Saturday, June 25, 2005

Technology and the Mindsets that Drive It

NYC. Manhattan. A wonderful apartment. A beautiful sunset. Lots of champagne. A roomful of techies.

And me. (Ok, Ok, one or two other non-techies, but only one other do-tanker.)

This has been a common situation for me in the past year. (Not the NY, sunset part, but the roomful of techies and me part!) Again, I am back to the do-tank, think-tank discussion.

I am useful to techies because I don’t see things in the same way as them. I see them first in the same way as an ordinary person. However, I CAN see them in the same way as them, or at least close enough to relate, so they tolerate me. And I amuse them, I’m a sort of curiosity to most of them I’ve found.

In other words, I’m a great beta tester. I’m not scared of telling them that what they’ve designed is in some cases, while theoretically beautiful, next to useless in practical terms when compared to what they wanted to come from the design. I also want their design to work, usually as much as they do. If only all of you knew every single day just how much thought is out there going into technology and the Internet, you simply can’t imagine it if you haven’t been immersed in it. Considering the spinning of wheels that goes on in many of these peoples’ heads trying to come up with the next “thing”……well, let’s just say that there’s enough power left over to solve any issues with Iraq’s electrical grids.

And you know what? The most influential thing, after ten years of this, as far as I can figure out, is pretty much, well, blogs. (Note, I said influential, not important.) Now, blogs are not to be undermined, after all, the Internet, and the phenomenon of blogs, have given me all of the work I’ve done in the past year of life, as well as my best friendships. But they haven’t.

And here’s where the mindset part of the post comes in. Because it takes a person DOING something to make that other part happen. If I hadn’t done something with Zeyad and Omar, when I wanted to help, I would never have met Jeff Jarvis. If I hadn’t met Jeff, I wouldn’t have met Marc Danziger, if I hadn’t met Marc, I wouldn’t have met Donovan Janus. If I hadn’t met all of these people, I wouldn’t be where I am today. But it was more than meeting. It was doing. It was a collective desire to be a part of a process that makes a difference. And then it was acting on that desire.

But I digress. Well, sort of………..

Because, do you know what else I have noticed? There are two distinct groups of techies. What I call the old school techies: Doc Searls, Jeff Jarvis, Tim Oren, Esther Dyson,Britt Blaser, etc, mostly baby boomer generation. And there are your new young techies: think Civicspace, Echo Ditto, etc. There are very few representations of people in their thirties and forties (my generation) in this group. My guess as to why? Well, twofold, to be honest.

First, in order to be a true techie, those that build tech, not those that fix it, you are often working just about ‘round the clock. And when you aren’t working, your brain still is. Which means, a family life rather interrupts things. (There are exceptions of course.)

Second, technology is, in large part theory. It is not in its purest form, a reality based project. It is theoretical and therefore attracts more liberal mindsets. Liberal thinking takes a more open mindset, and also a certain detachment from realistic thinking, and is modeled more on idealism.

Now, there are a few people that encompass both, and truthfully, it’s damned hard to be both. It’s hard to be realistic and keep your idealism. It’s hard to be idealistic and keep a realistic view of just how far you can take those thoughts. It’s a battle that plays out constantly in your mind. These are usually the people that fix tech, as opposed to building it or envisioning it.

But, in real life, it works pretty well, when all’s said and done. One thing’s for certain. You feel everything in life when you are in the middle. You don’t miss the suffering, but you don’t miss not having cared for the suffering. And in the end, that’s the measure of success, in any project. Have you bettered life on earth somehow by what you have accomplished? That can mean bettering life in any way. As Marc Danziger would say, “someone has to wash the dishes.”

Friday, June 24, 2005

Enough Politics.......

I’m a political junkie. But these days, the words are blurring together. Gitmo, Durbin, ratings down on this, ratings up on that. I just find myself, well, not caring.

In fact, I’m too busy thinking about all of the stuff I have to pull together to make a successful trip across the pond, and then across the desert. And I think that’s why I am, for the lack of a better word, frustrated. The debate is important. It’s only one half of the solution however. Now, I think that there are some amazing writers that do a fantastic job using their talent to raise the debate level, or awareness. That IS doing something in my book. However, when I see the same arguments and thoughts repeated ad nauseam on blog after blog, frankly, it depresses me. If people stopped talking so much, and put all that energy into doing something, well, I think a whole lot more problems would be solved.

But that’s just me. As one of my buddies said, “you belong in a do-tank”. Problem is, I gravitate towards people that are “think tank” types. I love a debate, I love an intellectual discussion, I think long term, big picture. Yet, I have found, after I started “doing” that nothing takes the place of that feeling.

