Eight months ago, I was miserable.
On paper, it seemed like everything should be going right. I was working long hours at a promising startup in a rapidly growing industry. My job was to use cutting-edge digital marketing technology to optimize email content; I worked to find the most compelling language possible, to tap into the phrasing and rhetoric that would inspire people and drive them to action. I was learning the craft of perfect subject lines and clickable links, honing my skill set, polishing my resume.
And I hated it.
My emails went to tens of millions of people, but I wasn’t really communicating with any of them. My carefully-tested copy drove thousands upon thousands of purchases, but I wanted to care about something more than some corporation’s bottom line. I was working with some of the most advanced communications tools in the world—and I was using them to sell sweaters.
That wasn’t me.
Let’s go back a decade or so. The high school I attended wasn’t especially distinguished. Our football team was mediocre; our debate team didn’t win championships. The one thing that Riverton High was good at—the thing that made us unique—was Silver Rush.
Silver Rush was our annual holiday fundraiser. (The name was a play on “gold rush;” our mascot was the silverwolf.) Every year, we would pick a charity that helped underserved members of our community: newly-arrived refugees, homeless teens, domestic violence victims. The whole month of December was dedicated to raising money for them. And at that, we excelled.
The great thing about Silver Rush was that it brought the whole school together, and everyone found ways to help out. The choir had a benefit concert. The food science class sold baked goods. The track team did a “fun” run in 20-degree weather. I shoveled snow in exchange for donations, and sang holiday songs outside the local grocery store, and gathered spare change. There were so many events and volunteer opportunities that most nights, I didn’t get home until 8 or 9 PM (and that was before homework). For me and my classmates, the whole month of December dissolved into a cocoa-fueled haze of sleep deprivation, caroling, and the camaraderie that comes from advancing a good cause.
A lot of other schools in the area tried to emulate Silver Rush. Our biggest rival, Bingham High, had a perennial goal of raising more money than we did. But the attempts to create a rivalry missed the point entirely, because the thing that made Silver Rush great was that we weren’t competing with anybody.
Our slogan was “It’s not about the dollars, it’s about the change.” Everyone took it to heart—and the first proof was that nobody knew how much we’d raised until after the fundraiser was over. We weren’t trying to show off; we weren’t trying to prove anything; we were trying to make the world a better place. My senior year we set a new record, raising over $129,000 for children who needed wheelchairs.
But it wasn’t the numbers that made Silver Rush the highlight of my high school years. It was the feeling of making a difference.
So by the time 2019 rolled around, as I was working for that digital marketing firm, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d lost my way somehow. I was creating campaigns that earned millions of dollars at a time, but each big win felt a little empty. I couldn’t shake the sense that there was more that I could—should—be doing to give back to society. And I was so sick of writing subject lines about sweaters.
So seven months ago, I applied for a job at the Internet Archive.
What I found at the Archive was something radically different from the world of marketing startups. It was a team with a vision—not of venture capital funding and IPOs, but of a great library for all. It was work with a purpose—not synergy or hypergrowth, but preservation, education, accurate information. And it was an organization that survived not on e-commerce but on people’s goodwill—the dedication of countless volunteers, archivists, librarians, and programmers, as well as thousands of donors big and small.
December at the Internet Archive is a busy time. We launch our end-of-year fundraising drive right around Thanksgiving, and chaos ensues. Everyone is scrambling to make sure that our donation systems work and our banners are up to date, that the letters are sent and the events are organized, that the checks are counted and the newsletter goes out on time. The days are a haze of coding, camaraderie, and—yes—sleep deprivation. This month, I’ve been working long hours; I’ve been trying to craft perfect subject lines; I’ve been looking for ways to inspire people and drive them to action. And I couldn’t be happier.
If you’ve seen an Internet Archive email in your inbox lately—a newsletter or an event announcement or a donation request—I’m the one who put it there. I’m done selling sweaters. I’m selling a vision instead.
It’s a vision of a world without disinformation, a world where verifiable facts are just a click away. It’s a vision of a great library for all, where the best that humanity has ever produced is freely available. It’s a vision of universal access to all knowledge.
So far this year, thousands of people have joined in supporting that vision, chipping in a few dollars to keep the servers running and the lights on. And it’s a privilege to read your comments, and hear your stories, and see the direct impact that your support has on the mission of the Archive.
My favorite moment, so far, came near at the beginning of our fundraising drive, when I happened to check the donations tally. The number is constantly changing, but for one brief moment, I saw it hit exactly $129,000. The same amount we raised for Silver Rush during my senior year of high school.
And for that moment, it felt like the entire world had lined up just right—like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
If you’d like to contribute to the Internet Archive, please visit archive.org/donate. You can also show your support by getting the word out on social media or telling your friends and family about our work. We’re grateful for everyone in our community—we couldn’t do it without you.