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February 08, 2000

The Ford Motor Co., according to The New York Times, is going to provide "each of its 350,000 employees worldwide, from factory workers in India to car designers in Michigan, (with) a high-speed desktop computer, a color printer and unlimited Internet access for just $5 a month."

Gone are the days, it would appear, when the unions were content with an upgraded dental plan. Now it's a computer in every garage. So are the Ford computers Windows-based? If so, it will bring new meaning to the term "crash test."

But seriously. Why would Ford want to give its factory workers access to the Internet? Wouldn't it be cheaper just to buy them all subscriptions to Hustler and save all that annoying download time?

Ford says the move is designed to "promote computer literacy" among its workers. Nice to know the guy who's screwing on your lug nuts can also import a hi-rez graphic into a JPEG file.

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I hope auto workers don't "learn" too much from computers. I like a radio you can simply turn on; I don't want to have to reboot. Nor do I want to see a message pop up on my dashboard saying "Error 404, item 'transmission' cannot be located on this server" or "Are you sure you want to slam on the brakes to avoid that big truck?"

This is what the technological age has brought us to. It used to be your company bought you a Thanksgiving Day turkey, now it's a Groundhog Day computer.

Of Ford's 350,000 employees eligible for a new computer setup, nearly 190,000 live outside the United States (stupid NAFTA), including in developing, Third World countries. That ought to make for interesting conversation.

Ford computer tech: "Here you go, Sahmpoot, it's all yours - the latest Hewlett-Packard Pavilion with 500 megahertz Intel Celeron chip, a 4.3 gigabyte hard disk, a CD-ROM drive, a 56K modem, speakers, a 15-inch color monitor and Microsoft software, including word processing and spreadsheets. Just plug it into the electrical socket and let's get this baby fired up."

Sahmpoot: "Plug? Electrical socket?"

Ford says the gifts are partly designed to be an example of corporate largesse and partly to give all workers a feel for computers, which will play an increasing role in people's lives and jobs.

That's OK, I suppose, but I don't recall anything like this happened with, say, the proliferation of television in the 1950s. It's not like the president of General Foods ever stood up and said "We are giving you all a new TV set today, because we can see into the future to a time when television will rot everyone's brains, lead to the downfall of family, make wholesome, outdoor exercise obsolete and promote violence and moral breakdown - and we want our employees to get the jump."

Ford has also said it wants to be known to potential shareholders not just as a slow, boring, heavy manufacturer, but as a high-tech "with it" company flying on the sails of e-business and Internet-accessible computers that soon will be right in the vehicles themselves.

As if car phones aren't bad enough, now we'll have to dodge drivers playing BloodRage 3000 while they commute down I-270 to their jobs in the Commerce Department.

According to television, it is important to have Internet access wherever you go, because someone might call you with a hot stock hint while you are in the middle of a camping trip and you will need to make a trade that instant before everyone else beats you to it and rooks you out of the $10 million you so rightfully deserve.

This happens to me usually three or four times a week. I'll tell my boss "I'm stepping out for a couple hours to go camping, let me know if you hear of any good IPOs."

But I don't have a computer in my car, so when I get back he says "Well, boogerclown.com went public at $20, and now it's $323. But you had to go camping in a car with no Internet access."

That's what I get for driving an import.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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