Mena Trott: How blogs are building a friendlier world

Mena Trott: How blogs are building a friendlier world


Over the past couple of days, as I’ve been preparing for my speech, I’ve become more and more nervous
about what I’m going to say and about being on the same stage
as all these fascinating people. Being on the same stage as Al Gore,
who was the first person I ever voted for. And — (Laughter) So I was getting pretty nervous and, you know, I didn’t know
that Chris sits on the stage, and that’s more nerve-racking. But then I started thinking
about my family. I started thinking about my father
and my grandfather and my great-grandfather, and I realized that I had all of these Teds
going through my bloodstream — (Laughter) that I had to consider this “my element.” So, who am I? Chris kind of mentioned I started
a company with my husband. We have about 125 people internationally. If you looked in the book, you saw this … (Laughter) which I really was appalled by. (Laughter) And because I wanted
to impress you all with slides, since I saw the great presentations
yesterday with graphs, I made a graph that moves, and I talk about the makeup of me. (Laughter) So, besides this freakish thing, this is my science slide. This is math, and this is science,
this is genetics. This is my grandmother,
and this is where I get this mouth. (Laughter) So — I’m a blogger, which, probably,
to a lot of you, means different things. You may have heard
about the Kryptonite lock brouhaha, where a blogger talked about how you hack or break into a Kryptonite
lock using a ballpoint pen, and it spread all over. Kryptonite had to adjust the lock, and they had to address it
to avoid too many customer concerns. You may have heard about Rathergate, which was basically the result of bloggers realizing that the “th” in 111 is not typeset on an old typewriter; it’s on Word. Bloggers exposed this, or they worked hard to expose this. You know, blogs are scary.
This is what you see. I see this, and I’m sure scared —
I swear on stage — shitless about blogs, because this is not
something that’s friendly. But there are blogs that are changing
the way we read news and consume media,
and these are great examples. These people are reaching thousands, if not millions, of readers, and that’s incredibly important. During the hurricane, you had MSNBC posting
about the hurricane on their blog, updating it frequently. This was possible because of the easy
nature of blogging tools. You have my friend, who has a blog on PVRs,
personal recorders. He makes enough money just by running ads, to support his family up in Oregon. That’s all he does now, and this is something
that blogs have made possible. And then you have something
like this, which is Interplast. It’s a wonderful organization of people and doctors
who go to developing nations to offer plastic surgery
to those who need it. Children with cleft palates get it,
and they document their story. This is wonderful. I am not that caring. (Laughter) I talk about myself. That’s what I am. I’m a blogger. I have always decided that I was going
to be an expert on one thing, and I am an expert on this person, and so I write about it. So, the short story about my blog: it started in 2001, I was 23. I wasn’t happy with my job, because I was a designer, but I wasn’t being really stimulated. I was an English major in college. I didn’t have any use for it,
but I missed writing. So, I started to write a blog and I started to create things
like these little stories. This was an illustration about my camp
experience when I was 11 years old, and how I went to a YMCA camp,
Christian camp, and basically by the end, I had made my friends hate me so much
that I hid in a bunk, They couldn’t find me,
they sent a search party, and I overheard people saying
they wish I had killed myself — jumped off Bible Peak. You can laugh, this is OK. (Laughter) This is me. This is what happened to me. And when I started my blog,
it was really this one goal — I said, “I am not going
to be famous to the world, but I could be famous
to people on the Internet.” And I set a goal. I said, “I’m going to win an award,” because I had never won
an award in my entire life. And I said, “I’m going to win
the South by Southwest Weblog award.” And I won it — I reached
all of these people, and I had tens of thousands of people
reading about my life every day. And then I wrote a post about a banjo. I wrote a post about wanting to buy a banjo — a $300 banjo, which is a lot of money. And I don’t play instruments; I don’t know anything about music. I like music, and I like banjos, and I think I probably heard
Steve Martin playing, and I said, “I could do that.” And I said to my husband, “Ben, can I buy a banjo?”
And he’s like, “No.” And my husband — (Laughter) this is my husband, who is very hot — he won an award for being hot. (Laughter) He told me, “You cannot buy a banjo. You’re just like your dad,”
who collects instruments. And I wrote a post
about how I was so mad at him, he was such a tyrant —
he would not let me buy this banjo. And those people who know me
understood my joke — this is Mena, this is how
I make a joke at people. Because the joke in this
is that this person is not a tyrant, this person is so loving and so sweet that he lets me dress him up and post pictures of him to my blog. (Laughter) And if he knew I was showing
this right now — I put this in today — he would kill me. But the thing was, my friends read it, and they’re like, “Oh, that Mena,
she wrote a post about wanting a stupid thing
and being stupid.” But I got emails from people that said, “Oh my God, your husband
is such an asshole. How much money does
