He dreamt that the whole world was condemned to a terrible new strange plague that had come to Europe from the depths of Asia. All were to be destroyed except a very few chosen. Some new sorts of microbes were attacking the bodies of men, but these microbes were endowed with intelligence and will. Men attacked by them became at once mad and furious. But never had men considered themselves so intellectual and so completely in possession of the truth as these sufferers, never had they considered their decisions, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions so infallible. Whole villages, whole towns and peoples went mad from the infection. All were excited and did not understand one another. Each thought that he alone had the truth and was wretched looking at the others, beat himself on the breast, wept, and wrung his hands. They did not know how to judge and could not agree what to consider evil and what good; they did not know whom to blame, whom to justify. Men killed each other in a sort of senseless spite. They gathered together in armies against one another, but even on the march the armies would begin attacking each other, the ranks would be broken and the soldiers would fall on each other, stabbing and cutting, biting and devouring each other.
Fyodor Dostoevsky,Crime and Punishment, Epilogue.May 27, 2013
I’m going to say a few more words on this, and then I think I’m going to take a break from this whole blogging thing for a while. Not for any big dramatic reasons, mind you, but simply because apparently it’s been getting on my nerves lately. It’s ceased to be what Norwegians call an “overskuddsprosjekt,” literally, a surplus project, something you do with your surplus energy, when you’re boiling over with enthusiasm for something and so you just build or do something just because it excites you, just to use that extra energy, and for no other reason. (There might be a good English word for this but I can’t think of one at the moment.) It’s springtime: lovely time to be outside. Once I hit “publish” I’m going for a run.
Tumblr is a business. It has received several rounds of venture capital. Venture capitalists are rich businessmen who like to gamble by investing in risky up-and-coming companies in the hopes of sharing in future profits. At some point, these companies need to start generating those profits. Investments are more like loans than they are like gifts. I’m not an anti-capitalist. In principle, it’s entirely OK for David Karp et al to run a for-profit company, and it’s entirely OK for them to seek ways to earn money.
Now, other blog and website hosting services earn money by inserting ads in their users’ pages. Admirably, Tumblr has not gone this way. Instead, they have built up a whole ecosystem, a kind of social network on the inside of their blog hosting service that is not visible to those who visit the blogs if they are not, themselves, part of the Tumblr network. And they’ve decided that they’re going to monetize this inside, and not the outside that faces the public at large. I’m very happy about this decision, because I get to enjoy an ad-free site for free.
What I’m reacting to here is the fact that they have apparently reversed this decision and decided to begin injecting ads, even if just self-ads, rather than ads sponsored by outside companies, into the web-facing front-end of their users’ sites. And they’ve done this after I explicitly opted out of it. They’ve given me the option of opting out and then, without taking that option away, they’ve simply gone ahead and done the thing I opted out of anyway. They lied to me.
It’s this sort of dishonesty that is grating. Not the search for profit, but the sleazy way they go about doing it. After a little searching around, I found another checkbox that said “Better Follow Bar,” with a sub-head explaining that it would allow non-Tumblr users to follow my blog. It was unchecked, of course. I decided to check it and then uncheck it, to see if that helped. But no, the moment I hit “save,” that box disappeared. What had been deceivingly camouflaged as a check-box was apparently a one-time, irrevocable decision.
I don’t like this dishonesty. I don’t like the fact that, when introducing advertorial content, ads disguised as content, into their mobile app, Tumblr pretends it’s to improve the users’ experience. It’s OK to earn money, guys! But don’t you fucking pretend you’re doing it in order to make my experience better, when what you’re doing is making it worse because someone paid you to. I don’t like it when the user interface lies to me, when it allows me to say “No” to things and then blatantly ignores that No and goes ahead anyway. I don’t like this sickly-sweet backhanded compliment of a firing. In general, I don’t like dishonesty, lies, and sleazy fucking behavior. For those of us who have been using Tumblr almost since the start, this is not what we’ve been used to. I suppose we just have to accept that Tumblr is becoming the same stupid, borderline-evil corporate entity as all the other for-profit web companies out there. Either accept it, or clearly state that we don’t like it and take our business elsewhere.
