Reminiscin' - how I met Aza
Today is Mozilla's farewell lunch for Aza, who is leaving Mozilla to start yet another new company. That guy's never really happy unless he's starting a company.
I'm gonna miss him, since he'll be up in San Francisco where I'll pretty much never see him. I already barely ever see him even though we ostensibly work together, just because he's usually traveling or working remotely.
Anyway, this is making me think back to how we first met. I was taking his dad's one-time-only special guest course in UI design for the CSPP at University of Chicago; Aza was the TA for it. But we didn't really meet outside of a classroom setting until the Evangelion marathon that UCJAS (the University of Chicago Japanese Animation Society) hosted at Aza's apartment for Suicide Prevention Weekend 2004. We watched every single episode plus the movies, and celebrated with orange jello shots (thanks Jim).
A couple times Aza's roommate Andrew came into the room looked at the screen, looked around at us, made a face, shook his head, and silently walked back out of the room.
In between two episodes Aza called an intermission and put on the Shingo Mama O-ha Rock video. So of course I got up and started singin' and doin' the dance moves along with the video. And Aza looked me up and down and raised his eyebrows and said "How do you know this dance?" And I told him it was the big craze during my first year in Japan, 2000-2001. I used to have a programmable CD player wake me up with that song to make me extra genki on cold winter mornings.
And that's how we became friends. And that led to Aza inviting me to join him when he started Humanized. And the work we did at Humanized got us Mozilla's attention, which led to us moving out to California to start working at Mozilla. And being in the Bay Area led to me meeting back up with Sushu again -- Sushu, who I also met because of UCJAS. Which led us to eventually try dating again and then get married!
So that Evangelion marathon was responsible for not only lifelong friendships but also for my career and marriage. Deciding to attend that party was far more important than any class that I ever took in grad school. If I hadn't gone, my life would have followed a completely different and unknown course. Funny how life works out!
I can has internet community?
Flashback to 1995. I was in college but I was terrified of starting conversations with strangers, so it was hard to meet people.
When the internet started going mainstream. I was like "Cool! the Internet! I can use this to bypass my social phobias and make friends with people who share my interests!"
In the 17 years since, I've done that... maybe once or twice. That's all.
I always hear about how people have found great communities on the internet, and I am envious, because it sounds cool and I've never been able to do that.
I basically don't socialize with strangers on the internet. I talk to people I already know, or I send some terse emails to set up a face-to-face meeting.
I never decided not to socialize -- I just never figured out how you're supposed to do it.
I've tried many times to join gaming, programming, and comic forums -- Storygames, RPG.net, the Warmachine forums, the MSPaintAdventure forums, the Ubuntu user forum etc. Here's how that always goes:
1. I lurk for a long time deciding if the forum is interesting and trying to get the vibe and learn the lingo.
2. I finally work up the courage to post, agonize over my username, and spend hours carefully crafting my first post.
3. Zero replies. Nobody cares.
4. I try posting replies in some active threads. They are ignored.
5. I make a post that accidentally touches on some controversial subject in the forum. It gets fifty replies, but none of them are engaging with what I said, or with each other -- everybody just showed up with an axe to grind and used the thread as an excuse to re-post their favorite rant.
6. I read some other threads more carefully and discover that almost nobody in the forum is responding to anybody else in a constructive way -- it's not a conversation, just a series of people who come in, state their opinion on (or off) the topic, and leave.
7. I give up and go back to lurking.
Not sure what it was that I expected to get out of posting to forums, but I never found it. The internet is littered with abandoned Jono forum accounts with like six posts each.
Even at its best, text-based communication on the internet lacks body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice, so it's a very poor aproximation of actual human contact. With forums, it's even worse, because you don't even know who (if anyone) you're talking to. It's like standing in a pitch-black, crowded tunnel and trying to introduce yourself to a bunch of invisible people who may or may not be listening.
I recently tried to engage with Hacker News after they linked to one of my posts. I thought I could contribute something to the thread since they were talking about my article, but... no. It was the exact same thing as every other forum.
I never figured out how to use "social media", either. I tried Twitter a few times but I wasn't getting anything out of it. Maybe I just don't know how to engage with Twitter, but to me it feels like a crowd of people all shouting for attention, none of them listening to each other. It's worthless for having a conversation or making any kind of meaningful connection. These days I only use my twitter account as a mirror of my RSS feed, to push out links to these blog posts.
I've been working full time on my own solo projects since leaving Mozilla. It's lonely! I wish I had some kind of professional community to be part of. I had a great one at Mozilla and I'm feeling the lack.
I know the "Mozilla community" is something that exists outside the company... but I don't know where to find them. I mean, I would know what IRC channel to go to for any technical question I want to ask, but I have no idea how to find Mozilla community members just to hang out, talk, build relationships, ask for general advice, etc.
I'm really curious to hear from anybody who has successfully found (or built) a functional online community. How did you find this community? How do people interact with each other there? What do you talk about? Do you meet up in real life or is it online only?
Back from two weeks in Illinois, I now return to my regularly scheduled life in California, and the challenge of trying to figure out who I am and what I want to do. Now that I have outgrown my former dream of being some kinda fancy open-source usability hacker guy, my life is missing a main plot thread. The idea of life having a "plot" is nothing but retroactive self-mythologizing anyway, but it's been a useful illusion for getting myself up in the morning.
Lately I have the weirdest feeling that I am a new person, only a few months old, who has inherited the body and memories of this 32-year-old dude. Many of Past Jono's motivations, while I remember having them, hold no appeal to me. Why did Past Jono buy this box of crummy anime toys which are now taking up space in Mom's house? Why did Past Jono care so much about boring computer stuff? What's with all these blog posts Past Jono wrote? Why are they so poorly written and why are his opinions so terrible? I'm glad Past Jono decided to marry this cool wife, but why did they live in Palo Alto of all places?
Time for a fresh start. The downside of being a newborn is that I'm nobody. But on the upside, I can do anything I want. I can also look at Past Jono with eyes unclouded by certain illusions that he clung to. Such as: holy fuck did he derive way too much of his identity from his job. He would have argued that he didn't buy into society's definitions of success and failure, but he obviously fell for the one that told him he had to have a respectable job to feel good about himself.
The work now begins in earnest: constructing an alternate value system to replace the old ideas of success and failure that Present Jono no longer gives a shit about.