My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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death of software pioneer

A former student of my old advisor passed away last week and a friend sent me the obituary so that i could send him my condolences, as i did not know. This man seems to have done a lot of good things, most notably inventing “shareware.” Death is always a somber thing, but i couldn’t help at laughing at two different parts to the obit because they just made me think so much about my relationship to Brown and to my old advisor.

First, was my advisor’s description of him: We would have these long arguments about what was good for the user. He had this very gentle flower child demeanor and philosophy. This probably seems like a perfectly reasonable statement to be read in the NYTimes. Yet, when i read it, i can picture him saying it in his funny “i love you but i’m going to mock you” way that makes me immediately hug the man. It is exactly this ability that makes me adore him so very much, and i do wonder what he will say about me in my obituary, as i know it will be teasing no matter what.

The second part of the obit that made me giggle was: Mr. Wallace had a long interest in psychedelic drugs, which he thought were misunderstood in the United States. In 1996, he started Mind Books, a source for books about psychedelics. In 1998, he founded the Promind Foundation to support scientific research and public education about psychedelics.

Ok.. Brown computer graphics somehow automatically equals interest in psychedelics for so many of the people that i know. Plus, as this guy definitely had a political direction to his technology (shareware), this just rang so many bells. I think i would’ve liked the crazy technophiles who were at Brown in the “golden years.” Can you just imagine? A whole group of folks trying to invent ways to make the computer do amazing graphical techniques while believing in the power of technology and the mind expansion qualities of psychedelics? In my head, technologists equal the stereotypes that are embodied in this notion. Yet, as i’ve learned, this is *not* the reality of technologists today….

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