"Are you a movie star?" he asked without waiting for an answer, "You're a star, I know it." That is the greeting I received walking into Burns Tobacconist in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. We arrived at 11AM and the store was preparing for afternoon customers. A clerk tended to some bookkeeping while another restocked inventory. In the back corner stood a large man, next to his shoe shine stand, seemingly eager for conversation.
It was a little early to shop for a cigar, but we were there to get a photographeverything else that was about to happen was a bonus round.
As we asked for permission to take photos in the store, the man in the back continued to bellow, "You're a star, I know it! Go on, get your cigar, and come see me." I was more than happy to oblige. After a quick review of the inventory, I purchased an Oliva Serie V Double Torro. Cut and torched, I took a few good draws and headed straight for the stand.
Sherman put his newspaper down and prepped the stand for service. I climbed, sat down, took a quick puff, and he immediately went to work. While he cleaned the shoes, I tried to the man that I was not a star, but it's not clear that he understood or cared. Though I doubt many people walk into the shop with a photographer in tow, my guess is that he treats everyone with the same positive gustoa constant salesman.
Through the shine, Sherman gave me his take on life, especially pertaining to the pursuit of dating women. "The first thing women do is look at your shoesthis is what I try to tell these men (motioning around the office buildings surrounding us)if you don't take care of your shoes; women ain't interested." He continued, "When you go to the church picnic, the first thing they look at is your shoes. And if they like your shoes, next thing they ask is what kind of car you drive. And if they like your car, next they ask what you got in your pocket. And if you say, I have money in my pocket, then they say, okay, I'll let you take me out for a chicken and steak dinner."
These tidbits of wisdom were offered several times, in different configurations. It was clear to me that three things mattered the most in Sherman's world: well-shined shoes, women, and chicken and steak dinners (in that order).
As he preached, Sherman repeated a process which included polishing, buffing with a rag, buffing with a machine, more polishing, drying with heat, and more buffing. He did these things three times. Meanwhile, Chloe took photos from every angle possible, and I enjoyed every bit of the Oliva. This scene went on for twenty minutes. I wasn't a star when I walked into the shop, but I was starting to feel like one.
Unfortunately, the shoe shine came to an end. Sherman rolled my pant cuffs down and put things away. Chloe packed her camera. My time in the smoky limelight finished. We came into the store to find a final backdrop for a photoshoot, but got a lot more. Unintentionally, my world had grown richer; I made a new acquaintance, andyegods!my loafers looked better than new. I was ready for my chicken and steak dinner.
You can see the photo, and read my interview, in the April 2015 issue (the "Money Issue") of Net magazine.
I'm often asked how I'm doing. I do my best to put on a good face, but the truth is that some days my mental state is all over the place. The hardest part of this transition is the solitude. She Who Saves the Planet from Exploding Refineries is traveling more than she's supposed to which means that more days than not the only words I hear are my own. And that's only when I start talking to the cats.
Last fall I went from years of office chatter, Slack channels (previously Campfire) full of banter and animated GIFs, lunch dates, Skype meetings, phone calls, and the occasional happy hour to a twice daily scrum with cats. On an average day, my inbox received anywhere from 150-200 messages. Now, it's quiet. God help you if we talk by phone or Skype. I'll talk your ear off like an AARP member who calls QVC to chat about air purification systems, because the kids have stopped visiting, and Matlock isn't on for another hour.
If I've learned anything about myself in the last couple of months, it's that I would make a horrible cast away. At least I've got cats.
Grandma Storey once asked me what I thought hell was. Her question was pretty deep for a twelve-year-old. I hadn't given it much thought beyond the fire and lava pits depicted in Sunday school. In response, she told me that her idea of hell was to be "truly alone." Now that I think about it, she may have been reflecting on her situation at the time. Earlier in the year she had lost her husband leaving only his grandfather clock to fill the house with sound--not nearly enough to replace his booming personality. That said, I thought my version of hell, with the fire and the lava, was much more frightening.
Back to the present time, honestly, I'm in a good place. I am grateful to have the opportunity to take time to figure out exactly what I want to do next and with whom. Each week brings new ideas, introductions, and potential. It has been great to talk to so many people about possibilities, conversations that otherwise would likely have not taken place.
I look forward to being a part of a team again, having a Slack account, Inbox 200, non-QVC phone calls, meetings, reviews, and happy hoursthough sooner than later. If this "solace" continues much longer, I might have to get a fern and that, Grandma, would be hell to me.
News of GigaOm's demise hits hard this evening.
In the search for words in response of my own, I came across Wren's, and she puts it so well, "The web I fell in love with is disappearing into Nothingness. No doubt we get the web that we deserve. Now get off my damn lawn." It's true. Slowly but surely it feels like everything we built from 2000-2010 is fading fast or already gone forever.
