These Monkeys and Their… A Story

September 19, 2009

These Monkeys and Their… by Adrian Perez

It was getting to be Autumn. Vela’s organization had just overthrown the government in a movement that started a month ago. Growing disenfranchisement guaranteed it would happen fast. That no one was killed was amazing. It was something like the Orange Revolution, but with even more email, Twitter, and cellphones.

For a while, the internet had been developing along what seemed like trite lines. There were computer applications to shake breasts, and make farts, and less trivial ones like for showing your friends pictures or having conversations. All the while, the internet was having it’s main effect, the organization of data by all participants in a way that was networked together for all participants to enjoy.

Didn’t want to share your data? By hook or by crook it was going to get shared. Slowly, as the antiquarian facade of the last generation’s culture was understood and refurbished, people started to realize it was not about the data you controlled, but what you did with that data. At the beginning this meant counting farts and boob shakes.

Triviality was necessary to train yourself to experiment. Two months ago, Vela was reading Maslow on Management and programming one of those very boob-shaking applications. In the book, Maslow, a psychologist, was describing how the Black Foot Native Americans used functional leadership to elect the best member for the task. This meant that there were no general leaders, but if a need arose, a leader was elected who was best suited to the task.

Vela could tell her company was failing. Her boss had become reclusive and stopped sharing with the rest of the programmers. It was a death-sign that the company was running out of money. Since no one was using her stupid applications, she decided it was time to get back to doing something meaningful. So she started working on the ideas in Maslow’s infuriating/liberating book.

What bothered her about Maslow’s ideas is that they didn’t seem to scale. She agreed with the long-dead scholar that the power-seekers often seemed to be the least skilled at dispensing power wisely. How could you find the best person for a job? Vela went to her search engine and typed in, “The best person to be my boss.” She got a bunch of unsurprising garbage and advice on dealing with bosses.

Then Vela organized the first coupe of her life. She sent an email to each of her fellow employees in the tiny company, and asked them, “Baring the current boss from heading engineering, and assuming you can not elect yourself, who would you ask to be boss?” They actually responded without sarcasm! It was a programmer miracle. They must have all been feeling the morale sinking.

She sent the list of potential bosses to the CEO. Remarkably he did his job and in a week they had a new boss. Vela was shocked, she thought it would not go anywhere. And as a programmer she asked herself a question universal to her profession, “What if I can automate that? How can I make it scale.”

For instance, “Who do you have be the ambassador to India?” You could elect someone who is running for this position, but what if the best person is an academic or businessperson, who does not even think of offering his services for the position. What if the best man is a janitor for an apartment building? Or the best woman, a factory worker? You couldn’t just ask in a general way or everyone would elect a socially near person. And you would have a gargantuan pool of people to consider.

Vela’s company started to rejuvenate, and as they hired more people, she had more free time to work on this problem. She was going over her ideas over and over, running in circles. And then she realized she needed to add some meta. Why not put herself in the system to build the system? She asked herself, “Who do I need to talk to expand this idea?”

The answer came pretty quickly, as the intern walked into the lunch room to get even more tea. She knew what making tea seven times a day meant, he’s bored. He had elected himself by walking in. She started to talk the idea over with him. Before she accidentally got him looping along with her, he asked her why she wanted to do this.

Vela told him, “To make a scalable and benevolent democracy system to govern any set of actions.”

The intern said, “No you’re not. It’s so that you can right the sense of injustice you feel. So that you may have peace.”

And with that enlightening foundation, the application was a breeze to make.

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