Brian's Blog

…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World

The Old Web

Yesterday I was having a little chat with my mum, you know, one of those random conversations that leads from one random topic to another. Anyway, we were talking about Top Gear, the motoring show, and then about the “hover van” episode which she liked too, and then she asked, “Do you remember the holiday where there were hover crafts racing, and we stayed in a caravan?” I did. I don’t know how old I was back then but I’m sure not older than ten. I knew where she meant but the name of the place wouldn’t come – it was one of those ‘tip of the tongue’ things, and she couldn’t remember either. “It’ll come to me” I said, and we moved on to other topics.

Then the next day, some eighteen hours later, much has happened since, I have even forgotten having the conversation (that happened pretty soon after). I wake up… I get out of bed… I get to the bottom of my stairs…

“The Cotswolds.”

It comes to me, right there, just like that, out of the blue. I laugh. I turn round and go back up stairs to my computer and e-mail my mum, and I comment to her about how I love how my subconscious mind works!

kayakAs I’m e-mailing her I realise I may have always remembered that holiday as being at “The Cotswolds” but it may not have been – I was young – it was a long time ago. I decide to do a quick bit of googling to see if the place shows up from the search terms “cotswolds caravan hover craft”. It doesn’t. I scroll through some Google images and there is nothing of relevance. I see a picture of a kayak that looks like it’s in the sea, and the brief description reads like some guy had found this kayak out at sea, submerged, like a ship wreck, but with no damage.

This image distracts me and I click onto the page. It’s some guy’s blog [link]. I find the picture and learn how I had seen it and the description Google had ascribed to it were out of context – it was just a photo of the guy’s kayak, but taken on a wet morning I suppose. The blog posts are dated to 2008 and are about the guy’s efforts to kayak across seas, like to the Isle of White. I click to the home page of his blog to see his latest news, but the most recent post is still 2008 and writing about how he was waiting to make another attempt to cross a channel in his kayak and how he just needed a gap in the weather. But this was 2008. I pondered, “What happened to the guy? Why did he stop blogging? Perhaps he just lost interest when too few people liked/followed/commented on his blog? It happens. Maybe he attempted the crossing and met with his demise?” I doubted that last point since there was no post to say he was about to leave. I have to assume he is alive and well, but then again maybe not – people do die.

internet_cafeAs I scrolled down that first blog page a little my eye caught a picture of an internet cafe. I knew that place!I read the write-up and it was indeed the Internet Cafe in Holyhead. What a coincidence. I had been past there a few times as I live on Anglesey – I don’t think the internet cafe is still open now though.

This little link to my own location coupled with this guy’s out-dated blog made me recall that I wanted to write about the out-dated web and how there are websites, blogs and content that was uploaded years ago and is now out of date or no longer receives new content. I had wanted to write something of the sort for a while and I was spurred into doing so last month when I read a fellow blogger’s topic asking “Does Second Life History Matter?” [link] I had begun to write then but I didn’t finish the piece – the file just sat on my desktop (as does a lot of other stuff). Stumbling upon the kayaking blog at random has spurred me on! So here goes.

Having accessed the internet since before the masses turned up, I remember when every website felt fresh and new (although if you saw that same website now as it did then it would look crappy and old) – every service available online was something that hadn’t been there before – if you created a website or page of your own (for there were no ‘blogs’) then you were pretty cool (at least I thought myself to be as such in my 20s and having my own website). I have fond memories of this time, and my website still exists, although its form, content and location have all changed over time.

Now (I think, sadly) pretty much everyone is here. It has all been done, or is all being done, and ironically I find the minority of people who have still never dipped their toes in the internet to now be the cool ones. Anything new just seems like a re-hash, or is rarely as useful as it is claimed – it just looks “smart” and the masses confuse this with the term “useful” (like an iPad!)

I am of a generation that both remember life without the internet, and now see it largely with (and finding it hard to imagine it without). Now there are youngsters who are born with and grow up around tech, from their mother’s smart phones and tablets, to chatting with their school friends outside of school only in a virtual sense through the likes of Facebook, or texting (if kids still do that?!) When I was at school, if I wanted to hang out with someone after school then I had to go round to their house and call for them, or ask mum if I could make a quick phone call to my mate if he lived too far away to pop round, to arrange a time and parent’s taxi services. Life was quite different back then. Now it seems kids hang out with each other very little in a physical sense by comparison and just ‘make-do’ with chatting online. I think this is a great shame, and is perhaps harmful to their long-term well-being. Or perhaps it’s just another way of living and not actually harmful (I only have online friends after all).

