Bill Gates gave me me a new gadget envy tonight. The Reality Acquisition Device. And I wasn't alone in hungering for such a game changing tool. At the "D" conference in Carlsbad California, a few hundred of the new elite gather annually at this Wall Street Journal event hosted by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg.
No one is more comfortable challenging this Master of the Universe than Walt and Kara. Walt is the ultimate consumer's best friend when it comes to technology and Kara has business strategy insight few possess in the journalist world. Their questions were tough, insightful and brought out the best in Gates. He displayed unbelievable depth on a huge variety of business and technology issues. he didn't just declare "broadcast has been hacked"! He went on to describe in detail the economic models that existing broadcast networks depend upon and why the demand for personalization of video was going to change the antiquated system of FCC regulation and spectrum acquisition and exploitation forever. Gates dispayed a charming enthusiam for his work that few do after as many years as he has put in. Everything is "phenomenal" and really "neat".
But it was the Reality Acquisition Device that really got my attention. As Gates describes it, we'll hold a portable device much like our Blackberries, Treos and the new Motorola Q that Gates was holding, and place it in front of us as we move through life. Our surroundings will be illuminated by more information - more reality. Have we been here before? where did we go? are there buildings or businesses that our social network of friends have told us about? what are the local issues related to those we have already expressed concerned about that the device remembers? As he is talking I am thinking about what a magnificent political organizing tool this is connecting old fashioned grassroots organizing principles with tools for feedback and action. Then he says something about how it will tell us about the restaurants in the area based on the food it knows we like to eat.
At dinner, sitting with Arianna Huffington - fearless Huff Po leader, John Cusack - actor, the Director Barry Sonnenfeld and two bright D goers Beth and Mena Trott we started talking politics. And neither Arianna nor I brought up the subject to start. But in a most non-political setting, the passion was hot. Have the American people had enough inauthenticity to give up the John Wayne fantasy for a President? Can the democratic leadership rise to the occasion and give us something more to dream about then the fact that they are not republicans? Will Al Gore embody Atticus Finch and rise to a new level of leadership humbled by personal circumstance and driven by a fierce sense of responsibility and personal morality about the direction of the country (lots of hope he would at our table). Gates comes over to the table to say hello. Cusack is not only an insightful political observer...he's a charm magnet. Gates elaborates on the Reality Acquisition Experience and the possibilities are inspiring to me.
Gates and his wizards might not realize the most potentially far reaching impact of their work. We need Reality Aqcuisition Devices to preserve our daily experiences. So that the next time Americans go into the voting booths they will look at their handheld before they vote and remember the thousands of dead and wounded in Iraq and still no strategy for victory or exit; the size of the check they wrote for their last health insurance payment and their fear if they didn't have any at all; the price of filling up their last tank of gas without an energy policy; a President who panders to religious conservatives by telling the rest of us what our family values should be, and on and on and on...until the choice of the lever we pull in that booth becomes no real choice at all. It will just be our Reality talking. That would be neat.