he spend on beer in a year? You could take that money
and buy your banjo. Why don’t you open a separate account?” I’ve been with him since I was 17,
we’ve never had a separate bank account. They said, “Separate your bank account. Spend your money;
spend his money, that’s it.” And then I got people saying, “Leave him.” (Laughter) I was like, “OK, what?
Who are these people? And why are they reading this?” And I realized: I don’t
want to reach these people. I don’t want to write
for this public audience. And I started to kill my blog slowly. I’m like, I don’t want
to write this anymore. Slowly and slowly — And I did tell personal
stories from time to time. I wrote this one, and I put this
up because of Einstein today. I’m going to get choked up,
because this is my first pet, and she passed away two years ago. And I decided to break from, “I don’t
really write about my public life,” because I wanted to give her
a little memorial. But anyways, it’s these sorts
of personal stories — You know, you read the blogs
about politics or about media, and gossip and all these things. These are out there, but it’s more of the personal
that interests me, and this is who I am. You see Norman Rockwell,
and you have art critics say, “Norman Rockwell is not art. Norman Rockwell hangs
in living rooms and bathrooms, and this is not something
to be considered high art.” And I think this is one
of the most important things to us as humans. These things resonate with us, and, if you think about blogs,
you think of high art blogs, the history paintings about,
you know, all the biblical stories, and then you have this. These are the blogs that interest me:
the people that just tell stories. One story is about this baby,
and his name is Odin. His father was a blogger. And he was writing his blog one day, and his wife gave birth to her baby at 25 weeks. And he never expected this. One day, it was normal;
the next day, it was hell. And this is a one-pound baby. So Odin was documented every single day. Pictures were taken every day:
day one, day two … You have day nine —
they’re talking about his apnea; day 39 — he gets pneumonia. His baby is so small, and I’ve never encountered such a — just — a disturbing image,
but just so heartfelt. And you’re reading this as it happens, so on day 55, everybody reads
that he’s having failures: breathing failures and heart failures, and it’s slowing down,
and you don’t know what to expect. But then it gets better.
Day 96, he goes home. And you see this post. That’s not something you’re going
to see in a paper or magazine but this is something this person feels, and people are excited
about it — 28 comments. That’s not a huge amount
of people reading, but 28 people matter. And today, he is a healthy baby, who, if you read his blog — it’s snowdeal.org, his father’s blog — he is taking pictures of him still,
because he is still his son and he is, I think,
at his age level right now because he had received such
great treatment from the hospital. So, blogs. So what? You’ve probably
heard these things before. We talked about the WELL,
and about all these sorts of things throughout our online history. But I think blogs are basically
just an evolution, and that’s where we are today. It’s this record
of who you are, your persona. You have your Google search,
where you say, “What is Mena Trott?” And then you find these things
and you’re happy or unhappy. But then you also find people’s blogs, and those are the records of people
that are writing daily — not necessarily about the same topic,
but things that interest them. And we talk about the world
flattens, being in this panel, and I am very optimistic —
whenever I think about blogs, I’m like, “We’ve got to reach
all these people.” Hundreds of millions
and billions of people. We’re getting into China,
we want to be there, but there are so many people that
won’t have the access to write a blog. But to see something
like the $100 computer is amazing, because blogging software is simple. We have a successful company
because of timing, and because of perseverance,
but it’s simple stuff — it’s not rocket science. And so, that’s an amazing
thing to consider. So — the life record of a blog is something
that I find incredibly important. And we started with a slide of my Teds, and I had to add this slide, because I knew the minute
I showed this, my mom — my mom will see this,
because she does read my blog and she’ll say, “Why wasn’t there
a picture of me?” This is my mom. So, I have all the people that I know of. But this is basically the extent
of the family that I know in terms of my direct line. I showed a Norman Rockwell painting
before, and this one, I grew up with, looking at constantly. I would spend hours
looking at the connections, saying, “Oh, the little kid
up at the top has red hair; so does that first generation up there.” And it’s just these little things. This is not science,
but this was enough for me to be really interested
in how we have evolved and how we can trace our line. So that has always influenced me. I have this record, this 1910 census, of another Grabowski —
that’s my maiden name — and there’s a Theodore,
because there’s always a Theodore. This is all I have,
a couple of facts about somebody. I have their date of birth, their age,
what they did in their household, if they spoke English, and that’s it, that’s all I know
of these people. And it’s pretty sad, because I only go back
five generations, and that’s it. I don’t even know what happens
on my mom’s side, because she’s from Cuba
and I don’t have that many things. Just doing this,
