The feeling of digital - part 1

It always feels important for me to set up the right kind of online space for thinking and writing; because an online space never feels fully online. It is always partly inside me, since it is my thoughts and feelings before they leave my body and make themselves known in the world; and it is also partly outside me, moving away from me into the world to combine with the thoughts and ideas of others, to be read, remade, recombined, perhaps rewritten. This is the rhythm of making. It is also what can often feel so challenging about sharing our words with the world. How do we negotiate this relationship between inside and outside, private and public, process and product? 

How do we think out loud? 

The role of space in this process is crucial. If I'm going to put myself 'out there,' the space has to feel right. In the same way that I like to have a clear desk to write from, I need to spend time getting my online space arranged in the right way before I can feel free to begin thinking and writing. Any unresolved niggles or doubts will only get in my way, sidelining or distracting me from what I need to think about.

Setting up my space over the past few days was a relatively easy process, compared to some of the many attempts to create writing and thinking space that I've made in the past. However, it still involved a lot of fiddly stuff and I needed help with making changes to some of the code, which made me begin to reflect on just how 'open' open source is (is it really open to everyone?) and why certain aspects of online experience (the bits behind the scenes or under the hood) still feel so closed to me, as someone who knows only basic html.

All in all, I counted 6 main steps to my initial set-up, which I'll detail below. 

1. Identify platform (ghost).  [Note: Since writing this post, I’ve reverted back to Squarespace.]
2. Select, purchase and download theme. Upload theme to platform. Upload failed.
3. Open zip file, select correct version, re-upload.
4. Set up 'General' settings. 
5. Experiment with theme e.g. upload image headers and find out how home page and posts behave. Experiment with post editor and adding images, video, links, etc.
6. Strip out unwanted detail e.g. widgets from sidebar, metadata from post. Get social media feeds working. This involved reading the theme documentation, making changes to code in the theme files, re-uploading the theme and crossing my fingers.


Although my experience of ghost and the related theme from Aspire was impressively easy and smooth compared to many experiences I've had in the past, it still involved anxiety. Had I spent money on a theme that I might not be able to get to work for me? Despite my ideological commitment to open source, was I kidding myself that I was up to it? Would I break the code? With so many platforms and options available to me, had I chosen the right one? As I say, these emotions have become very familiar to me over the years but this is the first time that I've had the confidence to talk about them out loud.

I've tried to capture the feeling of this process in the log below. Recently, I have been influenced by the beautiful work of Giorgia Lupi in 'humanising data.' Data visualisation and 'writing with data' is something that I'm increasingly bringing into my learning and teaching. Here, I wanted to find a way of visually representing the feeling of making a space for learning and thinking.

Data visualisation of making a space online - Sophie Nicholls

Data visualisation of making a space online - Sophie Nicholls

This raises important questions for me about open source and OER. In my experience, open source is a world of respect, kindness, generosity and community. And it is full of people with a deep knowledge of code that I will probably never have. This can feel intimidating and it can also surface practical problems. I believe that my job as a learner and teacher is to negotiate the feelings involved in making hybrid things (digital and analogue) and to hold the space open for my students to do the same.  As digital innovator and educator, Tom Smith, reminded me the other day, it is more important than ever before that we are able to access and lay collaborative claim to the means of production of our times. That means of production is code.  Let's talk more about the feeling of making in digital.


Sophie Nicholls

Sophie Nicholls is an author, poet and University Teaching Fellow at Teesside University where she teaches creative writing and leads on online, hybrid and digital learning and teaching projects.