When James Martin talks, people -- especially those in a floppy-disk environment who interface in multifunctional, user-friendly work stations -- listen.
After all, ICP Interface magazine calls Martin "the most influential DP data processing guru of all time." He has written 29 books, trained 14,000 people, is working on a movie about how computers will make a better world and makes a lot of money putting on "The James Martin Seminar," which his own promotional literature describes as "a fast-moving, high-density program . . . planned at the highest level of excellence." Computerworld magazine calls him "hypnotic on stage."
It came as no surprise, then, that Martin was the star of the three-day office automation extravaganza that ended Thursday at the D.C. Convention Center. Called FOSE--an acronym that sounds like a small furry animal but stands for Federal Office Systems Expo--the trade show attracted 20,100 entrepreneurs, mid-level managers, federal workers, computer buffs and assorted high-tech gawkers. FOSE claimed to be "the largest total office systems expo in America."
Martin, a slim, glib Englishman in a dark blue suit, seized control of FOSE at noon on Wednesday. He lectured to more than a thousand people about this "extraordinary thing that is happening to the history of the world"--which is to say he talked computers.
"We have put computers in a straight-jacket," Martin said, accusing American business and the federal government of failing to figure how to take full advantage of new micro- and mini-computers. He said that unless Americans "automate automation"--that is, figure out efficient ways to teach computers new jobs--the clever Japanese are likely to out-automate the United States by 1990.
Human beings, Martin said, are capable of two Logical Inferences Per Second or LIPS. He warned that the the Japanese will soon come out with a computer capable of a billion LIPS.
"Can you imagine waking up in the morning and thinking of a thing with a billion LIPS?" Martin asked.
Martin and his ominous LIPS alert, however, were only a part of the flood of software and sweet talk, hardware and hard sell, predictions and polysyllabic promotionalism that washed over visitors to FOSE.
The trade show, which had more than 170 exhibitors and 55 conference sessions, answered the following questions:
* What does one do when one is worried that a congressional committee may somehow piece together incriminating evidence that one's current document shredder cannot totally pulverize?
Look no further than the "Security Disintegrator" (starting at $3,900) by Security Engineered Machinery of Westboro, Mass. It will destroy crumpled paper, sheets of paper, printouts, bound manuals, typewriter ribbons, floppy disks and credit cards so there is "no chance of bits and pieces getting into unauthorized hands." For those pesky microfiches that give fits to conventional shredders, try the "Micro-Melt," which sells for $439. "The Micro-Melt thermofusion process," its makers claim, "transforms sensitive or classified material into a shapeless black residue."
* What do bosses do and what will happen to their secretaries?
A study by IBM shows that executives spend half their time talking, and 30 percent of their time with written material. Computers can help with the written word, said Michael W. Blasgen, an IBM advanced systems expert. So, there are likely to be fewer and fewer secretaries in the next decade, Blasgen said, as bosses learn how to use word processors. The bosses, themselves, will not be eliminated, the IBM expert said, because "talking is not something that computers are good at."
* Who is Ann Hilton, why was she making so much eye contact and why did she have "so much to tell you about the really incredible telecommuncation services of the Bell Network?"
Ann Hilton, who wore a white crepe jumpsuit with a hand-beaded red, white and blue belt, is a woman from New Jersey who gave six 8 1/2-minute "Bell Network" performances each hour for three days in the AT&T booth on the exhibition floor.
While her assistant drew diagrams on a Gemini Electronic Chalkboard (which allows executives to hold teleconferences and send chalkboard drawings by phone to television sets around the world), Hilton smiled, made eye contact, gestured broadly with her hands and said things like this:
"I'd like to tell you a little bit about expanded 800 service . . . . The IRS is using expanded 800 service to consolidate up to 49 lines into one! Let's talk now about voice and imaging for a minute . . . . We can afford to be totally objective in evaluating your teleconferencing needs."
Between shows, which were accompanied by a slide show and flourishes of taped inspirational music, Hilton spoke about her job.
"Everything is computerized. The earphone in my ear cues me into what slide is going on. Sometimes, as recently as when I inhaled a bunch of chalk, that helps me keep my place. I happen to be a singer and a musician so that makes it a lot easier. The choreography is instinctual," Hilton said.
Throughout the three-day FOSE, much was made of "user friendliness," which is jargon for saying that a computer is easy to operate.
Lynn McNulty, a State Department security expert, was against it. In a seminar on office security, where he said that the government has discovered employes writing their kids' term papers on word processors, he warned "that not all users are friendly."
Ken Welton, of Bell Labs, was for it. He claimed that his company's EPIC telephone-word processor system is especially chummy: "I'll put it up against anything you can buy in terms of friendliness."
And computer guru James Martin said that user friendliness was the sine qua non for victory over the Japanese computer peril.
If America wants to be competitive, Martin advised, it must make computers that go "a step beyond" being user friendly to become "user seductive."
He did not elaborate.