My Social Web Odyssey

The bizarre convergence of a few unrelated events is prompting me to write a mini-essay on how I’ve evolved personally on my social web odyssey.  It also serves as a prelude to my next post that announces a new chapter for me in my career.

Computer technology fascinated me as a young girl.  In those early days, we didn’t have a “no women in tech” problem, because we didn’t have anyone in tech.  I was in the very first computer programming class in my high school .  I didn’t notice I was a girl, and neither did anyone else.  I always (seriously, always) saw technology as a means to improve life on the planet.  But, I think it was the Unix operating system (circa 1985 for me) that really opened theOgilvy floodgates of possibility for me.  I remember thinking how democratic it was. When I went into advertising, and I was responsible for explaining the significance of UNIX System V to creative directors and copywriters on the AT&T account, I recall describing it as “socialized computing”  – the Glasnost for technology that would bring us to a more connected, transparent, equal world.  It was a poetic, impassioned speech I gave in that 1988 Reagan era O&M conference room. When Steve Jobs would later announce the NeXT computer that year, I was even more mystical in my descriptions of what the import would be for this new technology.

The early days of computing led to the commercialization of the business, where the conversation shifted from what we could create to what empires we could build.  I spent a long time studying and reporting on the massive amounts of money that were horse-traded on the public markets in my narrow sector of tech (IT services), by focusing on people who made the market move. It was an interesting exploration into power, control, and influence on a global scale, but it was far afield from my original desire to explore and imagine how computer technology could improve life on the planet. That phase of my career grotesquely improved the lives of a handful of people white men and their families I knew, but not so much for the rest of us, or society in general.  I did get to fly first class many times to Europe, however.  Exposure to how seriously wealthy people lived was eye-opening.

When the first generation Internet started gaining steam, and the land rush to secure dotcom addresses and launch startups collided with my sleepy sector of the tech market, I was instantly transformed.  Seduced even.  It was that same feeling that Unix had awakened in me.  This. This is what we have been waiting for. I abandoned my old tribe and started tracking the new space. The Internet was changing everything. I was early to market in studying the firms that were building the dotcoms and introducing e-everything to large enterprise.  I eventually joined a dotcom startup myself.

Then the dotcom crash

Then 9/11 and losing someone I knew.

Then, me giving up my foolish beliefs in trying to change the world, and retreating to suburbia to raise my kids for 5 years.

Then the divorce, and the sudden panicked realization I now had to support my children single-handedly, get them to college, and fight to keep my home in the wake of the housing meltdown.

The 2006 web 2.0 (aka social web) movement was a godsend in several ways. I could pick up where I had left off in 2001 and quickly reclaim a voice in the market without missing much of a beat.  Blogging gave me agency, relevance, and connected me to a network around the world who saw so much promise, so much potential to finally make inroads on changing the world for the better. For me, I saw three opportunities to make a difference: consumers & society, government & NGOs, and Big Business.  Big Business was the only area where I had relationships, a modicum of credibility,  and enough expertise to influence the discussion and assert my will.  One thing led to another, and I found myself embedded, and leading in many ways, the Enterprise 2.0 movement with a global circle of r/evolutionaries who wanted to change the way business operated by introducing the values of the social web.  That original tribe has reconfigured to pursue a few different divergent paths, but many of the people who’ve remained true to the original promise of #e20 are still aligned.

After eight years, I am pleased and honored to have been apart of so many stories of “changing the world of work.”  Even if I was just a little voice whispering in the background, even if it was just me shining a light on someone who was doing amazing work, I take great pride in these accomplishments.  I’ve done my part to capture the brilliance, the passion, and the courage it takes to do this game-changing (in the purest sense) work.   There are hundreds and hundreds of individuals whose stories I’ve witnessed or even helped advance in a network-centric way. It’s been seriously rewarding, except maybe financially, but that was never the goal for me.  Fame and fortune were never on my bucket list.  I wanted to invest my time and energy into incubating change agents.  And I’ve done that.   The return on that investment has been unreal and infinitely rewarding.  I imagine it’s the same gratification a longtime professor receives seeing his/her students go on to achieve magnificent accomplishments in their chosen fields.

Despite this amazing and rewarding success,  that niggling reminder that there is so much more to do, so much more to fix in the world, always haunted me.  Two events coincided for me early this summer (2014), that captured my focus and attention.  The first is that my youngest child, my son, graduated high school and was set to head off to college in the fall, leaving me in the uneasy discomfort of an empty nest.  The second was I attended the Personal Democracy Forum in NYC.  If you’re not familiar with the PDM community, you ought to be.  This is the place where, “networked voices are reviving the civic conversation.”  As I watched speaker after speaker stand up on that PDF stage, changing the world in their small and large ways, I knew in that moment, Tech was calling me to do something even bigger, something even more important.  Staring down that opportunity will the most difficult challenge I’ve undertaken to date, because it integrates both of my lived experiences, professionally and personally.

My next post will describe my next chapter and what I’m attempting to achieve with my new organization.


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