A Handful Of Words

This blog post was created to be posted as an imgur image, over at this URL.

This is a Benzene molecule. Benzene is used for a whole bunch of things, being a petrochemical, and is a vital part of gasoline. Without getting super chemistry-dork about it, how a molecule is shaped tells us things about how it interacts. When benzene was first studied, it was 1833 and damn if people didn’t have fancy tech to just look at them like we do. The way this thing was formed flummoxed scientists; they knew it had six Carbon molecules, and six Hydrogen molecules, but they couldn’t work out how the molecule was shaped. Probably doesn’t sound meaningful, but knowing how it’s shaped means knowing how it can react with different compounds without just throwing them together in a pot, something that can get a bit explodey.

It took a German scientist, having a nap on a bus to have the sudden spark of imagination, dreaming of a snake eating its own tail, to realise that Benzene was a ring, which would explain how all the pieces interacted. Some stories (that I can’t substantiate) suggest that he got the idea after reading a children’s story about a snake eating its own tail to his nephews, but either way: The ring design, which had single bond, double bond, repeat, was the revelation that transformed our understanding of this chemical.

Further experiments in benzene’s applications were able vault forwards. Nowadays, benzene is used to make nylon, styrofoam and the gasoline people stick in their cars – and our understanding of this chemical was all spurred onwards by an idea, conveyed in a handful of words.

This is a TCP/IP packet. It looks complex, but that’s because of all its boxes and words. What it breaks down to, very simply, is a design that says ‘This is what I am; this is where I am going; this is where I came from; and this is what I have to say.’ Four basic parts, that come together to form the blood cells that flow through the internet’s digital veins. This is not a very complicated thing. You make a few billion of these things in a typical day if you live in most countries that have the infrastructure necessary to make imgur a place you bother to waste time.

TCP/IP was designed, initially, for the US Department of Defense with the requirements that it was reliable, stable, and could connect different systems. The resultant idea, TCP/IP was so stable that it serves its purpose conveying data by almost any means, including carrier pidgeons. Making the second TCP/IP packet was easy. Making the first was an amazing idea, without which, sorry, no internet as we understand it. Maybe something else would have been made, but the point is: This is a single idea that changed the world, and it did so, starting from a handful of words.

This is the US Constitution. Now, I have some problems with the country as a whole, but I’m fairly sure you can accept that your way of life would be very different if that country did not exist and had never existed. The part of America that’s represented by the constitution is the idea of the code that sets the rules not for an object or a device, but for the organisation and operational parameters of a whole blood country. The US constitution was the United States’ MS-DOS – the system whereby it went about creating other systems, the bedrock underpinning everything that the systems rest upon. If these words had not been penned, you wouldn’t have the country that gave rise to the DARPA net, or whose massive industrial arm was able to finance and supply D-Day and the Marshal Plan. Likely no apple products (the kids like those, right?), no Xbox, and probably no basketball either.

The US Constitution is an attempt to create, through ideas, a system. It started out as an attempt to regulate international trade, but spread to include a whole host of points that people these days like to get wrong and like to ardently argue about without really knowing too well. On the other hand, it’s a symbolic reminder that every country, every law, is at its core, part of the idea of civilisation – an idea that holds true at its core, and an idea that this is a small handful of words.

Well, what’s my point?

My point is that you live in this world. The world of TCP/IP, Benzene, constitutions and laws and change and catalysts and you somehow think it doesn’t matter how you choose to use your handful of words?

Words fucking matter. Words HAVE to matter. If words don’t matter, the whole world you live in doesn’t EXIST.

Stop acting like what you say is worthless OR meaningless; words and ideas can change the world in which we live, and I think you’ll find that almost NOTHING ELSE HAS.

Once upon a time, the great author Kurt Vonnegut, in the book Cats Cradle wrote, “We are who we pretend to be; so we should be very careful who we pretend to be.” Those words spilled from the mouth of someone who had spent so long pretending to be an identity he had assumed as part of a masquerade, that they had been trapped in that personality, and had to do things he’d rather not do. The person he pretended to be overtook the person he wanted to be.

The person you choose to act like online is still you. If that person is brave and brash, then you can be that person. If that person is curious and inquisitive, if that person wants to reach out and offer kind words and hope, then you have it in you to be someone’s hero.

If that person is a lying, troll who loves to hurt people, then that person is right down under your skin – and you should be fucking ashamed.

Original images obtained from:
http://www.physics.sfsu.edu/~mugawa/benzene.gif
http://www.learn-networking.com/wp-content/oldimages/ip-header-diagram.jpg
http://cloudfront.bostinno.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/us-constitution.gif
http://static.giantbomb.com/uploads/original/0/5370/1499437-mkdd_giant_banana.jpg
http://practicaltheory.org/images/Vonnegut.jpg
All images were manipulated a little bit in GIMP.

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