Questions from children about my job

Me, as drawn by a child

My mother, a fourth grade teacher at a public school, asked several young STEM professionals (including me) to send photos & letters to her students about their jobs. The idea is threefold: to open their minds to different forms of science & tech (it’s not just using microscopes); to make the idea of going to college both normal and attractive; and to make them feel like they’re already part of the scholarly ecosystem, communicating with other scholars.

So I sent a letter describing, in short, my digital work on behalf of the library, mentioning that I had to learn computer programming. I sent them a link to the Digital Collections at John Jay, which I work on, and some photos of me at a Wikipedia edit-a-thon. They each wrote me back a letter. This packet of letters is already a treasured possession! Their writing is carefully crafted: they follow the letter format, they thank me politely for my time, they praise my achievements, and ask relevant questions. Some are below.

Questions and comments from children about my job

  • Do you ever get tired of writing all those codes?!
  • I think your work is smart building websites. I go on websites every day.
  • Why did you pick this job?
  • When I’m older I really want to be an Emerging Technologist.
  • Is being an Emerging Technologist fun and do you get to use the iPhone 6?
  • Is your job hard? I want to be an explorer. Is it like exploring in time?
  • When you do your job do you discover anything new?
  • I wish that I could be a scientist like you. I think you are smart and pretty.
  • What were you like in 4th grade? Do you ever have problems?
  • Is it cool being a librarian? I like your technology.
  • I bet it was challenging to get to this rate of technology.
  • I think you even made Minecraft look the way it does?
  • When I first read your letter, I thought to myself, woo, she is amazing in so many ways! You must have worked very hard! I just want you to know that I support you and all that you do!
  • When I grow up I want to be a mathmatian [sic].
  • You inspired me to be a programmer. It sounds really hard and fun.
  • I think your job is really interesting!!! When I grow up I want to be a professional gymnast.
  • So I was wondering how you became who you are today?
  • Do you like being a liberian [sic]?
  • Do you work with any technology, perhaps a computer?
  • I think your job is really cool and I’m wondering where did you apply for your job?
  • Well I was not here yesterday, but I heard that you make websites and that you have to take care of your library. This is a short letter.

For the record, to the girl who asked if I “ever have problems”: yes. Sorry. Those don’t go away after 4th grade.

Observations

Interestingly, many of the students wrote to ask if my job is easy or hard, and there’s already an assumption that “writing codes” for computers is hard. I guess, thinking back to that age, we constantly classified everything—tests, teachers, classes, games—as easy/hard. Now, though, it’s not really something I think about, at least not in those terms. I classify tasks by how time-consuming they are.

With kids, it’s always interesting to see their assumptions about gender, too. In their drawings of me, I’m often wearing red high heels or a skirt or something pink, or hanging out with a blonde girl, or staring soulfully at the viewer… Then again, sometimes in their drawings of me I’m a truck, so.

Also, I loved that one kid asked if my job is like “exploring in time.” I giggled at first, but then realized—wait, yes, it totally is like exploring in time! I love libraries!!

Using the Internet of Things to wake up in the morning

When I was a kid, my mom would wake me up by setting our tiny dog loose on my bed and playing the fake-attack-Robin game. I’d reenter to the world with tiny paws pattering all over my belly and cheerful little barks. It was an awesome way to start my day.

Fast forward twenty years, and it’s hard to make getting up in the morning seem nearly as fun. Not because I don’t love what I do, but just because my body hates being made to wake up at a certain hour. So over time, with trial and error, I’ve built a complex multi-sensory system using technology to lead me gently back into the real world each morning. Some have called it “insane.” I call it effective.

In brief:

  • Soft music
  • WeMo-powered lamp
  • UP wristband
  • iPhone alarm

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Some notes from Theorizing the Web 2014

On Saturday, I went to Theorizing the Web, held in a lovely Williamsburg studio on a gorgeous spring day. I didn’t get to see Friday’s panels, but even seeing half the conference was pretty mind-exploding. See the program + full videos posted online. The #TtW14 hashtag was very active, too.

I’m still turning over a lot of what was said at TtW14. In a couple days, the panels took on feminism, race, activism, hacktivism, surveillance, privacy, code studies, publishing, archiving, and a lot of other biggies that are the major (if not always the most-talked-about) issues of the state of the internet today.

I planned poorly charge-wise, and both my laptop and phone died pretty quickly. So I relied on pen + paper to take notes. Perhaps you’d be interested.

The notes below are for:
Panel: Discipline & Publish
Symposium: –––⁂–(⊗__⊗)–⁂–––: Drones, for better or worse
Keynote: Race & Social Media

Intro image

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Digital & paper journaling

TL;DR: I now keep a digital journal. I had it printed & bound. It turned out awesome.

Paper

My grandmother's 1943 diary

My grandmother’s 1943 diary, a family treasure

Since the year 2000, I’ve regularly kept a personal journal. I rely on my journal to record my life’s various events — and to remember them, too. Revisiting memories physically strengthens them in your brain, and of course a journal serves as a reference, too. As the granddaughter of a prolific journaler, I also know that life-writing can become a family heirloom.

