Origin stories

Mathew Mytka

Mathew Mytka

Moral Imagineer

I was born into a hippy Christian cult called the Children of God. At this time my dad was running a artsy cafe in Adelaide. What I can remember from this early part of my life was that it very disruptive and traumatic. Some of it I just wouldn’t share on this blog. But I moved around heaps as a child across the east coast of Australia. Living in communes in inner Melbourne, on a farm in Bendigo NSW and then to suburban Sydney.

When I was 5 years old my mum ran away from my dad with my five brothers and sisters and we spent a few years in refuges. The first several years of my life was fairly precarious and disruptive as you can imagine. The constant moving came to an end and a semblance of stability came to my childhood and adolescence when we moved into government housing estates. Though with this came all the shenanigans and social dysfunction.

I was fairly good academically at primary school, in the chess club and excelling at sports. By the time puberty kicked in things changed. Lot’s of underlying tensions in my psyche coming to the fore as is the case with this coming of age period.

At 14 I got kicked out of school and was understandably a bit of a troublemaker. Many of my teachers in high school said I would end up in prison, a junkie in the gutter or dead before I was 20. Not the type of thing you wanna hear and hardly something that would help me to overcome the adversity I faced.

Once I was out of school I thought I wanted to become a chef as I did like cooking. That went out the window when I realised I’d basically be washing dishes for a year or more. I decided to just find any job that would take me.

I ended up working as a factory hand for a for a few months then went on to become a bricklayer, then foreman and later onto project manager, working on both residential and commercial construction projects. I enjoyed this work, outdoors, building stuff. But in my personal life I was getting wasted, fighting on the streets and just doing stupid shit that had a high probability of getting me killed or ending up in prison. Drugs, fighting and crime was just what was most familiar. It was what the people around me were doing that I weirdly respected at the time.

During this period I was dealing with a significant amount trauma from early childhood. I was angry. I was self destructive. At my father in prison who’d seemingly abandoned his family unable to deal with his own trauma. But also at the world and the injustices I saw and experienced.

It’s hard not to be angry when the cops hassle you, beat you, or take your dope, then show up high later on and taunt you. Or when your community advocates for the council to ensure a block of land goes towards a youth centre but ends up being sold to developers. It’s hard not to be angry when the lens you see the world through is about being a victim of systemic corruption. Of a world with men at the helm that have cremated care.

But I came to a proverbial fork in the road. Me and my crew of delinquent friends all started using heroin and I was certain I didn’t want to go down that road. I distanced myself from them, shifting my focus to bodyboarding, waves and work. I had more time and space to think and feel. To learn.

I starting reading again, my curiosities drawing me towards science textbooks. So here I am at 19, not really having picked up and read a book since school, curiously reading about geological systems, the biosphere, human physiology and cellular respiration. It was an explosive period of learning for my active mind.

At this point I’m still working in construction leading teams of tradesman in commercial projects. I realised I was a little out of place one day in the lunch room.

All the other workers are chatting about football, what happened at the pub last night, the bets they’d made on the horses and some random banter I didn’t really connect with. And then there was me, sitting in the corner reading my biology textbook.

I realised it was time for me to pursue something different.

I remember telling my late Grandfather, a stonemason, master builder and the biggest positive male role model in my life, that I wanted to go to university. He jokingly dismissed it saying I should stick to my trade.

I was getting written off by those around me at the idea of going to university. It was reasonable to dismiss, I didn’t even finish high school, I was a delinquent, how could I go to university?

I looked into what was the best pathway to university for someone like me. I came across what’s called a Special Tertiary Admissions Test and begun understanding what I needed to learn to do it. I booked in to do the test and chickened out when the day came. Afraid I was just not meant for it. The universe would lead me down this path later.

When I was 21 I got assaulted by a bouncer which fractured vertebrae in my neck. This put me out of work for a while. I was devastated. My dreams of travelling the world, riding waves and competing in bodyboarding were shattered. A year later I blew out my knee while playing rugby and had to get a knee reconstruction. While waiting for my surgery we had our team trip to Bali planned. My knee surgery was scheduled for the same week so I was going to miss out. It turned out to be my saviour. The Sari Club in Bali got bombed that year, many died. 5 of my team mates included. I would have been in the club with my mates on that fateful evening. I always reflected on it after that I was saved by a twist of fate.

My injuries forced me to rethink. I couldn’t continue with the hard physical labour of construction. And the idea of a career as a project manager in that industry did not appeal to me at all. I looked at other pathways and decided that going and starting from the basics was going to be best.

At 24 I went to college (TAFE) to finish off my high school studies. My plan was to complete my high school certificate and go to university to study biochemical and systems engineering. But my science teachers sucked and my humanities teachers rocked. This reality influenced my trajectory somewhat.

I finished high school with a pretty solid result which gave me some good options of what degrees I was eligible for.

