Covert To Overt

[This is a forward that I wrote for the book “Covert to Overt: The Under/Overground Art of Shepard Fairey” which was released today. Shepard has been a trusted friend of mine for close to 20 years now and he remains someone I have unmeasurable respect for – I was honored to contribute something to this book. I though I’d post what I wrote here in case some people didn’t see the book but might enjoy it – though I fully recommend grabbing a copy for yourself regardless.]

1985 was a rough year for me. At home, at school. The fact that my recently divorced family had just moved across the country to somewhere in rural Texas, and had started using an assumed name didn’t help things. What did help things was a tutor that a teacher suggested I spend some time with after school. The tutor was a kid from a few grades above who seemed equally excited about the situation. We actually clicked right away. This was noteworthy because I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t quite fit in with the other kids. Not saying that I didn’t get along with them, I did, they were just into things I couldn’t really get excited about. I often felt like more of a spectator, just kind of watching things play out around. At that time I didn’t know any better and assumed I was just weird. Not that I’m not weird, but that’s a different story. Anyway, this tutor and I were supposed to work on my math and Latin (yes, Latin) skills which were sub par apparently, though they didn’t get any better during our lessons. Thing is, he didn’t teach me any math or latin, but he did clue me into everything awesome in the world.

The people you can point to in your life who had a significant impact are rare, but this guy, whose name I don’t even remember, introduced me to both Monty Python and the Circle Jerks, among other things. If you know me today you can see how much credit is due this one guy. On his suggestion I snuck home his loaned cassette copy of Group Sex and within seconds of putting it into my walkman I had an overwhelming feeling of “Finally!” Until then music had been one of two things for me – either the slow, mopey and depressing stuff that my mom way constantly playing at home, or the stuff on the radio that people were always dedicating to each other. One psudo-father figure who used to hang out around my house was a big Casey Kasem fan and was always listing to the weekly Top 40 countdowns. I found all of this to be terribly boring. Conversely, this cassette was exciting and scary.

This resonated, and made me excited about what else was out in the world that I didn’t know about. I dove in deep and had similar reactions upon hearing Minor Threat, Sex Pistols, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, Run DMC, Gorilla Biscuits, NWA and Sick of It All not long after. I’d found my people, and even if they weren’t right there with me physically, knowing they were out there in the world somehow made things better. Knowing that these people who weren’t happy with the way things were and wanted to make a change could do something –even if it was just to sing about it. This was incredibly powerful and meaningful for me to learn at such a young age. Unconsciously these bands became my social litmus test, I could gauge right away where new people I’d meet fit in my world view. Were they people who would accept things as they were, or were they people who would try to change things for the better.

I had a similar experience with art. Growing up I’d been to museums and found them largely boring. I know now that was as much due to what I was being taken to be see as anything else, but as an angsty teenager I really didn’t give a shit about the old masters. Eventually I stumbled onto the likes of Bosch, Darger and Worhal and I got it. Just like the bands I was now obsessed with these artists were commenting on the society surrounding them, and not everything they had to say was roses and sunshine. Even if sometimes it was.

A decade later a friend who I’d been exchanging letters with for a while but never met – a penpal as we used to say – came to visit in Chicago. We spent the entire night of his arrival driving around the city in a borrowed pick up truck, blasting NWA and talking about the drive to have a hand in shaping the future. We talked about small actions that can have huge impacts. Writing a song. Telling someone about a band. Creating an image that makes people ask questions. Simple actions that can change the world. As sun rose we called it a night, having accomplished our goal of installing huge images of a sunken eyed figure looking out over the city commanding people to OBEY.

Or perhaps challenging them to resist such orders.


I depend on my hardware when I travel, I set things up and I expect them to do what they are supposed to. It saves me endless stress and frustration, so long as it works. Which, because I’m an Apple user, it always does. I never have to think about it. Until recently when it’s all I think about because Apple thinks they know what I want my hardware to do better than I do.

Example 1: The kid has an iPad, I loaded it up with videos for him a while ago. Anytime we travel together I know that as soon as the plane takes off I can give him the go and and he can watch any of the videos on his iPad and kill a few hours of travel time. Except last week as soon as we hit the runway one of his videos won’t play, then another, then another and another. I look and find some new setting “show all movies” which is turned on, I turn it off and now it shows “only movies that have been downloaded to this iPad” which is about 5 of the 30 that used to be there. Some unauthorized autoupdate changed this and deleted files that I had on this hardware. I don’t have autoupdates turned on for this so everything about this was against my wishes. Who on earth at Apple thought this was a good idea?

