This is the last article published on the Pastry Box Project.
For four years, Katy and I have asked authors to contribute to our project's corpus, and we've had the incredible honor to publish brilliant texts–one new text every day–from brilliant minds during 1461 days (2012 was a leap year).
The concept at the origin of the Pastry Box is quite simple: bring people together and let them write about anything they want. If you do that, you should get some kind of testimony about our day and age. You should be able to grab some sense of our era. That's always been the goal of the Pastry Box.
I've always assumed that the sole fact of stating the project's ambition and giving complete freedom to the project's contributors would produce some kind of magical result.
And, in my humble opinion, it did.
It's possible that my vision of the project may be biased by the intentions I set for the Pastry Box, but when I read the texts published in 2012, I can see that the preoccupations of our writers were not the same as the preoccupations of the people writing in 2015, and that 2012 is in many ways a statement of what the web–and our world–was at the time.
I can't help but feel that the Pastry Box found itself at a particular juncture in time and that, in retrospect, we'll understand that the Internet was taking a major turn during the years the project was active.
The explosion of the mobile web, the accumulation of new developing tools and techniques, the rise of social networks as a mainstream apparatus for communication, the drastic changes in content production and distribution as well as in project's financing–not to mention start-ups philosophies–are amongst the things that make the Internet a complete different place than the one I knew when Ethan's first post went live.
At the time the Pastry Box started, there was a feeling that people were still trying to figure out the Internet, trying to understand which direction this thing could and would take. I now feel that a path has been found. I would be hardly pressed to describe it accurately, and there are obviously not just one single path when you take a closer look at the state of the web, but I can't help but feel that there is a general movement toward a certain direction. Time and distance are going to be needed to turn those rather abstract considerations into precise words, to understand the changes the Internet was undergoing, its transformations, and how it was shaping our world. But I know that the joyful chaos of the early 2010s is settling down to give room to a more normalized–and probably less creative–state of things.
I know that at some point, I will come back to the texts published on the Pastry Box to understand better what was happening circa the moment of my writing. Because I will want to understand the world I will be living in, how it works, and I how I should act in it. Its secrets.
The future is shaped by the present, and the present only exists as a result of the past.
Thank you so much for reading me, and for–still–reading the Pastry Box, no matter where you find yourself in the future.
So, it’s our 1000th post
I am the happy owner of the Pastry Box Project, and today, Katy and I are celebrating our 1000th article. Now don’t expect any self-congratulation in the words below. No trips down Memory Lane. No behind-the-scenes anecdotes. No looking back at the past.
This piece is on quite a downer, so don’t read it if you’re feeling depressed. I’m actually not kidding. This is not a writer’s trick to draw you in. If you’re feeling blue, it may be wise to come back to my words another day.
No trips down Memory Lane. No behind-the-scenes anecdotes. No looking back at the past. I’m writing here, on The Pastry Box, for a very different purpose.
Yes, we have published a thousand articles, or “thoughts”, as we call them around these parts. A milestone. A great occasion to remind you of a truth that we human beings are very good at ignoring or reducing to biological fact, devoid of emotion. A disembodied certainty.
We’re all going to die.
And when that happens, all the texts you have published on the Internet, all your “digital corpus”, so to speak, are very likely to die with you. Not right away. But in time, your blog, the platforms on which you published your thoughts, the magazines for which you wrote articles, all those intangible places, will vanish. Sooner or later. Ineluctably. And when they do, your words will vanish with them, and you will not be around to do a damn thing about it.
Yes, we’re all going to die.
At this stage in the history of the web, at this stage in its development, the concept of “content legacy” simply doesn’t exist in my opinion. Not in a viable way. There are efforts to archive websites and their contents. There are occasional concerns about whole websites disappearing from the surface of the earth. There are people here and there doing their best to find solutions. But with all due respect–and believe me, I have mad respect for the people worrying about content preservation–I haven’t yet seen one satisfying solution to the problem of one person’s words vanishing along with that person’s life.
Let’s not forget how fragile things are. It would take a couple of lines of code to completely erase The Pastry Box. It would take a couple of lines of code to completely erase A List Apart, Medium, .net Magazine, Smashing Magazine and all your other favorite publications. In fact, if all the owners, publishers and editors of all those projects held a conference call and decided, in a fit of madness, to irreversibly destroy all the content they have helped put online, it could certainly be done in less than ten minutes.
How messed up is that? The mere fact that such a thing is actually possible… How messed up and frightening is that?
I sometimes wonder how long it would take a mediocre hacker to bring us all down.
Back to the point. In more concrete terms, if I failed to do what I needed to do to keep The Pastry Box online, it would take a couple of clicks to close my hosting accounts. Whatever the reason, if I failed to pay for/renew/whatnot the various accounts that help serve the content of this very website, it would take a couple of clicks to remove that content. Which means that you, dear reader, might simply never have access to that content ever again.
Never in the history of mankind has so much content been produced, and never has so much content been lost and erased and destroyed. Never has so much content been threatened.
We all know that we’re going to die. But we rarely take the time to fully appreciate what this truth implies. When I force myself to think about my disappearance, about what it really means, when I face the certainty of my death, in the midst of oceans of sadness, I often find myself thinking about the fact that The Pastry Box, this project to which I’m giving so much time and energy, would not stay online for more than a year.
And I know, I know, that, in actual fact, all the content-preservation yaddiyadda I have come up with would not change a damn thing about that.
The ineluctability of it
I’m not writing this to provide solutions or hints for how the problem of content preservation could be solved.
I’m not writing to provide rays of hope or give you the feeling that, yeah, everything will fall into place bang on cue, deus ex machina style, when the worst occurs.
I’m writing to get completely and utterly emotional about the fact that the whole corpus of the web is actually hanging by a tiny thread and nothing more.
I’m writing to let you know how much I worry about the digital landscape that future generations will inherit.
I’m writing to urge you to worry about it, too: to think about your blog and how it will travel through time and survive you.
Because right now, there’s that ineluctability in the air, that shadow hovering above our heads, and the time when we have to face oceans of sadness just won’t be postponed forever.
I’ve spent the last decade reading articles focusing on technical issues. Responsive web design. Browser support. Vendor prefixes. Native vs. Web. You name it.
If content preservation had gotten only a tenth of the brain power that’s been put into theorizing, say, responsiveness, the problem of saving websites and backing up content stored remotely in a single place (or in a cloud of places, nowadays, which is no less reassuring) would probably be solved today, or thereabouts.
But content preservation has to do with disappearance and death, and we human beings are very good at ignoring such matters or reducing them to biological fact, devoid of emotion. Disembodied certainties.
We’re very good at ignoring things that have to do with our ending.
With every sentence, with every word, with every letter, the burden gets heavier.