I spent time in the archives — that’s why my husband’s a saint — I spent time in the Washington archives, just sitting there,
looking for these things. Now it’s online, but he sat through that. And so you have this record and — This is my great-great-grandmother. This is the only picture I have. And to think of what we have the ability
to do with our blogs; to think about the people
that are on those $100 computers, talking about who they are,
sharing these personal stories — this is an amazing thing. Another photo that has
greatly influenced me, or a series of photos, is this project that’s done by an Argentinean
man and his wife. And he’s basically taking a picture
of his family every day for the past, what is ’76? — 20 …
Oh my God, I’m ’77 — 29 years? Twenty-nine years. There was a joke, originally,
about my graph that I left out, which is: You see all this math? I’m just happy I was able
to add it up to 100, because that’s my skill set. (Laughter) So you have these people aging, and now this is them today, or last year. And that’s a powerful thing
to have, to be able to track this. I wish that I would have
this of my family. I know that one day my children
will be wondering — or my grandchildren,
or my great-grandchildren, if I ever have children — what I am going to — who I was. So I do something
that’s very narcissistic — I am a blogger — that is an amazing thing for me, because it captures
a moment in time every day. I take a picture of myself —
I’ve been doing this since last year — every single day. And, you know, it’s the same picture; it’s basically the same person. Only a couple of people read it. I don’t write this for this audience; I’m showing it now, but I would go
insane if this was really public. About four people probably read it, and they tell me, “You haven’t updated.” I’m probably going to get people
telling me I haven’t updated. But this is amazing, because I can
go back to a day — to April 2005, and say, what was I doing this day? I look at it, I know exactly. It’s this visual cue
that is so important to what we do. I put the bad pictures up too, because there are bad pictures. (Laughter) And I remember instantly:
I am in Germany in this — I had to go for a one-day trip. I was sick, and I was in a hotel room, and I wanted not to be there. And so you see these things,
it’s not just always smiling. Now I’ve kind of evolved it,
so I have this look. If you look at my driver’s license,
I have the same look, and it’s a pretty disturbing thing, but it’s something
that is really important. And the last story
I really want to tell is this story, because this is probably the one
that means the most to me in all of what I’m doing. I’ll probably get choked up,
because I tend to when I talk about this. So, this woman, her name was Emma, and she was a blogger
on our service, TypePad. And she was a beta tester,
so she was there right when we opened — you know, there was 100 people. And she wrote about her life
dealing with cancer. She was writing and writing,
and we all started reading it, because we had
so few blogs on the service, we could keep track of everyone. And she was writing one day, and then she disappeared for a little bit. And her sister came on, and she said
that Emma had passed away. And all of our support staff who had
talked to her were really emotional, and it was a very hard day at the company. And this was one of those
instances where I realized how much blogging
affects our relationship, and flattening this sort of world. That this woman is in England, and she lives — she lived — a life where she was talking
about what she was doing. But the big thing
that really influenced us was, her sister wrote to me, and she said — and she wrote on this blog — that writing her blog during
the last couple of months of her life was probably the best thing
that had happened to her, and being able to talk to people
and to share what was going on, and being able to write
and receive comments. And that was amazing, to be able to know
that we had empowered that, and that blogging was something
that she felt comfortable doing, and the idea that blogging
doesn’t have to be scary, that we don’t always have
to be attack of the blogs, that we can be people who are open,
and wanting to help and talk to people. That was an amazing thing. And so I printed out and sent
a PDF of her blog to her family, and they passed it
out at her memorial service, and even in her obituary,
they mentioned her blog, because it was such
a big part of her life. And that’s a huge thing. So, this is her legacy, and I think that my call to action
to all of you is: think about blogs,
think about what they are, think about what you’ve thought of them, and then actually do it, because it’s something
that’s really going to change our lives. So, thank you. (Applause)

4 thoughts on “Mena Trott: How blogs are building a friendlier world

  1. I just started a blog myself on my website, and I wondered for the longest time what might drive people to start blogs until I found my own reasons. I had an idea that a blogger was a certain type of person who loves writing only, but there are such a variety of people doing it. It has become a lucrative way for some to make a living, and in many cases they also get to share some interesting knowledge. Kind of a win win I guess. Except if you think blogs are dumb, then it makes no sense.

  2. Regardless of the hatred I have for this woman, she has a very strong and indirect point which is how unbelievably important the INTERNET in it's entirety.. will forever affect legacies left behind for future generations. I think lots of people everyday are oblivious to it.

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