Before the Cave, part 18

February 22nd, 2018

Ilara was deep into conversation with the cute boy mammoth before she realized that she had no idea what to call him. She was enjoying the conversation — and learning a lot about mammoths — but she was essentially talking to a stranger.

The boy mammoth was walking along beside her and chatting away as though it was the most natural thing in the world. He didn’t know, she realized, that they were strangers. In fact, he kept acting as though they had known each other all of their lives.

And it was probably true that he had known another version of her. But that other version, she thought, was probably in her own village right now, impersonating a human. Impersonating her!

She was so lost in contemplation that she didn’t realize where they were going until they were already there. Looking around, she was startled to realize that they were now surrounded by other young mammoths.

“Now children,” came a voice from somewhere in front of them, “settle down. Class is about to begin.”

Before the Cave, part 17

February 21st, 2018

Well, it wasn’t her name exactly. In fact, it didn’t really correspond to any sound she had ever heard. But she knew he was talking to her. Anyway, in her mind the name translated pretty much as “Ilara”. She decided that was ok.

“Hey Ilara, have you gone deaf? What’s the point of having those big beautiful ears if you’re going to be deaf?”

She turned to look, and realized she was looking at a very attractive boy her own age. Well, ok, a mammoth, but her mind easily made the translation. And the way he was looking at her was unmistakeable. He was trying to be casual about it, but she could tell he liked her. And that was ok too.

But what was she supposed to do now? She felt that any moment she would give herself away by doing some stupid human thing.

“I heard you the first time,” she heard herself answering. “But maybe if there’s a problem, it isn’t with my ears, it’s with your trunk.” Without thinking about it, she gave her ears a little swish.

The boy mammoth blushed. She knew he wasn’t literally blushing, but if a boy mammoth could blush, she was sure that’s what it would look like to another mammoth.

This was starting to get interesting.

The cycle of collaborative innovation

February 20th, 2018

People want to collaborate, to create together, to learn from each other. And yet the reality of our human existence is that we are separate from each other, sometimes in distance, sometimes in time, often in both.

So we develop tools to help us compensate for the reality of our mutual separation. Yet those tools, even as they give us greater power over reality, end up changing our reality. This is because they provide us with the capability to support even greater separation in distance and time.

Cave drawings lead to the written word, which leads to printed books, then the telegraph, radio, television, the internet, smart phones, augmented reality, and whatever lies beyond that.

Domestication of horses leads to the wheel, then the cart and chariot, eventually the train, the automobile, and whatever comes after that. Our eternal desire to bridge our separateness causes us to create ever greater capabilities for civilization to support wider and wider distances between us, both in time and in space.

This flow of mutual influences creates a cycle which could be called the “cycle of collaborative innovation.”

Before the Cave, part 16

February 19th, 2018

As she wandered among her fellow mammoths, Ilara was surprised at how familiar everything seemed. Not familiar in the usual way, just strangely normal.

Ilara and her mammoth friend had agreed to take this opportunity to learn about how each other lived. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now she wasn’t so sure.

For example, what would she do if somebody tried to talk to her? That might not end well.

Fortunately, everyone in the herd was pretty much ignoring her. If any of the mammoths sensed anything out of the ordinary, they weren’t showing it. That, at least, was a relief.

Suddenly, to her great surprise, she heard somebody call her name.

Before the Cave, part 15

February 18th, 2018

Ilara had a moment of dislocation. It felt for all the world as though she were looking down at a set of tiny carved wooden figures.

There was a little figure of a mammoth, small enough to pick up in one hand. Facing that an even tinier figure, of a human girl. They were just sitting there on the ground, as though some child had been called to dinner and had forgotten to put away her toys.

Then the very next moment she was staring down into her own face. Except her face seemed too small. Everything seemed too small, about half as big as it was supposed to be.

The smaller version of herself gazed back up at her, with a look of complete astonishment. There was a moment of silence.

The silence was finally broken when the other Ilara said “I seem to be you.”

Ilara had a sudden flash of understanding. “And I,” she answered, “seem to be you.”

