The New Millennium Memorex
I start by taking you back to the summer of 1984, the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college. It was a memorable one, as I spent those four months in southern Africa – mostly Malawi, but also visited Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Amidst all the stimulation that was my life during those months, it became part of my routine to be out of bed by 5:30 in the morning. Unfortunately, this wasn’t for any reason that would particularly impress you – in fact, I was up at dawn every morning to ensure I could hear baseball scores.
Let me explain, if you happen to live in North America, you take for granted that every day, you can pick up a sports page and instantaneously see how your favorite team was doing. Not so in Africa – in fact baseball was about as familiar to Africans as reindeer racing is to North Americans. It so happened that my favorite ball team had just had a breakout year the season prior, and I felt a tremendous need to stay connected to them, by hook or by crook.
Crook, in this case, came in the form of the Voice of America whose announcer would read the sports once per day – at 5:40 a.m., and this would include baseball scores. Getting out of bed ten minutes prior gave me a chance to prepare for the broadcast with pen and paper in hand. When the announcer would read the scores, I would frantically write them down in my own version of shorthand. When this was done, I would painstakingly use the information I had just gathered to construct daily standings, and in the process of this grand exercise, I actually felt quite connected to what was going on in the bigs (this became particularly useful at parties when I would meet Americans, who themselves would be out of the loop until I told them precisely what was going on). Sadly for me, it became abundantly clear after three months that the Detroit Tigers were an unstoppable juggernaut of a squad, and by the end of July, decided to start sleeping in (my decision was the correct one, as the Tigers cruised all the way to a Series championship).
Let’s fast-forward 20 years. Today, I find myself in Chandigarh India, here to explore the whole phenomenon of business process outsourcing to India (as it relates to decentralization) from an on-the-ground perspective. Despite the importance of the mission, there was a part of me that was reluctant to leave North America – you see, I have left just as the annual rite of spring for any northerner who knows the joy of lacing up a pair of skates and taking to the ice with puck and stick. I’m talking NHL playoffs.
Despite the veneer of professionalism and dedication to all things associated with workplace continuity, I must confess a lifetime love affair with my beloved hockey team – the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs, you see, are currently two games into their best of seven second-round tilt with the hated Philadelphia Flyers. Had this been twenty years ago, I would probably have to do the same thing I did in the old Voice of America days (in which case, I would have likely passed on the trip and stayed home).
Today – it’s a whole new ballgame (or should I say hockey game?). In addition to listening to the game from the team site using a high speed connection at a local Barista (India’s version of Starbucks – it opened just after 6 this morning, which was about an hour after the first drop of the puck), I was able to quickly disseminate specifics of the game through my regular local media sources (the Leafs took it on the chin in a 2-1 setback). I also found out about the health of a couple of key players who have been on the shelf over the past few games. The power of the internet also afforded me the opportunity to get some objectivity, as I was quick to read the Philadelphia media’s take on the game.
When it actually came down to doing some work, my old friend – MSN Messenger 6.1 - notified me a friend on the west coast (another lifelong Leaf devotee) was on line. I initiated our conversation with a simple “ya think they can come back from being down 2-0”, and a lively conversation ensued. When it became apparent the typed word wasn’t doing justice to the pace of the conversation, we switched to camera mode, where we proceeded to micro-analyze the game and debate the survivability of this team in this year’s run for the cup.
Let’s stop for a second. When you think about it, this is mind-boggling – one guy in San Francisco, and the other, half a world away in Chandigarh, chatting face to face about a hockey game that just ended in Philadelphia. The point of all this is not only to suggest how far I have come from the days I had to listen to a scratchy radio signal to hear sports scores, but to say that if it’s possible for two people to be using the infrastructure I just described and being just as informed (if not more so) than a guy who was actually there, how difficult would it really be for a well-configured work group remotely scattered, to solve the same type of organizational problem that is dealt with by millions of office workers around the world in one central location.
Is it live, or is it our well-connected world?