Tech Dreams By Mike Boland Forbes 2001

The Jung and the Sleepless: Techno-geeks talk about their dreams

We’ve always known those working in tech to be a bit different. Now it’s evident that even their dreams have taken on new forms- crashed servers, homicidal venture capitalists and man-eating cell phones to name a few.

Some even dream in graphic user interfaces complete with windows and pull-down menus. Just think: When they have that classic dream where they’re naked in front of a classroom, they can just reach up to the command toolbar floating above their head and hit Format>Body> Pants. Problem solved. Isn’t technology great?

Though different and sometimes admittedly bizarre, these tech dreams represent the same archetypal emotions that we have had for centuries according to our resident dream expert, Kelly Bulkeley, a Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University and author of Transforming Dreams, who has graciously agreed to provide a little commentary.

Nightmares

Rob Kelly, CEO of Mojam, an online provider of live music event listings and ticket sales:

“Back in the beginning stages of the Internet shakeout, I had a venture capitalist who I really thought was going to physically harm me. He was out of control. He had a lot going on. His net worth had just gone down about 50%, and I was just one small piece but he took it out on me. So I actually had this nightmare, which was right out of an episode of the Mafia show The Sopranos. ‘Pussy’ is the name of one of the characters and I took his place in the dream. The mob members, including my VC, who took the part of Tony Soprano, took me out on a fishing trip. At one point everyone in the boat, led by my VC, confronted me, shot me, and I ended up at the bottom of the East River with cement shoes.”

Daniel Duerr, founder and president of Grey Zone, which provides web-site management tools and software platforms for network integration:

“When I was a kid, I had these consistent patterns of not only dreaming but talking in my sleep. I got woken up so many times by my mom telling me to shut up because I was yelling out ‘syntax error!’ or ‘byte zero non existent!’ I’d be yelling code out like I was speaking in tongues or something.

“Nowadays I don’t get to do any programming because I am busy running the company so my dreams are more about adult responsibility. One involves my inability to get rid of my cell phone. Sometimes it chases me and it won’t stop ringing and I can’t get away from it. In real life I have actually tossed 2 cell phones. I hate cell phones. I threw one off of a sailboat and I smashed one on the floor.”

Mike Mussog, CEO of Handyman Online, an online contractor referral service:

“In my dream, I’m alone in our offices. The team of IT technicians we’ve hired to implement our new multimillion dollar system has just left. Suddenly, there’s a rush of incoming calls and email requests. I can hear our customers over the PA system saying, ‘Hello*? Hello*?’ while an automated voice puts them on hold. Emails are pouring in all over the office. I keep trying to pick up phone lines and access computers, but to no avail the system won’t let me in.

“I try to log onto our Web site and nothing appears but a blue screen. Meanwhile, the phone system begins patching customers directly through to our competitors and their conversations can be heard throughout the office. I’m utterly helpless and no one is around to lend a hand.

“Next thing I know, our investors are coming through the front door for a board meeting. It’s as if they can’t hear or see any of the chaos happening in the office. They keep asking me how the latest numbers are looking and about forecasts for future growth. I try to tell them to call our IT team and that we are in the middle of an emergency, but no sound comes from my mouth. We carry on an entire meeting with pandemonium happening all around us. Finally, I’m able to lean over and ask one of our major investors if he’s ever seen technology problems like this before. He just smiles, tells me not to worry and that it will all work itself out.

“Suddenly, the office goes silent except for the hum of computers shutting down. The investor turns to me and says, ‘Didn’t I tell you it would all work out?’ As they pack up to leave, I keep demanding, ‘But where did our customers go? Where are our customers?’ But they don’t answer, and I wake up feeling as if I never slept in the first place.”

Greg Baszucki, president and cofounder of InvoiceDealers.com, which provides instant price-quote comparisons for car buyers:

“I have been having a reoccurring dream that reflects a scene from Glenngary Glenn Ross, a movie about real estate managers who put the squeeze on their sales team amidst a struggling economy. The scene of Alec Baldwin threatening a salesman happens in each dream, except I am the one being threatened.

“‘The leads are weak? The fucking leads are weak? You’re weak!’ Baldwin screams at me.”

“Our company is a car buying Web site that generates revenue by selling sales leads to car dealers. This particular dream haunted me during a critical time in which we needed to turn a profit or we would not survive. Now that we are profitable, the dream happens less frequently.”

