Embracing Ephemerality

A short while ago my blog database decided to crap the bed and republish everything in 7-bit ASCII, which meant that everything from apostrophes to accents was replaced by weird characters when I republished a page. This was a sign, I thought, that it was time to give the ol’ personal web page a makeover.

That meant, among other things, switching to WordPress. Between this site and its predecessor, I’ve been using Movable Type in one form or another since 2003; continuing to do so would require me to code manually what now comes automatically with WordPress. I relaunched The Map Room last January in WordPress, and the switch has made a world of difference: high-resolution images, mobile compatibility, social network integration — all things I simply don’t have to worry about any more. Blogging’s never been easier. Time to do the same here.

My next question was what to do with all my legacy pages. Maintaining them would require continuing to wrestle with Movable Type in addition to the new setup; not maintaining them would mean more than a thousand increasingly out-of-date, increasingly crufty pages; importing them into WordPress would be a ton of work — and for whose benefit? Honestly, who’s interested in scouring through old entries of a personal blog?

I’ve decided to do something different: embrace ephemerality. The old pages will, eventually, simply go away.

As a historian by training I flinch at the thought of documents disappearing, but in practical terms it makes the most sense. Sites far bigger and more important than mine have content disappear down the memory hole all the time. My words are hardly as precious. Over the past fifteen years I’ve written thousands of blog entries. For every blog entry I’m proud of, there’s another I now find profoundly embarrassing — and probably a half-dozen more that, because they dealt with some news item or gadget of the moment, are now long obsolete or irrelevant.

But most significantly, I’ve come to the realization that I can curate my online life. Which means pruning those bits that are less meaningful now than they were when they were created. My first web page was uploaded in January 1996. I’ve been blogging since July 2001. I’m not the same person I was ten, fifteen or twenty years ago. It’s all right if my web presence reflects that.

All of which is to say: Welcome to the reboot of my website. I’ll still write about the things that interest me, and I’ll still review a lot of books. (By the way, look for my old book reviews to reappear on dedicated pages in the near future.) But I’ll be doing so looking forward, without the weight of fifteen years of site history dragging behind me.