Data is great. Data is useful. Data is also authoritative if you want to tell a story in the aggregate. But if there is one thing I know about data, it doesn’t always tell the full (or even the most interesting) story.
The culture wars, radicalisation, political conversations, people going nuts… most (sensible) people avoid it. In this instance, the answer is not to go round, but go through.
I have lived my life as a crash test dummy. I look at the data, look at the bigger picture, and then I roll up my sleeves, go in, participate, and come back with a story – and hopefully some insights that either validate or challenge the data.
I am an anomaly. I like anomalies. I like entropy and happenstance and most of all, I like people. I like their stories. Here’s mine.
The high school Media Room was my saving grace. I was weird, and I knew it. Before being weird and smart was cool, being weird and smart actually kinda sucked.
I hung out in the media room, where I cut my teeth on Quark XPress and Carmen Sandiego in 1993 at the age of 14. I even helped build the school radio station. I thought I was pretty hot shit. I wanted to be a journalist or a TV Producer, and my attitude reflected that. I've mellowed. A little.
I learned Hypercard and a bunch of other design tools, including Photoshop, using a Quicktake camera and also played Bolo tournaments with the other nerds. I recorded cover songs and fell in love.
I sang Mariah Carey's Vision of Love in front of 1000 teenagers. None of the adults in the room had the foresight to think this might be a bad idea. Again, I thought I was cool. I was not.
Thanks Mark. RIP, I owe everything to you.
Screeeeeeawwww-ssssccch-pft-eeeeeh-schree. Hear that? That's the sound of my modem dialing.
I Googled my favourite things on Yahoo and Ask Jeeves, went on IRC, and started learning HTML. I made my very first website.
It was bad, but it did sparkle. I also met my first husband and flunked out of Year 12 because I got sick. I often joke that I married my high school sweetheart: the internet. Nar, he's an alright guy. He even played guitar whilst I sung Alanis Morissette's Forgiven in front of the Governor of Western Australia.
Yes, I was always a bit of a troll.
But again, like the Mariah Carey incident of 1994, none of the adults stopped me, so...
Yes, there's a VHS tape somewhere. Yes, I have accepted that it may resurface one day. Yes, I am grateful to not have had TikTok.
I also did work experience for Channel 9 Perth. I tagged along on a documentary thing about parrots. I flew in the helicopter. That's all I remember.
I repeated Year 12. I was obsessed with animation and design, but, faced with the choice between the "risky" Multimedia degree and the "safe" option of Politics and Law, guess which degree I chose.
I had no interest in a Computer Science degree because it had too much Maths in it.
Yep, I went to University and studied Politics and Law. I took as many Multimedia & Comms electives as they would let me take. Became obsessed with political communications and persuasion.
I overshared every aspect of my life on my website. I spilled all my secrets online, because none of my friends or family were there. It's hard to explain today that I wrote my secrets on the internet. The old schoolers will understand what I meant. That would come back to haunt me. Again, this theme, where hindsight is 2020.
Obsessed with Lisa Loeb, in 1998 I created the very first iteration of "Wild Plums & Agrimony" - a website dedicated to Guitar tabs of her music.
My website was best viewed at 800x600 resolution in Netscape Navigator. It was also in CSS not tables without a Spacer GIF in sight and that was a big deal.
Was, of course, a student politician. Was Education Vice President and NUS and all that stuff. Joined the ALP. Was asked to stack branches. Left the ALP.
My daughter was born at 11:55pm on September 10, 2001. The world got weird for me.
Like every first time mother, and having absolutely no idea what the fuck I was doing with very little support (or role models), I wrote about my insecurities and warts and all stuff online. I loved being a Mum. I loved my daughter. But youth and this new tool with no clear rules for how it interfaced with the real world, I started to see trouble. Hurt family members, offended ex-classmates, and lots and lots of memorable fights (mostly with women) on mother's groups, Usenet groups, email lists, you name it. I was kind of mouthy. It was my story and I could tell my story in my words. It was my lived experience, after all. I defended that position until 2017.
Fun fact: in 2001, my boss at the computer store I worked at found out I was pregnant by reading my website. That's the day I learned that the Internet wasn't all that private. Or, did I?
Sorry, Mina. I didn't know any better. I love you.
