In Wednesday’s FT Mike Lynch, the chief exective of Autonomy, tells Joia Shillingford he’sd most love to see “a machine that lets everyone view the same situation or information from a common perspective”. I respected his idolising of his Texas Instruments TI 58 earlier in the piece, but that other mechanical suggestion didn’t appeal in its cute idealism. Why? OK, get in my time machine and come with me back to Memphis, to 1998, when I hooked up with civil rights activist Cobey Smith for the 30th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s death. He explained a key concept to me which I has remained with me since (I suspect nearly as long now as Mr Lynch’s TI..) – the key difference between ‘integration’ and ‘co-existence’.
What in effect Mr Lynch is talking about is the all pervasive notion of consensus based on some kind of integration, whether technological in his idealised example, or cultural as often is the intent when politicians talk about it. But integration is always integration on some else’s terms, based on the powerfully deep assumption that deep down we are ‘all the same’. Co-existence is based on the idea and practice that we are not fundamentally ‘the same’, but ‘equal and different’. This of course sounds a matter of polite semantics to 90% of highly educated people in this world, but in fact its both pretty useful and important. Cause if you approach people in terms of ‘different and equal’ (while acccepting they also superficially behave according to and believe in their ‘sameness’ (all men are the same, as the commonly accepted saying goes) it has implications for how you design systems. Good implications.