I kicked myself about that last post. Why? More developed thoughts came after I hit publish.
It goes by many names, but the origins of L'esprit de l'escalier centers on a French dinner party. Denis Diderot, the father of the French Encyclopedia, was made speechless by a remark from a statesmen. He could not think of a response. This led to the observation that started it all:
"A sensitive man, such as myself, overwhelmed by the argument leveled against him, becomes confused and can only think clearly again [when he finds himself] at the bottom of the stairs"
Thus L'esprit de l'escalier, staircase wit, escalator wit.
I never thought about how the phrase relies on architecture. If you go up the stairs you are in the conversation. If you go down the stairs you are out of the conversation. We have taken this and run with it. Enter the chatroom, leave the chatroom. Enter the forum, leave the forum. Enter the blog, publish a post, and leave the blog.
And part of that might be because of the time-based nature of conversation. Diderot talks with the statesmen over dinner. The party cannot go on forever. Diderot has to go down the stairs eventually.
But with the web we reach a point where time does not constrain our plans that way. Conversations can go for weeks on end. So why do I still suffer staircase wit?
Well, staircases still exist on the web. Take a blog for instance. As I type this out I am in the conversation. But as soon as I hit publish I am walking down the stairs. It doesn't matter if people 'like' the post or share it. I am now out of the conversation. Could I go back and edit the post? Yes. But how much am I encouraged to do this? Very little. More recent posts take precedence.
How much can we remove staircase wit from the web? How much can we create experiences that encourage iteration of ideas over time?
Around where I live there are a bunch of 'little free libraries'. Think of them as a cross between a book shelf and a mailbox - freestanding structures that allow any passerby to swap out books. The other day a book caught my eye. At any other moment I would note the book's title and close the little free library. This time was different. I grabbed the book and went on my way.
A series of questions dawned upon me. Should I put a book in its place? Could I make notes within the book? Do I return the book after I read it? Is it now my book? What was intended to be an outlet for simple book exchange left me with more questions than answers. Important questions about how we exchange information and what it means to lend and own.
And it made me realize how little I think about those kind of questions with content on the web. I read post after post without wondering whether I should return a post afterwards. Some of that is due to the nature of the medium. But maybe some of that is due to being in a stupor.
All it took was a little free library for me to be struck by compelling questions. Perhaps something on the web could rattle us to interrogate it further, to create a better web by asking better questions. Like the little free libraries, perhaps that thing is right around the corner of your e-neighborhood
I don't think it sounds hokey at all. Before I got into IT/software I studied music — classical guitar in particular. Music always connected me to the wonder of being alive — of actively listening to the sounds around you and responding accordingly. I think that's partly why I enjoy computer/web magic so much. It reminds me of the obsessiveness of understanding a new piece, the joy of jamming with friends, and the community of local musicians I connected with. I am still actively listening, but it's of a different sort. All of that is the play/exploration you're talking about, that feeling of being alive. Do you play any instruments by the way? I only ask because I've stumbled upon your Mixcloud playlists and enjoy how eclectic they are — from Bill Callahan to 80's hip-hop/R&B. I'd definitely listen to your radio station if you get that Rasberry Pi up and running :^)
Bring back "Personal Computing"! What do you think of even taking that to the social side of things? "Social computing" instead of "social media"? I've been thinking more and more about that lately. Tilde Club, SMCC, and Beaker Browser make me think about other ways of being social through connected computers. They emphasize the computer behind the glossy frontend that social media often presents. Obviously it presents some friction to the process — learning Linux/Unix, command line, programming etc. — but perhaps that friction grounds the experience into something more wholesome, more fellow feeling, more convivial.
The Aleutia computer looks awesome! Those seem like awesome hardware choices. Like you, I feel like I don't have an optimal computer setup either. I just got a Macbook Pro and didn't know the extent to which I was going to be using it for programming & spinning up VM's. I am in a spot where I need to weed out documents/files as well to make new space. Also contemplating getting a used-computer tower of some sort — my former boss, who runs an IT consulting business, has a ton of old & used Dell computers that he's giving away freely. Makes me want to try to get familiar with Windows more just to bring one home and test it out! Of course there's so many great cloud providers out there too — from the big bois to smaller companies. I guess it's better to have a mix of both?
