Think back to what the internet was like in 1988.
There was, but not in the form that we know it now. The World Wide Web wasn't invented (or named) until 1990, but in 1988, a 14-year-old Justin Hall discovered UseNet groups on a friend's connected computer. These text-only pages provided the teen a chance to connect with strangers and discuss the things that mattered to him and the things he was curious about. An intensely lonely kid whose father had committed suicide when Justin was just 8, the groups appealed to him.
"That was my first glimpse, like oh, these people might not want to date me or want to hug me, but they'll talk to me about the TV shows I like and the drugs I'm curious about and the sex I wish I was having," he told MTV News.
These early online discussions would go on to shape the rest of Justin's life. By 1993, a 19-year-old Justin had started a website, links.net, titled Justin's Links Underground. He set up an interface to share links to things that interested him, often taboo or explicit, sometimes just plain interesting.
Eventually, Hall began writing stories and poems about his life and sharing them on his page. Soon, he was posting every day, with each day's new story at the top of the page. Ta-da: a very early iteration of the personal blog.
Now, decades later, Hall is no longer blogging daily, but the internet is very much a part of his life. As he chronicled in the self-produced short documentary, "Overshare," Hall's extremely personal blogging -- including detailed descriptions of his sex life, occasional "what does this rash mean" photos of his genitals and more -- took a toll on friendships and relationships. Some people didn't necessarily want to be a part of Hall's story.
So what has a man who's shared more of his life with the online world than not learned about the internet? Here's what he told MTV News.
If you're in pain, that's OK. You can turn that pain into something else.
To paraphrase the late, great Nora Ephron, everything is copy. Hall said that he began writing for his school literary magazine, personal poems and stories that later translated to his web presence. "They were about my dad died or I'm lonely or yeah, a lot of 'I'm lonely,' I think. It's so hard! I still feel alone sometimes because as an adult if you have support systems and stuff you can learn how not to feel lonely in a way that you can't as a kid. It took me many years to enjoy learning to be alone and learning how to be attractive to other people so I could stay in long-term relationships and not feel alone in a sort of 'will anyone ever love me' sense. When I was a teenager I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm not sure anyone will ever love me.'"
Keep your promises.
Hall said that when he began blogging daily, he sometimes wanted to take time off, let his earlier pieces suffice. "There's something in me, there's a pride that says that all human stories should be timeless, like why should I have to provide something new if I've already written hundreds of other pages?" In the end, the promise he felt he'd made to readers, that he'd be writing every day, took precedence. "I think that people have a sense that they want to see a story that's in progress. It was pretty exciting to some readers."
The only one telling you to post personal stuff is you.
Hall took a strong no-holds-barred stance on his life. When he suspected that he had picked up an STD in Japan, he posted pictures of his nether region. He graphically described drug trips and sexual encounters. Nothing was off limits, and if he hesitated to post, he pushed himself to share. "There's a way in which I was daring myself," he said. "It's sort of like, 'hey, that's kind of creepy and a little freaky and unpleasant...I'm gonna do it! Why not? I dare you, Justin.' If I ever thought of something as being too risque or too personal I would publish it because I thought there was something really important about not having personal boundaries of sharing. To this day, every time we post something online, we are saying something about what we think the internet is for. Then, by being incredibly personal, I thought I was making my contribution by saying the internet is for personal connection, sharing openly so that people feel less alone."
It's not quantity, it's quality.
Gone are Hall's days of daily blogging, spitting up his immediate thoughts on whatever transpired during his waking hours. With age and experience has come perspective, and that perspective has meant slowing down and considering which stories he thinks are worth telling.
"I've written so many little posts over the years about, like, I got mugged at gunpoint, I moved out of my apartment, where am I gonna live -- all those sorts of things I've written about," Hall said of his early writing. "I don't write about human tragedies on that scale, I tend to write about my big life changes, like I tried to do something and it failed, I tried to start a company and it failed, I tried to be married to someone and I failed. When you're in a relationship and I want to tell a story about a failed relationship, I realized that to do that ethically I should take a long time and I should do a lot of drafts and show those drafts to people I respect and make sure that what I'm making is not going to hurt anyone but me, potentially."
Choose the friend over the story.
Hall said that he once wrote an ode to a friend who was very important to him, who had helped him through a tough time in his life. The friend ultimately asked him to take the post down -- he didn't want his name associated with Hall's other works chronicling his less pure activities. Ultimately, Hall complied.
"If I did not have this friend, I would have no story," he said. "And if I choose the story over the friend, I looked ahead and said if I choose the story over the friend, I will be lonely, lonelier than if I choose the friend over the story. I think there are sadnesses or downsides to that trade-off as well because you lose some of your authenticity or would be more famous as a result of choosing story over friendship, but I feel like a lot of what I was writing was asking people to pay attention to me because I felt alone. If I was writing to find comrades and to find colleagues, it was important to choose humans over my momentary media products."
Think about what you want to put out in the world.
Hall now subscribes to the "leave a place better than you found it" philosophy when it comes to sharing on the internet. Instead of trashing someone or tearing something down, he said, he tries to add something helpful to the online discourse. "If you take long enough to think about the pain you've experienced in your own life, you might realize you want more peace and less violence."