July 14, 2002
By MATT RICHTEL
Thanks to technology, gadgets are smaller and quicker, permitting instant communication and remote day trading. But what good are they when we're peeling potatoes at a minimum security prison?
Technology may have made our lives more efficient, but the latest developments in corporate America have shown us that we may need an upgrade in the ethics area. Here are a few products that have some backbone:
Wondering if your accounting rules are entirely on the up and up? Is it O.K. to put a "strong buy" rating on a stock that you just described in an e-mail message as "smells like herring?" Are you asking yourself: "Who are these so-called `shareholders' I've heard so much about?" It may be time to consult your new G.P.S. - the Global Positioning Spitzer.
This handy navigational device keeps you on the straight and narrow by telling you at all times where you can find Eliot L. Spitzer, the New York attorney general. Then it's just a matter of firing off an instant message asking him whether it would be considered illegal, or just creative bookkeeping, to burn down your office, then shred the ashes.
A related product is a global positioning system for your conscience. Using expert triangulation, you can find where your sense of right and wrong has wandered.
In the spirit of spelling-checker programs, this remarkable new software will give you a heads-up if you start working on a document or e-mail message about starting partnerships like ones that Enron has been accused of setting up. With squiggly red underlines, it will highlight offending words you otherwise might not blanch at, like"pyramid," names of Star Wars characters or "steal."
In one version of the software, an animated creature appears at the top right corner of the screen and says: "It looks as if you're trying to start a shell corporation. Would you like assistance drafting a letter to the parole board?" (For better or worse, you will never be able to turn off this feature.)
Also available will be the portable shell-checker. Fitting comfortably in your pocket, it will give you a light shock every time you say the words "Bermuda" and "taxes" during a board meeting.
THE TIME MACHINE
This is a handy application for the Palm Pilot that can help keep you on the righteous path. Simply enter your plans for overstating revenue, doing off-book transactions, or telling all your friends to dump your stock. This program will help you automatically calculate how much time you can expect to serve.
Made by the finest Silicon Valley and legal minds, the algorithm deftly accounts for any legal breaks you may receive for past political contributions. And it doubles as a phone!
Version 2.0 will offer virtual landscapes of a white-collar prison so you can see where you can expect to spend the next 18 months. It will also include a daily organizer, games and e-book function that comes with two complimentary titles, "Seven Highly Effective Habits of People Who Aren't in Lockdown" and "Who Moved My Cellmate's Cheese?"
ASK THE LORD
Ask Jeeves, the service that lets you ask questions over the Internet, has its advantages. But if you're in an ethical quandary, why not seek counsel from a higher power? Yes, the new "Altar Vista" service is a search engine with soul. It comes with all the instant response of Ask Jeeves, but with the moral underpinnings of Scripture. And have no fear that you won't be able to log in; God's servers are never down!
Questions for this ethical query engine might include these: Is it O.K. to engage in insider trading? Should I move my corporation offshore to avoid paying taxes? Can I continue to make television appearances from my prison cell?
V.S., VERSION 1.0
Sometimes it is tough to remember that you are not the center of the universe. After all, you are a chief executive, or have an otherwise sweet parking spot. Using Virtual Shareholder technology will help you remember the people to whom you have a sworn duty - no, not the other energy executives, but your stockholders.
Yes, V.S. will create a three-dimensional image on your desktop of the little people who may not have picked up the sarcastic tone in your prospectus. The on-screen icons, representing various demographic groups and using the latest in voice synthesis, will give you a polite reminder that it's not right to make quotation signs with your hands, or wink, when you say the word "revenue."
This multifunctional phone comes with 3,000 anytime minutes and one seriously high-tech screening function: it will go to static if it senses that you're about to exchange insider trading information.
This phone also comes with wiretap call waiting. That way, if your conversation is being screened by one law enforcement agency, you'll receive notification if a second agency tries to wiretap you as well. You can politely tell the second party: "Can you please hold? I'm in the middle of another indictment."