the idea of putting all my digital detritus into some kind of order and printing it
I've been using lulu.com to print a song book for the last couple of years now, and recently bought Wil Wheaton's latest book from there as well. The experience has been good - I'd definitely recommend their service if you have something you want printed up and bound in a professional way. All the songs in the song book are maintained on a website and I basically download and format them into a printable PDF file. Since the song book project has gone so well, it got me thinking about possibly arranging my other online writings and getting them printed up as well.
Why write online at all?
It's been a few weeks now that I've been thinking about writing, though I haven't been doing as much of it certainly. I've had a few conversations about this with friends and while I really like writing online (in blogs, forums, etc.) I'm starting to feel a bit unsatisfied with it. Posts crafted for sharing online are restricted in the topics they cover, the language that I use in them, and sometimes lack that expression of personal angst that makes reading a journal compelling. Working in the Information field I understand the implications of putting too many private details in the public space or posting potentially embarrassing information. I also actively try to be as calm and measured in my posts as possible, not something I used to do in my real journals at all. Is a permanent move back to paper in the offing?
Why bother printing it up?
I'd like to archive the stuff I've written so far, for the same reason I keep a journal in the first place - its a record of what I've done, what I've been thinking about, who I did things with. I like to look back once in a while and see where I've been and what I was thinking then. Memories are not good enough for me in this regard - they seem to get changed and twisted until you're not sure you're remembering what actually happened or just the tall tale you've been telling for years. While I can certainly search and sort my way through an online blog, flipping through a book is a much different experience, and in many ways a much more satisfying one. While online blogs offer a multitude of ways to find old content: tagging, dated archives, search, topics, etc. they just don't compare to flipping the pages until you see a heading that's interesting.
But the question arises, what to print and what to toss?
The job of sorting through everything I've written is huge, and I'm not sure I really want to start to tackle it. Since I've been writing online I've amassed a huge digital record that resides mostly out on the web. There are several websites, some live on the web and some on private networks. There are blogs I run and replies to blogs I don't run. There are posts on social networking sites and project sites for software I use. There are image galleries on photo sharing sites and my own private galleries. There are emails I've written (and saved) since 1999 at least, some of which would be many pages long, long involved discussions on topics mundane and arcane that might be interesting to someone someday. It all amounts to a vast amount of written material which may not interest any of you, my gentle readers, but that I'd like to preserve for the reasons given above. But how to bring it all together, how to relate it all - how to present it? What to cut and what to save? Should it include photographs and diagrams? What would be the overall point of such a work? Should there even be one? It could easily be just a chronological print-out of entries as my journals of old once were, but that seems lacking.
Finally there arises the question of the suite of technologies required to get the job done and deliver a printable file to lulu. I've already been messing around with this problem a bit and will share how I did the Book of Song and how I might approach this project in a future post.