I went to see Bill Gates's keynote address at Comdex, the computer industry's semiannual circus-cum-trade show. Gates -- who was, as usual, the hottest ticket in town -- hit on several buzz issues: global communities, privacy, social interfaces, and the like. Information technology can make us more responsive to one another, he told us. Microsoft products, of course, would be the Great Facilitators. I found that all I could think about was how his already vast net worth was ballooning with every word out of his mouth.

Bored, I sneaked out to tour the town a bit and ended up at the Carter Center, where seven Nobel laureates of literature were there to celebrate the 1996 Summer Olympics, which are to be held in Atlanta. After some pleading, I was allowed to enter and watch the poets read.

I walked into a hushed room, where the audience was transfixed by Wole Soyinka's reading of "My Feet Are Tired." Soyinka, a slender black man, spoke rhythmically and mellifluously about many of the same topics that Gates had addressed: communication, privacy, community. But Soyinka, who had spent most of his life as a political prisoner, and who to this day lives as a political exile from his native Nigeria, had nothing to plug but humanity.

When the readings were finished, Czeslaw Milosz, Soyinka, and Rita Dove autographed a book of poetry I'd picked up there. Mil-osz signed under his poem "One More Contradiction." The poem begins with the line, "Did I fulfill what I had to here, on Earth?" Before he signed it, he read it, looked at me, and smiled. No E-mail. No voice mail. No groupware. On their own, the poetry and the smile connected me to a man who bore the weight of history. -- Joshua Macht