One of the reasons that I've not had time to write is that since we've arrived, we've been welcomed into the homes of so many friends. Between travel time, visiting time, and eating time, there's not much time left for anything else. What follows is a bit of a travelogue of our trip thus far, complete with a selection of family-focused photos.
February 2004 Archives
No, not that kind of size.
I knew Toko was huge. Everything you read about the area emphasizes that...how it's really an amalgamation of cities rather than one, how the density of buildings and people is staggering.
But reading and hearing about it is nothing like experiencing it. I've been to all of the major US cities--New York, Chicago, LA, DC, Miami, etc. With each, there's a clear sense of city center, and gradual lessening of density and urban feel as you spread out. Here, it feels like city everywhere you go, and the city goes on forever. You can be on trains for literally two hours to get from one very urban part of the city to another.
And as a person under five feet tall, it's also mind-altering for me to be in large crowds of people my size. Those of you up there in the average US height range can't understand this, I suspect, but to suddenly be in an environment where everything fits me is very strange. I can touch the ceilings in some public places. I can change lightbulbs without standing on tables. I can reach the hanging hand-holds in the subway trains.
When the two sizes meet--the enormous crowds of small-sized people--it's very different for me than being caught in a crowd of people all a foot taller than me stateside. It's cramped and crowded and pushy--but it's manageable in a way that large crowds normally aren't for me.
Yes, I have actually fallen off the edge of the earth...or, at least, traveled to the other side of it.
We arrived in Japan on Sunday night, and have not had much free time since then. We've been waking early, spending the days visiting friends and enjoying Japanese hospitality and cuisine, and arriving exhausted in the evening. Because we have only one computer to be shared among the three of us (mine, since I was the only one willing to carry one while traveling), I've had no time to blog--only to check email, and to respond to the most urgent messages.
Today (it's noon on Thursday 2/26 here) is the first day we've had a chance to simply relax, so after letting Lane have the morning to catch up on his blog, I'm finally getting a chance to post to mine.
Lane's blog (http://lane.lawley.net/) has been a very successful experiment. He's using it to communicate with his fourth-grade class in Rochester, and so far they're all off to a great start. Not only does it make it easy for him to share with the class what's going on here, it also makes it equally easy for the class to respond back to him. Because it's not a closed conferencing system, anyone can see Lane's posts and his classmate's responses. And it will serve as a record of his travels here, long after the trip is over. It's been wonderful to watch him writing; I doubt he'd have been willing to keep a personal journal, but because the blog is a conversation with his friends, it's much more of an incentive to write. His teacher has been wonderfully supportive, giving the kids class time and extra computer lab time to read Lane's blog, do research on Japan, and ask him questions.
I'm still overwhelmed by all that I've seen and experienced thus far, so I'll be breaking my travelogue up into separate pieces. Between that and grading, today will probably be a mostly online day, for the first time since I've arrived. It's a pity, because the weather is gorgeous today, but I really do need to deal with the demands of the online world for a bit, before I re-immerse myself in the marvels of Tokyo and its surroundings.
Off we go.
Sitting in the Rochester airport, about to board our flight to Detroit. Three hour layover there, and then we're Tokyo-bound. I think it really just hit us (me and Lane) last night that this was really happening.
Traveling with Lane is a treat...having an enthusiastic, articulate 9-year-old along changes the way everyone around us reacts. It's hard not to smile when you see him radiating excitement.
He'll be blogging this trip; once he starts posting (perhaps during the layover in Detroit, if we find WiFi), I'll link to him from here. We're going to use his blog as a way for him to communicate with his fourth-grade class in Rochester while he's gone--he'll be able to post photos and stories, and they'll be able to comment and ask questions.
We're fully wired on this trip; Lane has his GameBoy and a brand new game (Sword of Mana). I've got my powerbook (with two extra fully-charged batteries), and my iPod (with two unabridged books downloaded from Audible.com; Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, and Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.
They're boarding, so off we go.
