What you can learn about web tech from the clothespin

March 11 by

What you can learn about web tech from the clothespin

Clothespins have been around for hundreds of years.

The wooden-peg style ones came into use in the 1700s, and the spring style clothespin was invented in the 1850s.

They’ve not changed much since then.

Oh, the coloring options are broader now, and some are made out of plastic, sure. But basically? What you’re using in a clothespin from this decade, in the modern age of smartphones and satellites, is exactly the same technology people were using before Morse code or the indoor toilet existed.

Know why?  Because it works.  It still does its job perfectly.

It needs to be able to do exactly one thing, and it’s still the best single object to perform that function, even after all this time.

I can buy the same wooden clothespins right now, in 2014, at any grocery store in my city. They might have a little more hot-pink paint on them than they used to, but they still do the same job as well as they ever did. They still work better than anything else to fulfill that one, specific need.

The press (and the internet at large, really) like to make lots of noise about how the online world is changing. Headlines scream that old tools are being pushed out of the way for shiny new ones. (Remember MySpace, anyone?  Geocities? I could reach all the way back to MSN Comic Chat and Commodore, if you really want me to.) Publishing trade magazines are all abuzz with alarmist threats of traditional print companies racing to survive in the face of ruthless e-book competitors. Indie publishers wonder in private forums whether their livelihood is a bubble just waiting to exceed capacity and burst, as the dot-coms did, or a goldrush that will soon leave them digging for scraps.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say nothing’s changed. The methods of delivery are different, but what people are going to pay attention to is exactly the same.


All literature, sales copy, entertainment, and persuasion in business is the same thing, just packaged differently.

It used to be delivered via live theater, town criers with the news, snake-oil salesmen in the Old West, handwritten scrolls, and eventually, the Gutenberg press.

The tech changes constantly — but it’s not about the tech. It’s never been about the tech.

It’s about the story.

Our current incarnation of tech isn’t staying here for long, either, folks. Sorry to break that to you, if you had any doubt.

But the brands I cared about and writers I interacted with through AOL chat, Juno email, and usenet lists in the 1990s? I followed them all to the next-generation places like Facebook, Twitter, and RSS feeds.

When the current trends die out, and if I’ve loved those content producers enough in the meantime, I’ll follow them to the next ones, too — maybe Pinterest, new mobile apps, or something we’ve yet to even hear of.

The point is, it’s the story you have to sell your readers on.

What’s your story?  Well, that depends on what you’re in it for. Your mission, your style, your history, your vision — any of these play into the narrative you create between you and your audience. Baby that narrative. As far as personal brand goes, that narrative is the most important thing you own.

Your personality can be portable and float around to any of the new things that will come and go — but it’s that personality that can’t be faked or given halfheartedly. That, you must actively develop.

That’s your function as a public figure, which is exactly what you are if you’re a blogger, an entrepreneur, or an author.

You do your job, and be you. Don’t worry so much about the wheres and hows — that’ll come, and it’ll go.

Be the clothespin. Just do your thing, and keep on.

If you do it well enough, you can rest assured a minor paint job down the road isn’t going to change the way you function, and that people will still need you in whatever form the current market bends you to.

(Image credit.)

Tracy Lucas

About Tracy Lucas

Tracy Lucas is a writer, editor, and the co-owner of Inkwell Basics. She owns Four Square Creative and Smash Cake Press, and she blogs about writing and publishing at her personal website. She has written and sold more than one hundred and fifty pieces for print, web, radio, and stage.

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