Michael Becce, president of Red Bank New Jersey-based MRB Public Relations:

“A client of mine took me to see a fiber-optics draw tower and watch it in action. A draw tower is a tremendous piece of equipment that is used to make fiber-optic cables. Melted glass is delicately poured (or drawn) so that it forms a tiny strand of glass as it hardens on the way down. Ever since witnessing the machine at work, I’ve been having dreams that are not alike in any way, except for the same odd occurrence. During my dreams I end up eating something and whatever I eat seems to have fiber-optics strands inside. I tend to wake up as I chew broken fragments of glass between my teeth.”

The Analysis, Kelly Bulkeley: “Capitalism involves a great deal of what’s called adaptive fear. Dreams like this scare the dreamer into maintaining a vigilant anxiety, looking around for threats or competitors or improving a certain type of behavior while awake. Thousands of years ago, on the African Savannah, people dreamt of the possibility that a lion could eat them at any moment; today in Silicon Valley, people dream of the threat of a bigger company destroying their business at any moment. Different settings, but same gut-level fears. These dreams also show us how technology may appeal to our rational minds but may terrify us on a visceral level. Michael Becce’s dream is a good example of this. Dreams of having noxious substances in the mouth are a classic way of expressing a fear that something is unhealthy, poisonous, or threatening”

Sweet Dreams

Mika Salmi, founder and CEO of Atomfilms, an online entertainment company:

“Quite a few years back I had a dream where I could see a much broader part of the light spectrum. Basically I could see everything from infrared to radio waves to microwaves. Depending on the frequency, they had different colors and characteristics. Obviously, the air was very full and incredibly active. It wasn’t a frightening dream-I found it fascinating and just observed all the interactions.”

Timothy Ferris, science and technology writer.

“Recently I had this dream that I was on a space shuttle. We were climbing up through these clouds and it was sunrise. It was just astonishingly beautiful. There were these beautiful lavender cloud banks going on for hundreds of miles. And then I became aware that something was wrong, that an awful lot of time was going by without our passing through these clouds and reaching the dark skies of space. And indeed it was confirmed that although the engines were still firing they were not providing enough thrust. We weren’t going to make it, and we had in fact passed the point of any safe landing. We were going to die. The strange thing was I felt that it was worth it anyway¯that what we were seeing was so beautiful that somehow I didn’t mind that we were going to die.

“In 1986 I was in the Journalist in Space, which aimed to put a journalist on the next shuttle mission. I made the first cut and was selected as a semifinalist. However, before they made the next cut, the project crossed President Reagan’s desk. Reagan who never had much fondness for journalists, decided he wanted a teacher to accompany the mission instead. The next space shuttle launch included a teacher. It was the Challenger space shuttle, which exploded seconds after launch.”

Don Tapscott, chairman of Digital 4Sight, a new economy think tank and strategy consulting company, and author of seven business books:

“After a long and lively dinner party around 1995, I had a dream about creating the ultimate killer application-life after death. In the dream it was called ‘perpetual presence’ – an electronic communicating gravestone. You sign up with PP Inc. at birth and then digital videos of you are shot throughout your life creating a real-time animation database. After your death interested people can still communicate with you from the screen or hologram at your grave or on the Net from any other device. You can be plugged into various news wires and other sources so that your presence is kept fresh. If you had a really interesting life, people could pay to access you – a source of revenue eliminating the need for life insurance to support your family. The virtual you could live forever. I woke up thinking that I should watch what I eat and drink at dinner parties.”

The Analysis, Kelly Bulkeley: “These dreams express a spiritual awe and wonder of technology’s potential. The amazing light in Mike Salmi’s dream is exactly the same as the brilliant illumination described in the revelatory dreams of mystics and visionaries throughout history. Tim Ferris’s dream is a remarkable comment on the yearning we have to experience the transcendent, a yearning that technology can help to fulfill even if it costs us our lives. The willingness to sacrifice one’s life for a momentary vision of transcendent beauty is another theme found in the world’s mystical traditions.”

Sleeping on the Job

Steve Wozniak, cofounder of Apple computer:

“Dreaming was my modus operandi from about the middle of high school on. I’d sometimes wake up with solutions to math and electronic design problems in my head. I must have been dreaming about them, or at least solving them in my sleep. One or two times I’d wake up and couldn’t remember my ‘dream’ solution. That was disconcerting, so from then on I’d write a couple of quick notes when I woke up with an idea. I’d go back to sleep and then work on the solutions in the morning. I didn’t do this once in a while. I did it all the time.”

