This website,, will live from July 26th through August 30th, 2023 — about 5 weeks total, the average lifespan of a non-refrigerated onion.

Just so you know, onions grow new layers from the inside-out. The oldest layers are on the outside, and the newest on the inside.


In her piece "A drop of love in the cloud" (2018), artist Fei Liu writes about the like/heart button as a flattening affordance of giving affirmation and love. The text-editor provides a much more expressive input.

But even people who can't communicate well because of language barriers can express love through actions, like cooking food. Can we create other "love inputs" that might allow us to "reach across the chasm of a seamless signal"?

What is expressing "real" love or affirmation about? Is it about effort, thoughtfulness, generosity, something else? What might a thoughtful or generous interface feel or behave like?

2 circles containing 3 outlined dots move diagonally in opposite directions. They have just passed one another, and a sequence of ovoid rings trails behind each leading circle.

Vicky Blume

Good love takes on a life of its own, with the potential for exponential growth (like a petri dish full of mold). I imagine if someone quantified and mapped the dialogue we have with loved ones on our phones, it would look like oscillating, exponential growth.






I find that virtual exchanges take on a different (but not inherently less intimate) tone when there are indications that “_______ is typing” or “_______ is online.” The three bouncing dots on iMessage don’t really have an IRL equivalent, because taking the time to think about and respond carefully to someone in a spoken conversation would be considered too “slow” or stilted. The stepwise quality of online messaging is more reminiscent of writing letters—sending one, knowing they’re reading it, anticipating their reply. I think writing is good at reaching “across the chasm of a seamless signal” because it recognizes that the chasm is there (because two people will always need to translate and transmit their signals to one another), while allowing you to take comfort in knowing that the other person is out there, reading your words in their head.

The “_______ is typing” dots are unencumbered by the politics of social media because they’re a passive signifier of attention: the tech does it for you, so it’s an unusually honest message that “_______ is alive and mentally present for you.” It reminds me of the liveliness of editing a website continuously after it’s been published, because there’s evidence of activity, like a small pile of rubble outside of a frenetically active ant colony. Typing and code-tinkering and ant-hill-burrowing are some of the most laborious things I can think of, but connecting and creating and exploring do require a special kind of attention.

Dear Vicky,

I wonder about the real life equivalents of the three dot typing signal. The first thing I thought of was someone running at you while you’re playing tag, almost like they’re typing the word “tag” while chasing you and clicking send once they tag you. I also appreciate conversations where you can see the three dots on someone’s face while they construct a response. The care with which you plan a written response could be applied to in-person conversations: as an experiment, it would be fun to model the pacing of a real life conversation after that of a text conversation. What would that look like? Taking 30 seconds to think before you speak?


6 beams of light emanate where the top points of 2 isosceles pyramids almost meet. The exchange of energy is indicated by a dashed line between the pyramid peaks.

Julia Ma

To me, physical contact is the purest way to communicate love. When I moved to Yale almost four years ago, my mom’s hugs were the thing I missed most, even more than her cooking. Even though I called home every night for the first month of school, those conversations could not compensate for the lack of her embrace.

I remember when I first got on Tumblr, I recognized how users would communicate and care for each other, even though they did not know each other in real life (or even know each other’s real names). Even though it was online, there were genuine friendships. This kind of communication between internet users is probably the closest to “real” love.

made by chibird

To me, clicking a heart icon or a thumbs-up icon comes nowhere close to sending “real” love. I don’t think humans are capable of translating numbers and data into emotions like love. A like on Facebook seems so much more distant and disconnected than a well thought-out Facebook comment. In fact, I think these hearts and thumbs-ups are actually sources of stress and anxiety. I’ve seen many of my friends obsess over the number of likes on their Instagram posts. It is this obsession that makes social media seem so unhealthy.

The pleasure we feel when our content does well does not feel the same as receiving love from our friends and family. Ultimately, I think it is very difficult to convey “real” love on the internet—that is, until we are able to send real and comforting hugs to one another through digital space.

Dear Julia,

Looking just at the number of likes you get can be a stressful process and might do the opposite of what giving a like should do. However, one thing that humanizes these quantified engagements is thinking about what each person who interacts with a post might have been thinking. Seeing a person I haven’t heard from for years like my post makes me feel thought of in a particular way; whenever the inverse situation occurs, I spend some time thinking about memories I have with that person. Though that pales in comparison to in-person reminiscing, the initial point remains to an extent.


An ellipse hovers above a set of 4 rings. The rings are spaced apart evenly, and they undulate like waves along the edge closest to the viewer.

Mengyi Qian

When I was in school, love online was popular among us. I never had an “online relationship,” but I did have an IRL boyfriend. We were in the same school, different class. As our parents were quite strict, we barely had the chance to go out on dates, so text messages became our way of communicating. Expressing ourselves through words only sometimes caused misunderstandings—it was hard to know the other person’s mood or reactions without hearing a tone of voice, or seeing their face.

Personally, I hate being misunderstood. It’s important to me to be able to express my feelings precisely and communicate my messages completely. Expressing love is important to me because without it, I cannot establish a connection and send signals with the people I love.

Long after I left school, I had similar moments of needing to express myself online. Things like emoji helped. We could put an icon in our messages to avoid misunderstanding, adding some fun into the dialogue along the way. Then we started to use those “stickers” for story telling (like memes), sometimes replacing an entire sentence. I always considered emoji and stickers as great inventions of modern life… until some of the emoji, like the smiling face, started to have other meanings. Stickers became so overused that we started to lose the ability to express our love in language.

Emoji and stickers have developed into a whole new modern language. With emoji, 😀 means happy and 😭 means sad. However, human emotion enjoys a much larger, and more nuanced, range. So we start to have faces like 😕🙁☹️ to indicate a degree of sadness precisely. As this language developed, even the simple smiling face 😃 took on different meanings, depending on the context:

with my mom super happy, love you
with strangers or new acquaintances being polite and friendly
with close friends around my age I'm mad at you / you dumb ass

This is actually how language should be: a living, evolving thing that shifts with use. But then, the same question comes up over and over again: How can I accurately express my feelings in this ever-changing language?

Stickers can be more precise as a language because they are more variable and complicated (also, because sometimes texts are already embedded in stickers, combined with moving images). Similar to text language, with stickers there is a right choice and right order to send them in. With this, too, I would use different styles when talking to different people.

When expressing love, there seems to be a series of gradual degrees:

Level 1 a heart emoji
Level 2 a hug/kiss emoji
Level 3 lots of hearts/hugs/kisses (repeating)
Level 4 an image of heart (stylized, beyond default)
Level 5 a still image of a hug/kiss
Level 6 a moving image of a hug/kiss (dynamic)
Level 7 a moving image of other actions (e.g. beating you?) (more personal)

There are so many easier ways to express love in this modern language. I like using stickers, but at the same time I realize we are overusing them. Like currency, this language has been devaluated.

So, where should we place the method of just saying: “I love you”?

Level ? Saying “I love you”

I consider it a higher level compared to all the expressions. We are sending virtual love to anyone with a simple click. As a result, actually saying “I love you” seems to be most sincere, strong, and real.

Dear Mengyi,

I like the idea of “dialects” of emoji coming from this discussion. Though these dialects might not necessarily define themselves in the same way lingual dialects do, cultures of the internet give these symbols connotations that evolve. Certain emoji get used in specific types of memes where suddenly their meaning is associated differently. I’ve noticed this most with the use of emoji in older generations. Stickers do convey more nuanced messages in their depictions, but it’s interesting thinking about the “emoji homonyms” and the ambiguity that can go into using emoji.


A circle, triangle, and line composed of 4 alternating semicircles converge into one. The circle is split in half, the left edge of the triangle fans right from its top point, and the line extends on the right side of the circle.

Herdimas Anggara

When I was in undergrad, I selectively chose which Facebook posts to “like” based on how interesting they were to me personally. In practice, this meant that if one of my peers had just opened a business and invited me to like their page, but I found it to be uninteresting, I would just silently leave it unread. Later on, I asked myself, “Why can’t you be supportive to your friends? Is there any harm in liking their pages?” Sure, they have the potential to clutter my feed, but now with the mute button, I can decide exactly how much attention I want to distribute to them.

Maybe this is only applicable to Facebook, which happens to be the lowest common denominator when it comes to social medium. Facebook friends span all different demographics, from your best friend with whom you always exchange memes to your mother, who randomly likes your posts from back in 2009. Then there’s your work colleague, who harbors a deep-seated hatred against queer people. It becomes exhausting to see groundless anti-LGBT articles pop up on your timeline from people you initially thought were progressive. Because of how omnipresent Facebook can be in people’s lives, it makes me want to apply strict rules in navigating and curating the social media.

All of which leads me to Instagram.

I didn’t have it until I arrived here. Since now I’m a world apart from my close friends, documenting my mundane activities through Instagram is my way of sharing my experiences with them. However, recently I noticed that my new friends at Yale started liking my posts that I had initially curated specifically for my Indonesian friends. Did they do it out of politeness, or out of genuine interest? Either way, it gave me a new insight into how to approach the moral quandary that I laid out in the first paragraph: What if I just like all of my friends’ posts equally? That way, it provides a win-win situation. I don’t have to decide whether their posts immediately sparked my curiosity or not; I can always look at them again later. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m completely turning off my emotions altogether. When I’m genuinely drawn by the content, I usually leave a comment or send a text to the poster. Because of how automated social currency is in the age of social media, expressing interest by engaging with the other person through a written message feels more real for me. It’s akin to, “Hey, I care about what you do/make/feel. I see you, and I hope this bit of text can make your day better!”

Dear Herdimas,

Online social etiquette can be tricky simply because there are more potential instances of interaction online than in person. People don’t always consider the access they have to populating others‘ feeds, so it’s good to be deliberate when choosing whether or not to continue to engage with someone. I find it gratifying to unfriend or unfollow people I am decidedly uninterested in engaging with. But some people have apps for tracking who’s unfollowing them! Recently I was accosted by someone I unfollowed and it reminded me of exactly why it was that I unfollowed them. Follow and like as you please, I say.


A horizontal oval intersects with an oblique spinning whirlpool composed of elongated c’s.

Sunnie Liu

“You probably don’t need to know this, but recently I’ve been kinda sorta developing a decent sized crush on you, and I kinda sorta have no idea what to do about that. I hope telling you isn’t awkward, and I have no intentions to act upon it, but it is a thing that exists,” confessed Justin.

Heartbeat racing faster than a NASCAR driver on the Daytona 500, I started to type out a paragraph on my computer before deleting the overly-revealing message and favoring a short and sweet response instead.

“Thank you for your honesty, and don’t worry: the feelings are mutual 😉,” I replied.

That Facebook Messenger conversation marked the beginning of my first relationship. But that fateful night a week before high school started was the culmination of a summer of maximum teenage angst and pseudo-intellectualism. Our daily long, “deep” conversations over complete sentence Facebook messages with perfect grammar included discussions on the meaning of our existence, the ideal form of governance, my struggle with self harm, and Justin’s grappling with his father’s death. We also posted a series of dark artwork and musings—on everything from humanity’s obsession with rarity to the purpose of emotions to the “real” difference between pessimism and realism—onto our joint Wordpress blog named after our online pen names “Jinlau & Axiom,” which garnered around 140 followers.

Excerpts from “Jinlau & Axiom” Wordpress Blog *

“Crucifixion of the Artist,” Sunnie Liu, August 2013,
posted on the Wordpress blog “Jinlau & Axiom”

Not Depressed; Just Dissatisfied
By Jinlau & Axiom

Nothing has changed.
The situation is still the same.
I’m stuck chained to train tracks,
And it’s coming full speed.
There’s no turning back.
Standing here, I’m not depressed,
Just dissatisfied.
I tried to save myself,
But there was nothing I could do.
The dark side and I will still collide.
I attempted to immerse myself
In society’s version of life.
I spent time with family and friends,
Did my work,
Completed routines.
Again and again.
I participated as some would say
Trying not to waste my days away.
Yet, I continued to feel hollow.
Reality is indeed a tough pill to swallow.
When I feel especially bored,
People ask, “Where’d your smile go?”
They say, “You’ve changed for the worse.”
Of course, I reply, “I’m still the same guy.”
I’m not sad.
I have nothing to be sad about.
My life’s not terrible,
But the emptiness I feel is often unbearable.
Some days I can carry my burdens.
Other times I’m crushed by their weight.
I think to myself what’s so great about life.
Don’t worry though.
I promised I would never find solace in a knife
Or any thing of that kind
Because then I’d have to kill my mind.

* The blog was deleted after Justin and I broke up.

While our relationship only lasted six months and mostly remained online despite the fact that we attended the same high school, I will always remember the virtual haven we created for ourselves—where a lonely goth girl who never missed a Vans Warped Tour and a nihilistic boy who tried to start an ironic “Anti-social Club” bonded over their mutual depression, introversion, and misanthropy on Facebook Messenger and Wordpress.

