Have you ever felt like you’ve been studying something for too long without any chance to use it? Maybe it’s something small like a foreign language or a musical instrument, or maybe it’s something bigger like a college degree in a field that you know you’ll never work in.
We all have topics like this. For me I’ve been learning German for about 3 years now yet I don’t know, anymore, if I’ll ever make it to Germany to use it. I also have a degree in Aviation, a field where I no longer just don’t fly the planes but I really don’t have any connection with whatsoever these days.
While there are plenty of topics I’ve studied knowing that I wouldn’t use them or quickly realized they weren’t the something I wanted to be part of in the first place, there are also a few things I’ve been studying for years that I regret I haven’t yet made more use of.
The first, and probably most important of these for me, is privacy, specifically digital privacy. My interest in privacy was originally an offshoot of my work on the Better WP Security (iThemes Security) plugin.
When I started building Better WP Security I did so by adding features I knew little about but seemed to get a lot of buzz online and in conferences. By the time I sold it there were so many features I either didn’t understand or that were actively harmful to actual security (like hiding wp-admin) that I felt like my work in it was largely wasted.
I had focused too much on the “how” and not enough on the “why.” Why would a WordPress site need [x] feature? Why are we trying to protect data on WordPress sites altogether? The questions went on and on.
By 2017 I was confident enough in my knowledge of WordPress security and general privacy that I gave my first privacy talk at WordPress London. The talk itself went so well that I gave it repeatedly up until COVID hit but that really wasn’t the important thing about it. The best part of the talk is that it was something of a “how” talk (how do you improve privacy as a WordPress professional) which was paired with one of the most impactful talks I’ve ever seen by my friend Heather Burns on “why” any of this matters.
I’ve spent the 5 years (I can’t believe I just typed “5 years”) since lost studying a world I had only the must naive knowledge of previously. Yet the more I’ve learned, the more I felt I didn’t know anything. The more I felt I didn’t know anything the more I read. My reading list over these past 5 years reads like a who’s who of surveillance capitalism and digital rights pioneers yet I’ve barely dedicated so much as full blog post to the topic and I haven’t altered my original talk at all with the new information.
I go through my work with a focus on implementing privacy and other humane tech with as much force as I can muster yet few realize I do so because I know a bit more about it than what they saw on a Netflix documentary.
This is something I regret.
I’ve written for a long time on WordPress and WordPress development and it’s time to move past that. It’s time to start, at a minimum, writing about privacy and topics near to it that really do mean something to me.
Going forward you’ll see some changes on this site. Beyond a new theme I’m about to launch I’m making other changes to return to a state where this site collects absolutely no data on you that is within my power to control (server logs at my web host are currently beyond my control). Then it’s time to start writing about privacy and its implication in ways that will, I hope, guide WordPress and other developers to make better decisions in their own work. Perhaps at some point in the future it will even lead to work directly in the field where I hope to make an even bigger impact on WordPress and the web as a whole.
I’m tired of studying meaningful things I will never use. I’ve been studying long enough that’s it’s time to stop just studying and start acting.