Sometimes I feel like I have a citizen’s version of battle fatigue. I’m never really fully engaged here anymore. My mind is often 10,000 miles away……literally. Is it fair to expect everyone to be a soldier? No. Is it fair to expect everyone to “do something”? No. But that’s not the issue. The real issue is, that people don’t know HOW to help. Most of my ability to help others has come from relationship building. Not all people are good at this, enjoy it, or find the risks worth the rewards. This doesn’t mean that those same people don’t want to do something that would take that as a beginning to get to where they’d like to contribute. I know that from this past year’s experience more than ever. People want to help. They just want someone to give them an easy way to do it, so that they can also keep working, keep being with their families, keep playing on the weekends, AND know that they’ve done something.

Which leads us to the other two types of people needed to allow that to happen. It takes soldiers, protecting those freedoms at a base level, and it takes people building in the civilian sector to better the quality of life. We truly are a global community now more than ever. And bettered quality of life in one area ultimately affects another. And THAT is a topic that is not discussed nearly enough.

I recently participated in such a discussion in a NYC "penthouse party". I guess that I know what my next post will be......

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Risk-Reward Ratio

Went for a run in the mid day sunshine, and had to dodge all of the snakes and turtles that had come out to sun themselves in it.

Risked a twisted ankle. Risked sun burn. Risked mild dehydration.

Rewards....

Completing a 10K run in the hot sun.
Feeling the good slow burn in my leg muscles that only such a run can give.
A nice lie out on the beach with a good book.

And for later.....a nice glass of Silver Oak.
I'm saving the other bottle for an upcoming trip......

Beach blogging....

I am at my annual retreat to the beach. This is a typical dusk here. This is a typical sunset. And this is bliss.

I was wandering around yesterday and saw a sketch of a beach house here, and the words, “No place on earth is better for healing broken hearts.” And I thought how true this is. When I am here, walking on the shore, I think of so many things. Of people in my life that mean so much to me, of why they do, of why I’ve lost touch with others. I play with my two boys in the water, and on the beach, looking for crabs for ‘crab castle’, or last year, to their delight, shocking everyone by running into the ice cold Atlantic (yes, it is still 55 degrees at a maximum)….and doing a full dive under the water, which makes 7 and 8 year old boys quite proud and impressed with their mom!

Last evening I was sitting here devouring a book, and I was watching the sunset turn into dusk, it was beautiful, pink on top, the deepest blue on bottom, and you can watch the blue rise into the pink with every minute, and eventually drive it away, as the stars come out overhead.

I am drawn toward the sea. I gaze and try to see in my mind my friends across the water. For this short time, I feel removed from it all. From politics, and news, and everything but examining what is truly inside of me. And we, none of us, do that often enough. We are too busy, we have work, we have plans, we have to, we must, go, go, go, and not stop, mainly for the fear of this, this introspection.

But when you stop, and you listen, you find yourself. Sometimes it isn’t the person you thought you were. Sometimes things become clearer, and others become murkier. Sometimes you are disappointed, and sometimes amazed. But when you stop, and walk along the water, there can be no doubt that where your thoughts go is to your true desires, your wishes, your hopes and dreams.

Right now, my dreams are sometimes tortured……and many times beautiful. Which I am comfortable with for once, for life is both of these.

"Taxi!"

In the continuing line of discussing communities worldwide, and how to understand more about them, I submit the following:

“Taxi!”

I love taxis. A bit odd, admittedly, yes. But I have found them to be an interesting study of humanity.

In the past year, I have done a lot of traveling, and had the opportunity to use a lot of taxis, in various cities and countries. I am by nature, a curious person, and will ask a taxi driver a few questions to feel them out, and if they are agreeable, I will converse with them as much as possible.

In the past year I have had the following experiences in cabs:

-Had a driver hug me goodbye at the airport for listening to his tears over his daughters’ psychological trauma after coming back from Iraq, I thanked him for her service, and he thanked me for giving him some information on where they could go to meet Iraqis that were thankful. She had served in Fallujah in very tough conditions the entire time, and hadn’t felt at all that anyone was grateful there for what she did. I can tell you, it isn't every day that people see a huge black man hugging his small white female passenger with tears in his eyes, and tears on my cheeks, as he bid me goodbye at Dulles Airport. One of the most rewarding moments....I'll never forget it. (Washington DC)

-Had a driver argue with me over the Palestinian-Israel conflict, over women’s roles in society, and over US foreign policy while in London. (more on this later)

-Had a driver in Amman ask me for a $500 “loan”. I first said “you are seriously asking me to give you $500?” He said, “ya, inshalla, you can help me”. To which I replied, “even if I could, which I can’t, I don’t carry that kind of money around with me.” To which he replied, “It’s okay, we can stop at the bank on the way to airport!” (he had told me that he had liver disease, and his eldest daughter wouldn't be able to finish college without the $500 that day of course!)