Ostracized by society—especially by our conservative, traditional Asian American families and Christian private school in Texas—for having eccentric tastes and mental health issues, Justin and I resorted to finding our place within online communities. Outcasts like us may have faced isolation and judgment from the real world but could encounter a sense of belonging in the virtual worlds of Myspace, Tumblr, and Wordpress. On the internet, angsty emo teenagers came across others who “finally understood them,” people who seemed more open to having deep conversations on philosophy, religion, and mental health instead of small talk.

The design of the internet encourages interaction, exploration, and expression through relatable posts, instant messaging, and self-published artwork, providing the perfect concoction for sub-cultures and interpersonal relationships to brew. Armed with the freedom of expression and ability to connect with people from all around the world, outsiders from real life communities could finally find acceptance and empowerment in online safe spaces. However, as the internet perpetually changes with events like the decline of Myspace and the current mass exodus of users from Tumblr, outcasts also must constantly discover new virtual refuges. This challenge proves especially difficult considering humankind’s ever-changing relationship to technology. While Myspace may have served as a perfect virtual haven in the 2000s and Tumblr in the 2010s, as we near the 2020s, a new platform may have to arise to fill in the missing niche.

Dear Sunnie,

We usually take “knowing someone” to mean that we have hung out with them before, or we work together, or we play ping pong together on the weekends. Yet with the advent of the internet, knowing someone can mean we post to the same blog or we both follow each other’s finsta (Fake Instagram). Meeting a person that makes you feel a sense of belonging can occur through either channel—real life or online—but the accessibility of the internet makes it easier to find not just one person who’s likeminded, but a community of them. Though your mode of interaction online might be more limited than seeing someone in person, the sense of belonging is more important at times.


A multidimensional box sits open. Its interior is exposed, revealing a collection of irregular faces that comprise its subdivided surface.

Adam Moftah

In thinking about the internet as a mode of expressing love, I immediately associate it with the idea of the five love languages (words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch). When it comes to in-person interactions, these languages are fairly intuitive to employ and understand, but on the internet they become more nuanced. Something like quality time could manifest through a video chat, for instance, but for some reason that sort of quality time seems to pale in comparison to the quality time of playing a board game with someone. What this then seems to suggest is that there could be different “dialects” of these love languages that get translated through the internet.

One instance of a love language dialect is the process of sending memes, tagging people in posts, and other sorts of similarly specific digital interactions. Liking “Wholesome Birb Memes” and tagging a loved one in a post such as this is an avenue of affection that we don’t completely understand yet. Opening Facebook and seeing a loved one tag you in a post makes you feel thought of in a genuine way; though the act of tagging someone is simple, the longer sequence of a person going through their day, seeing something on their phone or laptop, thinking of you, and then deciding to tag you makes the internet and the associated technology seem less lonely.

I think that there are some parallels here in terms of loneliness, non-loneliness, seeming interconnectedness, and true togetherness. People have always felt lonely and non-lonely, but with things like the internet and cheap data plans, we are able to constantly talk to people, show what we’re doing, and see what others are doing. It feels like we’re all in a special virtual room where we can see portals into each other's lives—but in reality, a lot of us are just in our rooms alone looking at things on our screens. When we get things like tags in posts, we see people talking at us through these portals. Though we’re still alone, it feels less lonely. When we talk to each other online, we can express love through direct conversation, support on posts, and other means of creating connection without being in-person.

I realize that my focus has been on isolation and loneliness instead of love directly, but I think that that’s mainly just a product of how some might relate to love in an increasingly digital life. When I am able to feel loved, and not just cared for, it’s also when I feel the most un-lonely. I think the default state of being on the internet is loneliness, but if we can breach this loneliness with modes of interaction, we are closer to expressing love. Though we might just be seeking a lack of loneliness in in-person interactions as well, the internet offers a unique way to mediate the (more lonely) time we spend away from people.

Dear Adam,

It might be helpful to consider a different perspective on what alone time can be. The time we spend away from people does not necessarily need to have a “more lonely” assignment. Thinking of loneliness as an objective or quantitative measure of time spent with others may lead one to think that being away from people = more loneliness. However, loneliness is not quantitative or objective, and sometimes spending time away from people is important for feeling connected. It can lead to independent reflection and progress, and does not necessarily need to carry a negative connotation.


Beams of light in the formation of an upside-down triangle pierce through the surface of 2 horizontally floating trapezoids.

Vlad Vykhodets

From the standpoint of interfaces, I think love is something that makes us feel less alone as users. It could be a set of features that allows users to communicate, or it could be an interface itself that interacts with the user.

The first one is fairly straightforward: a chat, a comment section, a like button. However, there are many other, perhaps more niche ways, for people to communicate that are still not explored. As an example, when I was product director at Fyrno, a social music discovery app I co-founded in 2016, our goal was to provide more ways for our users to communicate with music. One of the features we came up with is a novelty in notifications: every time a friend likes the same song as you, both of you get notified. We thought this would allow people to get to know each other better through music and could potentially lead to music-related conversations both inside and outside the app. Thus, a process of listening to music or music discovery, which is oftentimes isolated in today’s realm, can become socially engaging and bring affirmation that our music tastes are shared by someone we know.

As for the interfaces, expression of love is still a “Wild West.” Microsoft tried and failed with the infamously annoying Clippy about 20 years ago. Since then, very few thought about personal assistance until the technology and paradigms in HCI caught up and we’ve seen the surge of Siri, Alexa, and chatbots. However, I think that interfaces that in one way or another emulate human interactions (thus both aiding our workflows and keeping us company) are the future of HCI. I have been working on a concept of an AI-aided interface for over a year now, and its possibilities are very exciting. What if your design software would respond to your actions with suggestions on how to improve your design? What if your presentation software would analyze your copy and provide suggestions for the most effective communication?

The newest advancements in AI allow us to bring human interaction experiences and integrate them into digital products. In particular, it can automate tedious processes, provide a responsive workflow that engages with the user, and allow people to achieve better productivity. In my view, the job of an AI assistant is to guide a user and reduce ambiguity of choice. An interface should no longer be just a tool, but become a collaborator. It should simplify decision making and help with productivity tasks, thus communicating to a user that they are not alone.

As with any craft, you can see love and care put into an interface. With the best interfaces, every single detail is thought through. It is always inspiring for me to see when designers who worked on an interface really strived to make my interaction process simpler and more pleasant. It establishes an invisible connection between me, a user, and creators. I think attention to detail and care about the user are the ultimate expressions of love through a design object.

Dear Vlad,

This relates well to a previous entry’s discussion of loneliness in relation to love. I think the overlap between what makes people to feel connected to other people through technology and what makes people feel connected to the technology itself is an interesting thing to examine. Microsoft’s Clippy may have been a somewhat personified/anthropomorphized assistant, but its ineffectiveness made us feel isolated from it. On the other hand, programs that give out quiet dialogue messages that are actually helpful tend to make you feel more cared for, or at least feel more considered. Care, consideration, and love all seem to intersect at this point.


5 lean shards shoot back and forth through an oblique field of lines.

Betty Wang

I am struck by and smitten with the term “love input,” a wholesome way of describing what was once a well-intentioned and meaningful facet of social connection in the digital sphere—one that turns cold, mechanical, empty.

Vectorized, commoditized, infinitely scalable, replicable, abstracted love.

Increasing in ease, in quantity love. Diminishing in value love.

In what other ways can we imagine the giving and receiving of what was already hard to convey, intangible, and complicated in the physical world? Is there no other way to embody all of the nuance of romance, of love, of intimacy, of desire, than the reductive, repetitive motions of selecting a prescribed response, and scrolling past? In college I confessed my love to an english professor during his office hours by talking about how interesting I found it that Sanskrit has 96 words for love—he was doing his PhD in english translation at the time so I thought this was both apt and coy. I thought it was safe to confess this because it was supposed to be his last semester teaching, until he announced a new post-colonial lit class the following semester. I was mortified but I took the class anyway. Lesson learned: I played myself.

But I digress. How can we pour more of ourselves into digital interactions that seem so limiting? Limiting in character limit, limiting in agency. Every second you spend thinking has an opportunity cost of another image seen, another life consumed, another image liked, another life loved. What other ways can we organize relationships on screen? The exchange of emotion? A give and take process. In what ways do the options we have now seem so lacking, so futile, that we must consider alternatives to interactions that no longer hold much weight?

How can we design a world with a different gravity?

At this point I have more questions than answers.

Maybe the only thing I can say with any conviction right now is that providing a limited selection of reactions might make for an abundance of quick, impulsive responses—an immediate indication of engagement—but attempts to capture too much in very little results in the erasure of a certain nature of human emotion: complexity. The reality that you can hold contradictory feelings at once.

In terms of solutions, I have only curiosity: how do we invite effort, thoughtfulness, generosity, but also honesty, compassion, intimacy, and vulnerability into a space devoid of touch, of warmth, of eye contact? Are there ways to simulate safety? Are there ways to design aura into interfaces that can be so easily left, so easily exited—the abandonment of a room that only existed for you, and will always wait for your return?

Dear Betty,

I’m entertained by this anecdote because it feels almost ironic that the point you made was about the quantity of words of love. This ancient, un-digital language seems almost opposite to the limited array of love inputs we have on something like Facebook, for instance. Though on Facebook there are a number of other ways to express love for someone—poking them, love-reacting to their photos, posting on their wall—there still seems to be an insurmountable wall for “true” connection. However, perhaps there are ways for us to climb this wall; or maybe merely trying to climb the wall with someone shrinks the size of the wall in the first place. Perhaps a newly designed system of gravity will change the way we understand walls.


A 22-paneled circle features straight edges and an array of patterns made from lines. The panels are equal in size, and every pattern is unique.

Anna Sagström

Proposals for loving interfaces.

A website that moves closer.

A website that breathes.

A website with a warm temperature, that beams through your fingers.

A website with soft buttons made of clay.

A website with the consistency of a stress relief ball.

A website with a cursor that sends more love the longer you hold it down.

A website that sends messages before they are fully written.

A website that upwraps.

A website that scrolls slower or at the same tempo as your partner’s or friends’. To move and touch at the same tempo and care.

A website that’s designed for lying in bed.

A website that can’t see and can’t listen.

A website that’s rusty but it’s ok.

A website that hymns.

A website that’s your own little shared network.

A website that’s someone else’s music.

A website that’s a video-screening of art for alone dinnertimes.

A website that’s full of (synthetic) down, flowing around.

A website that’s a hand you can hold.

A website that you can tell you got home safe, and that wakes you up in the morning with an image to say how happy it is that you got home safe.

A website that’s a ride in the backseat while someone you love is playing the radio and driving, and you get to fall asleep in the back.

A website that isn’t overly confident but gets nervous too.

A website that scrolls from top left to bottom right, because you want it to, and maybe someone else wants it to, too.

Dear Anna,

Maybe websites can do and be all of these things. Maybe we just need to understand that websites live in a different world with its own languages. We might need to consider new dimensions to see that a website breathes over the course of periodic updates to its homepage, rather than with a respiratory system. Rust accumulates when libraries are updated and old code doesn’t work correctly, but it’s okay! A safe website is one that will remember all of your settings each time you go. A whole world of characteristics for websites to assume through non-linear, non-human trajectories.


5 vertically floating rings form a column. A wide ribbon ripples down from the top of the column, and three starbursts follow its path.

Tommy Huang

Expressing “love” through a digital input certainly is tough. A like, a favorite, whatever—it doesn’t really mean anything anymore. If you’re concerned about actually conveying some amount of love to someone else digitally, it is, to a certain extent, very much about thoughtfulness and about effort. Take, as a very simple example, comments. On the scale of loveliness, comments certainly rank higher than the like button. Why is this? If you’ve ever had the riveting experience of watching someone else browse their Instagram feed (I joke), then you’ve probably seen the glazed-over look in their eyes as they mindlessly double-tap on and scroll through every photo. Although the like button isn’t a very high bar to surpass, comments at the very least require someone to stop and actually engage with whatever content they’re looking at. This sort of increased engagement brings us back to thoughtfulness, effort, and love. If what we’re looking for is a thoughtful interface, then what are the ways in which we can increase real, focused engagement on the web?

While creating personalized physical products was one of the ways that was highlighted in one of the readings, that really isn’t all that efficient for economies of scale. However, we could definitely try to apply that same kind of expressive logic to digital spaces on the web. We want to provide the opportunities to place more thought and care into the ways people can express themselves. Of course, this also relates to the quirky quality of the small web and experimenting with unorthodox interfaces. Maybe these thoughtful and (hopefully) playful interfaces could allow someone to draw on and/or customize each page, and save those customizations for future visits or other people. Or perhaps there are ways to interact with other people who are also looking at the site. Maybe you can send GIFs that begin to populate someone else’s webpage. Or maybe, there can be some kind of collaborative effort for a webpage, a centralized goal of some sort. Something that involves drawing, writing, thinking, or anything that moves beyond a single click can mean that much more. If we want to build a web with more character and more connection, we should experiment with these kinds of interfaces that help people interact with others on the internet in a more meaningful and interesting way.

