From the Boidem - 
an occasional column on computers and information technologies in everyday life

July 29, 2006*: Having fun

Over the decade throughout which the Boidem has, no longer to my surprise, consistently appeared monthly, the question that I'm asked perhaps more than any other is how do I keep it up. Perhaps part of my answer should be to direct my questioners to some of the columns. In those columns they can find, for instance, that writing a monthly column has a positive effect on the continuing flow of information that I encounter, and filter. They would learn that through writing a column I make sense (both to myself and to whatever public may or may not be reading) of issues that arise around the topics with which I'm concerned, and that, as I clarify my thinking through writing about these issues, I'm more able to entertain new ones. They would also read that I almost humbly acknowledge that for me these columns are a means of paying something back to the amorphous community of the web for the wealth of information I've garnered from it. As someone who, perhaps today against all odds, believes in the value of the free flow of information, I still believe that a continual taking, without giving anything in return, is not an ethical stance to take. All this suggests that if the topic of this column was "why do you do this?", I might be able to fill up the entire column simply with links to previous ones.

Having said that, however, I also have to acknowledge that over the past perhaps six years the July birthday columns have had more of a pensive and reflective atmosphere than a festive one. I've asked questions (that I've also elegantly tried to avoid answering) as to the distinctness of today's internet, up to the point of even questioning whether there was really anything left to write about. At this particular junction of ten full years, however, it seems proper to take this opportunity to make a rather simple confession: one of the major reasons that for a full decade I've continued to post monthly columns is that I simply enjoy doing it.

What's there to enjoy? Most writers (and I'm not really sure that I fit that definition) will probably report that meeting a deadline, even if it's a self-imposed deadline, is a stressful activity. In addition, over ten years of monthly columns it's rather unavoidable that every so often I simply can't find a topic that merits investigation, or worse, after choosing a topic I discover that there's much less to write about it than I'd originally thought. A situation such as this (particularly when it's shortly before my "deadline") can also contribute to stress, and reduce whatever enjoyment I might find in this writing. Paradoxically, however, that's precisely the point at which (at least some of) the fun begins. After all, if I know precisely what it is that I want to write, it's relatively easy to stick to my plan. But if I've started writing and suddenly discover that what I thought I had to write about demands little more than a paragraph, then I've pretty much got free rein to fill up the column by linking to my heart's content, associating to whatever comes to mind.

Does everything that comes to mind also get to the stage of appearing on the page? Thankfully (for both readers and writer) no. Though it may not seem that way, a rather harsh process of censorship is always not far below the surface, constantly asking "do I really need this?", or "is this anything more than simply a fun link?". Then again, sometimes even when the answer to that second question is "no", I may still allow it to creep in. I admit that it can be easy to get the impression that I let just about everything creep in, that actually the door is always left wide open. There are, after all, more than just a handful of questionably relevant sites that get linked to these pages. On the other hand, the reader who encounters the uploaded version of a column isn't aware that many more sites have been rejected as unnecessary (let's say "fun, but still unnecessary") before the final version gets posted. Actually, part of the joy of producing a column is separating the wheat from the chaff ... and spending lots of time with the chaff. And of course there are different sorts of columns. Sometimes it's important to me that I maintain a taut focus, that I stick to the specific issue being examined, while at other times, I can perhaps even write that at least part of the purpose is simply to allow one link to lead to another and watch, almost as an outside observer, where things lead.

Anyone who has devoted even a short amount of time to reading these columns would probably find it difficult to believe that my favorite car is the classic 1955 Chevy. I love the plainness of that car which seems to say, in a Bauhaus sort of way, that its beauty resides in its basic functionality. To my mind, there's true beauty in the simplicity, in the basic presence of that car. Those qualities don't seem to have much in common with a writing style that seems almost outlandishly rococo. That being the case, perhaps I should also admit to a somewhat contradictory attraction to the garish 1959 Cadillac, with fins jutting out in every direction, with chrome upon chrome, with more uncalled for stylized add-ons than can be counted. (This time, you can look for this one by yourselves.)

I juggle. Or at least sort-of juggle. I can keep three balls alternating being up in the air, and perhaps even patter a bit while doing so. I don't make it look easy, but I'm not sweating while doing it. Anything fancier than that is at present still beyond me, and I can't seem to devote the time to honing my skills. I find it thrilling to see that sort of thing done well. But why do I write this? To my mind there's a similar sort of artistry in hypertexting, an artistry that I hope is occasionally visible in these columns (and hopefully also without the sweat) - a sort of balancing act in which we link one idea to another and yet another and another, stringing them along in an almost teetering chain of associations that precariously continues to hold, that somehow, in a logic defying act of bravura, doesn't collapse. I derive the same sort of enjoyment from linking one perhaps improbable idea to yet another and yet another, as some people derive from building a house of cards, adding yet another story to the structure without having the entire edifice fall apart. When I succeed in pulling that sort of thing off, I'm happy.

An additional, and certainly not insignificant, element that contributes to the pleasure of preparing these columns is the freedom that a hypertextual framework permits me to contradict myself. The words "on the other hand" show up about 150 times in these columns. Of course sometimes that's simply a figure of speech. But numerous times while writing these columns I've found myself asking just how many hands I have, since I seemed continually to be observing an issue from yet another angle. Was this nothing more than stating contradictory points of view for the record, an attempt to be objective in what is clearly a subjective framework? Perhaps. We have, after all, been taught to appreciate that there are two sides to every issue, and to respect those who can see those two sides. But of course there are many more than just two sides to an issue (and I come by this multiple viewpoints perspective very legitimately, and apparently genetically) and the real fun starts when we realize that a hundred flowers actually are blooming, that numerous viewpoints can and do coexist in our minds at one and the same time. Though I might enjoy giving the impression that I strive for objectivity, that's obvious a facade. There's no doubt in my mind that I've got the correct perspective on the issues I've examined in these columns. Make that "the correct perspectives". Or perhaps "some of the correct perspectives". Do I really have to conclude a column with the same perspective with which I started it?

But if I admit that I more than only occasionally make use of this hypertextual framework to contradict myself, perhaps there's a contradiction hiding here as well, and the writing of these columns is also a two-sided sword - an enjoyable game, but also a demanding chore? I'm sure that sometimes that's true, though I have to admit that after ten full years, what's perhaps most surprising is to continually discover the extent to which it's still a real pleasure.

That's it for this edition. Reactions and suggestions can be sent to:

Jay Hurvitz

back to the Boidem Contents Page

Return to Luftmentsh