A colleague outside theory (but inside computer science) recently brought up an interesting question with me that seemed like a possible research-level issue. We had some back and forth, trying to figure out what we each meant (naturally, our "vocabularies" are a bit different in how we describe the problem), what the actual question was, and if there was a direction to go. After a couple of rounds of this, he thanked me. Paraphrasing: "I appreciate your patience. My experience is other theorists are often immediately dismissive to these sorts of questions."
I was taken aback. First, I'm not sure patient is a word commonly used to describe me. Second, this colleague is a first-rate genius (with the track record to prove it). Who wouldn't listen to what they have to say? Quite frankly, I was happy they were interested in talking to me!
But it's been gnawing at me. If a high-powered colleague outside theory has this impression of theory and theorists, how do we appear to others? Was this an isolated opinion, or a common feeling?
I know 20 years ago, back when I was in graduate school, the theory/systems divide was quite large, at least at Berkeley. There seemed to be minimal communication among the faculty groups. Indeed, in part that was one reason that, at the time, the LogP paper seemed like such a big deal; Dick Karp had successfully crossed over and worked with the systems side to build a model for parallel computation! It was, sadly, notable, if only because such collaborative work had seemed so rare.
I've generally felt that while this theory/systems divide was still much larger than I might personally like that there had been a lot of progress since my grad student days. I feel I can point to a significant number of examples. But perhaps I'm holding the unusual opinion. Maybe there's still not enough listening going on, in at least one direction.