Digital Debt, Personal Online Sustainability, and an Archive of One’s Own

This has been a pretty amazing year for travel for me, but not so amazing in terms of blogging all that travel. Alan Levine wrote about that “sad position of back blogging” during his current trip to Australia, and then proceeded to be his usual blog machine self.* I’m not sure how he is able to blog so much on the road, I personally find it quite challenging—and even harder the more I travel. Part of that is my lack of organization, but I also know I’m a sedentary blogger. I tend to blog most consistently when I have settled back into a quiet, couch-based routine at home.

I can manage to get off a few posts while traveling, but they often feel rushed and haphazard. What’s more, when I take two to three week trips like I have this year, I tend to not blog them at all given the time that passes from car to couch. That happened with my trips to Sweden, Ireland, England, as well as my cross country Route 66 road trip with Mikhail. Not a post about any of it. I only lightly blogged Australia, and in the end New Zealand probably faired the best. But arguably the biggest shame of it all was how little I blogged about Domains 17, there were several conversations during that conference (not to mention Martha Burtis’s amazing keynote) that still resonate with me. I have been meaning to blog about a number of them, and I’ll take the last month of 2017 to simply catch up. I promise to have no new experiences of any value in December just so that I can polish off my blog post to-do list before January.

The idea of being smarter about building processes around how I sustain not only my blog, but also my photos, videos, Tweets, bookmarks, RSS feeds, etc. constantly dogs me. The increasing sense of carrying around a digital debt in relationship to managing and organizing my digital artifacts is something I feel acutely, but I’m also well aware I’m part of a broad network of folks how have processes, work flows, best practices, etc. that they use and would be willing to share. I want to start thinking and blogging about those processes more intentionally in 2018, and even work with a bunch of folks to spearhead something resembling a “class” around this topic? Alan Levine referred to it in passing as a crash course in “personal online sustainability” and I naturally gravitated towards an archive of one’s own 🙂

The idea of archiving and preserving some of the online work I’ve been part of over the last twelve years is something that is very important to me. Not simply to get rid of the sense of guilt when I think of all my unorganized digital life-bits that remain inaccessible across various storage containers online and off, but also because I want to be part of a sustainable web. I’ve had fun blogging and sharing photos, links, ideas, etc. over the years, and I want to make sure some of that is easily accessible and available (online and off) to my family and friends. These artifacts are probably the closest thing to a family legacy we’ll have, and the fact that so many of our memories are now tied up with digital media and the web (for better and for worse) means I feel obligated to start sorting some of that out. I’ll start the process now by documenting the blog gaps from 2017 over the next month—which will in turn force me to organize my photos on Flickr, which will make me upload and organize my videos, etc.

I’m really lucky I start blogging 12 years ago, because I could not imagine the fresh hell of having all of these memories strewn across third party social media services without the overarching organizing archive of my work that is the bava—it’s a mess, but its my mess. 


*I counted at least ten posts since then in just over two weeks.

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14 Responses to Digital Debt, Personal Online Sustainability, and an Archive of One’s Own

  1. Adam Croom says:

    One thing you don’t mention, but something I’ve been thinking about more and more over the last 12 months is how I choose what I WILL share and whether or not that impedes on what I SHOULD share. I feel myself drift away from sharing on either Twitter or my blog for a multitude of reasons, some of which have to do with available time but also a.) a broader dissatisfaction with online discourse via the platforms we utilize b.) a stronger yearning to separate the digital self from my physical self and more holistically embrace the portion of my life that is geographically limited or c.) a growing suspicion that the social value of sharing isn’t as strong as it once was. In all honesty, the last one shouldn’t be a motivation, but I must admit that I’m more likely to talk in the spaces where someone will listen and converse back with me. I prefer my ideas to challenged rather than to be spoken into the void. Anyways, while I totally understand travel simply pulls you away from routine, I’d be curious to hear if any of this resonates with maybe why you, much like myself, haven’t spent as much time blogging as you would like to, and I apologize if I’m only projecting my own feelings on to you (trying not to!).

    • Reverend says:

      Hey Adam,

      While I am increasingly less interested in Twitter (I have never been a Facebook user of any note), I really have never stopped seeing the blog as a place where I share my ideas. I blog mostly about edtech and movies and other stuff, but occasionally my family. I don’t draw a hard line between personal and professional for of my own expeiences, but know folks’ mileage may vary on that.