Michael Barnsley, Mathematics professor, Georgia Institute of Technology and cofounder of Iterated Systems, which develops digital imaging software for online media:

“I had founded a company in 1987 and was professoring away at Georgia Tech. I was working on a big problem, which was how to make fractal formulas for real pictures. A file that represents a picture takes up a huge amount of space and a fractal formula could be the key to the digital image compression necessary for efficient and large-scale digital image storage.

“At this time I had a dream that was a variation of a dream I had been having since I was introduced to mathematics as a young child. In this dream there is a vision of an old-fashion switchboard with these messy masses of wires and pegboards. On this particular night the whole mess of wires and little squares where the wires went to and came from, became tidy and organized. It all related to knowing how to solve my fractal problem. I woke up in a feverish state of excitement and began writing out the formulas and algorithms.

“I called my partner Allen Sloan and described the answer. He wrote his resignation letter to Georgia Tech that day and I left shortly afterwards and Iterated Systems was born. The image compression technology became the gold standard for digital image storage for software products in the early ’90s and we sold it to Microsoft for their 1992 release of Encarta.

Pradeep Khurana, founder and chairman of Surebridge, an application service provider (ASP):

“We’re an ASP whose customers pay a flat fee for us to create and manage their applications. About a year ago I was really struggling with the question of what’s the best way to improve our service and measure our performance. I was kind of pondering this in the back of my mind for about a week and it was kind of a tricky problem.

“One night I went to sleep and I remember dreaming about it. When I woke up the next morning, I had a fuzzy memory of getting up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water. When I came to work the next day and opened my notebook, the answer to the problem was written inside. At home, my notebook had been sitting on the kitchen counter with my briefcase. The night before, I must have scribbled the answer while sleepwalking. The answer was perfect. In fact, it was put in place immediately and our efficiency has since gone up about 200% and customer satisfaction has also gone up about 15%.”

The Analysis, Kelly Bulkeley: “These dreams are the visual representation of the mind continuing to work after we fall asleep. The classic example is the discovery of the Benzene molecule by Freidrich August Kekule von Stradonitz who dreamt of a snake biting its own tail, which, in essence was the same circular structure of the molecule. The basic explanation is that dreaming allows for a more flexible and wide ranging mode of thinking than is ordinarily possible in waking consciousness.”

Visions

Henry Fiallo, president of Enterasys Networks, which provides global corporations with communications equipment and solutions:

“I have a recurring dream where I wake up and the ‘picture frame’ across the room, which had been displaying a tranquil seashore with waves washing on the beach and a full moon in the sky, suddenly switches its image to give me the news, weather, and an agenda for the day, plus information I had asked for the night before. The same ‘picture’ appears throughout the house, in my car, and in the office. It’s my own virtual assistant.”

John Harcharek, creative director of Graftica Interactive, a Chester New Jersey-based ad agency:

“My dreams resemble a Mac interface where you can go from one place to the next via pop up windows on the computer screen. In the dreams I can reach up to touch the window shade bar above my head and a window will either pop down if I’m hopping into a new place or it will disappear if I’m jumping out of one. For example, when bad guys are chasing me, I can just touch above my head and suddenly there is a new place to enter.”

“Other times I will dream in those scrolling ticker messages that appear on some Web sites. These scrolling messages usually are gibberish but sometimes I’ll come up with products¯the dumbest products in the world. For example I had a dream for a dog food product¯we don’t even have a dog food client. The headline kept going across this electronic scrolling message, ” Dog food with flower seeds*Dog food with flower seeds.” And the only thing I can figure is it’s some kind of thing where the dog eats the food and then when he passes it, he plants little flowers.”

“But these kind of dreams get aggravating because I want to have dreams that relate to real clients and real ideas not nonsense ones. Even more, I want to have dreams that don’t relate to work at all. It’s the kind of thing where you wake up and say, ‘Wait, this is my time!'”

The Analysis, Kelly Bulkley: “These dreams, particularly John Harcharek’s, show how deeply technology can affect us, literally reformatting the inner workings of our unconscious. They are one piece of evidence that computer technology is truly shaping the human mind-brain system, reorganizing our deepest sense of self.”

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