I know we’ve all heard something about it, but have you seen this thing? If you haven’t, run, don’t walk to the Dec. 10 issue of Time Magazine and take a good look. It’s a very cool personal transportation device that uses the power of 10 microprocessors combined with aeronautics quality gyroscopes, sensors, batteries and what I can only imagine to be a lot of very cool software. It’s sort of like a very-intelligent cross between an energy-efficient scooter, your mother’s old hardwood floor polisher, and an overgrown Weeble (remember the Weebles? “Weebles wobble but they won’t fall down?”).
Talk about a cool use of technology. Talk about changing the world…And I’ve been spending the last few weeks optimizing customer billing and settlement systems…
Of course, there’s a whole stack of people saying that the Segway will never work, that it’s just an expensive toy, that people will never give up their cars and what’s the matter with walking anyway?
But that’s not the point, damn it – so what if this thing does nothing but give a little mobility to people who can’t easily get around, due to age, infirmity, injury or disability? What if it just helps the little old lady who can’t walk very far anymore, who’s been a little bit shaky on her pegs for the last few years and therefore, has spent most of her time housebound?
So now maybe she can make her own way down to the store, maybe she can take her dog out for a walk – she hasn’t been able to do that for a long time, and was thinking she’d have to give up her only full-time companion ’cause she hasn’t been able to give him enough exercise.
But it’s much more than that. “Most people in the developing world can’t afford cars,” Kamen says, “and if they could, it would be a complete disaster.”
So Kamen’s going to take what he knows about technology, and he’s going to change the world with this Segway thing. More power to him, and I wouldn’t rush to bet against him either – he’s changed the world for many who are wheelchair bound with the IBOT wheelchair – and I think (I hope) Kamen doesn’t give a damn about the naysayers (cars, cost, walking, blah blah blah) anyway.
And this, I think, is the key distinction between those who want to use technology to make simply make money and those who want to change the world: “If all we end up with are a few billion-dollar niche markets,” Kamen says, “that would be a disappointment. It’s not like our goal was just to put the golf-cart industry out of business.” Good for him.
It’s why Steve Jobs always appealed to me much more than Bill Gates ever did. I could be wrong, but it always felt to me like Gates was more interested in selling product and making money, and I really think that Jobs wanted to change the world. How else would you explain products as radically different in their time as the Mac and the NeXTCube?
Do you remember Jobs’ famous challenge to John Sculley when Jobs was trying to get Sculley to leave corporate giant PepsiCo and join little old Apple Computer? From a Manhattan rooftop he said, “John, do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water, or do you want to change the world?”
We should all be so challenged. We’re at the time and in the place where what we do can make all the difference.
All this great technology has come along in the last few years and what are we doing with it?
Getting fat, writing improved billing applications, and (at least until the last year) making lots of money. All of which adds up to just about squat in the grand scheme of things.
So when do we start changing the world? How about this year? How about now? We’ve all got families to feed, and there’s nobility in most of the work we do, exciting or not. But we should be asking what can we do different this year, and how will we use the great technology that’s available to us to feed our souls more than our pocketbooks.
A happy new year to you, may this be the best one yet for you and yours, and here’s my sincerest hope – may we all have the opportunity to use what we know to change the world for the better.
Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at email@example.com.