Collective Senescence

When I learn a new song – something I do unconsciously, every time I am exposed to new music – is some other song erased in my memory to make room? No. I seem to have unlimited capacity for memorizing music, even as my memory is like a sieve elsewhere. How does my brain do that? Does it re-use existing pathways, or create ever-more byzantine new ones? I imagine my mind’s architecture as ever-expanding fractals, filling the same space with more and more curves and crevices.

The older I get, the more byzantine my mind’s labyrinth, all to store the unceasing stream of new information. Now, when I forget the name of something, I imagine the word stuck in a crevice of the fractal. When I was younger and my pathways less intricate, there weren’t enough curves and bends for words to get caught. Now they snag on every corner.

What is information? In my life, it includes experiences. Every day is different; every day impresses new memories. Do the old ones disappear? Certainly my memories are difficult to access, especially names. But I know they’re in there somewhere. I’ve had deeply stored knowledge return to consciousness when revisiting geographical places, homes I’d been in before but never thought about since. If you asked me to recall my friend’s house in San Francisco between visits, I’d have come up blank; but revisiting, I knew where everything was. I took delight in long-buried memories flooding my consciousness as I rode a bus from the airport to the Presidio two years ago. Sometimes that visit felt like walking through my own dreams, geography and symbols shaped by my lifetime of accumulated experience.

Then there is the information of stories, words, music, numbers, images: Culture. Culture is collective, a living thing like a tree or forest that grows in the soil of human minds. Cultural information is experienced through exposure – reading, listening, tasting – and stored in everyone who experiences it.

How many songs will I store in my lifetime? How to even count? Some of them are surely buried too deeply in my mind to recall at will, but they are still there. All that information embedded in our minds’ labyrinths, that we are not aware of, is what Jung called the Collective Subconscious. Like the webs of biological life on this planet, they are too vast and complex for us to comprehend. We are only aware of a tiny bit at a time.

As I age, I find comfort in routine. Every day resembling the next makes memory storage easier. A curve of the fractal is already structured to store much of the day, with only a few details to be slotted elsewhere. Too much information at once can be traumatic. Moving house is traumatic for me, having to learn a new space. Moving to a new region is more so: having to make new friends, locate new food sources, learn new roads. Moving to a new country is more traumatic still, with new regulations, currencies, bureaucracies, and, most daunting of all for an older person, new language. All of these require new memory structures, new tunnels excavated in the catacombs. A young mind, like an “uncarved block,” takes this on with relative ease. An old mind has already been carved to delicate tracery, every branch with more branches, like the fragile intricate lace of an autumn leaf. Carve more into that, and you’ll tear a hole.

Even without trauma, the mere accumulation of experience over time leads, inevitably, to structural collapse. From the outside, this may look like senility. I increasingly believe that senility is an inevitable phase of consciousness. Live long enough, you will develop dementia. At least that’s how it looks from the outside; I don’t know what dementia is like from the inside, although I’ve read some reports from writers in its early stages. Surely some of the “blocks” our experience carves are more robust than others; a crumblier material may suffer early-onset dementia, while the most solid will die of other causes before their veins of memory fractals become to fine to sustain.

But what of our collective mind? We store information collectively too, as Culture. An ever-expanding human population is one way to increase storage capacity. But consider that many of us are storing the same things: the same languages (the number of living languages is decreasing even as the population increases), same songs, same movies, same stories. This is due to media. Literacy/writing was a great early cultural storage invention, allowing far greater numbers to be exposed to the same information. The printing press increased this exposure exponentially. Then phonographs, movies, radio, and television, leading up to, of course, the Internet, the greatest information-exposure system ever created.

Many of us, like me, spend hours a day “scrolling” information online. The density of words, pictures, and sounds is…well, it’s insane. Individually, I am storing this stuff; it’s shaping my neural pathways in ways I don’t know. I may not know exactly what it’s doing, but I know it’s doing something, accelerating the rate of tunneling of my memory labyrinth, increasing the complexity of my mental fractal. If I am wasting my attention on social media, it is because there is a cost: every stupid piece of (mis)information, adds that much complexity to my neural pathways, that much fragility to the overall structure, and brings me that much closer to senility.

Likewise, collectively, we have massively increased our exposure to information. Our collective memory structure, whatever it is, is collectively growing ever-more complex.

Collectively, we are becoming senile.

Complexity is fun (beneficial, desirable) for a while, but eventually and inevitably it leads to collapse. I’m not against complexity; it’s inevitable. Culture is a life form, and all life forms die. There is no way to stop this. Death is a consequence of life; dementia is a consequence of consciousness.

