MJD 58,851

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Captain's Log

I’m starting a new experiment: blog entries in a blogchain without a declared theme or proper headlines. The blogchain itself is called Captain’s Log, since I don’t want to be too Dada about this, and a Star Trek reference sounds like fun without being thematically confining. But I won’t use that phrase within post titles. Entries will be titled MJD xxxx, where MJD stands for Modified Julian Date, and xxxx is the day number in that scheme. I thought of using the Star Trek star date convention, but turns out that’s not actually very coherent. My other too-clever idea was to follow a naming convention based on a) writing a post b) computing a hash from the text to serve as a title, as a cleverly self-referential True Name. This seemed too much work so I’m going with an uncommon date-based convention that only specialists like astronomers will be able to read intuitively.

An entry headline like Captain’s Log: MJD 58,851 tells you nothing about what’s inside, and that is the point here. If there is a there there, you have to be inside it to experience it. There is no name-based location in a larger space for you to infer contents from context. If that sounds vaguely pretentious, self-important, and arrogant, that’s not my intention here. Inaccessibility is not the point of this experiment. But I’m fine with people misunderstanding what’s going on here that way.

So what’s the point?

It has always bothered me that though the name of this native medium of mine is derived from “web log”, it has never actually been used in a log-like way. The closest we’ve come is a confessional journal style of blogging. To me a log is not a diary, scrapbook or journal, let alone a confessional one. It is something closer to meeting minutes, or even a sort of narrative clock, a be-ing in time. So I want to see if I can do that, and where that takes me.

The culprit in the stillborn promise of log-like writing of blogs was the introduction of names. Meaningful, theme-scoping names. Attention-seeking meaningful, theme-scoping names. Specifically the headline. Even more specifically, the memetic-resonance-and-SEO-seeking headline. And all that convivial situatedness comes with a cost.

To name something is to situate it in a larger context outside of itself, and very early on, blogging decided that such larger social self-contextualization was the whole point of the medium. The need to pop memorably and identifiably within larger discourses quickly overwhelmed any log-like reflexive tendencies the medium might have had at conception. Egoism traded for egotism.

To me this seems like a loss. An abandonment of an interesting direction of exploratory writing. Much as I have enjoyed (and practiced with some success) the Say-My-Name style of blogging, it has lost some of the charm it had 10 years ago.

Things with no names — either self-given or other-given — exist only with reference to themselves, within a sort of boundary of solipsistic reflexivity. That boundary may or may not even be legible to the point of being nameable from the outside. In this stronger case of solipsism, the thing only exists to the extent it knows itself to exist. For such an unnamed, or weakly named thing to even be identifiable as a thing from the outside, it must generate an external heat signature through its internal dynamics. One that can be spectroscopically fingerprinted.

If this is too abstract, consider twitter, which embodies this idea most concretely among modern media (email newsletters and podcasts also do a better job than blogs, but not as good a job as twitter). A tweet has no name, only a URL that does nothing beyond situating it unhelpfully in time, and metadata linking it to a parent in a thread if there is one. Twitter has a true log-like character (interestingly, the twitter-derived Mastodon features a headline-like field for toots meant for “content warnings”, which are often co-opted for headline-like use).

The effects of this lack of headlines are interesting. Within a sufficiently big individual twitter history, themes can exist at the edge of legibility, undetected and unnamed. Mine weighs in at 95.2k tweets at this point, and even at a 5-word/tweet average, that’s half a million words, so it’s up there, comparable in sheer verbal mass to this blog. As one of my online horcruxes, it’s something like Tom Riddle’s diary, #2 of 7.

I probably have dozens of latent themes in my twitter history. Sometimes this bothers me. Some are at least partially, fuzzily accessible via searches. For example, I have at least a big blog-post worth of thoughts on the idea of “beef-only” thinking which I have tried, and failed, to convert into a blog post. Much of my best thinking on Twitter is in fact of this sort. I suspect some of my very best thinking is not even easily detectable through a few search terms, or through an introspective sense of a pattern of thought at work. In a sense it doesn’t exist, since it’s neither nameable from the outside as a thing (“vgr’s tweets on X”) nor consciously accessible to me as an inhabitable headspace from the inside. There are themes in my twitter history that probably only exist objectively in terms of some entropy statistics associated with the output of a clustering algorithm.