Back to the ‘issue’ of old stuff online and sometimes old content can still be useful – an old webpage might look very dated (or “naff”) but the content can still be relevant. I know of websites where the original curator has passed away, and while the websites are kept live, there is no one to put the work in to bring the website up-to-date (in a visual sense at least). I’m thinking of Sheldon Brown’s cycling website and a particular website that is old but still useful to me – if I need to know how to carry out some maintenance on my bike I search google but always include “sheldon brown” in the search terms. [link]

sheldon_brown

Sometimes old content online is simply that. Sure, someone might have started a blog back in the 2000s, but that content might have only been relevant at the moment in time, just to chart some progress on a particular project or have a rant about how they were feeling. Now it just sits there and serves little purpose (I think – unless you believe that every human thought posted online is important just for the sake of it), but it’s not going anywhere because the service that provides it is free and is still widely used. Even my own blog and website can fall into this category I think – I sometimes scroll down to the oldest pages and clear out some stuff, but this takes time. I do something similar with content on Flickr, Twitter and Facebook. This stems to a anti-hoarding technique about ditching anything that you haven’t used for a year, and the approach feels useful and refreshing to me in both the physical and digital worlds.

There is something that irritates/bugs me about my own old digital content just sitting there, on my computer or online for the world to see. In the material world I have strived to be minimalistic but then I sit at my computer and “come online” (that term is so out-dated since we’re generally online already!) and there are hoards of old stuff. Indeed, Second Life is a case in point – in the virtual world you have virtual inventory and a popular topic that comes up is how many items we have each accumulated 10K, 30K, 50K? And the programmers of the SL viewer software don’t seem to be too helpful in this regard, since you can’t organise your inventory in order of date like you might on with files on your computer, although in writing this I have just discovered that you can enable a search filter to show older items.

sl_inventory_search_by_date

Some people in Second Life try and keep their digital hoarding under control, but again, it takes time. In the end, once your hoard gets beyond a certain limit, I think you have to ignore what’s there and just rely on the search box to find stuff, rather than try and keep everything neatly categorised.

When it comes to the topic of old sims and regions in Second Life, here again questions can be asked: “Does this sim, that has been here for x-number of years, warrant still being here?”, “Is ‘nostalgia’ a good enough reason if few people still visit that location?” Largely I think yes. This is because it means that anyone that is new to that place can see it a-fresh for the first time – it’s only depressing (for me at least) when I turn up to a sim years later and it’s still the same, and more so when the same people are there standing around in the same places. Some times when I’m exploring I find houses that still the same, and someone is still obviously paying rent to keep it there, the same, but in some cases I look in their profile and discover they don’t seem to be (regular) visitors to Second Life any more. This is what is a shame.

I think, in any world, the internet, Second Life, the physical world, we are quick to hoard/accumulate stuff, but slower to maintain (I know my mum hoards stuff quicker than she can clear stuff out). We knock down old houses or scrap old vehicles when they become a money pit, and throw money at something new instead. Personally I don’t like this approach, but sometimes it’s the only practical solution. In a virtual environment the cost of keeping something minor [a]live is perhaps negligible – a basic website sitting on a server somewhere might only take up a couple of 10s of megabytes, and if the visitor traffic is minuscule then why worry, it’s not like that server is only being kept switched on for that single website? However, I think the mental cost is the issue.

Perhaps it is only how myself and a few others perceive it to be, but I find ‘hoarding’ and the accumulation of stuff, or coming across a mass of old stuff that you have to sift through to find what you were looking for/or something useful if you weren’t looking for anything specific in the first place, to be stressful. There is something mentally taxing about it. I guess not everyone is the same – some seem to just ignore that mass of stuff and focus on what’s important to them. Maybe I just imagine something stressful when it’s not, in itself, stressful, or perhaps people who aren’t stressed out by a hoard of out-dated stuff just don’t realise how blissful the would would be without all this old stuff knocking about – ahh the philosophy of hoarding.

Sometimes I think people have to delete or discard things, leave a site/blog/virtual world completely if their stuff/presence is no longer maintained, and move on.

P.S. I was right – mum e-mailed me back to say it was the Cotswolds, well done me!

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