Published on Sunday, 3 Aug, 2014
I’m reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson at the moment, and came across this passage that I particularly liked.
“When I was fifteen years old, I missed a period. My boyfriend and I were using a diaphragm, but I knew it was fallible. I was good at math, I had the failure rate memorized, burnt into my subconscious. Or maybe it was my conscious, I can never keep them straight. Anyway, I was terrified. Our family dog started treating me differently – supposedly, they can smell a pregnant woman. Or a pregnant bitch, for that matter.”
By this point, Hiro’s face was frozen in a wary, astonished position that Juanita later made extensive use of in her work. Because, as she was talking to him, she was watching, his face, analyzing the way the little muscles in his forehead pulled his brows up and made his eyes change shape.
“My mother was clueless. My boyfriend was worse than clueless – in fact, I ditched him on the spot, because it made me realize what an alien the guy was – like many members of your species.” By this, she was referring to males.
“Anyway, my grandmother came to visit,” she continued, glancing back over her shoulder at the painting. “I avoided her until we all sat down for dinner. And then she figured out the whole situation in, maybe, ten minutes, just by watching my face across the dinner table. I didn’t say more than ten words – ‘Pass the tortillas.’ I don’t know how my face conveyed that information, or what kind of internal wiring in my grandmother’s mind enabled her to accomplish this incredible feat. To condense fact from the vapor of nuance.”
Condense fact from the vapor of nuance. Hiro has never forgotten the sound of her speaking those words, the feeling that came over him as he realized for the first time how smart Juanita was.
She continued. “I didn’t even really appreciate all of this until about ten years later, as a grad student, trying to build a user interface that would convey a lot of data very quickly, for one of these baby-killer grants.” This was her term for anything related to the Defense Department. “I was coming up with all kinds of elaborate technical fixes like trying to implant electrodes directly into the brain. Then I remembered my grandmother and realized, my God, the human mind can absorb and process an incredible amount of information – if it comes in the right format. The right interface. If you put the right face on it. Want some coffee?”