Sunday, April 26, 2009

The “Aha Moment”™

I saw in the news yesterday that there is a dispute now over the rights to the “Aha Moment”™. You may have seen these commercials by Liberty Mutual where people describe pivotal moments in their lives as their “Aha Moments”™.

I’m not terribly clear what the link is to Liberty Mutual, but in using this phrase, they have incurred the
wrath of Oprah. It seems she is claiming she owns the term and wants Liberty Mutual to cease and desist its use.

If they are wise, they will give Oprah what she wants. It is important to remember that she commands an army of minions, willing to do what she wants, buy what she wants, and most importantly boycott whom she wants. Trust me guys, it’s easier this way. You got some commercials on; they got noticed, now run along. No one crosses the Big O and lives to tell the tale.

Except me, of course, because those spots got me thinking about the Aha Moments™ in my own life. And at great risk of personal peril, I dare to bring them to you now.

1) Learning to tell time
I had a devil of time with telling time as a boy. (Remember, this was long before digital clocks and watches became commonplace.) We covered it in class, my parents tried to teach me… nothing worked. I knew the even up o’clocks, but unless it was the top of the hour, I just didn’t get it. They would always asked me if I could count by fives… That was easy! I could rattle off 5-10-15-20… but I just didn’t see how it applied.

Then one day, in 1st grade, I was staring at the clock and bing, I got it. It just sort of clicked into place, making the connection between the numbers and the fives. Been on time ever since.

2) Not giving a shit
It’s always been popular among students to complain that what they’re learning won’t matter outside of school. I used to as well, until I learned one of my life’s basic tenets in junior year English Lit. We were studying Thoreau and Emerson and learning about self-reliance and non-conformism and it really hit home.

I used to be a kid that killed himself trying to please everyone… being everything to all people. It never worked, least of all for me. Suddenly I realized; it didn’t really matter what other people thought. I had a handful of solid friends: I didn’t need anything from anyone else… approval, status, lunch money… I had what I needed, so why give a shit what anyone else thought? Bing!

School (and life) was so much easier once you don’t give a shit. The yoke of conformity was thrown off and I began to really enjoy life, thanks to English Lit class and a brilliant teacher named Roy Williamson. He allowed me to use his blackboard to get into a limerick war with some Neanderthal in an earlier class. (Whom I destroyed, of course.) He let me post a daily pun on the board as well. He gave me encouragement and a sense of place when I had been floating on the periphery for my whole school life.

I went on to join the school newspaper, which gave me an outlet for my wise-ass writing and more importantly, an audience. While I might have joined the paper without Mr. Williamson’s class, I would have spent too much time wondering if anyone would like what I was writing. Instead, I just let it fly and moved on.

Mr. Williamson retired after that year so I didn’t get to take College Composition with him as a senior. Some friends and I visited his house once that year, just to say hi, but I always regret that I never got a chance to thank him for so positively affecting my life. Teachers like that don’t come along every day.

3) Understanding computers
I went through school just ahead of the PC revolution, so to me they were always some kind of inscrutable, mysterious Pandora’s Box, capable of blowing up at a moment’s notice.

I first used a desktop PC in 1992, at the home office of the music retailer I worked for. It was running Lotus and WordPerfect, and a jerry-rigged version of internal email. I learned how to do things bit by bit, usually from the admins in the office. Everything was keyboard oriented… there were no mice.

I never used Windows or even a mouse until I moved to Baltimore in 1997. I picked up some Excel and Word pretty easily, but I really didn’t know much more about how things operated. I still hadn’t even seen the Internet. But the ability to edit what I wrote in-screen was life changing.

Finally one day I was poking around some of the folders on my work PC and it dawned on me that all the information stored on a computer were basically just like a file drawer system… files, in folders, in bigger folders, in drawers. Bing!

I could find things, file things and do some minor troubleshooting. It was in that moment that I realized that I could actually own one of these things. In August of 1998, I bought my first PC… a training PC if you will. It had about 47 gigs of storage and a 15” monitor. Off I went, not looking back.
Now I can’t imagine life without one. I can keep in touch with friends and family all over the country. I’ve met people from all over the country. All my Christmas shopping is done online. Heck, pretty much everything I buy that isn’t groceries comes from an online store. Plane tickets, hotel reservations, photography, news, weather, sports, music, TV, movies, driving directions… everything comes from my computing life.

There was a time that I thought the idea of my owning a computer was preposterous. Now I’m on my 3rd website. Live and learn, baby. No looking back now.

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