The Analog Antiquarian

11 Jan

I’m very excited today to announce The Analog Antiquarian, a new companion site to this one. While this site continues to be, as the subtitle says, “a history of computer entertainment and digital culture,” the new one will be for “chronicles of worldly wonders” — more wide-angle history articles about some of humanity’s most amazing achievements, beginning with the Pyramids of Giza. Going forward, I’ll be posting new articles to the two sites on alternating Fridays.

Since this is a significant change, I feel I owe you an explanation of how we got to this point.

If you’d asked me a few years ago, I’d have told you that I’d be satisfied to leave behind as my intellectual legacy, as it were, a skeptical but passionate history of the fascinating new medium of interactive entertainment, stretching from its very beginning to however far I managed to get before I kicked the bucket. But I’ve found myself getting more and more creatively restless since then. Despite trying hard to tamp the restlessness down, I’ve slowly had to face the fact that I have more I want to say and more I want to try as a writer than this site’s format really allows for. It’s not so much that I’m tired of the endlessly interesting march of technology, aesthetics, and culture which I’ve been documenting here, as that I’m tired of only writing about those things.

All of this started to come to a head about eighteen months ago, when I started to look into the game of Civilization. As a game, it’s remarkable enough in its own right, but what really floored me was the stuff around the game, particularly the tech tree and the expansive view of human invention that it depicted. To be honest, I sort of fell in love with the thing.

My first thought was thus to write a history of human invention, to explain how we got from primitive but fundamental technologies like pottery to the moon landing and the Internet. I hired a programmer to work on an interactive tech tree of my own which would show how it all fit together, how this begot that; clicking on developments on it would take you to the articles associated with those developments. But we never could arrive at a design that was unarguably more intuitive than a simple table of contents. And meanwhile I was starting to have other doubts about the idea. Could I master so much technology — I’m a writer, not an engineer — and could I write about it in a way that wouldn’t be horribly dry?

So, I set that plan aside. Instead I decided to write a series of articles for this site, exploring the assumptions and ideas behind Civilization‘s view of history. And, as many of you doubtless remember, I did see that plan through. Yet I was never entirely happy with the articles that resulted, and today I’m less happy with them than ever. Building intellectual castles in the sky just isn’t what I’m best at as a writer. I’m better at telling exciting and interesting stories, sneaking the Big Ideas into the cracks and crevices of the narrative.

Regardless, I made a resolution after I finished the Civilization series to buckle back down here in my wheelhouse of gaming history. But many of you who do creative work probably know how that sort of thing goes. That little muse, once she starts talking to you, is impossible to silence. I still wanted to try another sort of writing, and the Civilization series hadn’t done much to scratch that itch. I finally realized there was only one way to be free of her nagging. I started planning a second site once again, even as I still cast about for just the right approach.

For a time, my plan was to write nothing less than a general history of all human civilization, a sort of 21st-century answer to Will Durant. I still find that idea inordinately appealing in some ways, but the more I thought about it, the more concerns I started to have. If such a project was not to take dozens of lifetimes to complete, it would have to be written in a very summarized way. Could such summaries really satisfy my itch to write personal stories full of plots twists and drama? I also was aware that this type of a history could all too easily become a long narrative of war and oppression, of all the worst sides of humanity. I realized that I’d rather focus on the instances of hope and beauty that occasionally rise above that ugly tumult, reflecting the best rather than the worst in us.

At last, I realized that what I was looking for had been in front of me all the time in Civilization: the wonders of the world. These big, singular achievements all have rich, deeply human stories behind them, and I can’t wait to tell them. I don’t necessarily intend to slavishly follow Civilization‘s set of wonders, merely to use the idea as my guide. It’s a less conceptually ambitious approach than some of the other ones I’ve kicked around, but I think it’s exactly the right one for me, given my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I hope and — in my more self-confident moments anyway — believe that I can do a fantastic job with it. At any rate, I need to try if I’m not to wonder forevermore whether I could have pulled it off.

