November 2020.



26 Nov 2020

Neocities is always far more active around the holidays. I find that amusing. That means people are taking their laptops along with them to their relatives house specifically expecting to avoid the shit out of them when they go and update their website and maybe scroll down the little Neocities activity feed to like your favorite sites' updates. I mean, I am well known for that sort of thing, I'm the weird HTML guy and always have been. Does that mean this website is full of My Kind? I certainly hope so because I'm not writing this shit for anyone else.

I know that I have a tendency to start projects on holidays. Something about all the extra time you have makes it easier to go "fuck it" and just start that site, or whatever your thing is. Then, if you're me, you give it up in six weeks.


Wisdom is hard when everyone's insane

23 Nov 2020

As an analyst who habitually second- and third-guesses himself and everything he believes in on a regular basis, I'd like to think that I ultimately have a pretty objective worldview. I won't claim to be immune to propaganda in media, or personal bias, or to having my opinions assigned to me by the media, because nobody is, not even me. Nor will I claim that I always live up to my own ideal principles; I most assuredly don't. But I do find that I habitually question my own beliefs and doubt my own positions whether I mean to or not. I feel I've done the work necessary to understand what my own principles are, at least, even if I don't know the best way to put those into practice, and am suceptible to biased outside influence in discerning how best to do that.

The problem is, there is no longer any reliable source of exactly what the facts are. Everyone thinks they know how to find out what the facts really are, but nobody does, myself included. I think I've pointed out previously that two people can watch or listen to the same exact clip at the same exact time and get completely conflicting impressions of it. Ultimately, whatever each of us thinks are the real "facts of the case" are actually the custom set of lies and intentional colorations and ambiguities that our particular media stream has assigned us, personally.

I use the word "assigned" somewhat hyperbolically, but not entirely wrongly. In reality, the learning AIs that curate the feeds we see most often are trained to feed more content that gets clicks and ad money. Which means more intentionally discolored headlines (or just outright lies) containing emotionally charged, attention-grabbing words that do not reflect the reality of the situation. Now, each individual is different in which emotionally charged words would cause them to be the most efficient click-and-profit-generator, and that's where the learning AI comes in. The reason every web services company is "tracking" each user is so that their learning AI can figure out how to most efficiently feed them more and more content that gets them into a sufficiently emotional state to generate clicks and ad revenue. It makes you crazy because that's more profitable.

I noticed in high school that, every time I got a text, I had a little spike in anxiety, a little micro panic attack. The immediate subconscious association was that I was about to be judged, and that I would inevitably come up short of expectations. Sound familiar? That's all the time for everyone in the world now. No wonder we're all insane.

I remember hearing a story about a middle school kid who moved to a new school, and left her bullies behind at the old school. That's awesome, right? Except she was still routinely harrassed online by all the people who bullied her at the previous school. That's the difference: you don't get to go home and leave your bullies behind for the evening anymore. They're everywhere with you, now. Your phone ties you to every friend, family member, and acquaintance permanently, and you're always obligated to get right back to them. We're all psychotically addicted to being a little bit too obligated to the people around us, while neglecting ourselves, and treating ourselves like we are someone we hate.

The speed and impersonal nature of our interactions is driving us to resent everyone by default without even realizing it. Something in the way our brains work might be fundamentally unable to handle this level of technology and the intensity of human communication it creates.

I wish I could write about anything fucking else.


The Captain America Generation

22 Nov 2020

I'm an analyst by nature. It's interesting to me to conceptually map out things, and I often find myself marveling at the complexity of ordinary societal things. For example, have you ever really thought about DARPA? The US government organization that started as ARPA, the Advanced Research Project Agency, invented the tech that became the Web1. The existence of a US Government agency specifically for "Advanced Research" means there is a large group of extremely intelligent and well-educated people who are paid handsomely to think about specific things to the very maximum extent possible, then write the clearest and most detailed report possible on the subject. A good example of what that can lead to practically speaking is US Military Manuals. My understanding is that there is a Manual published by the United States Military, one branch or another, for just about anything you can imagine.

My late grandfather, the Airforce Lieutenant and DIA analyst, comes to mind. A bunch of hyper-intelligent and hyper-diligent WWII veterans like him likely worked alongside him at the pentagon. These were the sort of incredibly boring and steel-nerved individuals who become astronauts, because that's a job that requires you to live in a pressurized tin can for months on end, and possibly even briefly become the most physically alone human being who has ever existed while your coworkers bounce around on the literal moon. As for my grandfather, in The War he snuck behind German enemy lines posing as a German officer and stole their aircraft for research purposes. Then he went back, and served in Korea. The literal Captain America generation. There's a reason Tom Brokaw called them, rightly, "the Greatest Generation."

