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When Did The Internet Stop Being A Work Of Art?

Is it just me or does the web feel much different than it did back in the late 90’s and early 00’s? Yes, I know I’m much older now, and no, I don’t mean in terms of graphics or what is technically capable now. I do not pine for two hour downloads of three minute videos or the return of the blink tag.

But I look at the state of the web now and it just looks like all the strip malls I had growing up. We used to create websites and build platforms so that anyone could have a presence online. People would go into chatrooms and feel a sense of community. Now I go on Facebook for hours and couldn’t tell what the hell my friends are doing.

It’s all just marketing posts either from the companies themselves or people you know reposting them. And if you do get some original content, it’s people just marketing themselves. “Look at this picture from that beach I went to six months back. I work a soul crushing job and desperately need someone to talk to. But look at the picture!”

The state of the web is there are either social media sites, professional news blogs, or start up apps. And that’s it. There seems like there’s nowhere for people to get together and express themselves.

Remember forums? What happened to those? Well sites like Facebook replaced them. Okay, but why? The only feature that really replicates it is Facebook Groups and it’s not as feature filled. You can’t, for instance, create a group that has rooms for different topics. You have to create a group for each topic, thus fractioning your user base.

So how is this a replacement? Because it’s better technology and better design. Forums are still around. Are you going to set one up? No of course not because the thing is going to look like it was an artifact from the 1900’s. No one’s updating the software or design concepts even though the core idea “people coming to a centralized space to talk about similar interests” is still a good idea.

Don’t get me wrong. I love social media and I think it has a place but if you’re on there, then you are have a conversations on a large company’s terms. Twitter limits you to 140 characters, Facebook organizes your incoming feed for you, Instagram pushes you to talk only in pictures, and Snapchat forces content impermanence.

They aren’t doing this to hurt or help you. They are doing this to differentiate their products in a crowded marketplace. If you give them your content, it’s going to be to help them achieve their goals first, yours second. And that’s totally fine as long as you go into that with both eyes open.

But I don’t think that’s what’s happening.

Most people are adding their content to the web either because they want a voice or they want to see what the people they care around are up to. They end up either becoming a platform creator’s product or a small cog in company’s website/logo because the tools to do it themselves are either too difficult to use or have a steep learning curve. People what to express themselves, not worry about how to speak.

Here’s a perfect example: I recently read an article about Joss Whedon’s best tweets. If you don’t know who Joss Whedon is, he’s the writer/director behind Buffy, Firefly, and The Avengers. Nobody is going to argue that Joss doesn’t know how to write. But what was striking about his tweets was that he didn’t use punctuation, making what he was writing kind of hard to read. It wasn’t that he didn’t know to use those things or that this was his “normal writing style,” he simply couldn’t use them because they would eat up precious characters from Twitter’s arbitrary 140 character post limit.

You have arguably one of the best writers of his generation purposefully adding ambiguity to his own self-expression because he has something to say and is making the best choice of limited options.

There really aren’t any rules for the web so why does everything feel so consistent and homogeneous? Where are the people doing things their own way. It doesn’t feel like anyone is figuring anything out anymore. Where are all the experiments? Where are my art projects?

Don’t worry, Weary Traveler. Old Man Evans does have a few tricks up his sleeve, and yes, I am planning a few interesting web projects.

Stay tuned.

…or don’t. Start your own thing. I’m not the boss of you.

Image: Internet by James Cridland, CC-BY-2.0

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Collecting World Views So I Don’t Have To Leave The House

Just got done watching the fantastic “Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts” for the second time in two days. It’s the kind of documentary that makes you realize that we are all connected on this spinning rock and life is much more interesting than it was ever advertised.

For those a bit thick, it’s a biography about the comics writer Warren Ellis. If you haven’t read him, the guy’s amazing and he is responsible for my favorite comic of all time, Transmetropolitan. And of course, he’s one of those crazy, bad ass writer types that get’s guys like me into writing.

But something kind of struck me as I was watching this today. There’s a lot of creators that I like: Warren Ellis, Hunter S. Thompson, Cory Doctrow, Adam Savage, etc. It’s a long list, and it really does feel like I’m collecting these people. However, I used to think that I was collecting their bodies of work when, in fact, I’m collecting world views.

