Discordian epistemology, brains in vats and experimental suburbia
Plus: some fiction on a new platform
Welcome to this week’s free edition of The Terminal. If you’d like to become a subscriber, hit the button below. I’d be ever so grateful. (Imagine I said that in the voice of a Victorian-era street urchin.)
I’ve written about this before, but I absolutely agree with that thought. I feel like people have not gotten their heads around just how seismic the changes to internet topology led by Discord are.
For the most part, that’s because it really is more niche areas of inquiry that tend to live on Discord. One the one hand, it can be useful. If I’m researching a crypto community (which are almost always organised on Discord) there’s something quite invigorating about logging on and immediately being in the middle of the action and seeing all the major players discourse in real time. Discord search is relatively robust once you get the hang of it, so it’s doable to find things if you know what you’re looking for.
That sounds trivial — after all, IRC has been in vigorous use by enthusiast communities since the late eighties — but it does feel qualitatively different now that more things of material and informational consequence are actually happening more or less exclusively in this form.
But, as the tweet above alludes to, it can also represent a maddening balkanisation of the internet if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Popping into the Discord for some community or another and instantly being assailed by a churning river of posts all written in in-group lingo does make it hard to figure out what the hell is going on. This situation is only going to become further entrenched when the company pushes harder into paid and tokenised communities.
On the inverse, I think this is also true:
Despite having an an absolute dogshit search function, Reddit is basically the sole good place for coherently indexed expert user content on the internet. It’s enduringly bad reputation is not actually that well-deserved, other than on the default subreddits, which are toilets.
Off the chain
Because I’m a naturally cutting edge kind of guy, I’ve decided I should probably invest a bit of energy into exploring the emerging tranche of blockchain/web3 publishing platforms and see what they’re offering. Generally speaking, they’re efforts to create new monetisation models for writing by letting writers sell NFT ‘editions’ of their work and issue tokens. (You know the script by now, I’m sure.)
The big one is Mirror, which is an Ethereum publishing protocol that opened to the public in October, and is now described as “a full-stack web3 creative suite for communities and DAOs”. You see a lot of web3 announcements/manifestos hosted on there now. There have been some more creative experiments launched on there, including a crowdfunded novel.
I have no interest in splintering my main writing output, and I’m pretty well invested in the Substack ecosystem for The Terminal. But, just as an experiment, I’ve decided to use it to publish some short fiction which I’ve never been much bothered to shop around.
The first story is one I wrote a year or so ago and left in a desk drawer (read: Scrivener folder). It’s an attempt at some pulpy sci-fi/horror — occult science stuff inspired by Lovecraft and Machen but with an Australian spin. I’m far less confident in my fiction as compared to my other writing, but hopefully you enjoy! (I am not currently offering it as an NFT, but feel free to directly send me a Bored Ape’s worth of ETH if you feel I should be compensated. You get nothing in return. I repeat: nothing.)
Rise and grind
A few Dutch cities are banning 15-minute delivery apps (which are represented in Australia by companies like Milkrun, Voly and Send):
Six Dutch cities are either preparing to or have already instituted strict new regulations against ultrafast delivery services, a global urban phenomenon heavily backed by billions of dollars in venture capital that critics say add little to quality of life in urban areas while creating hundreds of “dark stores” in prime retail areas.
Last week, Amsterdam and Rotterdam instituted one-year freezes on any more dark stores from the likes of Gorillas, Getir, Flink, Zapp, and a number of other goofily-named startups that, according to reports, lose up to $150 per order.
What I think is interesting is the reasoning. These companies mostly elide the gig economy arguments that plague companies like Uber because their model works better with fully-employed riders anyway. Instead, critics focus on the ‘dark stores’ which are popping up like fungi in post-Covid inner city commercial real estate. “An increasing number of residents and local politicians believe this is not a good use of such spaces and, if allowed to proliferate, will detract from the whole point of urban living,” the story reads.
You can think of it as general anti-tech backlash — and maybe (though I don’t know for sure) the result of lobbying from supermarket and retail incumbents — but it also raises questions about what people want our inner cities to look like after Covid.
(I wrote about the Australian lineup of instant commerce platforms for subscribers here.)