1: It was not, contrary to the old urban legend, Al Gore. Remember that? Ironically, said Internet always remembers. Possibly the worst choice of words in History, B.T. (Before Trump).



21 Nov 2020

When, at an younger age, I took an interest in writing or art, I was told by some that writers and artists starve because they can't make a living. When I wrote something, there would be one or two encouraging voices that wanted to foster my creativity, of course, but they did me no favors in their approach; Unilateral compliments, of the sort that you give to a small child, have never helped anyone to grow. The pattern I noticed pretty early on (but couldn't put into words) was that people would generally either discourage my creative output as ultimately unproductive, or condescend to me and accuse me of some manner of affectation, or of blindly following a trend in an attempt to fit in, or of being too immature to know how foolish I am for trying. When there is a pattern of people around you, who you've grown to know and respect, who begin to accuse you of being the way that you are, and they say it with disdain in their voice, as though the thing that you are is dirty and bad and wrong, it affects your brain. You eventually start to believe it.

I don't think any of the people who installed insecurity and crippling inferiority issues directly into the OS of my brain meant to do any of that, nor do I think they were aware that's what they were doing, but that doesn't change the damage it did. The fact of the matter is this: The people who I feel discouraged me from being myself were themselves plagued by the insecurities. I know, for example, that the person who was the reason I stopped writing was himself a writer, and he was and is plagued with crippling impostor syndrome. I realize that saying "there exists a writer who hates everything they have ever written" is about as insightful as saying "there exists a writer who exists," but the more I think about it, the more I think that must be the heart of the matter: The people who, through coincidence or fate, ended up influencing my opinion of myself in a negative way (resulting in this beautiful inferiority complex I now fashionably sport) must already have that opinion of themselves. It's pretty difficult to make someone feel worse about themselves than you already feel about yourself. So, perhaps I will rest a bit easier knowing that they can't cause me any more pain than they have already been feeling themselves.

Now, I am an absolutely atrocious communicator when it comes to spoken language, but I'm sort of okay sometimes at writing, and don't you forget it. My written voice is the only one I've ever been sure of, and pleased with, becuase my words say what I want them to say in print much more reliably, but I don't always have that capability when speaking. And hey, if you can't understand it, learn to read more clearly. I'm certainly not going to be the one to change.


The masters of old

20 Nov 2020

In my latest re-re-re-re-edits to the about page (yeah, get used to that, it goes for the stories, too), I offhandedly made a joking analogy that this website is like my own personal wizard's tower, full of scrolls of mine own manufacture. The more I think about this, the more I fucking love it. This is a website, which is a series of literal scrolling pages.

The only difference is that these scrolls can be functionally infinite, if I made them that way. But now, that's an interesting analogy to why I think infinite scrolling in apps is immoral: What if every single app that scrolled was a literal magical fucking scroll? What dark sigils are you habitually allowing into your consciousness, without even considering it, for the better part of every day by aimlessly taking in the contents of these Infini-ScrollsTM? Yes, not only are they scrolls of parchment full of potentially dark and dangerous incantations, they are in fact so magical that they are really, literally infinite.

It's true, the old saying about any sufficiently advanced technology looking like magic. The fact is, the curation of these infinite app feeds is done by an AI the inner workings of which are the subject of many, many term papers and sleepless programmer nights. AI (along with infinite scrolls) is sufficiently advanced technology that it qualifies, officially in my book (I mean, my scrolls), as magic. Take that proclamation as you will, but I'm sticking with it. That "lense filter" on reality certainly seems to work for me.



Every social network is hell

19 Nov 2020

Remember when social networks were... bearable? Remember when they were revolutionizing the way people communicated, and we were excited to see where they'd go next? Now, I don't know about you, but I can't even with them anymore. I am entirely unable to even. I may never even again. They intensify the stressful parts of human communication, ignore the truth of current events, encourage addictive and compulsive use patterns, and produce frenzied, frantic, negative thoughts.

