Dean Cameron Allen, a 50-ish writer, designer, web-guy, and an all-around rascal, died this weekend in London, U.K.
I did not know Dean Allen, unlike most of the people who have blogged about his life and death, but of course, I knew of him. He was that rare polymath, a brilliant writer and a brilliant technologist both. I wanted to be him. He developed a popular CMS (as opposed to my flop); wrote a popular, letter-perfect blog; lived in Europe; knew important Internet People.
And then he disappeared from the web.
I was looking at his Flickr–one of the few places that still hold any of his content–and was struck by this photo:
I find it interesting how such a simple photo can say so much about a person, a time, a place. The room. The computers. The server log on the laptop and zoomed-in text–the font, no doubt, being meticulously chosen–on the Mac. Again, that polymathic mind at work. The black iPod. The ashtray. The espresso cup. The guitar case in the corner.
It feels, looking at that photo and remembering the man, that these are the kinds of artifacts we should leave behind. The posed family portraits are great, but it’s the minutia in the everyday that really tells the story.
I’ve deleted all my accounts on such sites; I have a hard drive littered with old photos, many of which evoke times I do not wish to recall. But…
One time, long ago, I started a small art project called Progress in which I took a photo of my desk and a screenshot of my computer every day for a while. It wasn’t compelling enough to do anything with. But I just dug up the images out of curiosity.
I guess I’ve always had a messy desk. This was 2002. There was less internet back then, though. Printing was a thing. Books were still read on paper. CDs were a thing.
Sometimes in the moment it can feel like one is living anything but an authentic life. But in hindsight, the past can feel like a truly authentic time. Some of Dean Allen’s peers went on to great riches and internet fame, but everyone lived their present authentic experience, and hopefully will continue to do so until their inevitable end. Dean just reached his first.
On the other side of having deleted all my social accounts, I often wonder what others think–if they think at all–about what is going on in my life. (I assume most people who followed me on Twitter or were “friends” with me on Facebook do not even know about this blog.) Just like every once and a while I would remember Dean–usually through a project he had been associated with–and tried to see if he had re-appeared on the web anywhere.
I similarly sometimes think of _why, and wonder what he’s up to, and hope he’s doing well. It’s hard to remember these days that a life not lived in public is still an authentic, memorable life. Probably more so than its Instagrammed counterpart.