Dear Tommy,

I think what you say about digital interactions could be applied to in-person interactions as well. What you’ve described seems to be predicated on the relative difference of the interactions. Take, for example, the difference between someone waving at you while walking versus them stopping to have a conversation with you. In the latter, the idea that someone is willing to disrupt their flow for you is flattering. I think a setting where multiple people could disrupt their flows in a collaborative effort online would be really cool because we could see different ways of conveying dedicated time and attention.


A section cut reveals three distinct but connected segments: the first is a straight cut of a straight grain, the second is a curved cut of a curved grain, and the third is a straight cut on a curved grain.

Monica Kim

I spend way too much time scrolling through Instagram, spreading my love: scroll, double tap. Scroll, double tap. Scroll, double tap. A mindless endeavor — I used to spread my love the same way during middle school yearbook signings. “HAGS! Love, Monica.” Even writing out the unabbreviated version of “HAGS” (have a great summer) took much too long. I had dozens of yearbooks to go through. For my favorite people, however, I drew pictures. A unicorn for my best friend; a sloth for my sleepy lab partner; a basketball for my teammate. I had to gleefully hog their yearbooks for a few minutes, but the recipients always laughed at my doodles.

I think it’d be cool to see a “love-input” interface that allows me to send a drawing, even if it’s just a quick and personalized scribble. How awesome would it be if instead of seeing the phrase “25 likes” on my photo, I could see 25 little drawings or hand-written messages? Of course, such an interface would drastically decrease the number of affirmation inputs I give and receive. I don’t have the time or knowledge to give out personalized doodles to all the people who pop up on my Instagram feed—and I don’t imagine that the 171 likers of my most recent photo would care to do the same.

But what does this number mean then? Only that my photo happened to grace the feed of 171 bored scrollers who paused to give me a double tap, worth less than a second and as unlimited in supply as the cup of noodles in my room. I think the amount of effort put into a “love input” speaks to its strength. It means that I stopped in the middle of my hectic schedule and, for however long it took me to create this love input, put you in front of my readings, sleep, Netflix and cup-of-noodle-time, etc etc. The love input can also be thoughtful, generous, and meaningful, but effort comes first. Though I can generously send my friend a free smoothie through the Snackpass app, I feel that it’s still not as powerful a message of love as a handwritten note. And why a handwritten one (as opposed to a text message)? It’s effort, yes, but there’s also the element of personalization and unconventionality. There’s a lot of mixed elements…But for me personally, effort speaks loudest. It means I was worth that much to you.

Dear Monica,

The idea of having handwritten comments as the only option for a website like Instagram or Facebook is intriguing to me. Though for accessibility’s sake it probably wouldn’t happen, I like the idea of a higher barrier of interaction on these websites. We think we understand what 171 likes mean, but what does it really? The 171 people who decided to like the picture had different reasons for doing so, and presumably did not all like the photo the same amount. 171 represents the number of people who decided to break a threshold of interaction. Perhaps because the threshold is un-customizable (Facebook’s reactions don’t really count in my opinion), we view the number as a wash. Higher thresholds of engagement might be the future of some social networking sites.


5 dancing discs interlock: 2 ghost-like and wavy discs stand upright, almost like a dress, 2 diagonal discs intersect them, and 1 upright disc stands in the center.

Harin Jung

There are many kinds of love in the world, but when I think about love, family is the first thing that comes to mind. Expressing love to your family is different from the love reserved for lovers—and more primitive. We all have families, and most of us have loved them blindly since we were young. So why don't we think about “real” love and how to express it through family?

I found an answer to this question in the movie, Lady Bird. The film is about the growth and love of an ordinary teenage girl named Christine, but it centers on her relationship with her mother more so than her crushes or high school relationships (which can seem more important at her age). Growing tired of her boring life, Christine gives herself the new name “Lady Bird.” Her mother hates the name and doesn't understand her lifestyle. Their relationship becomes strained and they shut each other out. We know they love each other, they just express their love differently. Christine decides to leave her family, and she and her mother eventually begin to understand each other by changing the way they communicate. The scene below, at the end of the movie, is a memorable one:

"I actually like the name Christine, Mom."
"I think Lady Bird looks great on you, too.”

How do we realize our love when living apart from each other? Do the ways we express love change? I remember how my mom and I began to communicate after I arrived to New Haven. We did minor things for each other that we’d never done before. When my mom sends me photos of my hometown in Korea blooming with spring flowers, I send back photos of New Haven in the snow or rain. When I send my mom photos of American dishes in New Haven, then she sends me photos of the Korean food that I miss. We mirror each other’s acts of care in order to show our love.

Dear Harin,

I think it’s interesting to see love develop through different circumstances and with different variables. For instance, time and love have an inextricable relationship with each other, and when you begin to add distance, online interactions, and other people, love can morph in funny ways and yield new things. I’ve often find that people, paradoxically, get closer to their families when they move away from them. The banal interactions that flood your relationship typically go away and you’re left with the interactions you choose yourself. When you’re physically with someone, there’s no need to share some of the ordinary parts of your life, but when you’re away from them suddenly, the ordinary aspects of one’s life becomes novel to the other’s. Technology has given us an opportunity to develop love through new variables.


A playground of shapes is defined by two axes, a square base, and a circular top.  A wavy line threads horizontally through two openings in the elongated ellipse and trapezoid that intersect with the floor and ceiling.

Milo Bonacci

One defining difference between digital love and “real” love, I think, is that there are so many more dimensions and nuances in the actual world, whereas in the digital realm these are distilled down to a binary ‘yes/no’ or some variation thereof. There’s a certain vulnerability to expressing love in the real world—however small a gesture it might seem—that is largely absent from the digital world. A reaction to or an expression of love might occur in any number of little ways, to which the responses of others leaves us out on a limb, so to speak. Hearts and thumbs-ups are so easily dispensed that they hardly elicit any sort of reciprocation from others. There are many reasons—simple, complex and varied— for ❤️ing something online. And because of that overly-simplified binary they are all equated the same. For perhaps the more extroverted social media users, a supplemental emoji, comment, re-tweet/post might render some depth into the expression. But even then, the action and reciprocation remains shielded and often superficial.

In the case of Instagram, I wonder if there could be a more extensive set of variables to communicate a reaction and feeling. Instead of heart/no heart, could there be tints and shades of a color to help render the emotional reaction with greater depth? Could you plot your expression of love in a quadrant relative to a variable set of X/Y axes? Multiple responses would eventually lead to a cloud of responses. Always shifting, the collective reaction leaves its own indexical sign. Instead of a simple number of likes, you’d end up with a cluster of dots distributed in a field, or better yet, in a space in time.

When something truly resonates, or causes a visceral reaction, the double tap seems severely limiting. What is the digital equivalent to body language and physical reactions? Maybe these variables can translate into a set of physical changes to a screen to be temporarily experienced by the receiver, helping to bridge the gap between two distant people. By simulating a simultaneous shared parallel experience the virtual gap could shrink. Love after all, is a layering of a complex set of interrelated (and sometimes contradictory) emotions. This variety is its own phenomena in a way—could that be exchanged and translated by means of lightness, darkness, blur, clarity, contrast, saturation, heat, and vibrations? Could these variables become their own form of a gestural language?

Dear Milo,

The ideas you propose about finding ways of diversifying the like/no like binary have interesting implications. I like the idea of having a range of ways to express my emotions: shades of likes, an X-Y axis, perhaps other things. Though that may not solve the issue of people stressing over their post interaction statistics, it does give a way for us to interact more expressively. It seems like expressiveness is the thing that the like/no like binary lacks the most, and inventing new ways to breach the binary would allow us to feel more connected—or, at the very least, allow us to better understand how people are thinking about us.


24 rays of light emanate in a circle.

Minhwan Kim

In the winter of that year, Helsinki's sun stayed up six more hours than in Seoul. I usually had early dinner at around 5 p.m., and after I finished my meal and washed the dishes, I would fall deep into a loneliness that came from nowhere.

Just past 6 p.m. in Helsinki and just past midnight in Seoul.
Two places in different dates and times.

I thought to myself that all the people I loved would already be asleep. And then I deluded myself into believing that I'm all alone in this world. My town Maininkitie 12, where not a single street lamp was lit, seemed to assure my loneliness in the jet-black darkness.

When the thoughts would devour me, I went on Instagram to see which of my friends were online. The pale green dot shining next to the username. Although I wasn't trying to message anyone, the green dot telling me that someone was reachable somehow comforted me.


A few days ago, my friend K wrote a long post on her Instagram Story. K confessed that she has trouble breathing and that her body doesn't feel like hers. She was battling depression. 3 p.m. in New Haven and 4 a.m. in Korea. I deleted the long message I was writing her. I knew that no words could help her. Instead, I turned on the notification for her posts and constantly checked her Instagram Stories. I wanted to let her know that the tiny green dot next to my username and myself were there, and that I was always there for her when she needed someone to talk to. If I could, I wanted my green dot to fill up her entire phone screen.


Green dot.
Brightly shining green dot.
Pale green dot.

After that dark winter day in Helsinki, or after a few days back in the afternoon when I thought of K, I kept thinking of the green dot. Can the tiny green dot act as the lighthouse for each other, lighting up the dark sea? Transcending time, transcending space, but quietly and brightly shining green dot. The warm green dot.

Dear Minhwan,

Your story makes me think a lot about technology's role in making us feel both more lonely but also more connected. Particularly when considering the status of being “online” on apps like Instagram or Facebook. A green dot tells you information about someone—they’re online, they’re on their phone, they’re looking at a screen.

When considering typically very isolating human experiences like depression, finding someone online who is also going through that can make you feel uniquely connected in an otherwise lonely state of being. Conversely, feelings of love and friendship, when accompanied by solely a green dot but no other interaction can serve to make you feel isolated and alone.

Your story sheds light to something that sits in the middle of all of this. There’s no interaction, in fact there’s a redacted draft of a message. However, there is unity—perhaps commiseration—in the green dots. We’re far apart, we’re both feeling difficult feelings but knowing we’re both there, and there in that moment, fills us with uniquely technological sense of togetherness. We’re able to turn notifications on, and be live and present in each other’s lives, whether we are in the same timezone, or same headspace.


2 starbursts shine in a house made from felt. 1 peeks through an arched opening in the wall, and the other beams above like a star atop a tree.

Laurel Schwulst

Last year, I tweeted about an imaginary device:

“my fantasy is giving my friends a small wooden box where inside you can see a green light. i’ll tell them to place it somewhere inside their homes. when i’ve clocked into my room, the green light goes on. they can tell i’m at home. when i leave my room, the green light goes off”

In other words, my friends will easily be able to tell (because my light is on inside the wooden box) that I’m home, safe in my room. What I’m doing there is besides the point.

Knowing when I’m in my room is quite personal information… but it’s also abstracted enough to allow some imagination from my friends… they might think, “I’m glad Laurel is home, in her room. What is she up to in her room?” Most of the time I’ll be sleeping.

But since I’m only giving these boxes to my good friends, maybe it provides some context that’s like texture... for instance, if I am chatting online with my friend, this friend can now picture me more accurately—at peace in my room.


Recently I realized an extended fantasy. Instead of just a single light representing one person, I want a small row of lights, one for each of my friends. Each light would be a different color, symbolizing each friend. I could picture these small lights near the entrance to my house, near the key rack, so that every time I come or go, I can check where my friends are at.

Similar locating friends or family devices have been described in fiction, like in Harry Potter... I’m remembering a clock in the Weasley household whose multiple clock hands (one for each family member) spin to show each person’s whereabouts (home, school, work, traveling, etc.)

While clock makes some sense, especially within the world of Harry Potter, I prefer light... I like thinking about light as a symbol of friendship.

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis describes…

“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole person into activity; I want other lights other than my own to show all my friend’s facets...”

In technological devices, usually light (like on a computer or a wifi router) means we’re powered ON and connected to the greater network. But what if we started using light as a symbol for the individual human instead?

I imagine how nice it would be to see my friends’ lights turning on. Maybe earlier that day we had all hung out somewhere together in the city, and somehow I returned home before all my friends. I’d be excited to see my people returning safely home, one by one, my row of lights gradually all turning from off to on.


I wanted to end with a practice, which is actually more of an aspirational practice for me, as it's not always easy to do even though it's quite simple. I learned it from a very good friend:

Let your friends know when you’re thinking about them.

So, whenever I fondly recall a friend, or remember something particularly special with them... I try to let them know absolutely as soon as possible. I tell myself it doesn’t need to be a long or detailed message (which I might feel compelled to write, given the distance or time since last communication that separates us), but instead a short, simple one. Simple, present, and shining... like the "on" and "off" of a light.

Maybe it’s like my friend’s light shined on in my life, and I wanted to make sure my friend had a chance to experience the reflection.

Love is when someone takes time to tell you who you are

... to reflect your light.

A wavy wall has 2 round cutouts. A light shines from behind one, and a thin spiraling slide exits through the other.

Jessica Flemming

Just the other day I opened my eyes after hitting the snooze button ten times and heard the small voice of healthy reason whisper do not check your phone.

