Nearly ten years ago, when I was struggling to get any kind of meaningful on-camera work, and it looked like my once-promising acting career was going to be traded in for a writing career, I got a call to audition for a show called Wired Science. It was the kind of show that, today, would likely be online, but in 2006, it was going to air on PBS.
We went through several rounds of meetings and auditions, each one ending with the people in the room praising my preparation, passion, and on-camera presence.
I remember getting several calls from casting, and each time I expected to be told I’d been hired, I was told that I needed to read some new, different material, or come back in to meet someone new. This process went on for well over a month, until I finally got a call from my manager.
“They want you to write an essay about why they should hire you,” he said.
“What?” I said. Was I auditioning to host a show, or was I in middle school?
“I guess part of the job will be writing for WIRED, and they want to see a sample of that,” he said.
“Okay,” I sighed, already knowing that I wasn’t going to get this job, because that’s the way things went back then.
I opened up a text editor on my Linux machine, and I wrote the following essay, which I hadn’t thought about or seen in nearly ten years, until I came across it last night in an old documents backup folder on a hard drive that I’m cleaning up.
It’s simply not possible for me to cram 34 years of science enthusiasm into the one paragraph I was asked to write, but I will attempt to be as brief as I can.
I’ve been a technology and science geek my entire life, starting with National Geographic’s “Let’s Go to the Moon” when I was 7 years old. When I was 11, I programmed in Atari BASIC, and wrote my own games on my TI-99/4A. I was online when BBS systems could only handle one user at a time, 1200 baud was blazing fast, and 256 colors was magnificent. Today, I make my primary living in jobs that didn’t exist ten years ago, as a writer for online magazines.
Over the last decade, as I’ve watched what was once the province of serious nerds like myself become more common, it’s been a passion of mine to educate and enlighten anyone who will listen about the impact of science and technology on our culture, whether it’s climate change and network neutrality, or GPS devices and the Large Hadron Collider.
I was a Wired subscriber from issue one, until I cancelled all my magazine subscriptions in favor of online versions and RSS feeds a few years ago. I was interviewed for Wired in 2001.
When I was a cast member on Star Trek: The Next Generation, I frequently met with astronauts and scientists, and spoke at several NASA functions. I’ve been attending the JPL open house since I was in elementary school, and I’ve been a backyard astronomer for nearly as long.
In 1992, I walked away from the entertainment industry to work for NewTek, and worked on the Video Toaster 4000. Long before iMovie and Final Cut Pro made editing as simple as word processing, we were bringing professional quality video production to anyone who wanted it, for just $5,000 (at a time when the average set up cost closer to $85,000.)
For many years, I was a frequent contributor to TechTV’s The Screen Savers, and filled in a few times on Call for Help. As a result of that work, I was hired to co-host a technology/gadget show on the Revision3 network called InDigital, where I review things as varied as routers and video game controllers. I frequently discuss public policy concerning technology, most recently the threats against Internet radio by the Copyright Royalty Board. I am one of the original Netscape Navigators (now called Scouts) at the new Netscape News, where I frequently submit science and technology stories. I have been an open source and free software advocate and Linux user since 1995 (when it was still really hard to use) and wrote all three of my books in OpenOffice.org. I’ve built too many computers to count.
Before Chris Anderson articulated The Long Tail, I was espousing a similar theory to anyone who would listen to me. My blog at wilwheaton.net was very successful and had a large readership (about 30,000 RSS subscribers, and 500,000 average monthly visitors) so I knew I could take my books directly to the audience without using the traditional publishing channels. I believed and proved that the Internet gives creative people all the tools they need to realize their creations and share them — for free or for profit — online. Both of my books were massively successful, thanks entirely to my blog and the Long Tail effect. My next book, which I just finished last week, will be distributed and publicized in the same way.
This is much longer than the one paragraph I was asked to write, but context is everything, I believe, and as you can see, it would be impossible to give context and credentials in that small space.
On an entirely personal note: I love science, and work tirelessly to counter the pseudo- and anti-science that infects popular culture (and much of the current US government policy) today. I’m thrilled to be considered for Wired Science, because the opportunity to share the wonder of science and the impact of technology in our world with as wide an audience as possible is a dream come true.
It’s okay, I guess, and the best I could do when I was 34, written while choking on my pride and trying not to feel humiliated by being expected to tell these people who had kept me on the line for weeks exactly why I was so great.
I, of course, was not picked to host the show. I was offered a very small, barely-paid job as an occasional contributor, but that’s not the job I worked for, and it wasn’t the job I wanted. I passed on what felt to me like a consolation prize.
Wired and PBS cast my friend Chris Hardwick, who went on to be really, really good, and was an excellent choice. I remember watching some of Chris’s early shows, and wondering how I’d even been considered at all, because he was such a natural fit.
My life is so different now than it was back then, and I’m proud of all my hard work and my stubborn refusal to give up that got me here from there. When I found this document last night, my first instinct was to delete a painful memory, but I’m glad I kept it, because it’s part of the tapestry of my life.