On a late 1990’s afternoon, I left my house with no idea where I was going. Somehow, I’d managed to grow up without becoming anything I’d ever wanted to be. Astronaut, uncheck. Professional skier, nope. Lego set designer, not even close. That afternoon, I ended up at a Borders Bookstore.
Borders didn’t have as good a magazine selection as Tower but it was close to my house and smelled less. Browsing computer and design magazines was a hobby and I was good at it. I liked the big magazines, the ones imported from Europe that came with a CD-ROM full of software demos. I stood at the rack, flipping pages, when, on a nearby bookshelf, I spotted a clam-shell packed, cellophane wrapped VHS training series on HTML. “Make Your Own Website!” the tapes promised. My mind raced, can anyone just make their own website? Did these tapes hold the answer to my wildest creative visions?
At $149, they were priced well above my unemployed twenty-something budget. Luckily, there was some room on the credit card. I ran the tapes home and freed them from their cellophane wrappers. After slamming the first tape into the VCR, I mashed the play button expecting magic. A few seconds later, a man and woman dressed in business clothes and standing behind a newscaster’s desk appeared. I didn’t know it just then, but these clean cut, khaki draped fun’sters where about to give me something I desperately needed, direction.
I fell in love with the web that day. I bought every coding book I could from a crazy website that would ship books right to your door. I learned design, code and marketing. I started a web design company and built the online presence for schools, radio stations, tombstone makers, comic book creators, rock bands, start ups and my mom.
I’ve made a good living building things online. Websites, apps, video games, publishing platforms and podcasts. I started a summer camp to teach kids how to code and produce original entertainment for families on the road. I’ve worked everyday, doing a job that I love. Creating.
As it turns out, I didn’t become anything I’d wanted to be as a kid, because when I was a kid the thing I wanted to be hadn’t been invented yet.
I often think about the irony of bookstores being put out of business by the skills taught inside the books they sold. It’s easy to champion the technology of Amazon while scoffing at the inability of brick and mortar stores to adapt. I miss bookstores. A lot of us became who we are because of something hidden on their shelves.