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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



style project

I’m halfway through a memo for work. I’m struggling a bit with the style, because it’s stuck between being broadly informative and terse, and rah-rah-inspiring, and I’m not sure which way to go with it.

It’s also the first bit of writing I’ve done for a while (and certainly the first since my heavy flirtation with Covid, which of course means I spend some of my time going “wait, is my inability to choose the right noun here due to novel holes in my brain?”).

The last year or so, since I left EFF, have been ingesting a huge amount of new information, hobnobbing with lovely new people, and, in terms of communicative output on my behalf, providing a great deal of hand-waving and anecdotalising in Zoom calls. (If you want the flavor of that last category, here’s a recorded version of said hand-waving that I gave at Protocol Labs’ Funding the Commons event last week. Don’t know if it’s interesting, can’t bear to watch me or my hair in it.)

Honestly, the change of career flavor been pretty nice. I’m delighted to be learning new tricks , and it’s charming to have a new audience for what transpires to be a near endless supply of slightly too long tales of the early Internet. I guess looking at my long line of irish uncles, I should have assumed I’d slowly transform into a barracking raconteur, but from the viewpoint of someone who was a awkward, shy teenager, it’s still a shocking development. I still have a constant refrain in my head of “perhaps it’s time to shut up now”, but my internal hearing appears to be going. This is how you become what you — well, not hate, but certainly eye-rolled at — in your own past. Would awkward teenager have hated me? Nah, I’d have been terrified of me, but with a sort of grudging respect. Like, huh, seems like a bit of an ass, but maybe an aspirational ass, too?

Time-travel paradoxes aside: But but, but, the writing. And worse, the public writing.

I have started to realise that I have now processed verbally so much new information that I really have some kind of obligation to blurt it out to a wider audience. Yes, this may also have come with the barracking, and possible the long covid dementia.

Does forcing myself on the body politic mean writing? Well, it does if I don’t want to change my t-shirt or comb my hair. I could do some more Youtube Videos, I guess, and have previously enjoyed my forays into livestreaming. (The podcasting, too, has been effective I think, though that’s not really been down to me, I’m just a cog there in a much smarter pod mechanism.)

Anyway, the challenge in all of these environments is less the creative act of writing, and more the orchestration of the personal brand. The last seven years at EFF, has involved in increasing subsumption of my voice into managing and guiding the EFF voice. This was something I found a bit frustrating when I first joined the org, because I HAD MORE THINGS TO SAY AS A HUMAN DAMMIT. But come the 2010s, and the replacement of the joie-de-vivre of blogging punditry with the dodging-velociraptors-while-escaping-over-a-lava-field-in-mid-meteor-strike that is the modern Internet landscape, my enforced personal radio silence gradually turned into constant background sigh of relief. Speaking as EFF was a regular terror, but at least people mostly didn’t judge me on that basis, and on a million different mutually contradictory axis, most of which I had no control over. I enjoyed to sinking into well-deserved obscurity, while watching my friends ascend into micro-celebrityhood, with all the pain and cancelling and damnation that now involves.

But now: god, do I have to gear up again? And if so, what is my personal punditry outfit going to be?

I still see the Internet, unavoidably, as a meta-medium. To my mind, it reamins a protoplasm that you can shape into different media, as different from each other as a book is from a newspaper, or a newspaper from a radio show. And I do feel very at odds with the current, limited menu of media that we are given from on high. Part of it is aging inflexibility, of course (no I do not think I am a born TikToker), but part of it is because I think to engage, is to try and construct your own format. And I’m still in mid-mull about what that format could be.

3 Responses to “style project”

  1. Sumana Harihareswara Says:

    The idea of the Internet as a meta-medium makes a lot of sense to me! And I wish you well as you seek to learn whatever new style or variant works for your current brain and goals.

  2. Paul Guinnessy Says:

    I’m having a lot of flashbacks to Charles Stross’s Laundry Files novels with the description of holes in your brain (which actually would also make a lot of sense to what’s been going on over the last couple of decades).

  3. Danny O'Brien Says:

    @Paul (how could I make it so that people would see these replies?)

    Someone on Twitter had a terrible vision that they were desperately filling in their own holes in reality.


petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.