blogs: good for text
I just finished reading Naomi Klein's new book, Doppelganger, and while reading there were several quotable bits that stuck out to me, and I shared a few over on social media, as one does. Not nearly enough to do it justice, it's a terrific book, go read it. This post isn't about the book, but the act of quoting and sharing text on social media.
My instance still has the default Mastodon 500 character limit, which I find a little frustrating sometimes. Quoting text is always much more awkward than I feel it should be. If a relevant passage is more than 500 characters (and it usually is) I have to figure out a way to screenshot the text in a way that's convenient to read. I use a page-flipping UI with the ebook reader on my phone (I don't know if it even has a scrolling UI, but I wouldn't want to read a book that way.) Which means that the passage I want to quote is often split across two pages. I also use a pretty big font, so that doesn't help. Anyway, I have to copy and paste into another app or adjust the font size, and yada yada yada, it's a pain in the ass. I wish I could use the 1500 characters of alt text I'm allowed to include and add that to the 500 characters, and just make a 2000 character post; or I wish everyone would just up the text limit to like 64k or something—most people are polite enough to CW a huge text dump, and most clients are smart enough to put long posts behind a cutaway, and I can just mute the edge cases. But most instances still insist on a twitter-like artificial character limit for some reason.1
Anyway, the point is that I had a longer passage that I wanted to share, and no screenshot configuration made sense, so I was like "heck it, I'll just copy/paste it to a pastebin site and post a link." This was when I learned my usual go-to for short text snippets, txt.fyi, is no more. I started trying to figure out the best alternative, but then I thought "wait a second, I already have the perfect platform for quoting some text: a blog!"
But I decided not to, for a reason that may or may not be silly, I don't know: it feels like posting the words of someone else on my fucked-up weird-looking blog would be a little disrespectful. Like, if I made a post to add more than a word or two of commentary it wouldn't be so bad, because the focus would be on my words, so displaying them in a format that suits my personality would make sense. But if I'm just posting a quote I want it to be somewhere neutral and maximally readable.
I eventually posted it on write.as, which is fine, but I kept thinking, well, maybe my blog should be maximally readable. That's kind of the point of a blog. I recently stripped this page down and offloaded any non-blog content onto my personal homepage (neocities.org); maybe it would make sense to offload the color and personality there, too. Because let's face it, as much as I like the aesthetic of old computers and bright colors on stark black backgrounds, when I want to sit down and read something, there's one thing that works best: medium-high contrast serif proportional text. That's how I read ebooks on my phone, and that's how I'm most likely to read a blog post if a link is presented to me.
Also, if I want people to read what I write, it's kind of ungracious of me to only offer a dark mode. I know there are various reader modes and custom styling people can use to read in their preferred color scheme, but that's not always easy on a phone, and a phone is where I do the bulk of my reading these days, and it maybe should've been a red flag that I didn't like reading my own blog on my phone! Yeah it was possible, but I want it to be better than possible, I want it to be frictionless.
So the point is, I changed my theme (a very heavily modified sakura vader) to the aptly-named writer theme. It'll respond to whichever color theme you prefer and I like both versions. I brought over a few of my little CSS hacks (the tags page looks good in both versions on desktop but I still need to tweak it on mobile) but the visual style is largely unchanged.
Is it boring and sterile and corporate-core? Yes. Does it look like every generic auto-generated SEO wordpress spam blog in existence? Yes, but... well fuck, now I want to change it back.2
See, this is the eternal back-and-forth. The visual style which is the most readable to the most people is also the most dreary and banal. But does it really matter for a blog? If I wrote a book, it would just be black serif text on gray-white paper, just like every other book. The only thing that would set me apart is the cover and title. Hey, there's an idea! My title is still punk: "a rickety bridge of impossible crossing". No wordpress SEO spam blog would pick such a long and off-putting title. My bona fides are secure.