      But in the end I still think of the blog as a personal archive. And I guess that underlies my own drive behind blogging: I love the idea of having a record of some of this stuff, and by writing regularly I have met a ton of good folks and even brought a few rough ideas to the surface. There are a bunch of things I don’t blog explicitly about: my mental health, finances, what I ate for lunch, etc. The list goes on, and I am fine with that.

      I guess I resist a bit of the the idea that my online space don’t have their own holistic properties. I think of myself as holistically in the bava. It has been a twelve year experiment in trying to articulate who I am over and over again through various inflection points of my thought—some better than others. In fact, I consider this as real and authentic to who I am as I would a family dinner, a movie I go watch, or a course I teach. I would approach each of these things differently for various reasons, but they are all deeply rooted in who I am.

      In terms of the social value in sharing, I guess that depends on who and why. The fact it could be universally discounted as a “deprecated” social good seems more inline with the crap streaming from most news and social media agencies. Not that’s not unique to online, look at the trash culture of all kinds we are served up (food, movies, music, politics) -it’s no different. Online augments it, and even creates more robust ecosystems of shit—but not necessarily novel. The bava is my small place to try and refuse that impulse (or even make sense of it). Discourse has come and gone on this blog for a variety of reasons, but when it did happen here I was thrilled. Comments remain gold, and finding this nugget from you reminds me of that. How can the social value of sharing be devalued when that seems to define much of the good. I always think of this post I wrote back in 2008 when I think of my blog comments and discourse. The post is simply a link to a recording blogged by WFMU when they had a blog about Hank Williams at Sunset Park, and for near on ten years people have been sharing their memories of the park in a very sincere way—how can that be devalued? It’s everything to me.

      • Adam Croom says:

        I think we are on the same page. I was just saying doing this is much sweeter when conversation (this) is an outcome, though I also believe it doesn’t have to happen to have personal value. I am still okay though with saying the opportunity for conversation is a major motivator for me. I am not willing to say I only blog to write for my own sake because if I was then I would be making different choices in where I wrote. For me, the value of the network is the network. (Again, speaking for myself) For better or for worse, less network or health of the network play big factors in my level of engagement. And maybe on the more positive end of the spectrum, there’s only so much of me to go around. If I’m being fulfilled outside of the network, I’ll likely engage elsewhere. Limited blogging could also be a product of just being one very happy Italy inhabitant, I don’t know. 😉 Nothing to be ashamed of there.

        • Reverend says:

          Adam,
          I do wonder if my level of happiness and satisfaction in Italy is directly related to less output on the bava. I think there is something there, but some of that is intentional given I was burning out towards the end of my UMW time. But I still kinda think in blog posts no matter what I am doing, and my recent trip back to VA and NYC with the Reclaim crew got me motivated to work in earnest on some projects I have been mulling on (this archiving idea is one of them) and ReclaimVideo another.

          Much of my blogging over the years has been about UMW Blogs or ds106 or Domain of One’s Own or Reclaim, so there is a constant motif of projects, people, and purpose. All of these things drive me to share (and imbue the sharing with meaning), and that is another kind of compulsion, one I have been missing a bit lately, to be frank.

          I think the idea of “needing to share” (which I sometimes feel) may come from an inflated sense of self, but I hope doing it in my own space and not taking it too seriously can offset the vanity. I think another bit to all this is exploring personas and voices-figures like Dr Oblivion, the EdTech Survivalist, the EDUPUNK poster-boy, Kim Droom, and others which were ways to make edtecch fun and try and connect through bad humor—and they opened up some creative energy for me.

          There can be a deep sense of fun to the performance of this space (which unlike Alan, does require some sense of an audience for me) that can get lost when we are focusing too much on blogging as a chore. But my perceived audience, to quote Brian Lamb, is usually 10 or 15 people I have been blogging for most of my career. That circle can expand or contract depending, but the size and expectations of that audience has always been modest, and that has made all the difference 🙂

          All this said, folks like Audrey and others have seen discourse through blog comments as a scourge given how f**ked up people can be. My good looks, winning personality, and relative obscurity (read as gender, race, and class respectively) have spared me most of that crap, but it is important to remember while I speak of these spaces idealistically, for too many others the blog post with open comments is as fraught as anything else on the social web. But enough about me, what about you? 🙂

          • Adam Croom says:

            Totally. I definitely don’t want to conflate that my motivation as the only motivation. Only curious to see how, if any, changes in social dynamics of the world/world wide web have been factors into your level of engagement, or if it indeed was something more personal. Again, for me, my decisions to dial it back go beyond people not “talking back to me.” Global politics and tech industry culture are two examples of factors that have made me question my own level of participation/engagement.

