Casual Role Models

Sunday, 2004-07-11; 04:29:00

What I wouldn't do for better writing skills...

Being a typical child of the internet age brings along with it a bunch of perks. You could call me an "internet whore" (a term often used by Apple-X's creator), or whatever, but I don't mind. I spend an inordinate number of hours on the computer each day, and I realize it's probably not the best thing to do all the time. I'm one of those people who loves to get e-mail, so whenever I'm bored I'll check it, even though it's set to automatically check every 15 minutes. I'm also one of those rare people who enjoys programming as a hobby, but definitely not as my main career. And I love to have cool gadgets and cool software, like the iPod (even though I was attracted to it long before it became the latest hip technology).

But those aren't the perks I'm talking about. Sure, it always helps to be up on technology so that you're able to help people with their computers around the dorm. But I'm talking about personal perks -- ones that help define my personality and not as a lame guy who holes up in his room all day. (I suppose my attraction to geology might be my own subconscious way of forcing myself out of the room, but I still like the subject.)

One of those perks is being able to have what I term "casual role models". These are people who are also very active on the internet, whether it be through weblogs or informative articles or even through interviews and biographical articles. If you happen to stumble upon things related to them, you're offered a glimpse of an aspect of someone that you might not have ever encountered if it wasn't for the internet. Their writing or their forthrightness (yes that's a word) may strike a chord, and you can admire someone even though you haven't seen their whole persona.

I term them "casual" role models because you only have a casual association with the person (through comments on the weblog, the occassional e-mail, maybe through IM), or perhaps even none at all. The internet enables you to meet people on chat rooms, e-mail, the web, and instant messenging, and allows you to communicate with them on a semi-regular basis even if you don't really do stuff with them beyond exchanging digital bits. In my experience, they usually become nothing more than the occasional chat/communication, although they might develop into a real-life relationship (and not necessarily in a romantic way). I've had many online friendships that have come and gone through my Hotline, GameRanger, and webboard years, and I've met a few online friends in real life, too. In truth, though, only one of these online friends has really remained through to today.

I'm sure it's no secret to anyone who reads my articles or my weblogs (particularly my latest technoblog entry) that one of these people to me is John Gruber. I think I first came to his weblog when I finally downloaded NetNewsWire Lite and joined the RSS revolution; it comes with a bunch of stock links to which you can subscribe, many of them being the weblogs of various small Mac developers. His site is very spartan, is appealing to the eye, and doesn't has no ads beyond a few Google AdSense ads, which even blend in to the design of his website.

It's his writing, however, that's struck me the most. Somehow he has a way of being very persuasive not only by researching everything he writes on in great detail, but by structuring his argument in such a way that it's almost impossible to disagree with him. Each step of the argument is just so obvious that you can't help but effortlessly slide your way through to his conclusion. His writing is clear, he makes no apologies for going contrary to much of the mainstream press about the Mac, and (this is the best part) uses swear words sparingly but to such effectiveness that it usually just makes me laugh outright. A lot of the time, he takes an article, breaks it down piece by piece, and then proceeds to guillotine it, feed it to the dogs, and then burn their poop (c.f. "Rob Enderle: Putting the 'Anal' in 'Analyst'"). Other times, he uses humor in such a way that he barely even needs a screenful of text to simultaneously present his full argument and show how stupid someone is (c.f.: "More Accurate (but, Admittedly, Less Sensational) Alternative Stencil Slogans for the 'Neistat Brothers'"). And of course, he never hesitates to use extremely long titles just for the fun of it (Reading Between the Lines as Dave Fester, General Manager of the Windows Digital Media Division, Lays out Microsoft's Shamelessly Orwellian Party Line Regarding Digital Music).

This is in contrast to me; I usually repeat myself without adding anything to the writing, I can't seem to craft my sentences exactly as I think of them in my head, and my arguments are much less compelling after being transferred to paper (whether it be physical or digital paper). Admittedly, I think my writing has improved a bunch since I've started writing a weblog and for Apple-X, especially since I've forced myself to wait at least a day and edit my writing before publishing it. I don't hold my weblog to such a standard because it's more train-of-thought writing, and editing would probably ruin that effect; however I change a non-trivial amount of my article writing when I read it after I've let it sit for a day. But I certainly can't claim to be nearly as good a writer as John Gruber has.

I would say that he's become one of my "casual role models", because I admire and want to be able to write like him.

More recently, however, I've found perhaps a more important casual role model in the form of Erik J. Barzeski's through NSLog();. (I think a funnier and more appropriate title would be "NSBlog();", but then again only Cocoa programmers would understand the joke, and I wouldn't even think of titling my weblog that without at least crediting him for the inspiration.) I've come to enjoy NSLog(); for an entirely different set of reasons than Daring Fireball (although a beautiful look and clear writing, which also come with NSLog();, are definitely a plus). As a side note, I have a policy of completely disregarding political leanings when judging a person, because I find that it's a very bad indicator of personality, and because it often cuts you off from finding new people. Erik comes off as being a Republican what with his opinions on Michael Moore, John Edwards, guns, and from his recent entry on political leanings, and you know what? I really don't give a damn -- I find his entries enjoyable to read.

Back to the main topic, though: this entry says it all. It's long, thoughtful, moving, specific, and to top it off, he publishes it for anyone on the internet to read. Perhaps more importantly, he makes no hesitation for using the real names of people in his entries (or at least it seems that way). That takes guts, which I readily admit to not having a lot of the time. Many of his other entries on various other topics display similar forthrightness, especially since he also makes no apologies for his opinions in the comments. It's refreshing, it takes guts, and damn I wish I could be like that.

Although I may not be able to relate personally to a lot of the experiences in that one linked entry, I can say I see myself in other parts of the entry. His questioning, his emotions, his impatience, and I can even see myself in Carey when he says she read that one e-mail twenty times over (I've done that myself a few times). It's just such an amazing piece of writing. I hope that someday I can write something equally compelling.

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