I didn't blog about the badgers, since it's the kind of meme that spreads best person-to-person. But I can't resist pointing to this delightful merging of LoTR and the badgers, which I found via a comment on Weez's blog.
The rest of today is hereby devoted to packing, prepping, and panicking--not necessarily in that order. Blogging before departure is unlikely, but blogging from the other side of the world, starting this weekend, is extremely likely.
So it's slowly dawning on me that we leave for Tokyo in three days Ack!
I can't put off the packing decisions any longer, obviously. Time to start picking out suitcases and deciding what to put in them.
Those of you who've been to Tokyo and/or Shanghai...any tips on things that I must bring with me? Things that would be difficult or impossible to acquire there if I forgot them? Things that would make our lives significantly easier on the incredibly long plane trip from Detroit to Tokyo, or after we arrive?
I did a self-serving thing in my graduate web design class this quarter, and had their group project be a travel guide to Tokyo and Shangai. Some of the groups provided some useful "pre-flight checklist" material, which is great. But I also want to tap into the amazing groupmind of readers on this site. I know some of you have travelled to these countries before, and I'd love to have the benefit of your hindsight as I'm making plans...
A close friend and his wife had a baby two weeks ago, after trying for quite some time. But what should have been a joyous occasion turned into a terrifying week of medical tests, uncertain diagnoses, tests, and surgery.
The good news is, the surgery was successful, the baby is recovering faster than anyone could have hoped, and it appears as though the problems were completely resolved.
Spending time with the parents (and grandparents) that week in the NICU, however, brought back for me a tsunami of memories from when my older son, Lane, was born. His situation was far less grave--the doctors suspected a problem that he turned out not to have, but it it took ten days for them to rule it out. During that ten days he had blood tests and spinal taps and a bed in the NICU--where he was tethered by wires and tubes to a distressing array of monitors and machines that beeped and whirred and watched our every move.
There have been a lot of transitions for me during the past 18 months. When I started blogging, I had no connections to any of the "names" in this medium. I was an isolated academic in Rochester, NY. Any 'fame' I'd accrued professionally was limited to the library field. I was headed down a professional dead-end, not having published or presented in far too long, teaching one web design class after another without a larger context into which to place the material.
When I discovered blogging, it was an amazing, exciting thing for me. It pulled together my grad school interests in what was then called CMC, my teaching interests in web technologies, and my love of writing. It provided me with a never-ending stream of new and interesting ideas from people who wrote daily about the topics I was most interested in.
I had no idea when I started blogging that there was a "who's who" of blogging...or, more to the point, I probably knew it was likely (what field--academic or technical--doesn't have its stars, its big names?), but I didn't care. I was interested in reading and writing and discussing, not in reputation or rank or buzz.
I had a lovely dinner last night with Allan Karl, at an excellent restaurant here in San Diego called Rainwater's on Kettner. No laptops or electronic devices of any kind were involved, which was a huge relief.
One of the things I've found most disconcerting about this conference has been the unwillingness of so many of the participants to shift their mode from the keyboard and screen to the real world of face-to-face communication. There's great value to the backchannel, especially in conference presentations where you can't speak out loud with your neighbors to discuss what's being said. But in the hotel lobby? In the restaurants? In the participant breakout sections? I remember when Steven Johnson posted about Clay Shirky's social software gathering last year--he noted that the backchannel seemed to suck the humor out of the room and into the chat. But at this conference, the backchannel seems to be sucking everything out of the room and into the chat, which I find depressing.
So, anyway, dinner. It was a great reminder of the real-world rewards of this new electronic community I've become a part of. Allan and I had a great time talking, laughing, eating, and sharing a bottle of wine. That kind of experience cements a friendship in a way that instant messenger just can't do. I don't use technology for the sake of using technology--at least, I try not to. I use it to enhance the things that I care about in my life--friends, family, my research. Yesterday afternoon I spoke to my kids over iChat audio. I arranged to meet Allan using email and IM. And I participated in great discussions about my areas of research interest during presentations. But all of those spill over into the real world, and I use them to enhance the real world, not replace it.
