Brainworms | 2222

‘Someone has brainworms’, is a recognition that an individual is behaving in a way not congruent with dominant cultural logics.

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I really like when people make β€˜maps’ of online communities. Venkat Rao for example made β€˜The Greater Ribbonfarm Cultural Region’ Map. Depicted are the Culture Wars Swamps located next to the Millennial Marshes. Sister Sarah’s Ritual Convent is one valley over from the alt right hills, off the Boyd Trail. A Narrative Boardwalk runs along the shores of the Ocean of Indeterminacy. 

Another internet famous map is XKCD’s 2010 β€˜Map of Online Communities’. On Munroe’s map, Twitter is an island amidst the sea of opinions. The Data Mines are situated on the Facebook continent not far from the ‘planes of awkward public family interactions’. Both maps are brilliant. 

These maps evoke Tolkien’s map of middle earth. Or any map that’s included in the front matter for fantasy series or novels really.

A map brings a world to life. 

In a missive on maps from her Ribbonfarm Ritual Convent back in 2015, Sarah Perry wrote:

Spatial metaphors, including maps, may make information spaces more internally legible and navigable. Encouraging features analogous to those that enable spatial navigation – paths, edges, nodes, landmarks, and districts – may reduce anxiety and increase competence and meaning when navigating information spaces. Geographic navigation may be regarded as a solved problem (just check your phone) – but information navigation has barely begun.

Twitter, Facebook, Youtube are all virtual places. Information spaces. Mapping them allows better sensing making. We’ve all heard the phrase the map is not the territory, but sometimes territories are themselves maps. 

Recalling the three qualities of a reality from Episode 22-20. Maps represent that which is not apparent. But allow us to think about a place as if it was manifest. Maps of virtual spaces like Rao’s and Munroe’s maps do the opposite. They allow us to psychically navigate the imaginal as if it was apparent.

If you quote unquote β€˜believe’ in a map, you believe in the reality of the things that the map.. maps.

If I was drawing a map of the virtual, I’d draw Twitter inside a dotted line denoting an active PVP zone. I imagine users hunkered down in trenches of the cultural war. Sheltering from explosive memetic ordinance. Meanwhile Influencers shout self improvement affirmations at them from Instagram over the din of battle to shore up combatants’ psychic firewalls.

As soon as you think about the virtual as a non-place. You can begin to map the rules that make up that place. Construct its reality maybe – its digital physics perhaps. 

Twitter’s physics, for example, are a product of its technical elements. The RT button, the 240 character limit, the mechanics of threads, the heart and follow buttons. It’s also follower counts and reply ratios. All these things make up the Virtual non-place that is Twitter. A world you visit upon logging on. Once present there, you are subject to the rules of its reality. Long term exposure to a world’s physics has downstream consequences. Culture.

Whether you think of yourself as a user or a player in Twitter’s game space, you soon become acculturated to its logics. The longer you spend there, the more familiar, and (dare I say) natural its cultural logics become. If you take up residency on Twitter, you end up changed by it. Twitter’s cultural logics take up residency in you.

Just like when you move countries in real life. You eat a place’s food, drink its water, and come under the influence of its culture and customs. You replace your cells over months and years, and eventually as you become embedded in your new environment, it becomes part of you. On social media you not only consume content there, you also produce it. It becomes part of you, just as you become part of it.

After spending too much time in virtual places like the comments on the Daily Mail, 4chan, Tumblr, or Facebook, the virtual logics – the physics, and its downstream effects – become embedded in your own understanding of reality.  

When this happens we colloquially say that a person has brainworms.

I don’t mean to suggest that brainworms are literal psychic parasites controlling people. But I am suggesting that when we say ‘someone has brainworms‘, it’s a recognition that an individual is behaving in a way that is not congruent with the dominant cultural logic and rules of IRL. Someone with brainworms is navigating the real world with a map from the virtual information environment they spend time in. 

From personal experience, interacting with someone poisoned by brainworms feels strange, unsettling, and unnerving. Like I imagine how an Atheist feels around a deeply religious person. A religious world, its physics, metaphysics and culture is completely different, alien even, to that of an Atheist.

Have you ever been to a party, or a barbecue, and spoken to someone who is extremely online in a virtual place that you’re not? It’s alienating. Conversations about livestreamers or TikTokers with millions of followers you’ve never heard of. Weird in-jokes, memes, trends, and language games. A citizen of Twitter, and a resident of TikTok’s have very little in common. 

Both have different types of brainworms. They navigate different realities. 

I don’t mean this in a flippant way. I’m deadly serious. In Episode 22-06 I talked about my aphantasia. I don’t have a mind’s eye. My experience of navigating reality is fundamentally different from others.

To me then, it stands to reason that people with social media brainworms, acquired from spending time in virtual environments, have fundamentally different experiences of reality too. 

As the metaverse comes for us, understanding of our own and other peoples brainworms is going to become ever more important.


The script above is the original script written for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the edit.

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10 responses to “Brainworms | 2222”

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