Who remembers their twenty-second birthday?
Last year, there was great hullabaloo, a very long, heartfelt celebratory post, an actual in-person party where it was a pleasure to meet so many overthinkers in the flesh, and karaoke until the break of dawn. We had a blast, and shared a certain sense of triumph which I think the whole community can collectively own. “We made it,” we thought as one mind, and shook our one-minded heads in happy disbelief.
Now we are six. It’s an “in-between” anniversary, divisible by neither the radix of our numerical system nor by half the radix, and not even an odd number. Doesn’t it seem to you that the odd anniversaries are cooler than the even ones? It does to me. 7 is cooler than 4. 11 is cooler than 2 or 8 or even 26. I could go on.
I can remember turning all the milestone birthdays. The day I turned ten, my dad sent me an email (I was 71311,1721 on Compuserve, which I accessed on a 300 baud modem) saying “Welcome to the double-digit club.” I remember sixteen, eighteen, twenty, twenty-one. Heck, I remember twenty-five, because I rented a car to celebrate. But I have no idea where I was for twenty-six or -seven or… I could go on.
I don’t mean to sound glum. There are undeniable consolations to the minor milestone, to the insignificant birthday. People’s expectations are generally lower, so you can just go out for dinner at your favorite place without worrying about inviting everyone you’ve ever known and what kind of food they like. The passage of time is a lot less scary, because it’s easier to rationalize “just another birthday” down to “just another day,” which isn’t all that frightening. And, as Fenzel pointed out to me on G-chat last night, “Being one year older than something else makes you feel superior, but being five years older than it makes you feel obsolete.”
So here we are, marginally superior to how we were a year ago.
Are we, though? We actually wanted to know, and so we asked. Several hundred overthinkers filled out our 2014 reader survey. For laughs, I put in questions about “brand identity”—are we smart? funny? friendly?—and to get to know you better, a section about your favorite movies, TV, music, and so forth. But the real meat of the project had to do with what you like about OTI and what you think we can do better (or can do without).
It’s pretty clear from the results that we are addressing two distinct audiences. One likes text articles, the longer and more obsessionally detailed the better. The other likes podcasts—especially the main OTI podcast—and videos, which convey the intellectual camaraderie and spontaneity they value. Funny enough, neither group really cares for the other stuff; each comment critical of the text was matched by one critical of the podcasts. It takes all kinds. Or in this case, two kinds, with some overlap. The venn diagram looks like this.
But what everyone could agree on is that our consistency is for shit. Our publishing schedule is erratic; our responses to those of you gracious enough to submit guest articles are insultingly tardy; we still haven’t finished the damn Cowboy Bebop series.
The site is staffed by a group of friends about the same age who met in college some fifteen years ago and who share a special diverting and relatively uncommon way of relating to one another, works of art, and the world. That fact is our biggest strength—we’re at our best when we’re finding kindred spirits from all over and broadening the circle of friendship and overthinking—and greatest weakness, because every year our generational cohort is incrementally robbed of spare time for enterprises that feed the soul but not our children. (There is an alarmingly high rate of matrimony and procreation among the OTI writers, and there’s more of both in the works.)
The insidious thing about incremental birthdays is that several of them can pass without your noticing, and suddenly you look in the mirror and realize that you are not so much superior as completely transformed. It’s true of all of us. I think of the OTI staff six years ago, before all the marrying and procreating, before the terminal degrees in wildly disparate fields, before the gainful employment, before the moderately successful Internet website… I could go on. And I wonder what odds a statistician would have laid on things turning out the way they have. (Even money, because that’s how they in fact turned out? I was never really good at statistics.)
So (and I am speaking with complete candor here), being unable to manufacture either youth or more hours in the day, I’m not sure what to do about our consistency problem.
I really meant what I said last year: “I am as proud of working on Overthinking It as I am of anything I’ve ever done in my life.” (Though the double-digit club comes close.) I’m not sounding the alarm. We’re not going anywhere. And I know this sounds self-indulgent. But reading these surveys, I know a lot of you think of Overthinking It the way I do, as more than just another website, another time-killing source of pop culture articles on the internet. And I have the feeling that the coming year will see a transformation in this site to make it a sustainable enterprise for the people we’ve become, not the people we were when we started the site six years ago.
What will it transform into? Honestly, I have no clue. But whatever is, I promise you, we will subject it to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn’t deserve.
Happy Anniversary, and thanks for reading.