It's appropriate that I'm fussing so much over branding, because the whole idea of a "personal brand" is a big part of what Doppelganger is about. But it's about so much more. Okay, I said this post wasn't about the book, but I should at least copy the quotes I wanted to highlight for posterity, since that's what it's all about. Also, I'm curious how blockquotes look in this theme and can't be bothered to find an entry that has one.
I remember the moment when it hit me how dangerous this pipiking3 had become. I was writing an article about how hard-right local politicians in Northern California had ordered police to evict survivors of the state’s deadliest wildfire from the tents where some were living in public parks.
I typed a sentence about it being an ominous portent of an “ecofascist future,” in which ecological fears are harnessed to rationalize violent security crackdowns against those deemed lesser humans, often immigrants and the poor. Ecofascism is a real threat, and it is becoming more explicit on parts of the right. But I deleted the term in favor of “eco-authoritarianism”—a bit weaker. But throwing the term “fascism” around is what Other Naomi does, and hadn’t she helped make the very word absurd? Then I realized what I had done: “ecofascism” is the accurate term to describe the threat. And how convenient it is for coalescing fascist forces if the term has been so abused and pipiked that anti-fascists are loath to use it to accurately describe events in the real world.
The most meaningful response in my writing life came from the loveliest of literary mapmakers, John Berger, when I sent him The Shock Doctrine in galleys. Many people have said they found the book enraging, but his response was very different. He wrote that, for him, the book “provokes and instills a calm.” When people and societies enter into a state of shock, they lose their identities and their footing, he observed. “Hence, calm is a form of resistance.”
I think about those words often. Calm is not a replacement for righteous rage or fury at injustice, both of which are powerful drivers for necessary change. But calm is the precondition for focus, for the capacity to prioritize. If shock induced a loss of identity, then calm is the condition under which we return to ourselves.
There is something else that seems to be fueling conspiracy culture now. The extreme consolidation in the corporate world over the past three decades has produced a playing field so rigged against consumers that pursuing the basics of life can feel like navigating a never-ending series of scams. It’s as if everyone is trying to trick us in the fine print of pages and pages of terms of service agreements they know we will never read. The black box is not just the algorithms running our communication networks—almost everything is a black box, an opaque system hiding something else. The housing market isn’t about homes; it’s about hedge funds and speculators. Universities aren’t about education; they’re about turning young people into lifelong debtors. Long-term care facilities aren’t about care; they’re about draining our elders in the last years of life and real estate plays. Many news sites aren’t about news; they’re about tricking us into clicking on autoplaying ads and advertorials that eat up the bottom half of nearly every site. Nothing is as it seems. This kind of predatory, extractive capitalism necessarily breeds mistrust and paranoia.
This last one especially hit home because it reminds me of hypernormalization. I don't think I fully understood the concept when I watched the documentary in 2016, but I'm starting to get it. We live in a state-engineered fiction that's becoming more apparent as everything unravels around us. It's not hard to understand why some people would fall into conspiratorial thinking. It's not hard to understand why some people prefer to live in an elaborate fantasy world where they can be heroes from the comfort of their social media accounts. When the official fiction becomes impossible to keep living inside of, but we're conditioned to believe we're powerless against the status quo, choosing to instead live inside a fiction where we can pretend to have a little bit of control is mighty tempting. I don't think I'd get any joy from going that route, but I can understand why someone would. Anyway, I don't have anything poignant to say and I don't have any solutions, just a connection I wanted to make.
So I hope people who read via the website like the new theme, and for those of you using an RSS reader, I'm sorry I harp on this stuff so much. It might mean I'll post more quotations, and maybe it'll give me the confidence to do a little bit more of this kind of commentary, so hopefully it's worth it. Thanks for reading 🦝
It's clearly not storage considerations, since most instances are perfectly happy letting people post massive 8MB .png images, a single one of which represents 800x the data used to display this ~10000 character blog post.↩
I did make a backup of the old theme. Just in case.↩
"pipikism" is borrowed from the Philip Roth novel Operation Shylock, and is defined as: "the antitragic force that inconsequencializes everything—farcicalizes everything, trivializes everything, superficializes everything."↩