Elderblog Sutra: 2

This entry is part 2 of 13 in the series Elderblog Sutra

A necessary, but not sufficient, condition for an elderblog to exist is an underlying pristine blog that is old enough, and contentful enough, to serve as a landscape on which an elder game can be played. Ribbonfarm is at 11.5 years, 715 posts, and nearly 1.6 million words. The numbers are merely skin in the elder game. The spirit of the condition is that a coherent pristine game — “refactoring perception” in our case — should be winding down.

Elder-blogging possibilities obviously depend on the nature of the pristine landscape. Newsy blogs suggest history-based elder games. Blogs based on transient subject matter, such as product or fashion blogs, suggest trend-mining elder games.

Atemporal longform blogs like Ribbonfarm, like cities past a founding era, suggest metatextual  or infratextual games. Skyscrapers on regraded or reclaimed land that reshape territory, versus new roads, tunnels, or bridges that conform to existing territory.

The two are not mutually exclusive. Seattle for example, features many examples of both kinds of urban-planning elder games. These have been played since the city’s pristine game ended with the Klondike gold rush in 1900. Last weekend, my wife and I walked the newly opened Seattle SR-99 tunnel. Over the next few months, the old Alaskan Way viaduct that the tunnel replaces will be demolished. We’re living through a major infratextual porn chapter of Seattle’s elder-game era.

I favor infratextuality. Tunnels over skyscrapers. Infratextuality weaves a landscape into a landscape. The pristine landscape is still there, modulo weathering, aging, falsification, and decay effects. Infratextual elements recode and grow the landscape while preserving memories. Metatextual elements, on the other hand, have a tendency to erase memories and rewrite history.

If you know of good elderblog candidates, I’d appreciate links in the comments, perhaps with a short comment on what elder game is going on there, if any.

Series Navigation<< Elderblog Sutra: 1Elderblog Sutra: 3 >>

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Marc Hamann says

    I have a suggestion for an Elderblog game for you, though I suspect you might hate it: post-mortems.

    Revisit old posts and praise/critique them based on your current understanding and use of them since they were written.

    Are the ideas still in your toolkit? Is there unexploited potential in the ideas, or do you feel you chewed them over thoroughly? Do you sometimes ask yourself: “What was I thinking?”

    There are some posts, especially those that proposed new analytic schemas, that I remember taking several reads to process, only for them to disappear down the memory hole…

    • Hehe, you’re right, that’s almost exactly what I *don’t* want to do. Those are the markers of late style thinking and metatextuality. The skeletons remain in closets, things that sank without a trace stay wrecked on the ocean floor etc.

      Praise/critique is for others to do if they think it deserves that much attention. For me, the archives are ground for new constructions, not a place to wallow in.

  2. Firstly – I’m a fan of this elderblogging series and thinking. Much more interesting than the blogging is alive / blogging is dead debate. And also more pragmatic than the “I quit blogging” trope.

    Secondly – it made me think of Design Sponge, which is an old blog for sure (definitely a landscape to play an elder game on top of if they choose). Instead of quitting they announced a long (9-months) warm-down period which I thought interesting and uncommon. I doubt they’ll choose the weird Venkatesh route but they could.

    Thirdly – for some reason the analogy of the artist comes to mind. The broke artist moves into the bad neighborhood in the 70s and buys a cheap apartment. Creates cultural output for 40 years and is ready to quit but now sits on top of a multi-million-dollar real estate property. A blog is an accumulation of something not unlike real estate. The game you’re playing now is the late-stage artist who’s now “rich” and has to reconcile art with capitalism. Maybe.

  3. IIUC this seems to map in some way to a totally different situation–the picnic bus antakshari (different from the TV contest version). Generations of Indians exposed to Hindi/Bollywood cinema have experienced and participated in this. At some point after the boisterous picnic crowd has been assembled into a 55-seater bus, someone would suggest, “Antaakshariiii! Front seats versus back” (or “left side seats versus right”).

    An almost 90% predictable sequence of highly popular songs (Huh! Haay re haay… Nuh! Nana karte pyaar tumhi se… and so on) would then be sung with gusto by most of the participants. Some enthusiastic but movie- or song-challenged folk would mouth a few words without sound but with a huge smile and generally seem happy with the proceedings. A couple of loud-mouthed and aggressive types would frequently try to shout down the opposite team with fault-finding on the starting syllable or try some low quality humor about repeats, which would initially be tolerated or ignored when the song stock and enthusiasm of beginner participants are still present but gradually the humor would be welcomed and built upon.

    Pretty soon the antakshari is unofficially over and the singing would be in the danger of totally fizzling out but that is when a few better singers would join in. When they sing (19th song starting in “muh”) a song that the others tried to recall in vain, the quality would be such that someone is likely to suggest that they continue with the antara (middle stanzas) rather than stop at the mukhda (beginning stanza) so that everybody listens and enjoys the singing.

    Often though not always, this leads to a different phase of the singing. Requests are made and obliged with rendering of full-length songs, knowledge nuggets on song lyrics and back stories are shared along with singing of the songs, attempts to disturb the singing with jokes are curbed by the mob, and a different kind of enjoyment of music occurs.

    Usually the initial game has popular, catchy numbers, the second phase has more melodious ones, ghazals, and slow/sad/classical-base ones. While there may be trained and qualified singers in this, rarely would they take the discussion or singing to a pure classical arena restricted to themselves. They would keep it at a movie music appreciation level and keep many more engaged in the activity. Of course, this stage encompasses fewer people, say 50% of the initial, while the others would be foraging for snacks or socializing with newly made friends.

    Sometimes a good song would have briefly featured in the initial competitive cacophony and someone would ask for a proper rendition in the second phase. The singers usually have their own favorites and the audience would request them to sing those, too. Often in the initial phase, one’s own team mate might start a different song in a louder voice and drown a legitimate song started in the required syllable. In the latter phase politeness and courtesy are in evidence between singers and with the audience.

    • This sounds very cool–would have loved to participate in something like this! :) The elder-game concept now appears extremely general. Heck, you could even say most of human civilization is an elder game–we’ve now figured out (mostly) how to survive, and we turn our attention to other things allowed by the mechanics of the physical world (such as actual gun collecting or blogging).

  4. Kottke (is his newsletter by Tim Carmody a form of eldering?), Anil Dash, Khoi Vinh.

  5. Hi and thanks. As a newbie here (1yr?) I was totally unaware you had been a cricketer and at it for 11+ yrs. Congrats. So to me you have some ‘trancendence’ of your persona. Wow.

    And I appreciated your insighful self preferece of infratextuality .

    In the spirit of reciprocity ‘I’d appreciate links in the comments, perhaps with a short comment on what elder game is going on there’ i will try to weave into a comment when appropriate elderblogging and a link back.

    So in the spirit of reciprocity you also need to have the reverse … here is my elderblog link on you blog: johnquiigin.com who is also trancendiing his background imho.

  6. Epsilon Theory has begun creating and updating Narrative maps of its archive (using Quid) to discover/rediscover the connections in content, context, phrasing and sentiment. So I guess they are quite literally drawing landscapes that represent the elderblog, and then using those preserved landscapes to inform and enrich the current blog entries. https://www.epsilontheory.com/discovery-map-december-31-2018/