Lately I’ve been thinking about what we, the people of the internet1 are doing.
To be more honest and more precise: I’ve been thinking about what I am doing – both professionally and with my life. My initial plans and ideas, how my life would progress were pretty much spot on for roughly the first 26 to 27 years. That’s not quite the case anymore and for quite a long while now I’ve been circling in a holding pattern.
While this is all nice and relevant to me, it’s not what I want to write about publicly.2
What I’ve been noticing is that we – and by we I mean me – don’t really produce anything tangible. We write code, we write texts, songs, we draw and paint – but in the end it’s all bits and bytes.
I had this epiphany last week when my sister and her boyfriend were visiting me. He’s a printer and of course my actually rather big hill of random stuff I ordered from Moo and MagCloud was something we talked about.
Turns out3 – I like to order some of my stuff printed out because if gives me at least some feeling that I actually created something.
The intangibility of my work and of the stuff I do as hobby projects is growing to be one of the root causes for my constant disaffection. The code I write at work, the code I write at home, my blog posts, my photos, my drawings4, the podcasts – everything basically ceases to exists as soon as I switch off the computer.5
So basically it is nothing. If I die6 and take my passwords with me, nothing will really be left for the world. The stuff I bought over the years and that I want to get rid of, anyway. A couple of printed photos. A bunch of accounts to online services that nobody can close down because nobody knows the passwords. And objectively this is a good thing: the world is already overflowing with crap from the living people, we don’t really need all the stuff from the dead, too. But for a person, it can be pretty disconcerting.
And I am obviously not the only person who feels that way.
Friends of mine who take pictures all the time print them out pretty regularly. When I visit Teymur‘s studio or Jan Manuel‘s home, they have prints of their pictures hanging there. They might have other reasons7 but the effect and the message at least to me is clear: They have their stuff digital, intangible, fleeting, and they’d like to have them in a way that is somehow more substantial.
Other people make real, proper books out of their digital work. Craig Mod compiled the creation of Flipboard for iPhone into a book, Tom Armitage did something similar with his bookmarks a few weeks earlier.
Now where does this leave us? How can we escape the circle of putting work into one endeavor after the other, which might get closed down as soon as it is ready to see the light or sold off or just declared to be done and put somewhere to slowly rot away? How can we create something of actual value that stands the tests of time?8
And if that’s not a possibility, how do we learn to be able to live with it?9
- I know. I’ve cringed, too, while writing it. ↩
- At least not yet. Sooner or later the over-sharing part of me will take over. You know. The one you all know from Twitter. ↩
- Turns out… ↩
- And don’t get me started on Draw Something where everything just lasts a few tiny seconds. ↩
- I know, not really. And yeah, there’s the phone and backups and whatnot. But for the sake of the argument, all of this is basically like Schrödinger’s cat. Or at least the pop culture version of it: as soon as the computer is switched off, I have no way of knowing whether it exists or even ever existed. ↩
- You can see how this post is slowly turning light and happy. ↩
- Maybe they really like their own work, which is something I can’t understand that well. Not in their case, theirs is good, but I never really managed to like what I create. But that’s a whole different topic. ↩
- Doesn’t have to be a lot of time. But it’s good to see stuff that has some solidity to it. ↩
- I know that many people don’t need to learn it. The “Let’s throw stuff at the wall constantly and see what sticks.” mentality is rampant out there. Call it “perpetual beta” or “lean startup pivot” all you like, in the end the result is the same. And sadly enough it’s usually mud or other soil-like substances that are more likely to stick to a wall. Solid stuff tends to fall off. ↩