But alas, my alarm is connected to my phone. So in-between unlocking passwords and silencing an automated good morning, that whisper of reason was pushed aside and the emails were checked, the texts were read, Instagram was opened. I’d been awake maybe five minutes.

I’ve moved Instagram to the solitary confinement of four home pages over in an attempt to complicate my habitual access. But four pages fly quickly now.

My aversion to social media grows over time with a desire to return to an interactive webspace with less opinions, less awareness of traffic.

And yet, Instagram is the handheld list that keeps me loosely connected with hundreds of people I’ve met over the years. There are times when I’ll scour through friends, trying to justify reasons to thin the flock. That’s when I realize I actually know these people. I refuse to forget them. Like a hoarder, I’ve collected people as memories, using Instagram as an interactive address book that maybe-not-so-algorithmically-at-random allows me to enter their curated present for a second.

It is on this morning, through a post, that I learn an old coworker has completed his final round of chemotherapy.

I had no idea he was sick.

He is young, mid-thirties. A talented poet who has lived a life I could never imagine: hopping trains, living in abandoned homes, treating this country and each day as an adventure. We both somehow ended up working at a luxury skincare store after I graduated college. At the time he was living in a semi-reconverted Uhaul truck with his partner in Oakland and would commute each morning to the store, bathe in the sink and cover himself with hundreds of dollars of sweet smelling creams and sprays.

He is remarkably eloquent. We’d watch the light shift alone together in the store perched atop one of the wealthiest neighborhoods of San Francisco, waiting to sell lotion. As he was my only coworker, we became close quickly, bonding over the total absurdity of our situation as artist-turned-retail consultants, washing the hands of SF’s creative and technological elite (to simulate how great the products would work on their face).

I had lost touch with him. I have still lost touch with him. To learn this news about such an intense chapter of his life left me hanging in a realm of doubt. I should reach out to him, I should say something…and the words keep tumbling out as “sorry,” “I’m so sorry,” but I know that these were not the words I meant to say. What I wanted to say is how much he means to me, even in this lapse of years where our present has gone on in separate directions. How, through the brief updates Instagram has allotted me, I’ve kept him in my subconscious, perhaps, still in that room watching the light shift across Fillmore street.

But I didn’t say any of these things. I “liked” three of his photos and closed my phone. The conversation is still clinging to me, trying to find the best way to manifest itself. A message will come eventually, right? Though I am constantly reminded that time refuses to wait.

It brings me to the question of the expression of love, and how these new social realms demand similar but different rules and responses within the human contemporary. It is an anxious time. My individual anxieties manifest themselves at different degrees, but I’ve noticed a general, universal disconnect alongside this new hyper-connectivity. Less phone calls, less letters, less physicality in the way we engage with one another. To talk on the phone is a leveling up of relationship intensity. To leave the direct message inbox for an actual phone number text is another example.

Intimacy shifts alongside attention span. The instant gratification–or alleviation–of today’s social networking systems often override the physical presence. While watching a film with friends I realize everyone’s staring at their phones, and I’m alone with the movie.

When I liked my old coworker’s photo, it was not a like, but an acknowledgement. I would have preferred a touch on the shoulder, a hug, the gall to say something–but the feeling of acting on the public stage of a comment section froze me up. In the past it would have been a greeting card, perhaps. A quiet, private moment requiring a name written, a stamp, an envelope–some kind of energy more than the pressing of a buttonless button.

There are subtle ways in which we press those hearts, thumbs up or down: passive aggressively, or with sexual interest, genuine concern, flirtation, admiration, attention…with fear, anticipation, joy or total mindlessness.

I am wondering if it’s even possible to create a space where narcissism doesn’t reign supreme. Wondering if this time in history is any different, or if we’ve just exploited or amplified those human qualities that were there already.

This question of sharing love within the internet coincides with a need to distance myself from its debilitating ease. How do I use the internet mindfully?

But more importantly, I need to send my friend a message saying I care about him. That he is in my thoughts.

Dear Jessica,

Your response was really quite insightful and made me think about all of the people who I wanted to reach out to but didn’t. This experience—finding out some big detail about someone’s life that was a result of another big detail from a few years ago that you didn’t even know about in the first place—emphasizes how anonymous our interactions on the internet can be. A like can mean a hug, a show of support, or an indication of interest, but each of these things gets homogenized into a single reaction. We’ve gotten used to likes as the default social interaction online, but whenever there is a norm, any deviation from it is noticed. Reaching out after you like someone’s post makes them realize that you cared enough to disrupt the monotonous flow of social media consumption and craft something unique and expressive. Well wishes for that friend!


2 upright ovals composed from straight line segments overlap. 2 creased pieces of paper fold over the top and bottom of the ovals from behind.

David Knowles

Love is hard. Remember the line from Jerry Maguire? Not “show me the money” but the other one: “You complete me.” It’s nonsense. Love doesn’t make a person whole. It undermines ones stability and understanding of oneself. It tortures you and causes you to feel all sorts of volatile emotions. You suddenly can’t live without someone, and that someone has the power to induce total psychosis. That’s what makes love so powerful: it’s hard.

The like/love/emotion button is too easy. You just press it. It’s nothing like love! These easy responses are the emotional equivalent of currency inflation. Print too much money and it becomes worthless. Like too much stuff and, well, what does it even mean any more? We’re at the point where we can wallpaper our apartments with likes, just like they did with cash in Weimar-era Germany.

So how to create an interface that communicates both the insecurity and instability involved in feelings of love, and the value that love can bring to life? We need to embrace a more expansive digital language that encompasses the whole range of expressive possibilities offered by current technology. This means developing a new grammar of tactile gestures—something beyond the single click. We can already look to the drawing surfaces available in iMessage for a hint of where things are headed. Imagine something similar to the like button that required you to play a Bach sonata on the surface of your screen? Something that required effort and skill to communicate love or appreciation. Maybe not as much effort as actual love. But at least a little bit.

Dear David,

The idea of effort or expressiveness through online interactions seems like a common theme among these responses. I really like the idea of a unique, and maybe challenging, way to express love or emotions online. It is difficult to create an interface that is highly accessible, yet open enough to invite creation and expression. Though this may not be quite sufficient, perhaps even something as simple as being able to give two reactions or a string of reactions to a post would allow us to convey things more precisely. I do appreciate the idea of a challenging way to express love to someone in light of all the ways tech companies have been trying to streamline that for us.


Clouds flow out of a funnel made from oval rings.

Taichi Aritomo

One aspect of love is the knowledge that some parts of my memory are kept with other people, and, in turn, parts of theirs are kept with me. With love, we're running the risk of forgetting what or where our own memories are. But we're also trusting that we can put them back together one day, even if they don't turn out perfectly accurate. In this way, love can make a kind of cloud storage that's slow and forgetful, but subjective and surprising.

Last week, on the night before me and HJ got married, they made shabu shabu, and we ate it standing over the kitchen stove. I wanted to take a picture of HJ's silly, proud grin, but my phone was broken. I tried to save the picture in my head—looking at the kozara of ponzu, the gray linoleum counter, the white bits of fat bouncing around in the boiling soup. Maybe my attempt to save a mental picture shows how much I'm trained to digital memory. I could have also noted the tanginess of the ponzu that slowly diluted, the pain in my feet after a busy day, the dull ringing of worry for whether the bouquets we were making later would turn out alright. HJ will remember different things--maybe about the smells, colors, the heat--so that our little thought-bubble-clouds overlap slightly and diverge like a venn diagram. I think of the parts that don't overlap as the parts each of us keeps for the other.

On the digital cloud, the parts that overlap in our collective memory are made to be as large as possible. To do this, the cloud sends love data through pipelines, duplicating and distributing it across multiple servers around the world to guarantee immediate and lossless retrieval. Photos, chat logs, and email threads of the past are preserved by default, and the process of forgetting doesn't start until I delete a file or account. I don't need to remember anything for anyone, and no one has to remember anything for me. Looking through an ever-growing past on the cloud is fun, but I wonder if I've been depending too much on the automatic memory of digital love. It could be nice to try to remember love more on my own, or split it between me and others.

I think that handwriting a letter forces me to do this, because I'm sending away the only copy of my message. I can't look at it again. My friend holds onto that part of my memory, and if she replies, I'll hold onto hers. Similarly, maybe the love input I want is a button that says "Send the only one". If I could send a photo or a text or a sound while deleting my own copy, I might treat those signals more preciously. Maybe I'd even feel myself spread out into the tinier cloud between every two people.



Voice travels even when bodies don’t.
March 26, 2020

I wrote that in my journal a little over a week after we went into self-isolation in Germany. I was in my one-room apartment with my boyfriend, three windows looking out into a closed courtyard, two pigeons nesting in the courtyard tree, and the inchoate realization that this was now my entire world.

It was hard, for some reason, to keep up with text messages from friends and family; to reply to, or even open, work emails. Instagram was overwhelming, the food photos had tripled. Instead, I took acute comfort in the intimacy and the immediacy of hearing a friend’s voice and sending my own.

I liked Whatsapp best for voice memo-ing, because you could record inside the app, and if you let them stack up in the chat, you could play them all back at once like a single conversation. Talking over the phone during a long elastic indoor weekend felt welcomingly familiar, nostalgic even, but voice memos you could send at your leisure, like a conversation you could pick up and put down. You could mull your reply, send the sounds of your surroundings. You could listen to your friends through your headphones on solitary walks through the city. We couldn’t touch, but at least we could whisper in each other’s ear.

Small joys: Leaving home without a wallet
April 4, 2020

As the weeks went on, I saw a lot of different variations on this kind of whisper network. Sharing recipes and creating collaborative cookbooks; posts offering to send print-outs, letters, and sourdough starters through the mail. I saw Instagram stories with people offering their neighbors vegetables from their garden, magnolia tree branches from their yard, and excess baked goods from their kitchen. They’d leave them in front of their houses for contactless pickup, forming a network I’d later hear lovingly referred to as the “front porch economy.” These actions and tactics felt extraordinary and also perfectly mundane. They were our way of touching one another without getting near each other. They all seemed like answers to the same question. How can you make someone feel love from a distance?

(the world (in waves))
March 21, 2020

Layer after layer, the entries in the Internet Onion also answer that question. Long before the pandemic, on April 4, 2018, Fei Liu wrote, “I have always looked to find love online. … This list can help you reach across the chasm of a seamless signal.” From Fei’s writing, Laurel prompted her class, “What are other love inputs that might allow us to ‘reach across the chasm of a seamless signal’?” When Laurel asked me to edit the Internet Onion, which we were then referring to as the “layered webzine,” on April 5, 2019, she sent me her class’s responses. Everyone’s answers were that we could, that we had to, most using their friends and families as the reasons why. Some wrote about living far away from their friends and family, a few wrote of only hearing of a friend’s struggle, or recovery, through the internet. The question of sending, or expressing love brought up a variety of intimate, inquisitive, beautiful replies. The consensus was that love was difficult and awesome and too nuanced and complex to be flattened into a “like” button. We added another layer to the project, anointing Adam the role of love counselor, with the singular duty of responding to the responses. He ended every missive with a <3.

New ways of marking time…
March 31, 2020

Sometimes I think that we can show love by just co-opting the technology we have. That no matter its intended use, you can take care to use it in whatever way that serves you and serves others. I can use the same app I use to record interviews for work to send my voice—reading a poem, or recounting my day, or wondering aloud—to a friend. We can choose to write a comment or a DM over a like. We can monitor each others’ well-being through their posts, use their online activity as a “lighthouse.” We can form entirely new relationships in digital spaces, send photos across time zones, check in on each other, reject the cloud as a collective memory, hijack Instagram to offer people things from our front porches. But what I love about the pieces that were sent to me as I edited the Internet Onion is that they reminded me that we aren’t limited to the things we already have. We can make new technologies, too, ones with those intentions already built into them. Lights that alert our friends of our presence. Drawings instead of text comments. “A website that unwraps. A website that hymns.” One that springs to life, accumulates in layers, makes the sounds an onion makes. One that eventually rots and dies, and by that logic, also lives.

…sending some light.
April 2, 2020

So you know, this website will die. It’s an onion, and the shelf life of a non-refrigerated onion is about 5 weeks, no matter how much love and attention and care you give it. The good news is that onions are perennial, so this one will be back online this time next year. Who knows what will be going on then, what new things will arise to keep us apart, and what new inventive ways we’ll devise to stay together. In the meantime, we put together a collection of Internet Onion excerpts, in the hopes that these fragments, dislodged and decontextualized, will layer with other things to take on new life.

— Meg Miller, Editor


( this layer has intentionally been left blank )



This year, the theme continues.

It's basically just a bunch of people musing on the possibility of expressing love online, how love exists online, things like this.

A pair of circles sit diagonally from one another on the edge of a large circle. 1 out of the 2 perimeter circles is both in front of and behind the main circle.

Evelyn Bi

To me, real love involves sustainability. As someone who feels deeply and is often swept up by beautiful ideas, I’ve always wanted to be generous with my passion. But as I grow older, I’m beginning to recognize that my sparkling, effusive, to-the-ends-of-the-earth romantic idea of love springs from an exhaustible source, and is not very practical (to give or to receive). So I’d like to introduce a question that guided me in re-examining how I can care for others by caring for myself:

“How do you take a walk with someone on the Internet?”

