lean into it

∞ 5 months ago

On Meatspace Chat, Briefly

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Meatspace Chat is like IRC with GIFs of your face, and it’s incredible.


It’s a public chatroom that adds a two-second clip from your webcam to every message you send. It’s deliberately feature-poor and the community it attracted is unlike (and better than) any I’ve seen before.


It’s a small community that centres around a chat room. The chatroom appends a short webcam clip to every message, which encourages creativity, fun, and empathy. It’s an open, fun, and engaging environment reminiscent of all the best communities on the internet, and it’s addictive.


Meatspace Chat is a kind of chat platform. It’s open source, but the current canonical chat room lives at chat.meatspac.es. Aside from all the trappings of a public chatroom, Meatspace Chat:

  • adds a two-second-long GIF from the user’s webcam to every message they send
  • allows any user to hide all messages from any other user
  • has three different rooms, separated by language rather than topic
  • runs entirely in-browser, but has an iOS app
  • forgets and hides all messages older than 10 minutes
  • limits how often messages can be sent and how long they can be


The mechanics of Meatspace matter only to the extent that you can’t feel them. They become invisible very early. The mechanics of Meatspace just allow people to express themselves creatively and openly in a safe and easy-going environment. Meatspace is the best playground any of us could have asked for, and we make full use of it.

I had a thousand different analogies and thoughts about Meatspace Chat, but I just couldn’t string them together into anything coherent. I wanted to say that opening Meatspace for the first time feels like eavesdropping on a conversation between close friends. I really wanted to talk about how much compassion and cooperation there is between all the Meatspace regulars. I could talk for hours about how creative of an environment it is, and how much fun we have. The memes, the GIF chains, the nicknames, the Meatups, the bots, the tours of aquariums, etc. Here’s the crux: Meatspace is just people. Meatspace is great people, and so Meatspace is great.

I wasn’t there in the early days, when Jen and Co. were sorting out the mechanics and making the hard decisions. Whatever the process was, however those decisions were made, however it evolved, Meatspace Chat became the sort of place where a certain kind of people gather; the kind of people I want to gather with. Make no mistake, it’s not for everyone. The combination of all the small mechanics, when put together, made it just the right soup, and just the right people showed up.

Of course I want to come back again and again. Of course I want to come over for dinner on the weekend. Of course I want to fly to New York and meet them by the dozen. Obviously FOMO. These are my people. I feel right and at ease here.

I don’t know what this group of people has in common, it’s not something I can see. We’re all the same, but different. I have my theories on why we flock to Meatspace. I think that adding a clip of every user to the chat creates identity and context, which creates empathy. I think that keeping the format chat-based lets everyone participate at their own pace without being overwhelmed. That muting filters out trolls and non-contributors before they do any damage. That two seconds of GIF are just enough to be creative, and for self-expression. Here’s the best way I can explain it: The people who frequent Meatspace are the ones who already appreciate the values it enforces.

I have even more theories on why I keep coming back to it myself. Some are benign: boredom, desire for self-expression and community, etc. Some are a little darker: the word “vanity” comes to mind, desire for attention might be another. At age 23 I still can’t shake the desire to make other people like me. I won’t be so unkind as to project this onto anyone else. Meatspacers are a diverse bunch and everyone will have their own reasons. More than anything else, I just find that I want to spend time with these people.

Meatspace Chat is open-source. Anyone can run their own copy and maintain their own community and people do. The sky is the limit. I feel neither qualified not compelled to talk about the social mechanics or implication of Meatspace Chat at large. I only want to explain what Meatspace has been to me over the past few weeks. The rest is for essays and books to be written by someone else.

The details don’t matter so much to me. Here is what matters: never in my life have I become so attached to a group of virtual strangers so quickly. Never before have I felt so protective of an online community. Converting strangers to friends in record time is what Meatspace does so well. The great achievement of the platform is the environment it creates. That’s all I really want and need to say about it.


∞ 5 months ago

Measured and Managed

What gets measured gets managed. — Peter Drucker

I saw that quote for the first time in The Four Hour Workweek and it stuck with me ever since. The app I’m looking at right now is called Reporter, and I use it to measure. The management—I’m hoping—will come later.

Background Information

Have you heard of Nicholas Felton? He’s a designer; and one of the reasons he’s well-regarded is his collection of Annual Reports. He meticulously collects information about his life throughout the year, and at the end he compiles it into a gorgeous book. It’s filled with graphs, charts and all kinds of great visualizations of his past year on Earth. He has charted everything from his coffee consumption to the people he spends most time with, to sleep, travel, location, to type of bird eaten. Meticulous and fastidious. A few years ago, he released an app/website called Daytum which was a way to collect this data and chart it. I used it for a while, but it wasnt’t very smooth and it never stuck. Reporter is the latest incarnation of his data gathering process, and it reflects a new approach to the problem of collecting this information.

