Initial Commit: Obligatory Introductory Post
I showed up too early. I always like to show up to airports early, to allow for unexpected hindrances and potential setbacks. This time, however, I showed up decidedly too early. I sit here prior to 2 AM and can stare at any one of several red monitors perhaps 15 yards away, allow of which inform me that Virgin America’s service hours do not begin until 4:15 AM on Saturdays1. I naively assumed all facets of an international airport were 24-hour affairs, and did not bother to check my assumption prior to leaving the apartment ~30 minutes ago and summoning a vehicle via smartphone.
In short, I have some time to kill. And so I, taking an inventory of what I have on hand (two comically overstuffed pieces of luggage and a similarly tortured backpack), think to myself: what can I spend my time on that won’t require a great deal of unpacking/packing pain? (This rules out reading, as my current book is buried under a few other items and thoroughly sandwiched in one of my backpack’s compartments.) Aha! I’ve been meaning to get around to writing that initial blog entry. (Which will, of course, set the stage for plenty of blog entries to follow, no doubt posted diligently at regular intervals… right?)
And so, dear reader, here we are. The obligatory, introspective, overdone initial blog entry. A place to reflect on the reasons why one might blog, and perhaps any recent goings-on that I’m too lazy to save for some future post.
If I have any hope of doing this regularly, I’ll need to be motivated to actually stick to it. Let’s consider potential motivations.
Actually, let’s break this down into a few different components. Blog, once upon a time, was a portmanteau of “web log”. To blog is to log on the web. Considering these as separate issues, we can consider the motivations for 1) logging and 2) doing it on the web. We can even break up the second part into multiple questions: why share what you log in the first place, and why share it via the medium of blogging in particular?
Conveniently, this suggests a structure for the next chunk of this post. Yay.
Logging is pretty old. Diaries, journals, and so forth have existed for a while now. As it happens, this is something I have reasonably consistent motivation to do already. One basic reason for logging is remembering things (more what I think of when I hear “journal” - think of, I dunno, research expeditions). It’s just personal record-keeping. You can record the details of an event and refer back to them later. If you stumble on a chord progression you like, you can make note of it for later. You can keep little TODOs. You can even preserve your shower thoughts, given that you remember them for a few minutes after finishing your shower.
From this perspective, logging is memory augmentation. You transfer short-term memory to something external and potentially more reliable than long-term memory. Of course, you pay for it in read/write overhead, but it can definitely come in handy.
But, while it sounds cool, it does take effort, and this perspective might not be sufficient motivation for just everyday personal use. Hence the other motivation for logging: as an outlet. Sometimes things get rough, and for whatever reason you don’t feel like talking about it to other people. Well, you can always talk about it to /dev/null. Thus, logging can serve as a more productive version of screaming into a pillow.
Or maybe things aren’t particularly rough, but you’re just feeling reflective or introspective. Maybe you just want to get your thoughts in order, forcing them into at least some kind of coherence getting them out of your head and onto paper (or into your text editor). Logging is good for that, too.
These latter use cases I associate slightly more with “diary” than “journal”. In any case, they can provide quite strong motivation for personal logging, especially in the moment. They’re not particularly likely to get you logging consistently, though.
In any case, I feel motivated enough to log things on a pretty regular basis, (mostly) regardless of mood. So, check for that.
Now we need to answer: why share logs, and why share logs via blog? I think the latter question is easier, so let’s get that out of the way.
Why blogging in particular?
Assuming sharing logs is good, there are plenty of options. Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, even Instagram photos are all forms of shared logging, when used by an individual. That’s, like, kind of what social media is. So, with a myriad of platforms to both record and publicly share one’s thoughts, activities, adventures, and so on, why blog?
For me, I think I’ve just gotten the most pleasure and knowledge from reading blog posts, as opposed to other options. Blog posts can be long enough to be detailed and highly informative, or the size of a tweet. They can be technical tutorials or personal rants. Well-written blog posts are basically just articles (with comments), which is great. And you aren’t locked into a particular platform; you can self-host, or hit up Blogspot, and there are no shortage of open-source tools which endeavor to make your task simple (say, Jekyll, for instance).
Overall, blogging is a highly flexible option which I think best supports delivering content of actual value and/or use to readers. (Snide remark about how this post is not an example.)
So, now back to the harder question:
Why share logs?
This has definitely been the biggest sticking point for me. For a while, the idea of sending things online slightly terrified me to the permanence of everything. If you say something stupid in conversation, there’s an effect, but it fades with memory (both yours and whoever you said it to). You’re unlikely to run into an embarassing situation when you’re 25 regarding something dumb you said at 12; odds are good that nobody remembers.
