Pangs of Nostalgia…and a passionate case for a system redesign

It’s the morning of the start of a long holiday weekend here in Dubai. One hand on a coffee mug, the other on the mouse, alternating between scrolling and a quick nip to the cookie jar conveniently and permanently placed next to my mouse. S is right next to me, doing pretty much the same thing sans the cookie jar (He calls it health consciousness. Self-deprivation, if you ask me).

And he sends me a link to read. Well, he sends me the same link he sent me yesterday night. About newsletters.

I look over it and frown. With substack and revue battling it out recently in the open and others joining the fray, I am quite well read up and up-to-date on newsletters, really.

He doesn’t let up. Persistence.

I sigh and open it.

It feels like old times. Before the kids were born, when the mind was free to wander, when the world was full of magic, when pandemic was a word from a different era, when mornings started with beautiful random reads – a time when we enthusiastically shared whatever we had read or thought up or came across. It had been a while since he had sent me a random link, and I could afford the time to read it. I couldn’t quite remember why it had changed. Life, I suppose, intervenes. But it is more than that, we’ll come to it.

Anyway, I am treated to this beautiful piece of writing – it is more than a piece of writing. It is artwork, it is design, it is beautiful words, and it is a manifesto. It is the kind of writing that makes me go – Oh My Friggin’ God. The kind of writing that also makes me go – I am so ancient, and so very proud of it. And nostalgic, as ancients tend to be.

Recently, my coach (yes, I have a coach) gave me a purpose exercise to do. After the mandatory eye-rolling that such an exercise asks for, I got down to it. It started with a few points to ponder:

  • Your purpose lies in who you are, not what you do.
  • Your purpose is found in the unique gift that you bring.
  • Your purpose brings meaning to life.

I pondered, I suppose. And then the exercise asked me to think back to my past and within the past, activities that gave me the most joy/satisfaction. Blogging came to my mind (among other things – I do have a life, after all. Well, sort of).

  • Blogging was how I discovered that I liked to write. The engineer in me would never have otherwise guessed. (The engineer still insists on inserting bullets, oh well).
  • It was how I overcame homesickness when I moved thousands of miles away and relocated to new countries. It was how I made sense of the changing cultures around me, processing my thoughts, finding kindred spirits who offered validation and sometimes, helpful tips to survive.
  • My blogroll was a list of friends, many of whom I had never met, but some I came to meet later – I still remember the excitement of waiting in a train station in Amsterdam to meet a “friend” whose writing I had followed for years, but had never met in person. When I met her in person, it was like greeting someone who I had known for years.
  • I digress. Yes wildly. But that was the pleasure of writing then too. Wild digressions in publicly available writing, the chaotic mind exposed in all its twists and turns, diversions that led to serendipitous sentences that opened up unexpected connections.

So today I write in that spirit – from the heart to the screen, with minimal editing, honest and free with little care to adhere to the themes I usually write on. I write in memory of a bygone era. I write for my soul.

It has been a long time since I started my first blog in early 2000s – babies were born and turned adults in that time period. I have grown and learned a lot too – I have worked in technology, worked in publishing, worked in the world of big business. I’ve observed closely market and money making mechanisms, how trends come and go, what drives them and eventually who benefits from them. I have written hundreds of thousands of words since, some gave me happiness, some showed me sorrow, very few made me any dough directly. I have also questioned why it’s always about the dough. I have studied the economics and operating model of content creation from various perspectives – with a publisher’s eye, with a writer’s eye, with a reader’s eye, with a technologist’s eye. And it all brings me to the same conclusion. This system is screaming for a redesign.

When you let something grow organically – trace the evolution of content creation (and let’s keep the scope to content creation on the web, or we run the risk of having to go back to Guttenberg and the Bible and the Vedas) – the path it takes almost always seem to lead to the same end point. Profit. (Side Note: That in itself is a cultural context, it is not inevitable that it should lead to profit, but it is something we have accepted as inevitable in this day and age.) At first things evolve mostly organically, and then forces come in to play that skew the system, pushing natural organic growth to the margins. Pushing the majority to the margins.

I won’t try to rehash what Robin wrote so beautifully and eloquently – go, read it, really. Now.

This is the third time I am plugging this link, I know. I can be persistent too. But it is also because it reminds me of a time when we shared links and cross-posted without care about what it gives us in return. When the link love flowed for the love of the content. And sometimes, for no reason. Just because.

If you read on the web, if you write on the web, if you are an occasional user of the web – you ignore these trends at your own peril. I, for one, am planning to bring back the blogroll to my site. And then unsubscribe from the intrusive emails that barge into mailbox. Perhaps one day, we will look back at this period and just write it off as the inevitable growing pains we had to go through to get to a utopian land. Or this could all go to hell.

Either way, I will have a blog roll.

Image courtesy: Edison’s electric pen from the book Les recreations scientifiques, 1884