Tim Boucher

Questionable content, possibly linked

Hours Addicted to a Service is not a Good Measure of ‘Success’

In October 2023, there were articles about Character AI’s claim that users spend a couple of hours a day on average using their service. (I’ve heard somewhere figures much higher than that for some users, but having a hard time finding any to support it currently)

Putting aside even the questions of AI here, of which there are many, it strikes me as a bit weird and maybe even gross that we’re still in an age where service providers measure “success” according to how many hours per day they can addict people. What will happen when the path reaches totality, and users are addicted 24/7 (if they are not already, that is)? Presumably they will find some other metrics for the reduction of the human spirit down into the gulleys of endless hungry algorithms.

But it deserves repeating: this is not an accomplishment. This is not good, healthy, or normal. This is not something to be proud of. Getting people to waste their time and their lives feeding data into your machines. I’d like to think our best minds can come up with better goals and things to do with the technologies ahead of us.

Quoting Cory Doctorow on Conspiracy Theories

Thought there were some good points in this piece, particularly:

It’s true that tech makes finding these conspiracy fantasies easier than ever, and it’s true that tech makes forming communities of conspiratorial belief easier, too. But the vulnerability to conspiratorialism that algorithms identify and target people based on isn’t a function of Big Data. It’s a function of corruption – of life in a world in which real conspiracies (to steal your wages, or let rich people escape the consequences of their crimes, or sacrifice your safety to protect large firms’ profits) are everywhere.

Quoting Tim Brinkhof on Indian Narrative Forms

This came up somehow in my RSS feed, though I couldn’t tell you from which source. Oh well. It’s about Campbell’s monomythic Hero’s Journey model as being not so universal after all. I don’t especially have a horse in that race, but I liked this part of the article most:

“Indian narrative forms are radically different from Western forms,” Seager writes. “Watch a Bollywood movie. One moment the film is a romance, then a thriller, then a musical, then a martial arts movie — confusing for a Western audience but totally natural for an Indian audience.” He defines these narrative forms as “eminently comfortable with complexity, non-linearity and the non-binary nature of being.” Where hero’s journeys deal in dualities, with the protagonist abandoning one worldview in favor of another, defeating the dragon or being defeated by it, Indian stories — shaped by Hinduism and Buddhism — do not typically present their conflicts in the framework of a choice.

The traditional starting point of common narrative forms (especially in Hindi) is a religious/spiritual ritual invocation that establishes an emotive and spiritual sensibility for what follows. The ensuing narrative is most often dendritic in nature, offering multiple diegeses (worldviews) exploring that original invocation, designed to accommodate many differing perspectives and worldviews. “Closure” is a re-invocation or adaptation of the opening invocation. And so the “end” is a new beginning.

This reminds me a lot of both the structure of The Lost Direction, and the AI lore books more broadly as being sort of like the outward branching dendritic structure from that central core which TLD represents.

How I use screens

(Inspired by Ben Werdmuller & Nathan Schneider)

This is something I’ve been thinking about and tinkering with a lot these past few months, so thought I’d use similar posts by Ben & Nathan linked above as a jumping off point to try and put it all together.

I’m still searching for the language around it, but I would characterize myself at this point as a human-first digital objector/protester. None of those terms really fit or describe it easily, nor does “neo-Luddite” feel adequate. So let’s put it in more concrete terms:

I have been for maybe 6-8 weeks blocking most images and videos on the web. It’s revolutionized my experience. The ones I allow have narrowly defined purposes and I seek them out intentionally, rather than allowing them to be auto-played to me.

I block ads. I block paywalls. While it was still possible for it to function, I used Nitter, along with other alternative front-ends for major platforms, stripped of tracking, etc. My only social media account is on ye “Old Reddit,” and a defunct Medium page I only log into now and then to complain from. I use an RSS reader called Fraidycat (which I wish were easy to run locally or on my own server or something – I haven’t looked into that lately).