Back in 2005, the boys at 9rules were on fire, creating some of the hottest properties on the Internet at the time. They were one of the first groups to recognize the blog format's commercial potential. Amidst the group, Mike Rundle, helped to elevate the experience of a blog through his design. Mike's work attracted a lot of attention because of the influence 9rules had on content site design at the time.
Mike's work on the redesign of GigaOm had an impact on all digital design in the day. The site became a destination for what was considered "great design" and was referenced often by Airbag clients back then. PaidContent, in particular, wanted/needed an experience that was on par with Rundle's work on GigaOm, a direct competitor. It was a tough gig to follow because Mike's minimalist work on GigaOm left little room to differentiate visually, and I was damned if I was going to deliver a carbon copy of someone else's work. Especially that of a good friend.
I was never a big GigaOm reader, but it was always a cornerstone of the Internet that I knew and love. And now, like a handful of other pieces from another era, it is gone. I'm all for the "new" taking over the "old," but, tonight this news...well, this just sucks.
A few weeks ago my niece completely lost it. If there was a Richter scale for child meltdowns I would put it somewhere around 8.4. She was screaming at concert grade decibel levels and there were a few times when no sounds came out at all, but you could hear it all the same. Although she's not old enough to form sentences, she was very aware that in a short while she'd have to head home. With the van all packed her mother asked her to say goodbye. She replied with a quick and defiant, "No!"
Nobody could blame her, we didn't want to say goodbye either. Our family had just enjoyed a glorious, long weekend together for the first time in many years. It was a moment that none of us wanted to end.
When you're a part of something great, it's the last thing that you want to ever have to do, but often circumstances, whatever they may be, necessitate saying goodbye.
In the last ten years, I have been a part of something great, really great. In the early days it was called Airbag which later merged with Happy Cog. It started eleven years ago at a lunch with Jeffrey Zeldman. During a meal of Thai food, Jeffrey strongly encouraged me to leave my job and start freelancing. Eventually I did, and turned a one man operation into a ten person company. Later, I met Greg Hoy, who had partnered with Jeffrey. He had established his own office and turned Happy Cog on its head with impressive success. Later, Greg and I decided to stop competing against each other and turned our friendship into family.
I'll never forget that Friday night during 2008 SXSW Interactive when Greg and I went over to the Cedar Door after dinner. We purposefully went to a corner of downtown Austin that was opposite to all of the big parties. The large back patio was empty and easy to claim as our own for the night. Hoy launched some newly minted Twitter app and posted our location. Moments later our friends and "family" started appearing, seemingly out of the wood-work. It didn't take too long for the fifty or so seats to be completely packed and remain that way into the early morning hours.
From that night forward, The Greg's were formed and we have had amazing times ever since. In addition to his business acumen and entrepreneurial knack, Hoy has a spirit for travel and traveling well. No matter where we had to go for business, Greg made sure that we were staying, eating, and imbibing at smart, swanky, and eclectic placessometimes all three. It also helped that we both enjoy dead grapes and dead cow, especially when one is paired with the other. When Airbag merged with Happy Cog, I didn't end up with just a business partner, I gained a friend, a mentor, and a brother.
As much as Greg and the rest of Happy Cog made it a joy to come into work every day, the services business has been grinding away at me. I have found myself more and more distracted by the realities that come with the peaks and valleys of the services business model. And this stupid year certainly did nothing to help relax that anxiety. More importantly, I miss being able to stick with a project or a property to see things through. The relationship between the service provider and the client feels more and more surrogate than nurturing in nature.
Several weeks ago, Greg and I were faced with making difficult, but necessary changes to the company. We ran through several scenarios and all the while, the voice inside my head and my heart screamed, "No!" I knew there was a better option, but I did not want to say it (hell, I don't even like writing about it now). At a quiet point during the discussion, shaking and crying on the inside, I stepped forward, suggested a different future, and said goodbye to my family.
Sitting across from Zeldman on that fateful winter afternoon in 2003, I would have never imagined the future that was before me. I have had so many wonderful experiences. If not for Jeffrey I might still be stuck at that dead end job, but instead he opened a door with a lot of opportunity. Greg came along and kicked that door wide open in a way that set the bar very high. We have had an extraordinary ride and that is going to be difficult to replace, if that's even possible.
I am sincerely grateful to the people I had the opportunity to work with at Airbag and Happy Cog. I'm thankful to my clients without whom, I would never be in a position to write this post. Thank you to my family who were there to give me the push I both wanted and needed in the beginning and the support at the end.
The great thing about saying goodbye to family is that often it's relatively short lived. Soon I'll get to visit with my niece again. We'll pick back up where we left off, reading about mermaids and playing with blocks. Though it's only been a few weeks, I already miss Greg and my Happy Cog family dearly. I look forward to the time when we'll see each other again, pick up where we left off, and have many laughs.
