Sunday, March 7,1999
Sunday Plus: Page 2

Among dreamers and risk-takers

She has a perch on the electronic frontier

THIS year, my editors are going to look for me with a torchlight in one of the GV Grand halls, when they can't find me in the newsroom.

ESTHER DYSON, 47, has always been drawn to people who are "the smartest, the most fun, the least formal and slightly subversive".

In Harvard, she spent most of her time not in class but working for the Harvard Crimson, the university's daily paper.

The serious journalist wannabes on the Crimson were not her type though. She hung out with the funnier guys on the Harvard Lampoon instead.

After a stint as a reporter with Forbes and then three years working as a securities analyst on Wall Street, she gravitated towards the computer folks who were then just starting up in Silicon Valley.

She ran a newsletter called Release 1.0, and got to know all the dreamers and risk-takers -- people like Bill Gates, Lotus founder Mitch Kapor, Ben Rosen, venture capitalist who became chairman of Compaq, and Jim Barksdale, CEO of Netscape.

She describes those early days as "a lot of fun".

"Nobody took us seriously. We were not bothered by the government. People left us alone."

Of course, she did not know that these start-ups would become the new corporations of the digital age, but "I had a sense that it mattered, and I did what I thought was interesting".

By 1989, when other publications came up to compete with her newsletter, where she was its only writer, she travelled to Russia and Central Europe to stake out new territory.

Today, she is chairman of EDventure Holdings, a small company which focuses on emerging IT worldwide and especially on the emerging markets in Central and Eastern Europe.

Fortune magazine named her recently as one of the 50 most important women in American business.

Ask her what she thinks are identifying traits of the successful dreamers and risk-takers and she brings up Einstein.

The latter thought concretely, when others thought abstractedly, she says.

The dreamers and risk-takers she knew all had a concrete vision, and because the vision was concrete, they were more willing to take risks.

"When you have a clear notion that this is what you want to do, then you're willing to take the risks. The trade-offs feel different."

For someone who has a perch on the cutting edge of IT, Dyson admits to never taking home the computer.

Her home in New York, three blocks from her office, has no telephone and no TV set.

"The technology is there to serve you," she says.

She gets home by 8.30 at night. Every day, wherever she is, she gets up at 4.30 to swim for an hour.

"It helps keep me sane. Thinking for an hour calms you down, gets you focused."

Dyson is the daughter of the visionary physicist Freeman Dyson who, in books like Origins Of Life (1985) and Infinite In All Directions (1988), reflects on what life is and how the universe will end.

Her younger brother George Dyson, in his book, Darwin Among The Machines (1997), discusses the future co-existence of man and machine whose intelligence will exceed man's.

Esther Dyson, who is the author of Release 2.0 (Broadway, 1997) and the paperback upgrade, Release 2.1 (Penguin), is the interim head of a new international advisory panel for the Internet, called the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names And Numbers, which was inaugurated in Singapore last Wednesday.

See next page for an excerpt from her book.

Archive 1

21/11/99 Hit me with the Blues

31/10/99 No chaise longue, just chaise daybed

17/10/99 Tell your tale and watch it take off

03/10/99 Goodness, its been 25 years now

19/09/99 To have a productive day off

27/08/99 Conduct yourself well

08/08/99 Liberalisation and the small man

27/06/99 An ATM at home that knows me

30/05/99 Why fleshy hips and jiggly thighs

16/05/99 A dressing-down for the interns

02/05/99 I've the best seat in the house

04/04/99 I may take China, drop my 'mistress'

21/03/99 When the lens harden

07/03/99 Among dreamers and risk-takers

07/03/99 Lives will be transformed

17/01/99 Look for me at the movies

03/01/99 Hardy, hungry, but a cause for worry?

15/11/98 Goodnight Irin, while I think of New Orleans

01/11/98 'Sexy' and 'Cool' is what sells today

04/10/98 Letter from melancholic anonymous

20/09/98 Men behave like sperm

01/08/98 Global is good, but local matters too

26/07/98 4 books I can't renounce

28/06/98 49 and the genes are calling

14/06/98 Beep beep for every kid

31/05/98 Soft goods, soft power rule

10/05/98 Be still--and be open to constant change

05/04/98 Fight heat at home, then soar the skies

15/03/98 Bond Breakers and my brother and sister

15/02/98 If you love her, set her free

18/01/98 Romancing Cambodia