Posts Tagged ‘History


Glossing Over History

Watching the HBO miniseries John Adams, I’m struck by how we whitewash history in classrooms and conversation. We are perhaps most shortsighted in our view of the historical figures that have risen to mythic proportions. Often we’re left thinking of these people as two-dimensional characters that reside only on our rapidly devaluing dollars. These individuals, for all their great achievements, were still human, and thus, in my mind, more appealing.

I fear our willingness to overlook the very humanity of the individuals we admire, in favor of their great exploits, puts us at risk of chasing away the very people we need to lead in society. Consider the men and women who seek public office. While many are true representatives of their communities, others still hold their seats because equally or more qualified candidates refuse to submit to the nonsense that passes as a modern-day election.

Within the business community, the most able are sometimes passed over for the ones with the smoothest tongues. The company scandals—Enron and Worldcom—were brought about because these companies were led by people more interested in appearing successful versus actually being successful. I’ve thought about this reality when compared to what we see in modern day politics. We want our political figures to speak of change, but we’re rarely interested in true change. We want our leaders to say something of value, but we punish them for honest speaking.

This past week saw the political world caught up in the words of Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Attention then fell on Obama as he responded to critics who questioned his membership in Wright’s congregation with a speech many believe made history. For others, it still wasn’t enough. Once again, instead of focusing on the individual’s credentials, we allowed the media to drive the conversation towards requiring Obama to take responsibility for the words of someone else. Do we really believe that Obama’s pastor choice defines whether he is qualified to be president? Aren’t there other questions that would be better qualifiers?

Ultimately, history’s allure lies in our ability to assign responsibility with supposedly perfect hindsight. We can define the heroes, loathe the villains, and laugh at the jesters. Living in the moment requires more patience, but our fast-paced lives don’t allow for the consideration we give to those in the past. And for many, yesterday or last week IS history, but we’re unwilling to recognize how our humanity makes it difficult for living figures to reach mythic proportions without falling off the pedestal.


Stirring Up History

I’ve mentioned a few time my love of books. More accurately, it’s the love of stories contained in the books. Occasionally, certain stories resonate more than others. This post isn’t a book review by any stretch. Instead, it’s more of a prompting to ask yourself when was the last time you read a book that resonated?

To give you some context, I most recently finished a book in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, A Breath of Snow and Ashes. It’s the sixth book in the series, and given the length of the books, I can’t begin to do the story justice. Suffice to say for my purposes today that it’s historical fiction set in the mid- to late-1700s.

Gabaldon is an author who revels in the details, so her stories tend to overflow with the minutiae of everyday life during this time period. This latest book is placed right at the beginnings of the Revolutionary War and reminded me of the fact that we take the United States existence for granted. I say taken for granted, because at the time, the likelihood of a successful rebellion against Great Britain wasn’t a given. Despite the bigger populations in cities like Boston and Philadelphia, many settlers were spread throughout the 13 colonies in the backcountry. I can’t begin to imagine the difficulties of forming said individuals into fighting militias, including the arming, feeding, and moving of them.

Even more interesting, I was struck by how everyone—men, women, and children—were caught up in the conflict, without regard to class or age. History tends to place the leaders of the past on pedestals, perhaps stripping them of their humanity. Within the stories told by Gabaldon and other authors, both fiction and nonfiction, such characters are brought back to life, making clear both the good and the bad. I believe this fact is why I was so struck by this story. Granted, I thought some sections of this particular book a trifle overdone, but overall, I was left wondering, “Could I survive in that world?”

I’m a big proponent of modern life. I like my technology and conveniences, but I also think we’ve lost something important. We’ve strayed away from the notion that there’s something bigger at stake, that certain ideals hold a value beyond money. When did that happen?

I’m not blind to the gray areas that make up most of history. Few things, if any, are black and white. I’m not trying to gild the past either. It was dirty and dangerous with no certainty of what the future held. But I’m saddened that we’ve moved past the point of writing and speaking about the “truths [held] to be self-evident.” We no longer write documents like the Declaration of Independence that declare:

…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (link)

These words that stirred men to historic achievements now pop up in advertisements, and we don’t seem to care. Santayana had the right of it, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (link) Based on what I’ve seen, I believe he’s right. Heaven help us all.



