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Oblomovka

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2022-08-18

no words

I’ve been having a bit of a rollercoaster time at work; nothing you need to bother your giant head about, but this week has been a mix of incredible highs, and also some really hard introspection.

One of them, which will seem silly to regular readers of this blog (who are the only ones left right now, and I’m not even sure what “regular” means in this context), is having to admit to a co-worker that I have terrible writer’s block and have had for… ooh, thirty years or so? I remember reading somewhere that “writer’s block didn’t exist” and I think that added another couple of decades to my refusal to really take it seriously. That and at least two book deals, careers in scriptwriting and journalism, and a perpetual sense that I was failing at the one thing people expected me to do.

Well, you know, I have taken it seriously — lots of therapy where we’d eventually get around to it as a topic, that whole “lifehacks” side-tour, endless agonising and bending the ear and wetting the shoulder of my closest confidants. But I’ve never really said it in a work context as a thing that people need to watch out for.

Mostly, I just say I will try to do better. But I really don’t; this is who I am. To give you an example: these days I’m practically a walking Oral Tradition — I don’t write memos at work, I give hour long internal talks, and fill up meetings with these improvisational marvels of ad-libbed wisdom that amaze me, even as they probably bore or annoy a sizeable chunk of my co-workers (though they are all really nice about it).

Of course, I’ve had that thought where I just go, hey, maybe I could just speak to a microphone, and transcribe all of this genius and magically turn it from mid-brow hand-waving into high-status prose. Somehow it doesn’t work that way.

Anyway, usually this kind of post ends with me dedicating myself to you, regular reader, and promising to blog more, or what have you. Followed by another six months or more of silence. I know enough to know not to say that now, and bring down the curse. But I guess what I am feeling is a sense that even if I don’t write it’s time to saddle up again and try and push the ideas out there, with a keyboard, or a prosc arch or livestream or something. It’s never too late to start, and it’s always too early to end.

2022-04-13

o’brain worms

I guess it’s appropriate that we can’t agree on what the brain worms metaphor’s original vehicle actually is. In his description of the Internet culture term, Max Read claims, reasonably, that the originals are maybe like tapeworms or toxoplasma. But I always think about the Ceti Eel in Wrath of Khan (but then, I’m always thinking of Wrath of Khan, especially, these days, the imminent off-Broadway musical).

To be infested with a brain worm is to have become a one-note (or a cacophony of discordant notes) speaker. To have all your behaviors, at least online, collapse into one strident position. To shore up every exit from that position with every mental barricade. A mind trap.

I will insist that I’m right about the best analogy. Like the Ceti eel, the modern brain worm usually gets in via your ear (or Twitter feed). It “render[s] the victim extremely susceptible to suggestion,” as Khan notes: Chekov later confirms that “the creatures in our bodies… control our minds …made us say lies …do things”. Madness, then death follows. Metaphorical brain worms, with COVID and measles, can kill you nowadays. In happier times, you could get away with just agyria.

Brain worms certainly seemed to have grown more virulent, more vicious, recently. I worry about my proximity to them. As I’m hinting, I’m considering slinking into punditry again, and woah nelly, do brain worms seem to be an occupational hazard in those dark woods. I think I’ve lost more friends and acquaintances to brain worms than the pandemic. From 9/11 truthing, to whatever it is that’s slamming around Glenn’s cortex these days, from election-disbelievers to Russia-runs-it-allism.

Since I was a young man clutching the Loompanics catalog for the first time, I’ve actively explored strange new views; sought out new lies and new inclinations. But watching good people all around me just be consumed by an idea, possessed and ridden by these loa, trapped by an illusion that if they just moved one foot to the left or right, would dissolve away, has given me serious pause. If I open my mouth and speak my mind again, will the brain worms get in that way? Start polishing up my prejudices until they’re clean, consistent, and shiny, and one day find myself unable to drag my eyes away from their distorted mirror image?

