The Strength of Digital Vulnerability

When I started HACK*BLOSSOM, I wanted to be a radical activist. I wanted to reflexively understand every encryption algorithm, I wanted to memorize every cutting edge piece of tech journalism. Above all, I wanted to wring every drop of technical and social labor from myself so that people would be safer online and off.

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I failed. I would read book after book after book trying to connect disparate threads of technical theory and sociology, hoping I could create actionable means of creating a safer internet. I would hold workshops and write articles. But so many people just didn't think cybersecurity mattered. "Nothing to Hide" was the guiding mantra of the privileged who could not imagine a world where they could be threatened. It didn't matter that black activists, muslim americans, and migrants were routinely being targeted by all levels of government and hate groups. For most, the threats felt too distant to matter, too abstract to care about. And for me, evangelizing cybersecurity tools felt so insignificant in light of the threats we were facing. I felt constricted and tired. So I stopped activism.

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I joined an art collective best described as "cyberfeminist biospiritualism". I believed that the dry, reactionary field of cybersecurity offered nothing in the way of meaningful answers to digital oppression. Art could be a way to explore what the internet should be. So for a year I coded art installations, composed poetry, and shared with my friends an unbridled space of creative and intellectual abandon. I had little to no faith in my work, but that was okay because my friends and I all supported our failures as much as our successes. Words cannot describe how liberating it is to express a creative thought, in malformed and unfinished material, and let it breath openly.

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The collective grew apart due to life circumstances, but I continued writing poetry. For years my only creative outlet was software engineering. Being able to manipulate language for humans, rather than computers, was beautiful. I felt embarrassed seeing the cliches that erupted from myself, how pretentious my thoughts and feelings could be. But every bad poem contained a tiny gem, a vivid image or a sequence of careful words that sounded like song. I believed given enough time and discipline, I could produce only gems.

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Donald Trump seized the country and people were afraid. Cybersecurity was a clear, accessible means of protecting yourself from a maniacal fascist. So my cybersecurity guide went viral and I revitalized HACK*BLOSSOM, understanding that people will need a technical and social infrastructure of protection in the coming years.

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If years of digital activism convinced me of anything, it's that we've mostly failed. The environment is being eviscerated, people of color are being slaughtered across the globe, and open bigotry is treated as sexy and cutting-edge on primetime media. There have been grassroot successes: people of color, trans folks, queer folks, and women have created immense visibility and empathy despite a world hellbent on killing them. But the infrastructure of oppression is more entrenched today than it ever was.

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HACK*BLOSSOM now exists as a platform of digital resistance to hatred and violence. I unequivocally support experimentation, creativity, and vulnerability as the means of resistance. I am deeply imperfect and so are you; we cannot, and should not expect to be, perfect activists, or brands, or writers. Our articles and apps alone will not change the world. We need every media available to us to be infused with our values and aspirations: poetry that celebrates the sanctity of privacy. Films that explore the unnerving history of our hatred. Books that expose you to the interior suffering that modern technology dictates. Art is a vastly reaching source of dissent; while I will always work to make the boring tools of cybersecurity accessible, it is but one creative point of many to explore.
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As this weird little project grows, you will see my growing pains. It will make us all cringe once in a while, and that's okay. I cannot engineer the impact of this work. I cannot tell you how to live, nor do I really want to: I just want us all to live a little more free. I hope these experiences and experiments inspire you to embrace failure and to make yourself vulnerable. The unrestrained, fearless outpouring of self is radical in a world that demands so much suffering and consumption in silence.
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