¡Bong! One by one the faces in the Google Hangout flickered into life.
“It’s amaaaaazing. So amaaaaazing! It’s like I am teleporting!!”
“Welcome, Professor Cox.”
Another postage stamp frame popped up, and was immediately filled with many chins.
“Terribly awfully sorry, old boy, I am, you might say, rather more au fait with FaceTime, which Steve Jobs himself showed me and Douglas Adams and Richard Dawkins on the original Macintosh, back in …”
I cut the ageing thespian off before he started another unstoppably tedious anecdote.
“Fry, so good you could join us. On time for once. And greetings, Rory. Lady Lane Fox sends her apologies. We shall start in her absence.”
Cox. Fry. Cellan-Jones. I had a assembled the cream of British programming talent, an Olympian mountain range of tech expertise. But this was no social gathering.
“Gentlemen, I have gathered you here in great secrecy for our project is in trouble. It needs an urgent reboot. Reputations - and more importantly, venture capital, is at stake.” I now had their attention.
“A month ago, we launched phase II of BongLearn - the plan to put a Bong Ventures investment in every school and in front of every child in the country. But the execution of this project has not gone as smoothly as we hoped.”
Fry looked baffled. Cellan Jones piped up.
“And we all know why that is, Steve. Did you really have to fill all 27 places on the advisory board with Bong Ventures startups, and members of your family? And as for the CEO…”
“Er, yes. Point taken.” It was time to flip the penitence bit.
“Sometimes the learning curve is slippery indeed, like skiing off piste in the dark, while high on ketamine. Let’s just say: I have learned from this experience and will never appoint a CEO I have only just met half an hour earlier. And never, ever again make executive appointments during oral sex.”
From the corner of my Shoreditch mixed-use work loftspace, my executive assistant มาลัย (which means "Garland of Flowers" in Thai) glowered even more - sending me a look that could explode a durian fruit from 30 yards. She was right, though. If only I had listened to มาลัย and appointed a safe pair of hands, like Mike Butcher.
"You are all loyal believers in the cause of teaching every child HTML,” I continued. "We can live with the negative feedback that we have received from the entire UK programming community…."
“Those swivel-eyed loonies - dirty, grubby, ungrateful sexist bast—“,
“That’s enough Rory. I think we all feel the same way about these troglodytes,” I assured him. “But they’re not the problem. I feel we have not sufficiently captivated the teachers and the parents. They are wondering why their darlings can’t read or write but need to learn these tedious web 'skills' that a Filipino or Nigerian will be able to do better for a hundredth of the wage in five years time anyway.”
"We called it Year of Code. That was a big error. It sounds like you have to learn something - which is a real turn-off - and learn it for a whole year.”
Inside two of the Google Hangout video frames, the heads nodded. In the third, lovable floppy hair flopped, telling me that I had the agreement of Britain’s national treasure, too.
STOP! It's the MINUTE of CODE
“This week, we beta-tested something called Hour of Code. But that’s still too long. I propose we reduce this to just 60 seconds. This will be 'Minute of Code'. The message: you can learn computer programming in just one minute.”
“Brilliant, Steve,” beamed Cellan-Jones. "I’ll tweet this right away.”
Just then a light indicated an urgent, incoming call.
Steve's THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
"The transformation of the educational system in the final analysis affects the question of what sort of successors we shall produce"
- Mao Tse Tung
"Carry Out the Cultural Revolution Thoroughly andTransform the Educational System Completely" (Peking Review, 1966)
“Ambassador Hammersley!” I exclaimed. “Ben, I am afraid you have missed the conference.”
“Steve, we’ve got a problem. Stop what you’re doing - everyone, and LISTEN!” urged the Brookings scholar and author of 'Content Syndication with RSS' (O’Reilly, 2003).
Behind Hammersley I could glimpse the outline of the top-secret MI6 building, instantly recognisable from so many James Bond films starring Dame Judi Dench.
“It’s Putin. It’s the Ukraine. It’s all gone horribly wrong.”
Hammersley began to explain.
For years, he had been helping spearhead the West’s "soft power" initiatives across the globe. This included persuading the former Soviet satellites into abandoning their fossil-fuel based dung-ocracies for the shiny new world of Pinterest and Google+.
Across these blighted regions of the former Soviet Union, a handful of robber barons had destroyed large sections of the economy, accumulating vast personal wealth, while leveraging their cosy relationships with politicians and officials to take shelter under the wing of the state. How different it could be if they followed the Western model, where a handful of robber barons had also destroyed large sections of the economy, accumulating vast personal wealth, leveraging their cosy relationships with politicians and officials to take shelter under the wing of the state. But in the West, the robber barons wore jeans.
The internet had been central to the soft power revolution. But now faced with Mr Putin’s guns, bombs and tanks, it had reached an impasse.
“Soft power is bust,” said Hammersley. “We’re fucked.”
For Bong, however, every crisis is an opportunity.
“I have an idea. มาลัย, bring me a map of the Crimean border. And Hammersley - can your friends over at GDS bring me a map of all the primary schools in the region with a connection faster than 56 kbit/s? We've got a mashup to do. And fast...”
* * *
Twenty minutes later the onscreen map was littered with virtual pins. We had reconvened - but lost Fry, who had begun to alliterate.
“And here… and here… and here. Rory, you and the BBC and NESTA will command the left flank. That leaves you, Cox, along with Lady Fox and Lily Cole, to create a kind of pincer movement. Bong Logistics Services will be anchored in the party Ekranoplan in the Black Sea. We’ll be right behind you. We can launch gameified edutainment experiences with about seven minutes notice."
Cox gasped at the audacity of the plan.
“Steve - that’s amaaaazing. A Minute of Code for every Crimean and Ukranian refugee! It’s completely am-aaaaaaa-zing.”
“Yes, Brian. And that is what I call Agile Diplomacy.” ®
Steve Bong (official title: Lord Bong of #businessmodel) is the founder of Bong Ventures, an early stage investor and incubator focussing on innovative new technology start-ups based in Shoreditch, London. When he's not helping rear the next generation of business models, Steve enjoys parties, foreign travel, extreme cuisine, Open Data and draws his inspiration from Ayn Rand and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. He advised (then hired) No.10 policy guru Rohan Silva on mindfulness and innovation, Lily Cole on innovation in giving, Mark Zuckerberg on the Perfect IPO, the Republic of Kazakhstan on emergent social media strategies, LOCOG on brand enforcement, and imagineered the Olympic Opening Ceremony with Danny Boyle, Shoreditch's #guardian coffee coffee shop with Jemima Kiss, and was the social media consultant for Edward Snowden and Lady Thatcher’s Funeral. A recent attempt to arm the Syrian rebels with iOS7 sadly failed, however. At the personal invitation of Kim Jong Un, he is a strategic consultant on the Nextification of North Korea. Steve wants to pivot the BBC into the 22nd Century, blue-skying its hugely successful Digital Media Initiative, and advises the UK Government on icon design and the new National Curriculum. He favours Small Government but Large Catapults, and wants more taxpayers engaging in Ambient Crowdsourcing.
MINUTE OF CODE is seeking attractive lady computer programmers under 25 years of age; no experience of programming required. Apply to Steve via @BongVentures Twitter.