Or you know, maybe the brain worms have already got me? Like most people who read books or say long words, I have a few brain worms that I keep as pets. They’re fun, they’re conversation pieces, and you can bring them out for people to coo at during parties. 

I’m still confident that if they turned rabid and started attacking my friends, I’d have the sense to put them down — the worms, not my friends, of course (oh no maybe they have already got me)?

My pet brain worms: the Internet (still with its capital letter); anarchism of a harmless, de-fanged kind; a litter of related ones bred from the same pedigree. These days, decentralization would be the obvious one, I guess. My friends and relatives, watching me wading in booty-shorts through the cryptocurrency swamp, worry, but I think that’s a little too obvious to snag me.

But, of course, nobody with a brain worm thinks they have brain worms. So how do you protect yourself? Alan Moore’s old trick was to tell his closest that they should retrieve him from whatever mindfuck he was pursuing, but only if he started becoming less productive. I’m not sure I want to take advice from Alan Moore on this matter, however, especially as I suspect a brain worm would make far more prolific, not less. I mean, this is why pundits have them — they’re superspreaders. A brain worm that doesn’t target pundits would not be a successful brain worm. Just ask Richard Dawkins: a man who, on some deep level, must know that the memes are now defining him, not the other way around.

Making hard-to-wriggle-out-of testable predictions — make your beliefs pay rent, as the origin of so many geek brain worms whispers to me from his wicked lair — would, I would hope, help ground me. But I need to avoid pattern-matching as I seek out those beliefs! Or else there’s a mountain of evidence awaiting me that supports my position! You just need to let me devote more time to finding it!

Ultimately, all I can assume is that the best practical guard against monsters is to make sure you’re not hurting anyone — or inspiring others to hurt themselves or others. No one deserves it, no matter what the worms say. It may make you a quieter, weaker source of thought: but tell the voices in your head that worms who prosper long term will be the ones who don’t kill their hosts.

2022-04-03

Unwanted thoughts

You can hear in the background of this blog, like a creek at the end of a field, a constant wash of attitudes changing. Not much, to be honest, or not as much as I’d hope. At the end of college, a friend of mine was terrified of backing into just one role, ending up stuck in just one life. I, optimistic and insufferable, told her that I was looking forward to transforming into many different people, bouncing around the mental state-space as the world changed around me. The truth seems to be that you can steer between these two camps, and thank god. How we change is under some of our control, or it feels that way.

There’s certainly a lot of character pinballing around, with those slow Ron Paul->Bernie arcs being overtaken by Mises->Nazi, SomethingAwful->Tankie, PostModern->Mencius, KPop->Antifa, slam tilts. One constant that I see people in their forties and above refer to is the old pseudo-Churchillian (maybe Batbie? Maybe Burke? Probably anonymous Tory.) line: “If you are not a democrat/liberal/socialist at 25, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at 35 you have no brain”, followed generally by a humblebrag that they’ve switched from being a liberal as a youth to being, in these present times, a flaming communist by thirty-five.

This one lands weirdly for me because, in some ways, being a Labor-left, unionizing, nationalizing, we’ll see the Red Flag flying here, type, is, within my messed-up internal political compass, actually pretty old school. I was raised on the Left. At that time, it felt like less of a political stance and more like a refugee movement. In the UK and US, that branch of the Left was summarily ejected from the electoral power it needed to execute its plans, and nobody seemed to have good ideas on how to get it back. Chernobyl and the collapse of the Soviet Union were, to that whole ideological space, what the 2008 recession was to free-market, free-trade fans — an undeniable, universally damaging unwinding of the best arguments for its dominance. Something like, “In the Nineties at twenty-five, if you weren’t seriously questioning socialism, you had no friends; if you were not spending some time considering the benefits of neoliberalism at 35, you probably had no job.” (Don’t write in, I know you met a lot of cool people at Red Wedge, I’m just trying to bend the quote to fit, dammit.)