Buried even deeper, there are probably themes that only exist as patterns of replies to others. These are so deeply obscured by the medium, they are Not Even Horcruxes. They are perhaps Horcrux Unconsciousnesses.

These are not just zombie texts that exist in potentia, they are zombie beings I could inhabit if only I knew how to find them, bound them, and furnish well enough with the cartesian-theatrical furniture that makes spaces headspaces, capable of being “occupied” (embeigned?). To name a thing is merely the last, least interesting, optional step in a very long process of it emerging as a thing with an identity.

So why not just leave such texts on twitter, swept along by the living Discourse, as footsteps in the sands of feed-time? If twitter has true log-like character, perhaps that’s where true log-like writings should live?

The problem with this (besides the obvious one that it is a privately controlled platform) is that twitter is not just my log space. It is the intertwingled metalog of a thousand interpenetrating egregores. And while I’ve gone on record arguing that you can and should participate in these hivemind consciousnesses, it’s not the only way of being, or of being in a log-like, temporalized Being-and-Time way.

This is a second, distinct reason why it’s hard to extract blog-like blobs from twitter activity. Not only are the boundaries fuzzy and the interiors often unnameable, they are the entangled output logs of multiple individual minds that may lack individual inhabitability altogether. Maybe the cross product of many minds is the psychological equivalent of outer space: where single minds cannot breathe. Attempting to extract an inhabitable blog post (and blog posts must be inhabitable as headspaces to be readable, as opposed to merely feelable as an energy) out of twitter — even an unnamed, fuzzily-bounded one — is like trying to unscramble multiple eggs into a single egg (well… there are such things as long eggs, which kinda do this, but they are hard-boiled and therefore dead)

So let’s try a twitter-like unnamed thing here on a blog. Whatever comes of this, it will primarily be a log of an individual streamline of consciousness. If I find myself unable to keep it coherent, I might fork off other log-like blogchains with their own weak-naming conventions. We’ll see.

But to the extent it compounds and accumulates some sort of low-entropy flow of thought, it should represent an inhabitable headspace, or part of one at any rate. To borrow from the philosopher’s definition of consciousness, there ought to be something it is like to be reading this log-like blogchain. An indexical point of view that is inhabitable by minds at a sufficiently close inferential distance to the authoring mind (mine). We’ll see if that works out.

And of course, you’re welcome to steal my naming convention and start your own Julian-Day numbered themeless, nameless blogchain.

And no, this does not mean I’m abandoning the named, themed blogchains or individual posts. Just adding another mode, not abandoning existing modes.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter

Comments

  1. It’s all difficult. A collection of aphorisms lumped together with comments about Baby Yoda ( according to a brief check of the Twitter stream ). Obviously Baby Yoda has a greater urgency than eternal wisdom, just like taking a pissing pause whenever you need one. Pure self referential (social-)media ping-pong for the fun of it. A meme is passing by. Baby Yoda “doesn’t age well” as one says, it cannot be moved easily up and down the timeline – or it could but that would raise an own set of artistic problems and projects: the time travelers and madman whose tweets and emotions, whose outrage and sneer is strangely out of joint. A museum of internet memes which exists only in physical space with carefully curated objects and references and an elaborately designed catalog. Such a museum would exist in its own time line as it would go one step further than exhibiting objets trouvés but one can clearly see where it comes from.

    The Captains Log may be a conservative idea just like the ‘star time’, which is a good old fashioned Newtonian fantasy. Why does the beef need a timestamp? Beef should have an expiration date – but should we care?

  2. I just came here to point out that now you seem to have framed yourself for running an international drug cartel

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