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Gearing up

(To be revised)

Everyone shapes themselves by gearing up, by selecting and using tools of various sorts to advance their purposes. Humans comprise the tool-making species, not uniquely, but characteristically. What's a rattle to an infant but an instrument with which to make a particular noise — one astonishing, pleasing, puzzling? Each person lives life by gearing up, starting very young, and we keep doing it throughout our lives.

Our choosing gear goes on life long. Each does it in a slowly changing pattern, nurturing interests, disclosing style and taste, advancing purpose. A few accomplish great work with the sparest gear; others parade through life, coiffed and bedecked, office and home filled with the every gizmo, creating mainly pretense. Between those extremes, most of us find gear necessary in forming and actualizing our potentials. A great deal of the endemic historical elitism arose because the available gear was scarce, therefore expensive, and difficult to use. Material conditions limited multitudes in the use of powerful gear for important cultural purposes.

Let us take the year 2000 in an extended sense, starting it 25 years before and and ending 25 years after. Those of us living through the year 2000 have experienced, wittingly or not, an amazing transition. Before, meaning throughout the lives of all humans, everywhere, back through the mists of bygone time, each person geared up with their major possibilities determined largely by material constraints. After, those constraints have simply disappeared. We are gearing up largely as before, not by necessity, but simply because we are ignorant about what else we might do. The transition has not run its course, but before and after are in place with the constraints broken by a cascade of cultural resources that confronts each with too much.

But the formative condition of Too much enervates as powerfully as that of Too little. We can and should aspire to choose wisely in gearing up. In some ways the problem of choosing well becomes all the more difficult — not, What can I use? but, Which should I use? And the very calculus of choosing what to use changes, for its cost, power, and ease of use in a world of print are not at all the same in the digital environment.

For each of us, the material ethos of our place and time sketches boldly the stages and features of our gearing up. But for each of us, a succession of accidents and choices, large and small, make the way that each gears up key to the way we stamp our path through life with unique particularity. The given stages and features greatly exceed what we can internalize and use. Hence, the particulars through which a person shapes herself give her life form and meaning. We cannot package these or find some essential plan within them, pertinent to all. We can, however, share insights into the processes as each experiences them, accidents, happy and untoward, and efforts, some of which work out and some of which do not. Sharing our particular experience gearing up can inform, perhaps enlighten, enliven, the choices each has yet to make.

Tell us your story.