01 March 2013

Bill Gates and our future...

I recently saw film footage of Bill Gates back in 1990 explaining what we would come to know as The Internet. He knew. We didn't. But five years later? The whole world had changed. I finished grad school in Austria in 1995 and found my first job in Dallas on a website called occ.com. It later changed its name to monster.com.

As a child in the 70s, I read a storybook about a family in the future where the kids attended a virtual school. The book explained how the kids saw their teacher through a monitor which would swap over to show them their reading material and assignments. Sound familiar? It's how my niece did 7th grade last year.

Fortune has done a couple of pieces on Bill Gates' investment in online education - specifically in the Khan Academy. [See: "When Sal Khan met Bill Gates," October 2012, and "Bill Gates' Favorite Teacher," August 2010.] A century ago, high schools commonly offered rooms for boarding students. The proliferation of public schools in the 20th century relegated boarding school to luxury status. I often wonder whether the same will become true of brick-and-mortar universities amid the explosion of online degrees - not storefront "colleges" like Phoenix or Amber, etc. - but legitimate universities offering distance learning. Only the wealthy will pay for their children to attend Boston University on campus if they can receive the same BU degree online from their home in... Wichita?

Bill Gates is investing in the technology that will redefine our world. Technology is converging - meaning you can watch TV on your phone - and geography is being nominalized by the availability to work, attend school, shop, or participate in a worship service online. I work for a company who responded to Yahoo's short-sighted edict by sending a message to employees to affirm our focus on the value of results driven by our work, rather than where the work gets done. What a novel idea! When in doubt, emulate Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Richard Branson...

Years ago, I worked for a Fortune 100 high tech CEO who scoffed at the boon of client-server and Web-based technology proclaiming, "Our future is in mainframe processing." That was 1998. He hasn't worked since. Another one famously had his admin print out all of his emails. He didn't last long. One of the next in line was uncomfortable with employees telecommuting because their managers couldn't see them. How could they lead them? Never mind the company sold customers packaged service offerings of laptops, VPN, firewall, etc. I'll just say he's now an 'independent consultant' and the company no longer exists.

Technology is changing everything! Resistance is futile.