Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What's your frequency?

Warning: another one of those posts that has no topic, no point, and is mostly a train of thought. Yay!

While searching for an email address I ran across an old one I sent to the ICB class I was TAing for more than 2 years ago (the current juniors when they were first-semester freshmen). Somewhere in the midst of talking about line integrals and FresnelC is this snip:

Engineering is the art of being lazy. So before you brute-force someothing, remember that your brain is the best tool for being lazy, and do your best to use it before you tell the computer to go chug.

Looking at all the emails I'd sent to the class, I was stunned by the amount of time and energy I'd put into teaching in the last three years. It's something I've been struggling with for a while (in the past two weeks I've had at least 5 conversations with different people explicitly directed at this topic). Have I been putting so much of myself into the education of other people that I've neglected my own? "I think that you can do anything if you stop trying to do everything," one of my friends said. "You need to change that conception [that you waste people's time] of yourself and start thinking you're worth it, dammit." For some reason, I think my time is worth being wasted for other people, but their time isn't worth wasting to teach me.

Last night when our SCOPE team returned from a marathon 5-hour design review (which was preceded by a marathon 72-hour shift in our lab - you'll see us staggering around today after having gotten more than 3 hours of continuous sleep for the first time in a week or so - but IT WORKED! IT WORKED!) I stopped by the library to return some stuff and inadvertently ended up reading a book while I was there. It was one of those "parable" stories of how some person changed their life as a way to indirectly (supposedly) get you to change your own.

In the book, one of the characters (Agnes) does a demonstration at the dinner table by way of explanation. She turns on a badly tuned radio and raises the volume until everyone is covering their ears and wincing at the terrible static. Then she turns the volume off, tunes the radio to a jazz station and slowly raises the volume again. This time everyone's tapping their feet. People are like radios, Agnes says. If you want to amplify your actions and your effect on the world, you've got to make sure you're amplifying the right thing - tuning in to the right frequency that is what you're all about. Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.

They all go around the table talking about their "fundamental frequencies" - one is about "service," one is about "nurturing," another about "freedom." Those "frequencies" manifest themselves in the intents of all their actions. For instance, the "nurturing" person became a hard-driving business mogul, but did it in order to train her subordinates to grow as people and eventually branch off and start companies of their own - the "freedom" person was a consultant (creating more freedom for himself) who, through his work, made others more aware of the choices they could make for themselves (freedom for them). According to the book, one's "fundamental frequency" comes through in everything you do, no matter what career you're in, whether you're talking about your personal or work life, everything.

So what's mine? Teaching? That was my first thought, backed up by the inane amounts of email I found to former students. But that can't be the fundamental. I was happy way long before I started teaching, and spending all my life in a classroom doesn't excite me - I want to spend some of it in a classroom, but I want more.

Learning? I learn best by teaching. I love searching for new facts, asking stupid random questions, reading like a little fiend in the middle of the night. But no, that's not quite it. It's too much of a one-way draw. I do (and love) a lot of things that I don't accrue any learning from, like building webpages for random groups, accompanying singers on the piano, stuffing envelopes to help a staff member out.

Service? No, more specific; I only like serving people in several specific ways - but what ways? Love? Well... all right, but of what? Again, too general. Information? Closer, but no. I don't like accumulating facts. Information overload is something I fight with all my might - I strongly believe there's no sense in having tons of data that doesn't mean anything and obscures the things that do mean something - I see information as "dead" and "alive" when I look at it, like how some people see "dead" and "alive" shapes in Conway's Game of Life, or in Go. Information that's dead is useless. Information that's living, that means something, can grow, is good.

Then something Dee Magnoni said earlier flashed through my mind. She'd been describing the role of a librarian. "...to move things down the spectrum from information to knowledge."

Knowledge. Information that has meaning. That sounds about right. Getting knowledge. Transforming information into knowledge. Creating knowledge. Helping other people obtain it. The power of knowledge - the service of providing knowledge, the freedom of having knowledge. That really does sound about right. At least it's the best approximation I can provide right now, and it works for me at the moment.

What's your frequency?

1 comment:

Nikki said...

What does blowing people's minds on a regular basis count as?