An Interview with our star volunteer, Jesse Schooff
I joined our very own Jesse Schooff for a brief interview about his time and experience with OpenMedia. Jesse has become an incredible member of our community and team, and the first volunteer to be featured on our About Us page.
How did you first get involved with OpenMedia?
The issues that OpenMedia covers is stuff that’s been on my radar for a long time. I’ve been an avid reader of Boing Boing for 15 plus years. Cory Doctorow is a huge proponent of the open Internet, on major restrictions to copyright. As well, Michael Geist has been a very formative influence for me, on access and privacy. OpenMedia was an organization that had been on the periphery of my radar, and I started to hear about you guys more and more and started to see news articles that referenced the work that was being done by OpenMedia. I tried to follow and keep an eye on what OM was doing at any given time, and eventually I started reaching out and submitting news articles -- “hey, did you guys see that this happened?” I would get replies back then from either Jes (Operations Manager) or Soledad (former Community Engagement Specialist). Eventually, I was writing stuff on my own blog about some of these issues and submitting them to OpenMedia, and OM actually did retweet a couple of those, particularly the article about how the TPP would affect the libraries and archives in Canada (with the extension of copyright). I was then invited to start writing content directly under the OpenMedia banner and the rest is history!
What is an issue in digital rights that you wish more people were paying attention to, within OpenMedia’s campaigns?
“Two of my most favourite campaigns that OpenMedia has worked on are the work that’s being done to repeal Bill C-51, which I find problematic for a great number of reasons, not the least of which being privacy and civil liberties concerns, but also the idea that our technologcal infrastructure could be beholden to the needs of spies. And second, I think that the federal government needs to implement a national broadband strategy. This is really, really important, especially for a country like Canada which, in the grand scheme of things is a wealthy country, but also large, geographically diverse, and demographically diverse too. We need to ensure that all of our citizens have access to a reasonable level of Internet, not just for communications and entertainment, but for education, accessing government services, and having diverse kinds of opportunities that someone who is somewhere where Internet access is fast and affordable has [already]. A person who is living in a remote or rural region or, as happens sometimes, an urban area that is very underserved -- those people don’t have a tonne of opportunities that are available to other better served regions.
And overall, in the wider arena of digital rights?
From the things I choose to write about, I think it’s pretty clear that I [would highlight] security and encryption -- things that people maybe don’t often think about, and things we’re probably not going to get the wider public to think about a lot. The recent ransomware attacks, which were directly linked to programs the NSA undertook which undermined the security of our tech infrastructure at large. When you have [Prime Minister] Theresa May in the UK talk about how she’s going to break or “fix” encryption so it works for law enforcement and not everyone else, those discussions are incredibly important. It’s foundational! I’ve said before, security is the brick and mortar of all of our technology. The people who are advocating against it are coming from a very naive place -- like, “we have these needs and if we just get the nerds to nerd harder we can get around these things that they say currently are impossible.”
It seems to me that if you wanted to build a bridge that would not fall apart you would ask an engineer, you would not ask a kid with a bunch of popsicle sticks to build something that could hold 600 cars at a time. This is the most important thing that needs to get out to the public sphere -- making sure that our elected officials and departments are accountable to knowledge and science, not even just in terms of IT security, but global warming, vaccines, a smattering of other things! These things are critical to our very existence. I went on a bit of a tangent there...
But tangents like this are pointing out intersections and how this work shouldn't be siloed! At OpenMedia, we want to broadly engage with folks by meeting them where they’re at, through different entry points to tech issues. In a sense, translating tech issues -- what do you think are some good steps for bridging these to a mainstream audience?
That’s the eternal struggle! When I do write for you, I see myself constantly as being in the role of an educator. You go to the public, the broader audience and say, “Hey, I have this issue that’s really, really important,” and the public is always saying, “But why is this important?” and when you say, “Because of this technology,” they might say “Well, I haven’t heard of that!” You need to teach these concepts from top to bottom, which is difficult, it’s a steep ladder for a reader to climb. As the writer, educator, [or voice] that wants the reader to be aware, you have to build a staircase from scratch. “Here’s some links if you need to do some extra reading”, and “This leads into that”… you have to be accommodating, to get through, technology, technology, issue, issue, concept…
What is the most fun memory that you have of your engagement with OpenMedia?
