On Writing, A Retrospective
I often struggle with the idea of timeless writing, which is the main reason why I have given up most of my coverage of current events. Take, for instance, Pebble’s recent Kickstarter campaign and announcements about their new wearables; I had my smart wearables piece in progress for awhile before publishing, but I hesitated to post it when there was new information on the horizon. I am not in the race to post up-to-the-minute information, I am in the race to post good information, accurate and authentic information, information that I can look back on with pride. I write this knowing well that I have not been a good steward of my site in recent months. However, a little while back I did finally complete one of my long-standing wishes, to bring my entire back catalog into a single site. To bring a bit of finality to this move and in keeping with my promise of simplicity, I dropped the accounts associated with the older posts as well—goodbye, Tumblr and GitHub Pages.
The Back Catalog
None of this is to say that my back catalog is full of timeless works. On the contrary, my back catalog is what one would expect from a college student's Tumblr account: GIFs, reposts, links, and images, intermingled with the occasional moment of clarity, an entry in the volumes of my quest to be a better writer. Take as an example the oldest entry now hosted on this site. The context for the post is admittedly old—a fellow technology blogger moving away from Apple to the then-new Windows 7 operating system—but shows a clear beginning to my work in what amounts to a proper blog. I see my current expository style peaking through amidst some of the less-polished babble. However, no matter how much I have changed since 2009, my stance on the subject matter (Apple versus Microsoft) has not.
Porting my back catalog to this site was not without its issues, which was the main reason why these older posts never ended up on GitHub Pages. Tumblr does not have Title fields for certain types of content and older posts don't have well-formatted permalinks. Not to mention, getting your personal content off Tumblr is less than easy or ideal. In addition to Tumblr, I had posts hosted by third-party sites with which I am no longer affiliated that I wanted to make sure to represent here. I have done what I can to convert old items to my new format, metadata and all, but I can't guarantee that there aren't oddities or missing data. One thing I can guarantee is that as I find problems, I will continue to fix them.
In taking my time on this post, I decided to take a walk down memory lane and share what I found. First, some data points I thought worth sharing. Of the posts now hosted on this site, over 550 of them have been locked on Tumblr (and other services) for the entirety of their existence, meaning that they never made the jump to GitHub Pages when I made that move. Of those posts, close to 250 of them were focused on images, meaning the images made up the majority if not all of the post’s content.1 The oldest post, which I mentioned above, is from November 4, 2009 and the last post in the set, entitled “On Shuttering”, was from August 28, 2012, which detailed the moratorium of my original Tumblr efforts.
Here’s the issue: when writing about technology in this day and age, you are dealing with a cutthroat industry. When I started to read about the fact that some of the more prominent writers post hundreds of links and dozens of full-length posts per week, I was reminded about just how little I care.
Based on the information provided to me by Ulysses, these documents amount to almost 60,000 words and can be read in just over 4 hours by the average reader.2 To be fair, the majority of the posts include at least some writing from other sources in the form of block quotes and I have found a few automated posts from other services, which are all included in the above word count. Three months after “On Shuttering” on November 21, 2012, I restarted my Tumblr presence as Engineered Eloquence officially and have continued writing under that moniker ever since, focusing mainly on my own text. Between then and now and by comparison, I have written almost 120,000 words in 335 documents. In other words, I have written almost twice as many words in approximately the same number of documents over the course of the last four years of this site’s existence.
Now that we have all that data out of the way, I wanted to highlight a few things from my reminiscence. When I first started my Tumblr account, I was working at a not-for-profit technology company in Indianapolis, IN. Much of my writing included personal anecdotes and discussion topics regarding my day-to-day work, life, and Apple. In those days, the iPhone was still exclusive to AT&T, most people in Indianapolis didn’t understand the difference between vegetarianism and veganism and restaurants had few options that catered to either, and the iPad was still fodder for rumors sites. At that point, I wrote about one long-form think piece per week. A few of the topics from my posts included audiobooks, Vegetarianism and Cooking, 3D Movies, Display Technologies (Parts 1 through 4), Smartphone Obsolescence, Apple’s relationship with Google, Android’s fragmentation, my first iPad, and Basil.
In looking through these posts, I found a few instances where I was struggling with ideas that would be solved by technological innovations yet to come. In My love/hate relationship with audiobooks, I was dreaming about something akin to Amazon Whispersync for Voice, but I was hoping Apple would take the lead:
I have been giving a lot of thought to e-books and e-book readers, novels and audiobooks, and how technology can bring them together… If Apple was able to go that one step further to provide the value of an e-book/audiobook combination package, they would blow all current renditions out of the water.
At the time, my work focused on customer service, media streaming, and cutting-edge technologies, so I wrote extensively about those topics. Displays were of particular interest to me, leading to a four part series when I was doing some freelance writing:
- Display technologies can make or break consumer electronics
- Display Technologies, Part 2: Mobile Display Decision Making
- Display Technologies, Part 3: Desktop Display Resolutions
- Display Technologies, Part 4: Gorilla Arm and how some companies are ignoring it
I think the perspective I have gained from looking through these posts is how the amount of writing I do ebbs and flows. Frankly, this is the reason why I don’t attempt to make money from my sites and never have; I cannot guarantee from month to month the amount of time I can devote to writing nor the value of the output to my readership. In addition, I don’t spend money to write reviews or post unique content, so the amount of money I spend to keep the site running is relatively small.
Dr. Drang posted on the subject of new world platforms and it was apropos of what I am discussing here. Though other sites exist that may allow me to share my thoughts, ownership of my words is important to me and my back catalog is part of that history now. I am interested in its contents and how it might frame my work moving forward. I am relieved that I was able to aggregate all of this work into a single location, if for no other reason than to stop worrying about parts of my online presence I have forgotten. And one byproduct of this work is that I can start to think differently about this site, viewing it as both a singular representation of my canonical work and a playground for looking back on my writing over the years. As such, I intend to change the function of this site á la the excellent works of Benjamin Brooks and Matt Gemmell. In other words, refocusing on a better design to showcase my best work, my most recent work, and items from the now-accessible archives. I hope that the finished product will be something I can be proud of, I can use for years to come, and present and future readers will find appealing.