I like seeing the world through the eyes of other people because I’m not ever going to get to see it all and if some crazy bastard can go out in to the aether and bring back Tales of The Beyond then it’s one less thing I have to do

I’m practical like that.

A creator’s work should always stand on it’s own but it should do so by saying something interesting about humanity and our interconnected lives. Even if that just that the bunch of us are as weird as we had hoped.

Go Make Something Awesome

Sometimes things are pretty good. I’m not always the best at taking stock of that. I haven’t written in this blog much. Things have been pretty stressful at work and it’s not always the easiest thing to come home and make things. Even if those things are “just” blog posts. So I’ve been a little out of sorts with my art.

But right now, I’m sitting in my awesome, high end beanbag chair. (Yes, there is such a thing.) Listening to old school ska punk on my wireless Sonos system. There may be a lot of stress going on about me, but for right now, life is really good. And I thought I would “make a thing” as Wil Wheaton puts it.

This isn’t going to be a great thing, but you have to give yourself permission to fail. Really, you just have to give yourself permission to come out and do anything. A main point of stress for me is that I haven’t been making anything. I’m a really creative person and I’ve been find a lot of excuses for not making art.

(And yes, I can call blogging an art. It’s self-expression, which is the goal of any art form.)

So this is just a short post to say, “I’m back again.” Hopefully it will be for a while. I think I’m going to dig into different post types and ideas, so stay tuned for that. As for what I’m really trying to get across with this post: no matter what’s going on in your life, everyone has a creative force inside them and they only way to find balance is to find an outlet for it. And if you need some random guy on the Internet to tell to go make something, then I’m more than happy to be him.

Go make something awesome.

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Adventures In God Damn Air Travel

Hello Blog.  It’s been a while since I’ve written in you.  

Last week I was in Ethiopia and the week before that I was packing for my trip and in no mood to write.  In fact, I’m not really in a mood to write now but I need to get my post back up to where it should be.

The trip out there was pretty good.  It was my first flight out of the country and the longest I’ve been in a plane by a factor of four.  It was a 12 hour flight there from Toronto.  (On a side note, Canada is awesome.)  I didn’t freak out being in a sky tube for that long like I thought I would.  I have a serious problem with heights.

The airline I took was Ethiopia Air, which I thought was the shit because I got free food, free beer, and free movies.  What I did not know was that every international flight does this to mollify it’s passengers into a comatose state so the over worked cabin crew don’t have to fucking deal with them.

So while I was in Ethiopia, I was telling everyone who awesome the airline was and how I couldn’t wait to use them again on the trip back.  The response I got from this was a sad smile and eyes that said, “you’ll know better soon.”  I’m not completely social inept so I did pick up on those cues, but I shrugged it off.  

“You just don’t know Ethiopia Air like I do.  Our love is pure.”

The return trip liked to fucking kill me.  First off it went from being a 15 hour flight to about a 17 hour flight.  That’s a long time to be stuck anywhere.  Especially when your seat breaks and can’t recline forcing you to stay awake for the entire thing.  It wasn’t like I was going to be getting much sleep with the 16 crying kids all around me.  Maybe I’m miss-counting that.  It is possible that it was one baby that got passed around the entire cabin.  I had my eyes forced shut while I desperately tried to hate-fuck some sleep, so anything is possible.

But the children weren’t really the problem.

It was the guy at the front of my section who would angrily scream every 20 – 60 minutes for the entire flight.  It seemed like it was triggered by something.  Guy starts the sneeze. “AAAHHH!” Guy coughs. “AAAHHH!” Guy wakes up from a nap. “AAHHH!” Guy thinks I might be taking a nap. “AAAHHH!”

I wasn’t able to take a nap so that’ll show him.

You’ll also notice that I said the the flight was supposed to be 15 hours but it went over by two.  What does that mean for my connecting flight, you might ask?  It means I missed it by an hour helpful, question asking reader.  

Thank god for Air Canada is all I’ll say.  They got be on a plane back to Boston about two hours after I landed.  I did have to pay for my beer on that flight, but I’ll take it as a net gain for nobody randomly screaming.

