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The Real World

I work for a university and I often hear comments from other people along the lines of “that’s OK but you couldn’t do that in the real world” or “if you worked in the real world you would know this”, etc. I often ask them to tell me why a university isn’t part of the real world when other organisations are. Unfortunately they never give me an answer or their answer is totally arbitrary.

I have worked for small and medium sized private businesses in the past and I couldn’t see much that would lead me to believe they were more part of a real world than where I am now. In many ways I would suggest the opposite is true in fact.

For example, I was talking to a friend today who does computer work in the corporate world. We were talking about the merits of Microsoft Exchange email servers. I was saying that they don’t work properly and cause all sorts of problems and he was defending them saying they work well “in the real world”.

So I asked him about the environment in this “real world”. Apparently you can get Exchange to work OK as long as everyone connecting to it uses a specific type of computer and a specific operating system and has their computer setup in a particular way and they have no way to change it to suit their requirements.

In the “unreal world” of the university however people get to use the machine which is most appropriate to their individual requirements and they install the software (including email programs) which suit the way they work best.

Its ironic that the business world which constantly harps on about the freedom to innovate, fair competition between products, and minimal interference from unnecessary regulation ignores all of those principles in setting up their IT infrastructure. And I’m sure the same applies in other areas, its just that as a computer consultant that was the area I was discussing.

The other issue is this: at the university we have people studying chemistry and biology and other subjects relating to actual physical phenomena. In the corporate world many people are totally dedicated to completely artificial concepts like complicated financial structures or marketing campaigns. In what way is that the real world?

I think many people have an inferiority complex when they relate to academic institutions like universities. Many business people must realise that their place in the world isn’t as important as we are often told and maybe the only way they can cope is to go on the attack by suggesting that there is something more real about what they do.

Maybe they have fooled themselves. Maybe they even fool most of the people out there – after all, if you tell a lie often enough it becomes the truth. But I think that if you look at these claims of what is real and what isn’t they don’t really stand up to much skeptical analysis.

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