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Crap Rotation

I’ve had analog stuff on the brain lately. I may be someone who's been online for a long time, and who stays tethered to the internet throughout the average day in one way or another, but I’ve always been a little ambivalent about the medium. And I don't just mean how much I hate building web sites, despite running one (or a few, usually) for such a long time. I guess my ambivalence is more about the culture of the medium, more than the platforms themselves. I’m always fascinated by how the online world changes and surprises me, but I’ve been at it long enough to miss some things that have gotten further than what I liked about them. It was a lot more fun to participate when online life was an immature mess that was in the middle of sprawling outward.

I used to make stuff — actual, physical stuff, like zines and mixtapes and paper and postcards — a lot, and the tactile aspect of that was a huge part of wht I liked. I don't make so much stuff anymore, and I miss the way I enjoyed the making and the sharing of it. I stumbled into the web because I was curious about this new thing that was emerging, and it was easy enough to tinker with it and feel it out. Throwing up a web page built with Mosaic was also a cheap alternative to putting out the slightly ambitious zine I had been making, so the first pages I made were supposed to be a staging ground for what I’d publish the next time I had a little extra scratch lying around. Then they became a repository for stuff I was posting on discussion groups, and then a repository for what I’d published in my zine, and then Blogger happened and then GreyMatter and then Movable Type and then Flickr and then Twitter and other stuff and it became more and more and now here we are. Now, I find myself constantly expanding and contracting in the online world — testing new things, leaving them when they don't give me something I like. I don't really like the endless networks that can spin out in all directions. I like a smaller net with edges that are just blurry enough to leave room for serendipity. I like a bit more community and a bit less...well, a bit less onslaught of everything, I guess.

This isn't a new thing. The WYSIWYG Talent Show started because it felt like blogging was an activity that was getting a bit less intimate and a bit less personal than it was when we stumbled into it early on. The glimpse at the person, and that person as a filter of the world around them, was the bit that I miss. As much as I appreciate that there are people out there who have the focus to maintain a repository of targeted content, I still bristle at the idea of blogs as necessities, marketing tools, or places that have to be about just one thing. When I read someone saying that they have six blogs about different topics, I wonder why they don't just have one that’s mostly about the six things that interest them so much, and anything else they throw in. It's still the person that’s the point for me. Just the other day, FPO — a great blog about print design projects, but yet another precisely targeted project within a cluster of sites — appeared, and they say flat out:

Through different venues — some in conversation, other in interviews — we have expressed our theory that niche and highly targeted blogs are the ones enjoying the most success, as they hold the assurance that no matter what day of the week you log on, you will get exactly the kind of content you expected to find.

And as it gets easier and easier for me to find web sites about the endless things that interest me, I find it harder and harder to hear voices within the chorus, even my own.

So I’ve been paying more attention to the stuff that people are making. People (including me, now and then) have been making stuff all along, but there's been this slow build about the joys of stuff, and making stuff that’s deeply imbued with the quirks and the presence of the maker. I’ve been to a few small-press and zine fairs in the last year — they've been having zine fairs again for the last couple of years, and they're packed — and I see things swinging around for another pass. More people are making stuff — stuff with smaller scale, smaller audiences, and a bit more magic. Even when the topic at hand is just as targeted as any blog, something like a zine or an independent comic usually ends up being about the maker than anything else, and I like the way the person blends with the point so easily.

And yeah, it is just another thing that’s swinging around. In the 90s my buddies and I were wondering if better tools and more polished zines were pushing the personal toward the commercial too easily. And yeah, they did, and we let market forces do what they do while we did other stuff and then that stuff is everything I just wrote about above and I feel like the zine field has lain fallow long enough that it's fertile enough to bloom into another generation of glorious immature mess.

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