            I also want to note that I too was thinking about privilege when you noted that the Bava is as real and authentic as anything else. We’re in a comfortable spot if those are mirror images.

            All good stuff, Groom!

            • Reverend says:

              I certainly feel the toxicity level of Twitter at all-time high in my experience, but the less time I spend there the less apocalyptic I feel about everything. My long walks in the mountains have helped, and hopefully you’ll see why one day soon 🙂

  2. jim luke says:

    Both this post and Adam’s comment really resonate with me. I’m in on any such effort or conversation.

    Personally, though, I think I’ve solved the blogging workflow/digital debt issue except for only two circumstances: when I’m at home and when I’m not at home. 🙁

    Seriously, I agree about both the digital debt question, and Adam’s point about needing challenge/reaction/conversation and not just shouting into the void. I’ve been feeling like I’ve been blogstipated for a few years now. I have a big stack of little notecards with scribbled ideas on them, each one calling a serious post, but I never seem to get them there.

    • Reverend says:

      Wait, am I get two different comments in udner an hour? THE BAVA IS BACK!!!

      I hear you and Adam about the discourse, but I guess my only thing is we all decided to go to Twitter, and even to stay there despite the fact it was never good for sustained discourse. Blogging is kinda like eating your Wheaties, not always something you want to do (Cocoa Puffs taste better), but in the end it builds a certain sense of obligation to your ideas an online presence. As a said to Adam, conversation here has ebbed and flowed over the year in direct proportion to the amount of time my community spent on Twitter. The Twitter years were great in different ways, but they were never about deep thoughts and reflective discourse.

      I will also say that I actually appreciated the banter of Twitter when it was more focused within a community, it has gotten to the point where it simply seems like the retweets of MSM I have spent much of my online life trying to avoid. It was colonized, which is not surprising, nor and I pretending we were duped. It is all part of the plan, but not so much with blogging, at least for me. If discourse did start to come back to blog comments (or even blogging) I would be stoked, but at this point I would settle for fun and banter given that is not as easy to find. I believe we can have some hand in making the spaces we inhabit, and if all the things being said about Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook are true, then why remain in such increasingly toxic environments? Seems like what was once a willful act of playing has become some strange moral obligation to a series of corporations who have again and again demonstrated they do not have our interests in mind as individuals or a civic society. I mean isn’t Trump on Twitter the most perfect representation of how sick it has become?

  3. Eric Likness says:

    Jim mentions Life-Bits,

    Which takes me back to an article I wrote some time ago in reference to Jon Udell calling for a federated LifeBits type of service (https://carpetbomberz.com/2012/04/17/lifebits-in-the-personal-cloud/). It wouldn’t be constrained to one kind of data, but all the LifeBits aggregated potentially and new repositories for stuff that must be locked down and private. Some of it we strongly identify with the platform, “social media” vs. “blogging” but as Jim says, and Jon Udell says and Gordon Moore says, it’s all Life-Bits. And it needs to be built to last,…

    • Reverend says:

      Yeah, I love Udell’s sense of this, and I also appreciate the idea of having a way to prioritize what is valuable. Like Alan says below, part of framing your lifebits would be deciding what to keep and were to frame it. I am always intrigued when someone says, “I went to Lexington to see Foamhenge…” and then has an image on the ready of the experience, or a post, or whatever. The idea that you would not only store these lifebits, but find a way to make them relevant.

      One of the thing I was going on about in NYC while with Reclaim Hosting was how could Reclaim Hosting imagine itself as a company that could fit that niche of helping people store some of this stuff in a useful way, which brings me back to a discussion with Kin lane and many others about an API marketplace to move digital resources cleanly from one service (say flickr) to another (say Instagram), but also have them stored in WordPress, etc. But, what if within this process there was also the ability to value them. Part of what we lose outside of the social web is context and interaction, and archiving that is a much bigger problem I am afraid—but that might point to sustainability…

  4. Alan Levine says:

    Yeah open the Bava and take a Time tunnel trip to a 2007 vintage comment party.

    I think it’s everyones place to find their own level in blogging one that fits with what feeds them. If blogging feels like a chore or obligation it’s the wrong path. I’m interested in hearing these different takes, especially in more than the shoot from the click depth of social media.