Now, to speak more directly to you, the readers of this site:

When I’ve wandered off into digressive territory on this site in the past, it’s gotten a mixed reaction: some really liked these changes of pace, some just wanted me to get back to computers and the games they play. This latter is a perfectly reasonable point of view to hold, and I’ll try to dissuade you from it only to the extent of suggesting that you at least have a peek at the new site, just to see if it catches your interest. If the answer is no, fair enough. For you, this announcement today will come as a bit of a disappointment, as it means fewer of the type of articles you do enjoy. I won’t try to spin that into a positive thing. I just hope you’ll be patient with me and my muse, and will want to continue to read and support The Digital Antiquarian on this somewhat slower schedule. Who knows? Maybe having another writerly outlet will make the articles I do write here better. (Oh, yes, I did promise not to spin, didn’t I?)

If, on the other hand, you’re excited by what you see on The Analog Antiquarian, we’ve just arrived at the awkward part of this announcement — the one where I have to ask for your help. The new site is an experiment. In light of all the angst that I went through getting to this point, I’m committed to giving it a good solid try, but the fact remains that each article there demands even more time than each one here; I just can’t continue to do it forever unless I can build a reasonable income from it. I’ve therefore set up a second Patreon campaign for the new site. Please do think about pitching in whatever you can afford and whatever you think the work is worth. (I wish I didn’t have to ask you to sign up for a whole new Patreon, but there just isn’t any alternative. Patreon unfortunately doesn’t offer any way to opt-in for some types of content but not others within a single campaign.) I would be eternally grateful for your support, which, there as here, will let me do the work I love and also put something of real positive value into the world at the same time.

And finally, there is one other thing I would ask of you — even of those of you who aren’t particularly interested in the new site. If you know anyone personally or have social-media circles that might really dig the new content, please do let them know. Establishing a new site on the crowded Internet is hard, and it’s made even harder when you’re a social-media hermit like I am. I’d be ever so grateful for any help you could give in getting the word out.

I think that’s about all I need to say here. You can read more justifications and explanations in the new site’s introductory article and its Patreon page. Again, I hope some of you will find the topics I’ll be tackling on it as exciting as I do, and hope to see some familiar names turn up there. And I hope to see all of you back here next Friday, for the next serving of Digital Antiquaria. Thank you for being the best readers in the world.


28 Responses to The Analog Antiquarian

  1. Casey Nordell

    January 11, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    If you are interested in the “History of Human Invention”, I would suggest reading “How to Invent Everything” by Ryan North. I’m reading it right now and it is so fun you almost forget you’re learning. The (ridiculous) premise is that the book is a guide to stranded time travellers to help them rebuild civilization. And in this fashion, it cheekily slips in information on human technological inventions and civilization development in such an unusual fashion that it is surprisingly enjoyable even when talking about “mundane” topics such as paper or buttons.

    Good luck with the new venture. I’ll definitely be checking it out.

  2. Andrew Pam

    January 11, 2019 at 4:53 pm

    “peak at the new site” should be “peek”

    The new site sounds like fun! Go for it.

    (Computer gamer since 1975)

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 11, 2019 at 5:07 pm


  3. whomever

    January 11, 2019 at 5:39 pm

    Patreon signed up and RSS feed added! Feedly already shows 13 followers which is pretty good. Looking forward to it!

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 12, 2019 at 8:16 am

      Thank you!

  4. Laertes

    January 11, 2019 at 5:46 pm

    I think this is a great idea. You are a great writer, I love history, I love science, I love reading and I am an engineer so I will surely check it. The only problem is that I have too many things to read.

  5. Ted

    January 11, 2019 at 6:27 pm

    Fantastic, Jimmy. I’m one of the people who is more interested in your writing and general history than specifically about IF. Off to Patreon now.

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 12, 2019 at 8:17 am

      Thank you for your support!

  6. Niccolò Contessa

    January 11, 2019 at 7:14 pm

    Great news! I signed up to both Patreons to show my support :)

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 12, 2019 at 8:18 am

      Thank you so much!

  7. Roger

    January 11, 2019 at 7:31 pm

    Well done, Jimmy. I’m proud to support you. I LOVE your work and look forward to this new series. Thank you for keeping it separate from the digital side. I agree completely with the way you are structuring this. I’ve shared your new Patreon page on Facebook and hope it becomes worth your time. Are you now a full-time writer thanks to Patreon? Or are you flipping burgers on the side? We also like occasional glimpses into your personal life.

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 12, 2019 at 8:21 am

      Thank you!

      No, no burger-flipping for me. ;) Writing has consumed the vast majority of my time for the last few years, thanks to the support of all of you and a very patient wife.

