Participant Research Into The Crazy Habits of Humans

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October 12, 2011 by rebelwithalabelmaker

So, I promised to read the news.  I haven't.  I may have to postpone the 30 days, as I have overestimated my own capabilities. 

Well, I did try really hard one time–they were building a pipeline in Alberta and there was great controversy because on the one hand it had the potential to contribute to warming the country up a bit, but on the other hand it required collaborating with Americans.  A bunch of people were protesting–and there was lots of information about how many and where and who… and nothing whatsoever about the actual issue they were protesting.  This always annoyed me when I was a protester.  So then I stopped reading.

Then about six people emailed or called to tell me that Steve Jobs died.  I know a lot  of geeks.  I'm not insulting them to say that–apparently geek is a cool term now.  Or so the geeks insist.  So, they all called to tell me that Steve Jobs died–and then that they were really upset about it and didn't know why.  I was upset, but I knew why.  Steve Jobs seems like the kind of guy who could do anything–it's unnerving that a man who could master so much still had the same vulnerabilities as all of us.  Also, Steve Jobs was only a few years older than Gary.

Me (to Gary):  Do you realize what that means?  You could get Cancer and die any minute.  

(silence).

Me:  Are you thinking "Sure.  So could you?"

Gary:  Yes.

Me:  Are you thinking that so could any of the kids?

Gary:  Oh no, that would be highly unlikely.

Do you know what that means?  It means it is not highly unlikely that I could get cancer.  I take some comfort in the fact that it is highly unlikely that a person would get cancer and hepatitis A in the same year, but even as I type that I can picture all of the geeks putting their heads in their hands and sighing mightily.  I will not heap the horror of my poor grasp of statistics on top of their current grief. 

The outpouring of grief around Steve Jobs' death doesn't surprise me at all.  But there's an interesting second element to it.  This is the first time that the people mourning the death of the celebrity keep telling me over and over how silly they feel for caring.  When did we become a culture in which grieving death is uncool?  Maybe it's that the geek community–so highly populated with brainiacs–feels that somehow they should be too smart for regular human responses?  That their presence here is merely as participant researchers?

"It's not like I knew him at all," a friend said, "I just admired his work."   I'd put that differently.  Just because someone doesn't know you doesn't mean you can't know them–on some level.  And from what I understand of Steve Jobs, his work was a big part of who he was.  

I remember when my first baby was born and I went a little crazy-over-protective.  A little.  And what was so strange was being able to simultaneously see the crazy yet have no power over it.  It doesn't matter how well I understand a set of emotions.  It doesn't matter how predictable they are, how silly, or how many millions of times they've been felt before by others.  No amount of understanding makes death less sad.  Or makes a good meal less satisfying.  Or a warm fire or a loving child less precious.  The mystery isn't why experience doesn't dull with understanding.  The mystery is why we would expect it to.  And why we choose to use our knowledge to try to master our instincts rather than to help us act in harmony with them. 

"I know it's supposed to take three months to get better," I said to Gary a few weeks ago when I got out of the hospital, "But I'm already taking back a lot of my tasks.  I think I'll get better more quickly–I'm very determined." 

"Determination has more of a short term effect than a long term one, usually." says Gary, who has seen this a million times at work.  "Usually it catches up with you.  It's better not to push too hard."

"But I'm young and mostly healthy, and I am strong in mind." I say.  And that lasted for a week or two, and then I learned that it is not so much being strong in mind that matters as being strong in liver.

"I think it would be wiser to conserve my energy more" I explained to Gary.  "It's better not to push too hard."  I am the two hundred and eighty millionth person to have learned this.  I had to learn through experience.

For all the masses of knowledge at our fingertips, there are still so many things we can't actually communicate to one another.  The taste of a mandarin orange or the feeling of a newborn baby snuggling up to you.  Sunrise.  The pain of a hurt child.  Romance.  The death of someone we felt we knew–whether or not they knew us back.  We can describe these things but we can't ever fully say them.  Somehow, I find this comforting–that even though the world has been discovered billions of times already it is still fresh and new for each person. 

"MOM!" Eric said to me in awe last week, with huge excitement, "Mom!  Did you know about spreadsheets?"

As a mother, I have to say that I'm so glad that being a geek is now cool.  This will bode well for Eric.

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