Over the past couple months I have met two people for the first time that – in some ways – might know me better than some of my closest friends and family. Adriana and Elena Mary. I can’t tell you much of what they’ve been up to over the past couple years, but back in 2004 I could have given you a weekly summary of their lives. Back then Adriana was “Poor Little Tumbleweed” and Elena Mary was … well, pretty often upset about something or other. We were all part of a group of about 10 – 15 people who blogged at least weekly, always left comments on one another’s posts, and generally created an important sense of community out of nowhere. Relationships formed, relationships ended. Visits were made all the way across country. People who at first couldn’t stand one another came to develop a delicate respect for each other, which then turned into real, meaningful friendships. As we began to express and shape our identities online we were forced to reflect about our place in the world and how the way we were raised influenced the person we had become. This wasn’t always an easy process – as identity politics never are – but most importantly, we supported one another much more than we criticized each other.
And then it all came to an end.
I’m still not exactly sure how or why it ended, but in retrospect what we had was a very special window of opportunity where people of different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, even languages, all came together with the sole objective of sharing their lives and learning about the lives of others. There was no ulterior motive. And ‘blog’ was still a mostly unknown word.
Today it is hard for me to think about blogging as simply a process of expressing oneself and opening one’s mind to the alternative perspectives of others who were raised under different circumstances. I’ve been conditioned to think of blogging as a way to market a product, or document an event, or promote an idea, or advocate a policy, or gain personal influence, or meet the terms of a grant. Sadly, blogging as a process of introspection now seems either idealistic or adolescent. My greatest fears seem to have won out. We became slightly cynical, very much overwhelmed, and co-opted by institutions with their own agendas. And with money.
Some of us just got lazy and fell pray to the fast updates and atomized content of Facebook and Twitter.
On the other hand, here I am in Lima, Peru taking a slight personal break from my dream job. Not only is this a dream job, but I actually gave up my former dream job to take this one. I finally updated my about page to explain more clearly what it is that I’m doing:
These days I am an independent consultant working with the Latin America and Information Programs of Open Society Institute, the foundation funded by George Soros. I help them think of ways that civil society in Latin America can use technology and digital media to become more effective.
I go around from country to country, meet with some of the leading NGO’s and think tanks, and try to explain the importance of effective online communication. A lot of the same issues come up over and over again. First, most NGO’s feel that it is important to produce and show as much information as possible on their websites as this reveals how busy and productive they are. Websites are often filled with endless PDF reports, Microsoft Word documents of meeting notes, PowerPoint presentations that are 40 megabytes each and written in fonts that are impossible to read. Etcetera. But rarely do these website express with clarity the mission of the organization and how it is continually working toward that mission.
It’s not just the NGO’s; most donors also struggle when it comes to effectively communicating their strategy, investments and how they monitor progress toward their ultimate vision. If you’re really interested in these issues then take a look at the consultancy website.
But what I’m trying to get at is this: I tell people to communicate more, and more clearly. To be more open. To take an hour out of their day to share with others what they are up to and why. Then I realized that I’ve stopped doing that myself. I’ve started using the same excuses: that I am too busy, that there are other things I need to do first, when really it’s just a matter of prioritizing my time.
So here I am, trying to get back in the game. Trying to still be me. More to come. (I hope.)