  8. Brian

    January 11, 2019 at 8:42 pm

    I like it and my support is in the Patreon bag!

    Receiving an Antiquarian article most Friday mornings will make my week.

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 12, 2019 at 8:21 am

      Thank you!

  9. Mayhaym

    January 11, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    Yay! Looking forward to digging into your analog antics

    I for one really liked all of your side journeys as much as the digital stuff so yay again.

  10. typolice

    January 11, 2019 at 9:43 pm

    I’ll follow along, thanks!

    “my and my muse”

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 12, 2019 at 8:26 am


  11. Michael Russo

    January 11, 2019 at 9:47 pm

    Thanks for continuing to write, I’ll check this out shortly. I always enjoyed the digressions on this site, and really you’re being too hard on yourself about the Civilization series because it was fantastic! I suppose splitting up the topics to a different site made sense, but I do hope that if a digression is necessary to fully explore a topic on this site, you will still do it. :)

  12. David Yates

    January 12, 2019 at 6:18 am

    Really excited about the new site. I enjoy your digressions just as much as the main blog content, and I’ll hope you’ll still do them here as well, even when it’s not strictly necessary.

    Just one little technical detail: in Chrome, the sidebar on the new site flickers in a very irritating way as I scroll down. This doesn’t seem to happen in Firefox though.

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 12, 2019 at 8:25 am

      Hmm… I don’t see that in Chrome on my machine. Version of Chrome? Hardware and operating system? Are you maybe running inside a virtual machine without graphics-hardware acceleration?

      • David Yates

        January 12, 2019 at 9:04 am

        Sorry, should have specified that stuff in the first place. I’m using Chrome version 71.0.3578.98 (Official Build) (64-bit) on Ubuntu 18.04 installed on the bare metal with a built-in Intel GPU. I’ve tried toggling hardware acceleration but it flickers either way.

        The site looks fine on Chrome on my Windows 10 VM. So I guess it must be Just Linux Things, then.

        • Ross

          January 12, 2019 at 5:28 pm

          As a data-point, I do not see that issue with Chrome 65.0.3325.181 (Official Build) Built on Ubuntu , running on LinuxMint 17.2 (64-bit).

          But now that I say it, I think at some point in the past, I had to twiddle some hardware acceleration settings to stop some other thing from flickering, so maybe I’ve unknowingly pre-fixed it.

  13. Steve McCrea

    January 12, 2019 at 4:02 pm

    Sounds very interesting!
    As a long time reader, I confess to not having the same Friday urge to pull up DA that I once did (although I do check in every week), so your itch to switch it up is understood.

  14. Alex Freeman

    January 16, 2019 at 4:08 pm

    I don’t know if I’ll end up contributing to the other blog, but I’ll at least have a look. You seem to be taking the opposite approach to history that I took with my fractal-based observations at the end of your Civilization series.

    I’d also like to thank you for being such a great person. I think we could’ve become great friends if our paths had crossed somehow in the physical world before you left for Denmark.

  15. DZ-Jay

    January 19, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    Good luck to you, and I hope you extract enjoyment and satisfaction from this new venture. Personally, I am not interested in reading personal musings about history from bloggers, but I understand that some might. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to expand your creative oats.

    I’ll continue following this blog for as long as you maintain it and it keeps my interest, so there’s that.

    I do appreciate you dividing the effort, for I was one of those who felt the previous digressions felt strange and extraneous to these stories. :)


  16. Rob Garrett

    April 21, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    Great idea, I’ll be signing up! I’ve just finished reading all your ebooks and have been catching up through the blog. I enjoy the technical topics, being a long time gamer and software person, but the tangents you head off on are fascinating and I find your general style of writing thoroughly engaging and enjoyable. The civilization articles were excellent, so I look forward to the AA blog.

    Thanks for all the great stuff so far!

  17. Leo Vellés

    May 25, 2020 at 10:27 pm

    For almost one and a half year i’ve been reading every single Digital Antiquarian post & comments, slowly catching up in this addictive site, as i told you already in past comments. That long but oh so rewarding journey now will split my time with The Analog Antiquarian, cause all that articles you wrote here where you told the background stories of some important games ( Trinity, Tetris, Civilization…) were thrilling. You are not just a great computer games historian. You are a great historian. Period. So, i’m looking forward to start another journey that i”m sure will teach me a lot of interesting things.
    Thanks you so much for your work.


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