Thursday, June 30, 2005

Steve, the airplane maven

One of my favorite non-fiction books is Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, which like his more recent book blink is a wide-ranging exploration of all kinds of interesting and often counterintuitive ideas, from the broken-windows theory of urban crime prevention to the ways we use our friends and family members as external storage for memories. The main topic of the book is how ideas and trends arise, and he identifies several important personality types in this process, one of which is the maven: the person who is constantly gathering knowledge, on anything from grocery prices to car repair to movie releases, in order to share with anyone (sometimes everyone) that maven meets.

I always thought of myself as a bit of a maven - hella frisch alone is evidence of my continuous need to tell other people about what I am doing and listening to. Today, however, I was humbled and astounded, while on a flight from Los Angeles to Phoenix, to meet a true maven by the name of Steve.

I came onboard with a newspaper editorial about Alexander Hamilton and the economic philosophies of the founding fathers, confident that it would either educate me or lull me to sleep. I had not completed more than two sentences, however, before Steve struck up a conversation about recent presidential biographies; this discussion then segued effortlessly into computer software recommendations, Steve's family, the LA Dodgers' recent woes, people Steve knew in college, movie recommendations, the situation in Iraq, Steve's health problems, ways to win at blackjack, and it went on. It was only a one hour flight, but by the end of it I had a sheet of paper crammed with notes - Steve had insisted I jot a few things down, so that I would remember.

Having met the Platonic ideal of maven-dom, I'm not sure I really want to be one - it's alright to suggest a book every once in a while, but being a friend of Steve would be a full-time job. Then again, I would know exactly which software to download, what movies to see, and how to make money at blackjack. (Not that I'm going to use all of that knowledge.) I asked Steve if he had a website himself, and he said that he didn't; for better or worse, this particular maven can only be appreciated in person.

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