Have you ever seen the magnificent Commencement address given by Steve Jobs at Stanford University in 2005?  If not, check it out (text and video).  In the speech, he covered several themes, one of which I want to focus on here:  Connecting the dots.

There was a time in my life when I was interested in phones.  Obsessed might be a better word.  I even read at the callow age of 14 a (no longer in print) book on telephony history called “The Biggest Company on Earth: A profile of AT&T.”  At the time, I had no idea what use this knowledge would be to me in the future, nor did I really care, it was just something I loved and wanted to know more about.  

My interest in telephones was in tandem with an interest in computers, and I read all the early studies of the computer revolution including the seminal Hackers, by Steven Levy, originally published in 1984 (which computer geeks remember more fondly as the year of the first Macintosh and one of the all-time best commercials, the Orwellian-inspired Apple vs. IBM ‘Big Brother’ spot). 

Hackers was not about the tales of people trying to steal money from banks with their computers (though that was in there, too), it was more about the psychology and sociology of the people who worked on the earliest computers, the earliest networks, built the first personal computers, and developed the software.  You can fill in the names of those people if you’re in the know:  Alan Turing, the scientist possibly most personally responsible for turning the tide of WWII by helping the British perfect the code-breaking capabilities of Enigma, Marvin Minsky, pioneer of modern AI at MIT, Gates, Allen, Woz, and yes, Steve Jobs, they are all in there, plus an array of other fascinating characters who epitomize the real meaning of the word hacker.  I am still so enamored with the history, I couldn’t help digressing, but I’ll get back to my main point about Jobs’ speech:

After all those years of being locked away in my memory, AT&T has come back to inspire me to write something comparing the breakup of the once largest telephone company on earth to the current breakup and reshuffling of the telecom industry in China.  The famous jingle of AT&T was “Reach out, reach out and touch someone…” and it touched me again by connecting the dots between what I know and what I love.  I wish life and work were always this simple.

If you would like to read more, check out my latest article from the Shanghai Star Business Journal, Will telecom restructuring mute critics? 


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