Leisurely walks are recreational (the word “recreation” is defined as activity done for enjoyment when one is not working). Every evening I go on a walk with my parents and we usually walk the same route in our neighborhood. I find that while exploring new places can be exciting, there’s something about regularly visiting and moving through familiar spaces that helps me to let go of whatever I was working on for the day and recenter, like a casual check-in with a friend.

In this routine-ness my mind is free to wander and simply take in what’s around me: a white-bellied squirrel digging for secret treasures in the earth, gentle winds carrying the scent of honeysuckle from a neighbor’s garden, a pile of wood boards near the sidewalk left over from a finished project. At the end of these walks I always feel a little lighter. I’ve walked past so many things, but am only responsible for myself and my enjoyment. A walk online could feel similar — letting go of judgment and of the urge to participate so as to not miss out, and instead observing things without expectation.

When we do choose to engage with something, how can we engage in a mindful way? To take a walk with someone is to accompany them (the word "accompany” is defined as being present or occurring at the same time as something). It’s easy to see an impressive post and fall into comparison—and likes, comments, and followers feel definitive because inflexible interfaces do not allow for human nuance. So then, how can we approach social media with the perspective that it is a tool, and that the things we do with it can be as miraculous, clumsy, precise, and accidental as making arts and crafts with unfamiliar materials in a workshop?

I think that expressing real love on the Internet starts by taking care of the perspectives that make up our online practice in order to be present with what/who we encounter, to read between the lines of digital clutter, and reach the human behind the other screen. Maybe the truest way to express love on the Internet mimics things that can only be done in real life. Getting to know a person slowly without imposed expectations of what they should be like, of how they should show up for you; accepting them as they change and grow, turning to-the-ends-of-the-earth into for-the-long-run, or for-however-long-I’m-meant-to-be-with-you. It is important to learn how to walk mindfully. The truest and most sustainable outward-flowing love comes from an overflow of love for yourself.

dear Evelyn;

i relate to what you say about loving in big deep ways from the most exhaustible places. i haven’t mastered the art of loving sustainably, with the exception of my friends, the closest of whom have been in my life for a very long time. i like friendships because they’re largely anticlimactic. there is no end-goal, no steps to climb, no one perfect process. it’s just about wanting to hang out. it is clunky, it ebbs and flows, and it tends to be a more generous attachment for me than romantic or familial love. so for this reason i really like what you’ve written at the end about something that sounds more friendly than romantic—romance is volatile (though i do love that part of it, sometimes), familial love is rigid, but platonic love is flexible, slippery, and open. this sounds like a generous way to approach love online.


1 large filled circle has an empty cutout in its center. A smaller version of the circle-cutout combo is centered on the right perimeter, with its fill and empty states reversed.

Jaakko Pallasvuo

This summer I finally managed to watch You’ve Got Mail. Pandemic stress has ruined my attention span, so I had to watch the film in 15 minute fragments over the course of several days.

The way Tom Hanks's millionaire character crushed Meg Ryan's character's family business and then deceived her online was surprisingly bleak as a subject for a “romantic comedy.”

Still, there was something appealing about the way they acted out writing emails to each other. The way that writing emails was, in this film released in 1998, still a novelty, a coy erotic thrill, and a chance to be honest and true precisely because of one's anonymity.

The characters in the film can't stand each other IRL, but are at the same time falling in love as usernames, as bodies of text. Roland Barthes died 18 years before the film’s release. What would he have made of it?

Someone posted a picture on Twitter of some book, and the epigraph included a sentence from Barthes, something that would be perfect to include here, but I cannot find the image when I look for it, I can't remember who posted it, I remember the writer but I can't find a pdf of the book and I don't want to buy it just to read that sentence from Barthes again. I find the original text by Barthes, but I can't find the thing I wanted to quote and I begin to doubt my memory, and reality itself. Being online is foggy and frustrating and scary and I'm tired. I could not fall in love here.

In You’ve Got Mail, the Internet is different: the characters shut out the noise of their lives when they approach the screen, their inbox. It is a place of concentration and calm, of introspection and truth. Someone is waiting for their message in the night, closer than they think.

The ending of the film is something of an anti-climax. Tom Hanks's character comes to meet Meg Ryan's character in a park. Meg Ryan realizes that these two men, the one online and the one offline, are the same person. There are tears in her eyes. I wanted it to be you, she says.

The credits roll and I wonder what will happen to the Internet now that they've found each other. What will happen to the erotics of writing? They've been so bad at telling the truth to each other's faces. Has their embrace now closed the one channel of true communication that existed between them? Is there romance without distance?

I realize I can't give up and I scroll twitter until I find the quote I needed:

“Unless for some perverts the sentence is a body?” – Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text (1973)

dear Jaakko;

thinking a lot about the internet as fantasy as foundation for reality. moving toward desire, away from practicality, for the sake of something ‘real.’ i think it’s obvious that both of their presented selves are equally real—though trying to integrate them sounds like it might be in need of therapeutic guidance…

You’ve Got Mail is sort of like a spiral; moving toward the center in order to re-approach the edges. i think about how the anonymous, slow internet rendered a sort of purity in their disembodied exchange. it’s almost like love as ‘through the looking glass;’ thinking about Alice, through to the Other Side, needing a mirror to read backwards poetry. for Tom & Meg, it’s like a machination of intimacy, of eroticism, rendering them backwards and bodyless, so as to function as clear and true. thinking about this makes me exhausted; is exhaustion a function, or malfunction, of love? i’m through the looking glass now… dreaming of an anonymous slow internet in the interim.


2 concentric rings surround an empty circle which hovers just above the center of a small filled circle.

Shiraz Abdullahi Gallab

Until a few years ago, I thought that love had to hurt to be true. If it didn’t hurt, I didn’t care, and if I didn’t care, I didn’t feel it. A lot of this came from the rocky foundation that was my childhood. My family fled Sudan two months after I was born, and my parents had no clue when or if we would live there again. To this day, and especially today, my mom dreams of being based in Omdurman — of being native, of being happier, of being welcomed, of being home. The rest of us prefer life in the States, but that preference tends to waver depending on what’s going on in this country.

My parents’ form of love was blunt, different, and unyielding. Like most (if not all) foreign-born parents, they were hazed by white society, and as a reflex, they tried to protect us from the discriminatory treatment that they faced while also priming us for the unavoidable. Loving and learning went hand-in-hand in our household. We were surrounded by the uncertainty of minority and immigrant status, and we taught each other how to belong in the United States.

A lot of what we learned was not life-or-death: we deciphered idiomatic expressions, discovered that salami is pork, and agreed that the Ovaltine sold here was not only different but gross. We also learned to navigate the education system, apply for naturalization, and respond to racist comments that were made in the playground (and elsewhere). Everything turned out to be a lesson, and by the time I was in college, I developed a tough exterior that reinforced all of what I had learned. As I reflect, a little older, I realize that the Teflon left little room for a girl who just wanted to feel. I guess I still believed in love, but I didn’t know how to let it believe in me.


  1. A powerful love input results in an output.
  2. The gesture is reciprocated or otherwise reflected.
  3. Not symmetrical, but tending to a peculiar, reliable rhythm.
  4. Both the input and output must be revealing and true.
  5. Both parties must be willing to trip and fall.


I’m sitting in my bedroom, giving attention to the air conditioner’s hums. I’m thinking about love. I bought silver dollar eucalyptus yesterday, and it’s sprinkled throughout my apartment, and the leaves appear to be waving. Earlier this year, I wrote something silly on Valentine’s Day while thinking of my crush: “steps 1 thru 3 are to gaze with courage and clumsy and recourse.” I just took a big sip of sparkling wine, and I’m laughing at myself. I need to take a shower. It was a humid and hot day, and I don’t smell great. I want to arrive at a point or draw some sort of conclusion, but I think I’ll leave this here.


“Living as we do in a culture of domination, to truly choose to love is heroic.” — bell hooks

dear Shiraz;

your writing makes me think about love languages. i know it’s pop science, but what you said about input and output, gestures and reciprocity, makes me think about the performance of love. love languages as love as an action; ways to perform. language as a happening. reading your writing, it’s clear to me that the 5 Love Languages (tm) don’t account for the kind of love performance that you talk about from your childhood; what it means to teach as a form of love. to pass on knowledge, to teach about pain, to teach about these dual worlds—one which is physically in front of us, and one which both holds a(nother) distant home close, and clarifies what the world in front of us intentionally excludes or misuses so as to uphold the narrative of an Other. in this language, love is hard, and it hurts. how could it not?

i listened to the bell hooks interview that the quote you shared is from. something about what she said about love as “diverse ways of knowing” made me think so much about your words— “to gaze with courage and and clumsy and recourse.” i’ve sat with these three words for the last few days and it tugged at something very tender in me. courage and clumsy, through what i picture as the batting of eyelashes…


2 empty circles are strung onto an open c-shaped ring. A black circle with a cutout lies in the center.

Aidan Quinlan


I’ve spent most of my (online) life defending myself from love; distancing myself from love; moving myself to the edge away from love (as if love were a radiating disc); dissolving myself in the periphery. At the center of the disc is the terror of love. At the center is the paradoxically exposed core, a vulnerable singularity punishing itself and being punished by the dwellers of the edge.

The edge, I decided, was safer. From the edge, I can only see the arguments against love. I’ve been content to observe from a distance, watching love as it manifests in the comments section beneath an Aphex Twin fan video. Watching love bloom quickly, profoundly during a Donkey Kong 64 livestream. Even through my many shells, I can feel the warm winds from these spaces. But I know that the gusts are brief and subject to greater patterns of weather. I have watched love online long enough to know what happens with enough time—and I’m afraid to go there myself.


There are, it turns out, an abundance of shells when it comes to defending oneself from love. The screen is an easy shell to encase myself in. Over time, I’ve augmented my shell with irony to obscure the appearance of sincerity, placing the dark jewel above my heart, letting its enchantments strengthen the buffer, feed the vacuum, sharpen the edge. Even now, I hide within the cloak of metaphor to mask my real form.

I hide in general. I am known to hide. I’m definitely hiding from love.

I try to move closer, but it’s a slow journey. My shelled figure is not very aerodynamic against love's gales. I've worn the shells for so long that they've poisoned something inside me. There is much to forget. I must be patient.

The question of love and how to express it, online or off, appears (for me) to be a question of distance. Not physical or even digital distance, but the distance between the self and love. This will determine how love is expressed and experienced. Before I can understand how I express or experience love I must ask: What is my proximity to love? How close am I willing to get to love? How far am I willing travel to love? Where do I locate myself with regards to love?

I’m reminded of something Claudia Rankine wrote in Don’t Let Me Be Lonely:

“… one meaning of here is ‘in this world, in this life, on earth. In this place or position, indicating the presence of,’ or in other words, I am here. It also means to hand something to somebody — Here you are. Here, he said to her. Here both recognizes and demands recognition. I see you, or here, he said to her. In order for something to be handed over a hand must extend and a hand must receive. We must both be here in this world in this life in this place indicating the presence of.”

Much of my existence has been over there or elsewhere rather than here. Love is here. Here is that vulnerable singularity at the center of love. To say “I am here” is to find your words echoed by those nearby and to find that the warmth of those echoes is enough to dull the edge a little. Love is to sacrifice—to step away from the edge, to move out of the shell, and to expose the soft, (sometimes) digital flesh to the violent and nourishing winds of love. To expose the hand in order to find the other hand. To know that someone else is here.


dear Aidan;

love as a location; love as the sacrifice of (the, or one’s) edges; closing the gaps within ourselves, and between one another. wondering what that could mean. i have been questioning my role as a ‘love counselor’ in this space because i feel the edge, my edges, lapping at my feet as i mull over each piece of writing and attempt to glean some meaning or construct a position on the ideas you’ve all shared. sometimes i like to think the edge keeps me honest. most times, like you, it feels like a place for me to hide. it’s so easy to hide from love. there are so many ways to do it, especially when you are in the midst of really trying to love. even as we negotiate and renegotiate our terms with love, our proximity to love, and our location within or among love, there can be something of a trickster in love. it isn’t simply ours for the taking. as we move toward it, away from our edges with shells collapsing, maybe the bigger sacrifice we make is in giving ourselves over to trust and faith. but i’m not sure of that yet, either. in the meantime we can wave to each other from our edges and ponder the chasm—that feels like a good start.


3 pairs of empty circles spin at increasing speeds around the perimeter of 1 large filled circle.

