10 Years of Links.net
27 January 1994 - 27 January 2004 - ?Ten years ago Tuesday I convinced someone to tap on a link in an email, to visit a homespun home page hosted on a hard drive. There was just my list of links and a bit of personal background.
In a way, not much has changed. I surf the web, take notes, and provide some personal context. I do less self-promotion now; there are search engines, and ten years worth of writing on the web ends up leading people in your direction. And it's lead me too -
Writing on the web lead me to San Francisco in 1994, the place with the highest density of other people writing on the web. It lead me to Wired, which was working to evolve itself for the web ("HotWired" - that didn't work out). That in turn lead me to Howard Rheingold, a righteous writer, citizen and friend, who has stayed with me longer than anything else from that era.
And now my writing on the web has lead to this web lifestyle. I travel or sit still, and share what I'm studying with a few sites, some of whom pay actual dollars. I have always wanted to be a writer. I'm not sure I knew what that meant. But I liked reading. And I liked making words, and delivering them for effect. To make a point, and have it stick.
This is the highest calling I feel. When I have a cause, when I'm motivated. Early on in my web work, I was having so much fun. Think of something, and share it. Make links between ideas. Put up a picture to go along with it.
I was filled with fire! Fervor! I wrote piles and piles of pages.
That had something to do maybe, likely, with my need for attention. I had an instant feedback mechanism. I could share my problems and get email - sympathy, advice, acknowledgement. (Last week I wrote about being perpetually "with cold" and received over two dozen studied suggestions. Hallelujah!)
I got the Fever
So there was all that personal writing I was doing, and feeling nourished by the attention. So I projected that out - I figured anyone might be helped by this. There wasn't an ill in the world that couldn't be healed by exposure to personal publishing in the world wide web. At least in terms of personal neuroses - the truth shall set you free, and publishing your truth online shall help you find all the other people who suffer as you do but might have been too shamed to say so. I was able to say, with a straight face, "release your burdens on to the web! and that shall set you free."
This evangelical zeal for the healing powers of online sharing took me on the road, teaching web publishing in cafes, schools and mental institutions. And increasingly it challenged my relationships with my friends. I wrote extensively about my interactions with people (look at any of the free-verse type recollections from 1996 to see what extensive means).
At first that wasn't a problem. There were about a thousand people reading the Internet when I first started, and most of them were computer scientists I'd never met. But over the years, as people began to ego-surf for themselves, searching on their name would often bring up a page I'd written about them first. Them through my eyes. I'm a fan of most people - I like finding something to love about anyone I spend time with. But I sprinkle that with tales of dissatisfaction or casual analysis of their faults or foibles as I see them. And maybe tales of our shared misadventure.
Multiple people I've known have emailed me to request that I remove a kiss or a night of mad groping from the pages of these recollections - a new significant other, job or lifestyle doesn't match with those search results. Former co-workers, former co-carousers.
That makes me sad. And I'm by and large willing to take pages down or at least change them to avoid search. I've learned to stay away from last names. It breaks my heart to have my writing hurt people. Most of the time I don't see my writing as anything cruel, just straightforward, seeing with ultimately loving eyes.
The most important thing is the relationships, I figure. The writing has to come from somewhere. I don't want to practice slash and burn friendship.
So this has tempered my reflections somewhat. Ten years ago, I thought, why do people write fiction? When real life is so fascinating. I wanted to be honest, I decided. It was something about the Internet. I could post my perspective, air my life publicly. And then if they disagreed, someone could post a reply on their web site! I've had one or two exchanges like that in the history of this site.
But truth is I've discovered most people don't want to live with the pain of human analysis on a daily basis. Myself included. Those voices in my head that keep track of gestures outside of expressed intent. They tire me - I find friends who speak in ways I can understand and don't feel I have to parse. Or at least I spend less time wondering what all essential human meaning lurks beneath small talk.
I was 19 when I started this site. I used it to keep track of my struggles then. Some of the specifics are different, but the core is the same - what is that feeling that gives meaning? What can I do that is compelling? What do I believe in? Who do I want to be? What is good humanity? When I stand back far enough, and I tilt my head in the right direction, I look at this web site as a religious text. A spiritual record. A person's search for meaning.
I got the Bills
In the late twentieth, early twenty-first century. And it turns out that my will to publish coincided with technology in such a way that I've given myself over and my thoughts to the machine, that we can work together to record that search for meaning in new media.
What's new about it? Well I am a freelance writer. There have been freelance writers before me, and self-published loons too. I did believe, ten years, nine years ago, that I would make money from writing on the web. Donations, I thought then. And I still get a few hundred dollars a year for my work on Links.net. Someday maybe it will be possible to charge, or ask for, a penny a page. Won't that be horrible? Microdonations? Panhandling? Or rather, micropayments and the end of largely-free web pages. Humph I say -
Many days I hate the freelance shuffle. I want more freedom to explore culture and promote compassion. For money. I have some niches I work through to pay my bills - mobile entertainment, web site building. But to challenge myself takes work! Writing about technology seems too narrow at times; working on the web and my curiosity about media has me familiar with a wide range of tools and ideas that have currency today. But my heart tends more towards studies of suffering and the human search for satisfaction. Whenever I can, I try to integrate those concerns in my technology journalism.
Sometimes that feels like a capitulation. Like I'm trying to put a toy heart into a tin machine when there's wet flesh all around me -
I can't deny my own fascinations. And convenience. Curiosity.
I return to a firm foundation in participation. Being involved. Asking questions. Paying attention. And then, to that, with age I've added patience. I'm trying to be patient with myself. Like I can feel myself evolving slowly, when I take a moment to survey my last ten years. Sometimes I want to be there, already, but I can't say where that is. Sometimes I wonder if I have been writing on the web to get myself to somewhere else. Early on in my freelance writing, it seemed like that some times - "hello famous magazine, you haven't heard of me, but I've written a lot on the web and I want to be in print with this great idea about some new culture I found." Sometimes they would have heard of me, and that was very gratifying. Notoriety for being one of the first guests to show up at the web party, drink up all the free bandwidth and then proceed to expose myself to the growing number of guests while singing at the top of my lungs about my snot.
I got Love
I can take that, enjoy it, smile at myself, because it has been participation. Participation - full involvement. The web is its own thing. Participation is central to the reading and writing experience. What it means to be a writer, a citizen, a human alive today is changing. I feel blessed to have had this much life behind me, and glad I was awake for as much of it as I managed. I expect to be suffering and celebrating for years to come, in circumstances I can't yet imagine, and writing about it online. I look forward to that! Thank you for reading with me this far.
Some StatisticsIn 10 years of putting together Links.net:
Number of HTML pages generated: 4794
Number of JPEG images included: 5710
Number of GIF images included: 2902
Number of separate subdirectories off /Links: 2427
(June 2002 subdirectory listing)