I recently(ish) received an email inviting me to speak at the 2015 Web Summit. How did this come to be? Well let me give you the back story.
About four or five years ago, when I was in the thick of working towards my Biostatistics PhD, a kind of tumblr blog became popular. These tumblrs would take a silly picture of the actor of Ryan Gosling, and add some text that would start with the phrase “Hey Girl”. For example:
These became quite popular. Then someone decided to rather than have the text of these Hey Girls merely reflect the ridiculous picture of Ryan Gosling, to add feminist theory facts and called it feministryangosling:
I decided to make my own “Hey Girl” blog with silly Biostatistics puns/in jokes. And thus Biostatistics Ryan Gosling was born. Here’s what my first post was:
Just two days after my first post, Biostatistics Ryan Gosling started to go viral. First I noticed that I was getting a lot of reblogs, then the online media started to take notice. My favorite was that the Daily Dot misspelled Biostatistics as “Biostatics”. At any rate, the blog became really popular. 10,000 hits a day popular.
If you have ever been in the dissertation phase of a PhD, you may know that it does not bestow the rewards of immediate gratification. In fact, the whole dissertation process is almost set up as a test to see if you can withstand constant rejection, repeated returns to metaphorical and literal drawing boards, and regularly-scheduled realizations of the limitations of one’s knowledge and abilities. Writing your dissertation doesn’t involve quickly writing something down, and then having hundreds of people voice their approval in a matter of seconds. When you write your dissertation, you are lucky if anybody besides your dissertation committee actually reads it.
So when Biostatistics Ryan Gosling started getting mentions in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Buzzfeed, and when I started getting people approaching me at parties asking me if I really was the Biostatistics Ryan Gosling, you can imagine how thinking up silly Biostatistics puns was starting to feel like a better use of my time then slogging away at my dissertation. I created an email firstname.lastname@example.org, and got hundreds of fan emails lauding my “brilliance”. It was absolutely intoxicating, and basically the opposite of what it felt like to be writing my dissertation.
Eventually it got to be too much. I felt overwhelmed by my quantum of internet fame, and deciding that I needed to limit my distractions, I pulled the plug on Biostatistics Ryan Gosling. I not only stopped posting to the blog, but I took the entire blog down, relinquishing the url biostatisticsryangosling.tumblr.com. As a strange aside, in a matter of hours after taking the blog down, someone who sells scrap metal in England has since taken over biostatisticryangosling.tumblr.com. So if I have done nothing else, at least I have played a role in assisting a small business.
About a year later, with my dissertation starting to shape up, I decided to put the blog back up. Having lost the biostatisticsryangosling.tumblr.com url to the scrap metal purveyor, I now have biostatisticsryangoslingreturns.tumblr.com. It is a lot less popular now then in the first iteration, but that is actually fine with me. I am kind of tapped out on creating more posts, and the blog serves more of a record of what once was.
At any rate, I still occasionally look at the blog, and at the email account that goes along with it. After not checking the account for months, I found the following email from somebody named Paddy Cosgrave:
I’d like to invite you to speak at Web Summit. The Web Summit is an annual gathering of the world’s leading tech company founders, executives and creative thinkers described by the Wall Street Journal as “Davos for Geeks” and the New York Times as a “Grand Conclave of Tech’s High Priests”. I noticed you follow some people on Twitter like Elon Musk, who’ve been to our events in the past.
As Europe’s largest tech conference, we bring over 30,000 people to Dublin from 100 different countries, across 6 continents, as well as over 1,200 international journalists from the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, CNBC and many more. Over the past 4 years, the conference has become less about technology and more of a celebration of innovation.
Elon Musk, Bono, Will.I.Am, and more have spoken at our event, alongside the Secretary General of the World Bank, the founding chairman of the WTO and the former General of NATO. We’ve also welcomed the heads of the world’s largest financial institutions, Fortune 500 Corporations and foremost political leaders. Attendees have included the founders of some incredible companies including Twitter, Skype, YouTube, Uber, Tesla Motors, Dropbox, Netflix, SpaceX and many more, whose recent impact on the world has been both profound and far-reaching.
We feel that your outstanding contribution to your field has made a significant positive impact on the world and your presence and insight at the event would be warmly welcomed.
I wanted to keep it short for now, but Sarah (cc’d) and I would be more than happy to provide further detail for your office to consider.
There are a few things I would like to point out about this email:
- The only place that this email account is published online is on the Biostatistics Ryan Gosling tumblr (and now here). On that blog, I make it pretty clear that Ryan Gosling is not actually the author of the blog.
- I am addressed as “Ryan”.
- Somehow he has noticed that I follow Elon Musk on a twitter account that I do not have
- Elon Musk is mentioned or referred to a total of three times
- I’m a little unclear on what my outstanding contribution to my field is, but I’m glad it has made a significant positive impact on the world
Regardless of who the organizers of the Web Summit thought they were emailing, I emailed them back to clear things up, but to also accept their gracious (though factually incorrect) invitation, signing the email with my actual name. Sadly it looks like I will not be going to Dublin, as I have heard no reply.
And that’s how I (sort of) got invited to address the world’s leading tech conference.