I have not had a cell phone in over 13 years, though got an old flip phone for the car when I had a kid. I basically never use it but it’s there just in case, and sometimes I can receive sign up codes on it for things that require a phone number online.

I browse and do most online activities in greyscale, which I toggle on and off as needed. I recently got an external e-ink monitor from Boox. It’s… okay so long as you temper your expectations and what you do with it. Took some getting used to and is a little pricey, but definitely easier on the eyes for just ordinary text-editing tasks. If I had to do it again, I’d probably go for the larger fixed table top one instead of the one I got, which bills itself as portable, but I find it bleeds the Macbook battery fast, which I don’t like, so I never use it without the Macbook being plugged in. Then I put that on my lap to type, folding the screen down unless I need to cross-reference something on it, and have the Boox up on the table as my primary viewscreen. I find this set-up to be excellent for blogging.

I stopped using my computer all together for ~48 hours on the weekend. It’s been about 4 weeks that I’ve done it, and I’m going to continue on for basically… ever? I think? Unless there’s some compelling need, but I’m just automatically re-arranging myself so that there is none. I’ve found the same thing happens with making room for meditation, which I do twice daily for 20 minutes. And that all these habits build on each other, and sort of synergize at some point to make dropping other random bad habits easier. Not saying I’m perfect, far from it, and it’s not about that. It’s about feeling better. About feeling less driven and controlled and constantly bombarded and invaded by digital signals of questionable origin driving human behavior toward unknown ends, and just reclaiming my life back. About severing that “always on” connection in the brain that makes every thought terminate in you having to pick up a device and use some tool to achieve x thing that is definitely something that can wait.

For that purpose, I’ve turned back to a small notebook as my alternative “device” to fill in the need to always be inputting/checking some little thing. I can just jot down my thoughts, needs, tasks, etc. there instead of opening up the computer, and getting mired in 10 billion other things, and agendas of others telling me what I should need or want or hate or feel mad about. Fuck all that. A book is a good enough screen most of the time. And once you re-orient yourself again to physical books (I read a shit ton on weekends now instead, or do little sketches on paper), you realize how the web is basically one giant jumble of really poorly organized and shittily edited books – or rather pages and paragraphs torn out of books, scrambled around and peed on. But I digress…

I got into wifi radio. Not “web radio” that you listen to on your browser or phone and are still chained to that object. But dedicated radio devices which turn wifi signals into streaming radio channels. I love it and it has made me quit using Spotify just about all together. I’m back to deeply listening, discovering, and loving all kinds of new music, and hearing sounds and voices from around the world, and hearing the music contextualized with real people not algorithms. It’s rekindled something I’d feared was lost, and is central to my re-orientation around reification of function, objects, embodiment. Technologies that Do One Thing. Technologies that can’t kick you off because you got them bad press. I allow myself to use my wifi radio on the weekend (I use it all the time) because I’m not able to and therefore not tempted to do other tasks or check in on anything while using it. Tangentially, I’m really curious about the possibilities of digital shortwave radio, because apparently you can transmit text and even video with it? DRM or Digital Radio Mondiale. Though I’m having trouble finding anyone selling receivers in North America. I’m a licensed amateur radio operator in Canada, but never use it because someone told me I’d need to put up a 16′ tower to get a signal out of the geographic bowl I live in. It has all got me wondering whether we couldn’t just have blogs that get transmitted onto digital shortwave?

I’m also working on in the background an adaptation of something called Mailbug, which is this amazing email-only appliance aimed at old people. My provisional project name for it would be “Chatbug” and instead of email only, it could plug into other services, like Slack, Signal, Beeper, etc. This thing called Beepy seems pretty close to what I’d be after, but I like the big old klunkiness of the actual Mailbug with a full-size keyboard for typing. I just don’t see why I should have to spend $15/mo to pay Mailbug for a dial-in number to check email…

Speaking of old and klunky and awesome, I have and love an old Alphasmart Neo2 stand-alone type-y dealy word processor. It’s so great, takes 2 AA batteries, and my kid is getting into it now too. If I could have that form factor exactly, even with the LCD screen, but have it have Chatbug “guts” that work on Wifi, I would be so happy. No web browser, maybe only super rudimentary, text-based, images handled how they work on Gemini (if at all). In short, I’d love to have a non-cell phone, non-tablet objectified device with a medium size keyboard to have “words with friends,” though even if I had that, I’d have to determine whether or not I allow that during my 48 hours off from computers per week.

