Letters from Somnolescent August 25, 2023

What Even is Somnolescent?

by mariteaux

I’m standing around at work, tidying the shelves, and something pops into my head: no one has ever been able to make heads or tails of what Somnolescent actually is. We’ve been called a tilde, we’ve been described as a community of Windows 2000 users and MSN Messenger reverse engineers, a group of Furcadia friends, people have said we built toyhou.se, all sorts of wild shit. Those Somnolians, they get around!

Some of this was promulgated by me wanting to make Somnolescent sound spooky and cultlike, so I was intentionally vague describing it to people for the first year or two. We’re almost at five now, though, and whenever we’re mentioned online, folks still try to put us in a box–and they keep getting that box weirdly wrong. I didn’t think we were doing anything all that complicated, but apparently, Somnolescent perplexes people.

Brass tacks

Before I explore what people think Somnolescent is, lemme quickly lay out what it actually is, as dry and plainly as I possibly can:

  • Somnolescent is a group of internet friends who like to tinker with and make shit.
    • We currently have eight folks in our ranks, two of which are on walkabout right now, and we’re hoping to hear from them again soon.
    • I’m the oldest member. I’m only 24. Jake and Connor are the youngest, at 18. As we get older and more independent, we aim to meet up in real life more, because getting off the internet and exploring and drinking together is fun as shit.
    • Somnolescent is politically agnostic. We live in several different countries where the definitions of left, right, commie pinko libtard, and separatist extremist tax-dodger differ dramatically. Politics is all theater and our server is explicitly an oasis away from all the shit in the real world that kills people’s will to live.
  • We do lots of different things.
    • Some of us like old PCs, some of us don’t.
    • Most of us draw to varying levels of dedication. We’re also into other flavors of art; Savannah is working on a webcomic and has sculpted a few figurines in the past, I have stories from the past six years scattered about the place, let alone all my essays and music/game reviews, and Connor and I make music on and off.
    • We all have sites, but they all get built to our different tastes. No one is required to have some 1998 boxy thing (in fact, I’m rather excited that Caby’s been stepping up to do more imagemaps and drawn layouts), it’s just what some of us like.
    • Everyone has something exclusive to them here; Caby‘s our resident 70s and British kids show person, Devon is into graphic design, especially pre-digital graphic design, I like my retro games and my 90s alt-rock stuffs. I was listening to Local H and Helmet earlier this evening.
  • The big thing that unites us is enthusiasm. It might sound a little pretentious, but Somnolescent is a celebration of obsession, the weird things that get stuck in your head and live up there, making you happy as you go about your day.
    • Maybe that’s old tech, but it’s just as often plushies. Maybe more so.
    • My point is that if it makes someone else in the group really happy, we love to see it. Uh, barring obviously objectionable things.
  • There’s a bunch of other values we hold important, but I dunno, man. I made a #rules channel in our Discord as a joke and people post several memes in there a day now. We’re just friends who send each other stupid GIFs of cats. Folks play Roblox together.

Now that I’ve laid out what we really are, here’s some real world examples of the way Somnolescent’s been described and how they baffle me. (This would be a good time to point out that I’m not upset at any of these people, far from it! I thank anyone for their interest in the group, the links back, the shoutouts–I just find it an interesting recurring topic. If anyone’s curious how I find all these people, by the way, Google Search Console lets me know who’s linking to any bit of the site network and from where. I promise I’m not a stalker.)

The retro tech shuffle

That’s why in recent years, I’ve had a lot of respect for people like, uh, I was linking you earlier this week to the Tesserae HTML guide on Somnolescent. Somnolescent is a sort of community of really cool people who are anti-obsolescence, where they, like, a bunch of them have Windows 2000 machines and they’re using MSN Messenger in 2022 because they’ve reversed-engineered, uh, MSN Messenger and built a private server for it. (Really?) Yeah, they’re all using eMachines boxes on CRTs […]

Apparently, “perspective bias” isn’t a term, so I’m gonna coin it now. People have a tendency to only notice the traits they already like when they see something. Maybe they don’t get a lot of time with that thing, maybe they’re just inattentive, but when they go back to describe it to someone, all they can think of is the traits they’re predisposed to liking, to the detriment of all other facets of that thing. That is perspective bias.

