Monday, May 17, 2010

Fan of Inevitability

I know that information management is my vocational calling. I know this because whenever I communicate its impact I can talk to any related topic, wander off on a tangent, and circle back to the central premise, helping students, colleagues, and friends become better managers of their own information domains.

Nobody plotted this path for me. I did not apprentice in an information factory. My father was not a voting member of the Information Manager's Guild. I started reading newspapers when I was five and I knew that I was more productive outside of class by the time I was eight. But I had no idea what the name of the place was where passion and practicality coincided to form the small, affirming patch of understanding that seeds and nurtures the teaching, writing, and collaboration (all are gifts I have coming and going).

This mental universe has a new physical home which is in some respects not new at all. My son and I have stayed weekends together with our extended Hadley family of Andy and Michele Morris-Friedman. Prior to that Pioneer Valley was the rescue that harbored an escape from Farmageddon -- an oddly-conceived plot in the early nineties to start a family in deepest Appalachia on the backs of a goatherd, my son's mother's homespun talents, and a license to distribute M.A.I.D. -- Marketing Analysis and Information Database -- from Atlanta to the RTP ("Research Triangle Park").

The bet on the farm lost, the marriage eventually failed, and my son was raised by his mom in Greenfield. But even after I left Western Mass for a new love and the prosperity of Boston I still felt rooted to the rich, pastoral hills and gulches of the happy valley. An improbable confluence of events has hastened my return and so too has the sense that being lost is a good feeling when it can only lead to a sharper cut over and more beauty and the unforeseen intersection of two meandering roads.

That's what I remember from my first spring semester at Hampshire College back in 1981. Everyone had gone home for spring break except my friends Steven Marcus (then Weiner) and Michael Schwarz. We tooled around in Steven's car in a constant state of intentional wander-tripping, stumbling into the blossoming color burst of back roads that never failed to lead us back from where we came. I could not know at 19 that this was home with ancestral certainty any more than I could have told you that what I wanted to be when I grew up was the person I was to become.

The arc of personal history pulls these transitional days into the keep and trash piles. We make all the right moves for all the wrong reasons. We curse the punishing fury of changes beyond our controls and then we see the shiny linings wear down the festering stain. We pin down our lifelong hopes long enough to create perfections in our miniature fortresses, policed by our own inflated sense of control. But then the concrete castles of our own creation crumble because the virtues from our former neighborhoods don't beat a path to our newly gated doors. Instead of shedding some street noise or outgrowing a partner, we find our nests inhabited by squirrels. Who invited them?

Regardless of how tortured the logic or how unforeseen the consequences the consummate mover is an expert at what to keep -- if not what to keep out. One of the pleasures of dragging your artifacts from one bubble-wrap unraveling to the next reel of packing tape is that you are the curator and vessel for the beauty that your loved ones have brought into this world. There is never enough wall or floor space to hold the museum of treasures that only seem to resurface in the belly of a rented van. Conversely the shedding of ancient tax returns and other vestiges and placeholders is a rapture worthy of a greatest hits release party. After the landfill leaves town I find myself polishing and sparkling my crystal ball binoculars in the most myopic of ways. Exhibit A: rejection notice for Mastercard/Visa payment services dated April 21, 1993 from a customer service rep with the First Commercial Bank in Burnsville, NC:

"... [A]fter speaking with you I called a contact with our merchant company. She did some research and has informed me that the type of business you're in is prohibited. I understand that the reason this type of business is prohibited is because it is not tangible."

The cost of moving to Bumfuck? Having our possessions lost in transit by Mayflower Moving Co., fully razed / renovated barn, animal husbanding for dozens of livestock, including goats, sheep, bovine; taking an ill-suited job and driving tens of thousands of miles in a puke green Datsun pick-up for sales appointments...

The cost of not being able to bill for my information management services as a credit transaction? Priceless.

All I know is that if the pilgrims had hired Mayflower our beloved Bay Colony might have remained inhabited by darker-skinned people with lighter footprints. I am home again in Amherst and time can now care for itself.

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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.