2014: a year in obsessions


No-one watches or listens or plays anymore; we simply obsess. Two very different cities, an occupational hazard, a long-distance sport, short-form radio, a cultural science fiction phenomenon, a hellishly difficult computer game and a musician from Warracknabeal. This is the story of 2014, told through my obsessions.

A tale of two cities

One of many reasons to move to Dublin: deer and rainbows on your doorstep. Photo by me.

Since moving to Dublin in February, uncovering this small but perfectly formed city inch-by-inch has been one of my biggest obsessions. Dublin is a psychogeographers dream. There is no grid, and it’s really five eras built on top of one another with cathedrals, digital hubs, Georgian curves, plastic malls, Viking alleyways, crumbling factories, 70s highrises, landscaped cityparks, rundown terraces, expansive shipyards, expansive sea promenades and mountains everpresent atop the horizon. Welcoming like no other city, Dublin reserves its real friendship until you’ve taken the time to get to know it.

Then there’s New York, New York. This year, I’ve been getting to know an office in midtown on the 23rd floor with views of the Empire State. Taking in snowy runs in Central Park and Hells Kitchen summer nights. Tracing North-South walks and navigating the subway’s arteries. Playing out Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge somewhere beyond Columbus. Dining out at 4am, bodyclock shifted, a different city awake. Somehow I know that this is a story that has only just begun.

Product of our times

2014 was the year of product for me. My new role at Storyful is my first with ‘product’ in the title. I spent the first six months of the year figuring out what the hell it meant. A product person is a chameleon, an adaptive sort, a quick-learner by necessity — part-statistician, part-salesperson, part-secretary. Obsess over the details (loved Intercom and Heap in 2014), method-act into your users’ behaviours, listen (but not too much), balance the evidence, demonstrate vision and begin to roadmap, cajole, persuade, mine, review, evangalise and — most importantly — ship. Then try explaining it to your mother, and do it all again next week.

Born to run?

Great North 10k in Manchester. Photo by me.

Running mastered me this year, rather than the other way round. It taught me lessons, and I’m improving as a result. I’m less focused on time, more focused on consistency, on building a routine, staying injury-free, understanding the mechanics of my footfall. I’m still besotted with the data though. PBs are there to be broken. Born To Run and Running With The Kenyans were my guidebooks. In 2014 my steps were shorter, my hills were quicker and my ability to hit 4m30s kilometers over long distances definitely improved.

Places became more important than times or distances though. Whether running out to Bull Island in North Dublin, along the volcanic flats of Tenerife, through the estates of Manchester, around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, or high above the Croatian island of Mljet, I tried to take in the experience more than ever before.

Serial listening

I became more than a little obsessed with sleep this year (and am as yet undecided as to whether a Jawbone is a smart idea). Broken sleep became an opportunity, My night intermezzi were an excuse to gorge myself on podcasts and to aurally absorb new information. Everyone was obsessed with Serial of course, it was great, but I drifted away with 99% Invisible, Criminal, One Life Left, Song Exploder and Theory of Everything on many an occasion too.

Bearer of the Curse

Dark Souls II was a proxy for my entire relationship with gaming in 2014. I am terrible at this game. It killed me more than The Captive on C64 or Nightbreed on the Amiga did. I played it endlessly, foregoing sleep and relationships to learn more. There are almost-tangible mechanics, a structure for success, just enough rope… I got nowhere. I watched others play Dark Souls II endlessly on Twitch. I read every wiki guide going, downloaded every podcast, died a thousand times and couldn’t get it out of my head. I liked GTA V, Tomb Raider, Monument Valley, VainGlory, and Faster Than Light, but Dark Souls II is how games should be.

Alien

Is it odd to watch Prometheus every single time I’m on a plane? I’ve rewatched all (decent) Alien films time and again this year. The Alien consumed me as it did when I first saw it as a petrified boy. I love placing the plots and galaxies side by side, a continuum of vulnerability, a space opera that never ends. It’s the retrofuturism that really gets me. A computer’s green text DOS prompt, the simple robotics, industrial hangars that look like old car factories. Space I can believe in, containing something I don’t want to countenance.

Placed alongside the truly excellent Alien: Isolation Xbox game, the Dark Horse app and graphic novels (plus a genuine comet landing and real astronauts on Twitter), there was something about Alien creator Giger’s death in May this year that brought an imagined future sharply into focus.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

I fell out of love with lyrics in music at some time in the past 5 years. Arguably, it followed my move to Berlin in 2008. Maybe it was a acquiring language thing. Maybe it was that city of drone, industry and unspoken histories. Nick Cave’s Push The Sky Away (actually released in early 2013) changed all that and started a spiralling 2014 obsession.

Invested heavily in back catalogue on vinyl. Watched 20,000 Days On Earth. Attended Q&As with the documentarians. Bought geek band t-shirt. Endlessly YouTubed live shows and interviews. Landed in New York one summer night, exhausted. Made my way to the hotel. Spotted in Time Out that the Bad Seeds were playing. In one hour, 5 blocks away. Bought tickets without a second thought and saw one of the most memorable shows of my life. Two hours of jet-lag and whiskey and raucous choruses and twisted love songs.

There was lots of other music too of course. A new record player meant airtime for Swans, Richard Dawson, Converge, Cloud Nothings, Prince, Aphex Twin, Gravenhurst (RIP Nick Talbot) and many others. But there was one lyric turning over and over in my head this year that seemed to bring everything about 2014 together into five perfect lines.

Sirius is 8.6 light years away
Arcturus is 37
The past is the past and its here to stay
Wikipedia is heaven
When you don’t want to remember anymore

This was the year that was, and it won’t be forgotten easily.