There are lots of things my Mom did intentionally, to model proper behavior for my sister and I. Share! Be nice! Eat your cheesecake parallel to the crust! I’m not sure either of the following two things were intentionally done on her part as examples for my sister and I, but they sure stuck.
When I was in seventh grade, my Mom got my sister and I a puppy. A tiny, squirming too-smart-for-her-own-good mutt who knew when it was a friend coming up the walk, effectively blocked a 250-lb repairman from coming near anyone in the family despite her less-than-imposing 7-lb weight and instantly became one of the family. Turns out D.J. was the model by which I now judge all dogs (and to be brutally honest, people), but it was a difficult adjustment to learn how to take care of her, to integrate her daily needs into our lives when we were just kids who wanted to go play.
Right about the same time, my Mom brought home a “laptop.” A huge, hulk of a machine that weighed as much as I did, had a tiny 7″ orange-type screen and a detachable keyboard that formed part of the hard outer-shell case. It ran DOS and made sad little beeping noises when you accidentally typed “D:\” instead of “C:\” at the > prompt. She used it to create really complicated documents, muttering the whole time about “reveal codes” and how she always had to fix other people’s stupid formatting mistakes. But it had Q-Bert and that made putting up with her muttering and carting its bulk up and down the stairs to my room worthwhile. Turns out that big, giant hulk of a machine was the model by which I now judge technology. And–let’s also be brutally honest here–some people (especially the ones who make sad little beeping noises when you make tiny mistakes. Sadly, these people tend not to pass the dog-yardstick test or come with the redeeming Q-Bert install).
Thankfully, the model the dog provided and the model the computer provided serve very different purposes. I know now that dogs and people often live up to the admittedly-high D.J. yardstick, but computers will forever outpace my ability to measure them. And I learned that we add things to our lives because, even if they complicate life in some unpredictable ways, our lives get better. Easier. Faster. More rewarding.
I am who I am–a geek with a willingness to accept that things can’t stay the same forever and a great longing for both fountain pens and bleeding-edge technology–because my Mom brought home the dog and then the computer. Because Mom always questioned her environment and looked for the right thing to change. She got the fantastic dog who added so much responsibility and joy to our lives. She used reveal-codes when most people just selected text and pressed the “bold” key regardless of what might happen.
That means Mom has the longest-running geek-grrl influence in my life, making her my Ada Lovelace Day/Women in Technology/Let’s Honor The World’s First Programmer role model, whether or not that’s what she intended. Instead of hanging back and staying in the typesetting field with which she was so familiar, she taught herself how to code and now runs Web sites. She is–and she will kill me for saying this–nearing retirement age, but instead of coasting and doing stuff that makes her comfortable, she pushes boundaries, tests herself. She’s learned HTML, CSS, and basic scripting in 2 different languages, all in the last 2 or 3 years, and mostly on her own, and that list doesn’t include all the things she’s taught herself beyond the scope of that 2-3 year timeline.
Still, the most important thing I learned from her about technology is even more fundamental: she never uses technology solely for the sake of using technology, and she never sticks old methods solely for the sake of comfort. It’s easy to do both. Newspaper closures all over the country suggest how difficult it can be to break free of an old model, in much the same way that every failed new-new-thing product demonstrates how stupid it can be to do something bleeding-edge solely for the sake of doing something new.
What I learned from my mom is that wisdom applied to technology is the real key. Changes in paradigm that use technology can, when they’re done right and for the right reasons, make life better. Easier. Faster. More rewarding.
And let’s not forget: more fun….