I finally reached computer nirvana. What was all this for?

Like many nerds before me, I spent a good part of my life looking for the perfect computer system. I wanted a single tool that would let me write prose or programs, that could search every email, tweet, or document with just a few keystrokes, and that would work on all my devices. I aspired to the summit of the mythical Mt. Augment, to attain the enlightenment of a properly orchestrated personal computer. Where the software industry offered notifications, little clicks and tinkles, messages jumping up and down on my screen like a dog begging for a treat, I wanted quiet textuality. Looking for it, I tweaked. I configured.

The purpose of the configuration is to make one thing work with another thing – to make the to-do list work with the email client, for example, 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’s not taken seriously, because there’s not much profit in it. And unfortunately, configuration is indistinguishable from procrastination. A little is good, but too much is embarrassing.

I spent almost three decades setting up my text editor, accumulating twenty or so dot files that would make one acronym or nonsense word match another. (For me: i3wm + emacs + org-mode + notmuch + tmux, linked with ssh + git + Syncthing + Tailscale.) I didn’t understand, an error page that I didn’t have time to process — and I would give up.

A big problem I had was where to put my stuff. I tried different databases, folder structures, private websites, cloud drives, and desktop search tools. The key, finally, 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 email gigs. Email is a horrible, messy, bloated, decrepit form of data, but it’s understood by everything and 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 put all these emails in place, tag them, filter them just like that. Gradually, I could better see the shape of my own data. And while I was doing that, software got better and computers got faster. Not only that, other people started sharing their configuration files on GitHub.

Then one cold day, January 31, 2022, something weird happened. I was at home writing a little paste function to make my emails searchable from anywhere in my text editor. I evaluated this little program and ran it. It worked. Somewhere in my brain I felt a distinct Click on. I had finished. No longer configuring, but configured. The world had conspired to give me what I wanted. I got up from the computer, imbued with a sort of European classical composer emotion, and went for a walk. Was it happiness? Freedom? Or will I end up tomorrow with a whole new set of requirements?

Sherry J. Basler