“The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.” – Robert M. Pirsig
I’ve always been jealous of people who regularly experience vivid, colorful dreams. I dream rarely (or rarely remember, which amounts to the same thing). When I do, it’s usually when I’m managing a project on a tight schedule. Then I dream, in artistic black-and-white, that I’ve accidentally killed someone and I’m desperately trying to hide the body.
Last night was different. I dreamed King Arthur traveled forward in time to visit. “Come on in!” I said excitedly.
He had a nasty cut on his arm, red and inflamed. “Yes,” he said, “it hurts me mightily. If you would be kind enough, raise a poker to red heat in your hearth. I must cauterize the wound or risk losing my arm.”
After verifying that he’d brought some of the royal treasury with him, we went to my doctor who cleaned the wound and gave him an antibiotic.
“Now what would you like to see?” I asked.
He asked my profession, so I showed him how I write this column for InfoWorld. While I waited for my laptop to boot up I explained about computers, how badly Microsoft had designed Windows/95, how Novell was throwing away its awesome advantages in market dominance and technology, and then stopped as his attention wandered.
He did find my computer fascinating. I did my best to explain what it could be used for, and did some research on the World Wide Web. I apologized for the slow response time of some of the sites we visited, but he seemed impressed nonetheless.
I decided to take King Arthur to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. As I spoke to my travel agent, the king looked at me in wonderment. “You spoke to that device as you would to a person!” he exclaimed.
So I explained about telephones, and deregulation, and what a pain in the neck it is to negotiate fair contracts with long-distance carriers, and how hard it is to audit telephone bills when you manage a complex network. I saw his eyes glazing, so I stopped.
Then we drove to the airport. Unfortunately, we ran into rush hour traffic. I complained about the poor highway design, thinking King Arthur must have also experienced poor roads in his day. He seemed uninterested, though, so I popped a CD into the car’s player – Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto – to pass the time. The king’s eyes closed as if he’d been transported. Easy to understand with Beethoven.
Into the plane, through the museum, back to Minneapolis for steaks at Murray’s, then home to watch Babylon 5 which I’d taped. As I fast-forwarded through the commercials I apologized for the poor quality of most American television.
And it was time for the king to depart. “I would prefer to remain,” he confessed. “It is hard to return to my castle, heated only by burning wood, with nothing but my jester to amuse me most evenings.”
Enjoy your holiday season. Take a break from the architectural flaws of Windows/95, software bloat, the possible collapse of the Internet, the continuing implosion of Apple Computer, or whatever else about our modern age gets your blood boiling and reflect:
The death of an infant is a tragedy now, not a way of life. We speak to people all over the world from our homes or desks, or visit them in less than a day. Our computers, no matter how imperfect, give each of us personal power unprecedented in the history of the world.
We live in an age of science fiction and miracles. We live in a rare society, defined by our belief in progress, our dissatisfaction with how things are, and our will to make progress happen.
Even the poor among us live lives of extraordinary luxury, when compared to most of the world through most of history.
We are wealthier than ancient kings.