[This is the first post in Safari’s 3-year tradition of “encouraging” our team to write one blog post per day for the month of November. I hope you enjoy our 2013 and 2012 archives, and we’ll be bringing another month of posts on tech, business, and publishing, on topics from the general to the arcane.]
Photo courtesy Sam Beebe
XOXO is an annual arts and technology festival held in Portland, Oregon, featuring many of the best writers, speakers, technologists, and artists who work in and around the internet. Speakers are invited based on the quality of their oeuvres, not by reviewing specific proposals, yet each year themes emerge that make the event more than the sum of its talks.
Last year’s theme, for me, was the ambivalence of success. In art, success may mean loss of control of the work that you loved enough to bring to the world; in business, it can mean no longer getting to do the very job that brought you success in the first place. Many of last year’s speakers expressed very personal downsides in reaching or exceeding their dreams.
Happy 20th-ish birthday, World Wide Web!
This year many of the speakers — notably Justin Hall but also Kevin Kelly, Paul Ford and others — have internet careers extending back to the early days of the web or its precursor technologies. As much as the web still feels new to us, twenty years is more than enough time to reflect on both its evolution as an institution, and its effect on the relatively small number of people who grew up with it. Twenty years is also plenty long enough to induce a nostalgia movement.
Three talks I especially enjoyed, some of which touched on the theme of how the internet has changed them:
“You can weaponize nice.”
Erin McKean’s breezy talk seems at first like an overview of her career: studying, collecting, and promoting the dusty corners of the English language. But the talk is also a subtle exploration of the challenges women can face in our field, particularly women who deserve to be taken seriously without compromising their essential natures. Do not cross this cheery woman in a funky dress; she will cut you.
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Darius Kazemi’s immensely popular deconstruction of the tech hero’s arc is a perfect 10 minute snarkfest followed by a surprisingly sincere coda. Highly recommended, like all of Darius’s projects.
“I don’t agree with all of the people who say you are weak-kneed and monstrish”
Some of my favorite pieces on the internet are by Paul Ford. This is the mostly painfully funny thing ever written about the tech industry. This is the most accurate tweet ever tweeted. And his essay “How to be Polite”, published shortly before XOXO, was an instant classic. Paul’s intensely personal talk closed the festival, and has stayed with me since.