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2021/01/03 - Tech - Smolnet - Gemini and the Tragedy of the Hip

Fellow sundog Alexis makes some prudent observations on community and tech and “success”:

Flexibeast - Gemini vs. Beeblebroxians (gmi)

I find myself pondering along similar lines of late. The social dynamics of infotech in actual human environments has had plenty of bits and ink spilled. I won’t go too far into blithering on the abstract here, despite my wont. Suffice to say I agree that the pipeline from radical counterculture to parvenu fetish is well established; it would be a sadness to see smolnet fall to the usual follies.

However I don’t find that especially likely as yet. It is countercultural indeed to stand for the primacy of the simple, the textual, the human in a world where surveillance candy is the new global currency. No doubt some hardy demon will find a way to monetize all this. Good luck for the pennies they earn from Gemini://Google.evil. There simply isn’t enough bling here to attract too many VC infections, never mind the shovels of quantified attention such flies require to feed.

Then again, I’m a pink collar peasant, so caveat lector.

Hip to Be Square

But let us indeed consider the middle rank, the entry poison of “hip”. As Alexis says, what are the costs? It’s worth asking what the balance is between good healthy buzz and empty fad. I’ll dare to venture that most of us who came here from other smol fora (pubnix, gopher, &c.) assure less of the former for Gemini. But are we indeed the Gemini hipsters?

A good place to begin to answer that is simply to muse on personal values, I suggest.

For my part, Gemini as a smaller space, a smol forum, has helped to keep me focussed on the word and symbol. We are making an infotech environment which is sensorially clean. For those of us who cannot afford long the overload of senses, that is a nontrivial value. Solderpunk has stood on the principle that clients should determine most style. This is a public good. And for many, a basic accessibility issue. I’d be sore to see entropy gnaw too much on what makes smolnet smol.

As far as being part of a forum which is small, in terms of Dunbar numbers, I also approve of how things have been. I can’t keep up with my feed as is. For my dear correspondents, I am sorry for this. I expect that as Gemini does get more deployment, this sense of intimacy will be a bit curtailed.

Despite my own misgivings, perhaps this is a bearable cost. It’s clear that, hip or square, Gemini is a tech which many people are hungry for. And much of that appetite is not facetious human status gaming, but intrinsic need. I do hope we can be patient and generous enough to believe that the smol can be big, especially when it serves a demonstrable public good.

My own worries for Gemini run less to hipster network effects than access. Accessibility is not a mere bludgeon for lowest common denominator deployability, but it is a concern. Not everyone has basic CLI literacy. Perhaps access could be an opportunity. The Gemini specs are a decent manifesto in implying that protocols should bow more to human legibility. I strongly co-sign this principle. That may not mean smallness in absolute terms, as those who hmm at the TLS mandate could indicate. But like all good moral impulses, it should be a lodestone to go along a flexible track:

How can code become human readable again? Not just for programmers, but for many others? If a protocol can’t fit in a human head, it should justify itself why on grounds of human good.

I believe the privacy imperatives of Gemini justify some such bigness, some complexity. As a non-coder, I don’t care much if it’s TLS or not. By necessity perhaps all encryption and authentication must rot. But it is a bulwark against the invasive grotesqueries which have conquered the web.

All in all, I like Gemini. I like the people making Gemini, even when they argue. Perhaps especially so, as mostly argument has seemed productive. Then again, I don’t often read the listserv because sometimes it can get plum peeliewallie. There are many stakeholders already in this soup. Most mete would be for us all consider this a long term beta, and take things slowly in good humour and in good faith. I know that is hard for many devs, who code fast and eat pizza fast. But implied in Solderpunk’s writing is indeed that Gemini should be “slow internet”. Let’s try things and see.

If we truly believe that people have power to forge their own trails in technology, then there’s little risk in Gemini getting hipster rot, precisely because we can be assured that we have the power to say yes *and no* to how we implement such protocols. I still believe much of the anxiety around smol / slow / text net is one of fatalism. We’ve been conditioned to fatalism as “natural”, that the VC vampires will eventually sink their teeth in and EEE all the good islands in our archipelago into the surf, but... If there is a cure for technofatalism, it surely resides in the simple power of a few people to say “no”.


Lately, despite being off and on smolnet, I’m saying no to the web. And by that I mostly mean anything this side of 1995. That’s really saying something for someone who enjoyed poking around with HTML5 and thought there are good ideas in it. But I simply can’t abide it anymore. And I mean this from the heart, on visceral and spiritual levels. The web is poison. Infotech in our era deploys features which I strongly challenge are inherently poisonous to the health of the psyche.

My case in point is the “good” tech counterculture of the fediverse. One day I just realized I couldn’t bear slogging through “likes” and clout and the very amorphous gel which is activitypub. Static pages can have great virtue. It’s near to the pithy accomplishment one feels from a freshly typed or written letter. It’s a maker virtue, this “success”. Something to point to as “done”, committed. Our era’s infotech eschews memory and eviscerates our right to a finished journal entry. That is not a trivial cost to the modern web. We are denying ourselves depth of consideration, of commitment, of accountability.

The web isn’t accountable anymore. No URL is static, so no text can be truly signed by any human. Tweets disappear and reappear. People play hide and seek with their words and other people play gotcha to get them back. Friendship itself has been swallowed by the leviathan, the depth destroyed by disposable digital text, the privacy necessary eradicated by surveillance capitalist vampires. The resultant toxicity is literally tearing at the fabric of human community.

I’m saying a final “no” to all that. No.


I value the intimacy we have here on smolnet. The “open eyed” naïveté. I value you few who read these words. Thank you. It’s enough. It is success, and all the moreso, as Alexis says, because it is not “at all costs”. Please keep up the projects. Find what is good in the code and cherish it tenderly like a parent. I hazard it will tell you when enough is enough. But it will whisper. It will be smol.


Solderpunk - Capcom Changes (gmi)

I dunno quite what to make of the new CAPCOM yet. I’m waiting and patient and smiling. It’s a canny solution. Some change was necessary. With the recent change in the spec for glog feed readiness, it makes sense to use CAPCOM openly for discovery of as many glogs and phlogs as one pleases to contribute. I do co-sign the request Solderpunk makes for devs to include a handy client side feed feature. It will make conversations more easy to track.



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