Anyway, when I hang out these days with the youngsters quoting theory at each other, I am thrown backward, not forward in time. I got into Benjamin Franklin when I first came to America — a very 2000s thing to do, but also, obviously, pretty 1770s of me too. Eventually, I snapped out of it by thinking: I’m pretty sure Peak Nation-Building did not end in the late 18th century, and there may have been more advancements in political science by non-bewigged professionals since then.

On the other hand, I definitely would not have considered upgrading to Marx as much improvement. Partly because it would only have been a jump forward from the founding fathers by fifty years or so, but mostly because it would have felt like a shift backward for me personally, to 1979. It would have been an act of internal conservatism. 

I guess now, faced with new information, I should thrash ahead to a new neo-Marxist vision. Alas! I am not changing as quickly as I did. The lightcone of my character has been narrowing since my thirties. Back then, I would amuse myself by wondering what it would be like to be an aging hippy of the future. And here I am, as 90s as they were 60s: Eyes blurring with tears, I will, unprompted, relate how you can almost see, with the right eyes, the high-water mark on the Internet, where the decentralization revolution washed over the world, and then broke and fell back. Re-litigating long-dead arguments about SMTP and NNTP as much as I heard warmed-over fights about the SWP or SDS in my youth; thinking myself a radical who avoided the Churchill rails, but actually a conservative sitting athwart any progress.

But! There is a twist here, and I clutch onto it. The weird thing about the Left in the eighties was that it kept its beat, even if that wasn’t the main rhythm of the time. It is hard now to describe how sidelined it was and how it held itself together, even when everything– at least in the anglosphere — was working against its success. I remember thinking: how odd and inspiring to keep on believing in something when everything conspires (maybe through class war, maybe through your own movement’s recent fuck-ups) to undermine your conclusions.

Grudging respect! I thought unpopular thoughts at the time (“information wants to be free!”, “fast, cheap and out of control!”, “we reject: kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code”), but they weren’t actively being rejected – they just weren’t very well known at the time. While they were obscure, they had the advantage of fitting the current setting; they made predictions, and then the predictions came true. So when more people came to believe them, it wasn’t a surprise. It was barely a validation. Like those old school (with a slave-owning asterisk) heroes would say, we held those truths to be self-evident.

So brave to think new thoughts: but holding onto your beliefs when they’re well-known and yet disregarded is another matter entirely. I ignored the Left in the eighties because it was both well-explored and curiously mismatched to the world I saw around me. You can put that down to insidious capitalist propaganda: but, again, the fecundity of thought at the time came, for me, from imagining a world outside stagflation and the 70s, plotting an escape from a utopian vision whose roof had fallen in. 

And yet, some people stuck around to carefully rebuild the roof: tedious thankless work.

So, ironically — conservatively? — the lesson I’ve learned is that there is some value to being an aging hippy, to be a person who squats on creaking knees with the tired ideas of the last decade and learns the lessons, and stitches on patches, in a quiet corner. The fact that the Left managed to roar back into relevance the moment the last age wobbled is perhaps why leftist thinking has evolved the way it has. It’s designed to pop back up. And if that’s so, maybe it’s resilient to be unwanted for a while. Sometimes we make a wrong turn and need to back up a little to go forward again.

2022-03-11

style project

I’m halfway through a memo for work. I’m struggling a bit with the style, because it’s stuck between being broadly informative and terse, and rah-rah-inspiring, and I’m not sure which way to go with it.

It’s also the first bit of writing I’ve done for a while (and certainly the first since my heavy flirtation with Covid, which of course means I spend some of my time going “wait, is my inability to choose the right noun here due to novel holes in my brain?”).

