Tonight I did something I do less and less of these days — I came home and didn’t jump on the Internet. Didn’t rush through my meal to hurry up and check my e-mail only to be inundated with the day’s nauseating blog comments. Didn’t skip reading the book I’m almost finished with to see what’s going on with Twitter. Just fed the animals, changed, ate my dinner, watched Louie, and then sat down in the new dorm-room style circle chair I bought on sale at Target with said book I’m almost finished with.

I don’t want to go all Calculon on you by saying I was filled with a large number of powerful emotions, but I actually was. I was unplugged and I could hear myself thinking without the background noise of the fan keeping my laptop from burning my palms as I type. I thought about how my whole life is in light; fiber optics transmitting my thoughts to people I’ll probably never meet, silicon holding my words only to be revealed by the tickle of electricity sent to circuits triggered by the touch of my finger to a button. Where do my words go when I’m gone? The frantic pace of the Internet makes me feel that if I don’t check in every few hours, or every day, or every other day, all memory of me will vanish. Do people read my blog archives? Or do they simply absorb the missive I’ve sent for the day, then dash off to some other blog, where they’ll read something else that scoots my words out of the way to implant themselves in their place? If I didn’t post for a month, would you remember who I was? All you know of me is light. My picture appears to you in pixels and photons, but you don’t know the flesh behind them. And this is true for all of us who inhabit this world, who put their words out for consumption in blog form or comment form or tweet form or e-mail form. When we’re all gone, — all of us, including you — what will be left of us to know?

I’m a realist, I don’t expect our current mode of civilization to last for a thousand years or even a hundred years if we keep doing what we’re doing with no major modifications. When the time comes that there are no more working DVD players to play our DVDs, when our infrastructure is so dilapidated that we can’t access what’s left of the Internet, when there’s no electricity being generated to power our communications towers and our orbiting satellites come crashing to Earth from lack of maintenance, how will we remember what we are? How will whatever civilization rises after us, comprised of whatever beings have replaced us, know who we were? Civilizations we consider ancient today used decidedly more low tech materials to share their information, and we can pore over them today. We only need other low tech writings to teach us how to interpret the strange symbols their society used to communicate. I can’t even begin to figure out what a shiny CD has on it without benefit of fancy technology that, in our future as it stands to become now, will no longer exist. I can’t take out my laptop’s hard drive and flip through the circuits to find that short story I wrote 2 years ago. I can’t tell you one damn thing about what’s on that drive except through the low tech method of retelling memories — what I can remember about what I had on there. It’s kind of frightening to me, this impermanence. It feels like the knowledge about this golden age of history is a mere electromagnetic pulse away from becoming nothingness. I know, I know, I’m getting all existential up in this piece. But if you sit with it, it leaves you cold.

That’s why I’m obsessed with notebooks and pens and paper and books, why I’m putting together an anthology telling stories of women of color on paper, why I’m not too keen on e-books and I still buy CDs — hey, at least the liner notes and lyrics will still be readable. I don’t advocate some kind of neo-Luddite existence. I don’t think we need to start carving stone tablets. Just write some. Papryus is still around, I have hope that archival quality, acid-free paper will be too. Write your memories, journal daily, write your speculative autobiography. Write your parents’ or your significant other’s biographies. Leave your story for the climate refugees of the 2100s to read. Go out with your friends and tell each other your stories and write those down. Don’t let the only ones remembered be the ones lucky enough to get their words in print before the clock runs out.

Now excuse me while I go finish reading that book I’m almost finished with.

[cross-posted at Feministe]

The first time I used a computer was at 6 years old. It was 1986 and I was introduced to my dad’s Apple IIe. It had some games on it, the most addictive for me being Lode Runner, which I played for hours. It also had Print Shop Pro on it, and my dad had a dot matrix printer, so there was much cheesy fold-up greeting card and banner printing going on.

Then, after about 2 years of playing with the old Apple IIe, in 1988 my mom bought a computer for our house. It was an AMSTRAD, it was from JC Penney, and it died almost immediately upon start up. So then we got a Packard Bell 386, unremarkable except it came with a 2400 baud internal modem — and a subscription to the Prodigy online service. Of course, equipped with a modem I didn’t have to limit myself to paid online services; I made friends on Prodigy and those friends ran BBSes. I spent hours on both, and this was back when online services charged by the minute. The only operating system I used was DOS, graphical user interfaces hadn’t even appeared on my radar. In fact, when I was first introduced to Windows 3.1, I refused to use it. I was a hardcore command line diva, and in some ways I still am, which explains my affinity for Linux.

Eventually I gave in to Windows, got CompuServe and America Online, and upgraded to a 14.4 modem. I started using the Web as soon as it became available, in 1991 or so. I remember the days when web pages were plain text, when flashing rainbow line separators were cool, and animated Under Construction logos were pervasive. I learned basic HTML at an early age and established my homestead on this wild wild web, which I’ve been defending — in some form — ever since.

Now I know CSS, JavaScript, Java, XML and bits of various other computer languages, enough so that I used to work for several dot coms as a web developer. I know about networking, I know how to build a computer, I know how to maintain computers, enough so that I used to make money doing it. I’m not an amateur. But men always think I am. I’m sure they think they’re being helpful when I’m standing in the networking section of Fry’s Electronics deciding what router I should buy and they proceed to give me unsolicited, patronizing advice. Such as explaining what a router is and how networking works. Do I really look like I’m confused? Or is it because I’m a woman in a tech store and you assume I have no idea what I’m doing? I’m going to go with the latter, because I know damn well I didn’t look like I needed help.

When I worked for my first dot-com, I had to work twice as hard, be twice as good (actually, just for kicks, I was three times as good), and be twice as accurate to get taken seriously. And my skills were not appreciated. There was one other woman in my department, and sadly she was nowhere near as skilled, devoted, accurate, or talented as I was. But when the time came to lay people off, I got axed instead of her, because she was going out with one of the founders of the company. Because for women in the tech fields, apparently banging skills are more desirable than coding skills. I’m not trying to hate on her, I’m just pointing out that women’s job skills are not valued. Despite being the most accurate, fastest, and most skilled coder in the department, I got axed instead of the newest hire — a man. Last hired, first fired? Not if there’s a woman to take the fall.

Then at the second dot-com I worked at, I had the pleasure of being sexually harassed by my boss. Human resources told me I had to speak with my boss directly about it. In case you were wondering, uh, confronting the boss who’s sexually harassing you? REALLY awkward. A little while after that, I got laid off. In order to get my severance, I had to sign an agreement that I wouldn’t sue. Since I didn’t have the resources to get a lawyer anyway, and I needed to pay rent, I signed it.

I then decided that if I was going to do tech work, I was doing it on my own. But I still had to deal with patronizing vendors who assumed I didn’t know what components would be best in the computer I was building, or the tech support dudes that assumed I didn’t know about this Windows feature or that Java function. But I dealt with it, kept my head up and soldiered on. For the next 5 years, I did freelance computer work. Of course, I had to charge significantly less than the men in my field to get business. And when I had to collaborate with men, I always got talked down to. It’s like they just can’t help themselves. Don’t even mention the fact I was a black woman doing techie stuff. Their heads were spinning.

The tech world has a lot more women involved now, however it’s still a boys’ club. But, one of my favorite geek toy sites, Think Geek, sells womens’ babydoll shirts now. We’re making strides.