As longtime readers of this blog probably know, I’m low-key obsessed with the idea of “rewilding your attention” — or, how to spend less time staring at the stuff that big-tech algorithms are pushing at you, and more time poking around in the weird corners of culture and the Internet.
Or, as I put it in my original post …
Instead of crowding your attention with what’s already going viral on the intertubes, focus on the weird stuff. Hunt down the idiosyncratic posts and videos that people are publishing, oftentimes to tiny and niche audiences. It’s decidedly unviral culture — but it’s more likely to plant in your mind the seed of a rare, new idea.
I’ve written a bunch about this since, giving suggestions like “9 Ways To Rewild Your Attention”, and locating tools such as search engines designed to surprise you” or to inject serendipity into your Internet surfing.
Recently I stumbled upon a new tool for rewilding one’s mind: “ooh! directory”. Basically, it’s an index of personal blogs, hand-curated by Phil Gyford.
In a sense, it’s a hilarious throwback to a very antediluvian way of organizing the Internet: The original hand-curated index of Yahoo!, from back in the 90s.
There was something kind of majestic about the ambitions of Yahoo! in the first years of its existence. It was an attempt to boil the ocean — to have humans find and sort every web site that was winking into existence. The TV show Halt and Catch Fire — about the computer-industry explosion of the 80s and 90s — wonderfully dramatized just how odd Yahoo! was: A bunch of nerds, librarians and taxonomists sitting in an office, finding web sites … and then debating which category they should go in.
There’s a delightful scene from Halt and Catch Fire where the two founders of the Yahoo-like service are interviewing an early employee, who — when asked “how would you sort your CD library” — launches into the sort of Talmudic, hair-splitting dissection of genre that made Yahoo! fun to poke through back then …
Two things killed Yahoo!:
- The emergence of Google in the late 90s (search so good you didn’t need to sift through an index to find a useful web site)
- the Cambrian explosion of web sites (which made the idea of sorting the entire internet by hand seem a positively Sisyphean task).
Now, hand-curation didn’t entirely die. In the early days of blogging, the “blogroll” was a way for bloggers to hand-link to other sites they found interesting; and even to this day, the pleasure of Tumblr is very much in hand-curation — the linking to another Tumblr, the reblogging of content. (It’s partly why even under its years of disastrous mismanagement, the site retained a very quirky and human-scale feel, compared to the feeling of being on Facebook or Twitter, where one could palpably sense the gravity-well of algorithms attempting to drag millions of attention-spans into a clean, single orbit.) So despite Yahoo! dying, some of the vibe of hand-curation remained.
But it certainly weakened. Search has become a much more common way for people to find sites.
So there’s something pretty delightful about Gyford flat-up deciding to reboot the whole Yahoo! concept. Counterprogramming!
As he himself notes, the site is not even remotely attempting to be comprehensive. It’s totally idiosyncratic.
This is precisely what makes it so useful for rewilding one’s attention — because for that task, you want stuff that’s unpredictable, incomplete, weird and eclectic and un-utilitarian.
And indeed, in only a few minutes of poking around, I quickly found a pile of delightfully off-kilter stuff. Here’s a sampling, in no particular order …
- starting in the “Death & Graves” section, I found the “Cemetery Club” blog, run by the “cemetery enthusiast” Sheldon Goodman. It includes lavish write-ups of famous graves, including one devoted to devoted to profiling the gravestone of Catarina Orduña Pérez, who demanded her gravestone be “a five foot tall penis, complete with scrotum in a cemetery in Misantla, Veracruz.”
- in the “food & drinks” section of “recreation”, I found “Cake Wrecks”, a blog devoted to pictures of attempts at cake decoration gone catastrophically and hilariously awry
- in the “typography” section of “design” inside “arts & design”, I stumbled across “Biketype”, a blog devoted to finding examples of awesome design in bike tech, ranging from old-school logos to see-through helmets with cardboard interiors to a cool triangular wooden bike-rack that mounts onto a wall
- a blog devoted to “Pulp covers”, billed as “The Best of the Worst” — i.e. the lurid, dashed-off (but often wildly fascinating) covers of pulp novels of the early 20th century
- “Pretty Sinister Books”, a blog that hunts down and reviews weird old “crime, supernatural and adventure fiction”. I dove in and quickly began reading a review of “Unlac”, a 1958 novel about a sheep rancher burned to death and the mystery of his apparently geo-engineered strain of super-strong cotton. I now desperately want to read this book and can’t find a copy anywhere online!
- “Procedural Generation”, a blog devoted to, well, procedural generation! It’s got gifs of cool versions of Menger Sponges and links to text generators, meditations on procedurally-crafted game dungeons, and GPT-3-spawed Christmas carols. Very fun.
- The “Joy of Computing” blog, which is just links to all manner of nerdy stuff that is 110% up my alley, like a shell-based static site generator, a slider-based creative coding tool, and a mapping tool for finding “chill” bike rides in Chicago. Seriously, this one is so on-brand for me that I’m gonna be checking in daily now
By the way, if you want to suggest a blog to add to ooh!, there’s a form here!