"Our ideas lag our reality", I thought as I held another piece of previously near priceless and now worthless technology which was being relegated to the recycling bin. In this case it my coveted US Robotics Dual Standard 9600 baud modem from the late '80's. I used to be able to speak intelligently about the differences in the two protocols it spoke but can now not even remember the names. I've written custom communications software that controlled modems like this. I've put together and wired racks of hundreds of these modems for an internet service provider I built back in the mid 90's. I can't remember how long it's been since I've used a modem. 5 years? 10 maybe? Are there kids now that have never used a modem? Probably. Yet, I still held on to a stack of these things not afraid to let go of the physical objects but a part of me, as the last modem hit the bin, did not want to let go of the ideas behind them as if the internal Change it represents is more threatening than the dust these things collect.
I was forced into the computer field at a very early age, namely 7, and was taught to understand the subject from the ground up. Endless hours were spent learning the basics of circuitry, machine code, operating systems and programming languages. I built one of my first "computers", which I still have.
This dates back to 1975 or '76 and was the kind of "embedded controllers" that my fathers company created which were used to control heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems amongst other things for the purpose of conserving energy. These gadgets would talk to a central mini computer to get instructions and send back sensor readings. Even back then we were doing networked distributed computing not unlike what the NASA guys do with the rovers on Mars today. For the very old school geeks out there, these were hand made wire wrapped controllers based around the Texas Instruments SC/MP processor running at 0.75Mhz with 1K of RAM and 2K of ROM.
Of course being only 7 or 8 years old, I made some mistakes wiring up the main board and one of the techs had do go in and fix my mistakes, but I pretty built all of this and only made a handful of mistakes that prevented it from working the first time. Even back then I was very good with a soldering iron.
I was taught to value understanding things from the ground up. This is one of the reasons I love open source software. I can look inside and see how things are built and learn from it. When I teach people software and systems administration, we always start from first principles.
I have all these deeply technical skills. I've created several of my own programming languages over the years, none of them great but I've built useful things in them. As a matter of fact, the software that powers this blog is written in a language I created. I call it the formVista Markup Language, or FVML for short.
Professionally, so much of what I saw myself as had to do with the investment in the ideas behind these skills I developed over decades. It formed the basis of technical identity. I was a Unix and later, not that it makes any difference, Linux wizard. It's been 10 years since I've done any real work in the C programming language but I still think of myself as a C and Unix Systems programmer. I still have my coveted Unix Magic poster hanging on my wall.
Yes, it's true. There is much that I have been that is very much the hard core old school geek.
Outside of working for the military, I don't know anyone who would pay me to do that kind of hard core serious technical work anymore.
Along the way there was a nearly insignificant technical change that I hardly paid attention to because it was so obvious and irrelevant and suddenly the reality of the world was different, but my ideas had not changed along with it. This technical change was the point the combination of computer processor and internet connection speeds became fast enough to allow Facebook to exist. There are more facets to the subject and there's much more I could say, but suffice it to say the moment Facebook could be created the world of programmers such as myself was disrupted. We have reached a point where "software" like other content is no longer worth what it used to be.
But of course I still held on to the old idea that the software by itself has value. In the mean time, MySpace got bought for $500M. Facebook is valued at something like $20B the last time I checked. Plentyoffish.com pulls in millions of dollars in revenue a year and, last I checked, it's a one man operation.
What has changed that few have noticed is that the value in technology has moved from being based in the technical aspects of a thing, "how good is it?", "How fast is it?", etc, to being valued in terms of the human connections it creates and fosters. Technology has become just another aspect of the human conversation. The days of the lone geek slaving away in a dark corner making megabucks is probably over.
To avoid the dreaded possible future of getting a Wage Grade Job(tm), I'm going to have to adapt and understand this new world. It will mean abandoning my need to understand things from the ground up. I can write software to interface with Google and Facebook, but I doubt I will ever be allowed to see how they've built their infrastructure. It goes against my grain to just be an "outside user", but it's time I changed with the world. If you can't beat them, join them.
As I discarded the last load of electronics I was thinking about my upcoming short trip to Deal's Gap with Josh and, because of some conversations I had been having with a few women, pondering what ideas we as a society hold on to that have not yet fully caught up to the consequences of seemingly inconsequential technical innovations.
Years ago Ian and I had travelled down to Deal's Gap to ride that wonderful road. It's an overwhelmingly male environment so when a woman shows up there, especially one who is alone and staying at the Gap Resort instead of the more comfortable Fontana Resort you can't help but notice. I forget who introduced us, but we met Tara. She had brought her two bikes down from Toronto, Canada. Have I mentioned I like Canadians?
