Blogging without responsibility

Last night I re-watched The Social Network. I fell asleep the first time I watched it, because I’m a bad person and don’t do movies well. But since then I developed a love for Aaron Sorkin’s work, I needed to rest some old injuries, and the do-over was long overdue.

I started blogging in 2002. It was a pretty active hobby, I wrote a lot, I messed with my layout and theme a lot, I was active in communities a lot. It’s a major reason why I do the work I do now, albeit a fortuitous one. But in 2008 something happened, I backed up everything and deleted it off the face of the internet as much as I could. From 2011 to 2018, I kept a local instance of WordPress, blogged privately here and there, but it was never the same. By then blogging had transformed into a way to make a living, get published elsewhere, get promoted, get famous. Also by then, it had become fashionable in some circles to call up swat teams to the homes of people folks didn’t like.

So when I made my blog public again, I did so only after I was 99% sure I was detached from all of those fears. And this blog, Digging. It made a big difference to seek out blogs that were unrelated to what has become my work life, to rediscover blogging as a standalone hobby, and stop feeling guilty about not wanting to use it as a proxy for something else in my career.

When I first started blogging, it was a hobby for most of us. It was natural to mix in our personal lives in the middle of working out a CSS kink, or to design your website in the open to share with friends. That is not the case anymore–and most people in design or tech who claim they’re doing something purely as a side project with no ulterior motives are probably lying to you or themselves. People either keep their lives guarded for good reason, or are curating what you see, hard. This culture really soured my own existing hobbies and motivation for seeking new ones. Not only that, it made me feel like I had lost a sense of community and potential friendships.

That’s why you haven’t seen posts like the ones that I closed out 2019 with, or these kinds. It’s not the pandemic, I have not run out of ideas, it’s not because my 100-day project is over.

I just don’t care. I like that the topic of my posts vary, I don’t schedule posts, I intentionally do a half-assed job at cross-posting, and I don’t check my stats page unless something gets triggered. There are lots of serious, silly, and memoir post ideas I draft out, but I am detached from them. Primarily for reasons I described above, but if I do decide to write, it produces a much better post.

The last thing I held off on though, were the comments. I wouldn’t turn the comments back on. All fear.

F* that. I’m Mexican. I’m from Santa Ana, for goodness’ sake. My so-called “Jesus year” ends next month and so far, it’s included:

  • absolutely no plane rides
  • giving birth to a baby
  • burying my cat (three days later, too)
  • driving cross-country with said baby, her 2-year old sister, and the spouse
  • going back to work
  • all of us almost dying in a car accident
  • a new cat
  • the beginning of a wonderful mentorship
  • a totally voluntary, very well-discerned, aka heartbreaking job search
  • the week I take off between jobs there is a pandemic
  • starting a new (also distributed) job during a pandemic
  • people very dear to me almost dying in the pandemic
  • the beginning of a wonderful mentorship during a pandemic
  • catastrophic job loss across my extended family of 99.9% low-wage essential workers who cannot work from home because of the pandemic
  • my marriage turning 10 years old during a pandemic
  • three bottles of tequila, one shitty bottle of mezcal, and many bags of Barrett’s coffee, because of the pandemic
  • thank God for plants
  • Texas being Texas in spite of the pandemic
  • [update later] despite a pandemic and [update later] during a pandemic
  • and no schools or daycare for the foreseeable future because, pandemic

I didn’t even think of not seeing colleagues in person or wondering when I’ll get to meet my new ones. And most ironically–I’m certain that posting this here, today, on my own public domain, will end up being more private and civil than posting it over there.

I can definitely turn the comments back on.


Why does this have to do with The Social Network? Our misunderstood little anti-hero allegedly posted to his blog as a little warmup to “wiring in” while the rest of the kids went out. Albeit drunk and angry, because he has no friends (because he is an asshole). But this was the nerd zeitgeist of the early aughts before everyone moved their personal lives over to Facebook. I was part of it, and I’m glad this aspect of it has largely come to pass: blogging without responsibility–trashing the lives of others masked as the sharing of one’s interests and personal life.

If that’s your thing, though–there are new places you can go.

Hobbies, side projects, making–all have consequences. There is no such thing as doing something for its own sake if you want people to find it on the internet.

Abdullah

You always had the donuts. You supplied maybe 75% of the donuts I ate at IBM.

We first met in person at the studio’s chili cookoff. We both loved to cook for other people. This would be the topic of most of our conversations for the next few years. You always talked about the latest gadgets, while I was always the stubborn one defending the essentials, the foundations, the craft. We were comfortable with our mortality. Might as well make the meals count, we’d say.

Abdullah, your beans were shit in that chili. They weren’t even cooked through and you knew it. But it didn’t matter, because it was never going to be about the chili at this century-old behemoth of an enterprise tech company. You made space for your team of designers fresh out of their fancy design schools to feel like they had accomplished something, because they were about to realize that this job is much different. With their lab coats, goggles, and who knows what else–of course people would notice Chili Lab, and remember the Chili Lab experience.

