At the beginning of October, I talked about lapsang souchong, a deep-smoked tea with a peaty flavor. Today, I’m trying something that is called a “spiced lapsang.” Apparently, lapsang souchong was not traditionally deep-smoked. Instead, it was wok-fired over a pine-wood fire, which meant that the resulting tea had a tiny hint of smoke. This lapsang is the result of that traditional process, and it’s delightful.
The smoke is present as a hint of bitterness in the flavor, but the wok-firing brings out all kinds of interesting caramelized flavors in the resulting leaves, and the end result is a kind of melange flavor. The name might give you the impression that this is a tea blend: tea leaves with some spices, for instance. It is not. These are just the natural flavors of the tea leaves.
Moderating the smoke flavor in this tea allows so many other flavors to come out to play, and I love it.
Moderation (In moderation)
A very long time ago, when I was applying to law schools, I wanted to know when I could expect to hear. I googled, and the result I got sent me to a forum for law school applicants run by Princeton Review (the test prep people) where an astonishing number of law school applicants posted information about themselves that, in retrospect, would have made them extremely identifiable to admissions committees, and exchanged information about law school admissions/numbers/who got in where/who was admitting et cetera et cetera. Extremely professional.
Ha ha. Who am I kidding? We were a bunch of wanna be lawyers and it took like nothing for us to get into wide-ranging discussions and arguments. The people on the PR Board (as it was called) formed a community where we cheered for each other, as one does.
(Fun fact: I met Mr. Milan on the PR Board. We got into an argument about college majors. I won. I know this because he admitted it. I was so shocked that someone actually admitted I was right that I figured he was a decent person. I was not wrong.)
Occasionally, particularly at night when the moderators at Princeton Review went home, trolls would post wildly racist and antisemitic stuff which would duly get deleted the next morning.
Over the course of the admissions cycle when I was applying, Princeton Review figured out that it was actually incredibly bad for their brand to occasionally have people be able to go to a website that had their name at the top and horrific racism right underneath. They also struggled with trying to figure out the line between “legitimate discussion” and “horrific racism.” Eventually, they decided that the solution was to limit all discussion to law school admissions only. Everything else would be deleted.
The community that had formed on this board was horrified. Free speech! It matters! How dare they! A group of people ended up duplicating the board as it had existed, on an external site—down to a wayward slash that had showed up as the result of a coding error and had never been corrected. The prior vibrant (with extra trash racism) board disappeared in favor of the new home.
One problem with this new board: nobody was deleting the racism anymore. Or the libel. Or the slander. Or the antisemitism. For a while, I still visited—I knew people there! It was a community! Something something something! But visiting the site meant that you saw subject headings that were a continual visual assault of racist trollery. After a few weeks, I started a law school blog and tiptoed away.
In retrospect, I held out hope for the victory of free speech triumphing in the marketplace way too long.
I’m thinking about this now particularly in the context of Elon Musk buying Twitter, championing “free speech.” I have seen what happens when we let “free speech” triumph on a platform: gradually, the people who can tolerate flinging garbage everywhere will win, because most people, even people who enjoy a community, are not able to tolerate being in a toxic, garbage-filled environment.
All of this brings me sadness. There’s a lot to love about Twitter, namely, so many of the people I interact with, who I learn from, who I admire.
Content moderation is the hardest problem on the internet: making sure that people can express themselves, can talk about things that matter to them, can say things that are wrong (maybe sometimes even harmful) enough to learn from others—but not letting it cross the line where indecency and abuse sink the platform so much that people just don’t want to visit. Initial metrics show astonishing increases in the use of racial slurs in the hours after Musk took over.
I’ve seen this happen before, and it makes me more than a little sad. Community and good conversation are precious.
I don’t think there’s any book of mine that so expresses the concept of making friends and falling in love online as much as Hold Me. Admittedly, this is in large part because most of my books are very much pre-internet.
As someone who is very much an introvert, but very much likes talking, I’ve always loved online communities. I’ve had penpals from the moment such a thing made sense. I’ve written letters, emails, forum posts, blog posts, tweets… You name it.
I have seen platforms come and go, and this book is very much a love letter to relationships between people who rarely, if ever, meet.
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