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Being Digital N. Negroponte (Vintage Books, 1996)

The Social Life of Information J. S. Brown, P. Duguid (HBSP, 2000)

Management: Tasks Responsibilities Practices P. D. Drucker (Harperbusiness, 1993)

A Year to Live. How to Live This Year As If It Were Your Last S. Levine. (Three Rivers Press, 1998)

Unwinding the Clock: 10 Thoughts on Our Relationship to Time B. Jonsson (Harcourt Brace, 2001)

“You say yes, I say no.
I say yes, but I may mean no. You say stop, I say go, go, go. I can stay 'til it's time to go. Oh, oh no.”
—Hello Goodbye, The Beatles

“Time keeps on slipping,
slipping, slipping
Into the future.”
—Fly Like An Eagle
The Steve Miller Band

“Well, I told you once and I told you twi-ice. But you never listen to my advi-ice
You don't try very hard to please me. With what you know, it should be easy”

”Well, this could be the last time, this could be the last time. Maybe the last time, I don't know
Oh no
Oh no”
— The Last Time, The Rolling Stones

Photo by Henri D. Grissino-Mayer

"There are three types of people in the world, those who can count and those who can't." -Anonymous

Computers are bipolar. A bit is on or off. 1 or 0. Unless you're a digital processor, this binary thinking can trick you into oversimplifying what's going on.

The human world is not yes or no; it's a sea of maybes. Most decisions aren't black or white; they're shades of gray. Are you liberal or conservative? Perhaps like me, you're a little of each.

Treating the world as an open-or-shut case leads to thought crimes like "The Internet changes everything." In my work, I struggle with the knuckle-headed assumption that learning must be either instructor-led or computer-delivered rather than a blend of the two. Few things in life are really all or nothing.

"Computer scientists have a tendency to count '1, 2, 3, one million…'as if scale were insignificant once the first steps were taken." - John Seeley Brown, Paul Duguid. The Social Life of Information

Real life is analog. Situations are continuums, not just the extremes. There's a whole world between the poles.

You may be asking yourself, "Why bother?" After all, it's easier to use the shorthand of yes/no than to give a situation a probability rating, simpler to paint something black than Pantone 7C gray.

The rub is that everything's relative. Each of us sees things differently. My internal movie is not the same as yours. You've got your scale, I've got mine, and other people see things differently from either of us.

each of us is at the center of the universe. so is everyone else. -e. e. cummings

People who stick to yes or no (and never maybe) are extremists. By definition, extremists have few alternatives. If you say yes and I say no, one of us has to capitulate or we'll never agree. This is a zero-sum game. I win/you lose. Or perhaps you win/I lose. Life's too short for losing all the time.

This is an essay about time. Didn't I mention that? Timing is everything. Time is all we have.

All too many of us are extremists when it comes to time. Chronologically, we are single-minded. We are so busy chopping trees that we don't take time to sharpen our axe. Some of us can't see the forest for the trees; others can't see the trees for the forest. The nearsighted live like there's no tomorrow. The farsighted seem far out.

Peter Drucker once said that to be successful in business, one must have her nose to the grindstone and eyes to the hills. Certainly, balancing the short-term with the long is healthier than fixating on either.

Of course, now vs. then is another binary oversimplification. Here's a metaphor to help you when you're looking at the world, or when you're trying to imagine how some other human being is looking at the world.


Think of the time period you’re focused on as a slide switch that you control.

If you find yourself jumping around in the immediate present, perhaps acting recklessly, overlooking things that you know really matter, slide your consciousness into the future for reflection.

Does what you’re doing right now make any difference in the larger scheme of things?

Is this what you want on your tombstone?


On the other hand, if you’re so wrapped up in the future that you’re paralyzed for the present, slide your concentration into the immediate moment.

Are you doing the things to get to that future you were contemplating?

Are you living the life you choose or going through the motions?

One more thing. Don’t forget to spend some time in the middle.

Jay Cross founded Internet Time Group to help organizations get the most out of elearning and collaboration. Internet Time’s “Little 5” have the same credentials as the “Big 5” without the boilerplate, overhead, and recent college grads. The team specializes in rescue missions to wring results from elearning basket cases. Write him at

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