I'm old enough to remember when Reddit was a tiny niche community of mostly software developers. In its old advertising guidelines, Reddit used to say it was a thoughtful and honest community full of intelligent people. Can you imagine? If you've attempted to wade, nose held firmly between thumb and forefinger, into the dense boggy mire of Reddit Dot Com in the last couple of years, apart from its hideous interface, you'll notice that it has become entirely unusable. The web app itself works okay, but every time you visit it in a phone browser it bugs you to install the app, and the dialog box you must close has its buttons worded deceptively to confuse the user (as a UI dev, that's just wrong). They really want you to get the Reddit app on your phone. And if you've ever made the mistake of attempting to post content in a high traffic subreddit, you can be one hundred percent sure that your post will be hidden, deleted, buried, or that you'll be messaged by an auto-moderator telling you that you fucked something up. It's as though every change that has been made to the site in the past 5 years has been in the interests of inconveniencing the user more. Reddit is unusably over-moderated now. Reddit is essentially a publisher.

Twitter distresses me. The short nature of Tweets, and the speed at which Twitter moves, and the heights of emotions it brings out in its users, all make me feel subconsciously as though, if something happens ("BREAKING:"), I have to be the first to know, and I have to spread the word, as though it were some sort of perverse public service. It's a shame, honestly, because Twitter had the potential to be an excellent tool for circumventing the fake news, the omnipresent social propaganda that saturates our communications. Twitter allows you to go straight to the source and get the story first hand. But in practice, it's just a hell of speed, people, and combativeness. Twitter seems to draw in males (like myself) more than other social networks. Maybe it's part of the testosterone brain that makes us want to fight. I think, in some way, men are hard-wired to have their "eyes on the horizon," and to want to "secure the perimeter" by purging any danger. But, in Twitter land, this doesn't turn out well at all. Twitter is where you go to scream at people and tell them they're Nazis because they disagree with you. I wonder if Twitter users realize that, by constantly accusing everyone of being a Nazi, you actually end up mass producing neo-Nazis. If you scream it in their face enough times, eventually they'll probably just go, "Okay, I guess I am, then," just like constantly accusing a faithful partner of cheating on you makes them, ironically, more likely to cheat. Twitter is undoubtedly a publisher, and they're way worse at hiding it than Reddit.

I think the worst part about Facebook is that everyone you've ever known, everyone you hated in school, all of your least favorite relatives whose opinions bother you the most, they are all there and they're all friend requesting you again because they forgot their password for the 3rd time, and they're all watching everything you do and judging you. Your crazy auntie is on there posting about politics, and your cousins are all arguing with her and one another. Nobody in your family believes anything that's actually true anymore because Facebook has addicted them to the motion of their thumb scrolling the infinite pain feed that quietly assigns everyone's opinions to them. Every few hours the damn website interface changes, and their AI moderator is really really bad at its job. I got a 30 day ban from Facebook for no apparent reason, so instead I told them to just delete my account at the end of that 30 days, because they wouldn't let me do it right away. It was a wonderful decision. Highly recommended.

Instagram is a constant, rigorous performance. The technical term for what you really get up to in the Instagram Torture Pits, I think, is "status signaling." Every last filtered shot on there shows someone who is so happy, and they travel so much, and they're so much more attractive and successful than you, and they're always posting this cool stuff they do, and how can you ever measure up? It's not a healthy way to view other human beings, becuase it's all complete fucking lies. For some reason, the essential pathology of Instagram seems to hit young women and girls especially hard, and has turned them into self-obsessed, selfie-taking status-signalers.

And then there's Tumblr. Tumblr, Tumblr, Tumblr. Tumblr. That website is the white-hot nexus of the cancerous rot that plagues Western civilization. The self-centered wokeness that has tainted every once-great social cause started here. The sexual narcissism that makes people demand special social recognition in regards to matters that should be private was intensified here; its flames were fanned to life on Tumblr. I think the most hateable part is the continual breathless virtue signaling and complaining about oppression from people with very little perspective on how amazing a life they actually have. There is hate flung at those who dare to express an impure thought. There is brutal public shaming of wrong-thinkers, harassment campaigns aimed at destroying the lives of someone who is supposedly "hateful," doxxing, raging, and worst of all it breeds irrational, extremist thought.

Every single social network is its own specially branded flavor of absolute interpersonal hell.


Twitter hates you

18 Nov 2020

I didn't fully realize until after I made an effort to quit using Twitter and Facebook just how taxing they are. I mean really. I can feel the difference in my own habits and automatic thought processes since I stopped. I am way happier without Twitter in my routine. It exhausted me physically and mentally to be on those websites, and then I'd wonder why I'm so damn anxious and angry all the time.

