SKLA NORGRZI, Freedonia. This town of approximately 30,000 humans and 2,500 farm animals nestled snugly in the Zbiegzliw Mountain range is generally considered the “Freedonian Silicon Valley,” as the government has poured millions of zlotnys–the country’s currency–into tech development projects here over the past two decades. “We have tried valiantly,” says Minister of Innovation Nilw Okrapenti, shaking his head with a discouraged air, “but we have only come up with many of what you Americans call ‘duds.’”
Prototype driverless goat cart.
There was the solar-powered headlight developed for driverless goat carts, and a mobile wrist-fax machine, none of which gained much traction outside this land-locked country that was formed after World War II out of parts of Crimea, an abandoned Six Flags amusement park and Sears tool sheds dropped by American supply planes for use as outdoor toilets. “Perhaps we have depended too much on central planning,” Okrapenti says. “I recently learned that while Mr. Bill Gates is as rich as a government, he does not actually work for government.”
So after a supplemental appropriations bill came up with the $29.99 cost of a subscription to Wired Magazine, a print and digital publication that tracks tech developments in America, Okrapenti learned more about the entrepreneurial culture this country needs to replicate if it is to move from the third-world to the second-world, and ever have hopes of joining the first. “This magazine, very helpful,” Okrapenti says, “and the Ministry of Treasury allowed me to keep the free phone charger that came with the subscription.”
“Can I have another napkin? I have an idea for a cloud-based napkin holder.”
The first and most surprising insight gleaned from the glossy tech rag was that most American scientific breakthroughs first find expression on the back of napkins that are freely available in U.S. restaurants. “This came as shock to me,” says Norlieko Uzkebkk, an inventor who received government funding for the prototype of a shoe camera that records a person’s steps throughout the day in the manner of more robust activity trackers. “Minister Okrapenti is genius to see so quick we have been going about things the wrong way.”
To remedy Freedonia’s misstep, Okrapenti petitioned the Buroak, the nation’s unicameral legislature, for funding to buy the backs of 100,000 napkins from strategically-located eating establishments near America’s tech centers. “The proposal almost foundered when we learned you cannot buy the backs of the napkins separate from the fronts,” he says with a look of hard-headed determination on his face. “But I could not let this opportunity slip away, so we doubled our offer and bought both sides.”
The results of the great tech leap forward are on display here this morning as 467 would-be entrepreneurs file into an abandoned warehouse that once housed a cardamom-pod processing facility, where they are each handed a napkin and a pencil and directed to sit at long tables. “Welcome,” Okrapenti says over a public address system that was purchased on eBay from an insolvent go-kart track in Hollywood, Florida. “You each have your napkin,” he announces over the buzz of a busted speaker. “Pencils in the air,” he says, then pauses to look at his stopwatch, which is set for a one-hour planned creativity session. “Please begin to innovate.”
Looking for cheaters.
The would-be Steve Jobs scratch their heads and look off into the distance somewhat self-consciously, as the bright light of official supervision and anticipated production causes the flowers of their creativity to wither. A young man named Mikle Pszieshue, who was running late and has managed to sneak in a McZlotny, a Freedonian breakfast sandwich that includes a fried duck egg, weasel sausage and a slice of native ooerisch cheese, takes a bite and leans back in his chair to brainstorm. The pungent aroma of his clandestine meal draws the attention of an exam proctor who walks the aisles to discourage cheating. The proctor nods to indicate the possible breach of decorum, and Okrapenti recoils in horror at what he sees.
“NO!” Okrapenti screams, as Pszieshue wipes his mouth with his napkin. “You are getting egg on our country’s future!”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Hail, Freedonia!”