Speaking of lately also stopped mostly watching streaming shows in the evening. This has freed up a ton of time, which I have occupied with doing paintings, making nearly a dozen in a few short weeks, and absolutely rekindling some deep stuff for me. So now I spend 2-3 hours a night most nights doing that instead of piddling around on the internet for no real reason. Between that and cutting out weekends, it has radically downsized my online time while simultaneously giving me great new/old things to occupy myself with again, leaving me much happier in the short and long term. Also, in conjunction with blocking most images and videos on the web (I still consume a fair amount of Youtube btw, usually at 3x speed), I have taken up the habit of looking at art books, and not really having any preconceived ideas of what I am looking for, I just go through them and look and look and look and let them impact me. I choose them as inputs for my brain (and my kid’s brain who is looking on) instead of the constant stream of useless trash being fired out from every end of the internet.

Speaking of kids, were it up to me alone he would never touch a cell phone til he’s 18, but it’s not, so at least his usage of it is severely limited. As a replacement, I found a pathway to get YouTube videos onto SD cards, that I put into a small DVD player/card reader and that is working out great. This way I know what he’s watching, no ads or tracking, and I can propose new things for him to check out (animals, ecosystems, earth sciences). Even that though, I cap his usage, and same for watching YT on the tv. I’d prefer personally that he watches his shows on the TV with us because its a communal activity in a shared space, instead of him immobilized over a tablet on a couch in isolation, which I think is a terrible recipe for development and happiness of anyone at basically any age (myself included, I’m trying to show a better example to him too in what I do).

Anyway, there’s probably more but I think that’s a more or less thorough accounting for the most part. I realize I’m probably at a minority of a minority position here, but I think that’s exactly right and great. People have to find out what works for them, and the best way to do that is to have many examples and ideas to choose from to implement in one’s own life and practice.

Sidenote to Ben: Could you also please build a simple way for blogs to talk to one another? You seem like an ideal candidate for this. Trackbacks & pingbacks got drowned in spam back in the day, though were a good idea in theory. I’m not part of the Fediverse as such, but perhaps there’s a way there? I tried some WP plugins to get this sort of thing set up, but they didn’t work for me at the time. Thank you!

Dugin Interview on Tartarian Conspiracy Theory

I thought this video interview from 2022 between Aleksandr Dugin and Andreas Xirtus on Odyssee was intriguing as hell for probably all the wrong reasons. Here’s I guess the same thing on Youtube which is easier to embed here (the entire Odyssee site is cheesy and sad, but also informative):

I don’t know Xirtus from Adam, but in this video he poses a number of questions about the Tartaria conspiracy theory to Dugin, who I have personally long-suspected as being one of the originators of this supposed “mystery.” He comes off as a bit breathless in his questioning, and seems to be some kind of admirer of Dugin, lapping up whatever is on offer.

Dugin I think deftly sidesteps a number of times the simple confirmations of “yes, dude, they totally had free energy and all that schtuff” that Xirtus seems to be seeking in his line of inquiry, instead shifting again and again the focus to his own brand of neo-Eurasianism. At the same time he offers what I think amounts to a kind of Rosetta Stone for decoding many of the Pro-Russia narratives we see not only circulating as part and parcel of the Tartaria conspiracy theory (which I attempted to spoof and detourne in one of my early AI Lore books). If you’re curious about that sort of thing, I think this video is a must-watch for untangling parts of the giant mess we’re in today.

