Geek or Pioneer?

At work, I am considered a “technical person.” So, it confuses people a little when I give voice my favorite escape fantasy — moving someplace where I can mostly get around on horseback. My dream is to replicate aspects of my maternal grandparents’ childhoods, circa 1915. Both grew up on farms. I believe that my hope of doing so, of making a living away from the crowds and congestion, rests in technological advances. This is not as strange a split as it sounds coming from a Deadhead.

Most people I meet hold the image of Deadheads that, I admit, attracted me to the scene twenty-five years ago — that we are a weird hybrid of back-to-the-land hippies and privileged college students from urban families. What’s missing from the profiles of people not “in the life” is the Deadheads’ (and the Dead’s) history as early adopters of technology.

Back in the seventies, the Dead started storing fans’ contact information in databases. In the eighties, tapers at Grateful Dead concerts were using digital audio tape to capture the best possible recordings in a compact format. There was no hostility between these digital frontiersman and the less-technical beneficiaries of their experimentation. Deadheads were also among the first to latch on to the online space as a means to make community. (See this article about the formation of the WELL.)

As I see it, it comes down to this: Not all of us who love “technology” love it for its own sake. We embrace it when it facilitates our goals and aspirations, whether that means using a printing press to produce more Bibles, avoiding ink stains on the suit by using a ballpoint pen, working on the Web while staying home with a child, building a grassroots political movement through email, documenting police brutality with a cheap video camera, touching base by telephone with a long-distance grandma, teleworking to live removed from the modern hustle, or recording sweet guitar licks for posterity.

When it comes to taking up the technological charge, you gotta do what you gotta do.

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