Tara had a Yamaha R1, not an R6 as some would expect, and a Suzuki DR650 dual sport machine. She also wore serious Alpinstar gear. We all decided to go riding together and I remember how patient she was as Ian and futzed with a fuel leak on the R1100S guest bike. Now I am embarrassed to admit this and feel somewhat ashamed about it, but I remember thinking she should lead because I didn't want to leave her in the dust because, well, she was a she and how fast could she be?
She totally handed me my ass. Not only did this woman walk away from me through the Gap, she ran away. Disappeared. One moment she was there, the next moment she was gone. "Oh, I didn't notice, I was just enjoying the ride.", she would later say. Ouch! I've been riding for 35 years and I'm not exactly a slouch, but even at my absolute best there is no way I could keep up with her. She was able to pick lines and control her bikes to a degree I couldn't even come close to and she was able to do with an effortlessness and grace that was impressive. I don't know if I could ever learn to ride as well as she does even if I applied myself.
If I have a saving grace, it's probably my ability to re-examine my beliefs and understandings and if I encounter something that doesn't fit, I don't discount the observation, I re-evaluate and change the beliefs.
A woman handed me my ass in Deal's Gap. Even then, I had the sense that there was something to be learned here. I remember feeling a bit embarrassed for two reasons. The first being that I underestimated her because she was a she. The second, and more disturbing for me, was the fact I got run away from by a she. Rationally, it shouldn't matter. She was a better rider. That was clear. But somehow the feelings generated by toxic lessons from childhood came through.
If I could be bested by a she, did that make me less of a man? What does it mean to believe in an idea such a "man"? Bad feelings.
She had been to race school. When we first met her she was talking to an instructor who was critiquing her ride. I remember thinking that despite riding for as long as I have been maybe there's more for me to learn. That was the beginning of me becoming a better rider.
I started to wonder why we don't see more women down at Deal's Gap or out motorcycling in general. In part, I bet it's simply because motorcycling doesn't appeal to most women. Who knows why? But I think about Tara and the progression of things that had to line up for her to be there to hand me my worthless ass.
Not only did she have to have the independent economic strength to buy two bikes and a truck and be able to have the time off to go down there, she had to have the belief that she could do it. The latter is probably more important than either of the former.
I remember being a little kid and the lessons I was taught. I remember being told so many times what a failure I was, how weak I was, how stupid I was and how I just wasn't man enough. I was a very sickly kid and I think maybe my old man resented that. I'm not sure. It's amazing the power parents have over the mind of a child. I remember believing there was so much I couldn't do that I wouldn't even try.
I've had countless conversations with women over the years about these kinds of topics. I wonder what it was like for women in the Good 'Ol Days. This was spawned by a recent conversation I had with Rachel about a culture back a few thousand years ago. She described a system where if a woman's husband died a single brother of his was obligated to marry her and take care of her and her kids. In exchange, the brother would get all the land and possessions of the now deceased brother. "Horrible, no?", I think she said. I remember replying, "Yea, but the context back then was so different."
And I think about it dispassionately. Ideas, once they take hold, are difficult things to change. Few people look beneath the surface to try to construct a sense of "why" something is the way it is. I tried to imagine what it was like back then. Women, just from a biological standpoint, were at such a disadvantage. Due to the possibility of pregnancy, sexual encounters could uncontrollably become life altering events that would not only affect the woman in question but the extended family she belonged to. Left to their own devices to explore and expand their horizons, young women would of course have encounters. It's what human beings do. So I imagine, at least in part, so much of restricting the movement and possibilities of women was to counteract this outcome. It seems logical that the "no sex till marriage" ethic stemmed from this.
It's obviously much more complicated that just that, but this had to be a component. Maybe at the time there was a net benefit to society because of these ideas. It would be hard to tell whether a more modern view of gender roles could have worked back then. But you could easily see that, like me, people adopted the ideas they are taught as children and absent some external change few would challenge them. Women, restricted in their movements and told they were inferior lived down that that expectation, just like I did with my old man. Men seeing women behaving as they were taught to confirmed their own toxic beliefs that women were weak and inferior. The feedback women got from men and each other would just confirm these beliefs. I imagine it was a vicious cycle. I can remember how much negative feedback I used to get at the height of my illness which just confirmed for me what the old man had said.
But then technological change happened. I imagine the first was the spread of communication technology. As women were able to see a wider and wider world on a regular basis they began to get a broader sense of what was possible. If all you could see was your little town and what the role of women was there, you would be hard pressed to consider what else you might be capable of. But if you were exposed to the idea that some woman, somewhere, had a great adventure and did something you didn't think a woman could do maybe you would become inspired. Would I have considered riding up to Deadhorse absent any inspiration from anyone else? Maybe, but probably not.
