Online: The Prodigal Son Returns
"If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."
-- If you want an attribution for this quote, look it up... online.
I remember a time long ago (or not so long ago) when every one of my weeks was highlighted by "trolling" the chat room of the Engadget podcast. Waiting with baited breath for Josh, Nilay, and Paul to come online and give a lighthearted, irreverant analysis of the week's tech news. It wouldn't take long for Josh to derail the conversation with impersonations of Steve Jobs or discussion about "Wave Face" and tall tales of Dell engineers drowning in a neverending river of Zima. That was the golden age of blogging, podcasting, and friendship amongst those who would go on to form the foundation of The Verge. I wish those days had never ended.
Last night at midnight in NYC Paul Miller (aka @futurepaul to his fangirls) came back online after a year long hiatus from the internet. His well self-documented journey through this adventure speaks for itself. He originally set out on an expedition of self discovery and personal growth which led him to discover that responsibility and maturity can only come from within and cannot be hampered from without. The internet provides an easy excuse and distraction for those who would seek it, but it alone cannot cause one to stray from the "chosen path" (whatever a person would classify that for themselves). Paul eventually found that he was as lost offline as he had been online. His behavior on the internet had been a symptom of something deeper, the internet itself had not been the cause of his disfunction.
Right now it seems that Paul is experiencing a very introspective and self-analytical time which I believe will ultimately lead him to the answers he originally sought. The internet was not the source of his original problems, and his time away could not in itself provide his solutions, but the depth with which he has been forced to look within himself will ultimately lead him to become the person he wishes to be. All that's left for Paul is to accept and embrace the lessons he clearly learned in the last 12 months. Going away from the internet did not make him into a "new" Paul, but having the epiphanies about life and himself that he was forced to experience (at times I'm sure painfully) will ultimately lead him to the understanding that he was the perfect Paul all along.
One thing I didn't like, however, was the "party" that was thrown to welcome Paul back online. This brings me back to my opening point about the fond memories I have of the original (v2.0, thanks for everything Ryan and Peter) run of the Engadget Podcast featuring my 3 favorite tech pundits. Those were simpler and happier times I guess. AOL was the enemy and main benefactor of my favorite blog. The whole focus was on reporting breaking news and having a great time cracking jokes and never taking anything too seriously during weekly podcast sessions. Late night CES live broadcasts-of-mayhem may have highlighted this the best. But now it seems as if all of that has changed.
Josh was extremely antsy thoughout the entire broadcast last night. He seemed determined to force the whole experience to be entertaining and provacative. The giant CNN style wall of screens behind Paul was a far cry from the 3 bloggers in their bedrooms chatting on Skype remotely only a few years ago that served as the highlight of my week. The group spend FAR too long debating (and berating) Paul on the topic of online pornography and his personal viewing and consumption habits. Edgy topics were never off the table in the good old days, but simply badgering one of thier comrades about a highly personal issue in search of driving up viewer numbers was never an option. I felt really bad for Paul watching it and almost had to turn it off a couple of times.
I don't want to say that The Verge has lost its humanity, but most of the humble, irreverant, light-hearted fun that I used to enjoy so much on those loosely-scheduled, always long-running and off-topic podcasts of days gone by has seemingly vanished. My only hope with writing this is that Paul realizes that he really did do a great thing these past 12 months, and as long as he never stops his journey of personal growth and self-discovery that he will always be on the right path. And finally, I really hope that in the future we get more times like the good old days with 3 great friends jovially conversing about topics loosely related to the week's tech news, and less times like last night with awkward forced situations filled with impatient people trying to force the appearance of a fun experience while smugly and piously telling the viewers that they shouldn't eat meat and have to defend their pornographic viewing habits in front of a live studio audience.