I remember, when I was a kid my uncle used to come to my little corner-room-lab and ask “What’s the current project?”. I would probably answer somthing like, “A blinking light, but blinks slower if it rains”.
I miss that effort that used to go into making things that were by my current standards, pointless. In a world obsessed with associating value with money, time and personal goals, one of the most valuable lessons that I had unfortunately unlearned is the solace of working on something. While growing up, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t really occupied with a project; From automating downloads of video games at night to building little electronic tic-tac boxes that behaved like fireflies. There was an inherent cosy-ness in spending the remains of free time among software constructs, table full of electronics equipment and the little space behind the camera. I missed that until there was a clear void that I was filling with an obtuse amount of social media and detritus of an attention economy; The moment I started stripping away virtually infinite amount of shallow stimuli, I realised the value of mostly pointless projects.
For the longest time, these projects held me together. When I was building that electronic firefly, all I wanted to do was to present it to a girl I fancied. I once wrote a piece of software to react lightbulbs with music, it was to add a little flair when my friends and I would listen to music. I made a overflow detector so that my mother could relax and not worry about the house dripping with water. Funny, none of my projects worked the way I meant them to work. The firefly firmware I wrote had a bug that essentially made it not blink. The software for controlling lights stopped working after every 10 minutes. My mother eventually stopped using the overflow alert, it would misfire every now and then. Like these, almost all of the stuff I made was ended up useless. Strangely enough, I was incredibly comfortable with that.
Ever since I was indicted into the school of perpetual value added productivity, in last few years, I have amassed a slew of ideas, scribbles, sketches, notes, equations and half baked computer code, none them got to see the light of existence. It’s a sad pile of projects that I never started, because the projects didn’t have any proverbial value. I came up with excuses such as, “Maybe Spotify will come out with its own version anyway”, or “There’s no way anyone will find this software useful”, or “No one might be interested in my photos” but the truth was I had become another locust in a swarm in search of pathological reward.
Though my projects did get complicated over time, the expectations back then were simpler and without fluff. I did not bother to get famous as a photographer, or start selling my electronics, or write software that changed the world. I just kept trying and looking back, was oddly content with that. I remember being perpetually frustrated with my chemistry skills while etching copper off of ebonite boards. I remember myself teary eyed when my last power transistor went up in smoke one night. I remember being incredibly clumsy while drilling half millimetre holes with a hand drill. I remember getting up on sleepless nights and tweaking broken computer code. I remember walking all night and getting zero remarkable photographs. I remember being perpetually unhappy with my projects but fortunately I never bothered to ask questions about it’s value.
But as modern tradition dictates, if we are to touch on of value as we have come to define it; That idea is very limiting. If I started a project with a specific goal, I’m activiely working to limit my project from becoming something that I can’t envision it to be in my tiny tiny intellect; Even drawing boundaries of a project is plain counter-productive. I can bet a limb that whatever you do, it’s always worthwhie, just not when looking forward. You see, as much as I hate to put it in the context of my life, I started programming seriously because I wanted to write computer simulations of double pendulums, those seemed cool; Turned out to be a career. Let’s say you aren’t convinced by a mere mortal’s life trajectory, let’s take a look at a grander context to drive the point home; Instagram was initially called Burbn, a food based social network, like Foursquare; Clearly that’s not where they ended up being.
I am not advocating the pointlessness of values and goals as such, and sometimes values are as clear as daylight, but these just aren’t as important as the process of work itself. Constantly trying to assert value over any project will most likely break it. The best thing one can do is just keep working, on novels, on paintings, on bikes, on photographs, on Christmas cards, on knitted sweaters; You’ll know when it’s time to reassert control. And you’ll know better when that happens.
On the other hand, the process of working on something is invariably an almost endless source of solace; Something unfortunately I and if I may safely presume, a lot of folks have forgotten. Projects hold us together, otherwise we are mostly just crumbling mush of runaway tomfoolery. The moment we stop thinking about it’s value, is when we get the most of it. You could say, it’s a bit like happiness; It occurs when we stop believing that we deserve it.
"Every single day I get emails from aspiring writers asking my advice about how to become a writer and here is the only advice I can give: Don’t make stuff because you want to make money, it will never make you enough money. Don’t make stuff because you want to get famous, because you will never feel famous enough. Make gifts for people. And work hard on making those gifts in the hope that those people will notice. Maybe they will notice how hard you worked and maybe they won’t. And if they don’t notice, I know it’s frustrating. But ultimately, that doesn’t change anything because your responsibility is not the people you’re making the gift for but to the gift itself."