So I've been working on gathering the bits and pieces of my online life from the past year and getting them together into a book that I'm tenatively calling “Yearbook: 2011” (creative, I know).
I'm not entirely sure why I'm doing this, but I'm enjoying it and the fact that I might have a real, physical thing that I built after it's finished is frankly exciting.
The process, like a lot of a lot of processes where you take something you're familiar with and then turn it on its head, has already changed the way I approach what I put online, or at least my perceived impact of it. Now when I write a Twitter message or a blog post, my first thought is, “Well, that's going in the book,” and I pause, realizing that this will be a concrete thing soon.
So, I have this website, with the occasional blurb or essay, and my Twitter account where I post mostly inane one-liners (as that's all I've got room for and the message fits the medium, in my experience) and they are both entirely public. I also like to tell myself that these pieces of content will also exist forever at their current addresses, so that people thousands of the years in the future will be able to read my scribblings. But the fact that it's “out there”–as I do a gesture that's vaguely like batting a fly away–has never really felt like it was built to last or that it had any gravitas.
And with this perceived slightness, I tend to treat things slightly.
But now these things are going in a book and a book is a Real Thing. It's what holds history, not just in libraries and bookstores, but in your grandparent's attic. It's also art, with illuminated works hundreds of years old behind glass in museums. And now I'm making one of those, too.
I don't have any visions of grandeur that what's in my book is going to interest anyone but myself, and it will likely never be in a museum, but it's an assemblage of atoms that's going to be on my bookshelf, and will probably outlast me. That's a completely different feeling than pushing some bits from my phone or laptop to some hard drive in a distant data center that I then have to use a computer to look at again.
And unlike a computer, a book is a self-contained thing. Where my browser will load everything from pictures my friends upload, to emails sent to my landlord, to the daily news, a book is made of its pages, and that's it. When I pick up a novel, I know I'm getting an unbroken experience of reading just one story. So I'm taking what would normally live beside everything the Internet has to offer, and putting it in its own chunk of dedicated space.
Something I didn't realize until I started to see the parts go together in the book is that it's also a much better attempt at a truer self-portrait. None of these services by themselves gives a clear view of me as a person, but once you start piecing them together, the previously fuzzy image starts to firm up a little. It's exactly like the blind men and the elephant, each trying to determine the whole by the description of its parts. I'm putting the pieces together, and, even though it's still a bit dim, you can start to make out details in the silhouette.
So, this book project has changed the way I look at these bits of content I've scattered around the web. None of those pieces have to be transient, and actually collecting them all and putting them side-by-side actually offers a bit of gravitas that separately they might not have.