Used to be that the best way to find out what I was up to was finger me.
You could just go to the UNIX prompt and type “finger firstname.lastname@example.org” and my .project file would pop up telling you what projects I’m working on, and how far along I am with them, and what productive work I was in the process of doing at the time you checked.
Facebook statuses took the place of that. Remember the mandatory “is”? Used to be all Facebook statuses began with “[name] is…,” and then you’d fill it in after that. After it became clear that their users wanted something more, well, literary, Facebook took out the “is,” and everybody’s timeline is more interesting. But it still doesn’t tell me what folks are doing.
Then Twitter served that role, and I reckon it still does for some people. But I’ve found that I’ve started thinking of Twitter as a serious genre of writing, a literary challenge; what can I put in 140 characters that’s not only worth reading, but publishing (i.e., retweeting)? I’m not clear on why I care, but I think it has probably improved my writing a little. I don’t think I’d have very many followers if I just told everybody what I was doing.
I didn’t realize how much I’d missed .project/statuses/Twitter until I started using LoseIt.com, an online weight loss site, and telling people what I had for breakfast and how many calories I just burned on the treadmill. And Goodreads.com, telling people what I’m reading now and whether I like what I just finished reading. And I thought to myself: gee, it’d be nice if there was something like that for writers, you know?
Because there isn’t, not really. There are several writing-focused social networks, but none with status-y features. None that really grab me at all, to be honest. I’ve started trying to use LinkedIn to list my professional stuff, just like I’ve been using LoseIt to list my diety stuff and Goodreads to list my bookwormy stuff, but I get the sense that would be incredibly annoying to most of the people on the site.
Oh, folks ask “where do you find the time to update your status?,” but they don’t understand how my little OCD mind works. I do things much better in public. I respond well to accountability; always have. I think I would be much more productive if I kept a public to-do list, though I can’t imagine why anybody would want to read the blessed thing.
Which brings us back to why the .project file died. Wanting accountability, or at least wanting to brag, is one thing—but having to read everybody else’s daily logs…it can get incredibly tedious unless there’s some common theme connecting them, like if they’re all written and read by a small group of 20 or 30 people who care deeply about each other, or they’re all on a single topic (like LoseIt or Goodreads), or they are all forced, by some spiritual entity, to be entertaining. Stephen Fry’s tweets are a lot like that; if a story is told well enough, there’s really no such thing as TMI.
So maybe what I miss is not having to work at it; not so much the absence of statuses per se, but the lack of quality control and the expectation that statuses would not have to be as entertaining as they generally are now. I don’t know. And I don’t know if anybody ever actually read my .project file often enough to justify updating, so maybe what I miss—on top of everything else—is that little bit of innocence, as a writer, that not knowing or caring about the size of my audience gave me.