There are moments in the life of every Information Technologist when you wonder, maybe only to yourself, silently, why do I care so much? And yet you do. And the next question is, am I doing the right thing? In the right way? Is there a better way? It's a slippery slope and it's hard to stop the questions. I recently found myself in such a question-mire, so I did what I do when I need to make sense of something that has confounded me. I wrote about it. This time it took the form of a story or fable, a metaphor in search of context. I don't know what it means, but I felt better having written it down. I hope you'll permit me a fictional diversion at the end of the week.
I am a lifeguard on the Plateau of Relevance. Every day I sit perched on a chair at the edge, my back to the abyss, scanning the herd of suits that grazes silently before me. In the distance, the Foothills of Progress give way to the snow capped Peaks of Success, and I often daydream about standing in that snow, and looking back at my little wooden chair. But still I sit, for I have a job to do.
Once in a while something spooks the herd and one or more of the suits takes off at a gallop. If they head toward the edge, it's my job to stop them before they plunge into the abyss. I'm not alone in my endeavor. To my right, about a half mile away, my colleague Henry sits reading a magazine. I pull out my little mirror and flash Henry a couple of times. He looks up and flashes back. He's ok. Nothing to report. He goes back to reading. I look to my left where James, a half mile in the other direction, lies sleeping beside his chair. I flash the mirror, but no response, so I pick up my bag and begin to dig through it. My lunch, half eaten. A novel I just can't get into. Last week's paperwork that I really should finish, but... Flashing. I look up. Henry is waving his mirror wildly and pointing to the herd.
I see her immediately and she's already at full speed, swinging her briefcase as she runs straight for the edge. I drop my bag and I'm off, gauging my vector and adjusting as I go. I'm always amazed that a suit in heels, a skirt, and pearls can possibly run so fast. I'm in shorts and sneakers and I can barely catch up. Henry waves as if to say, "You got this one? OK.", then he goes back to reading his magazine. Lazy punk. That's all right. I'll get to her. I've got just enough time. Out of the corner of my eye, though, I notice ten more heading my way....maybe twenty. This could be a stampede, but I can't worry about that now. I've committed to saving this one suit and that's all I'm focused on. I reach her just as she steps off the edge. I grab her arm and we crash to the ground. She dangles over the side as her briefcase falls into the clouds below and disappears. "Hold on!", I yell. I can hear the footfalls of the herd getting closer and soon, shoes on my back, and head, and they just keep coming. 20, 30, 50, it seems there's no end. They're piling over each other and tumbling off the side. I watch as they spin and flip through the air and eventually disappear beneath the clouds. I may lose the whole herd this time, but I refuse to lose the one I've got in my hand. I squeeze harder and I can feel her hand slipping. I yell again, "Hold on!", but it's no use. She doesn't want to be saved. She looks up at me and says softly, "Let me go." And it doesn't matter, because I can't hold her anyway. She slips from my hand and I watch in horror as she plummets through the clouds and out of sight.
I lie there for a moment, staring into the chasm, allowing myself to feel the loss. Why am I here? What good am I doing? What is the point of all this? I can feel rocks digging into my chest, there is dirt in my teeth, and at this moment, more than ever before, I long to lie in the snow and look to the sky. I stand up and brush myself off. I'm bruised and battered, but most of the herd is still behind me, grazing the plateau, and I'm relieved. I could not have lost more than a dozen. Not good, but not the total loss I feared. Hundreds of thousands of suits remain, grazing, oblivious to the carnage that just occurred. I limp over to the nearest suit. He's reading his Blackberry.
"Why are you so close?", I ask.
"Huh?", he says looking up.
"Why are you all so close to the edge?", I reiterate.
"Edge?", he says obliviously.
I give up and walk back to my chair. The suit goes back to his Blackberry and dissolves into the herd.
The snow is foremost in my thoughts now. I look to the peaks. I've never been there. I've never even seriously considered the trip. After all, who will do my job? But now, I can think of nothing else. I look to Henry and give a flash. He flashes back and waves. I flash James, but he's still asleep. I grab my bag and start walking through the herd. Surely the agency will replace me, right? But what difference does it make? If I can't save them, who can? I pass a young suit, a 9 or 10 year old boy, in a blue blazer and khakis. He's sitting on a large rock, playing a game on his phone and as I pass, he looks up and says, "Hey mister! Where ya going?"
"The mountains", I say, slightly startled by the words, having never heard myself speak them aloud before. "You wanna go?"
He shrugs, then stands and walks beside me. We walk together toward the setting sun. I look back over my shoulder and see that a large portion of the herd is following us at a safe distance. I smile. I didn't expect that, and it makes me happy. My companion reaches up and takes my hand. I am filled with wonder and possibility as we start our journey. I look down at the boy, prepared to tell him about the snow on the peaks, about the pass we're going to take through the foothills, about the obstacles we will have to overcome. I hope that he will share my excitement in anticipation of the journey ahead, but he is occupied. The glow of his phone screen lights his face and he's absorbed in his task.
"Gng 2 mnts", he types and hits send.
Yes we are, and that is good enough for now.