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i like when this didn’t require me to enter a title before i entered a post

1. I was on this stupid thing where I thought I should start carrying a fake phone and wallet in case I was mugged. So I bought an iPhone 3G for $20 on eBay, which is the same exact phone I had nine years ago. It is ridiculously small and uses a different dock connector and has a shit camera and plastic back and is missing about every feature you could imagine. No Siri, no Apple Pay, no Find my Phone, no Facetime, no front camera. The OS is stuck like six or seven versions ago. I think the current Facebook app wouldn’t even fit on this phone. It’s sort of wonderful.

2. My allergies are so insanely bad since I got back from Alaska. I always joke about moving there like the Anthony Edwards character from Northern Exposure, who lived in a geodesic dome to escape his allergies, but I’ll be god damned, that would actually work.

3. My new watch tracks my sleep now with the Sleep++ app, and I don’t have to remember to start the app first – it just figures it out. It’s amazing to see how much I sleep when I take Ambien, and how many times I wake up in the middle of the night when I don’t.

4. For some freak reason, I didn’t drive my car at all this week. When I had to drive somewhere Friday, it was caked with a layer of dirt like I’d left it outside at Mt. St. Helen’s in 1980 or whenever that was.

5. I remember people selling bottles and jars of ashes after M.S.H. blew up. This was all pre-internet, so I’m not sure how I knew about this. Maybe it was in the el-cheapo ads in the very back of Parade magazine, where they normally sold biblical coins that were supposed to be older than Jesus but were actually punched out of sheet metal from Ford Pintos and then artificially aged in vats of Coca-Cola.

6. I’ve been writing the bulk of my next book by hand. No reason, except I write a lot of it in diners. It’s challenging, because I can’t read my own handwriting, and I only get maybe a hundred words per page of these little pocket notebooks.

7. I started reading about the bad effects of cortisol, the stress hormone, and how it stops you from losing fat and makes allergies worse, and now I am convinced that is like the nexus of every problem I have right now. And googling “get rid of cortisol” gives you ten million pages that basically just say to sleep more and be happy about your life, and maybe eat more salad.

8. I subscribed to a Facebook group about people who grew up in my home town, and everyone in the group is functionally illiterate. Like, they don’t know the difference between “to,” “two,” and “too.”

9. I also looked up my home town on TripAdvisor, and the top ten restaurants included Cracker Barrel, Perkin’s, and Texas Roadhouse.

10. I was going to go on a big rant about tenderloin sandwiches and mandala effect, but my dinner is here. (I ordered a salad for some inexplicable reason. Maybe the cortisol thing. I need to stop it with the Joe Rogan Podcast.)

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The Awl

So it looks like The Awl is no more. Another blog bites the dust.

The Awl started in 2009, originally some folks who left The Gawker and decided to do their own thing from their apartment in Brooklyn or whatever. It was a general culture blog, with emphasis on New York City, and a bit more about new media, comedy, and technology or online life, with a wry and sarcastic sense of humor, and less of an emphasis on the usual celebrity stuff that drags down a lifestyle blog.

I don’t remember how I got hooked on it — maybe some cross-posting from Boing-Boing or Wired or something. But I started following it religiously in 2010 or 2011, reading every day, commenting frequently, sometimes deep-drilling on research when I read a story that interested me. And I always kept it on my distant radar that I’d try to write something to publish there, some nonfiction or memoir piece, maybe a smarmy cultural analysis thing, I don’t know.

I think one thing that did come out of that was that in that 2011, 2012 timeframe, I blogged a lot more here, and was probably influenced by The Awl to write more article-like things. That always happens, through osmosis or kleptomania, maybe a mix of both. I was writing a lot in general then, trying to find a way to restart a mostly-dormant writing career that hadn’t released a real book since 2002. I didn’t want to be a journalist, didn’t want to fall into that “new media” category or anything, but it shows in a lot of my writing here that I was influenced heavily by that. (Go read an old post like The Death of Death and tell me I wasn’t reading The Awl when I wrote that.)

