When I was young I had my parents build me a laboratory in our garage. Every week I would go to an electronic repair store in my street and beg for some broken radio, tv or small home appliance I could take home and dismantle. So many times I asked if I could work in that store. It was my dream, but it was too dangerous. I was 9, and I was a geek.
At school I was good in math, I would get bored and got myself kicked out of classes quite often. In high school I aced physics and thought about studying astronomy once I would get to college.
I ended up studying Political Science, majoring in History of India and writing my final dissertation on the relationship between a small tribe inhabiting the north-western part of the country and the traditional rulers.
Willian Gibson said once that all cultural change is essentially technology driven. We shape our tools and our tools shape us. Over the last 30 odd years, generously the time I have been alive, we have built the tools of our information age. First the computer, then the web. And boy did they shape us.
During this time, being in technology has been the right choice. “On the right side of history”, as it is often said. It has been one of those epochs where finding yourself in the right place, and at the right time, could really make a difference. Even at smaller scale, you can roughly split the people you know by whether they are part of the new world or the old one.
The ability to manipulate technology is a superpower. A secret key to a white canvas begging to be painted. It hasn’t been about permission, or title, but about skills, courage and, more than we actually realise, naivety.
Technology has now penetrated every aspect of our life. Like water finding its way through the cracks of a stone wall, a few drops at first, soon a full stream. What we considered immutable is now all up in the air.
Talking about a tech world and a real world today make much less sense. But so is the opposite. Vekatesh Rao said it right a couple of days ago: “It doesn’t matter if you are not interested in politics. Politics is interested in you.”
Our white canvas is now society. Technology is the paint but not the painting. How we will work, how we will create and redistribute value, how we will organise ourselves. These are all open questions that beg to be answered in a new way.
Reforming society will be the new hacking.
I think a lot about my choices now that I work in technology. Would it have been better to follow my scientific inclination? When did I stop being a geek?
The truth is I never did. I remember when I decided to pursue a different path. Curiosity drew me to people, countries, decisions and errors more that it drew me towards machines and equations.
I wanted to find out why things looked broken in so many parts of our world. How did we get where we are? How do we go where we want to be?
Breaking an old TV apart was my way to find out how stuff worked. The attitude matters more than that topic.