I Work for Six Apart

A few weeks ago, I had started an entry with the phrase, "Though I work in the weblog industry…" and I had done so mainly as a tongue-in-cheek joke about how seriously the blogosphere takes itself. I was talking to Matt a few days later and he told me he’d pictured me coming up from the weblog coal mines, covered in soot, bringing home the permalinks. But I had time to think about it since then, and to talk to a lot of people about where weblogs are going, not just what they’re doing now and what we’ve done so far. And I realized that, maybe a year from now, there will be a weblog industry, and not just the few scattered groups of friends and colleagues that I’ve watched building tools and technologies and companies over the years.

And oh, yeah, building great sites, too.

Because that’s the part that mattered to me, and still does. The connection. I’ve had this site for just a bit shy of four years in its current form, with a weblog. And I’ve mentioned before on this site all of the ways that it’s improved my life. But in deciding to leave the familiar industries I’d worked in, which covered IT and computers and technology, of course, but also television and the music industry and print publishing, I did what all of the career counselors advise you to do: I sat down to think not just of what I wanted to do, but why I wanted to do it.

One of the things that I keep coming back to is the importance of communication. I started using computers regularly when I was about 5 years old. At that time, we thought computers were for, you guessed it, computing. Even some of the people who invented the PC itself took 10 or 15 or 20 years to figure out that a personal computer’s highest calling was for communication. Not surprisingly, some of the guys I look up to as heros were able to anticipate that communication would be as important as calculating, and they’ve ended up working in weblogs, too.

There was a more significant reason that I understood the value of communicating through technology, though. I’ve seen how it can broaden not just people’s experiences and lives, but their ambitions. My father first came to the United States forty years ago this fall. When he came here, just before President Johnson signed the immigration laws that radically increased immigration from Asia to the U.S., there were only a few thousand people of Indian descent in the entire country. And my father’s village in India had no running water or electricity, let alone a phone. So his arrival here isolated him from everything he’d ever known in a way that I’ve often told him I could only duplicate if I decided to emigrate to the moon.

But he’d still had the desire to come here for his education and his career, due to having read about the possibilities of life in the United States. Most of the people in his village didn’t know such things were possible, and most of the people in his district couldn’t have even found out about the opportunities because they were illiterate. The biggest factor limiting the life they tried to live was simply not being aware what their potential truly was.

So I make tools that help people communicate. Mostly because I love technology, mostly because I love to try and build things and to get other people to think these things are cool, too. And certainly because I’m hoping to impress my friends and family with the end results. But some small, central part of the effort is because I know I’m privileged to be able to talk to anyone in my family at any time. In the span of a few decades, my father went from not being able to even send a letter to his father for a few years to being able to instant message me frequently enough to pester me.

Our letters to each other used to be the documentation of the lives we’d lived, the entirety of our correspondence forming memoirs for those who weren’t accomplished or pretentious enough to formally write out a memoir. I think that, among many other functions, this is one of the key roles that personal publishing can play in our lives. Weblogs and other social media document the lives we live and let us connect in ways that are, despite the cliché, genuinely new.

As of today, I’ve got the privilege of working with good friends for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect. And I get to work in the medium I know best, doing work I love. It’d be a dream job by anyone’s measure. That the realm we’re working in might actually turn out to be important makes it even better than a mere dream.