September 24, 2013

Human, After All

Whoa, I have a blog. Weird.

As I take a break from all work (I left Couchbase about a month ago), one of things I'm trying to do is get the machine out of my head. Building a distributed database is a peculiar thing. Building a startup that sells distributed databases is a very peculiar thing. It did something weird to my brain. I'm still not sure what happened.

That moment in chess when I see the mistake, and it suddenly feels like the blood drains from my head. For me it's when the game is decided. Win or lose, it was a mistake to play at all. I didn't want to lose. I didn't want to win. I just wanted to play. To keep the game going.

Somehow I developed social anxiety. Not a fear of people. A fear of causing fear in people. I lost my voice. Not my physical voice. But the one that says what it really thinks, is gregarious, is angry, is sad, wants to have fun, wants to complain. The one that cares not about the right answer. The one that just wants to interact, with no particular goal.

I forgot how to be human. I didn't know that was possible. I didn't even notice it happened, I didn't know what I had lost until I started to get better.

I saw this thing in my head, the machine. Automata. It was beautiful. The more I thought about it, the more clearly I could see it. I connected all the dots. It was so compelling. It was engineering. It was physics. It was metaphysics. I had to bring it into the real world. I couldn't stop thinking about it. It could be lost forever if I did.

Most people create differently. They create a little, think a little, create a little, think a little. I like to work by thinking very hard until I can clearly see what should be built. Before I write code. Before I write specs. I want to see it, in my mind. I can't explain what I see. I suppose it's like describing color to a blind man.

There is a hidden dimension. The people who can see it, who can move around in this unseen dimension are special to me. It's like when everyone puts their head down to pray, only you don't. You look around. And you see the other people who didn't put their head down. We broke the rules. But we broke nothing, we just see something others don't. Sacred doesn't exist.

The only language I know for sure to describe it is code. When I can see it working in my head, I know it will work in the real world, in code. Then I move to bring it to the real world through code.

But I took it too far. I thought too long. What I built in my head was too big for a human. Too big for this human anyway.

I was compelled to keep the vision of the machine lit, for fear it would vanish before it made it into the real world. The machine started to take over my mind. No, that's not true. I pushed everything I could aside, squished it up to make room for the machine. Or maybe I fed it to the machine. Or maybe I threw it overboard.

It never occurred to me I might be giving up something I needed, that others needed from me, that I wanted to give to them, to myself. Or maybe I didn't care. I wanted to bring the machine to life. I knew if I could bring it to life, it would change the world. Isn't that worth fighting for?

Fear is a powerful motivator. It's also the mind killer. I was afraid of losing the battle. Creating technology is play. Creating a startup is a fight. But I didn't notice I was losing the war. Everything was riding on this. I no longer played with a posture of I couldn't lose. Now I must win.

Then something happened, and I saw a glimmer of what I once was. I realized I was no longer playing a game of creation, but waging a war of attrition. And my humanity was the resource. I was grinding myself away.

I noticed this almost a year ago. Something profound finally gave me the perspective of what I was doing. I began to heal something I didn't know was broken.

Since then I tried to keep the machine fed, yet under control. But still I couldn't stop. The machine was perfect. It solved the problems, it gave the right answers. If it failed, it did so gracefully, predictably. It seemed more deserving than me. A machine over a human. Now that is fucked. up. shit.

So slammed on the brakes. I'm more than a glimmer. I'm worth more than a machine. I'm learning to be a human. Again. And it's harder than it looks. It's icky. There are no right answers. Only paths and possibilities. Time is an illusion, but it's later than you think.

Strangely, as I try to evict the machine, I can still see it. From a different perspective. Perhaps more clearly than before. I don't know. But I'm not mad at it. It's wonderful. It's Schrödinger's cat. It was already dead. It was always alive. It's not the answer, it's a path. Someday I hope to be human enough to tell you why.

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