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6 Tips for Handling a Perfect Storm of Internet Fame

Last week, three big websites referenced things I’ve worked on recently:

  1. Biola University launched it’s new Open Biola project and featured my lecture on its homepage of resources.
  2. Jeffrey Zeldman, one of the web’s leading designers, blogged about my MediaElement.js library.
  3. Outreach Magazine and other websites reported on my work to distribute 50,000 Arabic digital Bibles during the Olympics.
  4. Bonus: We also launched a new version of DTS’s website that features a responsive layout and Retina-ready images in many places.

For this little web coder, this is all very exciting and fun. Yet, I also know that when something like this happens, there is a danger that I will react poorly to it. First, I am tempted to think so highly of myself that I start acting arrogant and self-important (see all the “my” above?), talking about myself more than others. Second, I start getting used to the good feeling I get from recognition and then when it’s over I feel deflated and unimportant.

So to prevent that from happening this time around, I’ve written down a few tips that I use to remind myself of how reality is in fact structured.

1. It Is a Big Deal

An easy way for me to try to deal with this kind of recognition is to feign humility and show people I don’t really care by saying something like, “It’s no big deal.”

But it is a big deal, and I do care.

I did some really great work, and it’s incredibly rewarding and downright exciting to have it publically recognized. I know God gives grace to humble and mocks the proud (Prov. 3:34), but being humble isn’t the same thing as falsely claiming, “I don’t really care about all that stuff.” True humility requires that I begin by being honest about what has happened and the reactions to it in my heart. That’s where the next steps come in.

2. There’s Always Something Bigger

To balance the fact that all of this is a big deal, I remind myself of where it stands in the grand scheme of things. I shouldn’t be unnecessarily self-deprecating, but at the same time I shouldn’t overplay the significance of these things to the point where I think I just landed on Mars or cured cancer.

This isn’t about comparing myself to others or jockeying for a higher place. It’s just about making sure that I balance all the excitement with a recognition that God is doing lots of great things through many other people all around the world. By recognizing that what I’ve done is part of the much larger plan of God, I’m able to be thankful for what he’s allowed me to do and also excited for others when they have success.

3. It Didn’t Happen in a Day

Even though the Internet is reporting the events all at once, the reality is each of these projects is the result of lots of hard work over long periods of time. I first started working on MediaElement.js two years ago for a demo at the Echo Conference in a talk I did with Nathan Smith. The Biola Lecture was actually accumulated ideas that I’ve been working on since 2008 when I gave my first such talk at the BibleTech Conference.  And the Bible Software in Arabic? I’ve been tinkering with that kind of thing for more than five years.

So even if my plan was to replicate this fun event of having lots of things recognized all at once, I would need to get to work on Monday and hope for a link storm in 2016, not Tuesday.

4. I Didn’t Even Do It All

In just about every case, what I’ve done is the built on the work of others and wouldn’t exist without them. The DTS website? We hired out an amazing designer (Chris Merritt) to create the visual design, and my co-worker Michael Jordan did a ton of work over the summer to make that design into a real website.

The 50,000 Arabic Bibles? I just did the coding on one part of it. Many teams of people at Digital Bible Society built additional tools, did quality assurance, and printed the SD cards, and other teams in London distributed the software. And that doesn’t even count the people who actually, you know, translated the Bibles! My Biola lecture was built on the ideas of others and given at a conference put together by a team of professors and students. And even my video library has dozens of contributors on Github finding bugs and making it better.

Again, I did do a lot of good hard work, but seeing it as a part of many larger efforts helps me enjoy it even more since the network of people exists long after the tweets die down.

5. Tomorrow, It’ll Be Forgotten

As cool as all of this is, the Internet moves fast and tomorrow someone else’s amazing work will catch people’s eye. That means that I can have fun with it for a day or two, but then I need to let it go and not seek to hold on to the feeling.

This isn’t just some over spiritualizing, it’s a physiological reality. As soon as those tweets and like started firing, I remembered that such electronic queues generate a dopamine response, and when the beeps and boops, the sudden lack of dopamine can feel like a real let down. It then becomes really tempting to try to drum up more tweets to perpetuate the high. But by not placing too much value on myself and knowing it’ll end in a few days, I can enjoy it while it lasts and then move on to doing new great work without missing a beat.

6. It Won’t Help My Baby Boy and Girl Get Through Middle School

I recently finished Steve Job’s biography and by far the most heartbreaking section for me was the interview with his middle daughter who says something to the effect of, “I understand why my dad wasn’t around much. He was working on important things, and he didn’t have time for me. I’ve accepted that.”

I don’t want to set my kids up to have to make that kind of excuse for me when they are older, and that means I can’t always keep up with everything that I want to do online. There’s always something more to do, create, and promote. But I’m the only one who can be there for my kids in this special time.

Speaking of that, we have some dragons to slay!

So if you have any tips of your own leave them in the comments, and I’ll get to them once they are sleeping.

Published by

John Dyer

In my day job, I work at Dallas Theological Seminary, and at night I write Bible software for countries whose leaders could be called "overlords." This one time, I wrote a book about technology and Christian faith. You can find out more about what I'm up to at http://j.hn/.

18 thoughts on “6 Tips for Handling a Perfect Storm of Internet Fame”

  1. Thanks for sharing John. Such a great perspective and practical way of dealing with the temporary fame. It’s great to see the attitude and influence of God in your life and how this effects you as a son and father. Blessings always to you, your family and endeavors.

  2. Great stuff! (As usual.)

    I remember you giving me much of the same advice when that Target post went viral. I was thankful for the advice.

    Proud to call you a friend, are for all the great ways God is using you. I was watching some of the Biola video the other night and telling Abbie about some of it.

    Even with a seminary degree I forget that people didn’t have their own Bible until recently. I guess I always pictured David hanging out in a cave reading Ephesians…. :-)

    Proud of you man!

  3. John, thanks for this. You do a great job of giving perspective. I really appreciate it. I always have to remind myself that what happens online, although not unvaluable, is very temporary, virtual, intangible, and unprecedented in terms of knowing how it will end. Thanks for the reminder. :)

  4. Hello John

    I like to see someone who has such a technical mind like you to be able and to desire to give so much time to the spiritual side as well.
    As it is correct what Descarte introduce that there is a gap between Mind and BOdy , Spiritual and Physical existence — but what he did not realize is that it is the sign of evolution if one can bridge this gap

    please contact me – I have a project for you
    Kiran

  5. I have a friend that recently got into the press. The Forerunner777 off youtube, can’t even get ahold of him anymore. I imagine that all the calls and stuff really could be stressful, but I hope it doesn’t burn him out?
    Thanks but I would rather live in oblivion.

  6. First off I would like to say awesome blog! I had a quick
    question in which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing. I have had a tough time clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out there. I truly do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints? Many thanks!

  7. Can I tell you how much fun it is to find out that the dragon-slayer I know just happens to be a pretty cool, big deal?! Congratulations on your success, John. I look forward to reading your book.

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