Monday, December 31, 2007


Midway in Life

Saturday was my 50th birthday, and I celabrated it in a number of idiosyncratic ways with Yvette -- which included dropping about $100 dollars on Lego blocks at the local Lego store. (As a contrast, shortly afterwards we stopped by the Sharper Image store and despite the fact we are both nerds, neither of us found the gadgets currently for sale there worth buying.)

I've procrastinated over writing anything about this milestone event. One reason is that I wanted to say something profound and significant about it, but couldn't. Another is that admitting to my age means acknowledging a number of things, many of which would indicate that I haven't ended up where I thought I would be ten, twenty or thirty years ago. Yesterday I confessed to my friends that years ago I thought I would have a number of books published by now, be an established pundit of some intellectual stature, and be busy mentoring a new generation. Finding that my primary intellectual achievements has been a large number of positive, but certainly not important, contributions to Wikipedia and this blog, I can't help but feel that I've failed to fulfill the potential I know I once had, and my time to do so is now undeniably finite.

It would be easy to dismiss this as mid-life angst. Not everyone can be a Jimbo Wales (to name one example), travelling the world to speak to enthusiastic audiences, which would be a hard thing for any bright, ambitious person to accept; for there to be a top 1%, there has to be a lesser 99% who are denied recognition for their contributions.

However, I have my own achievements to be proud of. For example, many years ago I had a hand in defeating the adoption of UCITA in Oregon, which was a good thing that helped many, many people. And reflecting clearly on my past activities, I have to also acknowledge that many achievements are far more difficult than they might appear at first. I encountered a couple of simple, if not trivial, examples of this last night while working on Wikipedia: I spent a couple of hours integrating content into the article on Bonga, a town in southern Ethiopia, yet appears in the contribution history as only a pair of edits; and hours creating a new article on the Germama River which amounted to less than 1200 bytes. The reason both took so long was that my goal was to contribute usable content, integrated with relevant articles in Wikipedia, rather than simply adding text in a way that improves my editcount statistics, or argues a given opinion on a subject.

This insight does make significant achievements all the more impressive, even if careful research reveals that those achievements were accomplished with little effort. Still, I know I worry more now about how productively I spend time than I did when I was younger; I only hope that this worry does not erode either my sense of humor, or my sense of fun.


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Happy Birthday and Congratulations on the new arrival!
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