Another big takeaway for me as I think back over the last ten years of The Awl is how it fed some need to be a New York expatriate, in a weird way. I left Manhattan four or five years before that, which is six lifetimes in New York time, but I had some distant nostalgia for the city then. Magnify this even further by the fact that I started remotely working for a New York company in 2010, and would occasionally find myself in town again, but would also virtually be in the city every day. Reading stories about the hyper-gentrification and strange politics and book gossip and the struggles of living on The Big Smear partly satisfied that need for me, at least a little.

Like all online properties, The Awl got stupid at one point a few years ago, either flipped ownership or editors or something, and the ensuing reboot just wasn’t as interesting to me. I stuck with it when I could, but it no longer became a daily read. Some of this was just the way blogs changed over time: long reads became one-page reads; articles became listicles; opinion pieces became link-bait topics. Things slowly morphed as ads dominated page layout, comment sections vanished, and it went from being a bunch of cool kids exchanging smarmy jokes to a… well, whatever it became. Not really a blog anymore.

I’ve been in my head a lot lately about what’s going to happen when Facebook dies – that’s another article I’ve been meaning to write for a bit. And it makes me think a lot about the cycle of life of these web properties, like SomethingAwful or Fark or Digg or whatever. I know there are things that I used to use daily and then somehow abandoned, and I always wonder why they lost critical mass with me, and with everybody. When did everyone make a conscious decision to stop using MySpace? Was it because Facebook was so much better, or was it because everyone else stopped using it?

And it makes me think a lot about what the next thing will be. I am trying to make more of a conscious effort to blog here, because I will always have this blog, and can always keep going. But I’m shouting into the darkness here, and there’s no network around this, no way for me to follow others, draw in new readers, find like minds, or whatever. This is a single silo, connected to nothing. That’s fine by me, but it’s not the solution for others. Other people won’t blog. They aren’t idiots like me.

And I don’t know shit about how to make money on this, and I never run ads here or strategize some grand scheme, like picking focused topics and trending keywords and how to flip these posts into a book proposal that will get me a deal, blah blah blah. This also is not a way for me to sell books — my writing here is much different than the writing in my books, and I’m a horrible marketer, so who knows what works. So I can’t pull the “I made a million dollars blogging and you can too!” scheme to get the rest of you creative and interesting folks to entertain me by writing your own blogs.

But yeah — the death of a blog like The Awl makes me think the trend is going in the wrong direction, and that’s frustrating. I feel like I have the lifelong dream of opening an indoor shopping mall in the Midwest, then getting in the car and cruising around the dying remains of the malls of Indiana and Ohio and Pennsylvania. It’s depressing. It makes me wonder what is next.

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KONCAST Episode 7: Andrea Donderi

http://koncast.libsyn.com/episode-7-andrea-donderi

In this episode, I talk to long-time friend Andrea Donderi, a recent graduate of The MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

We discuss: the IU support center; the early web; knowledge bases and creating content; Jorn Barger and the invention of the blog; Gopher versus the WWW; the ChiNet BBS and other internet BBSes; social networks before social networks; hoarding old email; identifying as a writer; learning how to capture life as a writer; the Stanford Stegner Fellowship program; the Warren Wilson MFA program; how a low-residency program works; Victor LaValle and David Shields as teachers; the one fellow graduate student/actor who has been in everybody’s MFA program and shall not be named; Zeroville by Steve Erickson; the inevitable UFO discussion; the government keeping secrets in the desert versus the internet; Don Donderi; and is an MFA worth it?

Links from this episode:

– Andrea’s blog: http://loosestrife.dreamwidth.org

– Jon Konrath: http://www.rumored.com

– The Warren Wilson MFA program: http://www.wwcmfa.org

– Don Donderi’s site: http://www.ufoets.com

– Zeroville by Steve Erickson: http://amzn.to/2eEMTFW

– The UFO documentary I couldn’t remember was Mirage Men: http://www.miragemen.com

 

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LiveJournal

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-10-09-35-amIn the quest to find some better way of doing all of this, I started thinking about LiveJournal. (I actually have been thinking about a lot of the mid-00s web stuff I used to use, because sitting on FaceBook all day is probably a dead end, or I feel that I’m not reading or writing enough. Like, did reading Slashdot, Fark, and an armada of blogs in Google Reader help entertain me any better than seeing the same four news stories posted a hundred times a day?)

