Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Halley of Halley's Comment, author of "How to Become an Alpha Male" is going to be in DC for Supernova and we're finally going to get to meet. We have some mutual friends like Dave and Gnome-Girl. I read Halley's blog, but I rarely link to it because she writes about all of the things I tend to avoid writing about these days. She writes about emotions. She writes about men. She writes about dating. Yesterday she wrote about me, and now I'm going to try to write back. ;-)

First of all, anyone who hasn't read "How to Become an Alpha Male", must. When I read it, I started reading it with "academic curiosity" but ended up learning a lot and reflecting on my past, present and future.

So Halley, I don't know many alpha males, but I know a lot of alpha females. In some ways my childhood was the reverse of yours. You grew up with an alpha male dad. I grew up with an alpha female mom. My name, Ito is my mother's name that I took when my parents divorced so that my mother could pursue her career. My mother's side of my family has had a female head of the family for just about as long as anyone can remember. There is a jinx that every other generation, there is no male head and the male is brought in from the outside. My great grandmother was a well known feminist and built the first trade school for girls in Iwate during the war. My grandmother was also a tough women. She stood up to the US soldiers who used our home as the local HQ and told us a story of how she had her men saw off half of a building that protruded into our property because the building owner thought he could take advantage of us because our grandfather had died. My mother was also tough. She had tuberculosis as a child which she caught from my sick grandfather and spent most of her childhood in a wheelchair. When we were very young, she got cancer and I remember being told several times as a child that she was going to pass away soon. She was always in and out of hospitals, but she managed to survive until we were grown up and passed away after asking us if it was OK if she could go now. She was a housewife until she was 35 or so, then joined the company my father was working at. She became head of personnel, VP of International, president of the Japan subsidiary, left to become the US rep of NHK (Japan's public broadcasting company) and grew to become a fairly influential "player" until the cancer finally took over.

During high school we lived in a big house in Tokyo. I was the only male. My mother, my aunt, my sister, our secretary, her sister, our dog were all female. When our dog had 8 puppies, they of course were also all female. They were all also "tougher" than me. ;-) Most of my friends in high school were girls.

But let me talk about my ego. I was born in Japan, but I moved to the US when I was 2 or 3 years old. (I don't remember.) When my father got a job at ECD in Troy, Michigan, where we lived until I was 13, I was the first Japanese kid in a school full of catholics. We lived in a school district that overlapped with an area of Michigan that had a bunch of trailer parks. Nothing against trailer parks, but back in the 70's, people were losing jobs because of Japanese cars and most of these bitter people ended up in trailer parks and their kids ended up in my school. My mother's love and our family friends were the only thing that kept my fragile ego alive. I was regularly beaten up by guys, tripped in the hall by girls, taunted, called "colored" and generally made to feel miserable.

When I moved to Tokyo with my mother my third year in Jr. high school, I was in heaven. I finally realized that being Japanese wasn't that bad. I found that I could melt in with the Japanese, but could hang out with the American's too. Being bilingual and looking Japanese I could get the best of both worlds. I kissed my first girl, had my first date and started going to night clubs. High school was even better. It made up for a lot of lost time in ego building, but I was still very insecure.

University in the US was tough. I dropped out twice and ended up as a DJ at Limelight in Chicago. The streets of Chicago rebuilt an important part of my ego. I became part of a great community of extremely diverse people who loved each other and supported each other through really tough times. It was when AIDS was hitting the scene and helping and being helped built my faith in people.

After that, I watched my mother slowly and painfully die. Then I watched my mentors, Dr. Fukui, Tim Leary, John Lilly, Chairman Shima of NHK, and others all die. For awhile, I had at least one death close to me every year. I realized that a lot of my confidence was still propped up by my mother and later my mentors who assured me that I was fine and that didn't have to worry about it. Now I was on my own. I realize now that it wasn't until the death of my mother that I really started to develop my sense of responsibility that would eventually get me over my self-pity that had haunted me since my childhood in Michigan.

I'm still a bit insecure, but secure enough to not let it show too often. My ego is a bit slapped together, but it's stable enough so I don't have to actively work on it anymore. My sense of responsibility showed up late, but probably overshot a bit and now I feel responsible for everything and everyone. I just lost 14 kgs, I probably have a drinking problem, I am in a happy and stable relationship, just bought a house in the countryside where I will move in the fall and will see you in DC on Monday!

PS Thanks for triggering this gush of memories Halley. It was fun to write. Apologies to anyone who finds this [insert negative word here]. Now back to regularly scheduled programming...


Wow ... you sure gave me a much better idea of who YOU are, than the tiny bit of info about me I gave you. This is so great. What a gift. Thank you.

Well, after reading your blog, I knew A LOT more about you than you probably know about me so I decided to even it out a bit before we met.

As someone a couple of years older than you who grew up in Sterling Heights, right next to Troy, I can sympathize with you to some extent. There wasn't much tolerance for people who were different in some way. I took a lot of abuse from neighborhood kids who resented (and whose parents resented) that I was going to a private school in Bloomfield Hills instead of the public elementary school in the neighborhood. It could be a brutal environment. I wasn't called "colored", but I got pretty much everything else you describe. It wasn't a good time to be growing up in Detroit, that's for sure.

You certainly seem to have made the best of your experience though. I wish my high school years had been as fun. :-)

Wow. Thanks, Joi. Halley's right...this kind of sharing is an amazing gift.

Wow, and here I thought I was just about the only guy around who took his mother's last name when his folks split up! Right on, Joi. See you at the Supernova dinner...

beautiful. warm and rough and tender and jagged. That's what I get as the "you" shaped by these wonderful if not sometimes painful experiences.


I *heart* you so Joi! You continue to amaze me with all that is you :)


Joi--thank you for an amazing entry. One of my goals, post leaving AOL and starting my own company, has been to build a more seamless link between my work self and the rest of my life. You do that so well here! Your honesty, sincerity, and story are much appreciated.
Best, Susan Susan )

As someone who has known Joi for a while, allow me to comment that he has more of his shit together than he gives himself credit for. He also has friends who would go to the ends of the earth for him (you know that, right Joi?). Oh, and remember this Joi--mongrels might not win dog shows, but they sure as hell win dog fights.

Thanks everyone for the positive feedback.

Michael, I'm glad you're there to help me when the dog fights start.

I am from China .

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