This is a verbatim quote.
(“This” refers to the second part of the title. The first one is a lame reference to Stephen King, of course).
It is a question asked by a former colleague some years ago who had been exposed to my proto-blog websites for the first time. These websites are subject to my ongoing Website Resurrection Project.
I had planned to give you a dull, corporate-status-report-style update on the project, but there is nothing more to say but: To my utmost surprise I am really maintaining these websites still, in addition to this blog, in addition to our so-called company blog and websites (hardly discernible as such) … and in addition to excessive usage of social media since last year.
The more interesting question is: Why?
Why am I writing (pseudo-)blogs and why am I engaged in so many different conversations?
This post has also been inspired by Michelle Hatzel’s post on Virtual Dwellings. (Edit: Posting not available as per 2019).
I confess, my very first website was a business website (even discernible as such) – this was in 1997, the golden age of IT, before the dotcom crash – and me an aspiring freelance IT consultant. The Y2K version of this (German) site is still available, tagged as archived.
Thus I am not a serial website creator and deleter – I migrated the old stuff over and over to several new platforms and my rule is not to delete anything and cross-link all my profiles and websites. I am fascinated by the intricacies of Digital Legacy, by the way. (Edit – 2019: article now behind paywall. So much for digital legacy!)
The only exception to this was taking large parts of the website offline and gradually ‘resurrecting’ them now. I dare say one of the reasons I am writing online is my desire to confront myself with my dated writing and thinking.
I am intrigued by ambiguity and by attempts to bridge chasms, most notably the ones running through my own (online?) persona. This was what made me craft the lengthy site title of this blog and this made me create three different sites back then – different in layout, style and content. In this blog I am aiming at exactly the opposite by combining everything.
Often I felt compelled to or obliged to write an ‘expert blog’, e.g. on cryptography and digital certificates. Theoretically this is the way to build an online community and reputation as the social media experts tell us, and you should give back to the community and add to the free repository of knowledge that had been invaluable to me as a professional.
But I already felt bored before I even got started. Though I do write about science and IT I cannot disentangle that from personal stories and weird associations.
I called my personal website e-stangl.at my personal console – replying to my individual WHOAMI – and that’s exactly what it was. I started experimenting with the interaction between language, content, layout and the technical underpinnings of websites. I have spent hours in moving something one pixel to the left or to the right and musing about which colors to pick in order to perfectly represent the spirit of a website. (Voice from the future – 2019: I consolidated this site with my other two sites in a single one – preserving all the content and also the old URLs, at least until 2019).
Adding a disclaimer I need to state my web tech knowledge is dated now and I don’t say that my sites are particularly beautiful or well done. But my own web design and web writing is one of the few things I ever tried my hands on that are devoid of my – otherwise all-encompassing and irritating – perfectionism.
My ancient websites are based on a homegrown ‘content management system’ that antedated some of typical blogging softwares’ features, but it lacked the options of adding categories and tags in a flexible way. This is due to my former belief in being able to really categorize in advance what you are going to write about. But I am an avid re-tagger and re-categorizer, and re-arranging my web content is really raking my personal Zen Garden.
Yes, there is nearly only navel-gazing at these websites, and – in a sense – this is an upside of making a website your fortress on the web, your personal dwelling. Though I had received unsolicited feedback via e-mail now and then, I know I am writing only for myself. Since these are technically not blogs and not hosted on a well-indexed platform they are basically not found. The whole point is writing with an imaginary public audience in mind that theoretically could read it, but not in your wildest dreams expecting any feedback ever.
I started this blog with the same ‘intentions’, but suddenly the fortress with its well-defined boundaries turned into a conversation. Years before I had loathed the concept of my comments published at other websites and other bloggers’ comments published to mine – blurring the boundaries between ‘mine’ and ‘your’ virtual territory. I imagined all kinds of stalkers and fringe scientists invading my websites. Unfortunately that did not happen.
Now I consider myself part of that large network and I don’t care about the boundaries. It is the process, the endless stream of different conversations that meet in a place that I might call my online dwelling. It is like a roundabout or crossroads, not like a building.
This is most likely the reason I plunged in to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ gleefully – as a rather late adopter. Again I finally ‘got’ the idea of resharing and retweeting existing content which seemed absurd and useless to me before: It is about being a thought leader DJ. I accepted that all human utterance is entirely plagiarism (Mark Twain) and came to terms with all of writing (any myself) being cliché. No, this time I won’t pingback to my article featuring Sandra Bullock as the nerdess. quoting my article about cliché has become cliché it its own right.
The greatest mystery to myself was probably why I am blogging in English. About 10 years ago I had suddenly decided I needed to have an English version of subversiv.at and e-stangl.at. [Voice from the future: Adding all those voice-from-the-future comments everything is getting tedious. Anyway, sites have been merged in 2015, and will be merged more in 2019]. I planned for a 1:1 correspondence of English and German pages and I failed epically on that: I dreaded keeping them in sync. The English version just never wanted to be a translation of the German one or vice versa. It was more like: Here is a keyword – now write down your free associations in German and English.
I am not sure if this explains anything but my English reading at that time comprised the following books that I still consider most influential.
- Mike Daisey’s 21 Dog Years: Doing Time at Amazon.com
- The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual. I did also blog about it here and Chapter 1 written by Christopher Locke – Internet Apocalypso – is still The Definitive Piece on The Internet for me.)
- Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs
- Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The following website – my first English-only website has materialized itself out of the blue in 2005 after having devoured such books in parallel to your daily dose of ‘corporate communications’. It was about a ‘group project’ whose activities I had the honor to chronicle.
For better or for worse: My brain switches to English when pondering on smart aliens who plan to subvert the corporate world, for example. I had written extremely weird stuff in German also – that triggered the quote used as header, but German and English weirdness cannot be translated into each other. As an important initiative in The Website Resurrection Project – I started commenting on my former, weird German ‘Subversive Newsletters’ in English, and I started adding ironic and sarcastic comments on my former Pivotal Articles in German such as my graduation speech.
This post has reflected an important characteristic of all my online writing: It is a about trains of random thoughts, loosely connected, and not all planned strategically. It is finally about a global conversation, not so much about exposing my monolithic work of art to the public.
If you do not know how to close a random post – add a quote:
We long for more connection between what we do for a living and what we genuinely care about, for work that’s more than clock-watching drudgery. We long for release from anonymity, to be seen as who we feel ourselves to be rather than as the sum of abstract metrics and parameters. We long to be part of a world that makes sense rather than accept the accidental alienation imposed by market forces too large to grasp, to even contemplate.
And this longing is not mere wistful nostalgia, not just some unreconstructed adolescent dream. It is living evidence of heart, of what makes us most human.
— Christopher Locke in Internet Apocalypso, Chapter 1 of The Cluetrain Manifesto
Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site.
Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.
— Thesis Nr. 22 of 95 of The Cluetrain Manifesto