Question the World

Japanese tech guy interviews interesting people.

Qanta Shimizu (PARTY NY) is a Japanese creator who in his late-30’s, moved his entire life to New York. This is his monthly interview essay of chats with a different person each time, and thoughts about the Web, digital, with the world as stage.

#8. Claire Graves (Managing Director of The Webby Awards)
The Goddess Who Makes History by Celebrating,
and Celebrating Some More.

Nowadays, there are countless businesses involving the Internet.
There are jobs for constructing websites, thinking about the Internet, even “explaining” the Internet to others as a consultant of sorts.
Perhaps the delivery guy for Amazon orders could also be defined as someone related to Internet work. Amidst all that, Claire Graves, our guest for this installment, shines in her special profession of celebrating all things Internet.

The Webby Awards office where Claire works as managing director is decorated with highlights from the awards ceremony. Qanta is holding the famous spring-shaped trophy. This year, he is judging for the Webbys.

Since my elementary school years, the subject of history had been a personal favorite and forte. History is fun because it is basically “stories.” A series of “because this person did this, this happened” makes history. Rather than the part about memorizing years and people’s names, I found history interesting in that it is one story continuing from a distant past up to now.
As a high school student, I had wanted to become a historian. Even now, I sometimes imagine leading a slightly more peaceful life had I chosen the path of studying history. After all, the world of the Internet, where I work, is everything but peaceful. It is a field that restlessly changes everyday.

The “Internet” neon sign at the office entrance. The entire place brims with Internet Love.

“I’m really excited about how media is changing, how the Internet is changing media.”
Claire says enthusiastically. Within new media, how do humans behave? And what does that lead to? From the Internet, she senses the “stories” in exactly the same way I sensed them from subject of history. And she’s enjoying every moment of it.
The Webby Awards, is often referred to as “the Oscars of the Internet.” A decade has passed since I’d first found out about it. Koji Nishida, with his personal website, was the first Japanese person to win a Webby. At the time, I wasn’t even an assistant web designer or anything, but I read about that news on Web Designing magazine. Shocked by the existence of such an award in the world, I did all the research I could to learn more about it.

In contrast to advertising awards, the Webby Awards doesn’t focus on a specified field, but targets the Internet as a whole. This award celebrates all excellent work on the Internet, from Wikipedia to twitter, and even personal websites.
Claire is the managing director for the Webby Awards, the leader who overseas the whole thing. Her hometown is Adelaide, Australia.
“When I was seventeen, I left Australia, and went university in Edinburgh, Scotland, and [majored in] history.”
Yes, history. Of course. Observing changes seems to be a fundamental element for Claire.
At the same time, as the times would have it, she encountered the Internet, and was blown away.
“The reason I wanted to work at [London-based digital agency] POKE, was because I really like the Internet, and I really like everything that has to do with the Internet. I was a project manager and account handler there.”

The Webby Awards website, stunning enough to hush a sobbing child. The first time Qanta accessed this website, never in his wildest dreams that he would end up visiting the Webby office or judging for the Webbys.

Claire started her career by putting herself in an environment for “making.” A bit over a decade ago, the field of digital advertising was literally the most exhilarating. All sorts of expressions were made possible with Flash, and experimental work ceaselessly surfaced everyday. That was a time when everyone had boisterous dreams about the Internet. This chaotic and free period of the Internet then shifted into the social media era where various things are formatted into templates.
I decided to ask Claire what she thought of that, to find out whether she preferred the time when Internet felt freer.

”It’s true that it’s so much harder to find serendipity now. You have to work much harder to actually find that. […] Only less than half of the world has access to the Internet, but it’s growing. I can’t wait to know what it’s going to be like in ten years. To see how much it will change life in general. ”
Claire is a historian. To her, the ever-changing story of the Internet, no matter what happens next, is extremely exciting.
The thing is, when she talks about all this, her voice is filled with love. Claire is a goddess who observes the Internet with loving eyes.
Ten years have passed since yours truly read Web Designing magazine and found out about the Webby Awards. One could say that my writing the Japanese version of this article on a person from the Webby Awards for a column in Web Designing magazine is a shift, a story in itself. Meanwhile, projects that I had taken part in have won a few Webbys as well.

At the Webby Awards, the recipients have to follow the tradition of the “5-Word Speech” — — using five English words to express their joy. A few years ago, when Qanta went on stage and blurted, “Sorry. I can’t speak English,” the audience seemed to have enjoyed it.

“We spend our lives celebrating. We only celebrate the best work on the Internet. The thing I really love about my job is finding those things that are really, really good, and meeting the people who have made that work. There’s something so amazing about that. Particularly like you guys! Your work is unbelievable.”
As I responded casually with something to the effect of, “Thank you, glad to hear that,” I was truly jumping with joy inside to receive praises from Claire.
Awards are the product of someone else’s value system, and I believe the most important thing is how much one’s work resonates with the users.
At the same time, I felt delighted to be a part of Claire’s story. After all, hers is the history of our beloved Internet.

Claire and her dear dog Omar. On days off, she actively spends her time playing with Omar, surfing and doing yoga. Qanta has much to learn in this area.

Translation : Mandy Wang (PARTY)
Photograph :
Sachie Aihara

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