In college, I studied history. I researched amateur magician communities at the turn of the twentieth century and read all about Soviet department stores. But mostly, I was fascinated by the history of technology. And halfway through college, I looked up and realized that history was happening around me: that the internet was transforming this moment, and that I wanted to be a part of it.
Before that moment, my plan had been to pursue a Ph.D. in history. The mentors I'd sought had been professors, and at university they'd been close at hand. Research assistantships, small seminars, and office hours all provided structured opportunities for getting to know the scholars I admired. When I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in technology, it didn't stop me from loving history or looking up to my professors. But it did change my sense of what my future would look like, and more and more I realized it was looking less and less like theirs.
Finding "internet people" to look up to never felt like a hurdle: as soon as I started looking, I found people whose writing and outlook and accomplishments I longed to learn from. Better yet, the open book of life online gave me a more vivid picture of what my future could look like. The internet felt to me then, and feels to me now, like an electric frontier. Opportunities abound for bold experiments and spontaneous connections.
Yet without the structure of office hours, research assistantships, and seminars, it seldom occurred to me to look for an opening to connect—to actually seek individual guidance from the people I so admired, or even simply to express my admiration. In the absence of an invitation, doing so felt like an imposition.
I know now, though, that it's the opposite: the opportunity to offer guidance from experience is a gift. In her book Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal describes the phenomenon of naches — pride or gratification, especially in others. "We don't describe ourselves as 'bursting with pride' over our own success, but we do for others; this language suggests that the feeling of naches is even more explosive" than satisfaction over personal success. But that reward requires commitment: "to generate the emotional reward of naches, we have to throw ourselves into the act of mentoring."
As we live and work on this electric frontier, it's important to build and renew our own traditions. My goal with /mentoring is to encourage people to believe in one another, and to make it the easiest, most natural thing in the world to express and welcome that belief.
Anyone can be a part of /mentoring. All it takes is a few lines of text on your own website, blog, or other profile, expressing your openness to mentoring and offering a specific invitation to get in touch.
I'm calling it "/mentoring" because I hope that eventually it will be as natural a part of the internet as "/about" pages. I'm placing my invitation at http://dianakimball.com/mentoring, and I invite you to do the same—or place it wherever it feels right to you.
Over time, I hope that this page can become a center, though not the center, of community experiences and best practices. Philosophically, that it's on GitHub is no accident: I want this idea to flourish, and so I'm setting it free. To expand on it yourself, please take the idea and run with it to wherever it takes you. In the best tradition of open-source, I look forward to incorporating many ideas and also celebrating many alternatives.
Are you ready? Let's begin.