What stands out to me is the times we’ve had CATTs -- monthly Celebrate All the Things gatherings where OpenMedia staff, supporters and team members review our achievements over the previous four weeks together -- or you know, just when I’ve stopped by the office, or chatted on Slack. Any time that I have been able to work with one or even many of you, the synergy has always been amazing. The support is always incredible. The thing that makes you guys fun, is your sense of teamwork and camaraderie, and the way you manage to bring out the best in each other and me -- you do it using ‘soft touch.’ That’s what makes OpenMedia sparkle.
You’ve gone above and beyond in what you’ve offered to our org! What is the secret behind your rapid response -- how are you so on top of things all the time??
As part of my job (and also because I’m interested) I stay on top of technology publications. When you read five things over the course of half a year, you may not be able to immediately remember them when someone asks you about them… but those things kind of snowball in your mind, and one day there will be an incident in the news and you’ll have this moment where everything that’s happened before -- you’ll think “this company did this thing, and then this company did this thing, and now we have this that happened today.” What was before an isolated group of instances suddenly becomes a trend. When you start to see how different news stories are adding up to something, it’s almost like a eureka moment, and you realize we need to do something because these factors are coalescing into something much worse than the sum of their parts.
And what about your outstanding graphics (, a sampling of which can be seen in the image that accompanies this blog post)?
I am the de facto graphic designer for our company right now. I know my way around the programs, and this is something I’ve been doing as well as a hobbyist for a long, long time. When I was building chatrooms with my friends in the early 2000s and I was tinkering around in a very early version of PhotoShop (that would date me badly if I was to say which version).
Just something I learned through osmosis, having a lot of friends who are graphic designers as well. I’m happy to say that once I created a few title images for OM -- well now I can’t go back to using stock art ever again! I have to outdo myself -- I set that challenge for myself, and fortunately I’ve been able to rise to that challenge.
You do continue to exceed your own standard -- whenever you submit graphics, they’re also pretty darn funny!
So back to the idea of making things translate-able and relatable… I wonder if you have any kinds of advice for people who newly learned about these issues?
You asked me earlier about why I got involved with OM. The year that I did start to submit blog articles was a year when I had gone through some times when I was not feeling very good about my position in my life, I was feeling defeatist about the direction of the world. I had a couple of friends who are very much involved in politics kick my ass and say, “Why don’t you do something about this, Jesse? If the two of us can’t convince you to do something, there really isn’t any hope.” I got involved with OM and you decided you liked what I was doing. I also got involved in the BC NDP, and just in general have tried to be more politically active. Particularly, when I had a chance to speak at the Canadian Security Consultations that happened last year, I left those meetings feeling like I had made a huge difference by writing a short spiel about why encryption is important and presenting that. And that’s what I would recommend to anyone who’s not only concerned about digital rights but concerned about the state of the world in general. The only way it’s going to change if you do something about it! No one is asking you to fix every little thing - that is an impossible task. Find something that’s near and dear to you and tackle it to the best of your ability. If more people just took the time to tackle one issue that’s important to them, I think that the world would be in a much better state that it is right now at this moment.
Definitely these issues are not outside of us - they’re our everyday lives.
And to finish of, what are the latest Internet trends capturing your attention? Or what continue to be some of your favourite things about the Internet?
I tend to be a creature of habit, until given a shove. But my favourite thing [remains] the core concept of the Internet -- anyone can talk and interact with anyone else from anywhere. That was the dream that transitioned the Internet (from ARPANet) into more of a civilian infrastructural network. It’s also one of the worst things -- anyone can harass or steal from anyone from anywhere. That’s why, if we want the Internet to be the most wonderful thing it can be, we have to steward it, rethink the ways we engage with people, and monitor the rules and regulations which govern technology, as orgs like OM endeavour to do.
Thank you for your fantastic answers!
Thank you for deciding to feature me in this way!