Billie Jean, Tara Hunt, & the Bionic Woman

I’ve had an idea percolating for about four days now, and it took watching the pilot episode of Bionic Women for everything to gel. Let me start at the beginning. This past week, I heard a brief mention on the radio that it’s the 34th anniversary of “The Battle of the Sexes” between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs (CBS Sportline; Wikipedia). I paid attention mostly because of my recent viewing of a bio on HBO about Billie Jean.

I grew up after Title IX was firmly in place and enjoyed every benefit as I ran track and played basketball through much of junior high and high school. While I knew about the match between King and Riggs, I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal until I saw the bio. Beyond the historic value, something else about this anniversary was nagging at me.

Women in Technology

Then, a few days later, courtesy of Robert Scoble‘s link feed, I got another piece of the puzzle when I saw Shroki’s post on Tara Hunt‘s recent article for O’Reilly. Tara, from what I’ve read on her blog and in interviews, gives a voice to women in technology, pointing out the value they’ve brought to the industry as a whole. She also does an excellent job of highlighting the blind spot that pops up when the story relates to women and technology. In this particular article, she addresses the question, “where are the women in tech” with an impressive list of participants:

If you look around, you’ll see that there are many Sandras. Some of the hottest companies of early Web 2.0 (and before) have been co-founded by women: Flickr (Caterina Fake), Blogger (Meg Hourihan), SixApart (Mena Trott), Mozilla (Mitchell Baker), Guidewire Group (Chris Shipley), and Adaptive Path (Janice Fraser).

My exposure to the tech world is relatively recent, not quite a year. But I have met some amazing women at some of the seemingly all-male conferences I’ve attended. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Gina Trapani, one of my favorite tech bloggers, at SXSW. I’ve also become friends with Rachel Clarke at JWT. Then at Gnomedex, I saw Cali Lewis and her husband Neil talk about their experience with GeekBrief.TV. Also at Gnomedex, as part of the Ignite Seattle group, I greatly enjoyed Deborah Schultz. These women are just a few of the amazing individuals I’ve been exposed to since my entrance into the tech world. Now for the final piece of the puzzle.

The Bionic Woman

Tonight, I watched the premiere episode (via Amazon’s video download) of the new Bionic Woman. The original was on the air from 1976–77. This new iteration uses the same basic premise. A “normal” woman, through a series of events, is “rebuilt” and ends up with super-human skills and healing abilities, courtesy of a shadowy government group. I like sci-fi, so the story was interesting to me anyway. But what drew me in was this idea of melding women with technology into something that could easily overpower a guy—and not for the reasons you might be imagining.

For a long time (forever actually), women have had to rely on their brains for the majority of their survival. Physical prowess is not a natural ability gifted to the female form, so we balanced it out with mental skills. What do you think the world would be like if men and women were actually on a level playing field (if such a thing exists), mentally AND physically?

Combining Brains & Brawn

Billie Jean proved that she had the physical and mental ability to beat Bobby Riggs at a time when women in sports had significantly lesser status. Today, some of the biggest stars on the tennis circuit are the female singles players—Venus and Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova to name three. It’s taken time, but these women are garnering their own endorsement contracts conquering other terrain normally reserved for the male superstars.

Tara Hunt has shown that many women have the necessary mental power to be the leaders in today’s technology industry, a field heavily dominated by men. Women are coding their own programs, creating their own companies, and getting funding from VCs. Now that they’ve found their tech voice, women are using it.

What brought all these random thoughts together was the Bionic Woman (if I remember right, the character’s name is Jamie). For me, she represents a melding of these two realities. Physically, she’s a match for any man, and mentally, she’s got the brains to outwit anyone, too (her IQ score is higher than her genius boss). Plus, she’s got $50 million in technologically advance body parts.

I’m willing to admit I’m stretching this concept a bit, but isn’t that what this medium and everything else haphazardly categorized as Web 2.0 is about? Stretching, testing, discovering, imagining. Maybe Web 3.0 won’t be about any particular technology or toy. Maybe it will be about a level playing field that accepts anyone—woman or man—that dares step onto the turf.


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