I’m not one for melodramatic exits. I’ve grown tired of stupid corporations without ethics or integrity, I’ve grown tired of teenagers who treat the internet like a game to be won rather than a gathering of equals, I’ve grown tired of notes and likes and reblogs, and I’m through with worrying about what kind of response my inner thoughts are going to have around the entire fucking world. This is not intended as a big exit, just a heads up. I’m going outside for a while. Will be back when these corrosive feelings are gone and blogging feels like fun again.
Apr 28, 2013
Speaking of questionable design choices: wtf is this shit? One of my goals with this blog has always been to be an internet site, not some node in a particular social network. I don’t want to shove the fact that it’s hosted on Tumblr down people’s throats unless they also use the service. But if you aren’t logged into Tumblr and visit my site today, you will now see a big button in the corner promoting Tumblr. This despite the fact that I’ve clearly left the “Promote Tumblr!” box unchecked. (I have not touched this setting for years.) Until very recently, that corner was left blank, the way I’ve indicated I want it. What a sneaky fucking change. I know this is a free service, but I’d be willing to pay for it, as long as I get to use the service and promote or not promote it however I please, which is how Tumblr has worked since the beginning. I don’t want a social network, I want a blog. A website which does not urge you to join this or that service. A simple, nice little website that can be read in any browser without having nasty ads thrown in your face. Is this now impossible?
Apr 28, 2013
Here is a little design choice that appears to be increasingly common. Facebook does it, Reddit does it, and Tumblr very recently added it. If it’s not obvious from the pictures, I’m talking about this way of formatting links to add the domain name, or even a screenshot of the site alongside the normal hyperlink text. This choice, I believe, adds needless clutter while also removing an opportunity to exercise some creativity. I’m reminded of this article about suck.com, one of the first great websites. I’ve linked to this article several times over the years because it’s so damn good. Here is the relevant bit:
In the absence of HotWired strictures, they turned “tertiary links” into signature stylistic components. “It’s important to understand that up until then, to the best of my knowledge, people had just used hyperlinks in a strictly informational sense, simply as online footnotes,” says Mark Dery, author of Escape Velocity. “With Suck, you wouldn’t get the joke until you punched through on the link. Then you found out that it set the keyword to which this new source was linked in an ironic light.” Writing for Suck, Steadman and Anuff were free to link “suffocating infants” to Dave Winer’s column, or “wet dream” or “negative energy”. “Whereas every other Web site conceived hypertext as a way of augmenting the reading experience,” wrote Steven Johnson in Interface Culture, “Suck saw it as an opportunity to withhold information, to keep the reader at bay.”
This technique is effectively denied by the above formatting choice, forced on us by social networks. If you really want to make sure you’re not getting misled into a goatse link, you can always hover over the link, which in any reasonable browser will reveal the
href domain. Really devious people can use url shorteners to keep the real destination of a link secret, in which case it’s probably a good idea to unsubscribe from them anyway. But it bothers me that this little “design trick” solves a problem that didn’t really exist while simultaneously limiting a niche, but very useful opportunity to have some fun with hyperlinks, to do with them things that could not be done before the internet came along. (This can still be done with inline links, but the shock and awe factor is far greater in a headline.)
Apr 27, 2013
My impression of The Hobbit.
Apr 25, 2013
A traditional aural-only conversation — utilizing a hand- held phone whose earpiece contained only 6 little pinholes but whose mouthpiece (rather significantly, it later seemed) contained (62) or 36 little pinholes — let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and-exaggerated-facial-expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet — and this was the retrospectively marvelous part — even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fuguelike activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end’s attention might be similarly divided. During a traditional call, e.g., as you let’s say performed a close tactile blemish- scan of your chin, you were in no way oppressed by the thought that your phonemate was perhaps also devoting a good percentage of her attention to a close tactile blemish-scan. It was an illusion and the illusion was aural and aurally supported: the phone-line’s other end’s voice was dense, tightly compressed, and vectored right into your ear, enabling you to imagine that the voice’s owner’s attention was similarly compressed and focused … even though your own attention was not, was the thing. This bilateral illusion of unilateral attention was almost infantilely gratifying from an emotional standpoint: you got to believe you were receiving somebody’s complete attention without having to return it. Regarded with the objectivity of hindsight, the illusion appears arational, almost literally fantastic: it would be like being able both to lie and to trust other people at the same time.
