E=MC^2 is probably the most famous equation in modern science, but little is known about its true origins. At least I didn’t know much about it until very recently. Of course, I understood, like everyone else, that it was formulated as part of professor Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, but I never really thought about it much beyond what we learned in school. It was not until I started digging into my own personal genealogy that I stumbled across something that shed some light on what had remained, until now, a mystery.
I had often wondered why Professor Einstein chose to express his now famous equation using those particular letters, E=MC^2. Was it just pure coincidence that we’re now using those very same letters to describe a business problem that threatens the very fabric of modern-day society? Indeed, where would we be today without some form of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system?
Following the war, there wasn’t a lot of work for singers in Harlem, so my distant cousin, Billie (on my father's side, four times removed), would supplement her income by filling in as a part-time assistant for the professor at his office in Princeton. While rummaging around in the attic of our old house, I recently came across a box of her personal items. In it, there was a diary that she kept during the years between 1947 and 1952, after her divorce from Jimmy Monroe.
With the cold war still in full swing, it seems that the professor was literally swamped with letters and packages arriving daily from nearly every corner of the globe containing white papers and pamphlets on a myriad of subjects ranging from Newtonian physics to quantum field theory. Keeping track of all that content often proved too much for the professor as he became increasingly frustrated while developing his unified field theory. In one entry, my cousin writes:
“E. was really upset today. The poor man just can’t keep track of all the information that keeps streaming into the office. I try my best to organize it all, but there’s just too much of it.”
More telling is the entry from March 15th, 1951 - the day after the professor's 72nd birthday.
“I overheard E. shouting at one of his students just as I was coming into the office today. ‘Why so difficult to separate ze metadata from ze content?! Teilen-Punkt! Teilen-Punkt! If only we had ein Teilen-Punkt!’ I wish I knew what he was talking about, so I could help him find it. He really is starting to worry me.“
I found this entry particularly intriguing; because it seems to capture the essence of the same problem many of us are facing today. Managing enterprise content is quickly becoming one of the most important fields of study in the information age – especially the problem of dealing with metadata. Could it be that Einstein perceived a solution to this problem way back in the 1950’s?
I kept digging through the box and came across lots of interesting stuff. There were photos of Billie on the road with Duke. Billie back-stage with a guy that looks like Miles and sharing a laugh with other hard-core musician types. But the real shocker was a small photo that was stuck to the side of the box with a piece of masking tape. I almost missed it. On the back there was one legible sentence scribbled in pencil along the edge so faint I could barely make it out. “Don’t ignore ze metadata. It is ze content. Without it, zer can be no Teilen-Punkt.” I was still trying to comprehend what I was reading, and then I turned the picture over. There, before my eyes, was the answer - scrawled on the chalkboard right behind him.
Was ECM part of Einstein’s grand vision of the unified field? Is metadata somehow connected with the theory of relativity? Are you buying any of this? We know now that content management is at the heart all business processes. Is it possible that the father of modern scientific thought was also focused squarely on solving this most perplexing problem of modern day society – namely, how do we deal with content overload without interfering with day-to-day productivity?
One can only imagine what might have happened had SharePoint been available in Einstein’s day. Teilen-Punkt. Alas, all we can do now is speculate, and pay tribute to a wonderfully creative and brilliant mind. A true visionary – in many ways, the father of ECM.
All content is relative. Teilen-Punkt, indeed!