When you see something, it causes you to react in a certain manner, and frame the world in a certain way.
We like to believe it’s a matter of choice. We choose our thoughts, we have free will to do what we want; if I’m not following instructions explicitly then I’m not following anything at all. The nature of this statement though means that if there is one example at all where response is automatic, then the previous statement about the structure of the human mind loses its inherency. And there is an example. There’s plenty. So many the public discourse has a word for it:
“Not Safe For Work”
Generally this refers to visuals of a certain kind. In itself it’s already somewhat blurry and pretty clearly manipulated with respect to some other internal logic. If something, for example, is referred to as “Safe For Work”, you know that it’s probably with respect to “Not Safe For Work” rather than “Work”, which means that it’s probably not actually safe for work. Whatever that means.
I have an idea what it means, and I’d like to expand the concept.
To work means to focus on doing something. To focus means to ignore all other problems for some given period of time, implying that all other problems are, at least during that time, not problems. The complete statement the other way reads:
“Only when all other problems appear solved for the time being can one begin to work.”
In a shorter form:
Work requires Peace.
In order to work, it must be the most important problem at the time, and the only problem that is perceived. Generally speaking, sex is not safe for work. But quite a lot of other things are also in this category too.
For example: “The Internet”.
There have been things circling for a while now about how the internet, or perhaps ‘social media’ in specific, cause people to be unhappy. Studies show that people who spend more than some number of minutes per day on something online are some percentage of points more unhappy, we need a plugged-unplugged balance, something something something. I don’t doubt that this is true, but we need to know why it is true to get anything prescriptive out of it. If your life is absolutely great, the idea that seeing other people happy on Facebook makes you “jealous” is obviously not going to be true. What you need to know is not specifically that it’s “bad on average”, but what is bad for you. At least, in the context of what is safe for work.
Why “The Internet” makes people unhappy is because people don’t get that it’s not strictly safe for work. If you are aware and conscientious about how you use it, you’ll be perfectly fine, and I’m not talking about something asinine like avoiding pornography or counting the number of minutes. The internet is fundamentally a technology. It’s glowing boxes connected to other peoples’ glowing boxes, and it has a bunch of information on it. If you see what makes you happy, then you’ll be happy. If you see what makes you mad, you’ll be mad. If you see “whatever”, then on a long enough timeline you’ll probably be pretty mad. Don’t pay attention and don’t think about how something works, it’ll eventually do things you don’t like in ways you don’t understand.
Imagine if the internet only had your favorite comedy. You and everyone else would know exactly what using it would cause. Imagine now instead that the internet only had horror. Same deal. In both cases there’d be weirdos who respond to the givens in an entirely different manner, but they’d be accurately and correctly recognized as weirdos, and the general idea wouldn’t change. This… was how the internet used to be. More or less. Places ran with whatever they were about or were interested in, usually with very specific ideas (because they were familiar with the topic), and so were places where various unrelated strangers congregated. Only places where this was maybe not the case was in “off-topic” forums or “chats”, which then was a question of what the moderation paradigm was and who the moderators were, but basically as long as you didn’t go there, or to certain URLs, you knew, with pretty decent confidence, what you were going to get into.
In the post-URL age people have no idea what they’re getting into. Or, perhaps more importantly, they have no idea that they have no idea what they’re getting into. “I joined facebook to connect with my friends, so why am I mad all the time?”. And of course, with a bunch of clueless people of varying backgrounds and interests, there can be nothing actually going on that can be built on at all at with moderation, except office politics and geopolitics, which is exactly what we see happening with “community standards”.
If Facebook really wanted to make people happier, you think it wouldn’t happen? Remember that thing called advertising? Companies paying to get peoples’ eyeballs? That’s why you’re not connecting with your friends. No, not so much because you’re seeing ads, but because you’re in a structure that is interested in you seeing ads (and news, and whatever it is people pay to have you see). That’s called the News Feed. Go to a specific page, or profile of a person who you knows only posts certain things, you’ll see something very different.
