When the cosplaying dolphins met the cosplaying French philosophers

20.16, Tuesday 12 Jul 2022

My favourite kind of folktales are the kind that are so microscopic and so esoteric that they take approx a thousand words to set up.

In that spirit, some necessary background:

Mastodon is an online social thing which is a little bit like Twitter, in that you post little status updates in the form of words and pictures, and you follow loads of friends who are doing the same.

UNLIKE Twitter, it’s not owned and run by a single company. Mastodon is divided up into tons of separate communities – and I mean actually divided as opposed to “separate but all ultimately in the same place” like subreddits on reddit. From the Mastodon website:

Mastodon isn’t a single website like Twitter or Facebook, it’s a network of thousands of servers operated by different organizations and individuals that provide a seamless social media experience.

(4.4 million people use Mastodon, which isn’t huge compared to Twitter’s 229 million daily actives, but it ain’t peanuts neither. You can join up at the official website above, and if you do then please do follow me. I’m @genmon@mastodon.social. It’s where we’ll go when Twitter finally implodes.)

The Mastodon servers are networked together into the “fediverse” so at first sight the experience is like Twitter in that you can follow people pretty much anyway and it feels global… but look a bit closer and there’s way more variety.

Because: individual Mastodon servers have autonomy. They can have their own policies; they can choose to enforce certain behaviours; they have their own “global” timelines, which means they take on their own character. If they disagree with another server, they can simply stop relaying messages from it – imagine you and your friends on Twitter able to just cutting off the angry politics people.

(I’ve been following virtual private neighbourhoods as a trend for a while. This is a post that continues that thread.)

The autonomy inherent in Mastodon means nooks, niches, and corners in which high weirdness may flourish.

AND SO…


Back in 2017, internet artist Darius Kazemi (a.k.a. Tiny Subversions) founded a new Mastodon instance: dolphin.town

The rule of Dolphin Town is that users can only post the letter ‘e’.

Some indicative posts:

Eeee ee eeee eee e e e eeee?

E eeeee eee!

And,

[EEEEEE] Eee e eeeee EEeeEee, Eee ee. E, e, Eee!

And also,

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!

It got a mention in Vice magazine.

Sooooo you can join Dolphin Town here and if this is the community that gets you into Mastodon for the first time then I love you already.


ASIDE:

I am well-disposed to dolphins because of that slightly wild period in the 1960s when everyone was convinced that we would be speaking with dolphins in the very near future, and we would be sharing the planet with them as a second human-style sentient species. To this day dolphins look after nuclear sites for various navies. Much effort went into attempting to open lines of cetacean communication, including feeding them LSD, because?, I don’t know because.

One wonderful idea was that of the Dolphin Embassy, proposed by the architect collective Ant Form in 1974 – in an article in Esquire magazine it turns out.

Here’s a history of the idea.

Here’s a collection of architectural sketches. One blueprint shows the deck of a raft on which humans have their media pod, galley, command station and so on, and in the centre is a circular pool, with steps going down to it, and the pool is open to the depths, meaning that dolphins can swim up and appear inside it. So while the human raft sits on and is contained by the ocean, the pool is contained by the raft, and there’s an elegant symmetry to that, a place for a meeting of peers.


ALSO ON MASTODON YOU MIGHT RUN ACROSS THIS:

So another thing on Mastodon is Oulipo.social. You can sign up.

Oulipo (Wikipedia) is a community and writing constraint that was born out of ‘pataphysics in 1960. Its singular law: that which you can say on Dolphin Town, you can’t say in Oulipo.

(A Void is a full book in Oulipo – pretty amazing.)

Ouilipo’s Mastodon community has a matching constraint: look at many posts in this story.

(As it turns out, Darius did Dolphin Town shortly following Oulipo.social, not first. But this arrow of causality is not my point.)


(Btw Oulipo is hard.)


ANYWAY this is when I finally get to the microfolktale!

In 2018, taking advantage of the federated messaging afforded by the Mastodon system, a user from Oulipo.social ventured forth and made overtures to Dolphin Town:

@e salutations! i am a diplomat from oulipo dot social on a diplomatic mission to curtail any bad blood and start working towards a harmonious tomorrow

@e replied: @kit EEEEEEE

Alas!

And the visit quickly came to a bitter end:

@e uhm wowww, okay. is that how you talk to all visiting diplomats? with such profanity? i found my way to this town of dolphins in good faith, ignoring many a warning, hoping to build a concord and this is how you act? in all my days as a spy diplomat, this is a first.

[angrily] good day to you! good day!

(The dolphin response: EEE eee eeeee–eeee-ee-e-eee-e, e, e.)

That it, that’s the whole story.


I love this tiny interaction that occurred 3.5 years ago SO MUCH.

In microcosm it is exactly how difference should encounter difference on the internet.

I don’t mean playfully, really, I mean I’m taking this at face value here. We’re not kidding around, there is no larping online, on the internet no-one knows you’re a dog, I mean, let’s make our assessment of this entirely in-world: it’s an interaction where no common ground was found, fundamentally, followed by a backing-away.

Which is… what should happen? Instead of it contributing to the all-consuming conflagration which is the Culture War?

My take is that detente is possible only because of the self-determination of Mastodon instances. When it’s always on the table to cut ties, you don’t yell in anyone’s face – because they’ll just leave. There’s no point. Counter-intuitively the ability to walk away leads to a greater effort to find ways to stay together.

A LESSON from the cosplaying dolphins and French philosophers. Art eh. Gets you every time.


Also: embassies! Diplomatic missions! Just… visiting!

I would love to see this pattern all over social software.

I want the ability to one Discord server to dispatch an ambassador to a second, with the intention of establishing a shared channel.

I want Disney+ to open an embassy in Netflix and throw parties (uh, exclusive content shared for only a month, let’s say) and vice versa.

There should be a formal program like SETI that attempts to make first contact with the intelligence inside GPT-3 and DALL-E and so on. The UN should be treating every new AI for the next decade as a potential locked-in sentience until proved otherwise.

And, reversing this, Twitter and Facebook and so on should be broken up into federated self-governing communities, each with the ability to walk away. It’s not working, this experiment of putting everyone in the same melting pot without even the hope of getting some distance. Good fences make good neighbours etc.

eeee eeeeee EEEE eeee EEEEEeeeee eee.

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