What I learned at XOXO

This year I had the opportunity to attend XOXO for the first time. I could talk about all the people I met, and the amazing speakers I saw throughout the festival, but I want to focus on a few things I learned at XOXO.

About the Internet

The internet is great. XOXO really opened my eyes to all the wonderful things that happen on the internet and around the world everyday. Each of the speakers have created or done something amazing, often in the face of extremely difficult circumstances. I was incredibly impressed and inspired by Esra’a Al Shafei, the founder of many great companies in the Middle East through Majal. Majal creates a variety of digital platforms that allow expression and information for social justice to exist in areas of the world where this isn’t allowed.

The internet is also not so great. A lot of awful shit happens on the internet. Harassment and abuse have become commonplace, and it’s not okay. A memorable quote that came from Talia Jane’s talk was: “You don’t know people who have dealt with abuse, until you have.” Talia went through pretty severe harassment following her open letter to the CEO of Yelp about the state of employee wages. Building stuff is hard enough, and there’s no shortage of snark on the internet — we don’t need people bullying and harassing others.

About Work

Curiosity is important. Throughout the process of creation, we often have an end goal in mind for what we want to build. Something interesting I had never thought about was raised during Starlee Kine’s talk (host of the Mystery Show podcast). She mentioned that often while doing interviews for her previous work, such as on NPR, you typically know what answers to expect and where to look for them when asking questions. However, when it comes to solving mysteries, you don’t always know where you’re going or where the answer lies. It’s important to remain curious and to pursue all potential avenues, because you never know what you may discover.

About Me

Imperfection is okay. This was by far my biggest takeaway. I have heard this many times, said in many ways, but it has always been something I struggled to accept. My mentality has firmly been, “If you aren’t going to do it well/the best, then why do it at all?”, often ignoring the potential for simple joy and enjoyment in any task or project. I always figured it was a sign of strength and integrity to have this position, but it tends to cause me a lot of stress. There were lines such as, “Build useless things… Your ideas may be smarter than you,” from Simone Giertz which got me thinking a bit more about this concept, but I still wasn’t convinced.

It wasn’t until the closing party, while talking to new friends about projects like taking a daily photo, that it really clicked for me. I had previously tried this challenge — taking a photo a day — but found it extremely stressful to find a good composition or subject, so I gave up because my life wasn’t interesting enough. Then someone said something along the lines of, “That’s exactly what happens. You realize that your life is probably boring, and you have to accept that. It takes the stress out of taking your photo.” All of a sudden it made sense in that moment, and it’s something that can be applied not only to my work, but pretty much all that I do. Not everything we do has to be amazing — sometimes it’s enough to just create and see where it takes you.

I’m grateful to have attended and will definitely keep in touch with the people I met.

Thank you XOXO+ The Andys.