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[Caveats ahoy! This post is not about facts, or reality, it's about the world as seen through my own slightly broken reality tunnel. There are certain ways my brain works (maybe more about this in a later post) that gives me blind spots for large grey areas, it likes to categories things in binary black & white terms. This is in no way a useful or constructive way to live life and I generally attempt to route around it.

Also, some of this was going to appear in a blog post about freelancing in general, so may crop up again.

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I've been considerably lucky in my "career" to date, I started off in the usual agency world, which is interesting but not to everyone's tastes before moving off to work at Flickr, just as it got purchased by Yahoo.

Which was my first encounter with large organisations. The strange experience of some parts of the org being brilliant, Yahoo Brickhouse [one, two] and ahead of it's time (or actually, just at the right time) FireEagle spring to mind (and of course Flickr), other bits being utterly incompetent, others doing the day-to-day things that need to be done, while yet more parts seemed to exist purely to maintain their own existence.

None of it seemed particularly "evil" however, but watching the brilliant things in this instance being slowly crushed by incompetence was quite galling.

Still no matter, I worked for the "Good" parts of Yahoo, so a-ok.

Working on Flickr was facinating, the people were and still are some of the best in the field of building stuff. Many great stories came out of Flickr, members of the community meeting each other, falling in love, getting married and so on. People rediscovering things through chance photo connections and so on. It was all very heart warming to have helped create something that could bring people together.

But then there were other things. I remember reading that the Burmese government were monitoring photos of the monks' anti-government protests. Hearing that some protesters were "disappeared". That it was being used for "bad" and I was somehow part of that.

It possibly started to unravel then.

When I moved back to the UK and looked around for somewhere to work the Guardian kind of ticked all the boxes for me. Interesting problems to solve, an transition period, good leadership and an interesting funding model to keep it independent in the way the Murdock empire isn't. Independent isn't to be confused with "without bias" obviously. But its bias broadly matched mine, so all good.

The Guardian seemed to be one way to try and keep everything else (yes the whole world) to account.

I was proud to have worked there, and pleased to still be doing some work for them. They've done some things I haven't agreed with, but generally in my (sometimes weird) world view they are the good guys & gals. I never felt perticularly uncomfortable in the way I started to with Flickr.

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Next came freelance work, and to be honest freelance is both terrifying and exhilarating.

We've nearly run out of money twice, it's a horrid feeling, today assuming I post this today is the closest we've come to running out, I think we have £13.27 left[1] but only because some invoices (which in theory get paid tomorrow) got tied up, but you know, panic!

Giving up full time employment for the highlights (getting to work with a range of fantastic people) and the lowlights (running out of cash, not quite sure if invoices are actually going to get paid) sometimes seems in retrospect a bit crazy.

The temptation to get back into full time work is high.

And I had that opportunity thanks to very kind and generous people, in starting to go down the path to possibly working at the award winning Government Digital Service (GDS). There's a lot of smart people at the GDS that I'd love to work with and it was a great chance to get to do that. The work they do is both important, and viewed from a changing-how-government-can-work-in-the-modern-world angle utterly groundbreaking.

In other words it does a lot of good.

But mentially I just couldn't get past the feeling of "Them vs Us", you know, it's the government, it's The Man! Even if you're changing it from the inside-out it's still the authority that must be kept in check.

This is of course my problem with my lack of ability to compartmentalise. I also knew from my Flickr experience that feelings often trump logic. It's at that point I made a choice and withdrew my application...

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...and I'm kind of glad now that I did.

Other people can do it... I'm guessing because they are sane, but I just can't. To be working in the "good" part of the organisation I'd have to believe that the amount of "good" outweights the amount of "bad" (and there seems to be an amount of that about at the moment) or at least incompetent.

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And now I look at Google Creative Labs, there's a whole new building going up in London. I've worked in various Google buildings before and it's always been fun. I see great people and friends going to work for Google (and Labs), and again would love to work with them in that environment.

Putting aside the very presumptuous and incorrect idea that I could, if I decided to just choose to go and work at Google, I find myself backing away from even starting down that road because at the same time I'm looking at Google Labs and seeing the awesome, I'm moving all my email off gmail.

I can't somehow see myself, as I'll do soon, publically saying "Hey, I'm moving everything I possibly can off Google infrastructure because I don't believe in what they're doing" while at the same time asking about job opportunities.

I don't want to be in a position where I say "Hey, I'm working at Google, no no, don't worry, the good bit of Google", because goodness knows I did enough of that at Yahoo.

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So that's where I am now. Toughing it out in the freelance world, sometimes turning down opportunities because I can't reconcile my own feelings while at the same time running out of money and wondering if it's more or less morally responsible to make sure my kids get fed vs working for an org where I'd feel uncomfortable.

Then the paranoia and agreeing with Groklaw kicks in.

Now that we know that we truly live in an internet world where pretty much everything we say and do, and everything we have said and done is recorded, how does this effect our decisions?

Rake through pretty much anyones ["private" ho ho ho] past and there'll be something at least embarrassing, and if you ever rise to the level where people pay attention to you, you better be ready to own it.

Like Louise Mensch and drugs...

"I am somebody who has used drugs in the past, I have used class A drugs in the past, I said this when someone tried to blackmail me over this during the Murdoch hearings."
And Laurie Penny...

"I’ve been threatened before by people who wanted to release details and/or pictures of me as a half-naked teenager, and I know it’s going to come out at some point; I want to be in control of when and how that happens. I’m not ashamed in any way, not of my life choices and not of my decision to keep on talking"
Is everyone that strong not to just duck cover and hide? For what it's worth both Louise and Tom Watson stepped back from the front benches for personal reasons after the News Corp. hacking thingy-me-bob. And I'm sure there's nothing in it and completely unrelated to mass electronic surveillance going back years.

So I mistrust the government, home office and civil service, fine. I don't need to go anywhere near them. I don't think I'm going to end up in a position of being asked to A/B test the message on the side of the Home Office van.

I'm also not really a nail that's standing out the furtherest.

But what happens, and this is something I probably do have the opportunity to mess around with, if I start getting all anti the Cameron Internet Firewall, and I get involved with building a secure decentralised news distrubution channel? What happens in 10 years time, when someone turns up and says... "You should see some of the things your son has been doing in private on the internet, maybe you want to come and help us?", although of course that sounds stupid.

Here's another ridiculous one, "Wouldn't it be such a shame if your daughter was bullied, in just the way Cameron's firewall was going to prevent but you opposed, and we all know how bullying can end"

Like, anything my family do on the internet could be used against me. How utterly foolish to think that could ever happen, obviously it won't!

The chilling effect is basically me going "fuck it" and getting out of tech altogether. It's a bit hard saying "Don't be evil" when they're twisting the arm of someone you love... and fortunately there's been no examples of that kind of thing going on, so I bet we're all fine.

I'm getting that much closer to jacking it all in and becoming an artist.

Who honestly wants to be the next brilliant mind to go up against the government?

I'm even begining to believe that agency world working for big brands isn't that particularly evil after all, well, as long as they pay taxes and decent wages to their works... ah, fuck it all.

[Update: the invoice got paid]


[1] there are some savings we could tap, but that's long and convoluted. So we're not loosing the house broke, but rather eating baked beans until we next get paid, but not quite sure when that'll be broke.