I've long been unnerved and intrigued by a few surface parallels between some of my more "experimental" writing techiques, and the infamously parodied internet site for Time Cube
. Not to say that all incomprehensible things are equal but I have to acknowledge that there's probably a certain universality of experience among individuals who've gone for periods of time indulging whatever stream-of-consciousness impulse urges them to write any babbling that happens to pass through their head. The choice to use wild formatting and encodings could just be random, or a deliberate attempt to encode or hide information.
In any case, contemplation of this led me to write Gene Ray a letter. Of course I don't I expect him to comprehend it and respond in a kindred "sanely insane" fashion. It's really just for me, my internet readers, and posterity. But I chose him as a target audience, to serve as a dialectical device for exploring the subject of why someone might write weird stuff. Without further ado, here's what I wrote.
Subject: A Question
* for Gene Ray about "Word Viruses"
Dear Gene Ray,
(That means "hello"...in my half-humorously-invented language. I chose it because I'm quite unnerved by the idea that simple words or patterns trigger the silent deletion of communications. It's amazing that by using that one word I have radically jeopardized the delivery of this message! Yet I feel it's important to push back against systems that hide or delete e-mail without any warning to the sender. After all: if you think it's hard to teach Time Cube now...the irregularity of human censorship is nothing compared to the cold precision of automated filtering!)
That risky opening aside, I'm writing you today because I have been reading timecube.com. While I may not understand your ideas, I do deeply relate to being passionate about something that other people don't seem to think is comprehensible or sane! It is frustrating, and I hope you are not too much the worse for wear.
One question came to my mind that I would like to ask about your writing, namely:
"Do you feel it is approximately as easy for someone to understand the Time Cube page by reading it as plain ASCII text -OR- does the color, fontsize, underlining, and italics have specific meaning?
I'm asking because I often use unconventional formatting for very specific (and unusual) purposes. To demonstrate, above I gave each letter in the word "color" a different color. It's odd, but notice that someone who doesn't know that particular English word might deduce the definition just by looking at it. Also, I might be able to catch the attention of physicists who'd notice that rather than picking a random sequencing of color for the letters as a child might, I correctly ordered the visible spectrum as ROY-G-BIV.
Breaking convention in other ways might also teach a communication technique, or serve to grab attention of a particular self-selected audience. For example: if I am concerned about whether the recipient of my message is seeing what I wrote as I intended, I often send along a screen capture from my computer. This also provides an opportunity to position other information in the graphic which I think might be of interest. (It might help to send along cryptic or surprising things, which I'll occasionally do to make a point or start a conversation!)
Such choices come with the consequence of looking a bit childish or crazy by disobeying conventions. I'm sure most would argue that making a message look like a rainbow for the sake of some pedantic sanity check is not sane! But I live every day with a sneaking suspicion that glossing over oddities in our daily lives is depriving us of crucial knowledge. I remind people that we still don't know what the internal breakthrough was that enabled Helen Keller to comprehend the sign for Water!*...and whatever that was, it opened a gateway for her to speak to an entire outside world. Perhaps we as a civilization are on the brink of another such breakthrough, if we are just more persistent with communications and not so prone to instant rejection of "nonsense"...
But I don't want to put words in your mouth for why you've picked such unconventional formatting for your website! Most likely it's just for emphasis, akin to when people TYPE IN ALL CAPS TO GET YOUR ATTENTION. Yet I thought expressing myself through a letter to you would be a good way to get my own ideas written down, while simultaneously sending an empathetic outreach to a fellow heretic (however different our theories may be).
The Reality Engineering Handbook
Yes, I know: by all accounts Gene is a rather confused old man...who will only be more confused by this. After all, it contains a screen shot attachment claiming to be from 3 years in the future, where timecube.com has somehow been replaced by an ad for a Penis Enlargement Product. Of course I'm referring to a realistic scenario...the consequences of domain name systems which are defective by design, because they give the ownership of words to organizations that don't manage them in a democratic or accountable way...and in an international community that redirects or blocks sites.
It's really very challenging for me to take the time to present something like this in such a dry manner. There are so many layers to what goes on in my mind when I start thinking along these lines, and I hate having to spell out why this kind of thinking is useful. Especially because it's not this in particular, necessarily, but the pattern of pervasive blindness and bad design that we have instituted in our systems.
I don't want the information we need to solve the mysteries of the universe to be blocked by petty human insecurities...and those who would exploit the dark corners created by automated machines set up by those insecure humans. I'm pretty sure that if we're going to figure out exactly how far this has gone we just might have to start every message with Viagra...
It should be obvious to spammers that they shouldn't spam... obvious to people making spam filtering software that they can't throw away messages without bouncing them. It should be obvious to the naming organizations that if there is contention for a domain name then it should have a disambiguation page
. We should be solving the universe's problems, sharing information, and the last thing we need are automated systems scanning image attachments to email for the word penis and deleting them.
Incidentally, some of my weird ideas on pushing communication envelopes have originated from the bizarre art(?) of LiveJournal user xpaerimtlslaekv"
... whose enigmatic desktop screenshot
(named yellow..265---55511832.--------.jpg) suggests communication with an extraterrestrial of some sort, because no human works with a desktop like that.
Should we be concerned?
Currently I am experimenting with using Disqus for comments, however it is configured that you don't have to log in or tie it to an account. Simply check the "I'd rather post as a guest" button after clicking in the spot to type in a name.