    I feel often people seek in blogging the audience, to be heard, to get this kind of comment party. For me that’s just the bonus. The writing is totally for my own purpose first, and while it does serve the archiving purpose Jim describes, that’s not paramount. It. Just. Helps. Me. Think. That’s it, writing to an empty void is okay by me.

    Kate Bowles whom I was just visiting described a piece that describe the quick buzz of social media as part of a dopamine economy. I crave more.

    Frankly it starts to bother me when Back posts pile up; I find it takes more time and feels like a chore to back blog. I was trying to do one per workshop on this current tour to give something back to the groups I met and the org that brought me there, but it also energized me to be in a good writing rhythm.

    I trade sleep for blogging.

    But I’m not as much a life bits fan as Eric. If everything is auto digitized than none seems more significant than the other. I recall a documentary where a guy was showing his collection of auto saved images over days and days and he was completely emotionless. When you take time and care to choose your photos, or write those posts, the effort and the selection makes them chosen for a reason, not like some life recorder.

    Next slide. Next slide. ….

    • Reverend says:

      Not sure Digital Life-bits can’t be curated as well—doesn’t have to just be data, although I personally want as much as possible. Also, I here you on the thinking, but we don’t think or write in isolation, and it is hard to imagine the cogdogblog outside of the context of those it influences. I mean many of your posts frame an address to at least an imagined reader, they don’t simply seem like notes to yourself to get the brain working. In fact, your writing style has become more and more polished over time, unlike mine, and I think that is not only finding a voice and working like hell at it, but having people you are speaking to. I guess the discourse seems a huge part of the cogdogblog, even if it is not always in the comments, it seems to be in so many different cracks of the web.

      • Alan Levine says:

        There are still some flickering embers here in the comment party. I read this a few times, and it means a lot to me, and may change a bit of my own self narrative.

        Yes, my writing totally has evolved to a voice, and continues to do so. It’s like some kind of knife that sharpens itself from use, a gear that is kep smooth by regular motion. I look at posts from the first year and wonder sometimes “who is that guy”.

        So yes, I accept and acknowledge there is someone I am speaking too, maybe an overlap with the Groom Number of 10-15. There is an impact of doing this, that typically shows itself indirectly.

        But I cannot quantify what it is when an idea that gets in my head, that will not rest, nor will let me rest, until I write it and click “publish” (then return quickly to fix typos).

        I do struggle though with the long road it takes for faculty, students to discover there- it’s way more than a workshop, or a class, and the competition for the attention it takes to write regularly is so easily sapped by other flashing lights and squawking sounds.

        In the long run, now what will approach the 15th year, that nothing holds a candle to the individual blog. They might be the last things left standing.

  5. Ted Curran says:

    Hi Jim,
    I feel your pain about narrowing the gap between HAVING experiences, CAPTURING them in some form, and then ARRANGING them into a form that my blog readers can get value from. I have very good tools for capturing information, mostly using a few apps on my smartphone like the camera (for photos and video), Evernote (for text, voice, and dictation), and markdown editors on my phone and desktop where I can get my thoughts out quickly.

    I use a variety of cloud services to sync this content from my phone to a cloud storage location, but from there, it’s surprisingly difficult to pipe these sources of information into my WordPress blog, where they can easily become drafts that I can continue to push forwards into blog posts.

    I am surprised that the WordPress Media Library doesn’t have a tool for passively syncing photos from my phone (the way Dropbox, Facebook, and Google Photos do) so *all* my photos can go into a personal pool for easy publishing into blog posts. There aren’t even easy tools to browse these other cloud sources and post into WordPress — almost as if their business models are based on trapping my content on their closed platforms instead of empowering me to use my content the way I want!!! I’d really like to see an open-web alternative to something like Google Photos that can easily be searched from within my WordPress post interface. That would really help bridge the gap between the photos I’m always taking and keeping up some kind of a publishing schedule.

    Same thing with text posts — the fact that I write Markdown files and sync them into Dropbox instead of directly into my blog’s storage where they can become drafts (because it’s so much easier to fire up a text editor than open a WP post window) means that I have two potential queues of stories I’m developing into posts. Would be awesome if I could just sync that Dropbox folder directly into my WP storage and automatically make it a draft.

    Little things like this would really bridge the gap between the content I’m always generating and the place where it’s finally published. The big social networks like Google and Facebook are doing this already — and expressly NOT supporting those of us who publish in Open Web platforms. I’d really like to get some better brains than mine thinking about how we can sync more of our phone’s output into personal (rather than corporate) content repositories that play nice with WordPress.

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