The drag of experience

When it’s impossible to start from scratch.

I’ve been creating and publishing things online for over 20 years.

I’m also a digital hoarder. My partner would probably expand that statement by removing the word digital. I still have the first thing I published to the web in the year 2000 (the only year that gets to have ‘the year’ before it whenever mentioned).

It was a site to share music I had made on a particular hardware synthesizer. I threw the original version together pretty quickly and easily. Through the site, I connected with a lot of other people who used that device. We shared our music and remixed each other’s tracks. I still see one of them around on a modern popular music tech forum. Thinking about it makes me reminisce about the quality of the early web

Quite a few music sites later, an online journal and a forum a friend of mine coded from scratch later, I was training for what you might call ‘my first career job’.

I set up a professional blog on WordPress. I quickly moved it from the free instance to my own hosted version. I was lucky to be in a career where sharing detailed reflections about what you were doing was mostly positively encouraged. So I wrote lots about what I was doing and what I was learning. I connected with lots of other people doing similar work and we shared ideas back and forth on our blogs and our twitter feeds.

I moved jobs to one where I was going to a lot of conferences and events, so I set up another blog to ‘live post’ interesting talks I went to.

I started sharing ‘weeknotes’ that were more off-the-cuff, so I set up another place for them.

I set up all sorts of places to share different things online. Some self-hosted bits of software running on a web server I rent space on, many accounts on services across the web.

There is a lot of my stuff online in a lot of places. Much of it is connected. Lots of this was set up when I had more time and more inclination to mess about with technical ins-and-outs.

Recently I came to re think my website and blog. I was moving from one job to another, in a deliberate change career wise, so I wanted it to perform a different function. But I didn’t want to lose what was there, more than ten years of reflections on my work.

If I’d have been starting something new I could have just set up a new site for it. Domain name, hosting, quick set up. Easy. Or just sign up for one of the services that offer this for free or cheap. But there was enough established there I wanted to keep.

So I had to unpick it all.

What was this plugin doing? Why are there so many plugins?

Why is the feed sending to that other service? If I change it will I cut people off?

Why did I decide on this complicated way of doing things?

How did I make it do that and what will happen if I change it?

If I make this change I don’t understand, because I’ve forgotten why I set it up like that, will there be any way to go back or am I stuck with it even it it breaks something?

The longer I had been publishing things online the more complicated this had become. I had to change it, but I couldn’t ‘clean-room’ it and start from scratch. I just can’t lose all that content, all that thinking, all those connections.

I might be translating all this old stuff into a new context these days, but it is all still really important. It’s the foundations I have built for my career, my experience and my thinking.

So I had to press on and unpick stuff a bit.

I couldn’t unpick it all, some of it I just left. I don’t know how some of the feeds are working or who they are going to. They weren’t an impediment to what I wanted to achieve though so I just left them.

This goes agains my nature. It definitely goes against the nature of the version of me who set up all those plugins back when I had more time and was more motivated to mess with the tech and hack it together.

These days I am more motivated by the results. So I left the stuff that seemed to be working and doing what I still needed it to. I just changed the things that needed to be different. I made my front page more personal and about me, moved the blog to another page and set up a much easier way to browse through all the old stuff without the dated design of massive featured images.

It still took longer than setting up something new with none of the baggage would have. But I’ve got a new thing, that builds on what I had before and is what it needs to be for this new context I’ve got myself into.

There’s something here about getting older.

Early on you can just dive headfirst into stuff and start from scratch. Over time things seem to get more and more intertwined.

I can see how people start to become more resistant to change. When you’ve got lots of legacy stuff to unpick it can be a lot of effort to do things any differently.

But all that experience is incredibly valuable. It just needs a bit of curation every now a then. A lot when you make a big change. You get to a point where it just isn’t possible to start from scratch, you just have to unpick things a bit and keep on building.






2 responses to “The drag of experience”

  1. Aaron Avatar

    Really enjoyed this reflection Oliver. I must admit that I was a bit latter to things than you, but I still care about my digital archive even if I do not ‘blog’ as much as I used to. One of my biggest frustrations with my archive is that I didn’t start earlier. I really rue not having a digital copy of my Honours thesis. Fine I have a scanned copy, but it is not the same.

    1. Oliver Quinlan Avatar
      Oliver Quinlan

      Thanks Aaron. That’s interesting to read your reflections too. One thing that is missing from my archive is my pre-gmail email archive. I remember jumping on gmail when it was invite only, and at the time the ‘unlimited storage’ was a very new thing. I probably just deleted old emails before then, and I certainly didn’t bother to transfer over whatever was in the account I used before. A shame as I feel like those early emails with my friends as teenagers probably have more value than a lot of what I actually have. Maybe that’s always the way though, to attribute more value to the things that we no longer have than those we do.

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