I wasn’t a heavy LiveJournal writer; I had a fake account (username: unabomber) I started in 2000 just to comment on other peoples’ stuff, then started one as jkonrath in 2004. I’d post updates, but I had an earlier pre-WordPress iteration of this blog as my main home. But I would hit my friends feed constantly, and comment a lot.

LJ seemed to be “the place” to go to be social online for a while, like pre-MySpace, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter. I was trying to think of exactly why though. The site’s still there, as is my account, so I poked around a bit and tried to remember. What did it offer that my blog did not? What was the draw?

Plusses:

  • It was dead simple (and free) to open an account. It was invite-only until 2003, but after that, anyone could get in.
  • Posting was not hard. It gave you a box and a subject line, and you typed and clicked “Post” and that was it.
  • There were fun little things you could add to posts, like what you were listening to, and what your mood was.
  • You had a certain number of profile pictures, and it was always fun finding new little pictures, or swapping to a different one based on your mood that day.
  • You could theme your page to some extent, changing colors and styles. Some people got really into the design of their pages, although when you’re reading your friends feed, you don’t see those customizations, and I basically didn’t give a shit about having flaming red text on a black background with pictures of wolves and fire and ninjas and shit all over.
  • Basic privacy settings could lock posts and accounts to be friends-only.
  • Communities, where permitted users could post to a feed. These were great for interests (I was in a baseball one for a while) or areas (lots of people had groups for their towns or home towns.)
  • You could (if you had a paid account) host a feed to your external blog, so the posts would show up on LJ.
  • It was locked in. You could sit and spin on your friends feed, and read all the posts (in chronological order, too) and in the mid-00s, a lot of people were posting, so there was some good conversation to be had.
  • There weren’t ads during the heyday, although that changed later.
  • It encouraged long-form posts. Or maybe people just typed more back then, before we were all programmed with horrible ADHD.
  • The feed was chronological only. No Fuckerberging of the order and appearance weighting of posts.
  • There was post commenting, and that got used a fair amount. Commenting was more streamlined than other blogs, because you had the single system for everyone, whereas it seems like every free-standing blog has a different commenting system, or they use something like Disqus, and people get all pissy about having to sign up for it. If you were using LJ, you were signed up for commenting, so it was a no-brainer.

Minuses:

  • The UX is horrible. Log in to livejournal.com and then try to find anything, and it takes ten clicks. It also started to look a bit dated and clunky going into the late 00s.
  • There was no “like.” I think that was the big killer versus Facebook. When you post on FB, there’s this little micro-validation you get in your brain when other people like your post. LJ didn’t have this, so the motivation wasn’t there. I think the little crack hit of likes is one of the main drivers for FB, and it’s also its downfall. The discovery of this gamification around the end of the 00s is the reason casual gaming now exists (well, that plus touchscreen devices with good graphics) but it’s also a big part of our dumbing-down as a culture.
  • The long-form thing meant good content, but it also may have been a reason people dropped out.
  • Images and image hosting were always an issue. You could add external links to flickr or elsewhere for your images, but the two-step process was messy. They now offer image hosting for paid accounts, but it’s a limited amount, and mostly a feature to entice people to pay. It’s nowhere near as nice as the FB interface for photo uploading.
  • No fine-grained security. You could not be friends with someone and not see their content. You could not hide a single post from your friends feed, like when you got sick of seeing the same thing pop up on every time. (I use the FB hide post constantly these days.)
  • No post sharing. This was a plus, though. Imagine FB without the ability to share stupid political posts or mom memes.
  • No (real) mobile stuff. I think they have an app, but it’s a piece of shit. So many people post on-the-go now in FB/Twitter, and LJ never had any of that. That may have been one of the reasons it focused more on long-form stuff, because everyone was sitting on a PC while composing their stuff.
  • Various business decisions slowly sank the ship. The company was sold in 2005, and then Brad Fitzpatrick left in 2007, and it was sold to some crazy Russians, who continued to run it into the ground.

Other:

  • I remember a lot of shit-storms over privacy issues, like people having to lock out exes and then said exes getting a different fake account to read their stuff, etc. Now, blocking and banning is simple in FB, but there was a lot of drama back in the day.
  • I also vaguely remember some moderation issues, with people or posts getting censored, and a bunch of outrage.

