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I don't compute, I think.

The replies are coming in to my "Millennium Masterclass" questionnaire (CE: January/February 1994). I borrowed the answer I most admire to date for this column's headline. It responds to the unintentionally explosive question: If you are not a computer user, please explain why. Wow! That particular answer made me feel like I had asked someone for the time and been accused of misunderstanding relativity in response. You also have to salute our contributor's wicked Descartian satire: Non computo, ergo cogito. Mr. X then continues: The activities for which I would most like to use a computer are: To add or subtract very quickly.

Mr. X has a point. After all, what has a computer ever done for him? He's successful; he's at the peak of his profession, running a billion dollar company; he employs analysts to crank the spreadsheets. Why would he want to do that himself? Would it add (very quickly) to his weltanschauung? I don't think so. It might even subtract. Not content with that double whammy, Mr. X delivers the coup de grace: Other comments: Computing is a science and should be left to professionals.

So we'll leave arches to the architects, accounting to the accountants, law to the lawyers, and computing to computer scientists. It's game, set, and match to Mr. X from Proctor, VT. Off to cull some crumbs elsewhere in an inane attempt to salvage my concertinad convictions.

Mr. Y from Concordville, PA, writes with some feeling: Via electronic mail I have: Wasted time when a fax or phone call would have been quicker. And, by using CD-ROM-based industry data I have: Fooled around with technology for no good purpose.

So who's for the reconstruction ward now? My wife says she finds these results depressing, which sounds to me like one of her typically ambiguous diagnoses. Is she depressed by CEOs' failure to use today's technology, or by the failure of today's technologies to be of any use to CEOs? "Both," she replies, with resoundingly Roiphian rhetoric.

Back to the questionnaires, and ignore that strange noise you hear: It is simply the scraping sound from the bottom of a barrel. Ah, bless you, Mr. Z from Chicago, who writes: Via electronic mail I have: Answered my mail at the time that best suits me and communicated effectively independent of distance. And, my view of the impact of IT on my personal activity is: An area in which I should lead others by example.

But not, I hope, via the singular example of this article's title. Mr. Z also says: The activities for which I would most like to use a computer are: Online business development.

Mr. Z is not only a kind, supportive, and sensible sort of chap, he is undoubtedly clairvoyant. After all, he wrote that insightful line before my January/February column hit the streets. Entitled "The Last Frontier," it discussed online business development. Onward and upward. Mr. H from Dickinson, ND, says: Through executive information, I have experienced: A deeper insight into the past results of our subsidiaries.

(You're a sensible man, Mr. H.)

A clearer view of their likely future performance.

(I really mean you're a saint.)

A realistic understanding of their competence at forecasting.

(Have a free lifetime subscription, Mr. H. America needs visionaries like you.)

A waste of time and a significant dampening of my expectations.

(OK, so you're a compulsive box-checker. Ah, well, back to the abacus...)

But the light at the end of the tunnel is not always that of an oncoming train, even though those Eurotunnel bankers will have their little pipedreams. Salvation is found in the unlikely haven of North Plainfield, NJ, where Mr. K says confidently: Via electronic mail I have: Broken through company levels to tap the best ideas.

What price adding and subtracting now, Mr. X? You don't compute, you think? But maybe just a fraction solipsistically? Well, revenge is sweet; the best is yet to come.

Other comments: Creative possibilities are enormous.

Hah! Take that, Mr. X! You say computers exist for adding and subtracting very quickly, while Mr. H says the creative possibilities are enormous. Even an obsessively anal-retentive accountant wouldn't equate those two descriptions with the same artifact.

Love's labor is not all lost. Sooner or later, it is from women's eyes this doctrine we derive. My evidence consists of a penetrating prescription from Ms. R of Chicago, who says: Do you have a PC or terminal installed in your office? Yes.

When did you last use it? Last month.

Do you use a PC at home or in transit? No.

If you are not a computer user, please explain why: Can't turn it on.

My view of the impact of IT on my personal activity is: Beyond comprehension.

I have two questions here. What does Ms. R use the computer in her office for? My guess is as a paperweight, although computers are getting lighter all the time, and this may be an unsettling experience for her. My wife is still ambiguous in her interpretation of Ms. R's last answer. Is the computer beyond Ms. R's comprehension or just her view of it beyond ours?

Undoubtedly, some kind of pattern is emerging from all these answers. I'm just not sure what it is. Keep those questionnaires coming. I can't wait to read the rest of them.

Robert Bittlestone is founder and chief executive of Metapraxis, a London and New York-based consulting group specializing in performance measurement and strategic control.
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Title Annotation:The Soft Machine; use of computers by CEOs
Author:Bittlestone, Robert
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Date:May 1, 1994
Words:913
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