Assemblany: Towards Democratic Corporations

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tales of Silicon Castles #1: Going Green

Tom worked for a large software company. He'd worked there for five years, the first job he'd had after he'd graduated. He'd kept his head down, worked hard, never spoke up, passed unnoticed by most of his colleagues.

One day he noticed a small green sprout growing from the carpet near his PC.

He stared at it for a while, then acted as if it wasn't there. But when no-one was watching, he watered it and gently stroked its tiny leaves. When he touched it, he thought he heard a faint parrot squawk and smelt the raw, damp, green smell of a rainforest after the rain.

His cubicle was out of the way and no-one usually came to visit. It was two weeks before anyone else noticed his plant, and by that time it was a foot tall and had pale blue flowers.

"What is it, Tom?" they asked. "How did it get here? What have you done?" He shrugged and said nothing.

The next day it was gone - there was just bare ground where it had been. An email informed all employees that there was a new policy on plants in the office.

Tom resigned that afternoon, and moved to a small farmhouse in the country.

At first he tried setting up his laptop on a card table on the back lawn, under a tree, with a chain of extension cords leading inside. But the wind, sun and insects got a little too distracting.

He talked to a local builder, but straw bales or pressed earth weren't quite right, and then to the local scout master. He ended up with a lean-to made of branches, with a leafy roof and grass for a floor. Most days he worked barefoot, shaded by the roof and cooled by a breeze, bird feeder set out nearby.

Work now was bits of this and that - small contracts, open-source, web design. His old company sent him an email asking whether he'd like to come back on contract for a couple of months; his reply was polite but definite - no thanks. He attached a JPEG of his floor, saying "My feet are on the ground now."

He took to eating apples from the trees in the overgrown orchard, drinking rainwater, talking to the birds that came to eat at the feeder.

One morning he went to the lean-to to find that the extension cord had become a root leading down into the soil and his laptop was flowering. He laughed, shrugged and started typing.