Today I spent $3 and a few hours putting all my poems into the Cloud.
The Boring Process
I started by buying the iOS app Byword, which is one of many text editors that syncs with Dropbox. I chose Byword because of its minimal interface, perfect Dropbox integration, and reasonable price. It’s not as fully featured as some other options, but it’s a solid piece of software. Then, since Byword for iOS currently doesn’t support .rtf files (though Byword for OSX does — go figure), I spent quite a while on my laptop (Dell, running Windows 7) transferring all my poems, which had been mostly in .rtf format and some in Word, into .txt files. (For this particular setup, I had to make WordPad the default editor for .txt, because even though .txt format can’t preserve any of WordPad’s formatting, Windows Notepad weirdly can’t read newlines entered from iOS text editors. Believe me, I’ve tried several.)
The end result is that I can now retrieve and edit all my poems in their most recent drafts from all my devices, totally seamlessly.
The Theoretical Implications (for all of poetry??)
What I write using this new system will be poems that have escaped their medium. Poems as abstract, or abstracted, art-objects, not represented by any single physical collection of symbols — traces of graphite on a piece of paper, or one document on my hard drive. I can access them anywhere but all that remains necessarily consistent across devices is the hard sequence of characters that I have entered, not font or formatting or any visual characteristic. Just words, held together by my mind and not my hand, permanently enlivened by the tension of permanent and infinite mutability. (If the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre, where is Hamlet?)
I’m pleased by this. For quick edits, it obsoletes my old tricks of scribbling on a receipt or making a note on my phone. (When I was writing “October,” I had to text myself the moth stanza from Soo’s phone.) For longer composition, it means I have total control over how, when and where I write. I can still draft on paper, then put that into the cloud. I can write on my phone if I’m caught by surprise on the train. I can edit freely, with no indelible ink encouraging a “what I have written, I have written” mentality. After all, poetry was not originally a written form, but an oral one; storing my poems in the cloud relocates them, not from the page to the screen or the laptop to the tablet, but from words that irritably keep their form in handwriting or .rtf to words that live dynamically wherever I am.
I suppose this is poetry 2.0. Web 2.0 isn’t just about social media, it’s about a set of design principles: interoperability, user-centric design. This means, for one thing, design that encourages us to think about tasks in terms of the tasks themselves, not the specific technology that allows us to accomplish them. The best technology is invisible: when I enter a dark room, I think, “I should turn on the light,” not “I should flip the light switch from off to on.” And now, when I think, “that’s the word I wanted in ‘Almost November’”, I can just open “the poem” — not the Word document on my laptop, the page in my notebook, the note on my phone. The poem.
(Up next: But Of Course the Format of a Poem Matters)