I always wonder if something could replace LJ and FB. Would some technical balance between the two work, or would some perfect storm have to happen to lure enough people to the community to make it viable? I think the biggest feature of LJ was that it had a community, and it had a critical mass of enough users to make it interesting and fun. But when that went away, so did its usefulness.

How do you create that again? I guess that’s the question every attempt at community tries to answer. I futz around with posting here, but it’s an isolated island in the middle of nowhere, with no community, no connection to the outside world. I post on Facebook, but it’s Facebook, and it is becoming a dead end. As I find Facebook more and more intolerable, I try to think of a replacement, but that lack of critical mass, of community, is the huge problem.

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blog death freefall

So many blogs are shutting down. I just heard The Toast is shuttering on July 1. Bookslut has published their last issue. And it seems like I have a hundred blogs all added on my feedly account that haven’t done anything in months, years. It seems like every “blogging is back” article is matched with a dozen soft closings, the authors moving on to whatever the next scheme is.

We’re five and a half months in, and I’ve only posted a dozen times here. I did the back-of-envelope math, and based on number of published posts (1175) divided by number of years (19) divided by 52 times weeks in 2016, I should have like double that. But average in the dead weeks and months of the past, and whatever whatever (shut up about the math Larry, this isn’t a deposition) I should be posting much more.

The reason for all the high-profile shutterings is those are businesses, with a business model and ads and serious attempts at engagement and community and all of the bullshit I do not care about. I was blogging before there was blogging, and in the early/mid 00s when blogging was Serious Business and every single-focus blog was getting book deals, I was still posting about what I ate or read or wanted to write. And most of those blogs died when the ad revenue died, and all of these “veterans” who started in 2010 are now falling away, and I’m still here. Except I haven’t been here. What’s my reason?

I hate blogging now because when I sit down at the wp-admin console and look at the blank screen, I always feel a need to write an “article,” like a full-on Esquire piece. I feel like writing a hundred words about the Lebanese meatballs I had for lunch is somehow “off-brand” or not becoming enough to be a blog post. But when I go back through posts from 2004 or 1996, I realize that’s all I did, and I enjoy going back to see them. I have this feeling that when it’s 2025 and I go back and look at 2016’s entries, I’ll wonder what the hell happened to me.

Is it because of WordPress? I wonder if it is the tool. It’s not the best writing experience anymore; I really dislike the little text editor window on the web page. I bought a copy of Desk and it was interesting, but kept fucking up formatting and could not sync correctly. But aside from authoring tools themselves, there was something different in how doing this by hand in emacs framed things. Like I never had to enter titles before, and I loved that. Just that little difference made spontaneous blogging easier.

I’ve thought about either opening some microblog or switching tools here. That launches me into a spiral of indecision. I don’t like the idea of moving to Tumblr and getting sucked into the politics of the teenagers there; I don’t feel like going to Medium and competing with the New Yorker-wannabe writers there. I want to own my content, and not have to deal with an insane migration path when whatever hosted service gets acquired and then shut down.

I should just get in the habit of coming here, posting something short, and not giving a fuck about the blogosphere or the business of the web, because ultimately, I don’t. But I guess at some level I do, and that’s the rub.

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Mexican hookworms and shipping companies run as a hobby

I’m not sure which is more depressing: a long-running blog with no entries for months, or the blog post that has a giant preamble talking about how sorry the author is they haven’t posted, the promise to post more, and the likelihood that this post will be an island in the middle of a long body of nothingness. I guess both are better than then site vanishing and redirecting to a Chinese boner pill site, or the long “farewell” post announcing its closure.

I’m still semi-obsessed with hookworms. My allergies go in cycles — not seasonal, but they wax and wane, according to some unmeasurable cycle. And when they get bad, and it knocks 40% of my efficiency away so my body can run my immune system overtime, I start googling dumb cures, which is always a bad thing to do.

The other night, I ended up on some crazy helicopter parent autism site about antihistamines and diet. I’m not saying autism is crazy; just the ideas about crystals or chanting or gluten or whatever else that seem to cross-pollinate (no pun intended) into every other autoimmune disorder’s narrative. Anyway, there’s a low-histamine diet, I think it’s called, and I read enough to start thinking it almost made sense, until the person started talking about the evils of microwave ovens. Then I tuned out.

