age, they get paid for doing this:
"Talent comes and sees us," says Carol Ness, an executive who wears black leather pants.
Ness is a founding partner of Central Casting, an agency that grossed more than $1 million last year for knowing how to link "talent" with advertisers and makers of industrial training films. That's on the eighth floor. Next door is the Fund for Integrative Biomedical Research (FIBER).
"We are a catalytic group," says Joyce Fordham, administrative assistant for FIBER. Instead of linking blonds with bikini ads, FIBER builds links among scientists who find it impossible to keep up with one another's discoveries. One floor beneath FIBER there's Walter C. McCabe, president of American International Investments.
"We are facilitators," says McCabe, an executive who wears pin-striped, three-piece suits.
"We find people who have brilliant ideas and all they need is $20 million of someone else's money." For a percentage of the action, American International Investments "facilitates" foreign investment money into the hands of American high-tech entrepreneurs.
No one at 1000 Connecticut actually makes anything, unless you count the snack bar downstairs where they make a nice eggroll.
Instead, they create, gather, process, disseminate and manipulate information. They are lawyers and facilitators, journalists and catalyzers, lobbyists and word processors. They all broker information for a buck.
There's nothing all that special about 1000 Connecticut Ave., a 25-year-old brick, steel and dirty-gray concrete edifice. Its hallways are quiet and carpeted and sterile. Its offices, some of them paneled in walnut, others in need of paint, are full of legal briefs and flow charts and video display terminals. Like scores of architecturally forgettable office buidlings in Washington, 1000 Connecticut Ave. is a prototypical workplace in the information age.
Since they don't seem to make anything in these buildings--there's no black smoke belching from the roof or automobiles rolling out the back door--it's difficult from the outside to imagine what, if anything, people on the inside do to earn their keep.
The building directory in the furnitureless lobby doesn't provide many clues. The list includes: Common Sense Consultancy, Intellectual Property Owners, R&D Creative Service Inc., The Word Management Group, New Faces, Temporary Options and Creative Options (a division of Temporary Options, which was founded by a woman who used to run Options Unlimited.)
Understand it or not, office buildings like the one at the corner of Connecticut and K are what the world's coming to.
The future of organizations in society resides less with the people who work with their hands and feet--the production workers--and more with the people who work with their heads--the managerial knowledge workers. Dale E. Zand "Information, Organization and Power"
Hands-and-feet workers in the United States were surpassed in numbers by head workers 27 years ago. Since then the ranks of those who trade in information have swelled to include about 60 percent of the nation's work force. At the head of this parade into what sociologists call the postindustrial society is Washington.
This city has the nation's highest concentration of white-collar workers.
More than 72 percent of workers in the Washington area have white-collar jobs compared to 52 percent nationally, according to the 1980 census. The next closest city is San Francisco, with 65 percent. Washington also leads the nation in professional and technical workers, who make up 29 percent of the work force, nearly twice the national average. The next closest city is San Jose, Calif., with 24 percent.
There are those who question the wisdom of a new age where everyone talks on the phone, solves problems and doesn't get dirty. They point to falling industrial productivity, out-dated factories and record numbers of bankruptcies among manufacturers.
"Are we creating a society of parasites that lives off an industrial economy that is falling to rack and ruin?" asks Jeff Bogumil, president of the Social Implications of Technology Society, a branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. "That's a question that must be scrutinized before extolling the coming prosperity. The forecasts are for everyone to have a home computer, to interact over the phone, to have a beautiful life, etc., etc. But nothing is being produced."
These questions, however, don't seem to trouble white-collar and professional Washingtonians. These people have work to do.
That means they drive or take the subway downtown to office buildings like the one at 1000 Connecticut Ave.
There, these toilers in the knowledge industry say they are too busy to know much about what their fellow postindustrial worker across the hall does for a living, too busy even to know his or her name. No wonder, for inside that building, there's a mind-boggling amount of information-shuffling going on.
On the ninth floor, for example, is the Washington Bureau of The New York Times. There, at one time or another, 40 reporters pound away on 37 word processors, which are linked to computers in New York by two high-speed phone lines that each carry 9,600 bits of information a second.
