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The Shovel Mental Contagion
Conversations with other human beings

Craig Newmark of Craigslist
speaks with Gene Dillon
| Photo [left] by Ann Ly

Craig Newmark started craigslist in early '95 as a means of better connecting to people by letting them know about cool or useful events happening around San Francisco. It rapidly grew into a massive non-commercial community bulletin board with classifieds and discussion forums. Using a common sense, down-to-earth approach, craigslist strives to make the 'net more personal and authentic, while advocating social responsibility through the promotion of small, non-profit organizations. His blog is a nice wealth of valuable news and information as well, at

GD: Craig - Thanks for stopping by. I finished the last Shovel by asking some people how they would feel if they woke up and their house was gone. Everything - clothes, possessions, food... They all seemed to think that they would be relieved. Do you ever feel that way - burdened by your stuff to a point of wanting to start a huge bonfire? Or is this just a temporary yearning, like the joy of going camping, after which we can't wait to get back to a shower and a TV?

CN: You're right, sometimes I think I'd be better off with minimal possessions, living in a small studio. I'm quite conflicted in this regard. Nevertheless, there are some things I really do want, like daily showers and the TV that I do like.

GD: Wow! You respond quickly to emails. How did you develop such a marvelous and well-appreciated habit?

CN: I'm just a little compulsive; also, this way I can keep up, and don't need an assistant.

GD: I just went to Wal-Mart for the first time. We have this new single-pod coffee-maker at work. I drink a hell of a lot of coffee, so it was my turn to buy some pods, and they cost $5.50 for 18 pods. What a ripoff! So the guy who bought the machine goes online and finds out that I can get them at Wal-Mart for $3.80. Wal-Mart, and noplace else. So I went to Wal-Mart, because I figured that it would be a way to USE them, and in the process, stick it to the coffee company. Is that wrong? I felt bad immediately, when I saw the old man standing by the front door. I heard about this - he's a greeter. In short, a token nice-guy - it improves their image in small towns where Main Street has been decimated. He handed me a cart pleasantly enough, but he could not conceal his sadness for having to be there. Have you ever been to Wal-Mart? Is there any truly good reason to go?

CN: I'm completely conflicted about this, my only solution is to visit Costco, which offers low prices, but treats people better.

GD: What is the importance of being genuine? Do you find a lack of sincerity in our culture, and if so, how is this affecting us?

CN: I guess that means being honest with yourself, connected to reality, and we all recognize, on a deep level, that's required for personal and cultural survival.

GD: And seeing as the evolution of our planet is being managed by massive entities, intertwining governments and corporations, and these entities are mostly self-serving and rather insincere, are we in huge trouble?

CN: I think people overall are getting smarter, and using the 'net to connect to fix things. Better quality news is needed for that, and professional and citizen journalists are working together toward that end.

GD: So in the efforts of the individual, there is hope. But are MOST people paying attention, or are they too busy watching American Idol, driving their kids to travelling soccer tournaments, and rehabbing their kitchens?

CN: I think a lot of people do pay attention, more than enough. It depends on what else you have to do, and what you're passionate about.

GD: People see Craigslist as the biggest section of classifieds ever assembled, but I see it as more of a unique opportunity for people to share. Had we lost that spirit of sharing, and do you feel that we're getting some of that feeling back through the web?

CN: I think we all have the spirit of sharing, it's just not noticed a lot, it's not news in the usual sense.

GD: When you look at Craigslist - the sheer size of it, and the gazillions of people using it all the time - finding yourself at the center and seeing yourself at its beginnings.... How does that make you feel?

CN: I'm flattered, but getting far more attention than I want.

It does feel good to help lots of people.

GD: You seem busy, but also mellow and in control. How do you keep the peace? What is your antidote to distraction?

CN: Ah, not so mellow, I do suffer from long-term stress.

Fortunately, now and then I realize the absurdity of my life, then laugh, that really helps.

GD: Occasionally I have visions of myself "working the soil" or fixing cars. Do you ever dream of working in a more physical reality?

CN: No, I'd prefer to have nothing to do with reality.

GD: What would be 5 things that you would do this year if only you had the time?

  • caffeine addiction
  • spend some weeks in NY
  • spend some weeks in Europe
  • obsess more about something
  • think of a fifth thing

©2006 Mental Contagion • Making Space for Visual Artists & Writers