June Yu

Time begins
On September 11 2020, 7:04pm

    At this moment
    I think

It is so beautiful
Sometimes just to hide it
Instead of showing it to everyone

    To hide is to think
    To keep it a secret

It can be every small record
Every subtle gesture with consideration

It also can be intense
An ecstatic impulsion
A pure fire in mind

    The form is not important at all

It is to really feel, to understand
Instead of saying without thinking

It is to take action
Instead of stressing it a thousand time

It sometimes happens at
The moment we barely notice

    An effort that is invisible
    An absence
    A pity, I guess

It is very precious
I want to firmly share with someone
Someone also takes care of it
Like the way I do

It is…
Sometimes, or maybe mostly
I believe

    It means to be alone

Time stops
At 7:21pm, a Friday, with sunset

dear June;

thinking about the shapeshifting spaces and faces of love in this poem you’ve written. the act of defining love as something that slips away with time, even if time is just a second… it gestures to the futility of defining love at all. each moment, it’s different. it makes me wonder why we ask so much of the Heart–the heart tapped on an app, or the hearts beating in our chests, when we try to figure out what spaces, online or off, are fertile for sowing the seeds of love. those spaces can be fluid—they can shift every day, and so can (and must) the languages we need to love within them. your poem makes me think that we can still love with intention even if the ways we share love are changing all the time.


2 empty and 2 filled circles overlap to form a flower facing left.

Leslie Liu

I’ve been steeping myself in solitude, both out of necessity and out of habit. I’ve been thinking about love, in all its forms — platonic love, cosmic love, self love, romantic love — coming up with ways to describe them has led me to appreciate the importance of metaphors for containers and different ways of holding something in one’s heart.

Maybe it’s because of my interest in nontraditional representations and unconventional forms of intimacy and care these days that I’ve begun to plant myself more firmly in learning about time, space, and generosity. [1]

I’ve been wondering, what do generous tools feel like, how can flaws and weaknesses be a source of abundance? The slipperiness of memory is a feature, not a bug; optimizing the brain feels like a loveless — hostile, even — chore.

As I stumble my way through being more loving and forgiving with myself, I’ve come to realize with awe and a little sadness and wistfulness, that the world in its most vibrant form can be so wondrous: the desire to be heard, seen, felt, moved — understood — is a sacred one. [2]

In the instructions for her game Narratopia, Cynthia F. Kurtz writes,

“When we give someone a gift, the paper we wrap it in is a physical representation of a ritualized message. … we use wrapping paper to signal a context of noncritical acceptance. Stories work in the same way… When we tell each other stories, we give each other gifts that draw us together, help us keep learning, and make life fun.”

(What else can be the gift wrapping paper to human interaction?) [3]

What can be a gift, a present? [4]

How can our personal approaches to tools be a gift to others who are looking for ways to exist against the ruthless pace of tech-enabled hyperconsumption?

(If questions are an interface to connection, how might we ask questions that serve as gift wrapping paper?)


It is important to honor unformed questions, sprawling ideas: even though they may appear like weeds — not as manageable as a flower — they lay the foundations for thought. [5]

While this exercise may not be very tangible, I hope you can imagine it and rewrite it as you see fit.


A working guide to asking questions [6]

1. Decide on the texture of your question. What kind of question would you like this to be? Is it something picked up from someone and passed down, destined for regifting? Or might it be more delicate and private? For instance, it might be as simple as “why am I drawn to certain things?” or “am I using my words the way I’d like to?”

2. Try answering the question, and see where it leads you — embrace a series of “why”s — you’ll figure out what you’re wrapping as you ask your question; its shape will emerge. Sometimes you may go a few steps too deep as you nest the following questions; perhaps go back and forth between the layers, and settle with one that feels true and still challenging.

3. Once you feel at home with this question, keep it in a pocket and carry it around with you. Switch out, add more as needed.


[1] Within the group, when someone has a successful hunt they immediately share the abundance by inviting others to enjoy a feast. Asked about this practice, one hunter laughed and replied, "I store meat in the belly of my brother."

[2] After someone commented on a block I added to Alex Singh’s A Catalogue of Simple Pleasures, I realized maybe what I’m seeking out are ways to give my future, past, present selves (and all the permutations in between) gifts.

[2] how to be generous? what is abundance? how to appreciate something/someplace/someone? this channel seeks perspectives on gift giving, how you treat material things, how you define value, and stories about things you hold dear

[description for a deleted channel]

[3] In the United States, an additional five million tons of waste are generated over the Christmas gift-giving period; four million tons of this is wrapping paper and shopping bags.

[4] “to take only what is given, to use it well, to be grateful for the gift, and to reciprocate the gift” —— “all flourishing is mutual” —— “If all the world is a commodity, how poor we grow. When all the world is a gift in motion, how wealthy we become.” —— “In Western thinking, private land is understood to be a ‘bundle of rights,’ whereas in a gift economy property has a ‘bundle of responsibilities’ attached.”

[5] A weed is a plant considered undesirable in a particular situation, “a plant in the wrong place”. Examples commonly are plants unwanted in human-controlled settings, such as farm fields, gardens, lawns, and parks.

[6] An example — A quote from Joy James: “get a task worthy of your mind and your heart

dear Leslie;

i’m really interested in this idea of unformed questions in the context of generosity. i love the idea of a question as the wrapping paper of a gift; the gift is the story but it also the exchange. i’ve never been good at asking questions, so i started to think about what it could mean to ask questions of myself in the way that i’ve never been able to do for anyone else. i started to work through your guide and found myself very activated by the idea of constructing a different kind of inner world for question-asking; and by the idea of extending this generosity to myself. i wonder what this cycle looks like for you and for me as a way of creating meaningful, loving connection online? building a space around yourself for that sort of play and inviting people in?


2 horizontal rows are comprised of 3 large circles with their fill and empty states reversed. 6 smaller empty circles rest slightly outside the boundaries of the larger circles, as if moving up and down in a slingshot.

Megan Pai

I think love is about imbalance. To acknowledge the flux of energy in our world is to understand that giving more is not generous, but good. With that said, giving is not simply an act of addition; it can equally be one of subtraction—being the person who takes, or rather, receives. I am not good at receiving. It seems like an easy task, requiring not much more than open palms and sometimes arms for an embrace, but these physical gestures must also be paired with the steadiness to accept momentary imbalance, for the sake of soaking up the warmth from someone else's offering. This poise comes and goes for me; I can be volatile, too concerned with inconveniencing others or seeming ungrateful. Whether I am gifted with a glass, or tea, or more time, I often worry that I have not given enough first, or fast enough. I forget that love is not about settling now. Instead, it is about sustaining an extended exchange through the acts of both giving and receiving. Equilibrium is irrelevant until we're gone—or maybe not even then. Love has its own tempo. It is long, and slow, and it evens out over time. A traditional gift tied in a bow can be an expression of affection, but being present in receiving that gift, too, is love.


Online, we move fast. It has become easy to succumb to the allure of addition. Material accumulates quickly, and the digital space often feels transactional. This is dangerous for such fundamentals like love, which requires energy for preservation. We need to find ways to slow down, and to provide sustenance for our relationships rather than diverting our attention elsewhere.


This morning, a friend asked me: "R u virtual?" I contorted my thumb, middle finger, and pinky to press command-shift-four because the question felt uncanny. I then answered yes, because I worked from home and therefore logged in online. However, Merriam-Webster proposes that in virtuality, I am also very close to being something without actually being it. This feels equally resonant with our current condition.

I see glimpses of a world where the notion of immunity no longer holds such authority over our movements, but we have not yet arrived at this state. Right now, we are close, but are we together? As a symptom of the uncertainty surrounding our ability to be in physical proximity with one another, a question looms: how online will we remain once we settle into a revised routine? It feels as if we are collectively undone—in a temporary state of uncertain expectations and pending protocols. We've become accustomed to collisions with acquaintances in comments fields, and conversations with loved ones through earbuds. But soon, we will be together amongst grassy fields and blooming buds. When that possibility is realized, how will we choose to grow our relationships then? What newly developed methods of connection will become integrated, and what old methods will be lost? Currently, we're in the cloud, and in the clouds. As the world turns on, I wonder how we will maintain our relationships, and at what speed our connections will take place. I think it's worth remembering that maintenance is about nourishing what already exists, and that sustenance in love is about passing the imbalance back and forth, with patience.

dear Megan;

i have been thinking about what you’ve written about “virtual” a lot when it comes to intimacy and love, both online and off. the idea of being close but not fully there. perhaps i am a bit of an optimist, but i wonder what it could be like to think of the ‘virtual,’ both in our understanding of our ways of being online and our ways of being with each other, as a process of becoming. how can we practice non-arrival as a way to love as we slip between online and offline? last summer during the uprising here in the U.S., i read this amazing bit of writing by Keno Evol about the potential of infinite relation and non-arrival in the context of Black utopian thinking. there are two phrases that stuck with me—”getting closer forever,” and “an infinite activity of returning to sounds and relationships.” the infinite-ness of non-arrival as a process of soft striving. i like the way you talk about this practice as a “passing imbalance back and forth.” it’s almost like learning to sit with silence, which takes the kind of patience you write about. a little bit of trust, too.


3 open circles are evenly spaced and connected by a semicircular line. A black moon sets behind the center one.

Brixton Sandhals

Implicit in its name, the Internet is a vast network, like a grid connecting distant points across a globe. What was first devised to transfer simple hypertext between the basements of software geeks, now delivers the very contents of our lives over continents and oceans in clever approximations of txt, png, and wav. The clay and silt of human experience–be it memory, identity, knowledge, connection, or love–have all found their proxies here. Our ability to analogize our experiences into data has allowed us to share our lives independent of physical restraint, and in light of this decade’s global pandemic, this ability has been incredibly important. Like the virus, our culture, politics, economies, and relationships must mutate and adapt to ensure their survival. What the Internet offered us was an opportunity to remove our lives from the corporeal existence the virus must operate within.

And so we move away from our bodies. And yet, as our lives are peeled back from the physical to be funnelled online, staring back at the pithy residue that is left, I find it harder and harder not to sing the Internet's praises through gritted teeth. Because as life moves further from the body, the restraints on such a fundamental part of our lives as love, grow tighter and tighter, and we, further and further apart.

I believe there is room for love online though. Love often starts here on the Internet. It grows and changes here, falls apart, rekindles, spreads, learns, deepens. Love may flower when we speak with one another in long blocks of text, in the exchange of a smile over video, or within any of the myriad ways we share an experience together online. But when I consider love, I can’t help but think of certain intimate moments in my own life–a soundless breath against my skin, the shape of someone in a shadow moving across the room at sunset, the swelling of a sigh in an embrace, the sensation of drawing closer but not yet touching. I cannot help but think of a kind of love which surfaces between two bodies in shared space.

If the body is removed, where does that leave love? The Internet prioritizes content–it is made of content–but often love grows, almost like a mold, in darker, quiet places, swelling to fill the gaps between bodies close together. But at times, it feels these gaps have yawned too wide for love to grow. Our lives in the form of text, image, and sound, share more space with one another than they ever have in history, and yet it is hard to see ourselves in these shared spaces when the body is detached. How do we express love in this world which forbids us proximity when it is precisely proximity that we crave?

At times the feeling of distance can become unbearable. At times I think we may even run away from the tools of communication we do have, simply because by using them, we are forced to confront the ways in which they are insufficient, and by extension, our own loneliness. We press send, and watch a thought zip into cyberspace to mingle with those of our loved ones, only to leave our bodies behind. Where is the network to connect our bodies?

A few weeks ago, I received this photo from a friend in a group chat:


As the sun was setting over Seoul that evening, a rainbow had appeared before a burning, purple sky. Moments before, I was assembling my things to go to the gym. Seeing this message, and unable to see anything from my window, I rushed outside to look up at the sky myself before the colors began to bleed out. Crossing to the middle of the street to a bus stop, I leaned over a railing and snapped a photo.


Later that night, when the day was done, I lay on my bed and opened Instagram to swipe through my friends' Stories one more time before going to sleep. One after another, I saw photos of the rainbow from people all over Seoul. And the feeling that sprung over me looking at these images was of a corporeal closeness I don’t usually feel when using the Internet. What was being shared was in part mere data, but in that moment the data itself seemed almost to become a digital monument pointing toward these bodies’ proximity with one another.


I considered the sky and its objects. And as my mind dwelt there, drifting further and further, I felt a pull drawing the globe’s scattered people as if strings on a net (🌐) into a single, pale, blue knot (🔵). I began to recall a certain feeling I have had, video chatting with friends in different parts of the world. It’s a feeling I would describe as an overwhelming awareness of the roundness and smallness of the earth. For all intents and purposes, we live our lives on flat planes where we walk on straight lines, and balls can sit still over flat concrete; the earth’s spherical shape is something our reason must correct our intuition on. But when speaking with someone thousands of kilometers away, and perhaps seeing the sun set behind them when it is only beginning to rise in your own sky, you feel in your very body the shape of this globe we all inhabit, suspended in space, as though you could hold it in your palm like an onion.

