Web dev at the end of the world, from Hveragerði, Iceland

Bad Writing and Other Essays: Twenty-Five Years of Writing About the Digital Transformation

Bad Writing

and other essays

Get The Ebook for $10 USD
(or more, if you feel like it)

Twenty-Five Years of Writing About the Digital Transformation

This book is a collection of my online writing, edited and corrected where applicable.

  • Thirty posts and essays from a twenty-five-year period.
  • Almost ninety photos.
  • Eighty-thousand words.
  • 385 pages.

In assembling it I discovered that I have, in fact, been pursuing a singular theme in my writing career: the digital transition.

How we – as creators, developers, publishers, and companies – can deal with the changes brought on by the web and other innovations.

The oldest entry is from 2000. The latest is from 2023. Each essay or entry represents my thoughts at the time. Some of those thoughts have evolved since, but this is a rare look at how a practice of thought develops over twenty-five years.

Most of it – two-thirds – is already available on my website. Those that aren’t – except for one of the talks – are available on other sites such as the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

There is genuinely no reason for you to buy this book just to get access to the texts.

But… it is a curated and corrected version of my online writing and both the EPUB and the PDF make for a more pleasant reading experience than trawling through this website’s archives to find the useful nuggets.

Writing and making media online is also a service industry. Some of that service involves making products, but most of it is offered to you as a hopeful gesture.

If you like, this is an opportunity for you to tip your server.

That’s why, even though the price for the ebook is set at $10 USD, you do have the option to pay more if you like.

Introduction (from the book)

At low points in my life – when sad and scary thoughts were pushing themselves into my mind – I sometimes asked myself a terrifying question:

What if the blog is the best I can do, creatively? What if the blog ends up being my life’s work?

In putting together this collection I pored over that work, dug into my archives to find old talks, and inched my way through the Wayback Machine to find what was left of old websites. I discovered that if you write consistently and regularly for thirty years, you end up with a lot of writing.

That probably should not have been the surprising discover it was.

I selected entries based on two criteria:

  1. Does it represent the best kind of writing I was capable of at the time? Doesn’t have to be genuinely good, but it does have to be the best I could do at that age.
  2. Does it have interesting ideas? Especially if those ideas recurred in later writing.

Each entry represents my thinking at the time. I decided not to edit the text beyond the basic typographical and sentence-level fixes. If I was wrong about something then, I’ve let my ignorance stand in the text included.

My first foray into web publishing, a site I called Comics as Literature which I maintained in the late nineties, isn’t represented in this collection because very little of it was worthwhile. Despite the grandiose title, most of it was commentary on comics ephemera that faded away with the current events of the time.

My second go, unishade.com, has a few entries. The texts that were tolerable were few and far between, but there were a few. My second blog, anotherquietday.com, is about as thin gruel.

Most of this book consists of texts that are either from my current website, baldurbjarnason.com, or are archived versions of talks from back when I still went to conferences.

Reading through these essays, snippets, and thoughts, I noticed for the first time a kind of consistency of thought and character that I hadn’t recognised in my writing before: an obsession with the ongoing digital transformation. I realised that I have been continuously building on the same foundation of ideas and inspirations for almost three decades. How do we – creators, developers, managers, companies – adapt to the changes caused by the web and the software revolution?

Even though very few of the texts from the first decade were worthwhile in their own right and so weren’t included, they still sit there, unseen, the silent foundation for everything that came after. They had to be written for the later essays to exist.

Another thread I decided to weave through the collection are the photographs I’ve taken throughout the years. I’ve tried where I can to include photographs from the same period as the text, but the many gaps in my photography required some manoeuvring – photos from earlier carried into later periods – but I did my best to preserve the “eras” as distinct periods: first film, then early digital cameras, then the iPhone, finally the modern mirrorless camera with the occasional iPhone photo thrown in for variety.

The reason for the gaps in my photographic period is that I always got much harsher and more fiercely negative feedback on my photography than on my writing. People disagreed with my writing, but they didn’t think the writing itself was bad. Not so with the photographs. The picture that immediately follows this introduction, for example, inspired a long-time fan of my writing to say that I was an incompetent photographer and that I shouldn’t be wasting my time on something that I clearly wasn’t capable of doing. Coming from somebody who ostensibly liked my other work made the comment sting that bit more.

Too often those comments led me to shelf the camera for a while. Hence, the gaps.

Today I have thicker skin, thankfully. Unfortunately for you, that thicker skin means I don’t really care whether you like my photography or not and have illustrated this collection throughout with almost ninety pictures. My hope is that they give you some sense of the time. If each text is a snapshot, the photograph is depth, opening up the third dimension to reveal the spaces that surrounded the text – showing the air we were breathing during the time.

I tried to avoid including texts that were too technical. This was easier than it should have been. I clearly haven’t done too good a job of using my website to promote my career as a software developer. If you aren’t much for the topic, the few that require some knowledge of developer terminology are easy to skip.

The single most valuable discovery I made during this project was the simultaneous sense of progress and continuity. I recognise the man who was writing twenty-five years ago. I share his concerns, worries, and hopes for the future. I think I haven’t done as badly by him as I worried during my low days.

My blog may well be my life’s work. Once that thought filled me with despair. Today, I’ve come to terms with it.

I might even let myself feel a little bit of pride in my work.

Get The Ebook for $10 USD
(or more, if you feel like it)

It’s spring in Parc Jarry. People are picnicing in the sun. A duck wanders the dry pond bed.

Bad Writing and Other Essays by Baldur Bjarnason

$10+ USD for PDF and EPUB.

Twenty-five years of writing on digital transformation, digital publishing, innovation, and software development

Get The Ebook for $10 USD
(or more, if you feel like it)

You can also find me on Mastodon and Bluesky