Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

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dec 17

I retreated from work today, recouperated. blew three colours of snot into my bandana, answered e-mail and finished my book about willie hearst. great reading, I recommend Citizen Hearst, by W A Swanberg, about the large publisher and manic character of the first half century william randolph hearst. fascinating read - sheds light on newspapers and politics, he died owning 18 papers in 12 cities, magazines, several castles. he ran for president, he was the subject of "Citizen Kane," he made movies, he started a war. he was a driven nut - a guy who just wanted to publish a lot.
no, he had greater demons. he was spoiled by his mother, and somehow never managed to live according to principle. I admire his breadth of experience and tenancity - he lost so many battles and even wars and always stood again try some other cockamaime shit. but he spoke and stood to claim for righteous word and didn't always abide by the same. he was too hungry. for money, for stuff - he bought just crazy amounts of stuff, spent 40 millions on housing and decoration. mostly before world war II. so he was both righteous in word but running most pandering newspaper - profitting from tragedy. what's that lebanese proverb? "we traded in shrouds, people stopped dying." so folks stopped trusting him, and he lost a lot of stuff, but I read about him today because he had so much energy.
I'm largely parroting the findings of the author, but hey, it was a convincing 650 pages.

I spent an evening with chandra as well. we did our usual drive around the city me looking through newspapers and suggesting movie candidates and missing all the good ones by misscheduled minutes and not willing to pay for the other tripe too far away anyhow
so we walked the marina, where she thinks she might like to live
and we ate at north beach pasta pomodoro
shared food. I didn't need things from her like I used to, so it is easier to talk. also, I'm more settled in silence, so I'm not always poking or pleasing or filling space (needing attention engagement), which means we fight less and I give her less of a chance to take out her tiredness and depression on me. feels better all around. takes a little getting used to
she listened and shared insight as I wondered with her over amy's question of some nights ago - why I need so much attention.
chandra shared that it might be a question of priority - clearly my need for attention has manifested itself well in the work I do on this web site. but at what point does it become a problem? probably when I do it, or need to do it so much I prevent myself from doing it any further. that's addiction. that's tendonitis from typing. and depression when I can't type and communicate like that anymore. but that's to be expected - sadness at the end or suspension of relationship.

we skipped the movie, she dropped me off at home, I finished this interview e-mail for an australian internet magazine:

Rosanne Bersten sez at 11:43 +1100 12/16/96,
>At 9:11 PM 13/12/96, justin wrote:
>>one caveat - I write mosttimes without capitalization, with odd grammar,
>>madeup words, incorrect punctuation, and
>>strange line and paragraph breaks.
>>could you please publish my comments that way?
>Hmmm...we've got a weird cross between real people and corps and I'm not
>sure how that'll go...in print at least.

can I ask then to see the final text that you intend to print online and in the magazine, and check if the formatting fits?

my deal is this: when I compose, especially something like this, some sentences lack specific punctuation because of the way I arrange my line breaks. if the line breaks are truncated and puctuation assigned, the intention, or the tone can change. I'm not adverse to editing or design, but to me those are critical elements over which I need to have some control.

>>not that it isn't hard - some people are threatened by this kind of
>>attention, afraid of being sucked into a kind of media production vortex
>>surrounding me. I try to make it clear that I respect people's wishes for
>>privacy in their own life, but interaction with me is clearly part of my
>>learning process, and so logically a part of what I analyze and present to
>>other folks also searching for meaning.
>It's interesting that you mention the media aspect here. Lots of people
>have on-line diaries, but yours has become famous -- not every one ends up
>working with howard rheingold.

there are lots of online diarists, but few who update their sites with regular pictures, or have links behind their diary entries to hundreds of background pages. few people have that much time on their hands, or that much compulsion to publish themselves.

>How did you get famous? (Do you want to talk about HotWired?)

I think I got famous because of my wonderful family and priviledged background, which gave me the resources, opportunity and confidence to persue my whims and dreams. I've been comfortable with and owned computers since I was seven. raised in upper-class chicago, I was well trained to carry myself in crowds and I've been educated by some of the best minds money can buy. having an ample parental safety net has allowed me to take unpaid internships and travel widely, as well as accumulate a tremendous collection of reading material and study a broad range of subjects without concern for their relevance to sustenance.
I think I got famous because I work my tail off. there's plenty of people who are good writers, or good artists, or have some vision - everyone's got a piece of that. if they work it, and share it every day, they would likely increase their chances of fame and fortune.
I've updated my web site darn near every day (with a break for tendonitis in august) for the last year. that's a lot of work. even before then, since I started I've added a couple of pages a week. people come back and check in cuz they know it'll change, cuz I'm working on things, because I put a lot of energy into it.
if we think of the commodity of the internet as attention, rather than money, I got a lot of attention because I was there in early 1994 doing things people hadn't done yet online: writing with personality about sex and drugs and politics and poetry and turning a mirror on the net - being a guide, being a teacher, making things accessable. seeing computer mediated communcations as an opportunity for sharing something other than data.
I think I got famous because I offered to show people where sex was online. I got a tremendous amount of hits from people who came looking for sex-related materials. it grew to such an enormous extent that I peaked with 27ooo daily readers and had to spend all this time dealing with sex links and I finally got sick of it and took it down and lost 12ooo readers in a month
now I'm about steady at 72oo readers a day, some come looking for the old sex stuff, but I've gradually replaced it with personal-sex narrative, or links to my other writing - it's fun to hear from net.masturbators who came for tits and stayed for stories.

