June 27, 2007
Interview with C3 Alum Geoffrey Long, Part I of IV

C3 alumnus Geoffrey Long has recently graduated from the Program in Comparative Media Studies here at MIT. This is the first of a four-part series of interviews with Geoff regarding his background, his time working in the Convergence Culture Consortium, and where he is headed next.

Sam: What was your background before coming the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT and the Convergence Culture Consortium?

Geoff: My interests have always been a weird hybrid of storytelling, technology and design. I was an only kid, and I grew up in a rural Ohio farmhouse built before the Civil War.

We didn't have cable at our house, so when I was at home I read and played in the woods a lot, but I crammed in crazy amounts of TV at my grandparents' house after school. My favorite shows were the G.I. Joe and Transformers cartoons, which would often run multi-part episodes, but since my Mom only worked a couple days a week, I'd usually miss half the episodes and I'd have to fill in the gaps in the story myself.

Looking back, I suspect that's when I first became interested in negative capability, which would eventually become my primary focus for my Master's thesis.

My love for reading soon turned into a love for writing, and I made some really embarrassing magazines on the Xerox machine at my Dad's office, and when Dad brought home an Apple Macintosh SE I discovered desktop publishing.

I was the dork who would stay in from recess to make new graphics for the elementary school newspaper, pixel by pixel, in Newsroom or Print Shop. Yeah, I was that guy.

When I got to high school, I became the co-editor of our newspaper, but my real interest was in literary and art magazines. I'd discovered the big, glossy design magazines at a Borders in Fairlawn, Ohio and was amazed by the kinds of things these guys were doing with computers.

I also bought every issue of WIRED I could find - I still have some of the early six-color issues in a box somewhere. Those were the days, when each issue was seven bucks, was crammed with stories about William Gibson and R.U. Sirius, and looked like it was designed by a baboon on acid. Seriously, they were almost unreadable, but I loved every one.

Our high school didn't have a literary magazine, so I started one myself. There's nothing like growing up in the middle of nowhere to really install a DIY mentality in you. By the time I graduated, we were mailing copies around the world, thanks to posting notices about our zine on some early BBSes.

The Internet didn't really hit until my junior or senior year in high school, but my best friend Nick and I would sit for hours in his basement, surrounded by computers and his dad's old radio equipment. Nick was the one who really introduced me to the web. We eventually got AOL at my parents' house, but I'd go to Nick's or into the College of Wooster library for "high-bandwidth" surfing.

I miss the days when HOTWIRED was considered the peak of web design. I myself didn't start building websites until the summer after I graduated from high school, when I was working for my Dad's company making newsletters in Adobe PageMaker.

The President of the company had asked me to make the company a website. This was 1996, so it didn't matter too much what the site looked like, only that the company had one. I think that first site was complete with a 3-D version of the company's logo, but to my credit I don't think I made it spin...

I did my undergrad work at Kenyon College, where I majored in English and Philosophy with concentrations in Creative Writing and IPHS, which was the Integrated Program in Humane Studies.

In a lot of ways, IPHS was a cousin to Comparative Media Studies - Dr. Michael Brint was the head of the program, and he encouraged students to use new media to explore the humanities. Websites, CD-ROMs, games, 3-D animation, all of it was fair game. It was heaven. If I could have majored in IPHS, I would have.

In 1999, I took the literary magazine I'd founded in high school online, and my webzine was born. I did this while studying in England, largely as a way to stay in touch with my friends back in the States, but that was where I really cut my teeth on web design.

When I graduated from Kenyon in 2000, I moved to Washington, DC and went to work as a designer for a medical best practices research company in the Watergate building. I started out as a temp doing print work, but quickly became the department's first web designer, then their first web producer.

After two or three years I left to start my own consulting company, where I did design work for dozens of small companies around the country, including the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, which was a Harvard teaching hospital.

I moved to Chicago after a while to return to the Midwest, where I did a ton of work for a bunch of voiceover artists, some medical clients, a progressive rock band, a couple of startups... All of this was great, but I missed the storytelling part.

I'd read an article online about something called 'transmedia storytelilng' by some guy named Henry Jenkins, so I did a little research and soon found myself applying to the Comparative Media Studies program. CMS and C3 were really the perfect place for me to continue thinking about how to design, develop and create new media types as narrative forms.