The last year or so, since I left EFF, have been ingesting a huge amount of new information, hobnobbing with lovely new people, and, in terms of communicative output on my behalf, providing a great deal of hand-waving and anecdotalising in Zoom calls. (If you want the flavor of that last category, here’s a recorded version of said hand-waving that I gave at Protocol Labs’ Funding the Commons event last week. Don’t know if it’s interesting, can’t bear to watch me or my hair in it.)

Honestly, the change of career flavor been pretty nice. I’m delighted to be learning new tricks , and it’s charming to have a new audience for what transpires to be a near endless supply of slightly too long tales of the early Internet. I guess looking at my long line of irish uncles, I should have assumed I’d slowly transform into a barracking raconteur, but from the viewpoint of someone who was a awkward, shy teenager, it’s still a shocking development. I still have a constant refrain in my head of “perhaps it’s time to shut up now”, but my internal hearing appears to be going. This is how you become what you — well, not hate, but certainly eye-rolled at — in your own past. Would awkward teenager have hated me? Nah, I’d have been terrified of me, but with a sort of grudging respect. Like, huh, seems like a bit of an ass, but maybe an aspirational ass, too?

Time-travel paradoxes aside: But but, but, the writing. And worse, the public writing.

I have started to realise that I have now processed verbally so much new information that I really have some kind of obligation to blurt it out to a wider audience. Yes, this may also have come with the barracking, and possible the long covid dementia.

Does forcing myself on the body politic mean writing? Well, it does if I don’t want to change my t-shirt or comb my hair. I could do some more Youtube Videos, I guess, and have previously enjoyed my forays into livestreaming. (The podcasting, too, has been effective I think, though that’s not really been down to me, I’m just a cog there in a much smarter pod mechanism.)

Anyway, the challenge in all of these environments is less the creative act of writing, and more the orchestration of the personal brand. The last seven years at EFF, has involved in increasing subsumption of my voice into managing and guiding the EFF voice. This was something I found a bit frustrating when I first joined the org, because I HAD MORE THINGS TO SAY AS A HUMAN DAMMIT. But come the 2010s, and the replacement of the joie-de-vivre of blogging punditry with the dodging-velociraptors-while-escaping-over-a-lava-field-in-mid-meteor-strike that is the modern Internet landscape, my enforced personal radio silence gradually turned into constant background sigh of relief. Speaking as EFF was a regular terror, but at least people mostly didn’t judge me on that basis, and on a million different mutually contradictory axis, most of which I had no control over. I enjoyed to sinking into well-deserved obscurity, while watching my friends ascend into micro-celebrityhood, with all the pain and cancelling and damnation that now involves.

But now: god, do I have to gear up again? And if so, what is my personal punditry outfit going to be?

I still see the Internet, unavoidably, as a meta-medium. To my mind, it reamins a protoplasm that you can shape into different media, as different from each other as a book is from a newspaper, or a newspaper from a radio show. And I do feel very at odds with the current, limited menu of media that we are given from on high. Part of it is aging inflexibility, of course (no I do not think I am a born TikToker), but part of it is because I think to engage, is to try and construct your own format. And I’m still in mid-mull about what that format could be.

2020-07-20

spoolfeed, or the new news

Ever since I worked at the Guardian’s New Media Lab in the Nineties and it was my actual job, I’ve been thinking about how news media is produced.

A lot of my thinking was originally driven by just extrapolating out where things were headed. The increasingly high frequency of the news-cycle, for instance, was so blatant an issue when I was writing a weekly newsletter, because the collapse of the news-cycle meant we went from a news-breaking weekly, to a news summary weekly, to a news creating weekly. The obvious thing was to just slam the dial on that, and plot out what it meant for news to be on a minute-by-minute hype cycle. I think we’re probably there now, but it was a useful, Moore’s Law-like extrapolation to imagine what that should look like.

Some of it was just futurist ideas that I couldn’t keep out of my head (reading about prediction markets in Extropy, for instance, and wondering how to actually guide columnists, journalists and commenters onto a self-correcting truth-seeking trajectory, rather than what I saw the current incentives being). Most of that hasn’t really played out — yet?