I already wrote about hookworms a few months ago, which is the danger of this blog. I have a dozen and a half years of various memories here, so when I am suddenly inspired to write about that Christmas in 1992, it turns out I already did. Anyway, I was thinking of the hookworms and that made me think of going to Mexico in 2009, and caught food poisoning. We took this tour of a coconut plantation, which was interesting, but then they had a huge lunch, and brought out a salad, and I think every person at the table stared at the washed greens, and thought “I’m going to get dysentery and die if I eat that” and the guy said “don’t worry, is filtered water!” and so everyone reluctantly took two bites to be polite, and everybody got sick.

I didn’t get as sick because I’d been taking probiotics prior to the trip, but to me, probiotics are the same logic the flu shot: you’re trading a low-level misery for a long time to avoid a brief burst of heavy misery. Some people love probiotics and think they cure everything from allergies to paralysis. Every time I suddenly decide “I’ll start taking probiotics” I get whatever supplement or drink, and it gives me a horrible taste in my mouth 24/7 and I think “this is the rest of my fucking life” and then stop.

And to some people, the simple act of me saying “no, I don’t think I’ll have crippling abdominal cramps and the taste of garbage in my mouth forever” is like taking a dump in the holy water at the Vatican. I get the endless “maybe you aren’t buying the right stuff,” which is basically like “maybe you’re not stabbing yourself in the eye with an expensive enough pencil.” So there’s that.

A lot has been going on, and writing’s been uneven. It’s been long enough since the last book, and I didn’t like the last book, that I feel an overwhelming need to put out another book, because the other ones are slowly rotting on the vine. But I have two projects, and one has no structure or purpose, and the other looks like it could take years to finish. So there’s that. I have a couple of stories out and accepted, and they’ll show up at some point.

I’ve fallen down a horrible music gear k-hole, and have bought three basses in 2015. For the record:

  • Ibanez BTB-686SC Terra Firma – very beautiful and great-sounding. But 35″ 6-string, which has me lost.
  • Squier Jaguar short scale – Great $170 bass, but incredibly neck-divey. I replaced the tuners with lightweights and the bridge with a heavyweight, but I still can’t get into the ergonomics.
  • Lakland 44-01 – love this bass. Lowest action ever, and very great sound. It has a really bright “modern” sound to it, which is the opposite of my Jazz.

I’ve also fallen into a Don Delillo thing. White Noise was exactly the book I needed right now, and is an absolutely incredible piece of absurdism. Libra was a great historical piece, about Oswald and JFK, but had me on the edge of an all-out Nov 22 Book Depository k-hole that’s endlessly deep with far too much online reading to do. I’m mostly through Falling Man right now, and it’s decent, although I typically can’t deal with 9/11 stuff. Ratner’s Star is in the mail right now.

Also, is it just me, or has Amazon’s service gotten much worse since they raised the price of Prime? I swear, before the increase, two day Prime meant two days. Now it’s “well, let’s take a day or two to get our shit together and ship, and then it’s two days from there. Unless it’s a weekend. Or you know, any of those 4 or 5 days take place on a weekend. Also, Mondays and Fridays are sort of part of the weekend.” It doesn’t help that our UPS service routinely takes multiple days after something goes on the truck, because we live in the ghetto, and when the sun sets, if the driver’s not done with his route, fuck it.

OK, need to figure out what I’m writing.

 

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More on this “return to blogging” thing

Okay, so Marco Arment says this: http://www.marco.org/2014/11/01/short-form-blogging

And I agree, on a few things.  First, I never understood twitter. It’s a good format for telling a fast dick joke, or dumping a link to a news article with no comment. But it’s not a good way for me to communicate. I can’t even start to think in 140 characters, and even when sharing a simple news story (which I seldom do these days) I need some context around it.

The problem, though: I have this big blog and I have over a thousand posts of over a thousand words each, and I have this subliminal pressure that each new post here has to be a “thing,” like a complete newspaper article or short story. The bar is set too high for me to do anything less than that, and because of that, I go weeks without saying anything.