Daytum was great for tracking progress and accumulation. Beers consumed, movies watched, weight, etc. Reporter is for tracking state. The app asks you a set of questions at a semi-random interval throughout the day. You set up the questions in advance (or use the built-in questions) and quickly answer them a few times a day. By randomizing the interval, the app tries to collect an unbiased view of your life. The app is beautiful and well designed which makes the whole process totally painless.

This is a bit reminiscent of Quantified Self but with a different twist. QS focuses on physical stats like weight, sleep time, running performance, etc. Reporter leans onto ongoing state like current mood, location, surrounding people, etc. I feel like it’s trying to peer into what my day-to-day really looks like. It collects the kind of information that automatic trackers like FitBit can never know, and so complements them perfectly.

Why would I want to do all of this? Firstly, because I think gathering data about yourself is neat and I’d love to put together a year-in-review report at the end of it. That alone makes it worthwhile to me. Secondly, I’m wondering if I can learn anything about my life. Two weeks into it I saw that aside from “full” and “hungry” my most common states are “sleepy” and “agitated”. With a little work I can probably learn all kinds of things. Thirdly, I’m wondering if being aware of what I’m doing will be helpful, the way keeping a food journal helps people eat better.

A picture from the Feltron 2012 report

Using The App

So, having concerned myself with using the app effectively, what do I need to do? The steps are:

  1. Find the right questions.
  2. Settle on how to write answers.
  3. Tweak the frequency.
  4. Build the habit.

Garbage-in garbage-out applies, so choosing the right questions is the most important thing. Having the right data will mean getting the right information later. Trying to figure out what I want to know was too complicated, so I just started with the built-in questions and expanded them when one of the following happened:

  • a question was too specific and had to be split
  • I thought of a statistic I want to correlate with one that exists

For example, “How are you feeling?” was too general, and I split it into “What is your physical state” and “What is your mental state?” Then I became curious about the food I’m eating and how it relates to my health, so I added “What are you consuming?” and continued in that fashion. Here are my current questions:

  • What is your mental state?
  • What is your physical state?
  • What are you consuming?
  • What are you doing?
  • Where are you?
  • Who are you with?

So, I’m hoping for some more awareness of what my mood really is, how I feel most of the time, and where my time goes. I also get some freebies: for example by pressing the awake/asleep toggle I’ll get my sleep times. The app also tracks the weather and can track things like ambient noise, number of photos taken, etc.

Having done that, I just had to answer the questions and pay attention to the quality of the answers. For me, this meant being very specific. For the “feeling” question I have answers like “piqued”, “lucid”, “srs”, etc. The more the better, and the easier the analysis later (once correlated with other questions). Some specific advice:

  1. For “people” questions, have a separate token for “others”, and “alone“. There’s a big difference between hanging out with Joe and Clark vs. hanging out with Joe and Clark and 17 other people. You’re not going to type in everyone’s name. A blank field isn’t listed in the app visualizations, so you wouldn’t see how many times you’re alone until you do post-processing.
  2. Separate questions with overlapping tokens. I separated physical and mental state because “crappy” could be one or the other, not necessarily both.
  3. Be as descriptive as possible. As long as it has meaning for you, it’s all good.

Next up is the frequency. I recommend setting it to 6 and then increasing gradually. My rule of thumb is to never manually add reports, because that would defeat the purpose of random sampling. When I feel that the app is missing information by not asking often enough I crank it. When it becomes too annoying I turn it down. I found 14 to be a good number for me.

Lastly, I had to build the habit. This means always reporting as soon as the app asks for it, and the second is remembering to set sleep mode on and off. That second one is hard. I don’t have any good advice here.


As I said, Reporter complements physical trackers really well, but there’s a third category of data I’d love to keep. At the end of a year I’d love to know all the books I read, movies I watched, and other one-off statistics. Tracking all of these things with Reporter would mean answering 20 questions every time, and leaving most of them blank. I’d love to be able to type in ad-hoc answers that don’t ask me about state but about some milestone. This was the job of Daytum, but as I said before the app itself needed work. I would love (and gladly pay for) a Daytum-like functionality in Reporter (or an updated Daytum).

It’s been a great experiment so far, and I’m eager to clean out all the beginner cruft at the start of March to start tracking in earnest.


∞ 6 months ago


Anyway. So, you wanted to talk about FOMO? What is that?

Oh, I haven’t ranted about FOMO yet? Fear of Missing Out? Ah. So FOMO is the new social plague. Sounds promising already, right? FOMO is a blanket term now, and it’s a shorthand for all the social anxieties caused by social media making us all think that our lives suck. Kind of.

FOMO Version A is a burning need to show up to everything. Every party, every gathering, every event that might end up being the epic night out people talk about for years afterwards. So, FOMO A is hyper-participation.

FOMO Version B is anxiety caused by thinking that everyone else is having more fun than you. All your buddies are out there living it up, and you’re stuck at home ... not living it up, I guess. FOMO B gets a lot of press because Facebook and Twitter make is so much worse. When all you can see is a highlight reel of all your friends’ lives it’s easy to start feeling like you’re the only one not having any fun. There’s actually a fun side-effect of this that makes people check Facebook non-stop because looking at photos feels like participation. Anyway, this isn't what I’m talking about now.

