Drawing a physical line against miasmic incursion.

Apropos of @cheri‘s recent post.

Cyberspace (digital and online spaces, or the “noösphere” according to Dan Simmons and others) is uniquely and insidiously intrusive because it’s aetheric — or, to use a more appropriate adjective, miasmic. It is “in the atmosphere”; it occupies no physical space, but has the potential to occupy indefinite amounts of mental space. That would be alright if access to it was limited and/or difficult, but the gateways are proliferating. Thus cyberspace intrudes more and more into the atmosphere. And its disembodied character allows it to bypass the physical to encroach directly on the consciousness; the boundary between outer life and inner life is crossed, and one may not really notice it.

How to resist the miasma when it has no physical substance to resist? Perhaps, indeed, it does need to be anchored to physical substance. Then it becomes easier to set boundaries, because physical substance is just easier for human minds and bodies to keep track of.‡ By “training” the mind to manage the boundaries of cyberspace through the medium of physical substance, eventually, the mind begins to associate cyberspace with those boundaries without needing the training wheels. In other words, shove disembodied, nebulous cyberspace into a physical mould until such time as it will retain that particular shape when the mould is removed.‡
‡Implications for A.I.? O-ho, a whole rabbit trail to go down.


I’d never noticed this truth before. This explains why the strategies of putting your electronics in “the time-out basket” upon entering home are so effective.

Also explains I’ve been so successful with setting boundaries on my gaming and smartphone usage. With video games, I only have Steam et al and games installed on my desktop PC; laptop and smartphone have no games, and I once made a conscious decision that owning a PS4/Xbox console was not an acceptable life option (and reinforced my resolve by declaring this to gamer friends). With the smartphone, I’ve corralled its potential functions into a narrow channel: local communication, and music/podcast playing. Apart from that, it has few apps and does only the most menial tasks. If I want to do anything more substantive, I have to use analogue means, or hie myself to a computer.

At the start, I actively and ruthlessly policed the gaming and smartphone boundaries. And it’s paid off in spades: these boundaries are now so ingrained into my consciousness that gaming is a “desktop PC activity, sheesh, why would I game on anything else?” And the smartphone is the least important screen around and the last thing I’d turn to if I want a diversion. In fact, it’s the only device around that has social-media apps on it, and they’re seldom used. Ironic that when most people are removing access to social media from their smartphones, I’m shunting them all there. But, a menial tool for menial, low-priority activities.

I still need the physical boundaries, but I don’t need to police them so hard now; my mind is already conditioned to view those electronic devices a certain way.


It’s high time I re-examined my containment of the miasma, in terms of cultivating my creative inner life.

With blogging, moving to Hierofalco.net was very timely. I catch myself surfing the Micro.blog timeline more than blogging or doing other creation. Well then. The menial tool can retain the sole gateway, but on the major screens: close off all gateways to M.B, and open all gateways to blogging/writing/coding/other creative works.

Ordering my creative process is the harder task. Especially the novel-writing: my workflow is in a state of chaos that brings no productivity and fosters procrastination. Surfing the Internet has been the easy way out of the former and into the latter. There are currently no boundaries, and there are no physical anchors to help contain the miasma.

Things to try out:

  • Return to handwriting. Previous attempts at handwriting novels weren’t hugely successful. But if I want to be productive and actually write something…
  • Make laptop the dedicated writing tool. Restrict browser usage — the Internet is the main floodgate for the miasma.
  • A second monitor has been very good for writing workflow. Move a monitor (maybe the main monitor??) permanently off desktop PC to laptop.
  • The major task: Figure out a long-term, sustainable system to order and pipeline the meta surrounding storytelling. Currently, my novelling notes, outlines and world-building wiki are spread over OneNote, WikidPad, Word documents, an online notepad, and physical notebooks — all artifacts of trying different methods but not yet settling on one. Unsustainable, and currently the source of most mental friction, chaos and inability to make progress (and hence, procrastination). The workflow needs to have boundaries, if not actual order, imposed on it. How to anchor this disembodied space in the physical world? What is a system and pipeline that is sustainable in the long run? (Will such a restraint liberate or stifle my creativity?) Bears some thinking.
  • Dedicated “no-screens, creative-only” days. A part of me is now squirming and squealing, “you don’t need it, why are you even contemplating that, stop thinking about it, don’t even think of doing it of course you don’t need it why are you still thinking of it–“ Well. Even more reason to anchor that physical boundary and enforce it with extreme prejudice.

