Websites as time capsules
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been tinkering with my personal website again as a way to clear my head in between articles to write and research, syllabi to put together, and other projects in the works. What started as a quick page I needed to add slowly evolved — as these things tend to do — into updating other pages, combining templates, and cleaning up the CSS.
I designed and built the current incarnation of my website in 2015 — while I was in graduate school and learning about static site generators — and though the core of the site has remained the same, pages were tacked on, new templates made, and small edits happening all the time, turning a simple structure into one that was overly complicated and fragmented. Nearly seven years later, there were multiple style sheets, various templates with small differences between them, and lines and lines of overwritten code. It seemed like a good time to re-access: I could unify page types and simplify templates, build out some content I’d been thinking about while adding some new features. Before I knew it, I was spending hours at a time, sometimes late into the night, just tinkering with my stylesheets.
I had a blast. It felt like I was a kid again. I realized my website is my longest running design project. jarrettfuller.com is the first domain I ever bought, when I was just a junior in high school in 2005. My interest in design was new and I knew enough rudimentary HTML to cobble together a little portfolio of the small projects I’d done. I became obsessed with tending to this little site, updating it near daily — from blog posts to HTML refinements to updated graphics. Through my last two years of high school, working on my website was probably my biggest hobby. Social networks were just beginning to take off — Facebook wasn’t available to high school students yet and Myspace was already losing its grip. I never got into Xanga.
My website, in many ways, served the purpose social networks do for people today. It was a way to frame myself and craft an identity. It was how I communicated my interests and my intentions. It was a playground for my to stretch myself personally and frame myself professionally, especially as I was preparing to go to college (and ultimately work as a designer). Over the years, I’d completely redesigned my website roughly every year, each one more complex than the previous and each one a way for me to learn more about web design. My freshman year of college, I stayed up late over a few nights to learn CSS. Two years later, I experimented with Adobe Flash. In 2011, I used it to learn about responsive design and in 2015 it was a way to help me learn git and Jekyll.
The recent updates were less about redesigns or learning new tools and more about maintenance; tending to my little corner of the internet. The website is the best type of personal project: its content and subject is already defined, its parameters are set, and there’s a clear balance between external factors and personal interests. As Laurel Schwulst writes:
My favorite aspect of websites is their duality: they’re both subject and object at once. In other words, a website creator becomes both author and architect simultaneously. There are endless possibilities as to what a website could be. What kind of room is a website? Or is a website more like a house? A boat? A cloud? A garden? A puddle? Whatever it is, there’s potential for a self-reflexive feedback loop: when you put energy into a website, in turn the website helps form your own identity.
My work has shifted from the person who designed the first version of the site. My career would be unrecognizable to him. But this website is the through line, its redesigns become a time capsule of my interests at any given moment. I still get excited by the power of HTML and CSS, even though the next generation of designers is more interested in apps and products and services. I still get excited by pushing code to the server, adding something new to this never-ending design project.