I just got done reading David Chalmers’ book Reality+, which I mentioned in a newsletter the other week. I think it’s an interesting and thought-provoking read which sets up new ways of thinking about the philosophy of mind and virtual reality — as well as serving as a great introduction to a number of philosophical arguments — but it also falls short on some key points.
A lot of my biggest complaints are addressed far better than I ever could by David Bentley Hart writing at The New Atlantis. I highly recommend it, if you’re in the mood for something that gets in the philosophical weeds of these arguments.
But one no sooner poses these questions than it becomes clear that they more or less answer themselves, in part because they are matters of purely relative judgment that rarely rise above the level of semantics, but mostly because the underlying premise makes one’s conclusions inevitable. Chalmers has really very little choice but to take the pragmatic view that for us the real is the realm of the consciously perceptible and phenomenal and relational, rather than some occult realm on the other side of things or some set of unrepresentable physical conditions known only through their effects in the realm of appearances. It is more or less the founding precept of the late modern view of things that the true picture of reality — what Wilfrid Sellars called the “scientific image” — is the one where no one can live; it is the “manifest image” of perceptual experience that is our existential home.
The happiest place on earth
Disney is getting into the planned community game:
Disney has launched a new business for fans who can’t bear to leave the pristine, family-friendly world the corporation has nurtured through its theme parks and media ventures.
“Storyliving by Disney” will operate as part of the company’s theme parks division, developing a series of master-planned communities for residential living, designed by Disney’s creative staff and offering the same pampered tranquility found in its resorts.
“Picture an energetic community with the warmth and charm of a small town and the beauty of a resort,” said Disney Parks, Experiences and Products exec Helen Pak in a promotional video.
Only one location has been announced so far: a community of 1,900 housing units named Cotino that will be built in the city of Rancho Mirage in California’s Coachella Valley (a location where Walt Disney himself once lived).
This is, as the story above points out, not all that far removed from Walt Disney’s original EPCOT concept, which was to be a futuristic planned city — “a living blueprint of the future” — constructed on a 28,000-acre plot of undeveloped wetland in Florida.
Walt wanted to build a combination city and industrial park where nobody owned anything, where “poverty could not exist” because everybody was employed, and where you might come home one day to find all the appliances and electronics had been replaced and upgraded while you were out.
After he died, Disney abandoned the weird utopian idea because, probably quite fairly, they didn’t think running a whole municipality was worth the effort. Disney re-exploring the concept through planned suburbia brings a nice Ballardian twist to the whole enterprise.
Forgot to share this last week, but I wrote a profile of Australian crimfluencer Spanian for VICE.
This on bionic eye patients left in the dark — literally — when the company that built their implants stopped supporting them. I’ve always thought that Repo Men got the biocapitalism angle wrong — you won’t need debt collector thugs to repossess implants, they’ll probably just follow iPhone update cycles.
Really interesting piece on antifeminism and inceldom becoming a potent electoral force in South Korea.
I got lost down a rabbit hole reading about people who illegally sell ticket swipes on the New York City subway — a dying breed, as the whole system is transitioning to contactless and phone payments. There were a lot of references to MetroCards being physically folded in a precise way to fool the card readers. Here’s a great Reddit comment explaining how that works.
A Seattle digital radio broadcast containing erroneous image data for in-car entertainment systems completely bricked the systems of certain Mazda models. I love stuff like this.
A fun cinema story I wasn’t aware of: the Coen Brothers movie O, Brother Where Art Thou? contains recordings of a real midcentury prison gang, and once the soundtrack became a hit they presented a big fat royalty check to the sole remaining performer, the son of a Mississippi sharecropper.
Similarly from the ‘cinema stuff I didn’t know’ universe: when Toy Story 2 was accidentally deleted off Pixar’s servers, erasing months of work — only to be found on an employee’s home computer.
“A Vibe Shift Is Coming”. A lot of people are angry at this piece (I think?) but I like it. You hear more and more about ‘vibes’ as a totalising cultural force beyond fashion, music, art and so on. Might be because we seem to cycle through individual trends faster than ever.
Interesting interview with Tyler Cowen about crypto, where he argues that the economics profession generally is behind the curve on understanding it. “Unless you work on monetary theory, the professional incentive to ponder crypto is pretty small and most people don’t do it often.”