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Gaining Perspective`

Modern Marvels and the Origin of Humankind

By Joel Torgeson

iPads, nice! I think as I pull up to gate G6, bags checked and security cleared. This is great; now I can actually write my Sheer article.

Somebody at a table a few feet away is already complaining about airlines, and a Louis C.K. monologue springs unbidden to my mind. Listen, you, I want to say. You're about to fly, through the air, in what would amount to a mystifying, magical metal canister in any age but the last 100 years ... and you're complaining about Delta's coffee. I have no more words for you.

Of course, I'm not actually going to say that, since I've complained about plenty of modern miracles. My iPhone 6 Plus won't connect to the LTE network (more magic?). This is the worst. The light rail's AC was too cold? Horrible. My life is too hard.

There's a church group headed to Uganda for missionary work next to me now. As much as that grates against my sense of social justice, ethics, and common courtesy, clearly I'm not going to convince them out of it, so I keep my mouth shut again. Plus, I'm generalizing. Maybe they're not full of the stereotypes and privileged socialization I'm assuming they have. Through unintentional eavesdropping, I learn I have two eight-hour flights with them to test these hypotheses about them. Good thing my Kindle is fully charged.

I'm hardly in a position to cast much judgment. I'm jumping across the Atlantic to Kenya to do anthropological fieldwork, another in a long list of white, cis men who have returned to the home continent to study human origins. I faced this dilemma when I went to Thailand this winter as well: how do I acknowledge and understand my privilege while still accomplishing my goals and pursuing my dreams? It's a gray zone of ethics that I'm not fully qualified to handle. This is for another time, though.

I am looking forward to this trip, and it's going to be amazing. I received a National Science Foundation fellowship to attend the Koobi Fora Field School, one of the premier institutions in the world for learning anthropological field methods. I also received a grant from the University of Minnesota to conduct research in the National Museums of Kenya and on Rusinga Island on Lake Victoria, examining rodent dental morphology as it varies in the paleoecological record. I won't be back until August 24th.

With limited internet availability where I'm headed, I'm not sure whether my article for next month will be able to get through. I might send a postcard, though! Hopefully I'll have even more interesting stories and perspectives to relate when I get back from this adventure.

For now, gate G6 is beginning to board. A little bit of excitement tingles in these fingers.