"The New York Times reporter at 1000 Connecticut Ave. is in every respect plugged in the same as the reporter at 43rd Street in New York," says Earl Smith, bureau telecommunications and services manager.
"There is no difference. He is just in a different city."
On the seventh floor, there's Tom Nelson, chief lobbyist for Household International. "We are a conglomerate--a very carefully planned conglomerate," says Nelson, who heads a team of five lobbyists who "protect our flanks as far as taxes are concerned."
Household International, with $8 billion in assests and holdings ranging from Household Finance Company to National Car Rental, suffers greatly when Congress, for instance, changes truth-in-lending laws.
"You change one line in that law and it takes a year or so for our lawyers to rewrite all the damn forms of which HFC has about 500 ," says Nelson. He and his staff, therefore, spend a lot of time trying to persuade Congress to leave well enough alone. If lawmakers do change the law, Nelson and his colleagues plead for one-year grace periods before all the forms have to be changed. Says Nelson: "You are talking millions."
On the fourth floor, in the cramped offices of the National American Indian Court Judges Association (NAICJA), there are microfiche cards containing hundreds of years of Indian tribal customs as codified in 100 tribal codes of justice.
"I should say no to you and have you talk to an Indian," protests E. Thomas Colosimo, executive secretary of NAICJA. Colosimo, a non-Indian and former Foerign Service officer, is a reticent man who, after considerable prompting, will explain that he "provides management and continuity of details for program implementation."
Colisomo circulates a 24-lesson volume in how to be an Indian judge and, in turn, collects some intriguing Indian case law. The Navajo Reporter, one of hundreds of Indian law volumes squirreled away in the NAICJA offices, details the 1978 divorce of David and Winona Joe of Shiprock, N.M. The divorce, according to the Navajo Reporter, enabled "both parties to have sufficient paraphernalia to perform ceremonies."
David Joe received "three prayer feathers, one eagle tail fan, one ceremonial whistle and one peyote (chief)." Winona Joe got "two prayer feathers, one prayer feather (red and blue), one water bird, one peyote (chief) and one ceremonial fetish."
We have for the first time an economy based on a key resource [information] that is not only renewable, but self-generating. Running out of it is not a problem, but drowning in it is. John Naisbett, "Megatrends"
At 1000 Connecticut Ave., there are scores of people who make their living as information lifeguards.
One such lifeguard on the seventh floor is Granville J. Smith, physicist, entrepreneur and president of Energenics Systems Inc. ("Oh, jeeze," says Smith, "We just invented that name. It doesn't mean anything.) In spacious wood-paneled offices, he directs five engineers, two lawyers, one administrator and two secretaries armed with word processors in an assault on the laws, regulations, licenses, purchase agreements and environmental impact reports that can stop the construction of small hydroelectric power projects in the Far West.
"The reason most people don't do hydroelectric projects is that they can't get over all the hurdles," says Smith, who studied Washington-style hurdling during four years as a staffer on Senate energy and commerce committees. Now utility companies and government agencies come to him with projects they want built.
A giant chalk board hangs in a conference room across the hall from Smith's office. When 40 little checks appear on the board, signifying that all the bureaucratic hurdles have been jumped, most of Energenics' work is done. What remains is to contract with a construction company that will actually build something.
Information is an economic entity because it costs something to produce and because people are willing to pay for it. Value is whatever people are willing to pay for. John Naisbett, "Megatrends"
On the eighth floor, in a cubbyhole office, is Carol Ostrow of Central Tours, who makes a living selling what she knows about getting around town.
"I know how to get the permits. I know who to call. I know what's available and how to get the best prices," says Ostrow, an exceptionally cheerful person.
In late February, when 650 teen-agers converge on Washington for a convention of the North American Federation of Temple Youths, Ostrow will make $8,450 for lining up 20 buses and 20 guides (the whole outfit color-coordinated) to take the kids to the Lincoln Memorial for a prayer vigil. If it rains, she gets $1,500.
"I meet them at the airport. I take their luggage. I do their hotels, their dinners, their theme parties," says Ostrow. "And I plan it all in this office. You'd never guess there'd be so much fun in this building, would you?"