3 Years of Reading Pluralistic

Posted by Thomas Gideon on 20 February 2023

After reading yesterday's Pluralistic, I realized a few parallels with Cory's reflection on the past three years of his current web-writing setup. I've experimented with many similar tools and concepts. I'm inspired to take that experimentation back up and reminded that writing for myself, however rough it ends up, is still worthwhile. More interestingly I realized that how I read the web has evolved in similar ways to Cory's writing.

I really enjoyed the open discussion of process, especially the intent behind each part. I learn so much when people I read and follow take the time to share in this way. I have tried to contribute in kind, something I hope this post accomplishes. I owe a lot of how I manage my own web sites and writing to posts like this and especially to Cory.

The Command Line originally started to address my feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information available online that is related to my interests. I created the first iteration of the site in the late nineties. My idea then was that having my own outlet would help me to synthesis, digest, and share the sense I was making of the internet. I was my own first audience. I still am the most important one today, a fact I some times forget when I am struggling to write. I've learned that my best work requires reading and re-reading drafts. Making that as easy and enjoyable for myself as I can simply makes sense. I am powered by enlightened self interest among other things.

Even when I fail to write regularly, I still read every day. I read in a couple of different ways. I read for breadth, using my RSS feeds to identify articles I want to spend more time with. I read for depth, selecting from pieces I noted while reading broadly. How I do this has changed a little over the years, mostly based on my inveterate tinkering. The tool I use for broad reading has been the same for the longest. The first service I self hosted was Tiny Tiny RSS. I found it when I abandoned Google Reader shortly before that service was shut down. I shared a current OPML file of my feeds in my last post.

Originally I used the star function in Tiny Tiny RSS to collect articles for later deep reading. I have never really enjoyed long form reading on a computer screen, large or small. A little before the pandemic, I bought an innovative e-ink reader that includes a pretty decent digitizer. Another long standing information habit of mine is persistent note taking. I found a way to integrate that tablet with Mozilla's Pocket service. Pocket does a decent job on most articles standardizing the formatting to make it easier on my aging eyes. Pocket's integration with Firefox plus its Android application makes saving articles regardless of device or circumstance.

I have since upgraded to a Pine Note, a device designed to support open source tinkering. It happens to come with a serviceable Android based OS, adapted to work with the e-ink display and digitizer. The built-in browser works well enough for me to log directly into my Pocket account. I catch up on my selections every morning over tea. I also read a great quantity and variety of books, exclusively in the open ePub format. I enjoy the overall reading experience on my Pine Note. I am sure the contrast could be better or the refresh faster. I find it more than up to the task in a variety of conditions. The dual back lights extend considerably where the screen can be comfortably read. The software is rough in places, for example that you have to export notes. I would love software that simply stored them as compressed SVG natively. I still find it good enough that I use mine as a daily driver for all my reading and note taking. Unlike the proprietary tablet I used before it, the Note mounts as mass storage, make managing ePub and PDF files trivial.

When Cory started Pluralistic, I spent more time with it in my feeds than on my tablet. Like his writing at Boing Boing before it, I used it more as a source for potential longer reads. In the past year and a half, Pluralistic has shifted to become my first read of the day from my Pocket list. As I recently told Cory, I love his current writing on the site but worry for my blood pressure. He strips away so much of the confusion and bullshit from the important stories of the day. What he lays bare is often so much worse than we realize. He also connects it all in ways that suggest a lot of the pain and struggle we endure ultimately comes from the same or a few closely related sources, some of which we realistically could do something about. He shows his work, citing and contextualizing his sources who often end up on my tablet too.

That constructive element of his writing is important. He has written about the why very explicitly. (Locus is another great place to find his longer contemplations.) In the time sense he created Pluralistic, I have added a couple of similar sources to my reading. Most of them do the laying bare well, helping make sense of what is going on behind the headlines. Many of Cory's best pieces offer ways to think of the problem and potential solutions, in addition to anything shovel ready people may be planning or already implementing. There are a lot of solutions to our woes that superficially seem worth pursuing but even a little examination reveals as being as bad or worse than the problem. I rely on work like the writing Cory does regularly at Pluralistic, among others, because we need better tuned bullshit meters all around.