And do let me know what you decide to do with your Rasberry Pi. I am super curious about them and will most likely be getting one sooner rather than later. Maybe we can try to hack together on our respective ones and help each other out! Haven't really messed with hardware as much so it'd be a good foray into that world.
Thanks! We actually had a smaller in-person ceremony within COVID guidelines of masks & all — about 30 people at the church with a reception at our house (though we did have the ceremony streamed thanks to my best man). It went a lot better than we thought, a testament to having the people that matter there instead of a scattershot list of loose ties. So in a way, the current situation allowed us to have a wedding that we wanted along. Less fluff and more of what mattered.
The messy desk analogy is exactly how I feel about my computer nowadays too. I feel like using the computer back then was strictly a vehicle for play — websites of choice were game sites like Miniclip & AddictingGames and computer games like Far Cry, Unreal Tournament 2K4, & Halo took up most of my time. I don't know if I really took to programming until maybe two years ago, starting a junior IT job with no experience (just a degree in classical guitar performance haha). Now that you've mentioned it, my trajectory has also moved away from play towards work/research/writing/coding/etc. But perhaps that's the wrong way to look at it — maybe it's trying to view what we do on the computer as play? That's partly where my thoughts on the command line came from and where I sense a lot of your web experimentation comes from. One thing I enjoy about your website is the forking paths you present to anyone who enters. It reminds me of what is espoused in an essay that has stuck with me since I read it — Ariadne's Thread.
HTML Energy is fantastic! I have only listened to maybe two episodes of the podcast but I want to listen to more of them. What's cool about HTML Energy is that it equally acts as a philosophy, a movement of sorts. I've been super intrigued by the lessons they offer. Strikes me as a fun way to learn to code in a cozy environment. (an aside, but check out their super creative Patreon perks!)
I am curious if you could go further on what you mean by our experiences with computers are more abstract than they are. Do you mean that it's become something we don't think about now, like the air we breathe, and that it should be considered more deeply? I agree with you on an abstract level (ha) but want to better understand what you mean.
Interesting that my cybersecurity curiosity has led to the same conclusion as you — transitioning to more Linux usage. Do you use a virtual machine or are you thinking about booting a laptop with Linux? I've been using VMWare to spin up Linux boxes virtually. Trying to transitioning to different hardware is something I think of too. I've been eyeing the Pinebook Pro & System76 laptops as possible alternatives along with the Macbook I have. Is there anything in particular you're looking for?
PS: Also hoping to reach out to Zach sometime this week to get started on SMCC! Been really looking forward to it but didn't have the time for obvious reasons, but hopefully now there'll be some...
Hey Seán! My apologies for not getting back sooner. I got married this weekend and the days prior were all in preparation for the occasion.
Connecting to your desktop...never thought of that before really. I think the only thing I ever did was change the desktop background — like changing out a poster in your room every month or so. Like bedroom posters, these would always be band/album pictures or paintings that jumped out at me. I try to keep my desktop uncluttered so it's just the background, but screenshots on my Mac automatically appear on my desktop, so there are random files that litter the screen. Part of me wonders if this practice isn't so much "archaic" as it happens all over the web now rather than our computers. I remember always changing my profile pic & background banners on Facebook all the time.
Of course all of that is a generalization — it probably depends where you look. The Unix-like ecosystem (Linux, etc.) seems to focus heavily on the computer itself and what's on it (OS, programs, command line, etc.) rather than the computer as simply a way to get to the web. And perhaps that get's to your point about physical cities/buildings disconnecting us from the natural environment. Things like Beaker Browser & Glitch seem to do a good job of breaking down the barrier and showing the computer underneath. Recent updates in Beaker Browser include a web terminal. Glitch's platform is basically little Linux boxes underneath the web apps you can create. Do you know any other examples?
I don't think I've ever really created a website before. It's just been a blog in some form or another — whether on Wordpress or Write.as currently. The first site I was a part of "creating" was with one of the first gaming communities I joined. It was just with wiki software and I just used the WYSIWYG editor to edit a couple pages, but it was the first one I remember helping with. It was a community that focused on playing Cops and Robbers in Halo on PC. Here's the site if you're curious — a personal time capsule for sure! I've really wanted to create a personal site with the little HTML/CSS/coding knowledge I've accrued over time (cjeller.site is still open for something like that). Just don't really know where to start. What do you use for your personal site?