-Had a driver in NYC tell me of his immigration from Peru to the US, and how he has built a future for his children here that he is so proud of, and to which I added, “see, you are exactly the kind of person that makes a great American!”

-Had a driver in NYC (27 year cab veteran) discuss the aftermath of 9/11 and tell me the entire story of that day and the ensuing months from a cabbie’s point of view.

-Had many, many drivers in Los Angeles ask me where Maine was? What country it was in? (“Isn’t that part of Canada?”)

-Had an Egyptian driver in NYC discuss Middle East politics with me in a much more knowledgeable way than any professor of the subject could that I know of. And he appreciated my Arabic, so I forgave him for thinking I was German at first….when I tipped him, he said, “you are American alright!” and I answered back, “that’s because you didn’t ask me for it, as the Jordanians often do! He laughed heartily, and I added, “and you, are a true Arab male”. He asked,“what makes you say that?” I laughed and told him he called me “the beautiful lady” far too many times…..he laughed back appreciatively.

If you want the pulse of a city, talk to as many cab drivers as possible, and you'll get it!

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Community

There was a post somewhere last week that has really had me thinking. It started a discussion about online communities versus real neighboorhood communities. I've had some thoughts there for more than awhile that I'd like to explore.

First, what causes a feeling of community? I'd say that it is more than a feeling of proximity, it is a sharing of something. Now, originally, this was taken to mean a sharing of the same way of living, as in a town you will share a government, recreational programs, you will see each other at the grocery store, or at the library, or at the school meetings. What caused the outreach for community to change? I think there are many things which that can be attributed to, but one certainly is the ability to stay away from it. You can, after all, now divert your attention by the use of the television, the computer, the telephone (24/7 with cell phones), and technology isn't slowing down. On the other hand, all that technology has created new communities as well, and helped them to thrive.

I want to talk first about the leaving behind of the "neighboorhood community". In my case, I live in a middle class town, with middle class people. Though my state is part of blue America, the people are very much more red. By that I mean they are less scholarly, and more simple. They are less intellectual, though no less intelligent. However, if I want to escape my born-again Christian neighbors, who mean well, but start to drive me away with their lecturing, if I want to disengage with the moms at library group that happily sit and prattle away about who is pregnant, breastfeeding, and look at me like I'm insane when I bring up a historical or political discussion, or worse yet, when I say I loved going to Iraq (that's always a shocker), I can. There was a time when I couldn't. I had to choose between alone, or being more tolerant of the differences between myself and others. (Which wasn't a bad thing, and is something I want to explore more in a later post.)

Then, I found blogs.

Now, I have met 4 of my very best current friends because of the blogosphere. I'm talking about people I would let hold my life in their hands and trust them with it, emotionally as well as physically. I can't say I had found 4 people like that in the past ten years in my "real world communities". Why? Because the internet allows people to connect by their likes and beliefs and interests. So, while two of my best buds are on GMT-8 time, two more are on GMT+3 time. Me, I'm on GMT-5 time. Do we form communities? Yes. In fact, we form such communities that we are driven together in different ways to actually form our own "real life communities". Why do you think there are so many blogger/blogging forums going on, and why are they so popular?

This is the essential and very important point. We can have online communities, with our iSights and our webcams, and Skype, and online videoconferencing. But it will never be the same as being there. (Just ask any of our guys and gals in the military!) The need for human touch is strong in most of us, the need to truly see in real live dimensions, and not through a second lens, the need is so strong that in the strongest of communities it drives us toward each other, reaching past the distances to find a way to come together. And we have, and we do, and we will continue to. My world has both become a whole lot larger, and a whole lot smaller in the past year in large part because of blogs and the internet.

And the bottom line is, when I lose connectivity in an ice storm, I enjoy checking on my neighbors, and I still bring my boys to school or community activities, no matter what the weather. Everyone has to shut down the computer some of the time, or it starts to become real life. And it isn't real life. And someday you wake up and realize that it is a crappy substitution for what only real life can provide. However, the Internet might also just be the thing that leads you to the real life you were looking for............and then, then it has done what it is supposed to. Become a pathway to a new community, a new friend, a new culture, a new career, and in the best of cases it can open up a dialogue, which when combined with real life experiences, can teach us how to love.