Video telephony rendered the fantasy insupportable. Callers now found they had to compose the same sort of earnest, slightly overintense listener’s expression they had to compose for in-person exchanges. Those callers who out of unconscious habit succumbed to fuguelike doodling or pants-crease-adjustment now came off looking rude, absentminded, or childishly self- absorbed. Callers who even more unconsciously blemish-scanned or nostril-explored looked up to find horrified expressions on the video-faces at the other end. All of which resulted in videophonic stress.
David Foster Wallace, fromInfinite Jest(1996). Remember when we were supposed to buy 3G phones with front- and back-facing cameras because they supported video telephony?Apr 24, 2013
Lately I’ve been plagued by metaphysical dreams. Falling asleep feels like a bad acid trip.
It’s scary to think that the feeling of absolute certainty you get from seeing something with your own eyes, smelling it and touching it, or from following each step of a rigorous logical argument and verifying it in turn to reach the conclusion, that feeling that things can’t possibly be any other way is just another feeling just like any other feeling. Just like one can be sad or happy for no good reason, which is not to say for no reason at all, one can experience this absolute, metaphysical certainty without any attendant sensory or logical anchor for this feeling. This is why mystics and psychonauts can be so tiresome: it’s clear that they’ve found some method or substance which reliably brings about the feeling of revelation, of apprehending absolute truth; it remains an illogical jump to conclude that whatever “insights” accompany this subjective feeling of revelation must automatically be true. But I think I understand the temptation now.
I’ve always had vivid dreams. Lately I’ve been beset by lucid dreams, false awakenings within false awakenings, hypnopompic hallucinations, and, worst of all, visionary dreams. I watched the birth and death of the universe, and was given to understand that it is all unreal, all an elaborate simulation. I woke up sweaty and felt with the certainty of a prophet that I had been given some divine revelation. I know, of course, logically, that I am not Neo receiving coded messages from beyond the matrix. In fact I consider dream interpretation to be lousy pseudoscience, and the psychologists and psychiatrists who think they can gain insight into their patients’ psyches through dreams delusional. There is no possible method to verify the interpretation of a dream, and so, even though it stands to reason that an expression of an individual’s subconscious should somehow reflect qualities of that person’s mind, there’s no way to extract that information. Despite my logical misgivings, however, I can’t deny how powerful this subjective feeling of revelation is.
In another dream, I watched the mouse that’s been living in our walls get caught in a mouse trap, and subsequently be eaten by a large black dog. I went on happily believing the mouse problem was over with for a whole day until I realized there is no black dog in this house, and moreover, when I checked, the mouse trap had been moved, and why would a dog eat a mouse caught in a mouse trap anyway? It disturbs me that I could so easily mistake an illogical dream for a real memory. This has never happened to me before. It feels like reality is slipping away.
It isn’t, of course. I have yet to start a cult, sell off all my possessions, jump in front of a train, or do other silly things which might seem prudent if I were actually losing my grip on reality. The probability that I could mind-bend reality into submission doesn’t feel like it’s taken a recent upward turn. It is, however, disturbing, perhaps more so because I have no frame of reference to deal with this. In religious societies past, I might have been a shaman; as it stands, I am an irreligious atheist in a largely scientistic society. Science says nothing about this sort of thing except that it’s wrong, and by the way, if it goes on you might want to check yourself into a hospital, we got just the right kinds of drugs for you. We even have a nice, sciency word for this kind of thing: cognitive dissonance, the feeling of holding two contradictory views. In this case, there is dissonance between the powerful subjective feelings on the one hand and cold, hard logic on the other.
I don’t trust my subconscious. Now it feels like it’s seeping into my conscious, and the distrust is seeping into waking hours, too.
Imagine if books were leaky vessels of fiction. Spend time in a library, you might be tainted with unreality. Slowly, all those years of stacking Joyces and Dostoevskys and Brontës and Calvinos, your hands start taking on impossible shades, you flip a coin ten times and it’s heads every time, black cats start walking on the other side of the road when they see you. That’s sort of how I feel.
