Have you ever visited an architect’s house, one they designed themselves? It’s fun to walk through it with them. They have so many things, arranged so thoughtfully, and share the space with such pride because of the personal reflection the house required to design (not to mention the effort it took to build). It’s really quite special. I think there’s a pleasure to having everything under one roof. You feel together, all of you at once. In a way, building your own house is the ultimate project for a creative person: you’re making a home for what you think is important, done in the way you think is best.
But the web right now is a house divided: a silo for each little thing that you make. As I look back at how I’ve used the internet this year, I’ve come to realize it’s not sustainable for me to continue this way. Hosting my things all over the place is fatiguing, never mind attempting to keep track of everyone in multiple places. I’m pretty good at juggling, but I feel split and overwhelmed, because these networks are sorted by what things are (a photo, video, snarky quip, etc.), rather than who made them. My brain works in the opposite way. It’s people first, so I don’t think “I would like to see photos,” I ask myself, “I wonder what Josh has been up to?” To find out, I have to visit each little silo and piece the story together. So, if you’re like me, you speed through and develop an uncourteous stance toward it all, because the stuff you really care about gets mixed in with a lot of accompanying bullshit.
The web runs on newness, but the massive quantity and disagreeable structure we place on that newness (cough streams) means it’s very easy to have your stance online become, as my friend Jason likes to say, “Fuck you, impress me.” Your coping mechanism for the glut becomes passing judgment, a weird and public version of sour grapes to deal with missing out, thanks to limited time and attention. You form an opinion about something in five seconds, because maybe if you kick it like a puppy, it’ll go away. We’ve all done this, but good god: asshole move. Good people don’t want to be like that. Especially if that grumpiness and ill-will seeps into the stuff you truly love, because you can’t pull it out from the bullshit.
A couple of concessions. First, reducing noise in digital products isn’t an easy problem to manage, both for the employees at these platforms, and especially for the users who are trying to figure out how to make that platform best work on their terms for their needs. That second group doesn’t get enough mention. Secondly: I’m over-saturated in a way most normal people are not. I’m an early adopter, but my type are the first to feel (and hopefully understand) the draw-backs and side-effects of whatever we’ve tried. Early adopters usually turn into early quitters.
While this callousness and irritability might be caused by the traits of certain environments online, it’s also just an attitude, so it can be modified. I can adjust how I look at the newness, change how I interact with these venues, and try to make a quieter, warmer, and slower place for my things. That’s good for the audience (I think), and good for my work and the things I share. You need to build a safe place so people don’t need to be on guard and stingy with their attention. If you can do that, we all get a breather.
It seems the best way for me to do this is to step out of the stream and “build my own house,” just like those architects. I don’t have to simplify or crop or be pulled out of context (unless I want that), which hopefully produces a fuller picture of who I am, what I like, and what I value. I’m returning to a personal site, which flips everything on its head. Rather than teasing things apart into silos, I can fuse together different kinds of content. Instead of having fewer sections to attend to distracted and busy individuals, I’ll add more (and hopefully introduce some friction, complexity, and depth) to reward those who want to invest their time. I won’t use analytics—actually, I won’t measure at all. What would I do with that data anyway? In this case, it’s just more noise. The singular thread that runs through everything is only “because I like it.”
So, I’m doubling down on my personal site in 2014. In light of the noisy, fragmented internet, I want a unified place for myself—the internet version of a quiet, cluttered cottage in the country. I’ll have you over for a visit when it’s finished.