Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Advice to a Younger Me

I sometimes try to imagine what, in my maturity, I would say to a younger me. What useful advice could the married-with-kids, 52-year-old Jon Shayne give to the me who was in college?

For one, I could encourage the younger me to trust my own instincts more, and to worry less about what others think.

Of course, that advice is easier to give than to follow.

For the most part, I have a hard time coming up with anything useful I could tell a younger me. But recently, I figured out something that might have been useful, back when. A truly insightful bit of advice that the me-of-today could have given to the Jon Shayne of the early 1980s.

When I was in college at Harvard, the course catalogue was very thick. It was a paper book of perhaps 350 pages. One of the courses was titled, "Compunications," with a p. My college roommate, John Rabinowitz, and I used to laugh about it. We never took the course; we were liberal arts students. We just noticed it in the catalogue. The name struck us as pretty ridiculous.

This was probably 1981 or '82. The course description said that computing and telecommunications were in the process of merging, so much so that it would soon no longer be useful to think of them as two separate fields. According to the catalogue pitch, we should think of them as one field: compunications. The logic of this was lost on me, because John and I were too busy chortling about how the word sounded.

What impresses me now is that the professor who created this course, whoever he or she was, was completely correct. None of us students had cell phones, nor personal computers. We still used land lines and typewriters at that point. But the professor apparently foresaw, in some sense at least, the internet and voice-over-IP telephony.

So my advice to the young me: you can pretty much ignore the whole course catalogue, except for "Compunications." It is not as silly as it sounds. Quite the contrary. Master it, and you will have a lot of fun, and will wind up owning a few islands in warm, sunny places.

Although I guess this rhymes with the advice, "Plastics," given to Dustin Hoffman's character in The Graduate (1967).

Is there a moral here? Well, perhaps only that outlandish ideas are not necessarily bad. They are sometimes brilliant.