The following week, I began exchanging photos of the sun with friends who live far away during moments of the day where its light was touching both of us. The effect was more profound than I expected. Sometimes it’s painful living in an age that seems increasingly to be defined by the distances it creates. But we could let the world feel so much smaller, and our bodies so much closer. Over the course of the pandemic, it’s become clear to me that we cannot lean on the hope that a network will connect our bodies the way it connects data. But using technology, my perspective shifts, and when I see the sun at once in two skies, I feel a closeness with another body where before I may not have been able to. To stare at one single celestial object with someone, to watch it illuminate our surroundings, to feel its warmth on our skin, and to see it cast a shadow on the ground where we both stand–even thousands of kilometers apart–and then to share that experience in a photo, is a privilege we might indulge more often. Moving my attention, the earth becomes less a collection of points to be connected, and rather a point in itself we all occupy. And so perhaps these distances are only arbitrary. Perhaps they are small, even small enough for love.

dear Brixton;

i know what you mean about the paradox of confronting our loneliness through a space that is filled with real-time traces of so many of the people we’ve intersected with over the course of our lives. i think this actually translates quite well to offline life. perhaps this is a trite metaphor, but i find it relevant now that we have semi-emerged from the shutdown and i’ve found myself in rooms with people again—sometimes you can go to a party and still feel quite alone. i was really overwhelmed by this feeling at first, but after awhile, i remembered that it’s always been a law of odds that every party won’t be great; sometimes, going to a party only makes you feel worse. i’ve never developed a natural ease at parties, and i’ve never developed a natural ease with being online. but the beauty of a good party, once you’ve been to a few, is that you start to appreciate the good ones when they happen; and not after the fact, but in the moment, while it’s happening. it’s a random kind of chemistry that happens to work perfectly. i like seeing this reflected in the spaces and language you’ve created to find some warmth and light in this slippage of online and off; that overwhelming awareness of the roundness and smallness of the earth, feeling the shape of the globe in your body. like a perfect random chemistry. :)


2 pairs of 4-petaled flowers form a narrow wall. The petals overlap the centers in a pattern of 0-1-2-3.

Julia Dann

i often feel a specific desire to reach out and touch someone else. it’s knee-jerk, this desire—wanting to know that someone is there, within the stretch of my arm. wanting to wrap my palm around their shoulder, feel the width of it. press my thumb into a collarbone, my fingers into a shoulder blade. it’s a kind of self-soothing, to be sure, but it’s also a gesture—to let them know that i am here, and for 2-5 seconds, i am theirs.


i’m always online but not Very Online. i thought about this a lot during what i’ll refer to as ‘my year online,’ in the midst of this pandemic that we are still staggering through. during a talk i gave recently (to a captive audience of high school students), i showed two things that i like when i think of myself online. one, which i found somewhere in the internet vaccuum, is of Mickey Mouse stepping through a portal; the other is a video i took of quivering pond scum. i find myself somewhere in there, online. stuck to the surface, watching my waiting body grow into the webbed void, curious, and a bit afraid.

the online i know, from the quivering surface, is largely transactional, declarative, and affirmative. “if you love me, tell me now.” sometimes i wonder if our online love transactions are not just for each other, but an expression of our love of the online itself— “i love being this close to you.” “i love that you shared something that makes me feel connected to you from the privacy of my bed or the bathroom of this bar.”

maybe it’s more of a Thank You. would i enjoy instagram more if i saw every ♥ as a unique expression of gratitude? “i got 150 Thank Yous on my most recent selfie.” that could be nice.


from the quivering surface of my year online, i let my scum seep into the private spaces of my screen time; group chats as rooms, as portals, as private blogs. shared google drive folders for leaving little bits of writing for each other. a voice memo you can either ‘keep’ or let disappear; the notification you get when someone decides to ‘keep’ one of yours.

during this time i read no archive will restore you, a book by julietta singh, about what it could mean to create a body archive. challenging the Gramscian notion of the archive as ‘an inventory replete with historical traces,’ she created a beautiful memoir of the traces of time and life replete within her own body. in one chapter, she recalls the beginning of a long distance romance, carried out both in person and via text message. when talking about those first feverish weeks with a new love interest, she wrote, “I was losing my capacity to think beyond sexual terms. Text, it turned out, was the perfect mode for this—for the disembodied production of undeniable bodily want.” i was reading this book right around the time that i was also beginning to find myself in textual exchanges (relationships?) with strangers from tinder; sort of expecting nothing and getting so much more than i bargained for, relishing the ‘disembodied production’ in (what felt like) the absence of any opportunity for body experience. i was surprised to find that, in my disoriented fog, this was the only place i felt my language still worked.

one person i was talking to for a little while sent me a photo of a sunny room where they imagined we were as we texted; our exchange became that room then, and when i opened my phone i could step out of the fog and into the sunlight with them, with anyone. this feels a little silly now, but i remember feeling like it was almost political, what we were doing: world-building our horny utopias, our own private worship spaces. can you really feel real in the middle of a fantasy? i think so. in some ways, tapping out my language in these private desire spaces were the only times i ever felt real, in my year online. i was bursting with life then, both online and in my body at once. even in the midst of my fantasy, my declarations landed somewhere; precisely where i wanted them to, and nowhere else. like a rock skipping across the scummy edges toward the middle of the pond, before sinking to the bottom. i couldn’t imagine assembling a body archive of my own without the language of my year online—something which felt so transformative as to be as real as anything else.


i suppose the drop of love from the quivering surface is somewhere in the private worlds where i feel real with you, with me. so if you love me, tell me now, and for 2-5 seconds, i’ll be yours.

dear Julia;

i find it so fascinating that you felt most alive (& in your body) online during the pandemic while on Tinder. fantasy requires constraint for imagination to happen. it reminds me of something i heard recently, about how great (romantic) love is co-invention, or creativity between two people. you can make it whatever you want it to be with someone else. (my friend linked me this interview, where i first heard about this idea.) the idea of world-building with someone else feels like the opposite of a transaction, which maybe is why it’s so powerful and true, especially when happening in, as you say, the typical transactional online space of today. everyone had such different years in the pandemic — depending on the specifics of their physical and virtual worlds, but your year online sounded so exploratory, and i think that’s beautiful.


Three large circles have shadows below them.

Cammie Lee

Dear Reader,

I want to be intimate with you in your Inbox.

I want to imagine that when my [SUBJECT] flickers light at the top of your screen, it’s me that brings you joy and not the pleasure-reward system Google’s got you doped up on. I want to slip the ‘Dear’ into your ear as though I’m lying beside you, instead of hammering the word out with my fingers, thousands of miles away. Because when we say ‘Dear’ to one another through the letterhead of email, our messages become a chain of cold exchanges, and I love you better than that.

I want our voices to rub each other raw, our words naked and beautiful against the white of our screens. I want to stain these skeuomorphic sheets with the evidence of our love, whispering sweet nothings instead of empty pleasantries.

I hope you’re enjoying your day so far.
I hope this message reaches you well.
I hope you enjoyed your weekend.
I hope--

Way to kill the mood.

And although I always wear Sans Serif—one of eleven uniforms I choose from—I want to overwhelm you with my individuality, such that even when you’re alone and I’m not here typing at you, you only think of me when you see the soft s-curves of my letters.

How long would it take for us to reach that point, do you think?

For our tri-part emails to coalesce into one liners, our lightning-fast correspondence permitted in part because we dispel with the regular formalities; for us to move from ‘Best’ to ‘Warmly’ to Nothing (and I say Nothing rather than ‘Love’ because we still reserve love for IRL, not URLs); for us to ultimately outgrow email—now an archaic form of in(s)timate messaging—and migrate to text (after the fact we’ll say that we made the switch out of convenience). This could all happen in a matter of minutes, if only one of us was bold enough to make the first move. Time moves fast on the Internet—and so could we, if we wanted to.

So what do you say? Shall we intimate your Inbox?

Until then,

dear-oh-dear Cammie,

can we tear down the monuments of pleasantries and put them in a museum somewhere tucked out of sight?

more questions: is a text more intimate than an email? what makes it so—the speed? the perceived proximity? some of my most intimate exchanges have happened over the slow and deeply deliberate care that an email can afford. like a letter. what could be more intimate than giving your recipient permission to wait until they’re ready for you? not to be too on the nose, but i read something recently about the ‘sexcalator;’ the idea that sex can be more than an ‘escalator’ to an orgasm. that one might find a whole new world of intimacy in a more nonlinear approach to pleasure. can we reserve a space online for something slower? would we even know what to do with it if we did? and if so—could that be intimate? could that be love?


1 filled circle kisses the edge of 2 empty concentric circles. 6 small circles, alternating between empty and filled, flow upwards in a line.

Victor Guan

My initial impression of love online is that it is secondary to love offline—a backup plan for when we cannot be together in the real world. As someone whose love language prioritizes physical touch, something about sending heart emojis and watching Netflix on Zoom doesn’t feel satisfying to me. If anything, it’s a sad reminder that an endlessly vast virtual world will never truly match the warmth of close physical bonding.

With the isolation that has come with COVID-19, it’s become clear how difficult expressing love online can be. Scheduled Facetimes, planned video streaming, and constant texts of affirmation—all attempts to rekindle the love that once grew from in-person encounters—brings me more nostalgia than excitement, and makes me reminisce about what we once had versus what we are trying to build.

But maybe it just feels this way because I was trying to imitate the love I feel in-person using the internet, and failing to replicate the same experience. Over time, I’ve learned to give up on emulating moments of physical affection, and have realized a new sense of love that embraces the connection provided only in the digital space. While I still don’t believe love can exist solely online, I do think the Internet can enhance it.

As with anyone, I’ve had relationships fade over time and people leave, but with the ones that have remained, we’ve became especially close, even through (and possibly because of) the pandemic. During this time, there was a mutual embrace of our individual experiences, rather than a forced gathering of shared ones. We couldn’t meet in-person, yet we could still share personal moments. While our love was founded on a physical time and place, our feelings were not bound by it.

What communicating online allows for is a love for sharing experiences over company. It’s a love of learning—learning through friends and through the internet. You can get to know anyone with the click of an email, website, screenshot, PDF, and lots and lots of links. What makes scheduled moments with people in-person special is the same thing that makes the spontaneity of the web special. Love online for me is not about the “imy” and hearts that come with it, but the “wyd” and continued connection with people because of the web.

dear Victor;

i wonder what would happen if you looked at online as something other than a version of the offline? it makes me think of the cinematic cliché where a step parent tells a child “I could never replace your _______.” online and offline are just not the same spaces; however, they’re both equally real. i like how you’ve tapped into the specific ways that your online life have allowed you to be in community with your friends; i love the idea that you’re excited about learning together. my thinking is, if that is what makes the virtual feel real for you, then there must be love there.


2 off-center circular discs overlap. 2 coins slot in between, and 1 coin sits on top.

mariah barden jones

in talking about love, in all contexts, i think we’re really inclined to talk about romantic love over familial love. and like i get it, it’s hotter, more exciting, and more dramatic most of the time. but when it comes to the expression of romantic love online, especially by people who grew up embedded within that tech, it’s so typical. the way people perform desire and desirability on dating apps is so predictable and expected as to be totally de-individualized and rote. obviously this varies by community, but everyone’s still signalling the same thing in the same way — interest in interesting media (“i WILL quote the office to you!) or derision for the interest in that media (“liking the office is not a personality!”), liquor choice as identity (“i ONLY drink whisky!”), or simply, looking for an adventure. it’s this weird secondary modality wherein we’re performing for a (hoped) future audience who will (hopefully) engage and that hope is too vulnerable to fully express so we rely on these safe, conventional, known forms of communication and in doing so we all become interchangeable, disposable NPCs, or worse, just avatars. and i get it, it like serves its purpose, we’re all in some ways stuck within these platforms, and systems, that we have to work within for now, signalling we’re someone to be loved.

anyway this brief roast was merely a digression, or a rambling intro into a much more endearing expression and form of love and care and interest online — familial love, specifically parental in its unabashed, unquestioning use of space and platform to express love personally and creatively and fully.

my mom has a youtube channel for her online kindergarten class where she has started making custom letter hats — a head band with an oversized letter on the front — which she wears while pulling props beginning with those letters, that she sends into the family group chat with my sister and i, to also watch. she sends me instagram dm’s of @cheapoldhouses posts, suggesting we move into various victorian homes in towns we’ve never heard of or been to. when i lived in new york, realizing how much i missed the beach, she messaged me videos of our dog chasing crabs at sunset.

this is obviously inherently specific to me, but parental love expresses itself online in ways unique to each parent. parents show their love by tweeting TRAITOR at the president, or commenting on a photo on your instagram from 3 years ago, or making a reddit account to ask for advice, or making a twitter where they only follow you and have email notifications turned on so they never miss a tweet, or handing you printouts of articles they read online and thought you might like, or telling you they love your passion, but wish you would stop cursing on your facebook post.

dear mariah;

your writing makes me think about how we have coded the language of engagement online around a person’s desirability, when, like you’ve said, pure love can exist without romance or romantic desire. i think you’ve tapped into something lovely when you talk about clunky performance as a kind of care; misuse as an act of love. that kind of misuse is so pure in this specific way; so much of how we live online is about a kind of muscle memory that it’s almost comical if not a little frustrating to watch an older person, like a family member, try to work it out without that knowledge. but it can also be sort of magical in its way. like calling your sibling and announcing your name even though they obviously have your number saved, or writing a text message as though it were a letter, and signing it “Sincerely Yours.” behaving as though some of these tools are not enough, even though they are, can be a tender way to renegotiate our terms with being online, especially with the way we choose to offer care or share love.