To me, this isn’t a tool thing. I don’t think anything beyond WordPress would naturally change things. It would give me a new box to not fill up, and make me worry about what belonged in New Thing versus what belonged here, just like how I worry about what belongs in books versus short stories I publish versus here versus twitter.  I could start a new blog, and call it something else (an “update site” or a tumblr or whatever) but, same problem.

This article is closer to my mindset on this stuff.  I need to stop over-thinking what belongs as a post here. I also need to stop thinking about tags and post types, and I especially need to stop thinking about what traffic I get, or how I can get more traffic.  That’s irrelevant. So’s the idea that if I put enough quality text here, that people will somehow find it by searching. The days of searching and SEO are largely dead.  I rarely fire up a raw google box and type in “cool stuff about ninjas” and expect to find a quality site or blog that I will fall in love with.  I shouldn’t waste my time trying to write content with that kind of mindset.

But I do enjoy reading sites like that, personal sites by people with content about their lives, and not just top ten lists masquerading as articles, or news sites.  It seems like all of the content I now read is nothing but this. I feel like I’m not alone in this, and if people actually blogged genuine, sincere content, people would want to read it.  The next question everyone will ask is “sure, but how do you make money with it?” And that’s the problem.  We need to stop fucking asking ourselves how we’re going to make money on it, and actually live.

 

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more return to blogging garbage

I saw a bunch of articles recently about “the return of the blog” and suddenly remembered I have a blog and I never update it, and maybe while I’m circling rudderless on this next book, I should maybe think about that.

I have all of these various “content boxes” to fill, and never know how to evenly distribute the random chunks of thought. Should I be posting ideas to twitter?  More pictures to tumblr?  “Serious” photos to 500px?  Meme photos to Facebook?  Stories here, or submit the stories, or expand the stories and push them into books?  And when I do all of those things, in some mystical, perfect combination, then what gets posted here?  News and info, or what I ate for lunch, or… what?  The anxiety and uncertainty over all of that makes me not post.  The only real answer is to write.

They are drilling a hole under the highway across from my house. There’s a large vacant dirt lot across the street, the immediate view under my third-story windows.  The power company has leased the land and has an armada of heavy machinery there now, large drills and generators and containers and backhoes and other unknown things, surrounded by a temporary fence emblazoned with the name of an industrial rental company every ten feet. During the day, they’re essentially drilling for oil sideways, running segments of pipe into this patch of mud and debris. I think they pump in water, or suck out mud, or something, the mess being sifted by a large machine that looks like if a dumpster had sex with a Sherman tank. The sound is not incredibly loud, but it’s loud enough, and constant. I think they will be doing it for a few more weeks. I hope they find some dead bodies, or a UFO. I’ve got in the noise-cancelling earbuds, which do little, and have some stupid new-age meditation music playing, because I have a splitting headache.  (I think it’s mostly allergies, though.)

I started my own social networking site this week, and then decided that was a stupid idea and closed it.  So now I’m sitting on the domain for RathSpace.com and don’t know what to do with it.  Any of this stuff is a waste of my time though, and I should be writing. I have become more and more disillusioned with Facebook, not the actual software itself or the company, but the people I follow. I have some really good friends on there, and then a bunch of people who only post about Ebola and whatever NFL player did whatever to whoever last week. I often wish I could find my own clique or group out there, but the more writers I find online, the more I realize I’m army-of-one’ing it over here.

I have been piddling with this UFO cult book, and it’s going slow, so I keep throwing words into the chasm of this book that’s essentially a sequel to Atmospheres, but that has no tracks yet, no structure or theme or anything else. It’s fun to work on, though. The audio book for Atmospheres is done, awaiting approval, so hopefully I will have news on that in a bit.

 

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Happy birthday, Wrath of Kon

This site has been here, in one form another, for 17 years now.

In 1997, I got together a couple of half-baked elisp scripts and installed them on my shell account over at Speakeasy. This was before the word ‘blog’ was invented.  Mark Zuckerberg was 13 and Facebook was nowhere near an idea yet.  Social networking consisted of AOL chat and not much more.  56K modems were just hitting the scene, and some people had moved up to 800×600 screens.  Google didn’t exist, and everyone used Alta Vista.  There were about a million and a half web sites, compared to the three billion we have in 2014.