It’s debatable what the actual level of influence Dugin has with officials in the Russian government (and for what reason and by whom his daughter was killed in a car bomb explosion – possibly meant for him, or both of them together), and how much of it is a convenient confluence of different thinkers obsessed with power reacting to the same socio-political and cultural histories. In Dugin’s case, it turns into this weird justification that Russia is the rightful heir to the historical Tartaria (and by extension also the ahistorical one, I think is the intended subtext), and that it continues its struggle as the land-based glorious empire on behalf of the entire continent against the hegemonistic powers of the sea-based “Atlantis” which is a stand-in symbol for Atlanticism, and American/British/NATO military and commercial might.

If you’ve ever actually looked at the claims and complexity of the narratives around the Tartaria conspiracy stuff, or if you’ve followed broadly the paths of Russian disinformation over the past decade or so, you will readily recognize the stories being told in this video by Dugin. But, like me, you might be surprised to hear them told in such a straightforward open manner, instead of having them buried in the layers upon layers of swill that passes for “content” on much of the web today.

It’s a bit of a shame the coverage that the Tartaria stuff gets in the mainstream press, because I think they’re misunderestimatering the seriousness of things like it as carriers for harder-edged ideologies. The Daily Beast touches on it here, despite calling it “floridly wonky,” also correctly identifies it as “a quasi-fascistic longing for antiquity and rejection of anything modern as degenerate.”

If you watch the video of Dugin above, those sentiments are going to ring out crystal clear. They are not, as the Daily Beast seems to suppose, some weird accident. Some accidental fault of stupid conspiracy people too gullible for their own good. They are, in my opinion, part of an orchestrated campaign which has spawned its own organic imitation and continuation. In other words, it’s a spectrum. And here in this video, we have a rare look at the purer form of the memeplex’s narrative roots.

One interesting point Dugin raises toward the end actually seems to converge with anothe trope from the media lately, that I think Cory Doctorow and Kim Stanley Robinson have been advocating for sci fi writers etc to create more optimistic visions of the future. I forget Dugin’s exact wording, but in this video he suggests that Western sci fi visions of the future always depict dystopias, and always (perhaps we can correct that to often) advocate for a return to Traditionalism. Which of course the re-emergent Imperial Russia is the rightful steward of on behalf of not only Eurasia, but the world. /s

At the same time, it’s difficult to discern whether this video depicts a world-class propagandist going at it in the moment (where he says coyly there are “some things he disagrees with” re: Putin’s actions), or whether it’s just an attention-hungry old nobody getting to play the part of the professor to young gullible-malleable minds is hard to split apart with any kind of clarity. Signs point to “yes.”

Digital Protestantism

Found this article somehow from the Guardian in 2022, about people ditching their Spotify accounts in favor of discovering and playing music using other methods and technologies like — gasp — CD players. The people in the article echo sentiments I’ve felt myself about the ever-increasing digitization of all things, and especially streaming media. That because of something about how Spotify works (and I’ve tried almost every other major service, and they’re all basically the same technologically, imo), it makes you end up hating music, even music you supposedly “like.” They quote one person:

“Taking the extra step to load it on to my phone, or the extra step to flip over the tape, or put the CD on in the car, it feels like something that I’m doing, rather than something I’m receiving,” they continue. “And that sense of agency makes me a more dedicated and involved listener than the kind of passive listening-without-listening that streaming was making me do.”

There’s a lot to like and a lot that I agree with in this article, about agency, and cultivating the human relationships that lead to the discovery of new music. I’ve gotten there mostly via a huge wifi radio kick I’ve been on since the New Year, after trying out and sending back the newest Sonos. I almost never listen to Spotify now, and haven’t been this invested in my listening choices in eons, it seems like.

I have I guess been collecting stories like this one from the Guardian unofficially for a while now. Like that one that I think was in the NYT about how teens at some high school were forming clubs where they didn’t use cell phones or only used old flip phones or something… That and some other things in this vein have made me wonder, what is this movement historically speaking?