 

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The Internet Is Broken

The Internet is broken,
The Freedom Train has stalled.
The Netizens are woken,
The gardens all are walled.
If anyone’s outspoken,
They soon will be recalled.
The Internet is broken
and I’m sitting here, appalled.

The Internet is busted;
its people are at war.
The principles I trusted
I don’t trust any more.
Our minds are maladjusted,
but we cannot restore
the Internet we busted
to the one we had before.

This song actually has a cheerful melody, but since I can’t write musical notation you’ll just have to trust me on that, until I attempt to record it.

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Introducing Neenster

A new social media platform/fediverse instance!

Q. What is Neenster?
A. Neenster is an open-source social media platform aimed at my existing social media friends and followers, and their friends and followers, and so on. My hope is that an account here will offer a soft landing into the “fediverse”, a giant network of network instances like this one. Well, technically like this one, but in terms of personality and audience, very different; fediverse instances range from highly policed insular bubbles, to completely unmoderated ideological hazmat zones. Neenster is somewhere in between. Once you have a Neenster account, you can discover other fediverse instances, and even start your own.

Q. Do you moderate this thing?
A. I plan to moderate Neenster like I “moderate” my fecebook wall: mostly by doing nothing, but occasionally blocking particularly abusive and annoying people according to how much they piss me off. Ideally users will moderate themselves by using their god-given blocking fingers. Remember: MUTE and/or BLOCK. It’s like brushing your teeth, but for your sanity.

Q. Does Neenster cost anything?
A. Accounts are free, and there’s no advertising or data collection, or profit. I pay for hosting and the domain. It’s my experiment, and my responsibility. If you want to contribute to my expenses, you can donate via the left-hand sidebar.

Q. Why is it called Neenster?
A. It’s named after me, Nina Paley. The -ster suffix is because it’s based on Spinster, where I’ve been a moderator almost since its founding. Neenster is spelled phonetically because people wouldn’t pronounce Ninster correctly. The name makes it clear that this instance is my experiment and my responsibility. I’m not trying to do anything more than host a bunch of my online friends, acquaintances, and frenemies away from fecebook. A cooler name would imply greater ambitions and impartiality, which I don’t have.

Q. Is Neenster trans-inclusive?
A. Yes. Trans people are welcome here.

Q. What about women?
A. Yes, women are welcome here.

Q. And men?
A. Yes, men are welcome here.

Q. You said I was welcome but someone here hurt my feelings!!
A. People will hurt your feelings online (and elsewhere). You can ignore them, mute them, or use your god-given blocking finger to block them.

Q. YOU’RE A HATEFUL BIGOT!!
A. This is the sort of thing that’s not welcome on neenster.org

Q. Do I have to use my real name?
A. No, but I’d like it if you did.

Q. What is your biggest concern about social media?
A. Mobbing/dogpiling. Few individuals who make up online mobs break any rules, but as groups they wreak havoc. The loveliest, nicest people join mobs. I’m extremely curious to learn if anything can be done about mobbing, because thus far I’ve seen it on every conceivable online platform, even with the best possible participants and intentions.

Q. Why the fish?
A. Because they look cool.

Q. I notice a lot of animated gifs here
A. Aren’t they cool? I’m an animator, I love them.

Q. How do I turn off the damn gifs?
A. Under “Preferences”, uncheck “Auto-play animated GIFs”.

more at https://neenster.org/about

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The Butthurt-Reaction Cycle

Reposted from Spinster, where I am a moderator, hence the “mod hat.”

Social Media, when it is working properly (which is increasingly seldom), will expose you to ideas and opinions you don’t like.

When you encounter them, you have choices. One is to mute or block. Another is to argue in good faith. Another is to take grave personal offense. I call the last, “butthurt.”

Some of the things that hurt our butts are intended to; that’s what the mute, block, and report buttons are for. But when an undisciplined person’s butt gets hurt online, they aim to hurt more butts. A butthurt individual is vulnerable and insecure; their instinct is to seek validation, to spread their butthurt so they can react to it without actually feeling it. This is how internet mobs are formed.

I call this the Butthurt-Reaction Cycle. It is why Social Media sucks.

The only way to break the Butthurt-Reaction Cycle is to NOT REACT. You must sit with the butthurt.

When someone is deliberately mischaracterizing what you say, do not react. When someone is attacking you, do not react.

If they are arguing in good faith, you can have an interesting discussion. But you know when it’s not good faith. And you can tell when they smell blood and start to form a mob. DO NOT REACT.

Any reaction from you is like a drug to them, inflaming their frenzy.

If you are feeling emotions like urgency, despair, or anger, step away from the computer for a few hours, days, or weeks.

Many of us need to express strong feelings somewhere; but don’t do it in public. Never try to reason with your offenders when you’re offended. Have a private chat with someone else, or go to an unrelated space. Writing just for yourself is good too.

