A demographic moment

October 14th, 2005

Every once in a while I realize that I am unquestionably part of a particular demographic group. This happens periodically as I look at our late 1990’s vintage Subaru Outback Wagon and realize how many gazillions of people in our area drive this car. I had another, odder moment a while back. In this case I’d call the demographic group “Silicon Valley Family.” My husband, son and I were returning from Calgary. At the Calgary airport, one goes through US Customs before getting on the airplane rather than when one lands. This particular day the airport was quite empty, there were no lines and we walked right up to the Customs Officer. My son is under 10 and so I was explaining that in some places crossing a national boundary is a very big deal, and talking to the customs officer can be very tense. Who knows, maybe he’ll be in a tense border crossing some day and understanding the value of behaving appropriately will be important.

The three of us arrive at the customs officer. He fiddles with our passports for a bit, then asks “Are you related?” What an odd question. After a moment I answer “Yes, we’re married and this is our son.” He looks at us for a moment and then asks our son “How old are you?” A moment of hesitation occurs, part shyness and part testing out a new idea since this is the first person to ask my son his age since his birthday a day or two before. A rather long series of questions follow, which my son manages to answer. It’s not threatening, but it’s odd. And it’s long.

Then the customs officer turns to my husband and asks “What do you do?” It’s a formal tone of voice, an Official question, not chatty at all. My husband answers ” I write software for Stanford University.” The customs officer turns to me and asks the same question. I start to answer “I run a . . .” I hesitate, as I used to say “I run a non-profit organization that makes software” and that response is not accurate enough for me now. So I end up saying “I run a . . . software company.” Now I feel strange.

The officer turns to my son and says “And what do you do?” He adds, in an iroinic tone of voice, “And are you working already?” My son thinks hard. He’s been following the conversation carefully and knows some answer is expected. After a moment he gets it, thinking I suppose to the educational games he’s been playing during vacation. His face brightens, his voice grows confident, and he announces “I USE the software!”

The Customs Officer has met his match. He almost even laughs, then ends the interview and waves us on. And there we have it. The Silicon Valley family — software everywhere.

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