I’m writing this in a hotel room across from a Walmart. For the past week my partner and I have been driving back and forth across rural Louisiana, visiting in-laws and collecting the ghosts of bugs on our rented subcompact’s windshield. Instead of mappable names, our relatives give us directions based on the locations of Burgers King. And none of this matters because I’ve spent most of this trip in Hyrule.
I had the good fortune to find and purchase a Nintendo Switch the day before our flight west. I also snagged a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I wrapped both in a very fluffy (and seasonally inappropriate) sweater and packed them, telling my partner that you know maybe there would be a little downtime in the hotel or whatever. I’m 20 hours in.
One of the things I love about Postlight is that when we start a project — apps, websites, extensions — the team gets together to talk about what we want our users to feel when they use our software. Everyone adds their sage, insightful ideas. In one meeting we looked up Kirlian cameras. I’m bad at this, so I always say the same thing: I want the software we make to feel like you can live in it.
It’s easy to live in a videogame (as humanity has repeatedly demonstrated); it’s much harder in the clean, shiny, app’d internet we’ve built around ourselves. There are no grottos to explore when every corner’s rounded, no cliffs to scale when I can’t even scroll. For years now a strange calm has enveloped me on the rare occasion I stumble across an old website littered with <hr>s—I realize now it’s the same feeling I get when, out on a hike, I turn onto a fading trail. And, lately, when I leave the road in Zelda to strike out into the wilderness.
Basically, I miss Geocities. I miss the feeling of any given webpage being a moment in time, a familiar blaze on an unfamiliar trail, a place where URL hacking was a shortcut and not state manipulation. I want apps to look like I’ve been there, not like the Ghost of Material Design has. I want the web to look like my living space, which is neither clean nor limited to a six-color palette. The one-page webapps that neatly shunt us into text areas do so beautifully, but all the content we can ever create won’t break the surface of their style guide. They tell us to make more things that look like this and act like this. There’s comfort in consistency, sure—but that horizon in the distance is only a landscape, painted on a sheet.
Until it’s real you can find me in Hyrule—I’m the one in the rad bandana compulsively climbing every cliff I can find.
Kevin Barrett is an engineer at Postlight. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @kevboh.
Story published on Apr 26, 2017.