The Top 10 Things I Took Away from Emma Gannon’s Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online

I recently picked up Emma Gannon’s book on Audible. I absolutely love Audible as I rarely have time to read but I love books. This service allows me to consume books while I’m driving, running, shopping, showering – whatever! I don’t even know how this book came on to my radar, because I’d never heard of Emma before I got the book, but it really spoke to me. Literally… it’s an audiobook. It’s part memoir, part self help book, part guide to setting yourself up online. I found this book so inspiring, and I referenced it in my blog for MouthMoney about using the Internet to boost your career

I thought I’d share with you my favourite things I took away from the book, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who has grown up online.

1. Never forget that in the early 2000s, MSN messenger was the social centre of the universe. Like Emma, I was all about MSN messenger in 2000. The early chapters of her book were a brilliant reminder of the dramas that carried on after the school day had ended online. I was cringing remembering changing my username to a meaningful song lyric, or going offline and back on again so my name would pop up on someone’s screen. Awesome tactics.
2. Be yourself! Emma recounts a hilarious story about how she used Google to fake being the perfect girlfriend for a guy called Max. In the Internet age it is so easy to ‘know’ everything – that’s why pub quizzes are no fun anymore! I remember a boy telling me he liked Joanna Newsome and within seconds I was an expert on her! Of course, it didn’t work out with Emma and the boy – faking it didn’t make it work!

3. Chelsea Fagan is awesome. Emma mentions the Instagrammer Chelsea Fagan who founded #totallyhonesttuesday. The bigger point though is that online, we’re keen to build a perfect persona for ourselves. Chelsea promotes taking the time out to post real life so we remember that not everything is filtered and photoshopped. We can’t be perfect all the time!

4. Sometimes, everybody stalks. Life was so simple before Facebook! You didn’t know what anyone was up to unless you asked them. Emma describes an epic Facebook session that took her to numerous accounts, eventually uncovering a secret about her boyfriend. There’s been so many times that I’ve lost an hour or so hopping around Facebook to find out if someone I’ve not spoken to since 1998 is still married….

5. We don’t all fit in little boxes. I was lucky enough to find my partner through online dating. Emma writes a great account of her foray into online dating, where filling out the profile was like applying for a job, and that the tick box answers didn’t quite let her express her true self to a potential partner. It’s true that it’s very difficult to pitch yourself to someone who is judging you by your pictures alone – as Emma found people were doing when she went online. It’s a scary thought.

6. You can’t have too many friends. Emma muses that it’s a shame that there’s nothing like Tinder for finding new friends (although, to be fair, my other half went on OKCupid saying he was looking for new friends… I just ignored him!) She also comments that she makes friends online, and sometimes people think this is strange because she has plenty of real life friends. It’s incredibly closed minded to think the only people you will be compatible with are geographically accessible. Hooray for Emma and her legion of far-flung friends!

7. Blogging is primarily for you. Emma has made a success of herself as a blogger, however she stresses that the success is not the most important part of the blog. It’s having an online space where you can write and be yourself without fear of judgement. She paraphrased Virginia Woolf, explaining that everyone should have “an online space of one’s own” and this is so true. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got about blogging was to write for myself, rather than to sell. That way, it’s a bonus when other people read it, not a let down if they don’t.

8. Work hard to build your brand. Emma is very clear that her success has not been handed to her. She’s worked her way up, learned her trade, networked, and built her personal brand from the ground up. She explains that some of this was done through internships and professional contacts, and some of it was done by working in her spare time. If you want it, you need to work hard and earn it, rather than just hoping you’ll say something amazing, it will go viral, and you’ll be set for life.

9. It’s ok to make a mistake and learn from it. One of my favourite stories from the book is one where Emma writes an article about some female comics, where she takes the view ‘women aren’t funny’. She looks back at it with an air of regret but she is honest and owns the situation. She wrote the piece because at the time it was what she thought. Also, she was about 21 at the time, and a lot of people change from when they are 21! She looks back on it and reflects that now she wouldn’t have approached the piece in the same way. Hopefully people who were offended by the article will read more by Emma, and realise what a great writer she is!

10. Our digital eulogy is being written by us. The book ends on rather a sad chapter, questioning what will happen to our online estate after we die. I had quite a strange experience the other week where LinkedIn suggest I add a guy who I know passed away last year as a contact. It felt strange that the website still thought he was out there, working and building his cv, when I know he’s not. Emma also points out that sometimes your online footprint might not be for you. It might be comforting for someone else to look at and remember after you’re gone. A comment, a photo, a memory. It’s very poignant and thoughtful, and a huge shift in tone from the rest of the book!

It’s a fantastic piece of writing, and these are just my highlights. If I could sum up this book in three words, it would be honest, funny and inspiring. I finished the book feeling like I’d made a new friend, and wanting to do more online. An instant favourite!

Ctrl, Alt; Delete: How I Grew Up Online is available from Amazon

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