Sunday, January 26, 2020

Processing Ghosts

Up in London, but this shot taken exactly one week ago. I'm up for Chinese New Year, and can't help thinking about the scale of lockdown in China going on. What would happen if London got quarantined in the same way, or England? 40 million people is insane. And yet not, at human race scale.

We're used to moving around now. Travel is no longer the luxury it was several decades ago. Movement of goods, money, people - I could dig into Brexit and the splits between who and movement benefits, but underlying it is a more intriguing notion: that movement is a form of fluidity mirroring the natural flow of the universe. We are drawn to Flow for all things because it makes sense at a systemic level.

Locking down movement feels alien and backwards now. Yet not so long ago, the physical and mental borders between lands and states, the ones leading up and reinforced by continual wars, these were the status quo. Flow was an absurdity, migration something that happened for leisure, once or twice a year, ringfenced adventure.

Yet, exploring stories of migration, this mindset was only ever partial. As we dig into re-establishing borders, we will discover more and more that this narrative of "staying in our place" was only ever a fiction, and a temporary one at that.

The travellers have always been with us, silent and powerful. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Modular personal tech scene

Warren Ellis talking about using an old iPad as an Internet radio device. This is where my solarpunk experiments are also leading me. What's interesting about solar power is that it turns energy into a scarce resource, rather than a commodity. This means you've got to start being careful with it. Making decisions. Choosing priorities.

And it turns out, for me at least, that coupling "parcels" of functionality to particular hardware is a good "energy accounting" practice. I can ring-fence off particular functions on my life until I have the energy for them, and it forces me to think through what I consider to be essential. Not enough power to fire up my old Nexus tablet? RSS feeds can take a bit of a back seat then. Nothing urgent there.

The second advantage is that it's easier to work with an ecosystem of old devices - finding a single, all-powerful "god" device to do everything you wanted costs a lot of money. And these days, they make those things unfixable, so if one function goes down (like the camera module, or an app becomes incompatible), you're looking at replacing and checking through all your functions at the same time. Convenient devices will always give you a (bigger) headache at upgrade or replacement time.

Contrariwise, limiting your scope - of purchases, of software, etc - means you have a much more modular setup. I mean, it's never perfect - one should always assume that technology is a bastard. But it's easier to have one, less essential part of your life knocked out than the key bits unexpectedly.

On the downside, backups multiply accordingly. But again, at least you're able to change or reinstate your backups at a smaller level. What's that saying about eggs and baskets?

Modular personal tech ecosystems. Seriously, the future. Now we just need to get over our taboo about federating tech support within local communities ;)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Upside-down content

Was going to post this as a reply to James' post on leaving Twitter, but thought I'd try out his webping-thing instead. Plus this follows on from my previous post about microblogging. For further reading on the matter, see also Orbifx's post "From Mastodon to News-groups".*

I remember going to conferences and asking people if they had a Twitter account instead of a business card. That felt powerful at the time. And, to be fair, I still follow and respect the tweets/posts/thoughts of many of those people. Looking back, Twitter was more of a contact book with lightweight content - staying in touch with people was more important than actually having a conversation.

And perhaps, perhaps, it still has a use for that. It's not a good business model, which is the problem with fucking technocapitalism. Minor things are useful, but need turning into major things to please the VC crowd. Sure,we have the Fediverse, but one cannot deny the _convenience_ of a one-word identity. In terms of contact books and typable brevity, is the Fediverse any better or worse than just swapping emails?

I wish people blogged more, and tweeted less - a small blog once a week or so for those who are interested, and an even smaller tweet once a season, just to let your weak links and the wider world that you're still alive.

Posting more and more content to your weaker links? It feels like we've got this upside-down and back-to-front.

* and yes, the overlap between orbific and orbifx is slightly confusing.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020


Of course, the thing about trying to pass content around between multiple editors, media and services is that you never seem to get a clean end result. Not sure if the home page is currently frustrating me, or needs to move into full on glitch territory...:

Monday, January 06, 2020

Hovering at the Edge of Social Media - thoughts after a month away

Been off Twitter and Mastodon for a month now, as planned. I was expecting to re-join the throng about now, but haven't quite made it back. I've not returned to work yet, and am still relaxing, watching some TV, playing games, looking after kids, and even indulging in some little projects like fixing my old, original Gameboy.

Of more interest than leaving digital media is the question of re-entering the fray, and how that makes me feel. Have I missed it all? Not really. I've been spending less time online in general, but that time has been more focused on emails, RSS, and XMPP chats. In all three cases, I get more out of my engagement than the random, half-formed fragments that microblogging encourages.

With email, I have a huge amount of flexibility, and can easily sort out newsletters and personal messages from other admin stuff. A medium isn't just about the format and technical protocols involved, but all the support tools, organisational structures and cultural expectations that go with it.

I think email - and/or the people I communicate with - has moved away from the overly oppressive practices that burdened email within corporate contexts. My inbox is still overflowing significantly, but it feels... Fun.

RSS is my relaxing read, my newspaper. I've sorted out some email-to-RSS feeds for any longer format email newsletters which don't have feeds, but the main aim with my feed reader is to enjoy more thoughtful and expansive missives from people whose writing I enjoy. If I had some things to focus on with my RSS setup this year, it would be to:
  1. make it easier to reply to posts - maybe I'll add some sort of mailto link on my own posts automatically somehow
  2. encourage more people I know to set up blogs and post, without it being too much hassle
On that last point, I'm now writing a lot of my posts in a Markdown editor on my phone, and posting them to blogs via email (Edison's Email app is the only Android app I've found that lets me embed an image properly, but still working on formatting issues). Same with my newsletters.

I like this approach - the phone keeps the editing process shorter and more focused, and I can write anywhere, while Markdown gives me some basic formatting. (This post is currently being written in Markor, a FLOSS app on F-Droid.) Still, it's obviously not everyone's cuppa. ☕

XMPP, for me, picks up where I left IRC behind. It's the flipside of the promise of microblogging - short chatter with random, weak-link people. But there's not the half-on half-off limbo approach or microblogging, and nor is there a contorted bastardisation of themed conversations. Rooms are so much better than hashtags or groups - it's funny how subject matter sets the scope of a space, and therein one's own reason for participating.

On the whole, the question is not which social media apps one likes using, but how does one want to engage with the world. Are we looking for deeply fulfilling conversation? Distraction and diversion? Intimate conversation? Q&A sessions and useful info?

In practice, it's probably all of these. The danger is that we get sucked into trying to do all of them at the same time, rather than consciously choosing our mode of thought depending on what we want to focus on, what we want to achieve. It's like trying to buy water from a supermarket - you'll always come out with batteries and mince pies in September, just because there's too much tempting diversity.

So my approach from here is not to just jump back in, but to think about why I'm engaging more, and what I want to get out of my usage. I'll start checking sites again, but am going to hold off installing apps for instant attention. It needs to tie in with how I want to use my time more generally, with my longer term plans and goals for the year.

And that's a whole different post.