Somnolescent is pretty regularly the victim of perspective bias when we attract people from the very broad retro tech sphere. That’s who usually describes us as some flavor of anti-obsolescence old-school Furcadia Windows XP people, something or other. (It helps that I’ve made references to those things on somnol.net, completing the connection in people’s heads.) Perspective bias is understandable; yeah, Somnolescent likes old tech. We have some old PCs knocking around our houses, some of our sites are built to work on old browsers, I’ve written posts about ancient digicams and dcb’s written about Gopher. It’s only part of what we do, though–and not everyone in here is into it in the same way.

I can tell you straight up, Savannah has no interest in old tech, and her site uses flexbox of all things, but she was one of the first four people I called a Somnolian, long before 2018 rolled around. Caby likes the vibes of old tech, she’s drawn iMac G3s in her art and whatnot, but it’s more sort of in that old-school completely uncool Yerf and Neopets kinda way, not in that “throwing a Voodoo card into an eMachines tower” kinda way. I think Jake films on a flip phone occasionally because early YouTube is the intended vibe more than anything.

I think the art and aesthetics angle is far more broadly applicable to the group. We all like a good, old-school scanned in pencil drawing colored digitally from 2002, again, because it looks cool. But the retro tech people (broadly speaking) are not of the artistic persuasion, they’re of the technical persuasion. That’s fine, different strokes and all, but that’s why they describe us as retro tech people–even though we’re only kinda sorta that.

(Also, it was actually Escargot that did all the work reverse-engineering MSN. It’s also not a private server–anyone can make an account, and you should! It’s very fun. They’re working on doing AOL and a few other OSCAR clients now, I think.)

Gee that sure looks important

Here’s the new site of “somnolescent” a cult of furry spergs (all from the UK) who used to be on neocities but they got too “big” for it (this seems to have happened to a lot of people)

The owner also owns a website (toyhou.se where they and the group all post their furry ocs. It keeps going)

I’ve noticed that people tend to take a lot of organization as a sign that something is serious business. Nearly everyone in our group is some flavor of autistic, so we like a good, organized channel list or a network of sites where everything’s in its right place. I think this contributes to the presumption that Somnolescent is some super serious group of elite furry hackers who spend all day reverse-engineering MSNP versions or inventing toyhou.se or something.

Somnolescent’s only sites are the ones on our network. A lot of what you see from us was built to amuse ourselves. The only software we’ve ever written is whatever dcb and Cramble have finished and posted on their Githubs. We’re just hobbyists, but we’re, again, autistic and exacting hobbyists, so people think a lot more of us than we really are. We’d shut off if we could–or actually, I probably wouldn’t.

Even more batshit

[1:25 AM] cheren: somnolescent was mostly just like 3 people with dependency issues fighting for maris attention

Thankfully, this sorta thing is long in the rear view mirror, but I’ve heard a lot over the years about Somnolescent being a cult. Jokingly, we played into it at the start with the “cult robes” stuff or somnol_v1 having a blood red temple on its front page, but it’s kinda crazy how people’s dislike of me convinced them I really had gotten a bunch of random internet people to become cultish followers of mine. I have logs where people speculated that I’m a sociopath, and that I’ve brainwashed my girlfriend into being with me. Again, all rather old now (2019 or so), but it’s still astonishing that it happened at all.

Internet people be crazy, yo. It’s fun looking back on the people that we used to talk to and realizing how many of them are friendless attention whores, sex pests, depraved porn posters–not because we sought out people like that, just because that’s what you get at this point on the internet. And turns out, when you piss those people off, they have a whole ton of strange theories about what your internet friend group is actually for.

It affects us too

I think basically everyone in the group has some flavor of social anxiety. A lot like how people think depression is sadness when it’s really disinterest and tiredness, social anxiety is more worrying about how other people perceive you than it is hiding from all social interaction. I mask it pretty well, but I’ve gotten lied to and shittalked enough times that I’m never very sure how exactly people see me anymore, in some cases, even friends in the group.

Similarly, we’ve had other folks in Somnolescent, either out loud or to themselves, feel isolated or like they don’t fit in. I mentioned two folks on walkabout early in the post; that’s because they didn’t feel like they fit in, so they’re just not in the server at the moment. But–I don’t know what that means. There’s nothing to fit into. We’re doofy spergs. If you like to make stuff and you wanna share your passions with us in great detail and you’re not some sexual deviant or constant politics poster, there’s a spot for you.