Example 2: Same trip, my iPhone. Same problem. Half my music is gone. I don’t use icloud, I don’t use Apple Music, I don’t use any streaming shit. I have my own MP3 files and I chose which of those files, those songs, I wanted on my phone. Except now half of them are gone because again, some update that I didn’t consent to deleted files from my device.

I used to be able to trust that Apple products would just work. Now I can’t. I feel betrayed.

And that’s on top of the massive piece of shit that iTunes has become.

While I’ve been reassessing my digital interactions I now find myself reassessing what tools I use as well. Suddenly a dumb music player that reads 256GB MicroSD cards sounds like a more appealing travel companion than my iPhone. And that makes me reassess everything else.

I need a new laptop as my trusty 11″ MacBook air that I’ve dragged all over the world for the last 2 years is on it’s last legs. I’d been eyeballing the new MacBooks but that was when I was trusting Apple to be making the right steps forward. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the older MacBook Pro seems much more appealing even though it’s bigger and heavier – if only because it has ports I can trust and depend on. But reconsidering that is making me reconsider anything. I’ve loyally used Mac OS since the early 80’s but suddenly I’m wondering if something else isn’t a better choice.

I don’t want a company deciding how I want to want to use my stuff. I want to make that decision. I don’t know if Apple respects my choices anymore. But what else do I consider?

I’m going AFT for a while

(This is excerpted from my latest email newsletter. No way I’m tweet storming this.)

“I’m done, for now, with spending lots of time in the public online space.
I want conversations, in DMs or emails or channels. I want time to think.
I want to look at the sky and listen to the world.”
Warren Ellis, Blood Work

I think the above sentiment captures a lot of what I’ve been feeling and have alluded to here and elsewhere. For me it boils down to a few things – “social media” as it were, just isn’t fulfilling for me anymore. I feel like I’m chasing something that no longer exists. What once provided community now feels empty. It makes me frantic because I’m not satiated, so I refresh, reload, keep looking and eventually walk away worse off than I started. It’s disappointing because I feel like there was so much promise. Maybe I just miss what once was, and want something more than it can provide. And realizing that, or perhaps accepting it, means continuing to look for something in a place you know it doesn’t exist is silly.

I’m taking a break from twitter for a while. I’ll be AFT. Away from twitter. That’s a terribly hard thing for me to say, and to accept. That site changed how I communicate with the world, it helped me find my voice, helped me find an audience, and helped me see the world through so many others eyes. It’s not the site it was anymore and I need to stop hoping it magically will be. For ages now I’ve pointed people there first and foremost for me. I was one of the first 140 people to join the site and now, 9 years or so in, I can’t even imagine how much of my life has been spent pinging their servers. I’m not sure what I have to show for that either. A few fantastic friends for sure – but can I say I wouldn’t have met those people elsewhere? I don’t regret any of it and I’m not saying this to be remorseful, rather I just need to walk away for a bit to get some perspective. I wasn’t really using Facebook when I quit it and I’ve never regretted that decision. I don’t ever think about it and don’t care what I’m missing. Right now I can’t imagine Twitter not being a part of my life, but I need to be able to do that. I need to figure out how I think through ideas and how I relate to other people without it revolving around a single website. Maybe I won’t be able to stand it and I’ll be back. Maybe I won’t. We’ll see how it plays out.

As I mentioned in my internet vacation thoughts, I’m not going offline – just rethinking what and when I use which things – and for what purpose.

Internet Vacation

(This is excerpted from my latest email newsletter. Subscribe or else.)

I’m fried. I’m exhausted. I’m overloaded. I have so much I want to do and I feel like I’m not getting anything done. I blame the internet. I need an internet vacation.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently but not exactly sure how to put my finger on it, or explain it but I think I’m getting there. That is, I’m getting no where. I’m feeling like I’m working all day and getting nothing done and I think it’s because I’m always on. Because of everything that I do and everything I’m involved with it’s not realistic for me to be offline for any extended period of time so the thought of an “internet vacation” in the sense of being offline for some giant chunk of time. That said, I think it’s imperative that I find a way to not be online all day long.

I don’t have the kind of relationships and connections with people online that I used to and I feel like I spend a lot of time and effort chasing that, whereas perhaps that time would be better spent building and fostering offline relationships and connections.

I’ve experimented a bit with this, about 6 months ago I moved my phone charger to the living room so I plug it in before I go to bed and don’t look at it again until after breakfast (unless I have an early morning meeting). This has helped, I sleep better, I can read a book in bed, I get a solid chunk of things done in the morning. Then the day begins – so to speak – I’m in front of my laptop or ipad or phone, or some combination of all three constantly. I’m juggling emails, slack teams, tweetdeck, an ever present search window for research, news feeds, etc. Not to mention todo lists, kid/family stuff, eating, and all the rest of it. I also chopped my following list on twitter in half, moving a lot of people to lists I check more sporadically and that’s been a good step, but it’s not enough.

