Elderblog Sutra

In this series, I reflect on my ongoing experiments in what I call elder-blogging -- writing on a blog with a significant history.  Ribbonfarm was founded in 2007, and this series begins in 2019, nearly 12 years in (and 1.6 million words, and 715 posts in). The concept is derived from the idea of an elder game in gaming culture -- a game where most players have completed a full playthrough and are focusing on second-order play.

Elderblog Sutra: 11

This entry is part 11 of 13 in the series Elderblog Sutra

When I started the blogchain experiment in January 2019, I had in mind a metaphor of a new system of tunnels under an old landscape of skyscrapers, creating a feel of what I called infratextuality. The decade’s worth of archives from the Rust Age (2007-12) and Snowflake Age (2013-18) would be the skyscrapers. The blogchains would be the tunnels, weaving a subterranean connective layer through the themes. In the process, ribbonfarm would age gracefully into an elderblog.

In recent months, I’ve shifted to a new metaphor: angkorwatificaction, after Angkor Wat, with its ruined-and-somewhat-restored temple complex intertwingled with wild plant life reasserting itself.

Image credit: Velvetscape.com

Applied to a blog, angkorwatification is a sort of textual equivalent of rewilding. You have a base layer of traditional blog posts that is essentially complete in the sense of having created, over time, an idea space with a clear identity, and a more or less deliberately conceived architecture to it. And you have a secondary organic growth layer that is patiently but relentlessly rewilding the first, inorganic one. That second layer also emerges from the mind of the blogger of course, but does so via surrender to brain entropy rather than via writerly intentions disciplining the flow of words. I’ve seen some other old sites undergo angkorwatification. Some seem to happily surrender to it like I am doing, others seem to fight it, like I won’t.

A related mental model is that of marine life colonizing sunken shipwrecks, forming artificial reefs. Deliberately contrived blog posts, like ships, have a design lifespan. If you scuttle them in the right locations when they start to feel old, new life can grow on the rusting hulks. It’s kinda fun to think of my archives as the sunken shipwreck of my own dead thoughts.

Memento mori. Not entirely though. It’s not ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It’s life to life. Language is a living force, and writing must necessarily deaden it in the pursuit of specific intentions. To abandon specific intentions is to surrender to the living force. Perhaps an elderblog, like a talkative child, should be a somewhat embarrassing social presence. Abandon gravitas in order to be more alive, for longer.

I like this metaphor better than my original towers-and-tunnels metaphor, because the way I’m writing here now is more like tree roots weaving inexorably through fragile human architecture than any sort of planned infratextual tunnel construction. The spires of the temple complex still represent the same thing: old style blog posts. Catchy headlines, meme-worthy core ideas, viral-intent writing. The sort of thing that, for a decade, ruled the web at large, and this site specifically.

Lightning strikes of viral attention can strike the spires of Angkor Wat as surely as they can skyscrapers, but the metaphor of an encroaching forest suggests something different than a system of tunnels. Where a tunnel system respects and attempts to preserve the landscape it weaves through, an encroaching forest does not. Roots can weave through cracks in the architecture, topple spires, and crumble walls. The idea of encroaching forests also suggests an abandonment of the base layer to its fate, which I like. The encroaching forest is neither friendly, nor hostile. It just follows its own ungoverned, more alive logic, casually destroying the old structure where it resists, leaving it alone where it doesn’t.

This year, though I’ve written a few old-style posts, including a big hit (Internet of Beefs), my expectations of them have been different. I have no interest in capturing the flash floods of attention by doubling down on the themes that attract them. I am now thinking primarily in terms of elder games, late style, and César Aira’s strange idea that art — and ribbonfarm remains at heart an art project — is not something that should be done well.

Much of my polished writing energy has been diverted to Breaking Smart and Art of Gig. So ribbonfarm is being reclaimed slowly by what for me is not so much a new style, but a newly public style. I now find myself treating this blog the way I treat my private notebooks, as a sort of scrapbook space. The stuff that feels truest to this new mode is my Captain’s Log blogchain with its numbered parts, and my book review live reads, pulled in from Twitter.