Coding before reading. Yep, you just read that.
What the?! In my day you didn't learn how to "code" until the 5th grade. And by coding, I mean we were taught how to create a 40x40 pixel graphic image using Apple Basic. There was no animation, photos, or story telling. The closet we got to "interactive storytelling" was this crap, and it required knowing a lot about PEEKs, POKEs, and GOSUBs. Which you didn't learn until you where in the 6th grade.
Okay, so kids aren't walking away from 30 minutes of using ScratchJr with the ability to knock out HTML or Objective C or Swift. After looking through the website this app looks like the cross between a coloring book and Flash 1.0. But, hang on, don't get me wrong, this is amazing. And I can't wait to watch my nieces (side note: yep, that's right, the #storeystyle line ends when I'm gone, get it while it lasts folks) tear this up.
For a while now I've had this assumption that soon, people will knock out websites using nothing but a tablet. And, oh look, it just so happens that that makes this possible. Well timed Cabel, well timed.
So now we live in a world where children, unable to read, are able to create robust content for the web. And people a bit older than 5 are able to interact--edit/add files--with web servers using nothing more than a tablet. If you are in the business of making websites, you need to pay attention to these developments because they are going to very likely going to have an impact on your career path.
People, we are living in science fiction times right now. Next year, it will all start to feel like a family sitcom.
Recently, two friends have lamented what Twitter has turned into, for very similar reasons. For Jason, "it takes away so much more than it gives. Like the conversations are often more impersonal and inflammatory than they used to be. Like the experience is more toxic than nourishing." Erin's experience was, perhaps, not as toxic:
The tone of these statements could be applied to blog comments from days past.
There was a time when blogs and their related discussions were engaging, sometimes enraging, but otherwise fun and interesting to take part in. These exchanges of ideas, thoughts, and their related discussions helped to create the foundation of today's web design and development community. Twitter helped to extended and then eventually replaced the platform for discussion within the community. And our discussions and connectedness has never been the as it once was.
As the World Wide Web gets wider, the quality of interaction tanks. While I am glad that more and more people have access to this digital world, the continual addition people and applications has not helped improve the quality of discourse.
Nothing I am saying is new. I'm allowing myself to reminisce and be a bit curmudgeon about what we once had, knowing that we'll never get it back.
I don't think I'm alone with my thoughts. Carole Guevin (aka Netdiver) is doing her damnedest to spark a fire on Ello right now. While Ello itself is under debate, you have to admire the time and energy that Carole is devoting to get the community back in action.
Should Ello fizzle, then I'd love to help find/create the next inspiring and supportive place for our community to exchange thoughts and ideas. If you have any ideas, leave a comment on Ello.
We need a web design museum.
We need to start collecting and gathering artifacts (physical and digital), stories, documents, whatever we can get our hands on to preserve the history of web design. From the launch of the World Wide Web to Netscape 1.1 to the adoption of web standards which enabled Web 2.0, Responsive Web Design and the multi-device world that we live in today.
For too long we have relied upon a service that "archives" other websites but it's not enough. The archives are tragically incomplete and lack the means to provide the full experience of what used to be. Archive.org does not adequately preserve enough information to serve as a lasting account of the web. We can not rely on large, multi-billion dollar companies to do this for us. Nor can we depend upon individuals to properly archive their PSDs, HTML, their work, which helped to change the world.
We have already lost too much. There are so many wonderful sites from 1994-2004 that have disappeared. All that is left are domains that have been turned into Go-Daddy-SEO-Landing-Page-clutter because the old site had a Google Page Rank higher than the pulse of a nursing home. I hate to think about how many amazing pre-Web 2.0 sites that are gone for good because a service shut down, ad revenue dwindled, or there was a lack of time or interest or both.
Somewhere in Christopher Schmitt's home is a Zip disk with a complete backup of High Five, one of the first sites dedicated to the review and critique of web design. I know he's looked up and down for that disk but it might be gone forever and with it, an important piece of our professions' history and heritage.
We need a museum! An institution that can help preserve first-hand accounts of how things were done, what went down in the past. The working files, important emails, formative essays, and forgotten blog posts. We need to preserve the story of how web design began and how it has evolved to today.
In 1996 I purchased my first web design book, Designing Web Graphics by Lynda Weinman. Since then, I have amassed a small library of web design books. Looking through the collection you can see how web design changed with larger screen resolutions, new versions of HTML, and eventually different devices.
While I love to look through that collection, it only provides glimpses of the design, not a complete representation of the experience. We shouldn't settle for this and certainly not for anything less.
Related: The tragedy of the commons.