I’m not in a habit of posting links to books/games in my reviews, mostly out of sheer laziness. But, I did put links in my earlier game reviews because they were less familiar names. After giving it some thought, I’ve decided that whenever I link, as much as I can, I will link directly to the author’s or game’s website, instead of to a product page on Amazon/Steam/etc.

I don’t mind that other reviewers link to product pages, but I am not enthused by the thought of doing the same. I suppose I have a subconscious objection to associating my private blog to commercial and impersonal places. Furthermore, those product platforms didn’t create that entertainment, they’re just the middlemen distributing it. But because those platforms are so big, it’s very easy to forget that individuals and people created those works in the first place. So, while I’m thinking of small villages and houses within Internet-as-community, I’m even more determined to decouple creative works from the distributor and reattach it back to the creator by linking their websites whenever I write reviews.

After all, that’s the main way I’ve discovered artists and creative works, primarily through links and recommendations on other people’s websites and blogs. I don’t use Amazon and Steam and other distributors to discover, but rather to corroborate that initial discovery. So I do think they have their place and I appreciate that people put reviews there.

I won’t, though. I’d rather link to creators instead of distributors. Other people who click through to the creator can decide how to support them. And perhaps, discover a new thing for themselves.

Thoughts on the Internet, fragmentation and consolidation, and singing weird songs on Micro.blog.

I have spent about half my life online. Those early years were spent traipsing around the small villages of various university, educational, and hobby websites; the days when people learnt HTML and CSS (and later, PHP) and made websites on Geocities and Angelfire (and later, got their own domains with quirky and wonderful names), and the emergence of blogs and bloggers on Livejournal and Blogger (and later, WordPress). “Social media” as it existed were website guestbooks, webrings, messageboards, and IRC and instant messengers. The Net was indeed a web of small villages, and websites were private homes: some of them familiar, some idiosyncratic, all of them recognizably belonging to a human being. The Internet and I, we came of age together.

But we grew up, and the times have changed. The Net is simultaneously fragmenting while consolidating, and in all the wrong ways. Consolidating, in that the websites have stopped being private homes and started becoming homogenous apartment complexes. The villages have been crowded out by sprawling urbanization. Fragmenting, in that those institutions have developed such centres of gravity that people are amassed within them, and have to travel between walled gardens and silos in order to engage with each other. The institutions consolidate and set the culture of format and engagement; the person fragments while moving between those edifices and expressing the self through externally-imposed standards. Thus, people’s identities stopped looking idiosyncratic and started looking uniform. The Internet no longer looks so human.

Because it looks less human and more of a technology-industrial complex, it’s easy to forget that people’s accounts and feeds are their homes on the Net. It’s easy to forget, when I land on someone’s Tumblr or Twitter account, that I am the guest who was invited to come in for a little while to listen to them speak and sing. It’s easy to stomp all over that person’s home on the Net and get into fights on their property. –Was it their property in the first place? It was the institution gave them that grey box to live in, identical to my grey box.

I’ve accepted that there’s no turning back the clock, but in the process of the Internet maturing into Web 2.0 and beyond, I’ve been kind of cast adrift, and have spent most of the last decade trying not just to find the Internet spaces that look human and echo the small villages of my younger days and thus can be called a home, but also trying to define what the Internet-as-community means to me, and therefore, how I am to relate to Internet-as-community. In some ways, this fragmentation and thinning of human identity on the Internet has contributed to me becoming _less_ invested in online forms of self-expression. I’m no longer the agent defining my own online identity, let alone defining Internet-as-community. That role has been taken over by those institutions. So I no longer blog and make websites and speak out my thinking online, who did a lot of both in the Internet’s (and my) coming-of-age. Some of that is realizing that I am a human-in-flesh, not some disembodied consciousness in the aether, and thus life is best lived IRL; but in part, I always had a lingering subconscious sense that ownership and expression of my online identity was being eroded and fragmented over time. Since those early days, I haven’t been able to find a place to speak or make a home, ever since.

