The Microsoft Monk

If you watched the news this morning, you must have been as shocked as I was to see Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in Katmandu, emerging from a pagoda, where he was meeting with the Dalai Lama. Wiping his glasses and smiling, Gates announced that he was becoming a Buddhist monk. Gates then announced that he was giving away his entire $44 billion fortune, to be invested in projects to encourage spiritual development worldwide. The Dalai Lama stood by smiling as Gates announced that a foundation run by the spiritual leader will administer the grants. Laughing, Gates noted that his gift was 44 times the size of Ted Turner's gift to the United Nations. Reporters, of course, are speculating that Gates is angling to succeed the Dalai Lama. Given his $44 billion gift, how could he be denied? Gates went on to explain that in this age of superficial values, he believed he could do more good as a Buddhist monk than as head of Microsoft, particularly when the Dalai Lama retires. And he predicted that spirituality would become much more important after January 1, 2000. "Why?" the press shouted. Was Gates a millennialist? No, Gates said. He explained that because of their internal calendars, the computer chips in cars and most everyday appliances are going to fail on New Year's Day of the year 2000. "I would bet every penny of my 40 billion," he said, "that you won't be able to find a working microwave oven or coffeemaker come January first of the new millenium. Eventually, people will have to cook over open hearths." And he added: "If you've got a butter churn in the attic, you might as well dust it off because it's going to come in handy." Gates said the inevitable failure of computers should lead Western society to a more spiritual, even monastic type of existence. As he explained, "Computers create a sense of detachment and isolation that isn't doing anybody any good." This, from the man who brought computers into everybody's home! And the computer wiz-kid added with a smile, "I've started using an abacus myself, and I love it." Gates just might be on to something. Without computers people might go back to spending time with one another. Neighbors might even get together face to face instead of in computer chat rooms. Instead of sending slapdash notes via email, people might actually sit down with paper and pen and compose a real letter. Letter-writing was once was quite a nice art form. And just imagine what might happen on airplanes. Instead of everyone sitting there typing on his laptop, people might talk to one another. It could bring about a whole new sense of community. As Bill Bennett has been warning us, restoring community is something we desperately need. Technology has weakened what Bennett calls the character-building institutions in society: family, church, and community. So maybe we should be glad that Bill Gates has figured this out. When the computers crash, he can help guide us from the Information Age back to the Stone Age. Some really good things could come out of this. We might really find time to care for one another. Perhaps we could even find some time for God. Of course there's one other thing. Without those digital wristwatches, it won't be quite so easy to figure out the date. Two years from today, you might not know that once again… it's April Fools Day.


Chuck Colson



  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary