Welcome to File Life–a touring project and travel blog about letting go of files. Follow along as a traveling fileman wanders.
As I travel, I collect files that people want to let go of. I ask each participant to delete the file they've given me, so that the only remaining copy exists on a USB I carry. In return, I take their files on a tour of the mountains and the oceans. When the USB fills up, I will delete the files. You could think of this website as a memorial to files.
– Such a contrast to the sandstone towers from a few days ago. In the mountains, I took the files to a place called "the labyrinth," an elaborate collection of pathways and alcoves between rock formations.
Need to give a file a new life or just get in touch with the fileman?
On a sunny day last weekend, we convened at Rat Rock in Central Park for a memory service, a ceremony to erase all the files I had accumulated on a USB over the past four months. The giant glacial rock hosted our group, alongside tourists and a few climbers. I was transported back to my visit to Saxony where I stood on top of "the labyrinth", a sprawling network of rock formations in the mountains. When rocks become this large they feel more like playgrounds than slabs of granite. There's something playful in finding how your body fits in the contours of these vast formations.
I wrote a eulogy for the event, though it felt more like a guided meditation. The rock transformed into a stage for our collective memories.
Tonight I came across the Wikipedia page for Rat Rock. It cites a New York Times article from October 2007, about Yukihiko Ikumori, a gardener from the West Village revered as the rock's spiritual godfather. At the end of the article Ikumori is quoted saying, "I have no ambition to find more rocks."
Thank you for joining me as I've explored file life. And thank you to those that let me carry their files for the last few months, joined me for the memory service on Sunday, and USB Club for generously supporting this project. File to life.
I'm back at Adad Books. I like how this place has become a physical connection point during my time here. A few weeks ago, Felix from Adad transferred a few files to me, and Kristoffer and I worked on a new website project over coffee while I was here. I leave Athens for Rotterdam the day after tomorrow. I will miss my walks up Philopappos Hill, watching the sunset over the mountains in the distance, leaving a fading line across the sky. While here, I've done a lot of self-reflection. Maybe too much at times, but I think it was worthwhile to understand what I need more of going forward. In some ways, this project has felt like a way for me to travel inside my head a bit more as I literally travel in physical space. I think I've been most interested in this invisible aspect of the project, in that it's about people and these light connections that form through a file transfer, and the idea of carrying some of these mental artifacts around with me. After all, the internet is full of real people with complex, beautiful lives.
I'm thinking of ways that this project can continue (maybe in other forms). Maybe it's a guide, a physical document, an offline gathering, or a memorial. If you have ideas or would like to financially support the next iteration of the project, let's talk.
While here, I've used the quiet time to pause and reflect on things. It's a change from all the travel I've done over the last few months. I feel grateful for the people I've met along the way and for them trusting me with their files. It's amazing how a network of trust can form so quickly when there's a simple container for it.
My friend Gijs and I have been tossing around this concept of Project Life or Life Project. It's funny how this name can go both ways, just like File Life or Life File. Life Projecting is a term that came from climbing, where climbers project a climb, sometimes working on the same climb for years. In certain cases, failure could mean death. I think Project Life is a little lighter. Maybe a Life Project is something that's worth falling for, maybe not dying for. So far from what we've gathered, Life Projecting is about planning life through check-ins with one another, and checking that current projects align with larger life goals. The other day, it dawned on me that Life Projecting should be more about the projecting than accomplishing the actual project. I guess this is just another way of saying, "it's about the process, not the end result." Beyond check-ins, we have other ideas in the works, but I'll let those take shape in a new shared container.
Returning to File Life, I would love if File Life became more of an open-source template. Maybe this is a piece of software. Something that creates files, lightly. I'll give it more thought, lightly.
This will be my second full day in Athens. Yesterday, we met with Kristoffer at Adad Books. Strangely, this is also the same place that we picked up the keys for our apartment. The night before, we sleepily wandered to the bookstore after arriving. The shopkeeper showed us five or six sets of keys, and we messaged the apartment owner to identify the right set. I love how he circled the correct key and sent the image back.
Back before this project started, I was in Paris with two friends. The morning we were supposed to leave, we walked to the top of the hill. We made up games as we climbed the hill, climbing across a playground, running around a courtyard. There was a playful energy. Soon I checked my pocket and realized the key to the apartment wasn't there. It had dropped out during all the playing.
The reality of being locked out slowly dawned on us. We had left our bags in the apartment and the only other key was across the country. After thinking through various scenarios, I took a sleeper train to a small town six hours away. The only things I had with me were my phone, wallet, and a phone charger I borrowed from Emma. Her phone charger was wrapped in red duct tape. Emma's life seems to be imbued with this tomato red. You'll see it through out the studio and her apartment. Maybe this is the hex code (#ff0000 ). Later, I would ask Emma about the meaning of this color:
I was wondering if it might have something to do with my grandmother - she loves red, she & grandpa lived in a black house with red shutters, and she had sown every detail in their interior and everything was red, and she loves red flowers
And that made my mom hate red, so my mom never wore or wears any red ever, and in my parents house I don’t think anything is red? Like she actively steers away from red haha
But I love red - only a certain tone though (same as grandma!) like a warmer, tomato red. I don’t know why I’m just drawn to it I guess. Maybe cause my mom always dressed me in blue? Idk
The phone charger made me feel a little less lonely on the train, reminding me that my friends were still there. It also reminded me of something Gijs had said earlier in the day after I expressed how terrible I felt for burdening them with this situation. He said, "no one is an island."
On the train ride, I thought about what the universe was trying to tell me. I also thought about the key and how strangely physical it is in the age of everything being digital. Thinking about it now, it feels like the key experience laid the groundwork for File Life. Traveling with little to nothing, I realized how I actually needed this spontaneous movement. It somehow felt good. I also started thinking about how projects are just life experiences in containers. One of these containers could be a USB!
That's all for now. It's late and we meet Kristoffer tomorrow to record a podcast. I have more to say. I have a lot of ideas. I want to share but I also want to keep it in my head if that makes sense.
Hello from Tallinn. I'm writing this looking out the window, watching the Baltic Sea. I did two transfers yesterday during dinner with an artist and a musician. In the middle of the table sat a rock. The musician told us that it was from a glacier in Iceland and that it had been part of a performance. Its angular shape made it feel like a miniature replica of a mountain. The musician talked about how rocks are alive. As we made transfers, it had a presence, almost interchangeable with the USB.
I'm on the train to Amsterdam, but not to do a file transfer. I left the files at home today but as I board the train I think about the USB sitting at home and I miss it. It's strange how a piece of plastic and metal can evoke such feelings. I wonder if the USB's aura will grow as it fills with experiences, memories, stories. When everything is shared publicly these days, the aura of a handful of files from individuals will glow on its own. And at the end of the project the files will be deleted, leaving only the memory of them and memory of this project.
I've been steadily consulting the I Ching over the last year. Initially, I tossed the coins digitally using an app. For my birthday, friends gifted me real coins. We taught ourselves how to perform a reading in the physical. Moving this practice into the physical transformed the I Ching for me. It became a way of relating, an activity. While I still use the I Ching app occasionally on the go, I much prefer the slower rhythms of tossing the coins and building the hexagrams. Maybe in the physical realm it's taken on an aura. Maybe this is also what makes me miss the USB I left at home. Not what is on it, but the experiences that allowed for it to be there. Also, the feeling that it could jump out of my hand at any moment and fall through the drain grate on the sidewalk, lost forever. Are files here to teach us about life? Files are here to change, and change they do!
I'm back in Rotterdam. Back in horizontal mode. Such a contrast to the sandstone towers from a few days ago. In the mountains, I took the files to a place called "the labyrinth," an elaborate collection of pathways and alcoves between rock formations. We saw kids playing hide-and-seek between the rocks. Climbing to the top of the rocks, an entirely new landscape formed in front of us, existing in the tree tops. On one of these expansive rock surfaces, I found a basin with a collection of leaves. A good place to rest the files momentarily.
Writing this from my laptop while sitting in the parked car in Reinhardtsdorf-Schöna. Hikers keep passing by on the road and they look at us and smile when they realize that we are both on laptops with all the car doors open. Our mobile USB, email, website making office. You can hear the birds in the distance and a stream nearby. Car coding lifestyle.
Wandering into the visitor center, we overhear a group asking about the apple festival. Curious, we follow them to a small room near the back of the building where rows of various local apple varieties are displayed across a long table. The smell is overwelming. Each apple variety has a placard with two pieces of metadata: when it should be picked and the optimal time for "enjoyment". The study of apples and tree fruits in general is called pomology. I wonder what the study of files might be called? There are terms like "data science," but nothing specific to files. Apples come in so many varities. Files also come in various sizes and types. It's nice how a USB is a small physical container for files, almost like file tupperware. Should USBs have a smell like the apples at the festival? Should they have an optimal time for enjoyment? It also makes me think about how analog storage mediums degrade the more you use them, and that erosion gives the medium an aliveness and also a lifespan. I'm sure a USB degrades overtime but it's not so obvious or gradual. I wonder if this eternal feeling to files makes them a little lifeless and difficult to connect to? Maybe this project is all about giving files a lifespan.
Today I will try to complete the first file transfer. I'm meeting Bubby, a friend from LA who happens to be in Berlin while I'm here. We plan to meet at Trust for an event and will try to do the transfer after the talks. The only issue is that the special USB Club USBs haven't arrived yet. Things got a little hectic over the last week, and I forgot how long it can take to ship to Europe. Hmm, I'll have to improvise. I'm staying with my friend Sarah, and she kindly lets me borrow her USB. Her USB is sky blue and contains one file, a video piece she created for a past exhibition. She tells me that she is willing to let go of this file and that it can be the first transfer.
Back at Trust, I run into another minor setback. Bubby has his file on an iPad (USB-C) while Sarah's USB is USB-A. I ask one of the Trust members if they might have a USB-A to USB-C adapter. Luckily they do.
Even though things don't go as planned to start, there's something beautiful about the friction that moving files via USB creates and also the dependency on one another. It's an IRL network of connections. A borrowed USB, a borrowed adapter. A community of interdependency is quickly forming.
At the end of the File Life project, this website will deleted. If you'd like to archive it on your own local computer or USB, you can always download the entire website at any time.