The blank page is a challenge and the blinking cursor is full of possibility, but it can be hard to get started. The key is to just go.
It’s good to look back every now and then to remember where you have been. If you’re hiking up a mountain pausing and looking back gives perspective on the path taken and shows you where you are. The longer that you’ve been online, the more fragmented that path becomes and many things fall away without noticing them. Maybe that’s a good thing. Holding on to too many things can weigh you down, but forgetting too much isn’t good either.
The first interactive hypertext jumping around online that I did was using Telnet, then Gopher, and later, HyTelnet. All text-based and simple. I had a notebook where I wrote down addresses of servers and usernames and passwords for systems. The personal part of computing was in that notebook for me as I just needed to go to any terminal to connect to any other computer anywhere in the world. Sometimes I miss the smallness and niceness of that world.
I’m grateful to Paul Ford for setting up tilde club, a tiny little Unix server with some space to make web pages and connect with other nerdy nostalgic people. It’s good to have a people like him trying things out. I found out about it from Christina Warren tweeting about it and then got in right away as bitdepth. There are only a few hundred people there and it’s all lo-fi and nostalgic for me. You connect to the site to edit your pages through ssh and it’s all command-line driven, so it’s getting me back into the terminal. Now the terminal isn’t only where I go to fix things, but I can make stuff there too. That’s nice.
The early days of computers remind me of the early days of my working with film. Back in the early 1980s I was in the last computer science class at the University of New Brunswick that used punched cards to program. It was with an IBM mainframe (System/360 or 370) and we used the big, heavy card punching machines to punch out the holes to write. Then I used the fanfold printer terminals, monochrome terminals (blue and green and the lovely amber ones) and then more colour came in.
Around the same time, I started editing 16mm film. Splicing it together by hand with tape. It’s tactile and there is a lot work by necessity that needs to happen in your head as you can’t see things right away. Just like working with the command line or punched cards. When you are working in that way you need to be more present and there isn’t a lot of multitasking going on. Would I want to go back to working in that way? No. But it’s good to go back to see where you have been and where traditions and ways of doing things have come from.
So now I look at the blank screen of the terminal and fire up Vim and edit the page. Remembering the commands from long ago and the html that still works. Resisting the impulse to copy and paste lines and line and lines in. Back in the old days I made all my pages in BBEdit which is still around. I use BBEdit’s little brother TextWrangler still for more serious text editing, but most writing now happens elsewhere. The key is to resist the impulse to be too meta and talk about what I am talking about. Just take a breath and let it flow. Share and be in the moment.
The first web page that I made and shared on the internet was on server space that someone shared from an Antarctic research station. I don’t remember the name of the server or the people who shared it. The pages are long gone as far as I know, but it was space on the web where I wrote. There was some writing about films and it was over 20 years ago since I was using the Mosaic web browser to view the web. So now I’m back on a Unix server (which is a tiny virtualized instance, but it’s the thought that counts) thinking about what to write and that is a wonderful thing.