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Thursday, February 20, 2003
By Paul Ford
How it's going.
A fine moment the other day: for the first time, I finished something. That is, I wrote something that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It took a span of over a year, or 6 years if you count the whole site, to get there.
What did I finish? It starts with Run From Ground Zero, continues with Waiting for the Bang and Personal, and concludes with Saturday. Taken together, those pieces explain something that I want to explain. I don't have a word for it, because then I would have used that word instead of writing the pieces. They connect, but the chronological space between them means something, too.
This doesn't mean you'll like them or think they are good; it just means that I think they are finished, and after 6 years of throwing text at the wall and seeing where the pathways would lead, it feels good to finish something. It validates some of the hours spent building custom content management systems. It encourages me to keep working on other seed-projects I've got around the place: in particular Scott Rahin's story, and the Genealogy of Software, on the narrative side, and the redesigned Semantic Web-based Reader Services on the technology side.
On this site, chronology flows into a hierarchy, and then that hierarchy, because it is made of unique lexia, can be infinitely rearranged and reconnected, like one of those teach-yourself-electronics breadboard kits Radio Shack sells for kids. Connect one wire here to another over here, and you have a radio; connect this wire to that microchip, then to the LED, and it's a single-digit calculator. Or like the chain of oscillators and reverb units that goes into the composition of a song. I want storytelling to be that flexible: each piece of the story should connect, leading towards some overall effect, and the pieces should rearrange, or rearrange themselves for new effects, like musical motifs. Eventually it should connect with other sites, other places, other voices, once the technology is ready.
There is a set of heavy lenses mounted on a steel base, each lens 8 feet across. Looking through them, the world is blurry. Turning the lenses is exhausting. Wears out the muscles, takes all your energy. An inch a day each, and you have maybe 3 whole revolutions to go on each one before you end up in focus. It'll take 100 years, really, to get a clear picture of the world. I'll be dead by then. But in the meantime, some focus is better than none.
For me, Ftrain is those lenses: if I do something almost every day, I'm turning them. I'll be able to see sequences and patterns, and draw up an extratemporal logic of life in words. So that, while my life is bound by the linearity of time, if I keep a record of my thoughts, I can mine my own data and pull out cognitive states from my close and more distant past, in the form of essays, and learn from them about my own habits, and see the best way to move forward so that I might be more useful and interesting. Thank God I am not the boy I was at 22, when I started writing. The proof is in the prose.