I think… Micro.blog may be that homey place I’m looking for. A place where I can consolidate my online identity from the fragmentation it’s experienced across social media. A place where the community is “broken down” back into small, idiosyncratic houses I can visit and be a guest for a short time (and they be a guest in my house), instead of monolithic aggregations of people with no sense of walls and boundaries. And a place where it’s easy to make and post content of all kinds without having to figure out the systems to hold said content. The Internet has outgrown my very basic HTML and CSS skills.

I’m not looking for a platform or an audience. In fact, one luxury of the Internet is that I don’t have to see, or hear, or engage with, the audience. I just want to sing. I want to carve out a little crevice of the Net, hide inside, and sing all kinds of odd little word-based and occasionally picturesque songs. Sure, there are lots of places to do this, but they usually want me to sing in a certain way (in 280 characters, or manicured images, say), or sing amidst a cacophony of other voices, or jump through hoops to sing in the first place. At least, it feels that way to me.

I’m not pinning all my hopes in this place. No doubt Micro.blog will face challenges with maintaining this sense of villages and private houses as it expands and grows, and more people arrive. If it gets too overwhelming, I’ll pack up my content and fly away and find another crevice to carve out. But for now, this seems to be the place I’m looking for. Let’s see what kind of little house I can build here. Maybe it’ll be a cozy one for a while.

A thought on teaching in a digital world

Schools are getting more wired and electronic. Distractions are everywhere — personal laptop, tablet, smartphone. So what can a teacher do to overcome the distractions and engage students?

You have to sell something better than the distractions, something that is more fulfilling than cheap banality. (cf. one of John Piper’s quotes here) Not more entertainment or distraction in the classroom, but something deeper and more fulfilling, even if it may be challenging initially.

Teacher has to become a salesperson initially to hook students in to take a harder road instead of the easy way out. Then keep inspiring them down this road until they start walking it themselves. So the start of everything — a lesson, a unit, a whole year — is a sales pitch. Then keep delivering on the promise of engaging interest outside of electronics and lazy thinking. Continue to inspire and encourage the students who are now moving down the way on their own volition, and keep selling the promise to the reluctant ones.

The end goal of teaching is for students to become lifelong learners: think for themselves and make their own enquiries of the world. So what are the benefits of being a lifelong learner? When this is a product that initially requires a lot of investment — but will have massive payoff in future. Identify the benefits and advantages. How to pitch it in a way to young minds? Then sell it hard. And keep delivering on the promises.

So what can an educator learn from the advertising and marketing world? Time to look things up…

Odd Apple in the electronics basket.

I was given an iPad Mini yesterday.

(It was a gift from the church ministry I’m part of. What an honour, and what a lovely surprise and blessing. A few months ago, I had been contemplating getting a tablet, but decided not to get one, for several reasons. Now I have a tablet! This is a good lesson: if God the Father is so good and loving to me that He will bless me with something that was just a frivolous desire, how much more will He provide for the greater needs in my life!)

My first Apple product owned. I won’t buy Apple products for practical and ideological reasons (yes, I’m one of those people — though I will recommend Macs to others), so amidst my ecosystem of Windows XP desktop, Android smartphone, B&N Nook e-reader, and Sandisk MP3 player, which have taken on the look of a charmingly haphazard, jumbled family that nevertheless can communicate with each other in UMS… iPad doesn’t fit in. (Well, maybe it will eventually. After all, the rest are all misfits too.)

What’s more, I’m at a bit of a loss to what to do with yet another mobile electronic device, especially an all-purpose one like iPad. That’s why I initially decided not to purchase a tablet for myself, because most of what I want to do on the go can be accomplished with my other devices. They’re all single-purpose devices — MP3 player for music, Nook for e-books, smartphone for everything else — but I like it that way. It keeps distractions away (as much as one with a smartphone can remain undistracted), and the computer is a superior multi-purpose device around, anyway.

So what can I do with my iPad? It would make a nice mobile recipe book. Perhaps I can start reading all my e-books here instead, and let go of the Nook. I can certainly play tablet-exclusive games that I’ve been eyeing — not that my computer isn’t a sufficient gaming device already! The smartphone already works very well on the go, so this will probably remain a stay-at-home device.

Heh, first-world problems. I’ll figure it out. I’m certain there will be a good use for it eventually — every good gift from God is meant to be used for his Kingdom too.

Update the next day: What about journalling? If I had a stylus… This sounds like a great idea.