Spool Five

Problems with Gemini 1

Author: Eoin Carney Published: Feb, 2021

Problems, in the best sense

Much of the Gemini ‘content’ I’ve found so far, at least, some of the most engaging and unique, centers on technical questions about Gemini itself - how to set it up, navigate it, write in it, etc. These questions are usually accompanied by musings on what we can then do with this new protocol or about what Gemini ‘means’. Neither the answers to the technical questions, nor the accompanying speculations, are fully concrete. This is because both how Gemini works and what it can do remain somewhat vague. Yes, the broad brush-strokes have been laid down, but the smaller details have yet to be filled in. This is not a bad thing at all. Gemini is still in its very early stages. Much of its appeal stems from its huge potential.

How can we define this potential? Let’s leave aside the question of how Gemini does what it does (the most important question) and start with what Gemini can do,i.e., its meaning or its existential aspects.

Gemini offers a real alternative to socialising via the web. Community-building seems to be an unavoidable anthropological trait, a point proven to the nth degree by the web. Whether its a business trying to grow a consumer base, the YouTube recommended video algorithm, or a reddit group sharing ideas on blenders or grand conspiracies, much of the web infrastructure exists to grow and to contain rigorously defined communities.

Once a community can be defined, it can be analysed and targeted (for advertising purposes, for example). Identities can be endlessly reinforced both organically (via other members of the community) and nefariously (the coordinated spread of misinformation). Although, arguably, the former is more prevalent. Even though we sometimes fantasize about ‘bad actors’ (the Russian government, etc.) who come in and spoil the party, the truth is web communities are the way they are for much more ‘mundane’ reasons.

One reason lies, of course, in the ‘gatekeepers’ of these communities, the giant corporations who profit off the information that is exchanged. Other reasons may lie in questions of human nature and the ‘scale’ of these communities; perhaps they are simply too big. It becomes impossible to - at a cognitive level - ‘wrap your head’ around the nature of your actions and discourse in the midst of such a swarm. We fly blindly, simply mimicking as close as we can the movements of those around us, lest we be cast astray from the group. But, I am not an authority on ‘social media’, ‘human behaviour’, or any such specialised fields of study, so these are just speculations.

For the sake of argument, however, let’s assume that a large part of the ‘reason’ for the current state of socialisation on the modern web lies in the underlying infrastructure itself. Again, I’m no expert on html and its host of associated protocols and applications, but one key difference between html and Gemini is clear to any user. That is, Gemini is heavily text based. Of course, at its core, html is also text-based, but there is something very significant, I think, about having text as the primary front-end media. I will write more about that another time though.

For now, I will say that Gemini solves the ‘existential’ side of the web via the technical. It offers a new form of community by changing the underlying structures that enable networked socialisation. This is what is exciting about it. This is why it is not simply another socialisation ‘application’. Maybe its just for people who enjoy experimenting with technology (*nix, foss enthusiasts, etc) but I don’t think so. I think most people care about the tools they engage with - about reshaping them, augmenting them, personalising them - at least, when they are not busy being distracted. I think it is a core existential concern, just as language is.

However, in spite of all its promises, Gemini remains quite problematic. It is the ‘problematic’ nature of Gemini that I want to discuss here. To be clear, I mean problematic in the most productive sense possible.

I mean it in a similar sense to the philosopher Gilles Deleuze. To completely butcher his sense of the term, a problem is a set of, primarily virtual, relations and states. It consists of elements that have to be worked-through: assembled, connected, reconnected, engineered - before becoming fully concrete or ‘actual’. Ideas are problems. Problems are dynamic, in flux, not yet settled. Gemini, I feel, is problematic in this sense. Problems spur inquiry, invention, encourage unusual linkages.

To use Deleuze’s oft-cited image; the structure of a tree is actual, concrete, well-defined, while the structure of a rhizome - the subterranean mycelia below the tree - is virtual, problematic, chaotic. The strength of a rhizome compared to the tree is its modularity; it can connect to anything and travel anywhere, while the tree remains fixed, bloated.

The first ‘problem’ I’d like to talk about here is that of navigation. You can read about it in the following post.

Part 2

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