I realized this morning that I was starting to burn out on conference and professional time. I went straight through for nearly 18 hours yesterday...starting at 7am over the conference breakfast, hitting 4 sessions in the morning, going to the conference lunch, then 4 more sessions, then dinner with conference-goers, then 2 evening session, ending after 11pm.
So today I'm slowing down, and finding some time for myself. I skipped a couple of morning sessions (though I did go to hear Marc Smith's great talk at 8:30), had lunch with Judith Meskill and her friend Estee in the sports bar, and now I'm basking in the sun on the steps of Horton Plaza, where I've discovered a free wifi hotspot. Sitting in the sun--in February--is quite a luxury for those of us who live in the great frozen north, so it's doing me a lot of good to spend these few free minutes soaking it up.
I will go back for some of the presentations this afternoon, including a demo of Wallop by Lili Cheng that I'm really looking forward to. Then I'm having dinner with Allan Karl, which I'm also looking forward. And I end the day with the women and tech BOF...I have no idea who, if anyone, will be there. Hope it won't be an empty room, but if so at least it means I can get to sleep a little earlier.
More later today--or perhaps tomorrow--with some of my thoughts on what I've heard here, and the ideas that have emerged in my between-meeting chats with interesting people here at the conference.
For those who attended my presentation this morning (the crowd was small, but engaged and interested--it was fun!), and for those who couldn't (cough...joi...cough...danah...cough), the barest of notes (well, pictures, really) are here.
Tonight danah and I are doing a participant session on our blog definition/categorization idea, at 9pm. And tomorrow (Wednesday), I signed up to do a BOF on women and tech for those who want to continue the conversation that got cut short at the end of the presentation today.
If you're here and haven't come up to say hi, please do...now that I'm done talking, I'm a lot happier to be here. :)
You know you're really in trouble when your schedule starts to look a lot like Joi's!
1/29-31, Chicago (consulting)
2/9-12, San Diego (speaking @ ETech)
2/21-3/3, Tokyo (tourism)
3/3-6, Shanghai (tourism)
3/13-16, Austin (speaking @ SXSW)
3/18-19, Washington DC (serving on NSF ITWF Review Panel)
3/28-30, Redmond, WA (Social Software Symposium)
Happily, things look like they'll calm back down again after that flurry of flights. Which is a good thing, for me and my family.
A student told me today that he didn't understand how I was able to do everything that I do--conferences, classes, family, etc. But I'm not sure that I actually do everything that everyone thinks I'm doing. There's a lot of smoke and mirrors involved. And there's also a lot of working in the spaces...multitasking during meetings and while sitting on the couch, while flying in airplanes and sitting in terminals.
The biggest down side of that multitasking is that I'm seldom completely in the moment--my attention always seems to be diverted a bit by the things I ought to be working on, the deadlines that are creeping up on me. So I'll be glad when life calms down a bit...spring brings some relief, and summer even more. For now, I'm going to put the computer down, and step away from the keyboard for a bit.
I've always liked that line in Bob Seger's song Against the Wind..."Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then."
It's been a rough winter. Too many illnesses, too many losses, for too many of the people I care about.
On the list of things I wish I'd never needed to know--
- That there's a back entrance to the Strong Hospital parking garage that's much quicker for getting in and out
- What the visiting restrictions were for neonatal ICUs ten years ago, and what they are now (pretty much the same, it seems)
- How effective antidepressants can be at helping those of us with a tendency towards chemical imbalance manage the curve balls life throws at us
- What a month of below-freezing temperatures feels like
- The difference between sitting shiva in a reform household vs. an ultra-orthodox household
Yeah, I think life would definitely be easier if I'd never had to learn any of those things.
But the sun is out today (even if the temperatures are still below freezing), and my husband and kids--the people who matter most in the world to me--are happy, healthy, and at home waiting for me. That's worth a lot.