that is one type of fame. justin the first person to get famous on the web I've been called. I shared myself, right, my person - so rather than a company or even a specific page or type or piece of information, it's about me. I don't think it's about me because I want to be famous, I think it's about me because I have a lot on my mind and I have some cool stuff to share and I put a lot of energy into sharing it.

the other type of fame perhaps is being associated with hot/wired, howard rheingold, electric minds, the san francisco digital media typhoon.
that came because I persisted with my dream of working at wired magazine regardless of whether they wanted me to or not. I was a 19 year old unpaid summer intern who spent 11 or 12 hours a day in those offices getting to know people and getting to know the system and taking time off from school to stay and do grunt work (I was eventually paid).
I think there was something about me that was endearing - my boyish looks or quick rejoinders or general enthusiasm, cuz they let me stay past the point of use. I certainly wasn't a productive member of the team, per se. I was a good conversationalist; I didn't think there was any reason I shouldn't go up to louis rossetto and ask him what wired was all about and why he insisted we should publish only to folks with a graphical browser. I butted heads with anyone and ended up in some pretty interesting situations.
similarly, howard rheingold was looking for a buddy and found this young guy with some know-how and a lot of energy who liked to talk to him and listen to his stories and ask him questions
maybe it's that drive to learn they respected - I was picking a lot of brains.
so I became howard's assistant. after hotwired fizzled for us, we continued our friendship that has recently manifested in electric minds. howard has grown fond of me over the years, and recognizes, I think, some measure of talent, or cultural cache I might have - he's made me my own city in the world wide jam section of the web site. there's frankfurt, and tokyo, paris and london, and justin. it's a little absurd, but I wouldn't settle to be college, or youth city or something packaged, I'm just my own thing. I think he hopes that I will bring some of my 72oo readers over, or perhaps that I will bring some of the mojo that has that many people reading my page daily.
so in that way, my corporate digital media fame is reciprochal. and based largely on energy - a willingness to engage. it's certainly not based on followthrough - I am a great initiator and a poor worker (except on my own site perhaps). I accomplished little at wired other than yakking, and my work habits at electric minds were always under review for lack of efficiency.
but I can bend an ear and listen with equal fervour, and I make a pretty good ambassador - when I'm excited about something I can be quite an evangelist. at the same time, I'm more and more torn over exciting people about things - you have to be careful not to create expectations. where does the power lie? in the illusion between you? or in the person's ability to make it real for themselves? that's why I have a hard time working for people who need to make a lot of money - cuz then the goal is to sell as much to as many people as possible, and too often that involves deception or distance.
anyways, I've got some kind of power to sell or excite and I think these people were sold or excited, and maybe hoped I would sell and excite people about them.

>How do you deal with that fame?

I try to give back as much as I can. like when you ask me how I got famous, I want to blame my family first. then I'll say that I work for it, but it's important to acknowledge who has helped me.

I feel pretty strongly that I own my web-fame, ie, I don't owe it particularly to wired, or to howard. those folks have done me good, and I have done them some good perhaps. but I was on the road headed where I am today before I met them. I write about them, almost from a historical/descriptive perspective, so that folks who wouldn't have access to the makers of digital media can see them from a human's perspective. I consider that a service (whether it's them I'm serving or not could be debated).

otherwise, I try to give something back. if I sell advertisements, I price the non-professional rate at $25 a month so other small publishers can get involved. I readily teach about web publishing to anyone who'll listen. I have tutorials online, and I often link to small and personal web sites to give other folks some of the attention that I've recieved.

last year I appealed to my readers that I wanted to travel and teach about the web and I spent half of may and all of june touring the US by bus. I stayed with folks I met over the web and on the road, teaching those who wouldn't otherwise have access or inspiration how to make web pages and take advantage of the internet. I met a lot of folks on that trip who'd never read my web page, never heard of wired or howard, never even seen the internet. I also met a lot of folks who had web pages who were doing really really really cool stuff that you would never hear of because they're not in new york or san francisco or paris or tokyo. talking, and living with both kinds of people was wonderfully sobering. that those people would open their homes, and their lives to me was very humbling.

