Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Berkeley

My day in Berkeley.

I spent the day in Berkeley, which is an unusual pleasure. The main reason I was there was to interview Theodore Roszak, for a project I’m doing at work. I’ve read a lot of his stuff: in fact, his 1970 Nation essay on Buckminster Fuller– a review of Fuller’s Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth— drove home the paradox of Fuller having been a hero to the counterculture more effectively than anything else I’ve read. So it was interesting to meet him in person.

After the interview, I drove to downtown Berkeley (for some reason, I never seem able to find public parking near my actual destination, despite having lived there for four years), and visited a few old haunts. I had lunch at a restaurant I virtually lived in as a postdoc (the name has changed, but otherwise it’s pretty much the same), wandered past my old apartment, and generally hiked the old trails around UC. It was a lovely day, not too warm, perfect for a stroll down memory lane.

About halfway through, I realized something: I didn’t really care. I expected to start weeping copiously at any moment, but instead I was oddly disengaged. Campus was nice, but I had no particular desire to see my old department. Telegraph was kind of aging and frayed, and no longer in an interesting way. I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon on the phone with colleagues, talking about a project we’re working on. That was more interesting.

I mean, I loved being a postdoc, and the two years I spent living there and teaching at Davis. I loved working until all hours in Doe Library, Cafe Milano, and Moe’s and Cody’s; I loved Telegraph Avenue (more or less); and I’d do it all over again. I’d do it all again, if I were 25 again. Now, though, nostalgia for my old neighborhood (south of campus, just off Telegraph Ave.) has been replaced by lust for a house near Marin Ave. with a view and a writer’s cottage.

In one respect, this shift is quite unsurprising: after all, my postdoc was ten years ago, I was single, and could afford to be poor and dedicated to the pursuit of my craft. Now, I’ve got two kids, a mortgage, and an appreciation for a well-done kitchen rehab or garage-to-home office conversion. And as my wife put it, the things that were virtues of my old apartment are now liabilities. The proximity to Telegraph, the pub at the corner, the barnacle-like permanent growth of graduate students attached to the neighborhood are all less attractive than a park with a really good play structure.

But at the same time, I have an image of myself has someone who stopped changing substantially about ten years ago. Today, if I met the person I was at twenty, I think I’d see a lot of differences. The person I was at thirty, in contrast, is– in most important respects– identical to the person I am now. A paradox. Maybe I’ve changed more than I realized.

After snapping out of my non-reverie, I met my friend Susan for coffee. In the course of finding our rendevous point (an Espresso Roma near the Monterey Market), I discovered something significant: It turns out that there is a Berkeley that I never really noticed. One that’s not attached to the university. One that consists of little streets with little shops that don’t sell edited collections published by Routledge.

Some of those little streets are very charming. They have good food and coffee. This bears further investigation.

The other really striking thing that came from that coffee was that, after we exchanged pleasantries and sat down, Susan said, “So you met Theodore Roszak today?” Now, I don’t think that Susan and I have actually spoken in person in months; yet she knew why I was in town, because I’d written about it the night before. Some of my colleagues will do the same thing, but this blog-to-face to face shift is more striking with someone you don’t see regularly. I suspect having a blog dramatically increases the number of these “we haven’t spoken in ages but the conversation picks up in mid-stream, since we each know what the other posted this morning” kinds of interactions. It felt a bit disconcerting at first, but upon reflection, I quite like the effect. (Of course, when it comes to blog meets world, I have nothing on Halley’s experience at BloggerCon.)

2 Comments

  1. I noticed that moment, too, Alex, an absolutely natural and seamless transition from a disembodied, asynchronous, distributed pseudo-conversation to a real-time,in-person, real conversation over coffee. It was odd, amusing, natural, and strange all at the same time.
    And your tie-dyed polo shirt was the perfect attire for the moment(much cooler than the shirt you mention above).

  2. Interesting experience, isn’t it? It reminded me a bit of seeing people at a conference– a venue where for short, intense periods you interact with people you’ve known a long time but don’t have regular contact– except in that case, the conversation tends to be more narrowly cast. And, in a way, professional gossip and the most recent issues of the journals serve as the common framework for conversation.
    —–
    PING:
    TITLE: SIMS distinguished lecture series
    URL: http://Blogger.iftf.org/Future/000562.html
    IP: 65.223.9.30
    BLOG NAME: Future Now
    DATE: 09/28/2004 12:23:54 PM
    Even though I’ve spoken in and thus am a suspect source, I wanted to point to this fall’s UC Berkeley School of Information Management and Systems Distinguished Lecture Series. It’s a very diverse, interesting group of speakers, ranging from former Ama…

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