Graduated. Realising an Arts degree was slightly less lucrative than Computer Science, I got plunged into the real world. Turns out, jobs suck in the real world. I worked in IT recruitment, then in Human Resources for a bit, but then managed to get a placement in the country as a graduate child protection worker. I then worked with kids in Foster Care, and trained Foster Carers for the intensive placement program. I reached a point where I knew if I stayed in this work I would have to lose my empathy. So I quit and went in to policy.
All this time, I did websites for fun. I accidentally downloaded One Night in Paris four times in a row trying to get Pirates of the Caribbean on VCD via Limewire. The old schoolers feel me.
Participated in Internet forums, wrote lots and became part of the furniture on the Lisa Loeb fan forum.
Kept my (unwittingly) popular website, blog and guitar tab site running - which I would love redesignin every 2 months. We don't talk about my Xara 3D and NetObjects Fusion and hyper-literal skeuomorph phase. I learned to render 3D and animate in Flash.
I learned Blogger and then Movable Type theming. It was annoying.
My website was best viewed at 1024x768 resolution in IE5.5.
Joined the Greens and did stuff, including being Secretary and Policy Convenor for a bit.
Pregnant with my second child and on bed rest, I got an email from Lisa Loeb's manager on behalf of Alfred, asking me to take down my tab website. Me being me, I said "fuck off" and wrote a lengthy, mouthy manifesto about Fair Use and how not to Piss off Fans on the Internet. Somehow that resulted in me running Lisa's website in an official capacity.
Lisa's manager was kind of networked, so I got quite a lot of work. My Fireworks skills were on point and I wrangled Spacer GIFs and Flash animations like a boss. Including for Rock of Ages and some other cool people.
LinkArtist Multimedia was born. I didn't go back to policy work. I said to my husband that I was going to do this, and if it stopped being fun, I would quit.
There would be many bridge-burning emails to others over the years. I still struggle with that impulse to burn it to the ground. The pen is mightier than the sword. Sometimes it paid off. Sometimes, Seppuku.
Built a following and quite a popular blog. Never kept stats, but had a lot of comments. I also contributed to a bunch of other blogs. I became known for being snarky.
Which, in your twenties is definitely cool.
In your late thirties, you just sound bitter and defensive.
I found out my blog was more popular than I realised when a friend sent me a photo of my blog being showcased in a Comms class at ECU. That was super, super weird. That friend made his own parody religion website. I once had a 30-email conversation with his autoresponder when he went on vacation. That was fun.
Nearly died. My stomach leaked into my guts and I nearly left my kids without a mother. It scared me. It was a hard recovery. My husband blogged whilst I was in a coma, and hundreds of people rallied around me online, waiting for news and sending wishes. I felt the warmth of that support and it helped me recover.
I blogged through that. I had a third kid and blogged. Blogged and blogged. Then, as Facebook & Twitter slowly replaced the minutiae, my oversharing went omnichannel, as you do.
I noticed something screwy was startng to happen with the Internet. At first, I thought it was just normie stuff and the Eternal September
I couldn't put my finger on it. I'd been mobbed efore, had stalkers before, and lived a whole life online before all the normies showed up.
But, something was off. I also noticed that I was increasingly becoming the Lisa Simpson in the room in technology conferences and among my peers. I didn't choose the thug life, the thug life chose me. I watched as the big end of town - banks, retailers, finance companies, started getting all abuzz about Big Data. I watched them circling around Comp Sci engineers who had absolutely no idea about anything other than the cool shit they were making. I spoke up, several times, and, well, let's just say that wore thin after a while.
In 2010, my life fell apart. The stress of the GFC (most of my income was in USD), a premature baby, and barely recovering from that... and then my grandma died of a brain tumour. I blogged. My husband got injured at work and we were plunged into a year of fighting an Insurance Company. We didn't make it. Got divorced. Blogged. Got shit for it.
Started to see early mobs forming on Twitter. I was on the receiving end of a particularly vicious one, who targeted me from every direction: blog, social media, Facebook, my work email. I couldn't escape. I got death threats and had to call the Police.
The Police laughed at me and said to just turn off my computer. I wrote through it, and just kept going.
In 2011, I went viral for something embarrassing.
Deleted blog and all social media except Facebook.