Occasionally I receive messages like this. They begin with flattery and end with a request to “follow back.” As if following, i.e., reading, is some kind of social transaction. As if the internet and blogging are some kind of game which can be won through strategic partnerships, through the exchange of follows for follows, likes for likes, reblogs for reblogs. Sorry to break your heart, darling, but I’m just not that into you or your stuff. The thing is, if this had been sincere, I would have been all over it. If someone says to me, “I like your stuff and respect your opinion. I do some stuff that is kind of in the vein of your stuff and would like your opinion,” I’m inclined to offer any opinions, input or support I’m capable of giving. But false flattery followed by a request for reciprocity, framing this whole thing, the internet, blogging, Tumblr, as some kind of fucking “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine…” Fuck off. I censored the name because I don’t feel like shaming anyone publicly, I’m not specifically angry with this person, I’m pissed at the sentiment behind it. But fuck off.
I’ve expressed this opinion before, and I’ll repeat it here: the internet is not a popularity contest. OK? You can’t win it. The only way to win is not to play.
I understand that you want an audience. Everyone wants an audience for what they do. Everyone wants someone to acknowledge their existence. No one is without ego. Even the least narcissistic people in the world occasionally need some reassurance that there is someone out there that cares, that appreciates them, and gathering praise for your creative work is one channel through which such existential reassurance can be transmitted. But this is not the way to gain an audience.
If I want to read your stuff, I will read your stuff. I will follow you on Tumblr, or I will subscribe to your RSS feed, or I will manually input your fucking URL so many times into the address bar of my browser that it becomes a part of my muscle memory forever. That is, if I appreciate your stuff, if I gain something from it, if it amuses me, intrigues me, even scares me—if it keeps me reading, watching, listening. But only then. I will not play your stupid games. I don’t “follow for follow” because that’s idiotic. Why would I want to have thousands of blogs in my feed, an endless stream of worthless content obscuring the few voices I care about? Reading is not a reciprocal activity. I’m sure my favorite authors don’t give a shit about me or my writing, and that’s entirely OK. I don’t call up Haruki Murakami or ask God to intervene on my behalf to message Jack Kerouac or Ivan Turgenev because I’d like them to know I really enjoy reading their works, I love seeing them pop out of my bookshelf, and I was just wondering if they wouldn’t mind following me back. Come on. Don’t be ridiculous.
Maybe you’re an insecure teenager. Maybe you believe that internet popularity will somehow validate your existence. Trust me, it won’t. When I was fourteen, I didn’t have many friends and I believed that starting a successful internet forum would prove, to myself and to the world, that I wasn’t worthless. The people who ran forums with eight hundred members were like gods to me. How could they be so successful? I started a dozen forums. None of them were successful. Why? Because I had nothing of value to offer. Only my desperate need for validation. Guess what, now I have a hundred times as many readers as those puny internet forum moderators, and I’m not any happier. Internet popularity will not, I repeat, it will not ever validate your existence in real life. But come on. You know you’re not worthless.
Maybe you’re not insecure at all, you just have an insatiable ego and internet popularity is yet another dimension in which to erect a temple of worship to your absolute greatness. In which case, fuck off, I have nothing to say to you.
I’ve never done any active promotion of this blog. It’s not the most popular in the world, but I think it’s become a rather big thing—readership numbers I would never have dreamed of, words of encouragement and validation from people I never believed would even acknowledge my existence. I didn’t do anything special. I’ve simply been tapping away at the keyboard like a monkey, for five and a half years now. Patience and putting in an effort—which the above correspondent obviously did not, since their blog consisted purely of lazy reblogs of lazy image macros and the like—is the “secret” to success. Not that it’s much of a success. I don’t make any money off this, I could have a lot more readers and still be insignificant in the big picture. But that is my sincere advice to any confused souls or general fuckwads who feel tempted to send messages like the above: keep working, have patience, and don’t treat the internet like a stupid game.
Instead, find people whom you genuinely care for, care about, who are doing cool things, and reach out to them as you would to a friend, not as you would to your mom when you want her to increase your fucking weekly allowance.
05:50 AM: STATEMENT, PROMPTED: I am not at liberty to discuss the phenomenon you refer to as ‘the giant gaping hole in the earth that appeared overnight.’ We will call a press conference once we know more.
Apr 20, 2013
In contrast to all the depressive shit I’ve posted around here recently, here are some upbeat, unironic pictures from an Easter spent with family, including a few shots of my parents’ übercute Welsh Corgi puppy. (Her name is Mali, named not after the country but after a plush elephant my sister had as a child which, heaven knows where she got the name from, but I doubt it was African geography.)