Back then, WordPress was not an option. LiveJournal had not been invented. Blogger would not launch for a few more years.  But I wanted to keep an online journal somehow.  My friend Bill Perry helped me come up with a script in emacs so I could hit a key combo and it would open up a file, named with that day’s date, with all of the HTML at the top and bottom of the page, so I could easily type that day’s entry and have a page per day.  I then wrote the world’s shittiest C program to generate the index, which sat in the left frame of the page.  (Remember frames?  Shit.)  My goal was to telnet into Speakeasy every day, and use my lunch hour to practice writing, with little public entries about current projects or observations or whatever was going on in Seattle.  I’d have no way to write about my travels – laptops were huge and expensive; mobile internet was not a thing; phones were giant bricks; PDAs were either being figured out or were the Apple Newton.  And photos were not much of an option, unless I took them with my 35mm, scanned them with a scanner I did not own, and then smashed and flattened them so they’d download on a slow modem.  Text was king, and my plan was to keep writing short essays and updates, even if my life was boring and I didn’t have some hook or theme to the whole thing.

After I moved to New York in 1999, blogs became A Thing.  I resisted calling this a blog for a long time.  (“It’s a journal!”)  Teenagers started livejournals.  The Blogosphere happened. Due to the Iraq war and W and all of that, the news cycle became bloggy or gave blogs legitimacy or whatever.  Every engineer that got laid off during the 2000 NASDAQ crash and bubble bursting started a blog company and then sold it to Google for millions.  Professional blogging became a job.  All of these niche blogs happened, and if you were a twenty-something and had a quirky blog and were a Cool Kid, you’d get a book deal to scrape your text into print.  Maybe it would become a movie.  (A blog where someone cooks all of the crap in a cookbook?  Really?)

I had good years and bad years of blogging.  There were a couple of times I stopped, and went dark.  (1998, 2000)  There were years I barely entered anything.  And there were years where I had daily entries, huge essays, long trip reports, and pieces of fiction that ended up in books.  I did a book of blog entries from 1997-1999.  I like it, but nobody bought it.  (It’s out of print now.)  I often thought about doing another book, but the blog-to-book model is annoying to me, and nobody buys my books anyway, so it’s not worth the time.  I often struggle with what to write here and feel bad that I don’t blaze away daily like I did ten years ago, but I eventually do come back.

Those scripts went away a few years ago, and I switched to using WordPress.  And I eventually stopped resisting the term blog, although I did it just in time for blogs to be dead.  I guess I still have some readers here, but it hasn’t been about monetizing this, and it’s never been my main writing project.  It’s not here to sell my books (it doesn’t) and it doesn’t get the attention my other writing does.  But it’s been around long enough that it isn’t going anywhere.  Even if the blogging culture fully dies and everyone spends time on some new site where you just record a grunt and exchange them with friends who grunt back, I’ll still be here typing.

But yeah, 17 really puts the zap on things.  I remember when I was 17.  A lot of people I know were still shitting in diapers in 1997.  And there’s this strange wave of 90s nostalgia, a “hey, remember…” movement for a time that feels like it was a week ago to me.  Time’s strange.

Anyway, thanks for reading.  I’ll keep writing if you keep showing up.  And even if you don’t, I’ll probably still keep writing.

 

Categories
general

Curators Versus Creators

I haven’t read Mashable in a while, and for whatever reason, decided to re-add it to my RSS reader.  Within about five articles, I suddenly remembered why I stopped.

First, half of the articles were link-bait about various {Apple_Product}-killers.  Like there was an article about how damn neat HP’s new “answer to the iMac” was, despite the fact that the last iteration of the iMac came out in 2009.  But the tipping point was this article about how “curators” are the new creators, which makes no sense, but it makes total sense because in about ten seconds, everyone’s going to be trying to get rich quick fucking around on Pinterest.

So I unsubscribed, and then a day later, The Awl published this great article: http://www.theawl.com/2012/06/you-are-not-a-curator-you-are-actually-just-a-blogger which sums it up exactly.  This.  Times a million.

I started using the web in 1991, when it consisted of nothing but the office hours and phone numbers of everyone in our computer science department.  By 1993 or 1994, there were a few thousand web sites, but something like one percent of them were actual dot-coms, because you couldn’t buy anything online, and putting up a web page for your company wasn’t a requirement.  The ISP floodgates hadn’t been opened, so for the most part, all of the content of the web was academic, either universities or people who went to universities.

