Bill Gates Momma: Networks > Meritocracy?

Posted on August 7, 2009 by


The success of the personal computing revolution involved a decision made partially on the basis of a personal connection.

…Gates did everything to convince IBM that Microsoft would be the right choice, but the ultimate selection of Microsoft came down at least in part to a personal connection: IBM chairman John Opel had served on the board of the United Way with Gates’s mother and thought it would be nice to do business with Mary Gates’s boy’s company. The operating system that Microsoft developed, MS-DOS, became the industry standard — not so much on its own merits as because it was part of the IBM PC package — and Gates was on his way to becoming a multibillionaire. (20) Robert Pool, Beyond Engineering: How Society Shapes Technology, 1997

Bill Gates mom had to be influential and accessible to many different networks in the first place to even be on the board of a National Federation like the United Way. Bill Gates wasn’t some random really nerdy motherfucker who happened to outsmart everyone, seems like he had plenty of help, starting with his own momma, who socially-speaking, didn’t seem to be a slouch herself.

However, the “plenty of help” in the form of unspoken privileges and connections when talked about seem like small irrelevant details. It’s as if it were natural to have a mother on the board of a nonprofit organization, natural to have a private school education, natural to have a successful lawyer dad.

Those details aren’t necessarily the most important things about him, but it’d be nice to if the public were sensitized to how much of an advantage any of these things played in his cognitive and later decisionmaking abilities that have helped him become one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs today.

The subsequent success of his company becoming the computer industry standard is the story of how Microsoft monopolized the avenues and networks.

The result of Microsoft’s monopolies today reminds me of how we ended up using the standard QWERTY keyboard in English today. We use QWERTY not because it’s the most efficient system. That honor seems to be given to the href=””>Dvorak Simplified Keyboard.

We use QWERTY mainly because to us consumers, it’s the most convenient, not necessarily the best. Kind of how we Americans and people overseas learn English; not because of its ingenuity, ease, efficiency of communication, just cause we have to if were going to get anywhere.

They started with QWERTY because It was more convenient to use to avoid typewriter jams. Later, if nascent computer companies were planning on selling computers, the QWERTY layout was already the standard for most typists. If companies want to continue selling laptops and other interfaces, QWERTY has a continuing convenience to most employers and job-seekers. It’s been relied upon so long that it’s almost inconceivable to see how any other alternatives could suffice. There’s already a built-in network infrastructure of businesses, schools, and individuals that works just fine with the QWERTY system.

Just as there was already a built-in network infrastructure of businesses, schools, and individuals that works just fine with Microsoft products. But with the invention of all kinds of different gadgets from iPhones to netbooks, that infrastructure seems to be eroding quite rapidly.

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