Wednesday, December 20, 2006

How to become an Illuminatus in one easy lesson

Mind now, this happened quite awhile ago, before that darn Interweb became ubiquitous, and the Earth was still cooling. In fact, had this situation come up today, the bubble would have been burst immediately, and a great yarn would would not be able to spun as I will spin it now. But for a brief time I was a hidden master of the world!

My close friend Rob, (we shall call him) was just entering his first year of Harvard grad school, and he invited me by to see Cambridge and Boston for the first time. One evening, he asked me if I wanted to go to a 'meet the profs and fellow grad students' party, and I said, sure, free food, why not? Walking on the way there Rob, totally out of character for him!, challenged me to come not as myself, but as a 'visiting professor in Information History.' These being the days before Library Science schools started calling themselves Schools of Information, I asked "What the hell is Information History?" To which he replied, "I don't know... make it up!" Even then I was quite the blarney stone kisser, and he thinks, what, I can't?

Within 20 minutes of entering the party, I had persuaded people that:

1.) I had an MIT Media Lab grant,
2.) My book on Information History would be published by Oxford in the spring,
3.) I had already discussed it on The Today Show.

My thesis? "The Pony Express from 1870-1920 as proto-network."

I had to patiently explain the differences between Information History and History of Ideas, and even some aspects of Material Culture study, but it was a lot easier than I thought. If anything, the grad students were the ones who asked the tough questions.

And I thought that's it, a good lark, and when we left we both got a kick out of it! But later in the week, when they apparently couldn't find my number in the MIT phone book, Rob got a call asking if I would give a lecture at an American Culture class on Info History! 'I didn't need to write anything new, just read from the galleys of the book', Rob was told to tell me! I really wanted to do it, as I could have talked about my belly button lint for an hour, but Rob was afraid that things had already spun out of control. He didn't want to get the boot! I tried to say that if they tried to boot him, we could could go to the NYT and say 'Bum walks in off street, teaches at Ivy League class,' but I couldn't give Rob any anxiety about things, so we dropped it, and I thought that was it!

A year later I had come back for another visit, and was hanging out with a group of people including Rob's future spouse, when someone from the party the year before spotted me, came over, and started asking Info History questions! Hey, I was up for it, so I played along and created even more nonsense, enough to placate him into leaving with learning anything! I now had to lay it out for everyone, and the delicious grins I got were, well, sublime...

Another year went by, and I had come back again. That particular morning I had gone out for breakfast by myself when I ran into someone from that same evening who had a group of students with him! This time, he started telling me things that I had been doing! I nodded in tired agreement. When I went back to Rob, I found that some of the group of people who had been with us last year had been making up stuff about me, just to flesh out the whole narative. For example, I had been publishing, but not under my own name, as an experiment in Information Flow vs. Celebrity Status, just a case study for future books! I must have "written" 10 books in three years!

And with that I let it lapse, having gone off into some sort of scholastic valhalla. Or, of course, I could still be out there running the I want the credit?


vbspurs said...

C- For Honesty
B- For Not Continuing With the Charade
A+ For Narrative and Construction
A+ Extra Credit For Being Such a Card

And 100 kisses for writing this up. What a story!

Information History. Heh heh. My dear, you could've wormed yourself into being the new Theodor Adorno!

A man of many talents you are, Ron. And brave.


Anonymous said...

Embrace it, be it! Become the world's foremost authority on this odd topic! No one has to anoint you, anoint yourself! Huzzah!