Gates and the federal government know that this is about something important. Both sides could save gazillions of dollars and megatons of aggravation reaching some kind of compromise, but as of this writing both seem resolved to act out one of the great business stories of this century, although its ramifications will be felt mostly in the next.
What’s at stake, both Microsoft and the feds realize, is nothing less than a degree of world dominance like that coveted by the villains in all those James Bond movies. I’m not equating Bill Gates with the likes of Goldfinger and Blofeld, even if Netscape’s executives seem to think so. Microsoft’s ambition does not appear to be malevolent; nonetheless, it is worthy of a Bond plot because of the magnitude of power craved.
Microsoft In Microcosm: So much for the world view. Let’s bring it closer to home, to an episode that occurred on May 26, 1998, at 5:49 p.m. EST.
That is when Dan Holohan’s “Wet Head Graffiti” bulletin board posted the following message from wethead Jeff McGough: “I’m away from the office and can’t remember how many air exchanges I should include in an athletic/multipurpose building ... Can someone help me out ... Anyone out there in cyberspace close to your ASHRAE manuals care to look it up for me? Thanks in advance.”
A reply came 35 minutes later, from the equally wetheaded Mark Eatherton, who chimed in that section 26.12 of the 1989 ASHRAE Fundamentals book “recommends 15 cfm per person per hour (nonsmoking), minimum 5 cfm/body/hr. ... R-value for foam is usually considered 1 per 1/8 inch.”
That exchange made me realize how far removed we and all our little pooches are from Kansas.
Thousands of more momentous exchanges flit across cyberspace with each blink of the eye, and each day my e-mail conveys dozens that are more meaningful to me. For that matter, this was among the more innocuous of the scores of daily postings to Wet Head Graffiti, which, like everything Dan Holohan does, contains some imaginative and instructive reading. (Check it out at www.danholohan.com.) But there was something special about this simple request for information.
“No man is an island ...”: Think about it. Here was a staffless contractor working late on a job, whose tool kit included a portable computer. Instead of waiting till the next day for an answer to a pressing question, he merely plugged in his “power tool” and tapped into a resource bank consisting of like-minded counterparts throughout the country, indeed the world, not knowing who if anyone would respond, but confident someone would. Remember all those cartoons of a guy stranded on a desert island who seeks help via a note in a bottle? A few years ago, that would have been Jeff McGough’s dilemma. In cyberspace, the odds of making contact are infinitely greater and the speed of reply infinitely faster. And, the amount of information available to be accessed is all but infinite.
“No man is an island,” wrote John Donne more than three and a half centuries ago. He didn’t know the half of it! The world is becoming — heck, has become — interconnected in a way that was unimaginable to those of us who grew up thinking Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio was the ultimate in futuristic communication.
Something else: the Internet is a great equalizer. Companies and industries are consolidating like crazy everywhere you look, but an opposite trend is taking place at the other end of the spectrum. More and more people, in more and more fields, are becoming self-employed, working for themselves out of home offices. That’s because more and more our economy is based on information, and thanks to the Internet, a clever individual can access and process information more efficiently than a corporate bureaucracy can. Tell me, what advantage would the largest contractor in the country have had over Jeff McGough in seeking the desired information on that athletic building project?
What’s more, the Information Age is in its infancy. Eventually the Internet will be wireless, even quicker and easier to use, and almost everyone will be tuned into it. Guess who’s moving to your neighborhood? The rest of the whole wide world!
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