I launched dare2dream.com in 1996. Back then, an artist with a website was sort of a freakish oddity. Most people in the arts were not comfortable or familiar with technology, and all but the edge cases ran their creative lives quite happily without the benefit of "them there interwebs."
I found myself living in Dallas at the start of the dot-com boom, and thus spent a fair chunk of my copious free time socializing with deep-in-the-trenches geeks. The very ones who, in their copious free time, built huge swaths of the technological infrastructure we happily take for granted today.
These guys, and yeah back then they were all guys, kept telling me how all of this internet stuff was going to change everything we knew about human interaction. Their mantra was that this ephemeral web of online "stuff" would become the platform on which we could communicate our ideas, plan cool projects and ultimately collaborate to make awesome stuff happen.
There is, before I continue, one thing worthy of mentioning for perspective's sake: Back then I was an enormously self-important ass. While I may well be an ass today, I now like to think I'm a little less self-absorbed about it.
So, deeply ensconced in my own ego, I missed the enormous beauty and potential that could come from this sort of connection. What I did hear, however, was that there was a new way to get my artwork exposed to a world wide audience. That was just enough to keep me from blowing off my technology-savvy friends and languishing in offline oblivion forever.
Thus greedily inspired, I collaborated long hours amongst my geeky brethren to forge what was, back then, a fairly spiffy web presence. A few phone calls and in-person visits convinced our favorite coffee emporium to host a website launch party.
My favorite irony of this project was the fact that this particular pre-boom non-Starbucks caffeine emporium had no internet access. We were, back then, left with no alternative but to bring computers pre-loaded with offline copies of our internet-based efforts to show technologically unsavvy people the website of an artist who at the time did not fully appreciate the value of social networking.
Looking back, it sounds as much like advocacy (and perhaps a bit of intervention) as it did advertising, but I still say it was one of the coolest things I ever did.
The benefit of all that work was that I found myself, for a brief time, a tiny bit ahead of the artisan-geek curve. Reading through it again, I think it is pretty plain that I wasn't particularly smart or special to have accomplished this. I was merely lucky for being connected to the right people, and just open enough to be willing to work with others towards making it happen.
Because this decision was so beneficial to my career, I found that shortly thereafter I became overly cautious about my online existence. Beyond my predisposition to paranoia, I had successfully carved out my own chunk of the ether and I just didn't want anyone to screw with it.
The danger is that sliding from cautious to curmudgeonly is simply a matter of calcification. Just make a decision, stick to your guns and ignore every development that might outdate or obsolesce that initially sound thinking. If you continue down the road of letting your decisions define you, you're just a bad attitude away from transitioning from curmudgeon to crank.
During my time with the geeks, I absorbed a lot of high-level notions of living in a connected society. The term social network hadn't really been coined yet, but I already had a fundamental grasp of collaboration (and how to do it online), freedom (and why it was important), copyright (and how broken it can be) and privacy (and how to protect it).
What I did not possess was a fundamental understanding of how these ideas applied to me. I could prattle on, preaching for endless hours about open source, freedom and not giving away your rights, but my working knowledge of the information age's bogeymen left me with little more than a checklist of what not to do.
And so, despite the fact that almost every good thing I had done with my career had come out of opening up and collaborating with others, I cut myself off from the big scary internet of fools and evil corporations.
Never mind the fact that doing so actually prevented me from connecting to the very people interested in working with me. I was not going to let my "genius" be stolen (which you can't really do), mocked (which at this point it clearly needed) or be photographed unflatteringly (which it really wanted all along, but was too shy to admit) online.
So yeah, for a while I was just a bad mood away from crank town.
The failsafe mechanism in my intellectual DNA which allowed me to survive this epic and largely self-inflicted stupidity is that I am a fundamentally social creature. Put me in a room alone long enough and I will leave it to seek out interesting input in the form of people. Even in my most misanthropic moments, I fervently believe in the synergy that occurs between people playing with ideas and its potential to create better things than working alone.
Part of the process of overcoming ego is simply being open to listening to other people's ideas. Once you stop assuming you're the best, you're suddenly magically allowed to learn more. Part of that whole collaboration thing is the ability to listen to other people, who sometimes say things that can actually make the "not the best" you even better.
For the last year or so, I've been listening a lot.
It seems that during my time on my own private island everyone else managed to catch up. Oh, who hell am I kidding? You geniuses ran right past on your way to socially interactive nirvana. Of course, just like me, you got lucky too. You didn't have to waste all that copious free time building infrastructure to communicate, or drink coffee while waiting on someone smarter than you to invent it.
While I still need to lock myself in a room from time to time, possibly for the betterment of humanity at large, I'd like to get off my lonely island and join the fray. Maybe I'll catch another lucky break and get ahead of the curve again. Maybe I'll just get to collaborate on cooler projects.
Either way you'll be able to friend me on facebook (amongst other places) now. :-)
01 / 08 / 2010
peace of mind
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12 / 03 / 2008