The Knowledge

I’m letting the ideas of the Where 2.0 conferencepercolate over the next week, as suggested by my new favorite DC Aussie, Bonnie Shaw.  One of the speeches I can’t get out of my head is “Context is Everything,” courtesy of cultural anthropoligist Genevieve Bell.  (I’m proud to have shared the stage with her.)  I love her story about traveling in Penang, Malaysia with her friend.  They needed directions somewhere and her friend said “let me get my GPS,” and that GPS was her mom.

Knowing a place can be a point of pride.  I remember a game I liked to play as a kid.  I was just old enough to have developed my sense of direction, of “whereness,” and I wanted to test it.  On the way home from the grocery store or the library I would ask my mom to let me navigate her home.  The rule was she couldn’t take a turn until I told her to. I felt wise knowing the contours of our streets, the network of our town.

Then as I got older came a different game of whereness.  This time my dad would test me: we lived in a suburb north of San Francisco, but he had grown up in San Francisco proper, and wanted to impart “the knowledge” (I mean this in the sense of London cabbies) of his  city.  So he made me memorize the order of the streets that ran through his old neighborhood, Cow Hollow.  Lyon, Baker, Broderick, Divisadero.  Scott, Pierce, Steiner.  Fillmore, Webster, Buchannan. Laguna, Octavia, Gough.  Franklin, Van Ness.  I developed a mental map of his neighborhood, and to this day when I pass through those streets it is like seeing the face of an old friend.

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