on websites vs homepages


Do we meet in a park, a cafe, a restaurant? Do we travel together? Call each other over the phone? Do you come over to my home, where I might offer you a cup of tea, and a couch to sleep on, if it gets too late?

Outside the commerce-laden main streets of the mainstream web in 202X, I would prefer to encounter each other as individuals. I don't want to yell in order for you to visit; I don't want to be a seller, a marketer, a town crier, an advertiser, demanding, pleading, goading, enchanting you to listen to my pitch. Nor would I ask that of you, if you'd like to share something with me.

I would prefer my connections and interactions to be suffused with sincere curiosity and trustful intimacy -- and to me, these moments are made possible through time, trust, and the absence of expectations or rote formulations and protocols that govern the relationships that exist between us and ourselves. Protocols are helpful, to be sure; they operate like guardrails, ensuring clear standards of communication, clear pathways for movement between roles, organizations, institutions, personas, or various -elebrities and -luencers.

But as for individuals, whole persons? I would prefer to explore (myself, yourself) like a landscape.

The idea is: If you choose to take the trek to visit, you are welcome.

Not too long ago, if you had a presence on the web, you might have had a "homepage", with a guestbook, and a visit counter. Perhaps a cheerful GIF announcing that it's still (and perpetually) "under construction".

visit counter)

A few stories might emerge from this metaphor. You are a traveler on the internet. You visit other people's homes, as a guest. Their home on the internet is idiosyncratic, hand-built, modified over time. It isn't meant to be hidden, but there are intimacy gradients, by virtue of it being nestled amongst the hills of a distant domain. Within a site itself, as you drift through a particular set of links and pages, you might even find yourself lost. Depending on the way they've crafted their home, you get a sense of who they are. Does their dwelling feel public, or private? Is a dwelling meant to be seen? Perched out on a rocky outcropping? Tucked into a forest? Out in the desert, somewhere, an earthship, an extension of the landscape?

From A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander et. al

Each page, and each part of the homepage bears the mark of the state of the builder at the time. Hand-hewn, or hand-cast. Or perhaps, the builder designed a homepage to cohere consistently, adhering to a set of strict design standards. (Very modernist.) Often times, a page is rented, purchased off-the shelf as a catalog home, prefab housing.

Personally, I am a fan of a homepage that is built, little by little, piecemeal over time - ala Stewart Brand's Low Road.

The growth of Stewart Brand's workspace container in How Buildings Learn

To explore such a homepage is to explore a personal philosophy and a personal archeology.

It is the year 202X, and social media is a stall at a trade show, or in a storefront window. Life is window display, these logics imply. You are seen, and you see others seeing you; perhaps you care, or do not care, or you pretend to not care but you do. Or really, the pretense of disinterested affect (itself a subtle form of protest, turns out) is so 2010s; in 202X, we just let it hang out; we say, "it's so horrible", but are addicted anyways, a brief salve on an existential burn. Is this it?

What is inside, what is outside, what is seen to be outside? What is invisibly invisible, in that what's not being shown is itself not being shown? Do you pretend that it doesn't matter? Are you performer, actor, exhibition, director?

There is always an inside, of course, but what happens when the existence of someone's personal interiority and privacy is excluded from view?

Where is the locked door that itself is made visible? A visible mark of privacy is a start of an acknowledgment of interiority. I live here, it says. This room is for me. Please don't enter here.

Unless invited, of course.

A special gesture of trust.

What I loved about the older internet, the internet twenty years ago, the Internet when it was still spelled with a capital "I", was that 'this' all was under constant negotiation and discussion. What could identity on the internet be? What are the social norms and rules that we exist with, and why? What happens when you're anonymous or pseudonymous on the internet? A masked ball that allows you, not to be "someone else", but allows another part within you to emerge onto a brighter stage. To me, the internet was about identity, self, relation, perception, and redefining the shape of who a person might be, each person busy at the task of crafting this for themselves, from scratch.

In this light, the contemporary culture of social media seems like a series of experiments gone calcified, as if the experiment started pretending that it was the norm. Building something isn't easy. Building a life ain't easy. Building an identity to adorn, a home to live in? A million different decisions to be made, all full of joy and doubt and regret and happiness, optimism and pessimism. If you want something certain and safe, best to get something off-the-shelf; I understand.

But if we want to live our own whole lives, to find others who might want to visit, to make the trek, to meet another hiker in the landscape, to exist underneath this huge sky, to craft a way of living, to have those conversations that lie underneath this whole world -- why not make a home ourselves?

So here I am. I am romantic homesteader; I have drunk the Kool-aid; I am building a homepage off of the land of the internet. I ordered this modular CMS off of the Whole Earth Catalog, and have been sawing my own HTML and hand-sculpting my own CSS. I even built my own workshop here, and have some nifty Javascript tools I've been working with, some strange hacks that are shaping this site, just the way I like it.

The thing with a homepage is that everyone might have one; the thing with a home is that, hopefully, it's unique. Just like a life. Numerous, and also, infinitely, impossibly precious.

A whole person holds a home, a life, a set of emotions, a network of relations, a landscape of desires and fears, an atmosphere of beliefs and virtues, a geology of ancestry, the winds of memory, a body of life.

The first principles are these. Was there anything else that ever mattered?

So, welcome. You are here, reading this, till the end. If we were truly in-person then I'd probably offer you some kind of tea. Maybe if we'd get to talking, I'd add a log to a fire. Maybe if we'd really get to talking, I'd invite you to stay over in the guest room, so we might wake up early and go for a walk in the landscape.

Thanks for visiting my homepage.


Initially scrawled on a phone underground in the NYC subway, April 28, 2023.
Later edited, drafted, tweaked, in infinite variations.
This too, is something growing over time.