ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Detox —

I spent most of today in bed.

There were several reasons for this, but probably the biggest contributing factor was cutting out soda utterly and completely. I’ve done this before; the last time was for a year. This time may be for forever… at least, as a regular staple of my diet; who can really resist a gentle swish of Boylan’s Cane Cola when toasting good friends around the table?

Bear in mind that I don’t just drink soda, just like I don’t “just” collect stuff or “just” launch into a discussion. So if I don’t watch it, and I often don’t watch it, I’m capable of drinking 20+ cans a day. Without even thinking, I’ll do this. It’s diet soda, but diet soda is basically a chemical injection of crap, so 20+ cans of anything would be pretty bad but this is likely even worse.

My bestest friend Chris Orcutt mailed me a gift book, another diet book in a range of diet books. I like this one; in fruity, talk-normal-with-you paced writing, it takes 300 pages to inform you of these rules:

  • Don’t eat garbage.
  • If you do weird shit to your body trying to lose weight, it will put a tumor in you the size of a basketball.

Pretty clear stuff. So one side of that is getting the chemicals out, dropping this-side-of-radiator-fluid drinks and switching over to “whole foods”, that is, you know, food. In correlation with my exercise regimen, this may actually fix something. I’ll let you know.

But taking in 20+ cans of anything and then stopping makes my body freak out, so I got my headache and my stunning fatigue and that was it for most of the day. Then I wake up and realize I’ve got a lot on my plate that needs doing, and there I go into the vortex again.

This is all basically detox; taking something so inherent in your system that you end up not knowing how much of it has caked up into your existence until you start to scrape it out with a butter knife. Then you go “holy crap, how was I even functioning”. Whether you feel better or not for having scraped it out, you certainly feel different, and your perspective on the stuff you were doing.

So really, what I actually want to talk about is blogging.

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you might have noticed, or not, that I don’t use the term “blog” and the verb “blogging”. I hate that term, avoid it like the plague, unless I’m referring to it derisively, which I am doing now.

I have never liked cutesy, invite-everyone-in terms that are constructed mostly because others find multi-syllable words for common actions off-putting. I don’t like dumbing things down in the process of making them easier to digest. I don’t like… well, I just don’t like a lot of things, don’t I.

And therein lies the problem. There’s so much to dislike, to get myself riled up over when I read the 100+ weblogs I’m currently reading. Livejournal, if you haven’t determined this yet, filters for emotion; if you read the entries, a lot of them are written as an outgrowth of passion that has inspired the person to write stuff down. This is mitigated, heavily, by the rash of idiot “quizzes” and “badges” and what-not that people decorate their livejournal entries with like bumper stickers, but if you read an entry of any length, chances are the person is deeply affected by something and wants to express it. So what you’re really getting is a person’s peaks and lows, the times when they are most off-kilter, or hyperfocused, or despairing, or whatever. A personality centrifuged for their emotional extreme.

There are classes of weblogs, just like there are classes of newspaper, video, music… if someone told you that a certain recording technique was “bouncing around the musicsphere” you’d find them a bit odd. “Newsosphere” would probably not go over well either. Some weblogs are simply reprints of AP newswire stories with a pithy comment from the “author” of the entry, while others are intense, deep-linked essays not out of place in a top quality magazine.

Yet there’s this interest in clumping them together, putting all blogs together into a huge gelatinous mass that will somehow have a similar outlook on certain aspects of online life and motivations, while demonstrating absolutely no similarity in any other way. It drives me nuts.

But why does it drive me nuts?

It drives me nuts for no good reason. Food has empty calories, and a lot of online conflict has empty emotion.

I am unhappy when I see Cory Doctorow approach a nuanced issue with the equivalent of an electric mixer and a firehose. I am despairing when I see Clay Shirky trotted out to act like Internet is the aspirin for the world’s headaches. I am distressed when I watch someone describe the Wikipedia of dreams, not the Wikipedia of reality.

But these are empty emotions. They’re someone’s ham-fisted writings of some situation, presented for free on an accessible site, and often lacking footnotes, references, or even evidence they’ve ever been more than the resultant musings of a dozen subway or plane rides. This is crap. It gets into your system and it fills your days and then you sit back and wonder why you’re so much older than when you did something and you strain to wonder what you did in the intervening time.

Meanwhile, at the Vintage Computer Festival East, I met this guy.

His name’s Claude Kagan. He is rather old. It is unlikely he will see too many more years. His eyesight is failing. He also knows a metric ton of “stuff”. We got into a discussion because it was noted I was making a documentary about Adventure games and he was miffed I wasn’t aware of the cool port he did into a language he developed called SAM76. Bear in mind I get miffed at a lot in life, so that was no big deal. He launched into a very intense description of the SAM76 language, which unfortunately was somewhat lost on me because for better or worse I’m not that great a programmer. I can get by to get some stuff done, but it’s the result of methodical block-building and being bonked with an entirely new (to me) programming language variant is a bit too much for me standing up in a conversation on a porch. But it was quite real. Quite well-thought-out, worthwhile historically, likely containing importance that time will bear out.

Claude was one of the organizers of the R.E.S.I.S.T.O.R.S., a 1960s computer club. This was a rare animal, indeed. There’s a web site up about it, although really a scattershot set of essays written hastily, even if they’re all full of truth and memories and facts as were seen by the person. It is honest and true and sometimes that doesn’t come in a clever little package with a clever little CSS-generated look that resembles a candy bar.

Focusing on stories like Claude’s is like eating natural foods over fast foods. It’s not convenient. It’s not always enjoyable. There aren’t clear little labels for everything so you don’t have to actually think. But it has heart and honesty and for all the roughness, you are hearing something real, not someone’s approximation of what “real” is supposed to be.

So maybe I will try a little detox in my regard of the “blog” world as well; I wonder how big the headache is going to be for this one.

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