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Windows for Jungle Cars
The creator in the early 1970s of what may have been the worlds
first fully functioning system of corporate electronic mail, Bookey was
quick to foresee this radical shift from person- to-person to computer-to-computer
communications. Pursuing his vision of networks, Bookey in 1982 spurned
a possible job at Microsoft on the grounds that the company was outfitting
cars for the jungle, a decision that probably cost him several million
Instead, he joined Seafirst Bank in Seattle, where he made history (in
the form of a reference in John Sculleys autobiography, Odyssey)
by pushing the purchase of a thousand Macintosh computers for bank networks
at a crucial time for Apple.
In 1986 Bookey left the bank to join Doelz Co., a startup in Irvine, Calif.,
that built advanced computer network equipment that he had used at Seafirst.
For Doelz, Bookey designed software and spearheaded marketing. A so-called
cell-based network, the Doelz system broke up a stream of data into short,
equal-sized packets, each with its own address, to be sent through the
nodes of the net in nanoseconds, like letters accelerated a trillionfold
through the branches of the post office.
Bookey was not necessarily wrong in choosing this technology over Microsofts.
In the form of asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) systems, this essential
approach, based on short, uniform packets that can be switched at gigabit
speeds in hardware, is now the rage of planners in the computer networking
ATM is seen as the crucial enabler for digital networks combining voice,
data and video in so-called multimedia applications. Bill Gates now calls
multimedia the future of his industry. Although many observers still see
ATM as a futuristic technology, Bookey believes its future is nearly now.
From the humblest personal digital phone to the most advanced supercomputer,
computer-to-computer links will dominate the entire universe of telecommunications,
and ATM will dominate network switching.
Doelz, however, was ahead of its time and failed to survive a tangled
legal imbroglio with AT&T in 1988. So Bookey took a big profit on
his California residence and returned with his wife Robin and daughter
Erin to Seattle, where he had grown up and set records in the mile on
the track at the University of Washington. He bought his dream house on
the top of Cougar Mountain in Issaquah, with a view of the very Twin Peaks
made famous in the television series and put out his shingle as a network
consultant under the name Digital Network Architects (DNA). Almost as
an afterthought, the Bookeys sent Erin to Issaquah Middle School.
Having designed networks around the world, Bookey had often seen their
powerful impact on business organizations, such as banks. Bookey believed
that networks could have a similar revitalizing impact on schools. Like
banks, schools are essentially information systems that have brought their
Industrial Age hierarchy into the Information Age.
Creating networks in schools, however, posed many special problems. Most
school systems, like Issaquah, were largely unaccustomed to managing technology.
The system would need to create a large MIS (management information services)
organization just to keep the network functioning. Then, as the teachers
at Issaquah hastened to point out to Bookey, there was the problem of
students. Impulsive, mischievous and messy, they in no way resembled the
disciplined employees of a corporation. Speaking from grim experience,
some of the teachers told Bookey that his network plans would succeed
only if the computers were reserved exclusively for teachers and if students
were barred entirely.
Bookey, however, thought there had to be a way to bring the magic of networks
to Americas increasingly troubled school systems. The secret would
be to recognize that, just as computers are not consumers of but contributors
to bandwidth, students should be seen not as a problem, but as a precious
resource in launching the networks that inform the Information Age.
Networks as Productivity Engines
Ever since Adam Smith first maintained that the division of labor, the
spread of specialization, is the catalyst of the wealth of nations, economists
have seen the breakdown of functions into subfunctions and specialties
as the driver of efficiency and growth. The key force expanding specialization
in the contemporary capitalist economy is networks. Indeed, networks,
by their nature and purpose, refine the division of labor.
In the financial industry, for example, networks allowed the proliferation
of specialized institutions. In the ever-shifting kaleidoscopes of American
finance, some institutions went local, some global. Some managed car loans,
credit cards or other consumer services; some handled mortgages, mutual
funds or real estate trusts; still others stressed computer leases, junk
bonds, venture capital or large corporate accounts.
The pell-mell fragmentation of American finance during the 1980s into
an ever more refined division of labor enabled the U.S. to lead the world
in levels of capital efficiency, with more economic growth per dollar
of savings than any other country. Each financial business did not have
to repeat all the work of all the rest, and each became more efficient
at a particular task.
Bookey believes that networks can have a similar effect on that other
great information-processing industry: education. Why should every school
have an all-purpose library and a French teacher and a calculus scholar
and a health center and an administrative office? Why should every school
have an entire complement of buildings?
With all the schools on networks, individual schools could specialize
in particular subjects, functions and resources, as financial companies
do. Education would not have to happen exclusively, or even mostly, in
schools. The explosive spread of networks is now the prime mover of the
U.S. economy, allowing all industries to break down into patterns of specialization
unbound by place and time. And now the government wants to get into the