And some of it was just the regular frustrations of the early days of working within traditional media institutions. Newspapers, like any other institution, failed to seek to preserve their real value (their archives, for instance, or their research department), in the pursuit of what they and others thought was their value-add (their pundits, stature among elites or whatever). That problem seems to be ongoing, with the hand-wringing never stopping.

Anyway, I’d occasionally write up my thoughts in the form of a business-plan (when I was feeling ambitious), or a manifesto (when I was feeling righteous). The last draft was a couple of years ago, and rather than have it rust away in my drafts folder, here it is.

Feel free to steal these shadows of ideas. I called the product that I was hand-waving about, “spoolfeed”. It had four rules:

1. THE FUNDAMENTAL UNIT OF NEWS IS THE STORY, NOT THE ARTICLE.

A single article provides some insight into an emerging news story. But right now, the elements of that story are scattered across dozens of news services, thousands of witnesses and experts, millions of online participants on social media.

Gathering these threads requires as much work on the part of an involved reader as being a professional journalist: visiting dozens of sites, curating lists of experts, filtering and fact-checking opinions.

Imagine one page —- one permanent home on the Web, or within the searchable app space—for each news story. The majority of these pages could be  machine-generated: summaries, with links, to document clusters, together with other relevant indicators (associated hashtags, images or live streams near the source, links to TV reports whose closed-captions indicate deeper coverage.

But the biggest stories are individually curated, pulling together every accessible online source into a coherent and critically-appraised whole.

When you want to find out what’s happening ‘right now’ in a story you care about — and where to find out more— that page will be the place you visit, where you link to, and even where you contribute your thoughts or other comments.

2. A STORY HAS A PAST, A PRESENT AND A FUTURE

Until now, journalism has emphasised two aspects of the story: its present state, and future possibilities; reporting provides the now, editorial speculates on the next. With few meaningful exceptions, the past is lost to the archives.

Newspapers and other media organizations sit upon an unused and, in the main, inaccessible  ‘goldmine’ of previously collated information, resources and data, which moulders in archives and is buried from the public behind barely utilized  search boxes – either by the organisations themselves or their users.

Yesterday’s news is an invaluable resource to be integrated and exploited, not discarded.

Stories are far more long-running and timely than mere articles (the story page on the Turkish coup will still be seeing updates now; as does the story page on the 2008 economic crisis.) That means those pages become more than just a first draft of history: they become the most complete historical record (ever?) available.

A permanent place for a story should let readers see, and link to, what it looked like at any moment in time and from multiple entry points or perspectives.

3. THE ROLE OF NEWS IS TO DESCRIBE THE PAST IN ORDER TO ANTICIPATE WHAT IS TO COME

Q. Where’s the value in history? 

A. In predicting the future.

News services’ value exists entirely  in assisting their users to anticipate (or influence) the future. But they shirk the feedback loops that could sharpen their predictive ability. Failed predictions are buried in those archives. The churn of the ‘constant present’ means nothing much is learned — or revealed.

Others’ opinions can be aggregated, and turned into tangible bets. Probabilities can be attached to those predictions. An aggregated story page can record who got what right, and wrong, and adjust its priors for the next round of predictions accordingly.

In a future where prediction markets are legal, a story page could be the venue for the best of those markets. For the present, we’ll work to bring accountability back to the op-eds of news culture.

4. EVERY RELOAD, AN UPDATE

But the past and future may be how people use the news, eventually. But the impulse to seek it out is always driven by novelty. The audience for news wants to know what’s happening *right now*.

Most news services are surprisingly static in how they present the news. Headlines may be tweaked, new articles added, but the fundamental view of the day’s stories stays constant. TV news repeats on the hour; front pages of sites settle for all but breaking stories.

An aggregator of sources will never be the first with the news. But it will always be the second — *in* seconds.