Taxing + makes you feel like shit = toxic. That's the word for it. TOXIC

Building my own website to rant on forces me to organize things first, and to make use of the left side of my brain in building the HTML document, so it naturally helps me to process things more fully. It's like "Journaling Plus" (especially since no human being besides myself will ever read it), and it doesn't flow into addictive and compulsive use patterns like social media does (and is precision-designed to do). Also, it's nice to finally know for certain that the owner (me) of the website onto which I regurgitate my half-considered creative garbage does not hate me. On Twitter and Facebook, I was pretty sure Jack and Zuck hated me. They might have, maybe still do for all I know. I've just decided to stop making myself give a damn about it.

Social networks do bully their users. That's just the nature of the beast. As long as there are social networks, they will treat their users like garbage (without meaning to), and the mechanics of the website will damage and sicken the users' minds, even as the owners monetize the very gaze of the user.

Jack and Zuck probably don't even know the harm their sites are doing to humanity. Some of the users might be conscious what is being done to them, but most probably don't have a clue. And now we look up and realize it's been five years, or however long, and we've all gone completely off the deep end, and we can't connect with each other anymore. None of us have spoken face to face in forever, and we're pretty sure our political opponents are going to try to murder us, like, tomorrow.

If it's a free service, you're not the customer, you're the product.

Social media gets you into the habit of "sharing" every random thought that comes to mind without even finishing it, then it gives you dopamine as though you engaged in a real interaction with a real person, fleshed your thoughts out, processed them, and came to a reasoned conclusion. The speed and inbuilt addictive elements together allow that to slot into your routine very easily for maximum damage. So, instead of engaging with the world around you, your brain on social media recieves a crude simulation of what it needs, and it gets it at maximum fucking speed, circumventing the need for any of the unpleasant but healthy parts of interpersonal life.

When I work toward concrete, long-term goals, and purposefully delay my own gratification in order to "store up" my rewards for the future, I find that my mind strengthens, and I get better at falling into the flow of striving toward a longterm goal. It gives people dopamine when they struggle and use up energy in pursuit of something they really believe in. Instead, if I let my phone fool my brain into thinking I already did all of that, my brain feeds me dopamine right away, which is much easier. But then I haven't grown or strengthened in any way to attain that goal. In fact, I didn't attain a goal at all, I let a pattern of lights fool me into thinking I had achieved something. I never even had a goal. Social media had bestowed upon me the power to feel as though I had attained all my goals without ever setting any to begin with.

Getting off social media has proven to be quite a growth-filled experience, and it's only been two weeks.


The great disconnect

17 Nov 2020

I think history will record that the beginning of the 21st century was consistent with a Mass Hysteria type event, or perhaps a series of them. Two people, both of sound mind and perception, could watch the same video clip, say, at the same time and draw two completely separate (or even directly conflicting) conclusions. Some have gleefully and/or sardonically declared that this means "facts don't matter," and that you can declare the fundamentals to be whatever you want them to be. On a small scale, this might allow for the changing of one's flawed perceptions, or otherwise working to restore one's own mental health, if one is responsible and focused enough (I know I'm not). On a large scale, however, I believe this state is unsustainable, and humanity must find something basic to agree upon, and fast, so that we have some fundamental societal ground to stand on to accomplish anything at all.

Perhaps the most harmful and malignant meme in history is anti-patriotism. I do not mean to say that it's not okay to question your country or its government. One should think critically about one's own country as a matter of civic and social responsibility. It is precisely that constant criticism that forges one's patriotism in a truer and deeper sense. After all the stupid nonsense your country has done, the mistakes it has made, the times it has failed to live up to its ideals, if you can still look at the flag and think about your grandfather the veteran, or your uncle the POW, or whatever selfless patriotic domestic sacrifice may mean to you, then you'll know you really mean it when you say you still love your country.

Antipatriotism, on the other hand, is the common habitual notion that associates patriotism with negative things. It is the meme that characterizes patriots as hateful people, or as excessive and obnoxious, or as foolish and fanboyish. It's a meme that frames the notion of loving one's own particular combination of place and people as trite and unoriginal at best, or as dark and destructive at worst.

For whatever reason, antipatriotism appears to have taken hold in the United States beyond the point where anyone is able to examine it critically. Displays of patriotism have habitually and subconsciously been interpreted as displays of hate for decades now by most people in America.

If you step back and think of patriotism conceptually, separated from the political tensions of any particular time, it seems completely obvious. Why wouldn't you want to live in a place that most of the residents love and want to preserve? Isn't that the goal?

If you think about patriotism in that way, you notice two things:

  1. This sort of patriotism writ large would lead to a healthy and lasting society
  2. Those who think this sort of patriotism is hateful begin to look pretty hateful themselves
The patriotism of love and preservation is a sort of natural memetic social immune system, and it builds healthy and long-lasting societies for future generations.

