Mike Arrington once said they would erect a statue in my honor in Palo Alto. I said it'll never happen. A couple of years later the same guy asked me why everyone hates me so much. Or something like that. In both cases I'm paraphrasing. How did one person, me, end up being so loved yet despised at the same time? Or maybe just misunderstood.
I've learned that creating new stuff is a great way to get people to hate you. To create stuff you have to take a stand. You have to say "This is the way to do it." That pisses almost everyone off. People who think it should be done the other way hate you. And people who think it should be done the same way hate you too, because it was their idea, not yours.
It's funny because when I was growing up, the image in media was the opposite. Invent a new mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door. Not likely. You should create stuff because you enjoy being creative, because you have the creative impulse. Not because you expect to be loved for it.
In 20 years of blogging and developing software for blogging, you meet a lot of people, and some of them do share love with you. To me that was always the wonder of blogging. I remember very clearly, in 1999 or 2000, looking at a blogroll and seeing dozens of names, mostly people I had never heard of, all of whom had blogs. It was at that moment that I realized that it had worked. But I was in for a rude shock when I clicked the links, they were all talking about me, and they didn't like me! Oy.
It's hard to accept, when you're expecting accolades, to find that the accolades come in the form of rotten tomatoes, hurled at maximum velocity, at your virtual body parts. But there it is. People express love in weird ways. I was once at a workshop in Northern California, experiencing the same thing in realspace. I lamented, but was told later that I was the most loved person in the room. Go figure.
I've written very little about Aaron Swartz, because I felt it would be unseemly to talk in public about him, after he did what he did to himself, when I had no way to understand it. I still don't. Like everyone, I get depressed at times, and have even contemplated what he did, but I always back off, thinking it might be better tomorrow, and it always is, at least for me. I held on to it until I had a chance to think, and it seems that the 20-year milestone is a good time to honor his memory, a time when it might not seem self-serving.
He has been called the Internet's child, and I think that's fair. I knew him as well as anyone when he was young and seeking attention on the RSS-Dev mail list. It was not a happy place, in my experience, like a lot of households young boys grow up in. I don't really know what he was trying to do there. But it was often in conflict with what I was trying to do. He was very good at Internet conflict! And intelligent. BTW, intelligent people are always intelligent. Age is not a determinant of intellect, in my experience.
I did him the honor he asked for, and treated him as a responsible person. One of the great things about the Internet is that our bodies are the same size here, and if you want to play with the adults, there's nothing stopping a young person from doing so. That was Aaron, for sure. A young person who wanted to be an adult.
I have no idea what happened. Maybe I'll find out when it's my turn to go. Did I ever think I would survive him? Never crossed my mind.
Blogging is a platform for free people. We've seen people distort what blogging means to the point where blogging is a job for some. I never thought of it that way. It's a way to tell your story, to share what you see, to process it, draw conclusions, and move on. It's like a fresco painting. Or an interview with a reporter. It's quick, it's over, and it's done with.
Blogging has created a few billionaires. I hope some of them realize they can give back to the freedom of the platform, and not just use their financial power to make even more money. You can choose to go another way. Honestly, I don't understand why they don't.
Blogging makes you unemployable. I haven't had a real job since I started blogging. I would love to create a publishing platform for millions of people. I think I know how to do it. I would love to teach young developers how to think, to train their minds to creatively solve problems. But I haven't gotten a chance, and probably never will. There are always safer people to hire. So I look with envy at Frank Gehry, an 85-year-old architect who has been hired to create a high tech campus. And realize that's not going to happen for me.
A friend asked why. I thought about it a bit, and asked if she had ever heard "No one ever got fired for buying IBM." This was a big idea when I was young. The safe bet was to buy IBM. If the systems crashed or lost data or were impossible to use, everyone would understand you had done the best you could. But if you bought an off-brand, forget it. You'd get fired, as the slogan predicted. So people bought IBM, not the other brand.
Well I'm the other brand. If you hire me, and I say something on my blog your boss doesn't like, you'll be fired along with me. I understand. I want to let people know that writing publicly does not come without costs. You'll be lonely. There are so many things I want to do that I can't because of this rule.
Every day I try to do some development work on my projects, but I see the end coming, not too far away. I don't think I'll be digging any great new holes in the future, but I do want to wrap up all the stuff I've started. That's what the last few years have been about. I want to have great open publishing tools, that don't require you to give everything you have to a billionaire in the hopes of getting a little attention.
Maybe it won't go anywhere. Maybe it'll all be swept aside, forgotten, along with so many other dreams of so many other people who thought they could make a difference.
In one way 20 years doesn't seem like that much time. But to an individual it is huge. A lot has happened in this time. I've accomplished most of what I set out to, and that's something I'm grateful for.
I was looking for something to quote in one of the thousands of pieces (I haven't counted, that's just how it feels to me) I've written, but this morning, Anthony Baker posted a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that does it better than I possibly could.
To be mature you have to realize what you value most. It is extraordinary to discover that comparatively few people reach this level of maturity. They seem never to have paused to consider what has value for them. They spend great effort and sometimes make great sacrifices for values that, fundamentally, meet no real needs of their own. Perhaps they have imbibed the values of their particular profession or job, of their community or their neighbors, of their parents or family. Not to arrive at a clear understanding of one’s own values is a tragic waste. You have missed the whole point of what life is for.
I've turned off comments for this post. Please, if you have something to say, write a blog post. It'll be the best way for you to help the cause. Thanks!