Until 2011, I wrote and drew in paper journals, filling thousands of unlined pages. My many journals are among my most prized possessions! They follow me and my life and feelings from the age of 12 on — important and interesting years. I know what I was feeling on September 11, 2001, and what my first kiss was like, and how hard it was going across the country to college, and how thrilling it is discovering new intellectual passions, and the names of the people I met in my travel adventures in Europe and North America.

But around the time I enrolled in my MLIS graduate program, I  found myself journaling less. My lifestyle changed — in class, I took notes not in notebooks, but in Evernote; I’d been a regular snail-mail-sender for quite a while, but now email felt like it had the same level of intimacy; though I had enjoyed the feeling of depositing paper checks before grad school, I went right ahead and enrolled in direct deposit when I became a research assistant. But my journaling habits had not evolved. I was hesitant to take my deepest feelings to a digital screen, knowing that they would be more vulnerable to both loss and privacy invasion. Still, I felt that I was missing out on personal growth by not reflecting more.

Digital

Day one screenshot

Day One entry screenshot

Day One timeline screenshot

In 2012, I decided to take my journaling into a well-reviewed app called Day One. It began as a superficial professional notebook but quickly attained the same level of intimacy as my paper journaling once had. Now that my subway commute is around 45 minutes underground, I typically write when I’m heading home or am between engagements. After all, as Gwendolen in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest points out: “I never travel without my diary.  One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

I really like Day One — I’ve got the app on my iPhone, iPad, and (non-work) MacBook, and I use it on about a daily basis. It’s been a relief, to me, to revive my journaling habit. In 2012, I wrote 38 entries; in 2013, 273 entries; and so far in 2014, six.

I’m still skeptical about the security of the app. There’s no web version, but it’s still a cloud database, which means that while I’ve got all the entries downloaded on my devices, they’re also in some data warehouse accessible with a username and password. At this point, I’ve just accepted that vulnerability, knowing that only I would have any major interest in its content. (Okay, and perhaps some past lovers and frenemies, too, but there aren’t too many of those who could feasibly hack me.)

Digital + paper

Journal cover

Printed (boring) entry

My other worry was the preservation of this precious digital object. The digital dies; print can survive longer. So a few weeks ago, I exported all of my entries, created a 6×9″ PDF, and sent it off to be perfect-bound by Lulu, a self-publishing service. For $18, I got a 400-page book of my own writing. I’m quite satisfied with the quality. (I wasn’t enough of a book snob to shell out more moola for a sewn binding.)

The front cover is the view from my Bushwick apartment one rainy day. The back cover (not photographed) is a view of the Empire State Building from my previous East Village apartment. For many entries, Day One auto-included the geolocation and weather of that day’s entry. The contents are riddled with iPhonetastic typos, but I don’t mind. It is so gratifying to hold this heavy book in my hands.

If you’re into Day One and also want a printed & bound copy of your writing, here are a few tips & gotchas I have compiled.

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Books I read in 2013

Per my yearly tradition, here’s a look at the books I read for pleasure in 2013. It felt like I read a ton more this year, although my list is only 21 books long, about average for me. My subway commute got a lot longer after I moved to Bushwick, so the majority of these books were probably read post-August.

Bold = favorites
* = rereads

  • Super Sad True Love Story (Gary Shteyngart)
  • The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (Gary Shteyngart)
  • Marcovaldo (Italo Calvino)
  • American Gods (Neil Gaiman)
  • Love Dishonor Marry Die Cherish Perish (David Rakoff)
  • St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves (Karen Russell)
  • Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Karen Russell)
  • The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)
  • Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)
  • The Crying of Lot 49 (Thomas Pynchon)
  • Tenth of December (George Saunders)
  • Pastoralia* (George Saunders)
  • Civilwarland in Bad Decline (George Saunders)
  • In Persuasion Nation (George Saunders)
  • The Shining Girls (Lauren Beukes)
  • 1984* (George Orwell)
  • Brooklyn (Colm Tóibín)
  • Mothers and Sons (Colm Tóibín)
  • The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. (Adelle Waldman)
  • Neuromancer (William Gibson)
  • The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)

So I was obviously in a George Saunders kick all year long, particularly since I saw him reading from Tenth of December at the Strand in January. I also finally got around to reading my first Pynchon and Gibson novels. And over a summer of insane government surveillance revelations, I read 1984, since it seemed fitting. Super Sad True Love Story ended up being a very timely read, too.

I was pleasantly surprised by how lovely I found Tóibín’s writing, especially Brooklyn (not least because the protagonist’s move to that borough mirrored my own), and disappointed in The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. since several friends had highly recommended it.

In 2014, I’m starting my year by reading Disgrace (J.M. Coetzee) and The Little Friend (Donna Tartt’s debut novel). I also plan to indulge my love for Calvino by reading as many of his novels as I can find the time to.

Previously: Books I read in 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009