A Transmission from a Distant Planet

A few weeks ago, I found myself at a conference for blind high-school and college students. I got lost on the way there, riding my bike around the north shore of Lake Washington with a dead iPhone, already in a tizzy.

Talaris Conference Center

I gave a dreadful two-minute speech then slumped in a chair with nothing to do for hours except listen.

Then I noticed the person next to me writing software with a laptop screen angled down to the knuckles of his hands, plugged in via headphones to a text-to-voice transcription of his code.

He offered me one headphone cup. It sounded like a transmission from a distant planet. “That’s a thousands words per minute,” he said. “You speak at 130.”

Walking out of lunch into a blossom-strewn courtyard, I asked the young person beside me if she minded whether it was sunny or gray. She smiled and said, “I love the sun.” She had just earned a meteorology degree.

Listening to the talks that followed, I was surprised that everyone, even in 2014, had a story to tell of being excluded or dismissed, by websites that don’t explain their images to electronic screen-readers, or science professors who doubted that a blind student could work in their lab.

The grown-up world that most kids get to rebel against was what these kids were still counting on, to be fair and thoughtful, to be in fact grown-up. And still we let them down.

Hearing their stories reminded me that even in the magical-thinking era of the Internet, capitalism only solves the problems that pay, and that my days and nights have been so filled with those problems that I forget that any other type of problem can exist.

We all want to forget. During the often-serious talks, I watched a girl throw little balls of paper at a boy who had somehow managed a perfect knot in his pink bow-tie.

It was comforting to see her so young and happy in that ordinary, heedless way, but then her hands shook a few minutes later when she spoke to the group about what the conference meant to her, and she suddenly sounded like an old soul, earnest and sincere.

When she was done, the coder across the table told her, “I want to give you something; hold out your hand.” It was only a braille business card but she accepted it as a mystery, smiling.

Then it was time for all of us to go. Standing up, I asked another boy how he felt about getting out of the house and going off to college. I expected him to say, “Thrilled.” He said, “Very scared.”

I was going to tell him not to worry, a near-automatic response from someone who has never had much to worry about, but I didn’t say anything at all. I wish I had told him what I was thinking, which is that being able to admit that you are very scared means you must also be very brave.

Photo credit: Talaris Conference Center. Many thanks to my friend, the computer science professor Ed Lazowska, for the invitation to the conference.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.


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  • Russ Wellington

    Thank you for the EXCELLENT site. I have been using it for years and it is my crack of choice.

    Several requests:

    1) Be able to follow other Redfin users activities without having to use extern social media portals. I.e. to see their favorites, saved searches, etc… A sort of – “Redfin buddy list”

    2) Make a true hot sheet. Have ONE button for showing ALL changes in the past 24 hour period including: new listings, pending/backups, price changes, solds, off-market, expired, cancelled, holds, etc.

    3) Provide greater public record information, like Realist (one can wish – right?).

    4) If the above can not be done due to MLS rules, would it be possible if you offered a “premium accounts” that users paid to get that information.

    5) Have you thought about licensing your model to other MLSs? There is no real comparison in terms of quality. For example take a look at the slop the agents in San Diego have to use. Wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

    Now, I have to get back to checking redfin…

    Yours in gratitude.

    • http://blog.redfin.com/ GlennKelman

      Russ, fantastic. I really like the idea of a buddy list and a news-feed.

      • GEAH

        The Redfin LA Forum has a problem with snarky moderators who object when their snarkiness is pointed out. Also, the same snarky moderator is known for posting off-topic comments. Of course, nothing is done because, well, it’s the moderator.

        At the same time, obvious spam is allowed to ferment for days, even when pointed out to the moderators.

        It’s amazing that Redfin has such an amazingly useful site, yet its LA Forum is run so poorly and in such a way that insults clients. I’m not sure why anyone reading that forum would select Redfin to represent him in a real estate transaction.