I remember though, in the summer of 1994, being amazed that some high percentage of web pages out there were nothing but lists of links to other web pages.  This was before blogs, and most home pages were nothing but a big list of what was cool on the web.  This frustrated me, because I was just starting as a writer, and I wanted to do something different.  I wanted to actually create content, but I didn’t know what.  I was obsessed with Coca-Cola and created this Coke web page, wrote a FAQ and a timeline of the company.  I guess this is when I discovered I’d rather create things, but it also made me aware that there was a huge industry in people who would simply list the things they liked.

And this became a big business when a couple of guys at Stanford decided to publish their own web directory and turn it into a company.  There weren’t search engines yet, just these lists of links, maybe organized into categories or some other taxonomy.  These guys named their company Yahoo! and suddenly this hobby of making lists of links became the industry of Web Portals.  In the mid-90s, sites like Lycos and Excite came online, and this concept of writing content that wasn’t content became Serious Business.

There was content creation at that time; all of the news organizations were trying to figure out how to dump stories from dead trees to something that would drive traffic.  And then online ads started, and online shopping, and then pictures and video and you know the rest of the story.  But at that time, from maybe 1995 until the bubble burst, Web Portals became huge.  If you had the right kind of tie and haircut, you could walk into a venture cap firm and tell them you were creating a Web Portal, and they would hand you a seven-figure check.  All of the ISPs came into being: AOL, Prodigy, CompuServe, Netcom, and all of them wanted some kind of portal to hang in front of their users.  Back then, you paid by the minute to use the internet, and they wanted to you fall into a deep hole of news articles and bulletin boards and online recipe books and whatever the hell else would cause you to turn off the TV and get locked into “CyberSpace”.

So I’m at the bottom of the food chain at one of these ISPs, and that cycle I saw a few years before of content versus linkers was huge.  I chipped away at my own web pages, but I also saw a world of Grade-A douche nozzles who went to the right Ivy League school who were suddenly “Changing The World” by “Building The Information Superhighway”.  They weren’t creating anything; they were shaking the right hands and wearing the right suits.  They were creating nothing but houses of cards, and every person and their brother suddenly thought, “hey, I can’t create shit, but I can cash in on this.”  And when everyone tried, they all pulled out a card from the bottom of that house and it collapsed.

These cycles repeat themselves.  Blogging was “invented” in the early 00s, and there were a chosen few who actually created things, wrote stuff, but the bulk of people didn’t create; their blog entries were just links to other blogs.  Twitter started, and then a huge plurality of Twitter traffic became nothing but people retweeting what they saw that was clever.  Same with Tumblr.  Same with Pinterest.  The line between creating and curating got blurred, until the curators thought they were the creators.

It always reminds me of when I worked at software places where the marketers said they “created” a product, when I knew they didn’t write line one of code.  They may have helped define what went in the product, but it was like going to McDonald’s, ordering a #2 with no pickles and a Coke, and saying you “created” the meal.  Curators get the credit.  And they get the money – when a site like, say, BoingBoing reposts a bunch of stuff they find on the internet and run ads at the bottom, they aren’t slicing up that ad revenue and giving it back to their sources.  Yes, they have to power the servers and pay the web developers and ad sales people and it takes work to find the stuff to post.  But I’d guess that the curator is making the lion’s share of the profit.

A lot of this may sound like sour grapes, and I guess it is.  I became a creator because I had a certain personality, a certain temperament.  Maybe I had the creativity too, but it was mostly because I didn’t have the extroverted personality that made people pay attention to me in some Don Draper-esque way.  I was the opposite of that, which is why I kept to myself and created.  And I guess if I was the opposite of me, I’d have the skill-set to sell ice cream to Eskimos, or sell a web log filled with things people should read to a bunch of people who have 8.6 billion things to read a click away from them.

At least I’m not an actual Curator, a person who went to school for twenty years to learn how to run a museum, who suddenly had every idiot out there looking at wedding dresses online saying they were a “curator”.  Right?

Okay, time to go post some cat pictures on Facebook.