6 filled circles are arranged in 3 rows of 2. 5 empty circles move above and below to form a trail.

Nikita Singareddy

Often I have no difficulty enduring absence. People I haven’t seen in years, some across the globe, others just blocks away - they still feel near enough to touch. I’ve consumed them, and they’ve consumed me. With every posted status and photo and life update, we are ever present and ever absent in each other's lives.

There’s this space in between the ever presence and ever absence that’s constantly being negotiated.

Sometimes it brings comfort:




And then a glum, sinking inwardness that tastes of metallic and mourning:




Is it right to call the space in between absence? Is it right to call the space in between love?

dear Nikita;

something about what you’ve written makes me think about a kind of love that can exist in ambient or passive presence. so much of my communication over the course of our distanced year was exhausting because it was such active, concentrated engagement. i missed being able to sit quietly in a room with someone. at one point, i had a friend visit me for a week—he brought some of his studio work and we sat together in my living room just keeping our fingers busy, talking when we wanted to, and i relished the sort of quiet presence we shared when we didn’t. when most of our online interactions are limited to observing and engaging status updates, this somehow doesn’t have the effect of harmonious ambient presence, at least not for me—but i think there are ways for us to feel the ‘space between,’ as you call it. i appreciate online spaces that have a way of letting us know who’s in the room with us, even when we aren’t talking. chat spaces like google hangouts or discord or slack—the little green dot that lets me know that if i want to say hi to someone, i can. i think that feels more loving, and like a more peaceful, sustainable medium between absence and presence.


A cluster of 3 circles (filled) sits behind another cluster of 3 (empty). The overlap begins to form a flower.

Winnie Lim

I guess I am tempted to go into a psychoanalysis of how we use the word love, but maybe the magic of love is that it cannot really be defined even if we know it as an universal phenomenon. I now see the careless usage of the word "love" in my naive youth when it is really how I project people onto imaginary pedestals yet it was still very much of my reality. It was the way I knew how to love, no matter how narrow – is love less real because we are young and clumsy about it?

I am one of those who find it easier to express love online, especially via the written word. I wrote poems on my Facebook statuses, long prose on Instagram photos, ambiguous sounding tweets – in an effort to dump the intensity of my heart somewhere, everywhere, sometimes hoping the person I not-so-secretly loved would know they were for her.

I was there for many of my friends in the hardest times not through my physical presence or phone calls but through long windy texts that were written with as much thought I could muster. Some of my own darkest periods were similarly tided through with just one person who could be there at the other end of my helpless instant messages.

Random people reacting to my Instagram stories or to the long essays I published online helped me navigate the loneliness of my existential crises. My online posts were silent cries of help: that I wanted to be found, to be resonated with. Sometimes the greatest comfort came not from my friends but from internet strangers. I guess that makes sense statistically -- how probable is it to find someone who has been through similar psychological journeys in our friend circles versus the entire world wide web?

The internet has enabled additional sources and dimensions of love.

I would have probably never learnt to love myself if not for online spaces. I wouldn't have known the variety of love I knew in the physical world was toxic, that it was okay to love someone of the same sex, that I wasn't the only person in this world doubting the value of existence, that there were others like me who could only express ourselves through online mediums. That was why I had struggled to understood when people say the offline world was more real, when I could only have a semblance of reality through the online world.

For me expressions of love didn't come through touches, kisses and hugs -- the society where I am from refrained from anything that remotely resembles physical affection -- but from words of encouragement and affirmation through the internet.

I loved the internet, because the internet loved me.


But this is not a love story that ends up happily ever after. Like a love story based in reality, there is always disillusionment after the initial euphoria. Online spaces grew noisy, exposed toxic dynamics within humanity, like a minefield full of potential triggers. Sometimes the internet felt almost like a parent I could never seem to please, as I kept trying to signal how much of a good human being I was trying to become, and yet it never felt like I was enough. My love online, very much resembled like my love offline: seemingly always trying to give all of myself only to be crushingly disappointed in return.

But if love can survive, it must overcome the disillusionment phase. We must see the subject of our love for what they are, not what we expect them to be. We must also learn to see ourselves for who we really are. There is a sort of practical magic that happens when two entities can meet each other where they are, grounded in reality. Acceptance will happen, liberating the energies stuck in resentment and expectations, freeing us to be creative in the ways we love and are loved.

I am not there yet, but I see glimpses. Open spaces will bring noise and discomfort, as well as freedom and creativity. They have both the potential to love and to hurt. I am getting better at walking away when it gets too overwhelming, but I still continuing to put up deeply carved pieces of me online because the love I have for the internet is deep and yet tiring. Somehow it is always there when I need comfort, when the comfort I need cannot be derived from the people around me.

I am hanging on to this love, like an endurance race. Perhaps part of learning how to love sustainably in any relationship is knowing where are the boundaries, when to make space, and when to be fully present.

dear Winnie;

i adore this bit of writing you’ve shared about the ways the internet has made you feel more real. i have mentioned this in other responses here, but reality is a large part of what we grapple with when we try to contextualize the tangible effects of something without a discrete form, or at least something we struggle to measure the weight of. we tend to sell our online experiences short somehow—i remember when online dating first started to be a thing, so many people i knew were so embarassed to try it, as though it were less real, as though it were like cheating somehow. but there is so much exploration, growth, and tenderness that can exist in online formats of all kinds that one could hardly say that they are any less real than what happens when you’re face to face with the people you love. online and offline are not the same, but i think that’s the beauty of it! i’ve thought a lot about the concept of “both/and” versus “either/or” this past year. i think you can hold the online world you treasure and the offline world you are still grappling in both hands; i think it would be beautiful to walk through life this way. their places in your hands (and heart!) will shift and shuffle, and you can always renegotiate your terms with both whenever you want.



August 11, 2021

Meg Miller (editor) & Laurel Schwulst (orchestrator) chatted on the phone as they put the onion together this year ...


Meg: I noticed this year’s pieces are about love more broadly — and not so directly about love online, which last year’s were. The pieces from last year (2020) were more interface-based — more about tools and platforms, likes, and emojis. This year (2021) seemed to be more about how love is expressed, performed, and played out in general.

Laurel: Yeah, in some ways it was more about lived feeling, probably because of the pandemic.

Meg: Right. Last year, I wrote my outro during the pandemic, and we published the onion during that first summer of the pandemic, even though most of the pieces were written pre-Covid.

This year, there felt like less of a dichotomy between “love offline” and “love online” because so much of what we do now is mediated by technology. Not that it wasn’t before. But during some of the last year, we could only do a lot of living and interacting with each other virtually, and of course that includes loving one another.

Laurel: It also makes sense that several of the entries talked about familial love, since many people were home bound with people, and those people almost became like family.

Meg: Yeah actually, during both years there were a fair amount of pieces about familial love, or at least more than just romantic love — platonic love, too.

Did you feel like a lot of the pieces this year were more forward looking?

Laurel: In some ways, yes. Megan Pai, who’s been working with me (and who did the illustrations this year), pointed out that "sustainability of love” seems to be an overall theme for this year’s writing. After she said that, I began to see it everywhere, for example in Evelyn Bi’s and Winnie Lim’s writings.

Sustainability of love makes sense in that we don’t know how long the pandemic is going to last. The pandemic is less of an “event” now, and more like the “setting” or “stage” within which other events happen.

Meg: Your text on the welcome page about the newest layer of the onion being in the center made me think about the Internet Onion as a way of marking time. In one sense, we’re marking time by making the website perennial — it lives and dies and comes back to life each year at the same time. But also the layers are marking time, kind of like the rings of a tree, but going in the opposite direction, with the oldest layer on the outside.

Unlike the rings of a tree, which mark one year, the Internet Onion grows 15 or more layers at a time. How big do you think the onion’s going to get?

Laurel: That’s a good question. We did have to make the layers literally a little bit thinner this year (12 pixels as opposed to last year’s 18 pixels) so that more could be included. The cool thing about the interface is that you can always use the “PEEL” button even if the onion itself exceeds the bounds of your browser.

Meg: Maybe in future years there will be layers for whole years as opposed to single layers. It will be fun to watch emerge.

Laurel: Yeah, the project's evolution will be exciting to gradually behold. It might take a while, though.

One evolution I've noticed is how this project began with the metaphor of a “drop of love in the cloud.” You could say, therefore, that the first year’s onion was more ethereal, more dreamy … more of the air. This year’s onion, on the other hand, through all its lived experiences through the pandemic, feels more felt and truly lived, since love online became a real need rather than mere desire. Something with more depth.

In that way, this year’s onion feels more like water than air. You could even see the onion layers as ripples in a pond or some body of water. It reminds me of this sentiment — I think I heard it in a Kanye West interview — about how the universe will assist you when you are acting in love. Because when you're acting in love, you're like a drop of water, and you have the whole ocean behind you.


The “internet onion” is a perennial website anthology about the possibility of love online.

Launching late each summer, THE LIFE AND DEATH OF AN INTERNET ONION is readable for 5 weeks — a typical shelf life of a non-refrigerated onion. As its title suggests, it will live and then start to decay, resulting in a mostly dead onion by the end of summer. It will return annually.

Its first year (2020), the website first launched, living from July 23rd – August 27th. But it first began in Laurel Schwulst's interactive design class at Yale the previous year (2019) with a reading of artist Fei Liu’s writing, “A Drop of Love in the Cloud” (2018) and reflecting on this prompt:

Its second year (2021), this website will live from August 11th through September 14th. Just so you know, onions grow new layers from the inside-out, so the oldest layers are on the outside, and the newest on the inside.

Its third year (2022), the website mysteriously did not re-emerge.

Its fourth year *now* (2023), the website re-emerged. It will live from July 26th–August 30th.

Fei Liu writes about the like/heart button as a flattening affordance of giving affirmation and love. The text-editor provides a much more expressive input. But even people who can't communicate well because of language barriers can express love through actions, like cooking food. Can we create other "love inputs" that might allow us to "reach across the chasm of a seamless signal"? What is expressing "real" love or affirmation about? Is it about effort, thoughtfulness, generosity, something else? What might a thoughtful or generous interface feel or behave like?

The onion theme was originally decided by Laurel’s class at Yale, collectively. Like love, onions absorb and magnify the time and energy you put in. Both have incredible healing properties.

The entries for the first year (2020) were mostly from students from Yale. The onion grew almost double its size the second year (2021), and its entries came from both from participants of a workshop at VCU and also various friends across the internet.



Mengyi Qian … designer & programmer
Megan Pai … designer, illustrator, & alt-text writer
Julia Dann … love counselor
Anna Bialas … IT department
Mark Beasley … debugging advisor
Meg Miller … editor
Laurel Schwulst … orchestrator & webmaster


Adam Moftah … love counselor
Minhwan Kim & Monica Kim … illustrators
Jessica Flemming … publisher / content manager
Milo Bonacci … theme author / sequencer / decay designer
David Knowles … proofreader
Herdimas Anggara & Harin Jung … typographers
Betty Wang & Tommy Huang … visual designers
Sunnie Liu & Milo Bonacci … soundscape designers
Anna Sagström & Mengyi Qian … developers
Vicky Blume & Julia Ma … marketing department
Vlad Vykhodets … ux advisor
Willis Kingery … role creator
Taichi Aritomo … prompt writer / programmer
Meg Miller … editor … co-publisher
Laurel Schwulst … conductor


  1. Layer 3
    Vicky Blume
  2. Layer 4
    Julia Ma
  3. Layer 5
    Mengyi Qian
  4. Layer 6
    Herdimas Anggara
  5. Layer 7
    Sunnie Liu
  6. Layer 8
    Adam Moftah
  7. Layer 9
    Vlad Vykhodets
  8. Layer 10
    Betty Wang
  9. Layer 11
    Anna Sagström
  10. Layer 12
    Tommy Huang
  11. Layer 13
    Monica Kim
  12. Layer 14
    Harin Jung
  13. Layer 15
    Milo Bonacci
  14. Layer 16
    Minhwan Kim
  15. Layer 17
    Laurel Schwulst
  16. Layer 18
    Jessica Flemming
  17. Layer 19
    David Knowles
  18. Layer 20
    Taichi Aritomo
  19. A pair of circles sit diagonally from one another on the edge of a large circle. 1 out of the 2 perimeter circles is both in front of and behind the main circle.
    Layer 24
    Evelyn Bi
  20. Layer 25
    Jaakko Pallasvuo
  21. Layer 26
    Shiraz Abdullahi Gallab
  22. Layer 27
    Aidan Quinlan
  23. Layer 28
    June Yu
  24. Layer 29
    Leslie Liu
  25. Layer 30
    Megan Pai
  26. Layer 31
    Brixton Sandhals
  27. Layer 32
    Julia Dann
  28. Layer 33
    Cammie Lee
  29. Layer 34
    Victor Guan
  30. Layer 35
    mariah barden jones
  31. Layer 36
    Nikita Singareddy
  32. Layer 37
    Winnie Lim