“Wait, so how did you know each other?”
“She used to read my blog and sent me a message”
“What did the message say?”
“It said ‘would you like to be my friend?'”
“And you said yes?!”
“No, I said we could have a coffee in a public place”
And that’s how I met Katerina and she saved my sanity years later. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
By Greek standards I’m an early(ish) adopter of technology. I had learned rudimentary BASIC, I had fallen in love with an Amiga and in the mid-90s I had a PC, had figured out how to use mIRC and was writing in an online magazine – which you could call a blog if the term had been invented back then. The vast majority of my friends didn’t have a computer but I have my parents to thank for their early belief that this thing was the future. So I learned. And while I had nobody to teach me programming (and I was crap when I tried) I still became a relatively dedicated user and taught myself how to create html websites – skills that came in handy a few years later.
In the mid 2000’s I was in London, trying to find some sort of way to fit into the place. Being an immigrant – even a relatively privileged one – does peculiar things to your sense of belonging. London is I think very easy and very hard. It’s easy because you can live whatever life you want here, opportunities and communities being so varied. But it’s also very hard because it’s so big and can feel so far away from what you know, it takes you such a long time to feel at ease.
Those were also the early days of blogging. A friend of mine – with whom I used to write in the online magazine a few year earlier – had a blog and he had regularly been my weathervane for new tech ideas. I found myself in London, reading funny and interesting blogs from around the world and I missed writing like mad. University writing was specific, my job was still boring and I had written all the letters I could write without stalking people or sending some sort of peculiar newsletter to my sister and old friends in Greece.
And so, I started a blog in Greek.
I don’t think I can overstate how significant the blog was to my life. I had that first blog for a little over ten years – that’s half of my twenty years in London. It spawned various other projects and initiatives – like the food blog – and it opened a window to a lot more tech geekery I could have imagined. Blogs at the time being incredibly interactive in the comments it also helped me create a community. Other would read what you wrote, there would be comments, cross-posting and loads of conversations online. Even though – in those early years – most of us agreed on most issues, which is what happens when you are in a very specific bubble of people with many similarities.
We didn’t have facebook when I started blogging and we most definitely didn’t have twitter. Blogs were effectively one of the very few ways we had to create community through our content. And most of them were personal – as mine was.
I named it digita-era.org and I still pride myself that it also contains a couple of smart Greek word plays.
Of such silly humour were our digital lives made back in those days.
I sound old when I say it but it was a time of tremendous optimism for the digital Commons. A time when I dismissed the warnings of Castells and wholeheartedly supported Negroponte’s techno-utopianism. We all know how that one played out and I dare say most of us are more thoughtful and measured nowadays.
I was always an opinionated loudmouth and reading the blog today that’s very apparent. I was so young when I started writing, only 24, and knowing myself I can also see the history of becoming a bit more of a self assured adult. I can also see behind the words, the mistakes and the triumphs, the friends and the stories of my life. My politics and how they evolved. And – obviously – all my tremendous errors in judgement. While some of those things I’d never write today – for example now being a lot less of a pick me girl and a lot more of a burn our bras feminist – I know the value of this personal history. We live and learn and we were never perfect.
And it was never only a diary. It was a way to find community – I can’t tell you how many people I met through the blog – a way to grow up and definately a way to write just to write. I wrote to explain myself to myself and I also did it because when I don’t write there is a huge chunk missing and I start wobbling.
After 2009 – and the horrendous Greek financial crisis that was looming – the makeup of the Greek London community started changing significantly. We used to be mainly students, some professionals who stayed after uni and then everybody else was basically second generation. The crisis changed that. Suddenly professionals started leaving Greece for the UK and then whole families. I was well known as a Greek in London – due to the blog, believe it or not, which was modestly successful in Greece – and always used to get emails from people asking me for information or advice before moving. In the space of a year the enquiries went from “I’m coming for a Masters, where can I get coffee” to “I’m desperate and moving my whole family, any information would really help me”.
In the beginning I was writing long email responses until eventually I started writing blog posts about moving to the UK, finding a house in London, getting a job and living here. They were by far my most popular posts on the blog eclipsing anything else I was writing. People sent them to friends, uploaded them on online fora and shared them on Facebook and twitter. A number of other bloggers also started writing similar posts and we linked out to each others’ posts, in an effort to support new immigrants with as much information as possible. I could write about a funny story every day – but this was actually useful stuff and it was a privilege to be able to help, even a little.
I have actual friends I met through the blogs. People I’ve met up with in London and other countries. Some emailed me – like Katerina who saved my sanity while I was in my postgregancy baby blues. Some I bumped into at a meetup, even though to be honest the fact that I was a Greek blogger abroad saved me from some of the drama that is inevitable when a small community rubs shoulders too often. With most we keep connected nowadays on Facebook and Twitter, they might drop into this here blog if I write something. There is absolutely no way in hell that I would have the community I have without the blog and the online activities it spawned. Remember how I was saying that people assume I’m a raging extrovert and it’s not true? The blog was instrumental in being this weird mix of extroversion and introversion and still find my people.
Eventually the world changed. Most of us grew older, we fucked up the Commons and technology moved on.
In 2015 I designed and delivered a course on innovation for Hult. I was 35, the students were around 19. I asked them if any of them were bloggers. Nobody raised their hand. I asked if they knew what blogs are. Two raised their hand.
Fuck, I thought. When did I get so old?
I still think it happened when I wasn’t looking.
- Grexit/ Brexit
- The way to anyone’s heart is through the stomach
- The night bus
- Words save our lives… sometimes
- The rest is noise
- How not to bite your nails in the Officials’ Box
- Always have a sister
- Greek London
- This green and pleasant land
- The bridge of aspiration
- The knight in well travelled armor
- Carpets in the toilet and other adventures in housing
- Moments in Art
- The NHS hunger games
- In nocte consilium
- The friends we found, the friends we lost
- Blogging tips for beginners
- Lord of Gondolin, Bane of Gothmog, mighty beater of his headboard, conqueror of the slide, aka our child
- γνῶθι σεαυτόν
- How to leave London