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Retired IBMer Carl Parris Studies How Societies Maximize the Use of Their Land

Carl Parris—a recently retired IBM Z* performance analyst—began traveling early with his family. “The first significant trip in my life was when my father was doing research for a dissertation, and we ended up living in England for a year. That gave us access to Europe, so we traveled through Europe whenever we had time off.”

But Parris’ life as an independent traveler began at an early age, too. At 16, he hitchhiked through Europe. At 18, he moved to Mexico for a fully immersive Spanish-speaking experience. By 19, he had lived in China for three and a half months.

Immersive trips like these left Parris captivated by cultural geography—the study of how societies organize themselves based on geographic characteristics of the land. He was especially drawn to this concept during his time in China. “I lived in a mountain village in the countryside, and we worked there during the harvest. It was really interesting to see how the people essentially transformed their land and agriculture to support themselves in a developing country.”

Travel and Career

After returning home, Parris got a degree as an electronic technician. He was hired by IBM—where he ended up working on IBM Z design and strategy. But even with this career shift, Parris maintained his desire to travel. “When I was working for IBM, I got to travel a fair amount and I would always try to tack on a few days of personal time when I went to a new and interesting place.”

One IBM trip even brought Parris back to the village in China where he stayed during his earlier travels. “I saw amazing changes in the standard of living along with increases in industrialization. I was treated like a guest of honor and had a wonderful time.”

Parris’ retirement opened up more opportunities for him to rekindle his passion for traveling. He’s gone on extended trips to Amazonia and Peru—both of which brought him right back to his original interests in cultural geography.

Parris focused on the ways natives of Amazonia and Peru used their knowledge of the land to make the most out of their resources. “In Peru, there are over 3,000 different kinds of potatoes, and they know which kinds of potatoes should be grown at different altitudes,” he notes. “They have a really intimate knowledge of how much moisture and rain will come, too, so they know what kinds of potatoes to plant and when to plant them.”

The Road Ahead

Retirement has given Parris time to dedicate himself to his identity as a cultural geographer. “I’ll always be interested in how people interact with their land, how they adapt and how they make full use of the environment.”