I’ve seen the label ‘Neo-Luddite’ thrown around a fair amount, but for most people the actual historical roots of the Luddite movement are a hazy blur if known at all. And I wonder if it doesn’t in fact go deeper than merely this critique of economic misuse of automation against the craft worker. I wonder if it doesn’t cut right down to the bone – the human soul.

I recently came across a term I hadn’t seen before, a proto-Protestant movement starting in the 14th century in England, Lollardy. I won’t go into what their actual substantial beliefs were too much here, except insofar as they touch on the wider Protestant notion of the priesthood of all believers. Quoting from the Lollardy wiki page linked above:

Believing in a universal priesthood, the Lollards challenged the Church’s authority to invest or to deny the divine authority to make a man a priest. Denying any special status to the priesthood, Lollards thought confession to a priest was unnecessary since according to them priests did not have the ability to forgive sins.

This might be something of a reach to try to equate use of streaming services with, I don’t know, access to the sacred via music. But if music isn’t sacred at some level, then probably nothing is. Putting even aside the question of the “sacred” and what the hell that even is supposed to mean (a question I don’t care all that much about), I think this goes back to the point above about agency. About the ability to decide, to think, to feel, to act for yourself. To not be a mere passive recipient. To get up, to change the channel. To turn the damn thing off. To yell at the TV. To protest.

I don’t know then if “digital protestantism” is really quite an apt label for that which I’m seeking a purer expression of, but welded onto perhaps certain elements of Neo-Luddite, maybe we are starting to get some of the rudiments in place for carving out a larger space to play in productively – if only in our imaginations, and perhaps there only still for a time, as the fingers of digital control try to reach ever inward. We need not let them though. We have the ability to protest and to resist, so long as we exercise it.

Art Books

In honor of my attempts to summon the Painting Angel (which seem to have been successful), I have splurged and bought myself a few different volumes of glossy full color art books, especially from Taschen, and also Flammarion publishers. For the most part I am looking at a few French and Spanish painters working about 100 years ago, because I am very into that time period lately. There seem to be so many parallels, and 100 years ago is not very long, especially generationally speaking.

Anyway, one thing I’ve pleasantly rediscovered after lapsing in my painting practice for a few years (apart from the occasional random project), is that when you look through art books in this exploratory kind of fashion, you don’t necessarily know what you’re looking for. You have an intuition, a feeling, a kind of line work, a color mood, a way of treating painted subjects. You follow it, but then the artists show you more of the latent space, more of the hypercanvas than you knew existed before. And it broadens you. So much so, that when you get back to the canvas the next time, you’ve learned things you don’t know that you learned, and that you didn’t even really know consciously you were looking at, or looking for.

It’s a really pleasant process, and making a routine of it all makes my heart happy. It gives a new focus and intent to how I spend my time, what I look for, and the types of things I explore. Instead of just being ricocheted back and forth between stupid things on the internet that will most assuredly be gone in a hundred years.

Going Offline

In my on-going quest to escape the Cone of Light, I have been experimenting with going offline on the weekends. It’s been excellent, a relief really. I feel like the web and apps and chats and all the other stuff is so deeply engrained into your brain… if you think of something, you have to go Google it, or tell your friend, or… it goes on and on. It gets way way way deep inside your brain. It’s there all the time, coiled and crouching, dragging you ever deeper into the Cone of Light.

Maybe the tectonic plates in my subconscious were just already all lined up for this, fertile ground for the moment, but the outward sign I can point to is my decision many weeks ago now to block most images and videos. To prevent the Cone of Light from firing off certain endless signals into my awareness. Things I don’t need and can’t use. Images that don’t concern me. Fights that aren’t mine. Land grabs in the mind. No thanks, let me be. I will abstain.