Image via – Flickr

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The Crusade For The Grail Diary

In 1989, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was released.  While it is my favorite of the three – and only three – Indiana Jones movies, it stands out in my mind not for its plot or the acting, but for one very specific prop.

In the film, Indiana’s dad has a notebook that he keeps all of his information about his grail quest.  It’s a little palm size book that he calls his Grail Diary.  This prop seemed so magical to me when I was kid.  I’d been surrounded by books my entire life but there was something wonderful about the idea of a one-off book that only you, the creator of the book, understood.  Something that was half reference material and half art project.

“Look at this epic fucking thing, Junior.”

I’ve alway wanted something like the Grail Diary, but I didn’t want that notebook.  I love movies but I don’t really have the prop obsession that some people have to go out and create a replica of a movie prop.  I wish I did, but that requires way more patients than I currently have.

However, the grail quest like obsession that the Last Crusade did give me was for notebooks.  I wanted to have my own Grail Diary about a subject that I thought was cool.  This lead me to lots of spiral notebooks filled with story ideas and pen and paper RPG notes.  Alas, they do not have the same presence as something that was create by a movie’s art director.

Like everyone who went to college for English, I started collecting Moleskin notebooks.  When I was first getting into them, they were just palm size, hard cover books.  I still have my first one kicking round here somewhere, still waiting for me to finish filling its pages.

And that’s my major problem: I never finish any of the notebooks that I have.  Sometimes it’s because I pick a topic that I’m only going to write about in that notebook.  Of course, I then lose interest in said topic and don’t want to take notes about it anymore. Sometimes I create one that’s just going to be a journal.  I can’t lose interest in the notebook when I’m the subject right? Wrong.  Not only am I not the most interesting person in the world – I know, it was a surprise to me too – but writing journal style entries kills my hand.  It’s just easier for me to write long form on a computer.  I’m faster and I have more stamina.  However, I lose out on the tactile joy of analog materials.

About a year ago I stumbled upon Bullet Journaling.  Which is a productivity system where you write down everything you want to do or are thinking about as a running series of one line notes.  It’s pretty elegant system and I ran with it for a few months, filling up a new Moleskin, graph paper notebook.  This system was creating something the most like the Grail Diary.  It was non-linear, yet it yielded a useful book upon rereading.

The problem with Bullet Journaling is that it is a productivity system which means that if you’re not using it every day it’s really easy to lose interest and then you kind of build up a negative streak.  “I haven’t looked at my journal for three days, why look at it today.” I stopped using my bullet journal towards the end of last year.

I’ve created a new one with the start of this year but I haven’t put a lot of effort into it.

That isn’t to say, however, that I’ve given up on creating my Grail Diary.  I still love the idea of journals and notebooks.  I love that people create these ad-hoc systems for recording information that’s only important to them.  I research new ways to write notes and new systems to keep track of them. I look up what other people have made journals and notebooks about.  When there’s someone on a train writing in a notebook, I’m always shoulder surfing them.  Not because I want to see what they’re writing, but because I want to see them creating an artifact that is unique, and only useful to, themselves.

The act of journaling is something so personal, yet I don’t think we talk about it enough.  I don’t think we share enough information about this habit that creates these bespoke, handicraft books.

For the most part most of my note-taking and journaling is done digitally.  Making my computer my Grail Diary of sorts, but I’m still looking for ways to journal in an analog way that will create something truly unique at the end of it.  But like the true quest for the Holy Grail, it’s not the Grail that’s important, it’s the search.

Main Image – via flickr

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Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas Rewatch

I’ve been thinking a lot about Hunter S. Thompson lately.  We’re coming up on the anniversary of his death and that always gets me thinking about artists, art, and writing.  So I had a couple beers and watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas again.  I was actually going to do a review of drunk, in true Gonzo style, but I didn’t because… well… I was drunk.

The movie still holds up and is a great love letter to the book.  I still don’t know how the hell that thing got made.  I mean, can you actually tell me the plot of that Fear and Loathing?  Two guys get high and trash a hotel room, and then get high and trash another hotel room.  I know I’m not being fair to the book but this did get green lit for a movie that’s about all the more action is in the flick.  You could make the argument that Duke tweaks to the fact that their bender – and by extension their lives – has gone too far, but I think he had a pretty strong suspicion that was going to happen even before they got to Vegas.

