I have finally reached computer nirvana. What was it all for?

Like many nerds for me i have spent a good part of my life looking for the perfect computer system. I wanted one tool that would allow me to write prose or programs, search any email, tweet, or document with a few keystrokes, and work on all my devices. I longed to climb the mythical Mount Augment, to achieve the enlightenment of a well-orchestrated personal computer. Where the software industry offered notifications, little clicks and dings, messages jumping up and down my screen like a dog begging for a treat, I wanted quiet textuality. Looking for it, I tweaked it. I have configured.

The purpose of configuration is to make something work with something else – for example to make the task list work with the email client or the calendar work with the other calendar. It is an interdisciplinary study. Configuration can be as complex as programming or as simple as checking a box. Everyone talks about it, but it is not taken so seriously, because there is not much profit in it. And unfortunately configuration is indistinguishable from procrastination. A little is fine, but too much is embarrassing.

I spent nearly three decades configuring my text editor, collecting a dozen or so dotfiles that would match one acronym or nonsense word to another. (For me: i3wm + emacs + org-mode + notmuch + tmux, bound together with ssh + git + Syncthing + Tailscale.) I would start a path, but then there would be a block – a bug I did’ I get it no, a page of errors I didn’t have time for – and I’d give up.

One big problem I had was where to put my stuff. I have tried different databases, folder structures, private websites, cloud drives and desktop search tools. The key, after all, was to turn almost everything in my life into emails. All my calendar entries, essay drafts, tweets – I wrote programs that turned them into gigs and e-mail gigs. Emails are horrible, messy, puffy, expired forms of data, but they are understood by everyone everywhere. You can lard them with attachments. You can tag them. You can add any amount of metadata to them and sync them with servers. They suck, but they work. No higher praise.

It took years to get all these emails in place, tagging and filtering them. Little by little I was able to see more of the shape of my own data. And as I did this, the software got better and the computers got faster. Not only that, other people started sharing their config files on GitHub.

Then, on a cold day – January 31, 2022 – something bizarre happened. I was at home and wrote a little glue function to make my emails searchable from anywhere in my text editor. I evaluated and executed that little program. It worked. Somewhere in my brain I felt a clear Click† I was ready. No more configuring, but configuring. The world had conspired to give me what I wanted. I got up from the computer, flooded with some sort of European-classical-composer level of emotion, and went for a walk. Was this luck? Freedom? Or would I find myself again tomorrow, with a whole new set of requirements?

Leave a Comment