Perhaps something like my current experience with Twitter. I used to hate it, now I’m basically fine with it. I’m following about the same number of people I did before, but now I’m perfectly happy going there because everyone I follow posts only either 1) images I want to look at or 2) text in a language I can’t read. For me, Twitter is basically Pixiv, and perfectly safe for work. Occasionally there’s porn on it too, but that’s fine, because when I go there, porn is within my expectations, and therefore I know exactly what to expect – that is to say again, exactly synonymous with safe for work.
Now there is always the chance that something could happen. Maybe some Japanese artist decides to retweet something that in English. Maybe someone @’s me. But these are edge cases. They would not reflect on my experience of Twitter as a whole.
Unless something big happens and a bunch of people @ me at the same time, and then suddenly everything changes. Which, too, is in the structure of Twitter. There is the option to make things private, but that more or less breaks the structure of Twitter (Not the case for Facebook, but Facebook has the advertising thing). If Twitter really wanted to eliminate the possibilitiy of “something big happens and a bunch of people @ me at the same time”, also known as “mobbing”, “harassment”, or “death threats”, they could do it. But they don’t. They’re interested more in something else, one which I unfortunately don’t have a simple analogy like I did for Facebook because I haven’t much experience with it. It’s probably something along the lines of statistics and surveillance, considering how it’s used.
In any case that other thing exists. You use services for a reason, they provide you services for, almost always, a completely different reason.
They have their own ideas.
And I have my own ideas.
I have noticed that what I think when I wake up in the morning and what I think before I go to bed in the evening have large impacts on what happens during the rest of the day. Anything thought during these times takes a while to form, and I need everything to be silent and calm during that time for them to bear fruit. Sometimes these ideas are complicated, sometimes not. At best they are a productive idea for me to chase for the rest of the day or week. At worst it’s a metaphorical and literal breath of fresh air: a visceral understanding that there are no major problems. The air is warm, the light is bright, my belly is full, and my body will do what I tell it to do without pain or limit. Maybe this is what’s called “meditation”. I wouldn’t know. I don’t like how that word sounds so I don’t use it.
I can’t do any of that if I open up the internet and have people reposting shit spewed by journalists about employment rates or automation or economy or politics, anything anyone ever says about cars that aren’t in the direction of absolute and unwavering praise of trains, anything anyone in the west says about housing and rent, any western cartoons, any webcomics, the vast majority of things that can be said about videogames, the vast majority of happy smiling pictures at any parties because that’ll just remind me about employment rates and cars and all the lies people tell about those things, and all the lies people tell about the lies that people tell about those things, and a whole laundry list of other things both of things that I can explicitly name and things that I can’t identify are problems.
Information space works differently than physical space. There’s the connectivity and speed issues to be sure, but even if I did sit down and think about really all the potential problems that would for me be not safe for work, it’s difficult to tell when that list or formulation would be complete. Here’s all the real and potential instances I get unseated from my focus, here’s all the sets of reasons I’ve come up with that explain the data, is this a complete understanding? It’s Hempel’s Paradox. Or maybe even attempting to solve the thing runs into Godel’s Incompleteness.
But if I don’t deal with information space, it’s not a problem. Sitting in silence with my monitors off and my phone on silent means that the only information space I need to deal with is in my own mind. I spend my due time clearing out possible worries in the times where such ideas gain a huge first-move advantage, and as a result a lot of irrelevant other ideas that come up during the rest of the day get tossed. Not that nothing can disrupt this, to be sure. But, if I think things though correctly, only significant things will change my focus, and those things won’t so much be “Not Safe For Work” as it would be “You Need To Work On This, Right Now”.
Most things don’t need to be worked on right now. Journalists will say something “JUST” happened but it doesn’t matter. Not much matters. And that’s how it needs to be, if anything is to get done.
Format the day correctly in the mind by calmly dealing only with physical space in the morning and evening, making the only information space your own mind, and recognize that there are no major problems. The “world” is, all major things considered, safe for work.
Unless a bullet comes through the window. Then it’s not safe for work.
But if it did, that would be the thing to work on.