For 2021, I tried an experiment: publishing all of my thoughts and ideas on the future of the operating system.
This work came from years of notes that I had gathered, starting with one 12,850-word note that I took during a multi-week stint tucked away in remote parts of Colorado and Wyoming. As the years passed, the notes kept growing, and soon enough, so did the software prototypes.
With a project this large, I knew that I needed others to collaborate with, both informally and formally. Ideas need to be refined, dots need to be connected, and concepts need to be built and tried. The best way to get the ball rolling was to publish everything I could on what I was thinking about and working on. My hope was that like minds would find this work.
I set out to condense all of my notes, thoughts, and sketches into something readable, understandable, and publishable, along with some working prototypes that could help me communicate the core ideas with others.
This was my big goal for 2021: to publish “Lab Notes” that would document this project as it progressed, both expanding and deepening in its exploration of the future of the operating system, and more generally, the future of personal computing. I knew I was on the right track when I published LN 002, the first one that started to lay out these concepts. When I hit send on the email containing LN 002, even though I knew very few people (if anyone!) would read it, I felt a sense of relief. I was surprised by that reaction, but it makes sense: I felt like I was holding onto something for years that needed to be shared, and I was finally sharing it.
Of course, this weekly send-relief-silence cycle would slowly turn into send-silence-disappointment. It takes time for new work to get picked up. Publishing to silence is hard, and pushing through that phase is the rubicon through which all lasting work must pass.
I envision it like a bus: when I would publish something to the inevitable silence, it felt like I was driving this bus, stopping at all of the stops, and though there were tons of people on the sidewalk, no one would get on. But I knew I had to keep driving my route, showing up consistently at the stops each week. Once people saw that they could trust that I wasn’t there just the once, that I’d reliably show up each week, and that the destination was one they would like, one they’d be glad they got on the bus to get to — then, and only then, would people start to hop on the bus. I just had to keep driving that empty bus, hitting my stops.
Over time, I started to get some responses, and they were nothing like responses I received on things in the past. They were always long emails, thoughtful and explorative, usually filled with links to all kinds of other, insightful work. These have often turned into long back-and-forth discussions on the topics at hand (or others entirely!), and some have flourished into ongoing friendships and collaborations.
I consider myself quite lucky to get to connect with many bright, curious folks who are thinking about and working on interesting things, many of whom I now count as good friends and companions in curiosity.
Though I intentionally try to keep my lab notes as short as possible (they are meant to be “mind-openers” — just enough that it gets your curiosity going, but not so much that it burdens the thoughts and discussions with meaningless details), I was curious to see the word counts on what I published this year. On average, the Lab Notes clocked in at just under 1,000 words each (there have been 19 so far), and about halfway through the year I published a long article bringing the concepts from the Lab Notes all together, which clocked in another 10,000 words.
This represents an extremely small portion of the words I wrote this year, but an infinitely higher portion than in years past. (It always bothered me that I’m always writing — for hours a day, exploring concepts, questions, odd thoughts, and more — but I never really published any of it before.)
Besides writing and prototypes, I also published one experiment, EXP 001, an open source plugin for Obsidian that explores an implementation of some concepts explored in LN 015. And there were a handful of other small projects throughout the year, most recently including a habits app that I created for myself (I’ll publish some on this as soon as I can learn a bit more from using it). While the writing was the core work product of the year, getting to publish some software and tools for others to use was a nice bonus.
Outside of my research in software, I worked on some other things too, such as the email app I’ve published for the last ten years, and a new show that explores the life’s work of songwriters in episodes that include their own songs as well as the ones that have inspired their work.
So, with 2021 now safely behind us, what’s in store for 2022? While I try to keep my research unfettered, I can say this:
For 2022, my high aim is to meaningfully expand and deepen my current exploration of personal computing’s future. One of my favorite things about curiosity is that exercising it generates even more, and that certainly happened repeatedly as I dove into clarifying and publishing this work in 2021. Expanded exploration may travel down many possible paths, pursuing interesting ideas and important questions, diving into more curiosities in our space, and working with others on projects large and small.
I’m starting a membership program to support this work. If you want to see more work in this space happen in the world, consider joining. You will be directly supporting my research work, and in return, you’ll get access to a members-only newsletter with more articles and works-in-progress, pre-release and experimental software, and in some cases, discounts on things I sell.
With this support, I can spend less time selling products, and more time on independent research, writing, and collaborations. This is an experiment in community-funded research, something I’d love to see more of in the world.
In addition to exploring more questions and experimenting with more concepts, my longer-term goal for this work is to construct an experimental new environment and platform for personal computing. Though it might take one, or a few, of many different forms, this environment would likely run on any host computing device and allow people to use the concepts from this research within their own lives, with all the things in their personal computing domain. This project would welcome contribution from open source developers around the world, aim to improve the daily lives of its users, and seek to uncover the key insights on which it stands to advance our (humanity’s) understanding of the role personal computing can play in our lives in the future.
As always, there’s also lots of smaller projects I have on the horizon that I’m eager to share with readers soon. Stay tuned on those.
So that’s my outlook for 2022: expanding the exploration.