In trying to situate this process within what I’ve dubbed A Text Renaissance, it strikes me that angkorwatification is the evil twin of what many are starting to call digital gardening. Instead of a mindful and effortful curation of a slightly intimate space built from scratch, angkorwatification is a sort of letting-go; a surrender to the natural entropic forces that begin to emerge in a brain that has aged enough, and accumulated enough memories, both internally, and externally in blog-like prosthetic spaces. It is of course, only an option available to elderblogs. You can’t surrender territories to rewilding processes that you never attempted to civilize to begin with.

There is something wonderfully liberating about viewing ribbonfarm in this creative-destructive way, as a space slowly going to ruin under the onslaught of an encroaching forest. The first 11 years (2007-18) saw the construction of what strikes me in retrospect as a rather high modernist, premium-mediocre textual space, hustling for its share of the viral attention economy. In 2019, I began reversing course tentatively, with blogchains. In 2020, I think I’ve embraced this trajectory completely. What will this blog look like as angkorwatification progresses? I don’t know, but I’m curious to find out.

Elderblog Sutra: 12

This entry is part 12 of 13 in the series Elderblog Sutra

The last time I added to this blogchain, in July 2020, I was thinking about the metaphor of angkorwatification of elder blogs — the rewilding of an essentially complete, but ruined-and-restored structure, with plant life reasserting itself. A different tree metaphor has been on my mind lately, that of Groot, the ancient character in Guardians of the Galaxy who dies and regenerates as Baby Groot, with no memories of his past life (Baby Groot inaugurated the reboot-trope that has since been made more famous by Baby Yoda). In a curious way, I feel like ribbonfarm has gone full circle and is back to being a baby blog again, to the extent blogs can be babies at all in 2021.

Strangely enough, the rapid rise of Substack, the sudden explosion in highly produced essays on static sites, and most recently, essays being sold as individual works of art via NFTs (non-fungible tokens), has made me feel old in the relatively young newsletter/static site world (which I also participate in), and young again in the blogging world.

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Elderblog Sutra: 13

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

The last time I added to this blogchain in March 2021, it felt like the writing was on the wall as far as traditional blogging was concerned, thanks to the mixed blessings of the text renaissance. Not only was blogging as practiced here on ribbonfarm dot com dying for real (update: continuing to decline on schedule), but it felt like most people were saying …and good riddance.

Actually, if you squint a bit, blogging is not so much out of scope as the undeclared shared enemy of the text renaissance.


The environmental assumption underlying WordPress is wildly untrue now. This is not the digital wilderness of 2001. This is the heavily built-up digital urban environment of 2021; cities at the intersection of the gravity fields of large platforms. WordPress is totally an anachronism. A befuddled, blinking cowboy on a horse wandering among New York skyscrapers, wondering where the stables and saloon are. What was once a patch of database-driven CMS civilization in the wilderness of hand-coded “home pages” on Geocities is now a spot of wilderness in the civilizational heart built on React and graph databases. It’s the Olmsted parks movement of digital urbanism. Lungs of the digital city and so forth.

As a response to this gloomy assessment, I quoted Lovecraft (“That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.”) and ended on a note of what I can only call weird Lovecraftian optimism — that to the extent it remains uniquely valuable, perhaps blogging can be resurrected as an Elder god.

And maybe blogging too will undergo enough of a technical renaissance that we’re no longer talking a reactionary hedge bet on horses, but a futuristic hedge bet on Mars rovers. That will probably require rebuilding of the foundations on something other than PHP and MySQL, but I suspect it will eventually happen when the hedge value of a non-platform alt-stack, with capacity for genuine commercial independence, becomes high enough.

That “hedge value” just went up sharply. I want to revisit the question of the future of blogging in light of the impending reconfiguration of the social media environment due to Elon Musk buying Twitter.

Is this a threat or an opportunity. Will this accelerate what seems like the terminal decline of blogging, or increase the odds of resurrection in a new form?

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