The rescue of Johnny Castaway

How I connected my school to the internet while a little girl.

Johnny Castaway, stranded on a very small island with a single palm tree.

I remember being mesmerized by a specific computer screen saver. It was a man stuck on an island. He was trying to get out there but couldn’t. He repeatedly tried but never succeed. That screensaver was “Johnny Castaway”.

Since I was a little girl, I was inspired by creation and by what I could bring to the world. Art classes were the best because that was the only class I was allowed to create, to use my imagination and reinvent the world.

In my child's mind, I knew that if I had the tools, I would be able to design a different ending for Johnny. And that was how I started.

We lived on an Island for a long time

The man on the island became a metaphor. I grew up in Brazil and at the age of 12, I saw my school stuck on an island. It was the beginning of the Internet Era in Brazil. Only a few friends in my class had access to it. I was lucky because my dad was an engineer and he taught me how to “surf” online. The Internet was my secret weapon.

Having access to the Internet and digital encyclopedias during the elementary and middle school was a game changer. Lessons and homework were easier. It was like having super powers.

Super powers for all

By the age of 13, I joined the Student’s Council to fight for students rights and improve education in my school as a whole. As a start, I requested a new and updated computer lab, luckily the school was already working on it. I also requested a website for the school.

— Website? We don't have anyone to do it…
They said.

— Well, I can do it.
I said.

Days later, I came with a website for the school which had a live scrapbook (like a Facebook’s wall and feed) for students to leave their messages. The site was promoted during the annual Science Fair, but unfortunately, it didn't get much traction.

However, everything changed a year later, in 1999. With the Internet boom peak, boats arrived on the island and things started to get connected. On a boat, Johnny caught the big wave and finally left the island.

The NASDAQ Composite index spiked in the late 90s and then fell sharply as a result of the dot-com bubble.

Yes, things change

One day, I was called by the director of the school. He took out some papers from his drawer. They were printouts of the web pages I had built. More specifically, they were printouts of the scrapbook feed. The director was concerned because parents were complaining about bullying on the school’s website. I was surprised. He was surprised.

I had no idea that people were accessing the website that much and using that as a social network. "I got busy with my studies and lost track of the site activities. I didn’t time to moderate the messages" — I said.

We decided that the best and easiest solution was to take the site down. I left the director’s room with a smile. It was not because I found bullying messages funny. That was not cool. But I was happy that we were not living on an island anymore. Thousands of students were accessing my website every day to exchange messages. They have discovered the power of the Internet, and I contributed to that. The school realized that those were new times, and new challenges were about to come. I was glad and fascinated.

Johnny was rescued, but there are still other islands

Time has passed, it was a happy end for Johnny. He quickly adapted to the new life by making easy money in a dot-com company. Now he is retired and spends most of his day posting messages on Facebook. Johnny never forgot the island and sometimes visits it to remember the days of total disconnection.

These last 15 years have been a journey of creation and every day discovery. I am now a grown-up, still mesmerized with novelty and the possibility of making an impact. But now I understand that the same technology that connects islands and main lands, also disconnects us. And, sometimes, it is me waiting for a rescue boat.

It is worth asking: What is the need? Who are we trying to save? Which Island are we sailing the boat to? Why? Because maybe they are already happy living on the island.

As a designer, now living in Silicon Valley, it is easy to get trapped by technology. Thus, when creating a new product, It is worth asking: What is the need? What is the reason for this technology? Who are we trying to save? Which island are we sailing the boat to? Why? — Because maybe they are already happy living on the island.


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