A Strange Thing Happened On The Way To The Future
Once upon a time, I had my future out in front of me, and never once assumed that I would end up where I am today. Which is funny, since leaving NYC 10 years ago, I found a journal entry I wrote about the day before I left, where I had a dream that I would end up back in NYC in an apartment with a wife on two kids on the very street I live today with a wife and two kids. That was a strange day, with a 11 hour circumnavigation of Manhattan in a kayak on Haloween night. That's the day I gave away $800 in sentimental gifts, lost my keys and found my current keychain, and ventured out on the path that would bring me right back again. And here I am, doing the same thing I've been doing for the past 10 years, finding nothing really changes but the amount of white in my beard and the people I'm traveling through time with. And even then, many of the people who were in my life 10 years ago or longer are back in it and more integral to it than ever before. Plus ça change.
When I was younger, I was always focused on preparing for the future. Every action and inaction I took with a view of maximizing long term potential outcomes. It took about 3 years of working in a corporate environment, and becoming increasingly miserable with the general sentiment of a desk job to break me out of that habit. And that October, I said goodbye to a nice steady paycheck, booked a trip to Europe for a few months, and then returned to figure out how to start a game company. After struggling to get anything off the ground on that project, I teamed up with a friend I had worked with before, who had since moved to the Bay Area. I would end up spending the better part of the following 7 years working on a series of startups and projects with him. I would also repeatedly move back to San Francisco, bouncing between coasts for most of that period, being generally nomadic. I learned to live out of backpack w/ laptop, and to this day, my stuff still mostly fits in my backpack. (with the exception being the wife and kids are not nearly so compact).
About 4 years ago last summer, I folded the last of my startups after a series of unfortunate events robbed the business of any real chance of success. I took my first desk job in 7 years, and found work for all those who had thrown in their hat with mine. I still have all of the code, the business opportunity is still there, and I keep waiting until the time is right to take off the kid gloves and come out swinging again. The same is true for several other startups I was involved in, and often wonder why I don't just turn on that dial, and make it happen. It may have to do more with the wife and kids than anything else. You see, my wife has her own startup too which has recent grown a nice pair of legs. We learned early in our marriage, two startups in one house is one startup too much. You both can't be burning all your candles at both ends and get any sleep. Kids already rob you of sleep, a startup just ends any possibility of it. And at this point, I'd like to see my kids and get some sleep. Vacation would be nice too, two startups mean no vacations.
And here I am, in the future. It's 2013, and I never expected to be where I am today. Funnily enough, as I look back on it, I never really expected anything. I never much cared for planning, and still don't. I never really wanted much of anything after realizing it was a pain to take with you everywhere. And now I find myself in a future, with more than I ever expected and at the same time far less to show for the incredible range of things I have done. As time moves on, I find that I am forgetting every instant of my life. Not like in the dementia sense of the word forgetting, but more in the recorded over the VHS tape sense of the word. A few years ago, after my mother died, I cleaned out the last of my school papers from my parent's attic. I found my masters thesis, and could not for the life of me having ever written a line of it. I couldn't even remember half the languages I used in that paper, and it is a very strange thing to read your own words, knowing that you wrote them, in a language of you can no longer recall even a hundred words. I never realized I knew French so well once. More recently, I read through some code I wrote in 2003-2004, and didn't realize I ever knew C++ so well. The SVN logs and Git logs demonstrate I was the only person who wrote any of the code, but I can't remember writing it. An I know I wrote it, I know how and why it works, but I can't remember any of they whys or when I wrote it. And I'm finding dozens of projects on my harddrives like this, un-remembered things some other person did years before.
Looking at pictures of things like highschool and college graduations, I have no recollection of ever having worn those clothes or been to those places, but there is documented evidence of me being there. I couldn't tell you what it was like, because I simply no longer remember those supposedly important and memorable events. In fact, before about 2005, things start to get very fuzzy, and I am already starting to lose things from 2006-2007. I know that in all likelihood, I will cease to have any real memories of getting married, the birth of my kids, or any number of important events. I'm expecting that to start happening within the next couple years, as those events are starting to approach that horizon.
And I wonder if this is because of how the brian works when presented with an overwhelming amount of information. Right now, I read something like 20-30 articles a day, and 5-6 journal articles a week. I write for several hours a day. I have been producing a new product about every 3-4 months for the past 13 years, and often spend all of my free time studying things I've never seen before. In short, the carrying capacity of my brain is probably reaching saturation with new experiences every 5-10 years, and I'm rewriting my neural net so frequently that only the meta-patterns ever really stick. I've programmed production in more than a dozen programming languages in the past 12 years, and have forgotten more human languages than most people ever know -- is it any wonder if I can't remember graduating from school? What place does those memories have in the future?
The strange thing that happened on the way to the future is that much of who I am and who I was and who I will be are as much a mystery to me now as it was and it will be. I'm increasingly confident in some distant future, I will forget I ever wrote this, and I would not recognize most of the events I wrote down in a vain attempt to remember, and that as time progresses I will find an ever greater need to augment my memories with external storage devices. I know when they start selling crainial implants to add non-biological neurons to addisional storage capacity, my future self will probably be waiting in line to get the upgrade, even if it means he will forget some more of his own past in the process. Thousands of years from now, when that being has ceased to remember any of the data orignally encoded in the biological substrate of my current brain, it might read this post and wonder about who it had been, what it had done, and how it had come to be. Knowing the whole time, that it was me, and I knew what it would do, and that without any memory of its former self, it would still be the same. Plus ça change.