It was 1984 and I was selected to become a member of the Norbert Weiner Forum at Tufts University to study the “Impact of Technology on Society.” This was quite an honor for a blue collar kid from Auburndale, a small village in Newton, Massachusetts. The Forum was a collaboration between Tokyo University and Tufts University. Heading up the forum was Daniel C. Dennett, Professor of Philosophy at Tufts.
Our first meeting took place at the International Center at Tufts University and it was a dinner meeting, complete with student wait staff, filet mignon and delicious accompaniments, slide presentations, and attendees from the “who’s who” of technology companies back in the day. They included the president of Lotus Computer, Wang Laboratories, many other top technology companies and me, creator of the “Crabapple Anti-Computer Club, a parody organization to poke fun at the early foibles of computer advertising , and president of The Venmark Corporation, a distinctive product publicity company who has worked with many small, high-tech firms.
There were about 150 attendees that night and I was very proud to be part of a group which included so many distinguished members. Although I don’t recall the specifics, I do remember that the presentation that evening was fascinating and I was looking forward to participating in future meetings. It was exciting to be part of a forum which would ultimately contribute to our greater understanding of the impact of technology on society.
A few months later, the next meeting wasn’t at the main dining room at the International Center at Tufts. Rather, it was at a smaller room a few floors down. There were about 30 attendees this time, cheese and crackers and fruit and wine instead of a multi-course dinner and there was no wait staff. We filled our own plates and we talked about the impact of technology on society. Somewhat of a let-down from the previous experience, but a nice evening nevertheless; assisted by several glasses of red wine.
The final meeting, for me, was a real shocker. I was at my office in Wellesley working feverishly to earn a living, struggling with the day-to-day responsibilities of running a small business that was less than seven years old at the time, and making ends meet when I looked up at the clock and realized that I had to leave for the Tufts campus in Medford. The drive was a nuisance at rush hour. But, I thought the Forum was a valid reason to hassle with the traffic.
This time the meeting was a Professor Dennett’s office. Quite a distance from the International Center; literally and figuratively. It was six-thirty in the evening and, having battled route 128, route 2, and route 16, I was anxious for a meeting that would justify my time and the hassle to get there. Much to my dismay, there were only 12 attendees and the food this time was a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts and coffee! What a comedown from that first meeting only nine months earlier.
When I asked Professor Dan Dennett what happened, he said, “We used up our budget.” I was a little angry to say the least. I sat there for a moment, at a desk, not a dinner table and asked Dan what “the Forum” would accomplish? And he said, “We’re talking about the impact of technology on society.” I said, “I understand that we’re talking about the impact of technology on society, but what are we accomplishing? To which he replied, “We’re talking about the impact of technology on society.” So, I repeated my question for a third time and Professor Dennett really seemed quite angry at my lack of understanding and appreciation that “talking about something” was a valid accomplishment!
I explained to Professor Dennett that there was a big difference between “talking about something and accomplishing something.” As an example, I pointed out that I can’t simply go my office landlord and talk to him about paying rent… I have to actually hand over the money! And if I don’t, I could get evicted.
Unfortunately this story is still relevant today. Many people talk too much and accomplish too little; especially our elected officials. And, as those of us who work long, hard hours and pay taxes know all too well: Talk isn’t cheap….
© Copyright 2009- Steven M. Stroum
Steven M. Stroum is the founder and president of Venmark International, an industrial and technical product publicity firm located in Wellesley, Massachusetts. He was appointed one of 18 Small Business Advisors to the Governor of Massachusetts, toured South Korea as an Ambassador for the International Rotary Foundation, was a member of the Norbert Weiner Forum at Tufts University to study the impact of technology on society, and was listed in “Who’s Who in the East.” www.venmarkinternational.com