Crossing the Equator 1: From Tech Blogging To Fiction

I had originally intended to quit blogging. In fact, I started shutting down social media accounts. For example, I went from 2,500 Twitter followers to zero. I don’t miss it. That addiction to internet micro-approvals wasn’t healthy. “Likes” feel like genuine social connection and retweets feel like cultural influence, but let’s not kid ourselves. Social media is crack for anyone insecure enough to seek external proof of value– and all of us become guilty of that, at some point in our lives.

In the 2010s I learned, the hard way, that technology companies can’t be trusted. It began in 2013 when Hacker News began representing my comments as having performed more poorly than they actually had– a moderation practice called “rank-ban”– largely because I criticized the prevailing business model of Bay Area venture capital. I was able to prove the existence of this “rank ban” using accessible historical data. In 2015, I was banned from Hacker News and then Quora (also owned by Y Combinator) under false pretenses of a more serious nature. Quora, in addition to blaming a Y Combinator partner by name, threatened to expose my viewing history to the public.

You know what? To some extent, it’s on me. I trusted my reputation to privately-owned technology platforms. That was naive, and I got burned. I spoke out about the tech industry’s social injustices and moral failures and was attacked by everyone from anonymous trolls to billionaire venture capitalists.

So, I quit tech blogging. On that topic, I’m still quit. Fuck tech, and fuck tech blogging, and fuck everything the private-sector software industry stands for… which is perhaps a vacuous fucking (like wind fucking other wind) because it stands for nothing. I refuse to waste any energy, or to put my livelihood or reputation further at risk, in a vain effort to save it. Given the risks, if I ever publish essays on those topics, I’ll be charging for it– either self-publishing e-books or through print magazines. Because of what I’ve written, I’ve had to take expensive security measures to protect myself and others close to me. That cost has gone unpaid.

Still, I need to write. In late 2016 and early 2017, I found myself in a negative mood. I don’t wish to expose precise political opinions or economic interests, but… this is not a time to sit down. Too often, I hear people express a wish to sleep through unfavorable political events or adverse economic circumstances. Here’s the scary secret: it’s very easy for most people to “sleep through” bad times. That’s how the villains win. It galled me in 2016 (especially, leading up to Nov. 8) when people talked about how “this election” had been so exhausting and dreadful (thus, creating a false equivalency between a classical campaign, with as many negative elements as any other, and a terrifying one). Yeah, our right to vote is such a bummer; fuck off with that spoiled whining.

In February, I pulled together the hundred pages or so that I’d written for Farisa’s Courage, which I originally figured I’d finish in my late 30s– I’d attempted it a couple of times, but it never quite “took”. Of that hundred pages, a decent proportion was still good. About sixty would make it into the final novel.

In late March, I figured out what was wrong with the original story, and how to make it better. The truth is that writing (like programming) is either a lot of fun or an absolute slog and, when it’s the latter, it’s a sign of something wrong. In fiction, one might not be ready for the project. That’s not a big deal. I had a very successful blog here, even six years ago, but I wasn’t ready to write Farisa until this year. It takes time. The tech industry is quick to crown people as “experts” after they give one presentation or write a popular blog post– I was once crowned an expert, by a reputable source that shall go unnamed, in a technology that I’d picked up three months before– but writing projects can span ten years between conception and completion, even for the most advanced writers.

I realized the one best way to tell the story of the first 21 years of Farisa’s life. (Farisa’s Courage is the first in a series, called The Antipodes.) I’m speaking vaguely here, because I want to avoid spoilers. Once I figured it out, I got to it. I wrote. Soon, I had a 134,000-word novel on my hands. (After revision, it’s 124,000.) The story, as far as I can tell, works. It’s compelling, it has a couple of great characters, and there’s the right mix of sad, scary, funny, and sweet moments. I’ll probably do one or two more passes’ worth of editing before I start querying agents, but it’s good.

The last chapter of Farisa’s Courage is entitled “Crossing the Equator”, and so is this series of essays.

What do I wish to write about? Well, let me talk about what I’ve learned over the past few months.

First of all, deleting social media accounts leads to happiness. Try it. The danger is that it can be hard to get them back. As someone who’s going to be publishing a book soon, that 2500-follower Twitter account had value. Oops! Social media can be useful, but it has become, for most people, a waste of time that compromises real-life interactions and that drives out more meaningful channels of information– like books. It’s really nice to be reading books again.

Second, I learned that I need to write. I guess that that was obvious. I’m glad that I quit tech blogging. I hope to be out of private-sector software entirely before I’m judged to be too old for it. Always better to leave on your own terms, right?So I didn’t write for a while. Still, that need to use the written word would come out, one way or another. Even after I quit, I wrote several unpublished (never-to-be-published) blog posts and I spent too much time, some anonymous, on Internet forums. I got to a point where I said, “Fuck it, might as well write something that matters.” So, I got to work on Farisa.

Third, I’ve improved as a writer. I was a 99th-percentile tech blogger for some time, but the standards of publishable fiction are higher than that of business writing– especially, internet business writing. Like I said, it wasn’t until my 30s that I had what it takes to write a novel. It’s not that hard to write 50,000 words of grammatically correct prose. It is much harder to come up with a complex story that anyone would want to read, and to tell it in a compelling way. I’ve already learned a lot in the (I hope, successful) attempt. Authors don’t get second chances. If someone gets bored at page 17, that reader’s typically gone forever. There are too many other things competing for the reader’s time. I know, because I worked in the tech industry. I helped build some of them.

Fourth, I’ve gained a sense of what I care about and what I don’t. In 2012, I would have said that the most important thing would be for every technology company to ditch Agile and implement open allocation. I still feel that this would be an improvement, but my mind fixates itself on bigger issues now. In 2012, I saw global techno-capitalism as inefficient. Those irritating product managers and under-capable executives were getting in the way of programming savants like me. (How dare they?) In 2017, I recognize global techno-capitalism as dangerous. Look at the political situation, anywhere in the world… and then keep looking for the next ten years because, where it isn’t bad, it will be soon enough. This is a lot bigger than open allocation versus Agile or whether Google’s cafeteria is better than Facebook’s.

Fifth, writing helps give purpose to suffering. The past 10 years have been a mix of good and bad, but there’s been a lot of of bad. I did meet my wife and get married. That has been good. I have two cats. Again, good. I wrote a novel of better-than-publishable quality. Good. Yet, for the challenges, in no particular order: I lived through the global financial meltdown; in 2012, I was fired for refusing to commit felony perjury; there were several deaths in my family; I was flagged in Silicon Valley as a “union risk”; I received death threats from highly-positioned people in the Bay Area;  conditions within my chosen industry (private-sector software) deteriorated; that same industry became an adversary of the world… and now I can only watch as technology-driven unemployment sets off a global wave of dangerous, reactionary populism. I’ve had many unpleasant experiences in the past few years… but I wouldn’t have been able to write Farisa’s Courage without them. That puts the weight on me to make it good.

On that note, back to work.