What it feels like to be me

May 23 2011 Published by under computer science, women

Picture this:

You are wearing a green shirt.
You have eight people around you wearing purple shirts.
You are sharing a meal.

"blah blah blah blah... Computers.... Weather....blah blah blah"
"Yeah, weather, blah blah blah"

The conversation stops. Cutlery clanks on plates. Heads whip around to look at you, awaiting your reaction.

You think several thoughts at once, including noble ones like:

"Quiet green-shirt-wearers rarely make history"

"Be the change you want to see in the world"

Less noble ones, like:

"Not again. I was just sitting here, having lunch, thinking about clever things to say about the weather."

"Do we have to talk about my shirt color at Every. Single. Meal?"

Then nerve-wracking ones, like:

"Because I wear a green shirt, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, 'She doesn't have what it takes'; They will say, 'Green shirts don't have what it takes'"

Your response today, right now, matters, because they all do. Whether you want to or not, you must represent all green shirt wearers in a sea of purple. You're probably wearing the only green shirt they've ever seen, and at this rate, probably the last.

Picture it.

This is what it feels like to be me.

Of course, being me, deeply lacking in verbal acumen, things usually go something like this:

13 responses so far

  • Elf Eye says:

    Great little parable.

  • Christina Pikas says:

    sigh. yeah.

    oh wait, did I let down all green shirt wearers globally by ignoring that statement?

  • rknop says:

    You should print out many little cards with the URL of this blog post on it. Next time you're in this situation, pass them around.

  • rknop says:

    (...although I guess that might do bad things for anonymity. Not being an anonymous blogger, I always forget about that. So, EVERYBODY ELSE who wears a green shirt, please do this.)

  • John Regehr says:

    Just keep on doing what you're doing.

    The comic is good, it kind of reminds me of an embryonic "hyperbole and a half" cartoon. I'm insanely jealous of her cartooning ability.

  • peter says:

    just look at the purple shirts and say... 'baaa...'

    and go for polka dots next time...

  • This is brilliant, and well timed. Last week I had a senior purple shirt walk into my office and make some awkward comments while a green shirted grad student was asking me a few questions.

    I used to tell people to practice response to situations like this in the shower, to make up for the lack of on the spot wittiness.

  • Miss MSE says:

    My default response usually runs as "Oh, am I supposed to be representing all green shirts again?" On the other hand, I'm just a teensy bit sarcastic, so it's not out of character.

  • It's a strange bias. The first program ever written was by "Green Shirt" Ada Byron. Respect the green.

    Side note: Were the green/purple color selections were a reference to Babylon 5, or was that happy (for me) coincidence?

  • S Mukherjee says:

    Hibs and Hearts! (Well Hearts is more maroon than purple, but still...)

  • fcs says:

    Thanks for the comments, all.

    John, I wish I was half as good as Allie Brosh! But she's definitely an inspiration. I guess I'm a little like Temple Grandin - I think in pictures. And I have Comic Life. Mu ha ha.

    Scott, if only I were that clever consciously. I saw B5 a million years ago and hardly remember anything from it other than it was good. But the idea had to come from somewhere, so go ahead and feel happy about it. 🙂

  • I like it - I know what it is like to be the one with the green shirt.

    I found myself surrounded by what seemed to be millions of computer scientists with purple shirts who were claiming the computer was, in theory at least, a universal machine - so there was no point in looking for alternative approaches.

    As a green shirt I meekly said that the theory started form the assumption that you had a known algorithm - and that the real world was messing and full of unknowns, and therefore it was often not possible (and even if it was possible, uneconomic) to define an algorithm in advance. If I dared to suggest that there was a more flexible approach which worked and which did nor require a predefined program I was never asked back to that party again.

    Eventually I gave up the struggle - until recently - when I decided to re-examine my old research - and it looks as if what I was doing could be very relevant to understanding how the human (and possibly animal) brain works. As a result I have started a blog entitled "Trapped by the Box" which, in part, is how the success of computers has actually trapped us into an over-formalized way of thinking about the world.

    BTW. FCS may be interested to know that I have spent over 25 years working with computers in industry and academia (as Reader in Computer Science) before retiring some 20 years ago. My "green" observations arose from my experiences of what could go wrong in large computer systems - and why.

  • Charlotte says:

    I'm in my second term of first year at uni as a green shirt (one of three), and I'm getting pretty sick of this situation, so thankyou for cheering me up and making me remember I'm not alone.

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