Peeling back the layers

Satya Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (Source: IDG)

Satya Nadella's reductionist view of the world does it a disservice

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Billy

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23 May 2018 | 0

Billy MacInnesAnyone remember The Onion Song? It was a catchy soul tune sung by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell  that reached number nine in the UK in December 1969. Tragically, Terrell died just a few months later from brain cancer, a month before her 25th birthday.

As to the song itself, the chorus goes as follows:

The world is just a great big onion
And pain and fear are the spices that make you cry
Oh, baby, and the only way to get rid of this great big onion
Is to plant love seeds until it dies, uh-huh.

Not exactly Bob Dylan but it has its charms. Anyway, I’m reminded of the song because of some recent remarks by Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, where he dismissed Gaye and Terrell’s argument and posited a completely different theory, namely that the world is, in fact, a great big computer. I’m sure this has nothing to do with the fact that he’s the head of one of the biggest companies in the computing industry just as I’m sure that if he was the head of the world’s biggest onion company, he wouldn’t tell us the world is a great big onion.

Needless to say, he didn’t put it quite as lyrically as Gaye and Terrell. According to the report in ZDNet, Nadella said: “Digital technology, pervasively, is getting embedded in every place: every thing, every person, every walk of life is being fundamentally shaped by digital technology, it is happening in our homes, our work, our places of entertainment. It’s amazing to think of a world as a computer. I think that’s the right metaphor for us as we go forward.”

He went on to state: “The idea that you can now use all of the computing power that is around you, this notion of the world as a computer, completely changes how you conduct a meeting and fundamentally what presence means for a meeting.”

Whatever your thoughts on the merits of The Onion Song, I challenge anyone to successfully set Nadella’s words to a 60s soul tune.

The world is a great big computer
Digital technology, pervasively,
Is getting embedded in every place
Every thing, every person
Every walk of life
Is being fundamentally shaped by digital technology.

Anyway the one thing that Nadella and Gaye/Terrell have in common is that they’re both wrong. The world isn’t a big onion and it isn’t a computer. And just to make sure I cover all the possible permutations, it’s not a great big computerised onion either. You can use any metaphors you like, but they’re all insufficient to the task. The world is more than a computer. And it always will be.

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