MyWorld (WIP)

The extent to which we're influenced by media and online culture is often more than slightly disturbing to most people who at any point become aware of it. More alarming still are the hidden effects that may not be immediately obvious. Case in point, I was introduced to the world of software via a radio show on SiriusXM (Business Radio powered by the Wharton School of Business) in early 2013. The majority of the topics discussed on this channel tended to focus on web startups and mobile application development. Naturally, as my interest was piqued, I went online and began trying to learn web development and mobile app development. Due, in large part, to the hyperlinked nature of the Web, I encountered tons of other technologies along the way which led me in several diffent directions at the same time. I recall a period of bouncing back and forth weekly between attempting to learn HTML/CSS to build websites and learning C++ to build computer games (which may seem benign enough until you realize that my goal was a serious one: career change). This pattern remained consistent until a few months ago when I began to (possibly) understand why I've experienced this in the first place.

Every community has its own values and customs, which is to say, its own culture. It's somewhat easy to forget, particularly online, that behind each technology (programming language, development framework, computing platform, or whatever else), there are human beings. As people tend to cluster according to their similarities, online communities tend to magnify the beliefs of the core community members. Newcomers to the group will tend to fall in line either out of concensus or in order to gain acceptance, with the net effect being the construction of a culture that demonstrates appreciation for doing things a certain way. This is in no way inherently negative; it is merely the way with human beings. However, when a seeker, such as myself, naively encounters this dynamic, there is a natural tendency to take the manner of the community as universal dogma, proceeding with the mistaken conclusion that the information encountered in x community is the only valid way to do y. Again, this is not itself in any way evil, yet it contributes to an ultimately negative trend: the seeker tends to become increasingly cloistered in his or her seeking, exploring only along a predictable path.

This website is an example of the effect I describe. I encountered web development during the height of the 'flat design' craze. Despite the existence of enumerable resources on creating wesites, all of the most recent seemed to appreciate this design trend. The problem facing a beginner is that basic HTML and CSS tend to look a bit spare, rather entirely indequate, when compared to a 'modern' flat site with its jumbotron headers and slick fonts. I remember being utterly discouraged after spending hours learning CSS positioning and importing web fonts only to look at my finished design which usually looked like something designed in the late 90s. It was only recently after experiencing disappointment in acheiving the Internet's agreed upon ideal for a specific technology in just about every of my computer related endeavours that I began to realize that I had a choice.

Perhaps owing to my appreciation for vintage computer platforms like DOS, it occured to me that maybe I should look to the beginnings of the technologies that interested me to see them at their simplest before attempting to earn their modern, often ridiculously complex iterations. This lead me to a book on the fundamentals of HTML and CSS which used the 'vintage' method of building websites with tables. What's so critical here is that so much of what I encountered via this method answered so many of the questions that previously lingered in my mind. I came to understand clearly the concept of the CSS box model and the idea of a webpage as a document with HTML's semantic elements describing its structure. Via this experience I came to appreciate simple, attractive, text-based websites with code that was well structured and predictable. Interestingly, I was simultaneously empowered to produce the modern, flat web designs that had before eluded me, simply because by stripping away all of the buzzwords and hype for things like CSS frameworks such as Bootstrap, I was able to comprehend the design goals of flat design: clean, intuitive interfaces which were pleasant to use. The actual purpose of something like Bootstrap became clear to me after learning to create a CSS grid system on my own, a task that most design communities would call silly nowadays. Having achieved a level of mastery over web design, I was able to begin to explore what I actually liked, and to develop a personal style. I realized that in large part what had previously prevented me from creating the slick, modern styled sites so appreciated today was simply the fact that I didn't personally appreciate most of their attributes. Though flat design purports to be cleaner and more semantic than earlier web design styles, much of what is recognized as modern is little more than superfluous embellishment. Full page, hi-res images and animations aren't always called for. I realized that most of my early attempts at building a personal website failed to meet my expectations because I lacked gorgeous photos as photography is not one of my interests. I even caught myself attempting to pick up photography solely for the purpose of being able to make a portfolio website, which is rather illogical considering that I'm not a photgrapher.

Initial Post: October 28, 2018 10:05PM