When people come to see the news, they come to see something new. We bang on reload on Google News, Reddit, Twitter and our own email because we want to see it change.

The goal of a story page should be this: every page reload, an update. That may be an impossible goal, but it’s the beast we’ll seek to feed, because that’s what the news audience wants.

(And your back button will take you to what you remember seeing, but forgot to bookmark or share.)

2019-02-21

Peaceable publicity

I know the world is going to hell in a futuristic handbasket — I know this because All Media Tells Me So, and who am I to question all the signals. But I can’t help but note that I’m really happy at the moment. I guess I’m always fairly countercyclical in my weltanschaung vs the zeitgeist: others have noticed how much I perk up at the sign of a recession. I don’t remember being exactly happy after the financial crisis, but I wasn’t that gloomy either.

Anyway, things are pretty calm for me. I’m recently, cheerily, married. My work and co-workers continue to amaze me. I’m — even as I type — livestreaming my screen and blurred, nighttime webcam face onto Twitch, which as I mentioned below, seems to work wonders for my sanity, if I’m not too jittery and nervous to do it. I like the quiet companionship of the world right now.

It’s all hubris, of course. Just writing this is inviting the Gods to trash my backups, evict me from my home, and smother me in my own just world fallacy. But that’s always going to be the case. I can be hubristic with my mouth shut. I can be hubristic with a half-smile.

How are you?

2019-02-17

Stream of conscientiousness

I had a list of new year’s resolutions this year, which I wrote and then forgot about, but at some level have been trying to complete ever since. Let me dig them up; hold on. Ah, here they are.

Well, I’m not losing any weight, but I am managing to live stream pretty often. I share a weird corner of the streaming world, where amateur programmers show strangers their screens and their faces while they do random coding. Mostly it happens on Twitch TV, which has cornered the market in esports and mass live video demonstrations of gaming prowess. Twitch TV also streams the long tail of what it used to call “Creative” — enthusiasts building PCs, drawing pictures, messing with clay, and growing chickens. After a mixed beginning (where you could see Twitch trying avoid turning into a video sexworker marketplace, or just troll central), Twitch has clearly developed a fondness for these corner cases. Maybe it’s because they hark back to when it used to be Justin TV, and people showing you things they did was all it had.

Anyway, I’m hovering at the bottom of the “Science & Technology” category(!), a long way away from the 13 million followers of gamers like Ninja, and honestly a fair bit below popular coders like Al “The Best Python Teacher I Know Of” Sweigart, game developers like ShmellyOrc, and even other Lisp-exploring streams like Baggers and the mysterious algorithmic trader Inostdal. It’s okay though. I’m doing this for my own entertainment and sanity: livestreaming, for reasons that I’m still trying to understand, snapped me out of depression a year ago. (It’s not called Code Therapy for nothing.) Plus I’ve always enjoyed playing to small rooms, if they’re full of good people.

Anyway, as they say, subscribe and follow, follow and subscribe. Set it up to notify when I’m streaming, and come sit with me sometime. We’ll have a safely mediated chat, through protocols and stacks and obscene amounts of bandwidth.

2019-02-15

living with guile

Liz is BLOGGING LOUDLY next to me, inspiring me to write in her wake. I do have plenty to say, but most of it is wrapped around work, and consequently needs to bake a little before I reveal it to the world. I love my job, but there’s a part of me that’s sad at how little I can talk informally about. Law firms are taciturn places by nature, and my own work is so … frequently diplomatic. Oh well, it all appears eventually, in some form or another.

Meanwhile, in real life, I continue to hack on my guile ‘n’ guix constructed machine. I submitted my first guix patch! My approach to this laptop is to make only the most incremental of changes when I absolutely feel I need to do them. So, for instance, I wanted to submit that patch, so I set up mail — but only outgoing email. I admit to some fripperies: I’ve just discovered that recent Xft/cairo/fontconfig/something support color emojis, and so I splashed out on fonts. But otherwise, it’s interesting cobbling everything slowly from scratch.


