The Internet has a broad range. At the very, very top, you have sites and groups dedicated to spreading positivity and pro-sociality however they can. Most of the places people spend most of their time are essentially neutral. And then there are the dark places.

There is no bottom to the Internet. It goes down forever. This is not a property of the Internet, however: it is a property of humanity. There is an upper limit to how good we can be, but there is no bound on our potential for evil.

Previous generations have been able to mostly ignore their darker sides. That’s a two-edged sword. Facing demons isn’t fun. On the other hand, the consequences of a society that hasn’t faced its demons could be disasterous.

In a mostly successful attempt to make the Internet a more accessible place for people with language barriers (including some disabilities), emoji have become part of Unicode, and expanded far beyond the limits of sanity.

Before emoji, there were emoticons. We had Latin-1 (and called it ASCII) and we made do with sideways faces made out of punctuation marks. When everybody got UTF-8 on their terminals, we gained the ability to express shrugs, table-flips, lascivious glances, and more. These are still used occasionally but they’re not very convenient for most users, so the standards are emoji and emoticons still.

Emoji have bent over backwards to be inclusive of marginalized groups. Their vocabulary is not large enough to form a pidgin tongue, but they’re trying. If there is a language barrier between two people who want to cooperate, and they both have emoji in their toolbox, it won’t be long before they’re using them. These are fantastic developments.

Emoji have one nagging problem, though: the range of states you are allowed to express is narrow, and some of that is by design. We want the Internet to be a friendly and positive place, so we make more happy emoji than sad, and we try hard not to let people express anger. Emoji give people an emotional vocabulary that is too small, and contains a dangerous bias.

Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away. The American “it could never happen here” is quickly giving way to “oh shit, it’s happening here.” In a world where it’s now possible to instantly communicate with someone on the other side of the globe, with whom your only commonality are humanity, it’s both possible and necessary (another two-sided coin) for us to expand–no, to complete–our emotional vocabulary and use it.

I know what I want for my birthday.

I want people to be as excited about something–anything–as I am. I want to have a good idea and talk to a dozen people about how possible it is. I want us to throw ideas around, think about plans, figure out what we already have and what we would need, and how we could get it.

It’s been such a long time. I have so many ideas, so many dreams, and no one else has any enthusiasm for any of them. Just for a few hours, I’d like to have my friends at least pretend to be interested in something.

While it’s really tempting to blame local culture… I think it’s local culture. Houston is far more committed to its problems than it is to solving them.

For Christmas… I want us to actually do something.

Loving Yourself In Your Own Language

Connecting two dots whose connections seem obvious once they’re next to each other: you must love yourself, and whether an action is loving can only be determined by the person receiving it. (You don’t get to say “I’m doing this because I love you” if what you’re doing to that person hurts them.) So, assuming there’s a “you” and there’s a “yourself” whom you must love, logically, you should express your love for yourself in the love language that reaches you best.

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Robert Heinlein famously said that specialization is for insects. (GIYF.) As someone who doesn’t like paying someone to perform every job I need done except for my own, but also enjoys the comforts provided by civilization, I’ve long struggled to find a balance between Heinlein’s quote and the reality that civilization can’t possibly get this far unless everyone chooses to ignore almost everything that isn’t their specialty.

A dear friend and mentor recently pointed out to me that saying yes to one thing implicitly means saying no to any number of other things. It was a light bulb moment. The concept is obvious once you’ve heard it, but opaque until then. Starting a family means I will probably never learn to play that Rachmaninoff concerto I love so much.

Should Rachmaninoff have written novels? Should Heinlein have composed symphonies?

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