I had three options that came back.

  • Law and public policy
  • Engineering and systems science
  • Communications and social science

After some exploring of the course material and reflection I decided on a communications degree at the University of Technology, Sydney. My degree major was called social inquiry. A mashup of sociology, media and technology studies and applied research. It was fitting as inquiring into our complex social fabric and the role of technology in this complex tapestry deeply intrigued me.

One of my first year subjects in 2008 was called ‘An Introduction to Social Inquiry’. Pivotal for my course but taking me down a rabbit hole to later emerge anew.

I lathered myself in the knowledge presented in the required and suggested readings. Traversing domains, devouring everything I could as the threads in my notes and sketches demanded.

But there were two books that fundamentally altered my worldview.

The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge’ by Peter L Berger and Thomas Luckmann and the seminal work by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar ‘Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts‘. My research and reading culminated in an existential crisis. Drawing out realisations that were profound and deeply uncomfortable at the same time. As someone that had spent the past few years more immersed in the hard sciences than that of sociology and anthropology it was revealing. Particularly as Latour and Woolgar’s work took aim at the modern institution of science and knowledge construction itself.

My history, life experiences and ways of knowing and learning were altered. My personal story seen anew.

All in all, university was a really stimulating environment for me. Though I was the pesky and inquisitive mature age student that annoyed my younger peers. Many of whom just wanted to drink, socialise and get “P’s” to pass their degrees. Find some job to satisfy their parents expectations and live out the preordained narrative and role prescribed to them in the cosplay they were living through. But I was there to learn and follow my curiosity. It set me apart. Spending less time in the uni bar and more time in the library. More interested in continuing discussions from our class tutorials and exploring the hypotheses than playing drinking games. More devoted to praxis.

Amidst this I did manage to connect with the students that actually wanted to learn something. I took side courses in neuroscience and social psychology through MIT OpenCourseWare while doing my main degree. Interested in the brain, human behaviour, perception and altered states of consciousness. I developed a keen interest in power dynamics and political economy. I was curious how media distribution and propaganda shaped peoples perceptions, how the modern web and surveillance technology was changing peoples behaviour, and how the trends in digital technologies and knowledge systems were shaping our human societies. It was a set of interwoven themes that has persisted in my work in various ways since being at university. A time where the transition from MySpace and having Tom as your first friend to that of Facebook and the spectre of the 2008 financial crisis.

I met some really wonderful humans at university, two of which were studying journalism. Olivier and Tormod. We explored some video journalism projects for a while, eager to put what we were learning into practices. Then ended up producing a feature length documentary and spending a few months filming in Papua New Guinea.

In between all of this study over the course of 8 years I had some cracks at starting businesses, raced downhill mountain bikes (and broke my back and many bones). Had a few odd jobs, built grassroots creative communities, got involved in activism and ran a creative warehouse space, plus a few more entrepreneurial pursuits.

In 2012 I went to Mexico and Costa Rica. Spending some time at a jungle retreat exploring various dimensions of my being with the help the plant medicine Yage and shamanic rituals. This was a powerful experience that shaped my perceptions of self, the world and my role in the universe.

Returning from Central America I went on and started a family with my brilliant and beautiful partner in life. Bringing into being 2 wonderful little humans.

I spent time learning by doing and developed some UX design and Product Management skills. Dabbled in coding and built a prototype P2P social data wallet app on BitSync (Bittorrent storage). Got involved in the emerging communities around blockchain and decentralised technology and data networks. Especially the mind blowing Safe Network in 2014, which I have maintained connection to. At this time as my first born was about to come into the world I helped create Australia’s first entrepreneurial college in Sydney. This is where I fell in love with helping others to learn. Designing courses and getting into learning experience design and the social context that encourage multi-dimensional learning.

I’d also returned to the ocean at this time. Reinvigorating my love for surfing and bodyboarding while in Costa Rica. I got into the competitive and community side and became a local and state bodyboarding champion. Even managed to get 2nd in Australia in 2015.

My professional pursuits continued…taking a role as Head of Platform Product at personal data and identity startup Meeco. I left there, pursued another startup idea in health and wellbeing tech before leading product and growth at an Australian cryptocurrency exchange (which was later acquired by Kraken). A fella I met while working at Meeco then enticed me to join forces to grow a services business…working at the intersection of privacy, trustworthiness and ethics in digital technology. Working across the globe, supporting people in organisations to define and operationalise data and digital ethics frameworks and helping to shape data sharing ecosystems globally.

Now I continue my journey. Learning how to integrate all my diverse life experiences to help us to better relate to one another, learn together and live in a more mutual and symbiotic relationship with the living world we are part of. To create futures for human and planetary flourishing.

I’ve had various attempts at blogging over the past 25 years. This post zero is a revisiting of a writing and publishing journey I feel is gonna last.

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