Apr 15, 2013
I went and saw Oblivion, alone, in an almost empty cinema early on a Saturday. It’s been ages since I went to the movies, probably because when I want to I rarely have the desire to organize an outing, and I have the idea that only losers go to the movies alone. That’s incredibly dumb. We’re talking about an experience that mainly consists of sitting in the dark, looking at a screen, trying not to distract each other. Unless you’re making out in the back, movie theaters are very unsocial arenas perfectly fit for going alone. You can discuss a film with someone even if you didn’t sit next to them at the screening.
Mainly my thoughts on the film are that it’s gorgeous and kind of uninspired story-wise, which is also what the critics thought. But if that was all, I wouldn’t have bothered to write about it. I’ve been thinking for the past few years that that’s exactly what Blade Runner is, which is an opinion that seems too contrarian to state lightly. An absolute classic of the science fiction genre! I’m a huge fan of science fiction, and I agree that Blade Runner is a classic. But I think that’s mainly because of its visual appeal. It defined a look that’s been copied so much that the original almost looks like a cheap knock-off, but only almost, because the visuals really are that good. The story and the characters, however, fail to engage me. I’ve really tried to love Blade Runner, but it’s just one of those things where the head is in it but the heart isn’t. The deep ideas don’t strike me as all that deep and I don’t empathize with the characters all that much. I still very much enjoy delving into the film because it’s such a visually stunning experience.
That’s kind of the feeling I got from Oblivion, too. Which is not to say that it’s going to go down as a classic. It’s a visual experience of high order, but hardly revolutionary in the way that Blade Runner was. But the thing is, Blade Runner came out before I was born. Its aesthetic was so influential that I had already absorbed it osmotically through culture before I ever saw the movie itself. When I finally saw the original, it was great but at the same time seemed less revolutionary than it really was, because I wasn’t there to experience a time before its aesthetic had conquered the world. I wonder if the critics who found it thought-provoking as well as visually stunning were simply unfamiliar with science fiction, since Blade Runner’s themes had been explored in science fiction decades before. Perhaps film critics have simply become more well-versed in sci-fi themes and ideas in the intervening decades, and that’s why a film like Oblivion is now seen as intellectually vacuous or at least uninspired, while a film like Blade Runner, which I don’t find more thematically complex, was not.
What I’m saying is this: if you’re watching either movie for the first time today, or five years ago, both should strike you as great aesthetic experiences but somewhat lacking in depth. At least, that’s my honest, non-contrarian opinion. There’s something to be said for films as purely aesthetic experiences, though. Sometimes, I would rather immerse myself in a stunning movie universe than watch a character drama in which the surroundings are mundane but the plot and characters emotionally gripping. Something broader about the different reasons we make and consume art could perhaps be added here but I’m content to gesture in that general direction.
I find it unreasonably funny when people write questions and then replace the question mark at the end with a period, or just leave out end punctuation altogether, probably because I read them in my head in a weirdly flat tone that would make the words “Your entire family has just been exterminated by the Nazis” at least mildly amusing. Does anyone else feel the same way.
I admit to having written angry emails to spammers as a way to let off some steam (built up because of circumstances unrelated to receiving spam email) on at least one occasion. I very much doubt the recipients read my replies. They weren’t very clever angry emails either. Like, Fuck off, spammer. I think out of all the emotions, anger is the least creative. Even when anger is destructive, which is most of the time, it is usually very uninspiredly destructive. One would think that destruction, as the inverse of creation, would contain in itself some kind of perverse ingenuity. But no. Blowing off somebody’s head isn’t very creative. If you want to be creatively angry, take a page out of The Bunny Suicides. By the way, has everyone forgotten that book.
Here is an absurd conversation, overheard, concerning a certain abysmally slow and unstable internet connection:
— Great, now it spikes at 80 kb/s.
— That’s still twice what it was before.
— Twice as much as nothing is still nothing.
— But 40 kb/s isn’t nothing. Come to think of it, “nothing” is kind of a vague concept.
— “Nothing,” in this context, might be defined as “negligible download speed.”
— But twice as much as negligible is more than negligible.
If you gaze for long into an abyss, negligible download speed gazes also into you.