Collaboration, Wi-Fi and Sept. 11
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a reception for all the parties involved in the Silicon Valley Wireless Mesh Network: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/06/technology/06wireless.html?_r=1&oref=slogin, the winning bidders (including Cisco), the Silicon Valley Partnership, city managers and IT folks, public policy experts and a coterie of other interested parties. While much has been written about this network and mesh networking in general, I will pause on replaying this for the moment as there was another element to the day worth reflecting upon.September 11 was a moment in our country’s history that left a deep emotional and physical gash in the landscape. Yesterday morning, I had a chance to speak with my uncle, Bradley, a retired telecommunications field service engineer who actually managed to get out of the 18th floor of WTC 9 minutes before the building collapsed (he was, on that fateful clear morning, no joking, installing Cisco routers at the Federal Reserve). We talked about his memory of the day and then our conversation then drifted to a discussion of what I was working on, and that led to our discussion of the Silicon Valley Wireless Network.We talked in the easy way we have about what occured in Palo Alto on 9/11/06, almost 5 years to the hour when the towers fell down: how a group of men and women from differnet walks of life, from different parts of the economy, representing different groups could come together to launch a project that could serve so many. What I remember most about 9/11 was how our nation came together in that time of crisis, to support each other and focus on the greater good of the nation, of the wounded, the survivors, and the comfort of the grieving families and friends of those who had lost loved ones. 9/11 is poignant and always current to me. I grew up in New York and watched the World Trade Center towers go up: it was the engineering feat of my childhood. My college roomate’s father was the architect for the Port Authority who designed the restaurant that became the Windows on the World.I hope our project in Silicon Valley becomes a digital Windows on the World: a bright shining, engineering feat. But more: a model for the entire world on what we an accomplish working together. For Silicon Valley is a lot like New York: we are a community that is blessed with a remarkable model of integrating people, ideas and ambition. The sheer number of immigrants to this tech mecca (myself included) are fortunate to become instant residents. Just as the Internet flattens the barriers of time and space for all kind of communications and information, so I hope the Silicon Valley Mesh Network flattens all kinds of cultural, economic and technical barriers that can benefit from being connected to the Internet anytime, anywhere.The Silicon Valley Mesh Network, when completed, will be a great symbol of an entire community that came together to do something. How American. Or, to paraphrase the American writer, Thomas Wolfe (I am partial to Look Homeward, Angel), perhaps our large, beautiful, pervasive network can become “How New York.” As Wolfe wrote: “One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” He could have been writing about any day in Palo Alto.