Moved to Sydney. Facebooked that. Got shit for it. Started second business with someone I shouldn't have. Business ended. Regretted. Moved back to Perth. Healed. Still regret.
Met new husband. Went into business with new husband. Husband amazing.Husband doesn't give a shit about social media and his YouTube is only full of How-To videos and rockets and shit.
Cleaned up my archives and put my site back up, with a whole bunch missing.
Kintsugi did well. More websites, more design, more content, more strategy... the usual. Some big clients were on the books, and they loved us! We were a dream team that did the work of ten people and did it within budget and on time.
Everyone would appreciate that, right?
We were going to change the industry! We did great work. People came to us when they needed something done properly, or fixed, or done right. We could do anything and fix anything, and we even started to build products that would sell like hotcakes if we could just get the funding.
Oh, the funding. The money men. The people who wanted us to strip all our products of anything that made them... good.
I was on a mission. I was fighting for the user. I was telling everyone that it was irresponsible to hide behind obscure EULAs. I was advising them on best practice and making sure that everything was done right.
I had tenure in the industry and people respected me, right? Those "MarTech" and black hat folks are crooks and everyone sees it, right?
I was wrong. When faced with the choice between ethics and the leads, they chose the leads every single time.
I was the only User Experience consultant in town talking about our Duty of Care and ethics. The money ensured it stayed that way.
Nearly died (again). Spent four months recovering, thinking, and realising that I wanted more out of life than bug fixes, a corrupt industry and the unrealistic client expectations that came out of that corruption.
The thing I loved more than anything else had turned its back on me, and burned me out. I'd spent 15 years trying to fight for the internet they promised us. But, after nearly three decades of naively believing that the internet was the place to be free and create, but spending most days fighting crooks and fraud and, increasingly, a bunch of extremely serious unintended consequences, I realised I just couldn't keep taking part and had to fight this stuff from the outside.
It stopped being fun. So I quit. Well, kinda. Still gotta eat, ya know.
Terrified of video, but also feeling I had to talk about this, I started a podcast. Then started YouTube channel. Realised I was quite shit at both those things, so spent two years trying to get better at those things. It's still something I hesitate with.
Started another Masters in Internet Studies, with a view to getting my PhD. Hummed and harred over whether Internet Studies is my home. Still haven't decided.
So, that COVID thing hit right when I was in the middle of figuring out what was going on with the Internet mobs. Then, one by one, everyone's brains melted. I'd spent the last few years watching the Internet go awry in the post-Trump Internet, and had answers, and was finally ready to start writing, but still had some gaps.
And it all, well, kinda imploded. It became impossible to anchor anything to time, because time had become abstract. I have been commentating on the fly, complete with bad takes, trying to analyse a lot of what is happening. It's been quite the feat. I mean, I understand politics. I understand the Internet. I understand advertising and marketing. But something was missing.
The nudges. The dark patterns. The bad guys. The unethical marketing practices.
So I took the time to go back to theory. Back to history. Immerse myself in the US culture wars that permeate our daily existence in big and small ways. The internet has become real life and the Police no longer tell you to just turn off your computer, but show up your door on behalf of the abuser.
I started studying Psychology (but may end up going back to Comms). I am assembling a parachute whilst already out of the plane and scrambling like mad to create content (I hate that word) that actually helps to explain things, and where I can also make a living doing good. That old tension between doing what's right, and there being no money in it.
But it's fun, so I won't quit. And I'll just keep blogging. Just keep talking. Just keep evolving for as long as there's no adults that tell me it's a bad idea. What's the worst that could happen... I embarrass myself?
I thought the answer was therapeutic, but the answer lies in regulation and policy. Unfortunately, the thing I am trying to fight is the thing where you make money online, so I am constantly fighting that within myself.
So I am doing my Juris Doctor for now, in the hope that I can at least do that, but honestly I would still like to just make the whole 'content' thing work out.
Unfortunately, as the Australian market is small, and I found myself a victim of the algorithms etc, it is tricky, but this is where I am. Training to be a lawyer so I can help, whilst writing and streaming where I can.
I love the internet. I think this is temporary pain. With any luck, we can learn from our mistakes, but in the meantime, I am a little adrift, getting the JD, and just... showing up for those who find themselves in the same position.