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Like many other specialists in the future, including Karl Marx, [Nicholas] Negroponte had an uncanny knack for identifying a real problem, proposing an idealized solution, and behaving as if the idealized solution was, in fact, the actual solution. This was to ignore certain rules of thumb that were repeatedly discovered, and repeatedly forgotten, by countless philosophers, farmers, politicians, industrialists, and just about everybody else as mankind continually blazed its trail into the world of tomorrow. For one thing, the future almost never turns out as predicted, because most dazzling new inventions either don't work the way they're supposed to, don't work at all, or work exactly as designed but in ways that annoy the hell out of their owners. The world of the future always takes a lot of fixing up. It was clear that Nicholas Negroponte had never heard the cautionary tale of the Waltzing Tycoon.

At the end of the 1980s, Bruce Wasserstein was the reigning boy wonder of Wall Street. At the First Boston Corporation, he had gone from strength to strength, merging gigantic corporations to form even more gigantic corporations. Then, with his longtime partner, Joe Perella, he had cut loose from the old firm and set up shop in midtown Manhattan. Empty pizza boxes littered the desktops; cables snaked across the floor. In his new private office, the master of the game spoke to a reporter about his bold and far-reaching plans for American capitalism.

Suddenly, the room dimmed. Without interrupting his speech, Wasserstein slowly raised his hand, as though asking permission to visit the washroom. The reporter said nothing. Still talking, Wasserstein then raised his arms and began to waggle them up and down.

"Mr Wasserstein," asked the reporter, "is everything all right?"

"Perfectly," said the magnate. He continued to talk, now with an air of annoyance. Abruptly, he left his seat. Neither a small nor an agile man, he began to move swiftly around the room, waving his arms and sometimes joinin