You nodded, sure, my chili was better, I had done much more with much less. And you left it at that, so that I could learn. Because honestly, I would never remember what it even tasted like. Selling design and leading designers is a nuanced, calm thing, that starts with saving the new girl a donut and making sure your team knows that their work is valued.

Even though I wasn’t on your team, thank you for the lessons. Thank you for the friendship I needed so much at that time, for always DM’ing me to remind me to take a break from work [and come get the last one]. I wish I hadn’t been so quick to get back to my desk. To the chili. It took me a few years, but now I’m wise enough to understand that all of this is definitely not a cookoff. Maybe I’ll figure out how you did the rest in time, too.

Intentional Internet 2020

And so it’s already here, imposed on us in the most unfortunate of situations. Could the throwaway culture that the internet played such a formative–albeit aloof–role in fostering be slowly withering away? The way showy, trendy plants do when they’re left to fend for themselves in a garden they had no business in to begin with.

Earlier this year, I had to prune the plants in my garden. I planted boring, native species last year. Not willing to invest much energy or money in something that wasn’t going to give me instant beauty, I purchased small specimens that knew how to survive in the horrible Texas soil, and essentially neglected them through a brutal summer and an erratic winter. It was no surprise that, by the end of the year, they were still alive, but lackluster.

So, like many things I unexpectedly had to prune already this year, I pruned my garden, because that’s what a good steward does. No gardener can become a good gardener without getting over the fear of pruning, and no good gardener can become a great gardener without approaching pruning as part of the craft. Chop, whack, snip. It hurt, to see everyone almost exposed to their roots, not knowing whether they’d make it or not–driving home the guilt that was admitting that I had not taken good care of them. If they didn’t succeed, it would be my fault.

Two long weeks of staring out the window, walking up to them each morning to give them an encouraging poke or two. Then suddenly, they began to swell, and last week, burst in ways I had not imagined possible. Every leaf, bigger. Every stem, longer. Buds too many to count. I popped open the rain barrel and gave them the water I had withheld out of my own perverted sense of frugality. And then, the compost.

My plants didn’t really need me. They focused their energy on their root systems, preparing for challenge, growing the thick skin they would need in the face of uncertainty. But unlike humans, they don’t hold grudges, they are full of gratitude. I repaired my relationship with them, and now they feel safe to blossom and grow. Holy shit the birds that are going to show up!

Who knew that the things we took for granted in our midst could bring us so much joy and sense of place in a time of need. Netflix parties. Virtual happy hours on Zoom. Finding delightful new uses for features we took for granted. Yoga classes streamed live. Restaurants selling you eggs and milk tonight because you both need it but you also just want to see each other be okay.

We’re making it work because we remembered that life is fragile, because it doesn’t have to be. And so we’re freer to say no to the bad parts of the internet because it’s so obvious how awful they are. But we’re also saying no to the mediocre or bullshit ones because they are just in the way. Perhaps we can also realize that making it a better place doesn’t mean we have to hold onto the past, but rather, being very present and in tune to what’s going on right now.

Don’t get me wrong, most of gardening is still pulling weeds. But it helps if you have a clear vision, and feel some pressure (that’s rooted in reality, of course). I am optimistic that, despite everything that’s about to get worse before it gets better, the era of useless meetings and content is on its way out forever. Have you ever seen the wildflowers in bloom?


It was something from Jorge Arango’s post today that got me thinking about this.

…a feeling I’ve had over the past few days: that the current crisis is an inflection point in how we meet and collaborate. It’s not just that we’re working online; we’re experimenting with all types of social interactions. (This evening I’m planning to attend my first virtual happy hour.)

It’s still too soon to tell what the effects will be in the near-term. That said, some seem obvious. Digital communication platforms (Zoom, WebEx, Messages, WhatsApp, Skype, Slack, etc.) were already important before this crisis, but now they’re essential. How long would we stand the isolation if it weren’t for these systems? The companies that operate these systems are now central to our social infrastructure.

My thoughts on meetings and similar events both online and IRL:

Priya Parker writing in The New York Times:

It’s possible to make remote gathering a worthy competitor of traditional events. The bittersweet truth about all the gatherings and meetings and parties and conferences being canceled is that many of them would not have been particularly meaningful to begin with. And so if we are willing to bring to the time of Covid-19 a level of intention that we too rarely visit upon our regular gatherings, this heavy time could be leavened by the new rituals it created, the unlikely intimacies it fostered and the ways in which it revealed that convening people is a special privilege that ought never to be taken for granted.

Also, we must be more mindful of what should be a meeting. Now that most communications are happening in information environments, the choice between synchronous and asynchronous communications seems less stark. It’s all happening on the same plane, after all. Why not just start an email thread, or reach out to folks on Slack, instead of scheduling a meeting?

Like him, I expect an IRL resurgence after all of this passes. But not before we weed, prune, and yank out all of the superficial shrubberies in our lives, and on the web.