Justin Hall has been sharing his life online for over 20 years. Credit: Joi Ito / Wikimedia Commons
A parent’s suicide, your sex life, a frustrating job – by now we're used to the avalanche of personal information that spills out onto the Internet every day.
A whole generation has grown up with the ability to share everything, but when started , the web was a challenge to navigate – both technically and emotionally.
Hall didn’t start out intending to document his life. He initially used his site to track a trail through the web, scattering hyperlinks like breadcrumbs in a forest. “There were all kinds of fascinating people and great minds out there talking about all kinds of subjects that – at that time – I couldn’t find in my library or magazine shop,” says Hall.
But Hall’s page evolved as he grew more comfortable with the forum and began sharing poetry and then personal stories – sometimes very personal stories.
A page from Hall's online diary, Sept. 17, 1996. Credit: http://links.net/daze/96/09/17
As the Internet grew, so did Hall’s desire to share this new medium with the general public. He told visitors to his site that if they put him up in their homes and paid his Greyhound bus ticket, he would travel to their town and show people how to create their own webpages.
This led to Hall’s 29-city tour; among the hundreds of people who created their own websites, with his help, were an illiterate trucker and individuals in a group home.
While difficult moments and challenging interactions made for great online reading, the people Hall wrote about soon began using newly-developed search engines. “They would discover their presence in my narrative, and they were not so excited about that aspect of my personal blogging,” Hall admits.
Ultimately – and in a very public, – Hall decided that his personal relationships were more important than his carte blanche posts.
Although Hall’s online writing doesn’t quite cover the intimate aspects of his life that it used to, he still sees technology giving people the ability to document and curate their lives. And he imagines the medium continuing to develop: “I would love to have a drone that I could pull out of my pocket, toss in the air, and it would hover next to me – filming me.”
Whether it’s drones or some other technology, the lessons Hall learned in the past may be even more important for people to remember in the future. “Your suffering is not your own. When you have a problem and you share it publicly, you’re implicating your friends and family and business colleagues in your affairs.”