Sunday, February 25, 2007

Unintended consequences:

This is a pleasant story about unintended consquences. (Unlike, say, stories about well-intended laws gone wrong.) When the Baby Bells split away from the old AT&T, they set up their own labs similar to AT&T's Bell labs. It was called Bellcore. The Bellcore building near Morristown NJ housed about four hundred employees, and while preparing the building, Bellcore installed a massive TV switch. There was a TV camera in every office, and any employee could tune into the camera of any other employee who was willing to make his or her camera public. Bellcore regarded this as an experiment, and could hardly wait to see how the switch would be used. But they were thinking about distributed meetings of various kinds. Here are two of the uses that became very popular:

(1) Some of the few employees who had windows pointed their cameras at their windows, allowing everyone with interior offices to watch what was happening outside.

(2) Suppose I needed to talk to you, but you weren't in your office. I wanted to catch you the moment you came back. I would go to your office and point your camera at your office chair. Then, back at my room, I'd keep an eye on your empty office. The moment I saw motion there, I would contact you.
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