“What even is Somnolescent”, as a question, I thought was rhetorical. Apparently even to the Somnolians, the group doesn’t make much sense.

The great experiment

There’s one more element to Somnolescent, one I’ve only really started thinking about recently. Somnolescent is an experiment to see if this kind of group can even still exist at this point. The internet is full of alienated people who don’t know where anything’s going anymore. People who are bombarded with sensory information day in and day out, advertisements, mildly pleasing TV shows and movies, video games that are only relevant for a month or two, constant chat messages, work, school. That’s why I’ve never liked “chill”, because that’s a synonym for detachment, and I don’t like people who prize detachment as a destination.

I can’t think of another group like Somnolescent, one that’s as fiercely dedicated, personal and encouraging, to the people who are in it as it is candid to their faults and where they have to grow to. It’d be easy to make a creative server where we just go “oh that’s nice” at each other; but that’s not Somnolescent. It’d be easy to have a friend group where we watch each other writhe because positivity above all else; but that’s not Somnolescent. It’d be easy to have some inflammatory drama gossip server where the people we’ve designated as lolcows, but not ourselves, get an ass-whooping; but that’s not Somnolescent. We care a lot about each other.

It’s that really delicate balance that has always caused Somnolescent to feel a little unstable–but we all love it. We need it. Even the people who can’t be in the group itself still seem to be orbiting. Somnolescent has a strong pull to it, because it’s the one internet friend group that has done the impossible: actually make stuff, have standards, and be really close. If people started quitting out at this point, I think I’d freeze the network and shut the experiment down.

Tags: Somnolescent,

About mariteaux

Somnolescent's webmaster with way too much to write about and a stack of CDs he'll never finish.

4 comments on "What Even is Somnolescent?"

  • fiveducks says:

    hmmm no I definitely think somnol is actually a group of elite furry hackers after all

  • Sakurina says:

    Hi, I’m the doofus you quoted from the podcast.

    I’ve been checking in on the site every few weeks for the past few years because you’ve always been up to interesting things, so I’m aware that what I said is definitely an oversimplification of what goes on here and that there is much more to somnol than what I portrayed it as in that moment.

    I also clearly misspoke about the Escargot stuff. I knew you weren’t directly responsible for that, and I knew it was public because I already had an account at the time this was recorded. Reading the transcript here, I was pretty shocked at what I had said.

    I have a tremendous amount of respect for everything you do here and I apologize for mischaracterizing you on the show.

    also cammy bring back the game recommendations pls, I loved reading those ;_;

    • mariteaux says:

      It’s all good! I really didn’t want to sound like I was upset or anything; I know that speaking off the cuff and listening to yourself again, you can go “what the hell I sound dumb” (I have a YouTube video of outtakes from a Quake level I built a few years ago, and it was unscripted, and it is so annoying to listen to). Mostly, I found it really amusing! I’m always happy for any interest in what we do (and I know other folks in the group are happy to see people lurking and commenting as well). I’m also really appreciative of the Tesserae shoutout on that episode; Tesserae has been sorely neglected and it’s not particularly exciting to people, so I’ve kinda left it sit. The feedback I’ve gotten on at least Tesserae 2.0 has been universally positive, and I’ve actually used it for my own reference a bunch of times, so always thankful for that. Another thing to get back to…

      Also wild to know that you’re the podcast person! I remember you from Neocities a long while ago, wasn’t sure whatever happened to you. I have been meaning to try a couple episodes of that podcast, actually–I can’t keep up with anything because I’m just constantly making shit half the day and then working the other half, but it does seem like a real interesting show, so again, please don’t take me including you as anything more than me being amused, because it was just an amusing thing.

      And you’re in luck! I’ve actually been rebuilding and reorganizing mari.somnol on a third party site until I can get the design for the new mari.somnol in place. They’re over there now for the time being: http://home.macintosh.garden/~mariteaux/writing/recommendations/games/

      I haven’t been gaming a lot lately, so I haven’t gotten to write more of them (and thanks for reminding me, I gotta port the PS2 reviews over still, I didn’t get to them back when I was moving the others over). There will be more, promise you!

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