The IRL-only weekends game has showed me that I probably spend way too much time chiseling away on random bullshit that goes nowhere, is not necessary, and either doesn’t actively aid me, or potentially even acts as an impediment to further movement, to the ability to think deep long slow thoughts. To not be chained to the screen, constantly checking. Constantly checking, and finding nothing. Blips. Bloops. Nothing. Computers that want me to do something. To drive my behavior. To fit me into a box. An algorithm. One not my own.

I’m still painting nearly every night, and loving that so much too. Makes me reconnect with all these deep parts of myself… I had the experience recently, a few days ago – I’ve been meditating 20 minutes twice a day for a little under a year now – where I was meditating, and dropped into that sort of hypnopompic/hypnogogic image realm, the same one I think we visit or adjacent to Dreamspace. I found myself in my mind before a painting. There was orange on my brush, and I was adding line work to the upper left corner. I could see sort of flashes of impressions of what the whole canvas was, but not clearly.

Since then, I took that impulse, that basic gestalt feel, and tried my best to put it down onto real canvas. It didn’t come out exactly (or remotely) like in my inner vision… or did it? Aspects of it are true and right, and somehow lock us into the same latent space, or one at least at points contiguous to it.

I wonder if this inner vision didn’t bubble up unbidden suddenly because of turning down the luminosity on the Cone of Light, and re-showing my brain, my heart, my nervous system, that the web does not control it. That there is life outside internet. That there is too the Innernet which wells up to replace it when you can step away, give yourself the space to feel and to listen for the mystery.

2 Dystopian MAGA Election Image Sets

I realized that I never published two pretty good sets of Midjourney images made a few months ago, both of which center around imaginary/disinformation images around the US 2024 election. I believe these were still v5 of Midjourney (back before I got banned).

The first is a collection of images where MAGA/Trump supporters have heeded Trump’s call to go out and occupy polling places ahead of the election, under the ostensible pretense of “security” but with the actual aim of intimidation, and in some of these pictures, violence (see the tear gas pics).

Here are a handful of the much larger set, which is probably around ~90 or so images, give or take.

The second set builds on the first, and more explicitly depicts another insurrectionist assault by paramilitary MAGA forces acting under the orders of Trump to violently take over key places in Washington, DC and New York City. (archived)

I actually think it is fundamentally dystopian that the technology exists which can so easily spin up photographic evidence from non-existant (yet) parallel realities. Why exactly do we want to have this capability from our technologies again? How does this lead to anything other than social and political chaos at scale?

Painting Again

I started painting again and am having a lot of fun getting back into it.

The colors look a little weird on screen as this isn’t the best photo ever, but it will do for now. This is all done with a liner brush because I lover those. I forget the size, maybe 16″ x 20″ or thereabouts. I’ve done a number of other ones since then.

I actually feel like I learned a lot about “regular” art making by using AI so much. Something about using the painting tools in this case to sort of systematically explore a certain neighborhood and adjacent areas in latent space. These paintings are also very algorithmic in the decision-making process as I go, but applied through a sort of highly organic filtering. (I don’t know if anyone else can see it, but there’s a very subtle nod to the Sorcerer in the Trois Freres cave in France.)

I tried uploading this to Dalle3 and asking it to make similar images but it really choked. It was like it fundamentally failed to see what makes this unique and interesting and turned it into just AI “churt” is a non-word that springs to mind to describe the kind of non-art that it churned out in response. It’s interesting especially because to me the line-making is very algorithmically (rules) driven, but obviously the system doesn’t think through generating images in a procedural line-by-line build up around preceding forms on a canvas. That’s not how it works at all.

Here’s a sample of what it came up with in response:

It’s not that it’s so terrible to even so terribly far off, but it missed kind of the key point of the entire method I applied: none of the lines ever intersect.

Anyway, I don’t care that much what AI thinks or doesn’t think about this work, because it’s just fun to do it, and it’s helping me to have this to concentrate on, this very practical embodied activity, drawing lines out on canvas. It doesn’t really matter if AI can do it better or faster or more, because the fun is in the sheer act of it, and having nothing and no one interpolating between me and it.

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