The speed and shallowness inherent in the bulk of our communications with one another represents a kind of perfect storm of stimuli that cause people to become very swiftly disconnected from their ability to think rationally. Broadly speaking, though, I think if humans stopped and paid attention to one another more, we'd see that we can actually agree on more than we think, and we still come together when it really counts. Even now, in the mass hysteria of the early 21st century.


Diwali and The Great Pendulum

15 Nov 2020

The spritual meaning in time of Diwali for many Hindus is that of "victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance". How fitting, then, that this Hindu Festival of Lights occurs at around the zenith of the Winter season, when the night is at its longest and darkest.

Now, I'm no Hindu, but I believe that human society ebbs and flows, comes and goes, just like the seasons do. At the moment, the West appears to be at its darkest, its most unstable and divided, its least trusting, and its least constructive.

In such times, it is helpful and sustaining to remember that The Great Pendulum always swings back in the other direction. When things are at their most extreme, that is because the Great Pendulum of Human Culture is reaching its zenith, and will soon stop and begin its swing back in the other direction.

It's all uphill from here (though we may remain down here for a bit before the uptrend starts).

When you're going through hell, keep going.


The last of a generation

14 Nov 2020

The consistent theme in my life has been that I am the last of a generation. It's a meme my mother pointed out to me, and it's something that has colored my life.

To give an example, I went to a private school, which (contrary to the reputation of such institutions) had a map in my geography class that still showed both Czechoslovakia and the USSR (I grew up in the 90s, long after such matters were settled).

For some reason, the uncanny pattern of my life has been that I experience something old-school just before that experience disappears from culture.


Social media is a civilizational problem

7 Nov 2020

There is something about social media that human beings are not psychologically prepared for. It is a perverse abstraction of human social community to which our brain does not react well. It might be, for all we know, that the primary reason someone posts on social media is anger. If a proper study was done, I bet it would show exactly that.

Quarantines and lockdowns forced people indoors and onto social media. That means that everyone's own emotions became the most important thing in their world. Suddenly, every single person is a radical solipsist. Not because we wanted to be, or would be under other circumstances, but becuase we are all being conditioned to be introverted and consumption-obsessed egomaniacs.

I believe that human beings, on some fundamental level as creatures, need to have trusting community with others. Forcing people indoors and abstracting their social interactions, forcing human contact (super coincidentally) into a medium that is both easily monetized and easily monitored, harms our brains in a way that we don't yet fully understand.

When looking back at this era of humanity future humans will say, "How could they have just scrolled and scrolled all day? Didn't they know what it was doing to them?" Social media is the new cigarettes. Everyone does it, it's really addictive, and it's really harmful.

The strangest part is that, while social media is extremely habit-forming, it also seems to consist of mostly negativity. Webcomic Name accurately called it "an endless stream of the most horrible things in the world". That means that it adversely affects our mental health in ways we probably don't even fully understand yet.

Being a UI designer (can't you tell from this elaborate page design?), I can pinpoint precisely the dark triad of UI design choices that addict people to social media (by design!):

  1. Relative timestamps ("3 hours ago" instead of "May 25, 2020")
  2. Infinite scrolling with no user action (such as a "more" button click) required
  3. Clickable, animated icons with incremental numbers (i.e. likes, reactions, upvotes, etc.)
I consider those elements to be flat-out immoral.

Relative timestamps make everything feel immediate and time-senstitive, like a message on an answering machine. This is necessary for social media companies because otherwise textual interactions like email can feel very asynchronous. Without relative time stamps, social media would feel just a tiny bit more like a forum, and less like a messaging service. It subconsciously increases "FOMO" (Fear Of Missing Out), which encourages longer and more frequent use.

Infinite scrolling is problematic because it makes users stick around longer. Again, this is all subconscious. The user has no idea that they are being drawn in to addictive use patterns to improve the profits of Big Tech.

The most addictive part of social media is the chemical addiction. When you can click an animated icon to show your appreciation for or reaction to a piece of content, it gives you a shot of dopamine. It adds value to the interaction, and it makes the user feel empowered. Likewise, if you get a lot of reactions to your content, you get rewarded by your own brain. This leads to, quite literally, a chemically addictive component to social media.

At the risk of sounding like the massive dork that I absolutely am, this reminds me of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Riker finds a "game," that is actually an extremely efficient dopamine delivery device. Basically, playing this "game" makes the crew feel like they're getting a shot of straight dopamine, or morphine, or whatever, and it's really addictive. So addictive that it causes problems. To me, that's the episode that tried to warn us about social media.

We should have listened.