In terms of communicating, consider what statement you made that people are supposedly angry about. Is it true, or at least honest? Is it clear? That’s usually the case. Online mobs are especially provoked by truth and clarity (example: “if a person has a penis he’s a man”).

If your instigating statement was neither true nor clear, you can clear it up later, after you’ve had a break and are no longer flooded with stress hormones. But the mob will be pressuring you to apologize for truth and clarity. Don’t do that. Let them rage. Their rage is on them.

TL;DR: Does your butt hurt? Go do something else until you feel better so you don’t make the Internet even more of a godforsaken cesspool than it already is.

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Strava vs. Women

I have been using an app called Strava to record my bike rides for the last four years.

Recently, Strava started promoting men in women’s sports. Specifically, a male cyclist named Rachel (nee Rhys) McKinnon, who has been setting “women’s” cycling records, because mediocre males still have physical advantages over elite females.

I have been urged to quit Strava and leave a one-star review. I may end up doing that, but I really don’t want to. Changing familiar apps is a pain in the butt; I have friends on Strava I will miss following; and I like having continuous records in one place. And honestly, there’s nothing wrong with the app itself (other than harvesting and selling data in an exploitative asymmetric system, but unfortunately all fitness tracking apps do that). The problem is that the company itself is pushing anti-woman policies. I don’t want to support their woman-hating propaganda, but the price of quitting is high, for me and other women who use the platform.

So today I did this protest ride. I “wrote” the word WOMAN with my bike, and titled the result, “Woman Means Adult Human Female.” The word required about 44 miles, plus 16 miles to get to the start point, and about 5 miles to get home, making the whole ride 65 miles — just over a Metric Century.

I designed the route on a competing app called Ride With GPS, which I also used to record the ride simultaneously with Strava today.  If I have to quit Strava, at least I’m familiarizing myself with an alternative.

My hope is that other Strava users will do similar protest rides, spelling the word WOMAN and titling it “Woman Means Adult Human Female.” Anyone can do it; Ride With GPS is free and its route planning tools are easy to use. It would be heartening to see people do this, and use the very same misogynistic Strava to connect with each other (I’ve already connected to 2 cool women bicyclists on it today, because of this ride!).

If you’re in Central Illinois, I’d be thrilled if you rode the same route! But beware it has 7 miles of gravel. I chose these roads because they were the only ones near me that could fit the full word, including a residential area to make the zig-zag diagonal of the “N.” Detouring around gravel wasn’t an option today, because I had to stick to the plan to “write” correctly. But if I can survive 7 miles of nasty gravel on skinny road tires, anyone can.

I also made this mini-route in Urbana that is so short (4 miles) you could even walk it. It goes through lovely, leafy West Urbana neighborhoods, and some very nice University of Illinois campus. Note that Nevada Street is quaint brick, and Lincoln Avenue is busy.

If you do your own WOMAN ride (or walk, or run, or swim, whatever) comment or tag or email me and I’ll add it to this blog.

UPDATE 9-18-2019: Another cyclist has already done a WOMAN ride!

Big ups to Rae Faba of Ohio!

+++++

UPDATE 10-13-2019: I did another 100km WOMAN ride, a variation of the same route: https://blog.ninapaley.com/2019/10/15/another-woman-ride/

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Social Media Discussion Questions

As I’m still (mostly) on hiatus from Twitter and Fecebook, I fantasize about having a real-life discussion group to talk about social media. Since I don’t have one, I’ll do what I always do: ask online, which is why I developed a social media dependence to begin with. Please answer as many or as few questions as you like.

  1. Have you ever changed someone else’s mind on social media? How?
  2. Have you ever gotten angry at someone on social media? Why?
  3. Do you have online friendships or relationships with people you’ve never met in real life?
  4. Has a conflict on social media affected you offline, in “real life”? How?
  5. Have you lost friendships over things said and done on social media?
  6. Have you ever been publicly shamed on social media? If so, please describe. If not, why not?
  7. Have you ever joined in a public shaming of someone else?
  8. Have you ever witnessed a social media public shaming? Did you say anything? Why or why not?
  9. Have you ever reported a tweet or post? Why? What happened?
  10. Have you ever been reported?
  11. Do you say things on social media you’re afraid to say in real life?
  12. Do you say things in real life you’re afraid to say on social media?
  13. Have you ever lied on social media? Why?
  14. Do you “like” things you don’t actually like, and refrain from “liking” things you do like? Why?
  15. Do you use social media for political activism? How?
  16. How would you stay in touch with your friends without social media?
  17. If your friends all jumped off a cliff on social media, would you do it too? (Answer: yes.)

Update: my answers are in the fifth comment below.

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