2019-02-06

current obsessions, 2019

I feel like my political and cultural inclinations are slowly but determinedly turning into proto-retirement hobbies. And I can’t even imagine that I’ll ever have enough money to retire! It’s another one of those Pak Protector transformations, where our versions of what it is to be older are a mixture of strange new instincts, and aping what we can glean from role-models.

(It’s pretty easy to deduce what roles Lizzard and I are aiming for here; I believe us to be successfully morphing into eccentric-looking, reasonably approachable benign cultural fossils with Something To Relate With Colour For Your Neighbourhood. Expect us to pull up in your small seaside town in our wooden maker car and start setting up a retro-computer repair shop any decade.)

Anyway, the primary obsession for 2019 so far has been, as I may have mentioned, Lisp! Or rather, LISP. I have now moved back in time, past my brief flirtation with Plan 9 and Bell Laboratories’ UNIX™ fundamentalism, into the AI labs of the fifties.

Last week, I spoke at Stanford at EE380, which was a regular weekly talk that I loved to attend when I first came to Silicon Valley (well, actually, I mainly loved reading the emailed announcements, which as ever were just as good if not better than leaving my house.) I did not have enough insight into the generational strata of the valley to recognise that EE380 was primarily run by old school AIers and their colleagues; I stuck in a few McCarthy references into my talk just because I wanted to convey some sense of long stretches of chronological time, and only belatedly realised the audience was full of people who’d lived through all that history. They kindly took me out, and scattered entertaining gossip my way, including the fine, fine tradition of Les Earnest claiming, convincingly, to have invented everything. Anyway, it’s always a little embarrassing to garnish your talk with references to the Glorious Past, when the Glorious Past are in the room, still fresh with the injustices and the memories of an eternal moment of youth.

(Video of my talk is now online; it’s a bit all-over-the-place, even for me, but as a confused snapshot of how I think the international regulation of technology is going, it’s got some value. I’m playing my part in the historical archives, which are really something and probably a better use of your video-watching time.)


2019-02-03

locating your grumpiness

I am constantly, delightfully surprised by how gung-ho and ungrumpy I am online. I can’t really be anything else, honestly, because my absolute determination to be ungrumpy, against all odds, prohibits me from exhibiting any other kind of emotion. This means that in my normal life, I scowl constantly, and am forever punching people on the nose.

j/k!

Well, maybe? The policing of mood online does rather mean I’m boxed in. I’ve grown more and more sensitive to other people’s tirades — not just the ones aimed at me (or variants on the theme of me), but just venting in general. I mentally suck my teeth whenever someone turns on someone else. It’s a family trait, I’ve noticed. My family loves personal stories and anecdotes and tales, but they must be either at the expense of the teller, or at the very least, full of generous concessions to the antagonist(s). You can be really quite cutting, but if it is not from a self-declared place of love, we will scowl constantly and punch you on the nose. (You are not expected to live in perfect tolerance; that place of love can be cheaply rented by the hour).

I know many people who vent online, and they are okay in real life. Even the ones who are convinced the other people who vent online are monsters, are themselves not monsters. Well, not full-time. I’ve been randomly monstered (and seen monstrosities perpetrated on others) by so many different kinds of people I now try not to extrapolate. I have fallen back on my family’s default of “they probably have some horrific back-story, one that will not be as funny as the stories we are telling each other now about them; we should at worst leave them to be trapped in their sad story for the rest of their lives, that is their punishment, which is undeserved.”

I pondered briefly about this, in an online place which I frequent which is pretty much defined by being bitter. They’ve been bitter there since about 1986. They commented about how gung-ho and happy and optimistic they are in the rest of their lives, and I wondered how much that was true generally. Are we all participating in some strange, pissed-off masquerade?

Are we all, in our own ways, happy?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.