Gemini and Desire

A common refrain I hear from Gemini skeptics is "Gemini is nice, but, I wish it had [x feature]." The problem is, no one can agree with X is. For some people, it's in-line text styling or links. For others, inline media. Or more extensive header options, or optional TLS, and so on. I have my own set of features that I wish Gemini has. However, I think appreciating Gemini requires, to some degree, letting go of these desires.

Gemini is unlike other protocols, like HTTP or even Gopher -- these protocols existed explicitly to solve a need, to do something that was formerly impossible: ie, share documents over the internet. Gemini solves no need, it is, as I have written before, "useless"[0]. It's a fundamentally different technology in this way, not something to get something out of, but something to accept "as-is", limitations included.

While Gemini necessarily requires severe constraints in order to achieve its goals (simple client/server implementation, easy to use text format, etc) the nature of those constraints are relatively arbitrary, ie, it could have been made with a different set of features and achieved its own goals. The problem is, there is no way to conclusively argue for which features there are. The Gemini Mailing List[1] has been plagued by endless, meandering discussions about Gemini features. The fundamental problem is that, to some degree, because Gemini's features are to some degree arbitrary, only a BDFL can resolve these issues.

If you go into Gemini expecting a purely rational system in order to achieve specific goals, you will be disappointed. Instead, Gemini, in my view, has to be accepted as it is, in its "flawed" state. Given the limitations of it, what can you do with it? This isn't the approach to technology that we generally have, where we want things to do as much as possible, for computers to be an endlessly expanding expression of our will to power. Gemini prompts us to instead approach technology through another lens: expression and community within constraints. You may find that, despite Gemini's austerity, it remains a platform with enormous potential.

There is a Zen poem:

Watching the moon

at dawn,

solitary, mid-sky,

I knew myself completely:

no part left out.

-Izumi Shikibu

The standard approach people have towards technology is to treat it as things that necessarily need to expand in order to fit our desires. If the current state of the web is broken, it is not merely because it is run by exploitative multinational corporations, but it is run by corporations that exploit our desires: for inclusion, for validation, for attention, for power. Gemini subverts these desires. It is a renunciation, but as in Zen, renunciation is not about misery and austerity, but rather the only path towards freedom, I believe that renouncing the "large web" is a path towards a degree of digital freedom, and that letting go of whatever features we desire Gemini to have is a necessary part of that renunciation. Gemini is not "perfect", you may find a lot of value in approaching it with the mindset of "no part left out".

I don't think this approach is as insane as it may seem, and I invite a wider skepticism towards our approach to the web -- is the web and social media as it is currently constituted really serving our needs? [2] Of course, we need structural changes, we need regulatory changes, and so on, but perhaps we can also approach the issue from a different angle -- saying "no" not just to big tech platforms and values, but also towards the wider approach to technology that got us into this mess: an endless desire for expansion and growth, rather than simplicity, sustainability, and human-scale community.


[0] Gemini is Useless

[1] Gemini mailing list

[2] See: any book or article about big tech written in the last 5 years.