it's funny though - I publish and write all the time, like a lot of people have for hundreds of years, but I have perhaps one of the greatest appreciation mechanisms in the history of the written word. each day someone e-mails me from some corner of the world to tell me how they were touched, or found my writing meaningful. I do all those things above to be sure I'm still worth it, and to stay grounded and in touch with things beyond the computer, and beyond the glittering glory. but at the same time I start to feel more my own self-worth, my destiny or power to teach and lead and be independent - such that when howard tells me I "need to learn how to write" I respond often with skepticism, because there are dozens, maybe hundreds, perhaps maybe thousands of people who think I'm a great writer. similarly, when I consider returning to college, I resist, thinking in part that there are plenty of people who think that what I study or learn or write about in my daily life is learning enough without having to subjugate myself to some classroom experience.
so while these compliments and comments give me courage to stand up for my own voice and feel as though I might continue to have something to say that just might help people, they might so encourage me to limit myself because I have found a successful formula.
as howard retorts to my skepticism, "do you want to be an online diarist all your life?" while I think that would be fine, I also realize that to put myself under teachers and admit my ignorance and inability provides opportunities for growth and change that can prevent the stagnation that might otherwise accompany some sense of having reached an apex of talent and charm.

this fame, this success and notoriety at the tender age of 22 seems to me sometimes the greatest threat to my humanity. if I address it properly, I can help other folks figure out their own fame and fortune. if I do not, I will end up an addled irrelevant footnote, likely distanced from folks and quite depressed.

>Have you been recognised in the street?

I was recognized on the street twice the day after I appeared for ten minutes on ZDTV's the site. once after appearing in 24 hours in cyberspace book - by someone who worked on it. people in multimedia gulch, san francisco, where many web sites and built and broken, people there have recognized me, but they spend 8-10 hours a day online.
it's funny - two and a half years making web pages and one night appearing on the tube and then people notice me?
it taught me a lot about the powers of those two media.
oh yeah, and these two folks recognized me, when I had crazy vertical hair, writing in my notepad and taking pictures at an enit concert. that was fun, because they were fun and happy and excited to talk about what they were up to.

>Do you lurk on-line using other nicks to get some peace?

I use a "nick" a handle when I chat or MUD mosttimes - "fusty" - it's been a nickname since I was 14 and calling bulletin boards in chicago. it's got a homey, personal character to it; "justin" sounds a little more official. it allows me to engage a more chatty persona I guess.
otherwise, I think sometimes of getting a two-way alphanumeric pager, one that can send and recieve small amounts of text, and putting the number online so that people can page me with comments and info and looking for things and so forth. but I don't yet imagine my physical infrastructure could handle the costs and stress associated with such a venture. it's fun to permeate those boundaries though. I haven't yet hit the point where some kind of fame has interefered with my ability to communicate. I think I'm safely irrelevant or provincial enough to keep too many people from liking me. I mean I write about my job, my girlfriends and my illnesses, whup de doo. besides the web, those things happen to everyone. I figure if I encourage other people to do it, and introduce them to my readers, then I keep the heat off of me and I can chat in peace with my appropriate audience. and those are people I look forward to meeting! cuz often they're interested in the same stuff that I am, or they have creative projects that they're cranking on. not like being on tv, where somebody on their couch saw me because they didn't bother to look away or change the channel.
on the other hand, there is some part of me that looks to be recognized - that is elated to be seen or remembered or placed or noted. again, if that's what I'm looking for, I'd better be prepared to handle it responsibly. fame in some ways seems to translate into gratitude, people seeking connection. if you manage that properly, you can both be fed by the energy between you. when you're trying to escape or don't draw boundaries is when it becomes some kind of elitist competitive drain.
accordingly, the idea of pseudonyms does not attract me overmuch. sometimes I think about taking on other persona, not so much to retreat from justin, but to give active presence to another side of myself. but I think I'm honest still enough with my writing and action that I encompass most parts of myself - I don't yet require such subterfuge. and when people online, in chat spaces find out that I'm justin, the guy with the web page, they mostly just want to ask me a few questions or ask me to look at their web site. I don't always have time, sometimes I do. not a big deal. if I'm being all secret and etcetera than I make it something it is not.
sometimes I enter a chatroom, or a realroom, and there are folks there who think I'm famous or something astonishing - I find that if I sit there and talk and hang out long enough, people just return to what they're doing, and I can be integrated, and that's more fun.

I forgot to mention, yesterday, seth gave me "das energi" by paul williams. I noticed he wrote it when he was 22. I'm starting to plan in my head a retreat for writing this coming summer. I think I'm going to keep it quiet until I figure it out.

I'm starting reading Beloved, by toni morrison I think - this great line in the beginning "Winter in Ohio was especially rough if you had an appetite for color."

shouty mack I love where I live, but I have got to find something better than sitting on a bed to type - that is truly challenging posture.

I do want to take a minute to thank ganesha that I have been able to make so many relatively flawless PPP connections today. it only crashes when I type too fast. otherwise, my computer has been behaving well. thank you.

can't resist - take that self-portrait, and put up some pictures from my birthday,

get this reply already from rosanne:

Date: Wed, 18 Dec 1996 18:12:43 +1100
From: Rosanne Bersten
To: justin
Subject: Re: fusty's fame

Hey there,

Wow you're prolific!! You do realise there's no way I'll be able to fit all this into the print version? But don't worry, you'll see an edited version punctuation and all, I promise.

I discover I can use the corner of the mantle to dig into my back muscles tightened from work

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