Today Kimiko Ryokai gave a a job talk for the open faculty position at UC Berkeley’s Center for New Media, a wonderful presentation of her work on the I/O Brush. During the ensuing Q&A, an older faculty member whom I didn’t recognize asked her, “What are you? An artist? A tool-builder? A child psychologist? What are you?”
It reminded me of a scene I’ve seen played out many times, wherein a curious elderly person will approach a young man or woman of indeterminate ethnic heritage (of which there are a great many here in Berkeley) and ask the same question: “Excuse me, but what are you?” Like the faculty at Berkeley who came of age in a world where this discipline lived here and that discipline lived there, they are fascinated and slightly repelled by a new generation of mongrels. They haven’t yet realized how gauche their question is, and how it signals to everyone in the room their sad failure to grasp the changes that have occurred.