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No Man Friday Is An Island

Friday: B’wana, come quick, som’ting strange all washed up on de reef.Crusoe: Man Friday, how many times do I have …

Friday: B’wana, come quick, som’ting strange all washed up on de reef.

Crusoe: Man Friday, how many times do I have to remind you that utterances of that nature predate Uncle Tom’s Cabin and are deeply offensive to many of our dermatologically disadvantaged readers?

Friday: Oh, ummm, frightfully sorry Mr. Crusoe, keep forgetting sir. What I wanted to tell you was that there’s a somewhat bedraggled lump of ironware coming in on the tide. Looks like an IBM PS/2 computer from here, last year’s model at a guess, but of course I couldn’t swear to it from this distance with the sun behind it. Based on our latitude, it might be one of those damned South Korean imports, but then again I just don’t think those chappies know how to make ’em float properly.

Crusoe: And there’s no need for that ghastly mock-British twang either, Friday. But quality will out, y’know Friday: quality will out. It takes more than a single hit to sink an American personal computer. Well, what are you going to do with this one?

Friday: Well, B’wana, me take white man’s ju-ju . . . Sorry sir, bit of a lapse there, spot of shrapnel playing up in the old cerebellum. This one looks pretty beefy, so once I’ve dried it out and powered it up, I think I’ll hitch it up as our file server, you know sir, bit of slap and tickle on the LAN, what?

Crusoe: I didn’t know you had our Local Area Network up and running yet, Friday. I’m impressed, as ever, but what exactly are we going to do with it?

Friday: B’wana, I have a dream. In my dream we are no longer cut off from each other by a wall of silence, unable to penetrate the interpersonal space separating our respective gestalts. Instead, we are linked at the conceptual, the spiritual, the psychic and the transcendental levels by an all-pervasive computer network. Information at your fingertips, B’wana! Working together, Mr. Crusoe! Not just software, but groupware! Who needs coconuts, when we can conference in real time with each other via a graphic user interface?

Crusoe: Friday, you’ve lost me there. What’s a graphic user interface?

Friday: Oh B’wana, dis you gotta see to believe. You know that strange effigy in the middle of the island, the one my grandfather built to fool Margaret Mead? Well, it lights up at night and you can draw pictures on it with a rat.

Crusoe: With a rat?

Friday: Well, the PS/2 instruction manuals were a bit waterlogged, although actually I believe they specified a mouse. But your average Polynesian rat is way ahead of a mouse in intelligence, and anyway, when it comes to filling an omelette, there’s simply no comparison.

Crusoe: So what’s all this about information working together at your fingertips?

Friday: Well B’wana, you know how each month you take the canoe to check out the natives? Extract a few tithes, invoke the jus primae noctis, that sort of thing? Well, think how much better things would be for you if you were constantly in touch with Base Camp here via a cellular radio-linked, groupware-enabled conferencing system.

Imagine the power of collective decision making delivered right to the man in the dugout! Instead of having to work out which way the wind’s blowing, you can create an on-line conference on that very theme, and after a few hours you’ll know exactly where to head. Nodally-inspired navigation! Interactive islanding! Consensus cannibalism! The sky’s the limit!

Crusoe: Well I grant you it’ll make that surplus Cray with the linear programming algorithm look pretty sick, the one you used to optimize the seedling plantations. But what makes you think this is such a revolution, Friday? What’s so special about using computers to communicate between geographically remote working groups? Surely we’ve been doing that for years, ever since you used your machete to hack into that microwave modem on Maui-Maui?

Friday: B’wana, this is different. I see synergy. I see society transcending topography. Trading from island to island with an on-line decision conferencing platform will revolutionize your local business, B’wana. From each according to his mobility, to each according to his beads, so to speak. All de people of de earth connected together in one happy network.

Crusoe: When can we go live on this one, Friday?

Friday: Wednesday I guess B’wana; Thursday the latest.

Crusoe: No later than Thursday, Friday, or we’ll be having a serious man-to-man Friday talk about this one on Saturday. Are there any final words of advice-of caution even-that you feel I should know about this `groupware’ of yours?

Friday: Well, B’wana, I guess you should just be watching out for de time-zones. Dis ‘ting can interrupt you any hour of de day or night; it ain’t got no respect for nobody. Why, just last night I was down wid’ de lads on de beach, surf’s up, stokin’ de barbecue, turnin’ over de missionaries when de modem rings and it’s London wid a message saying Massa Kinnock’s put out to grass by industrial futures. Well, I turn down de heat to low simmer, set up de deals, but Holy Moses! i When I get back to take a look at dem missionaries, dey’s all burned to a cinder, ashes to ashes, not even de crackling left.

Crusoe: I suppose it’s all part of the price of progress, Friday. You’ll just have to wok around the clock from now on.

Friday: Oh I say sir, frightfully good eh, wok around the clock, what a ripping line.

Crusoe: Cut it out Friday, and let’s start dumping General Motors.

Robert Bittlestone is founder and chief executive of Metapraxis, a London and New York-based consulting group specializing in executive information and strategic control.

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