The second, and in my opinion, greater technological innovation was birth control. Sure, condomns existed prior to the pill but that still involved consensus. The pill, for the first time in human history, put reliable birth control in the hands of women.
That changed everything.
But our ideas, including my own, have not completely caught up to this new reality. Aside from the threat of disease which is ever present but is no different for either sex, absent the likelihood of pregnancy due to the pill, what is the downside of a woman exploring her world the way men are encouraged to do? How much has the fear of pregnancy restricted even non-sexual exploration of the world? With exploration comes connections. With connections, both sexual and non-sexual, comes inspiration and options. With options comes choice
And with choice comes power.
I read an article that this year was the first year ever where there were more female Phd graduates than male graduates in the US. Very interesting.
Going through my own beliefs and feelings I find myself attempting to cull my own mental detritus that no longer fits this reality. I no longer feel bad or "less of a man", whatever that means, that I got handed my ass by a woman.
I got handed my ass by a better rider and it's inspired me to learn to become a better rider.
I did an epic ride to Deadhorse Alaska which many saw as foolhardy and dangerous. I know a woman, Andrea, who took a 1.5 year long trip with her boyfriend from Nova Scotia down to Mexico City, up to Victoria and then all though Chile and Argentina.
I host their website, miles-to-ride.com, which in part gave me the inspiration for this site.
I am actively afraid of riding in South America, yet here is a woman, one of many I've heard about, who is far braver than I am. I think they are planning some Sahara ride now.
How many of the old cultural ideas we hold on to no longer apply to our current reality? How much of what little girls are taught only serves to restrict their potential? How much of what's built into our vernacular no longer applies? "You hit like a girl", is one that comes to mind.
Despite being sick, at 14 I studied the martial arts. I knew a 12 year old 4 foot something blackbelt girl who could easily lift my sorry ass off the ground with a sidekick. I think she could punch hard enough to break a rib. I watched a 5ft tall instructor accidentally break someones rib. "hit like a girl"? yea. right.
I was talking to someone, I now forget who, and she was describing what little girls are taught and how that even sometimes when you can do a thing you shouldn't in deference to some mans ego. That's just silly. Sure, he might hurt for a while because internal Change is always painful, but he might be a better man for it. "If he doesn't, he just isn't man enough.", I thought.
"At this point in my trip, it was time to man up", I said as a friend, Jenny, questioned the expression. Yea, she's right. These days even that expression really isn't relevant. Some of the strongest people I know are women. She was the one who used to work on organic farms tilling soil by hand. I forget how many acres she did by hand but she would say if you considered the task and how much you had left to do you would give up, so you just had to "become the row" and you could do it. Tough woman.
The world changed fundamentally some time ago. We live in a new context. We live in the context of powerful women. This is not the misplaced idea that power means anger, confrontation or conflict, but it refers to the simple calm power that comes from the ability to choose.
There is a downside for men. Many of the lessons we are taught growing up and what we base our identities on in part assume weak women, women who need to be taken care of. In the context of powerful women, there's a uselessness that comes with this old way of thinking. I feel it. Much of what has motivated me to excel was the idea that my ability to provide or care for a woman defined my worth to myself and others. It's part of why I needed to try to save my mom during this Nightmare and why violence to women still bothers me more than anything. But what does it mean when I have no one to save? No one to do things for? Where does my value come in when she, all the shes out there, can do well enough for themselves? In some ways, men are emotionally weaker than women.
Time for some mental closet cleaning and reinvention, I guess. "to be a man" and ideas like it may be the victims of this new reality.
"But I can change my own oil", she said. "Yes, but maybe you should let him do it for you even though you can do it. It'll make him feel good to do something for you.", I replied. It makes you no less independant, because you still have the ability to choose, to let someone else do something for you.
I still like opening doors. If I see a woman shivering I'll give her my jacket. I still feel the white knight strongly. If I see a woman in trouble I'll always try to help. Many times the women in question are perfectly capable of solving their own problems. I'm often not sure where that leaves me. There may be some evolutionary psychology at work here as well. Maybe it's deeply ingrained and maybe this will never feel completely comfortable for me. I can cook, but man I like it when a woman cooks for me.
It may take some time to change the feelings behind these ideas, or maybe I'll choose to keep some of my oldschool beliefs as relics to put on the shelf because they are still a part of me, like my very first computer. But at least I know they are outdated and no longer of much value.
We live in the new context of powerful women.
"It's time to man up and adapt.", I thought as I chuckled at the irony.
Clouds threaten outside. I think I'll brave the elements, don the transit suit and go for a ride.
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