Before the Cave, part 14

February 17th, 2018

It felt as though they had been talking for hours. Finally they were both caught up on each others’ day.

“It’s incredible,” Ilara said. “You and I are going through the same thing.”

“Yes,” said the mammoth, “except that you’re going through the human version, I’m going through the normal version. No offense.”

“None taken,” Ilara said, “You know, neither of us is going to figure this thing out on our own.”

“I’ve been thinking the same thing.”

Ilara laughed. “Yes,” she said, “of course you were.”

The mammoth made a noise that in a human would probably have been a laugh.

On an impulse Ilara reached out her hand and placed it on the mammoth’s massive trunk. She wasn’t sure that would be ok, but the mammoth just stood there, making no move to stop her. It felt surprisingly warm to the touch.

They just stood like that for a moment, the girl and the mammoth, in a moment frozen in time. It was just about then that the world started to spin.

Before the cave, part 13

February 16th, 2018

“I am glad you asked,” said the mammoth. “Since we last spoke, I have been having a very difficult time.”

“Oh?” Ilara said, intrigued. “Difficult how?”

“Well, as you may know, mammoths have wonderful memories. So one of our favorite things to do is to tell the old tales. Tales of great migrations and of narrow escapes, of loyalty and courage, of triumph and despair. We are quite the tellers of tales.”

Ilara found herself just staring, amazed.

“I’m sorry,” the mammoth said, “I realize such concepts would make no sense at all to a human.”

“It all makes perfect sense,” Ilara said, too interested in what she was hearing to act insulted. “Tell me more.”

“Well,” the mammoth continued, “suddenly the stories seem wrong. They’re all about making fun of humans, or killing humans, or killing humans and then making fun of them. Everybody around me seemed to be having such a good time, but I had to leave. It was awful.”

“Wait until I tell you,” Ilara said laughing, “about my day.”

Before the cave, part 12

February 15th, 2018

There is the feeling that something is familiar, because you’ve known it all your life. Like that stupid little carved wooden mammoth you played with when you were little, maybe kind of chipped and worn around the edges now, but still able to take you right back to your seven year old self, the moment you pick it up.

Then there is the feeling that something is familiar because it just feels right, because this is who you are, and where you are supposed to be. Even if you never knew it before.

In that moment, Ilara knew that second kind of feeling. She had only heard that voice once before, but it felt more familiar than the voice of her mother or her father, more familiar even than her grandmother’s beautiful raspy old woman voice.

She turned around slowly, enjoying the pleasure of dragging out the moment, savoring it. Nothing had made sense since she had gone back to her village, but now, here in this clearing, everything felt like it made perfect sense.

She took in the sight of the mammoth, this strange, magnificent creature, towering over her, waiting patiently for her response.

“Well,” she said, “where have you been?”

Before the Cave, part 11

February 14th, 2018

Ilara couldn’t remember ever feeling so angry. The whole thing was wrong, the ceremony, the way the tribe responded to it, everything.

And the thing was, the ceremony was something she’d been watching her whole life. Why hadn’t she realized any of this before?

She kept running, trying to burn off the fierce rage she felt inside. Before she knew it she was far from the village.

She stopped in an open clearing, breathing hard, trying to catch her breath. Gradually she calmed down enough to start thinking about what had just happened. What was she going to do now?

Suddenly there was a voice behind her. “Hello again,” it said.

Before the Cave, part 10

February 13th, 2018

Ilara looked on with excitement as the ceremony started. This had been going on for as long as she could remember, and there was something comforting in knowing that some things never change.

But then she started to notice something odd. The reenactments were looking different this time. For one thing, the man in the mammoth costume didn’t seem so funny.

Everybody laughed at the part where the great hunter from the tribe came at the mammoth with his spear, and the mammoth ran around in circles trying to run away. And when the hunter finally caught up with the mammoth, everybody cheered.

But Ilara didn’t feel like cheering. Not at all. This was all wrong.

Of course a mammoth would never run from a human hunter. Why didn’t everybody see that? What was wrong with everybody?

Ilara ran from the ceremony just as fast as her legs could carry her. She wasn’t sure where she was going, just as long as it was anywhere but here.