Do not think for one second I’m bagging on that book or the movie.  The novel is probably my second favorite book of all time.  It’s just not something that would lend itself to being made into a movie, which I guess is why they made it.  And good for them.  Filming the unfilmable movie is Punk Rock filmmaking at its finest.

Plus, there is something really magical about Johnny Depp reading Hunters word’s out loud. I’m so glad there are so many moments in the film where it’s really just you, Depp, and the words.

Not many people can write like Hunter when he’s on top of his game.  There’s just something about the words he chooses to use and have such a presence and voracity.  I’ve always wanted to be that deft with wordplay, but I’ve always felt my vocabulary to be a little thin.  It’s something that happens when you are such a crap speller like I am.  You stick to the nine words you know.

But hey, I’m writing a lot more now so maybe I’ll add a tenth word.

Edit: totally misspelled Vegas every time I used it in this post. But I’ve corrected it and you’ll never know I screwed up unless I write something on here about it.  But what are the chances of that happening?

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How I Blog

Since I’m about a month into my year long blogging challenge, I thought it would be fun to write about how I actually blog.  Let’s start with the technology I use and then move on to my actual process.

Computer: MacBook Air (13 inch, 2014 edition).  While I do have a desktop, the MacBook has been an absolute revelation.  It’s super light, fast, and has an amazing keyboard that just feels great to type on.  I have this thing on me at all times, and I’ve found that I write a lot more in those little down times we all have.  Like when I’m on the train.  Also, my God does this thing have great battery life.  It never wants to die.

Blogging Platform: WordPress.com.  I’ve been a WordPress user for about eight years now.  It’s sort of become blogging in my mind.  I’ve been thinking about moving the blog to a self-hosted version of WordPress, but I haven’t really wanted to put up with all of the handholding a self-host requires.  Right now, it’s just better to let the nice folks at WordPress handle everything for me.

Writing App: Desk. I had a little trouble getting this to work with my blogging platform, but once I did, it was a dream.  It has a really slick interface that gets out of your way when when you’re writing and then it’s there the second you need to do any kind of formatting.  This is exactly what I like out of a writing environment: just a box to write in.  It’s not that the writing environment with WordPress is bad, it just lives in my web browser – the distraction machine.  Desk keeps me from flicking to another tab in search of who wrote the original Shadow stories or something like that.  In fact, when I’m actually writing I create a second desktop on my Mac just for my writing program so I don’t have any distractions.

Note Taking and Planing App:  Evernote.  I have a notebook just for my blog with a master list of blog ideas.  That’s the main thing I use the app for right now.  I do something pre-write directly into it if I have a particularly complex post that I’m working on.  I probably should find ways to use this app more to organize my writing.  That’s probably something to work on in the coming months.

Image Searching: Creative Commons Search.  I’m trying a lot harder to use photos in my posts.   The problem is that I suck as a photographer and it’s hard enough just to find time to write let alone take a few photos.  Generally, I jump onto Creative Commons Search and find a few pics that go with the theme of my post.  It’s been working pretty well for me so far, so I haven’t had to go onto any of the pay sites to find images.

My Process: While I do have a nice desk, my preferred method of blogging is to either be on the couch or on the train.  I like being in a slightly unorthodox position when I blog.  It lends something to the immediacy of it.  

I also try to do all of my first draft in one sitting as fast as I can.  The most surprising thing about blogging for me is how quickly I can do it.  I’ve regularly banged out over 1000 words in under 40 minutes.  When I’m writing fiction, it can take me almost an hour just to do 500 words.  I’d love to be able to tell you why this is, but it’s absolutely beyond me.  

After the first draft is done, I do a reread and polish.  Then it’s posted right away.  I really should let them set longer, but I’m usually looking down the barrel of a deadline and just want to get it out there.  The resting period is something I really need to play with more. 

And that’s how I currently blog.  This will likely change as the months go on so I’ll do another post like this once the changes are significant enough to justify it.