Musician, tech journalist, app creator and now author, Claire Evans hungout with us in her Los Angeles home to talk about her new book, how writing helped her process her evolving relationship to the internet and why the internet is still human, for better or worse. Read on!
You just put out a very exciting book called Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet. How did you first discover that there were stories to tell and how did these women respond to having their stories be told by you? Did they view themselves as pioneers or were they ambivalent about their roles?
Broad Band spans about 200 years of history, so there are a number of different perspectives, but I think almost all the women profiled in the book had a clear sense of the value of their own contributions. They know what they did was important. In many cases, it felt like they were waiting for someone like me to come along and make a fuss over them—in the dozens and dozens of cold emails I sent in the process of writing this book, not a single woman turned me down. We don’t always need external validation to know our worth, but it helps.
I read somewhere that you said the process of writing the book helped you feel better about your place online. As someone who more or less grew up on the internet and has spent many years writing for it, what did that place look like for you before as opposed to now?
Well, when I was growing up, the Internet was my country. I’m sure it’s the same for many people of my generation, who are old enough to have experienced the Web when it was still wild. We could explore, remain relatively anonymous, discover things. Then there were the blog years, which were huge for me; I really became a writer in the mid-2000s, blogging endlessly about science and science fiction, trying on authority, working things out, having long thoughtful conversations in the comments. Learning. Now there’s a higher sense of risk, of receipts, of accountability—we really have to be fortresses, on-brand. I’m less confident that the Internet is my country. It’s less fun. Maybe I’m just getting old. In any case, writing the book gave me a better sense of how human it all is.
“I’m less confident that the Internet is my country. It’s less fun. Maybe I’m just getting old. In any case, writing the book gave me a better sense of how human it all is.”
For me, there’s an irony to shedding light on the women who built the internet and how the internet is, in many ways, a massive distraction/deterrent for myself and my peers to produce creative work. What’s your relationship to using the internet and how has it helped/hurt you as a creative?
Oh, totally. I never want to know how many hours of my life I’ve spent on Instagram—it would scare me to death. The distraction issue, for me, is a question of vastness; popping back onto the feed after a few hours away and it feels like I’ll never catch up. But I always say that when you have everything, you have nothing. Too much choice is paralyzing. I couldn’t do the work that I do without the Internet, of course, but when it comes to writing, I always need to streamline my working references down to a manageable pile of books.
Being a multidisciplinary artist is a rare feat! You’re a musician, author, tech writer, and app creator! It reminds me a little of how Miranda July talks a lot about maintaining a beginner’s mind as an approach to various mediums as a means to remain curious and open (and not bored). Does it ever feel intimidating to dive into something new? If so, how do you overcome that?
I like that. Miranda’s got the right idea as usual. Yes, it feels intimidating to dive into something new, and sometimes I do agonize about being too much of a generalist, but I think there is profound value to being able to make links between disciplines. I never want to be too myopically focused on one thing, because I may miss the bigger picture. It’s all in the connections. I like to tackle new mediums as a way of learning them; as a writer, I process ideas through writing, and pretty much will not remember anything I read unless I put pen to paper. It’s like a rollercoaster: the only way out is through.
“I never want to be too myopically focused on one thing, because I may miss the bigger picture.”
My boyfriend and I always check out 5 Every Day for date ideas because we’re boring people who need a little inspiration! It always reminds me that LA is filled with things to do. How did that come about?
I highly doubt you’re boring! 5 Every Day was a product of necessity; when my partner Jona and I moved back to Los Angeles in 2011 after being away for several years, we felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things going on in the city. We really wanted a resource to help us discern signal from noise, but calendar listings elsewhere seemed so…maximal. Back to that “if you have everything you have nothing” feeling. Eventually we created 5 Every Day, leveraging our personal networks of creative friends and everything we’d learned from long exploratory drives around the city. The most remarkable thing about it, to me, is that after five years we’re still nowhere close to running out of things to write about.
Give that your involvement with 5 Every Day pretty much makes you an expert on LA’s art, music and food scene, what are some exciting art shows, events or restaurants you think people should check out in LA?
I love everything that Happy Hour Agency does; they’re an experimental cocktail group that builds these wild custom bars and pop-ups. They have one right now in Culver City that’s alien-abduction themed. Zebulon consistently has the best music programming in the city. Every show that ICA LA has done since opening has delighted me; they have a really sharp, equitable curatorial model. I’m drinking wine and eating Triple Beam Pizza in Highland Park probably once a week. And finally, I can’t recommend The Voyager Institute enough, it’s a monthly pop-culture lecture series my friend Bret Berg puts on at Resident, a kind of cocktail night school where you can learn about obscure funk artists, arthouse cinema, or the finer points of Nicolas Cage’s career.
“I’m always optimistic about what women can contribute, because I’ve seen what we have contributed.”
How would you describe your home’s aesthetic? How much does visual art and design inform your home life?
We keep it minimal, with an underlying spirit of gentle goofiness. I’m too much of an estate sale addict to have a completely sterile home, but I try not to accumulate too much junk. Open space is important. I’ll always hold that one iconic picture of Steve Jobs, sitting in his empty living room with nothing for decor except that Tiffany lamp, as a key reference: only house what you love.
What visual artists, illustrator or designers are you most excited about these days?
I’m looking backwards, really. I love Tadanori Yokoo, pre-computer print layout, old Whole Earth Catalogues, 60s sci-fi illustration, especially old Penguin book covers, those Irving Penn and Issey Miyake collaborations. In terms of people working now: Metahaven, Sonya Sombreuil of Come Tees, the illustrator Jed McGowan, whose comics touch on a lot of my personal aesthetic references, and Steve Smith’s CGI stuff.
As someone who has spent a lot of time learning about the history of tech and how it’s evolved today, what role do you see women playing in tech in the future? Are you optimistic about it?
I’m always optimistic about what women can contribute, because I’ve seen what we have contributed. I’m less optimistic about Silicon Valley actually making seats at the table available. We may have to build our own world from the ground up.