Spool Five

Problems with Gemini 2

Part 1

A problem:

  • ephemerality: content seems less ‘solid’ than on the web, less well mapped out and less defined.

A corresponding idea:

  • ‘Maps’ are ways of drawing boundaries, of creating identities. Mapping will always, inevitably occur, the difference that matters lies in the form of map-making. How are well-defined, solid maps drawn on the web?

One way, as we know, is through sheer computational power, afforded only to the most wealthy and largest in scale. Do we, the ‘users’, have a choice in the shape of these maps? To an extent, but not a very large extent. The roadmap, the layout of the web, is like our gps. We can input destinations and even set some quasi-meaningful markers (‘home’, ‘work’) that help ‘personalise’ our gps, but not much else. Our gps is extremely efficient and effective at getting us to a desired destination. Nevertheless, we have to wonder whether our very human desire is really so uni-directional. What if, instead, we took responsibility ourselves for the task of map-making? What if we develop our own tools? These tools will inevitably be less powerful, less precise. But, isn’t that the point?

There’s that old story, recounted by Simone de Beauvoir, about Pyrrhus and Cineas, where one asks the other what he will do next. ‘Conquer Rome’. And after that? ‘Expand the territory, conquer the northern part of Europe’. And after that? ‘Then, the east, Turkey, etc.’ And after that? And so on and so on, until finally, he answers, ‘Then, I will go home and rest.’ To which Cineas replies, ‘Well, why not just rest now?’ (Disclaimer: I can’t recall the exact details of the story, but this is the gist)

For de Beauvoir, the story illustrates a point about existentialism and a frustration with reductio ad absurdum approaches to the question of projects. There will be absurdity in any case, so the choice becomes an individual one - which kinds of absurdity do you want to throw yourself toward? If you’ll allow me a crude interpretation of the story; the web’s map is like Pyrrhus’. Wide and not-a-little colonial in scope, with the end point being something like, well, what is it? Something absurd. Gemini is equally absurd, but at least it is an absurdity one can choose freely, one that one can become passionate about through experimentation and expression. One whose progression is not that of an army marching through Europe, but of a band of wandering players, ala the Angelopoulos film, trying their best to find a moment of repose amidst a crumbling civilisation.

In this case the rigidity and reliability of the map doesn’t matter as much. In fact, its permeability allows for increased exposure to something genuinely new and interesting. You are forced to abandon the car in favor of a leisurely stroll. In this, more nomadic, mode of exploration, we drift from ‘capsule’ to capsule, never fully knowing where we are or where we are going. We must fall back on our instincts, our curiosity, those fundamental human traits that become so dulled by the force-fed diet of the modern web. Deleuze and Guattari write that, for the nomad, “every point is a relay and exists only as a relay.” This is the case on Gemini too. Whereas sites on the modern web tend to be designed to suck you in, keep your attention and time hostage, in Gemini you are encouraged to move freely, to never stop too long at one place.

That is not to say that the experience of exploring Gemini is somehow less ‘serious’ or willful. Our commitments and priorities shift, they don’t disappear. Gemini, and low-tech/alternative forms of computing in general, can also become pursuits that suck your time from you. There is endless configuration to be done, endless ways to connect this node to that, to tweak a little here, trim a little there. But, ’time’, in this crude sense at least, is maybe something different than ‘freedom’.

An artisan who spends their whole life perfecting a single craft can often achieve higher levels of freedom than someone who dabbles in this and that. This is because, perhaps, ’experience’ has more to do with ‘understanding’ than with simple ’experiences’. The modern web offers near infinite possibilities for all kinds of ’experiences’, but it does little to promote a deeper understanding of these experiences. You are quickly funnelled to the next distraction. They can be exciting, funny, genuinely moving, but they are also often transitory (like the old phrase “been there, done that, got a t-shirt”).

Another sense of experience is found in authentic understanding. For example, you might spend your whole life reflecting on and revisiting a novel or piece of music you experience as a teenager. With each recollection, each re-encounter with the work, your understanding of it deepens and grows, organically. That Led Zeppelin solo might sound different now, blaring from your son’s room, than it did as a teenager. In German, there are two words for these senses of experience - Erlebnis - referring to an experience of something, and Erfahrung - experience in the sense of ’life experience’. Does the modern web offer something akin to ’life experience’? (Disclaimer #2: I don’t know German well, this distinction is taken from the work of the philosopher Nicholas Davey)

In other words, although there can be a perceived ‘cost’ to Gemini or other alternative forms of communication, especially in an age when communication is supposedly so easy and things like Gemini can seem so ‘pointless’, the potential gains in terms of understanding and real experience outweigh the investment we make in time.

Sun Feb 21, 2021 - 937 Words

Tags: smolnet gemini philosophy