I picked up a raging case of chatroom FOMO last week. I found a little chatroom with about a dozen regulars and I’m having trouble not checking it. This is a whole notch above Facebook/Twitter obsession, which never actually affected me. I got pretty used to being the only person at the table without their smartphone out. Now, suddenly, I caught eFOMO.


FOMO A for a place on the Internet. It’s legitimately tough to keep away. I actually caught myself checking it instead of keeping up an in-person conversation. Addictive behaviour 101. I have zero tolerance for this. So, I spent some time thinking about it, and I have a neat little theory about why it’s so bad. Chatrooms are one: ephemeral and two: spontaneous.

First of all, it’s constantly slipping away from you. Every minute you're not there is a minute of lost opportunity that can’t be found again and caught up with.

Second of all, there’s no schedule. It has a certain ebb and flow and if you’re not there all the time you’ll miss on the accidental magic of the internet. I’m doing something dramatic with my hands right there. It’s like playing slots. I constantly feel like we’re on the verge of something great happening and I just want to put in another coin and keep going. Then it’s 1am and FOMO is replaced by self-loathing, so I go to bed.

Third of all, it feels exclusive. Even if it’s a bigger chatroom it feels like a small personal slice of the internet. Pretty quickly you sprout a sense of ownership and community. It becomes a special little clubhouse.

To make it even worse, online chat is awesome. It’s awesome in that corny way that people thought the internet would revolutionalize everything. You get to hang out with all kinds of interesting people you wouldn’t otherwise know. You get to express yourself in a potentially new way. You get to participate in what’s basically a fun playground for people, where they feel comfortable being creative. it’s almost preying on my desire to be liked and respected by people I like and respect. Desire to fit in, even, which sounds dramatic but feels true enough. Besides, chat rooms mean different things to different people. In the right setting with the right crowd, everyone will find some desire fullfilled. To be heard, to be seen, to be understood, liked, whatever it might be.

Right. I get that. I think a lot of people have found the same thing with different online communities.

Definitely, and I have too, but it’s never been bad for me before. Now I’m trying to train myself to not be so obsessed with it. That's a real thing I have to do try stay sane and productive. Brave new world, etc.

The first thing I try to remember is that at any given moment I’m missing out on thousands of amazing things. It’s a big world out there, and it has a lot to offer. There is no helping this, there’s no fighting this, and by now I’ve accepted this. Missing out on a chatroom is such an easily fixable problem though, that I always want to fix it. So, my job is to convince myself to allow it to be one of the things I’m missing out on.

The second thing is try to and remember that there were good reasons to be doing other things. Reading, listening to music, whatever. All those other activities are just as good, just as valid and just as important and fun for me to do. I shouldn’t let all my time just get annexed like that.

Anyway, I’m actually in the chatroom as I’m typing this. So, clearly I don’t have this figured out enough.

Hahah, okay. That's fine. I get it.

“Fine” probably isn't the right word.

∞ 6 months ago

Last One Ever

That’s the last sofa I’m gonna need. Whatever else happens, I’ve got that sofa problem handled.

— Fight Club

Yeah, I know I’m ostensibly a minimalist, but I still buy stuff, right? It’s not about having nothing it's more about having less and it's really about having the right amount. To me, that also means buying stuff less often. So, when I make purchases, I try to make them for the last time.

Sidebar: I know that this is out of reach for a lot of people, and I respect that and I'm grateful for the fact that I can pull this off, but more on this later.

Some things just don’t change and don’t really need to. They don’t really become outdated (or actually, if you're lucky, they get better with age). For example: umbrellas, razors (if you use safety razors), knives, pots, speakers, wallets, etc. All these things will probably need to be mended or sharpened or oiled but if you take good care of them and they’re sturdy, they should last you your whole life (my mother has a Japanese umbrella that's 30 years old and still kicking).

Then there's the other stuff, that becomes outdated like ... immediately upon purchase. New cars, computers, cellphones, consoles, etc. All this stuff will need to be replaced, and that’s okay. I don’t stress about that, I just accept it.

For things that don’t change, buy the best one possible so that you can enjoy using it hopefully forever. Look for things made of good materials and things with replaceable parts and solid warranties. It'll just save you money and sanity in the long term. Example: I just bought a Jansport backpack for $55 that comes with a lifetime warranty. I absolutely expect it to be the last day-to-day backpack I’ll buy for decades.

Back to the money thing. Not that it matters much, but there are many things I don’t buy, just so I can buy the other things the way I want. Car? No. Console? No. Video games? No, and so on, and like that. Secondly, a lot of the time the best doesn't mean most expensive. $55 is damn cheap for a great backpack. Some cost $400, I fucking hope that one lasts forever, too. Sometimes it’s not about buying the best thing, but about buying a good thing and taking great care of it.

Anyway. Times change, circumstances change, and I might change my mind, but for now this has been really worth the research and the money. If you can, try to buy the last things you’ll ever need.