But on the Internet, things might just be forever. If someone Googles you’re2 name when you’re 25 and happens upon something dumb you posted on a forum as a 12-year-old, they might assume you’re that same dumb-thing-saying person now! Oh noooooooooo your life is ruined forever.
This is in part (along with fear-mongering from authority figures about employers checking social media, and vague concerns about privacy) why I practically never post on Facebook. Actually, I did post several times, years ago. You can practically see the moment when real self-consciousness kicked in; it’s just after the last post date.
But relying on the comparative impermanence of conversation isn’t actually effective, and it’s also not a good justification for avoiding posting things online. Far better is to allow for the fact that people change over time - indeed, people are changing, learning, and growing all the time - and to hope, in good faith, that other people might just be willing to allow for this fact as well.
Maybe one day you post a lengthy tirade on why chocolate is plainly superior to vanilla ice cream, or why Emacs with Vim keybindings is secretly the holy grail of text editing. And then, in a month or so, you post an equally lengthy tirade arguing for the opposite position. It’s not a logical impossibility, and you needn’t be labeled a hypocrite nor a liar, but merely as a human. Both the outside world and the inside one are changing all the time.
me: “it is 10:43 local time”— Jon Bois (@jon_bois) August 3, 2017
also me: “that is no longer true. it is now 10:44”
Great. But all of this is just describing why you shouldn’t not share logs, and I haven’t yet actually described any reasons to share logs.
Well, again, I’ve gleaned a lot of information (and reading pleasure) from blog posts, whether personal or technical. And it’s a nice idea, at least, that other people might one day similarly enjoy and/or learn from mine. It’s like - maybe you find a fix or workaround for something. You could keep it to yourself, and perhaps share it on an individual basis when you notice a peer running into the same issue. Or you could automate that task by recording it somewhere (whether a blog post or a StackOverflow answer), which automatically shares it with everyone forever. And if you do find a peer running into that issue, you can just give them a link rather than re-explaining, saving yourself time and giving them something they can easily reference.
Neat. So sharing logs can increase the amount of recorded information/experience conveniently accessible via Internet. Which is a noble pursuit and all, but not particularly personal.
Shared logging can also automate other stuff. Perhaps you, as a person in the world, occasionally have opinions. And perhaps these occasionally come up, and you have some conversation where you elaborate on them and justify or explain them. Which is all well-and-good for informing specific individuals that you have X opinion for Y reasons, but insufficient if you simply wish it to be known, generally. Boom, shared logging. Now everyone can know, and everyone can know why, in your own words. Maybe this will even serve to inform people, or persuade them of some viewpoint. The possibilities are endless.
Which brings me to another use: shared logging as a soapbox. Assuming you have nonzero readers (now or in the future), you can use shared logging to bring topics and ideas into the realm of discussion. Someone reads your words and, wow, suddenly they’re thinking about what you were thinking about! Words are neat.
Shared logging can also automate the process of giving people some idea of who you are. Normally, this is only achieved via a great deal of personal interaction, typically taking place over some lengthy period of time, during which the other person will get an idea of what you care about, how you act, your personality, your mannerisms, and so on. This has the added benefit of you getting the same sort of information about them, but it’s very time-intensive and circumstantial. By writing things down and then sharing them, you can automate the first half of this. If you’ve written a bunch of stuff, people (regardless of whether they know you in real life) can read your stuff and get a sense of who you are, based on what you talk about (content) and how you say it (voice). For instance, you might be getting the idea that my writing voice is a bit on the ostentatious side and I perhaps use “perhaps” too often. Perhaps you are right.
In this view, shared logging is a sort of outward social interaction that scales. You can share your thoughts once, and then there’s no additional time cost (to you) for each additional person that reads them. Neat!
And it feels like one of those things where one could benefit a lot from making it a habit. Maybe your posts are all uninteresting garbage or long-winded drivel at first, but if you do it a bunch, you’ll 1) have written a bunch and 2) some of it might not suck.
Basically, shared logging has a lot of benefits that it offers, due to being a form of writing things… and then publishing them. Upon careful consideration, these benefits (along with some decorum and a sense of what’s worth posting) might just outweigh the potential life-ruining eternally-embarrassing impacts of saying things with relative permanence.
Why blogging? Because logging -> because shared logging -> because blogging in particular.
With any luck and/or discipline, this will be the first of many posts about any number of topics. Some of them will be long; some of them might even be short. Hopefully, dear reader, you find that some of them have value.
Hey, now it’s 3:32 AM. Only 43 minutes until I check can check my bag; this was a decent time sink after all!