I’m very seriously wondering if I could somehow engineer limited internet access for myself. One hour a day. Or two one hour blocks spaced throughout the day. In the offline times I could focus on the things I want and need to focus on, and knowing I only have an hour of connectivity maybe I’d be more discerning about how I spend that. Random browsing would disappear but I’m pretty sure I’m OK with that, and I could keep a text file with things I need to look up and then batch them.

I have Freedom App but I never use it because anytime I’ve tried something comes up and I need to get online and end up quitting it. But maybe it’s worth a shot – try it for a week or something and just put in 6 hours as how long I want to be offline, then quit browsers, and set a countdown clock somewhere. Is this even reasonable? I know don’t know, but I think I want to try it.

Time, and the managing there of

Articles,Me, Myself, and this blog,Philosophy — Sean Bonner @ 9:34 pm

(This is excerpted from my latest email newsletter which you can and should subscribe to if you know what’s good for you.)

A few months ago on the Grumpy Old Geeks podcast, Brian was talking about his daily routine and while the specifics of it aren’t that important some bits jumped out at me. I’m going to get this wrong but it was something like “2 hours of news followed by 2 hours of email in the morning, break for lunch, bike ride, 4 hours of work work, 1 hour of email, end at 6pm no questions asked. That last bit was what hit me – he said basically “if it’s 5:55pm and what I’m doing will take 10 more minutes to finish then I do 5 minutes of it today, stop at 6pm and then finish that 5 minutes first tomorrow.” The argument being that there’s always 5 more minutes you can jam in, and before you realize it it’s 7pm, or 10pm or 3am. Setting the firm cut off point gave him the ability to have work free evenings.

Today I was listening to Max’s new Untitled Podcast and there was a similar notion being discussed. Max used the term “designing your life” which I thought was interesting, but it was following a conversation about budgets and how no one questions the sensibility of sticking to a financial budget if you want to reach certain goals. Similar logic should apply to time, and a time budget is the way to do that. Max talked about a horrid evil piece of software which I won’t even mention but it runs in the background and give him reports on how he spends his time. “You spent 732 hours in the last month on twitter” etc. That is information that is horrifying to me, but it shouldn’t be – for any of us – because we should be able to know exactly how much time we want to do certain things and how to ensure those things happen.

I want to read for at least an hour a day, but often it hits 11pm and I’m exhausted and I just crash. If I had a time budget dictating that I spend an hour a day reading it would be easier to justify, and I’d be happier, and my overall life would be improved. I’m guilty of working all the time, but I’d like to spend more time not working and just playing with my son. A dictated budget might give me the metal approval to allow that to happen.

I thought it was noteworthy that in Max’s conversation he commented that in some professions there is a time when work is actually done. When you finish X that’s all there is for the day. When I worked as a professional graphic designer in the 90’s that was often the case – I’d have done everything I could and next steps were waiting on something from someone else so I could call it a day. But now, with the web, and social sites, and constant email there is never an end. There is always a flow of new things to do, so unless you consciously decide that you are going to put it down and do something else for X hours a day, you won’t. And before you know it you’ll be dead and will have wasted your life chasing likes on Facebook.

Fuck that.

Like A Prayer

(Excerpted from something I sent to my mailing list, you should subscribe)

The other day I was hanging out in a local coffee shop with Rips (my 5yo son for anyone who doesn’t know) when Madonna’s “Like a prayer” came on the sound system, he started dancing in his seat and said he really liked the song. I’ve been trying to take note of what music he reacts to and encourage it when I can. Since I bought him a record player for his birthday, I pinged my friend who has a record shop near by and told him I needed to get that record. He only had “Like a virgin” in stock, but tracked down “Like a prayer” for me in a few days. I bought “Like a virgin” too just for the hell of it. When I got home and gave them a listen I remembered one of the formative moments of my childhood that I’d long since forgotten. I suppose everyone has a point growing up when they realize their parents/family aren’t flawless, and maybe they are actively misleading them. Unintentionally Madonna tipped me off to that.

Mid 80’s, early MTV days. Madonna was everywhere. My very Catholic family was not impressed and took every opportunity to tell me how horrid she was. Unsolicited. She was a blasphemer. She was mocking *our* faith by calling herself Madonna and wearing a crucifix. She was probably a Satanist. Definitely a slut. A hussy. She was certainly trying to corrupt innocent minds. Etc. etc. As a kid, hearing this from authority figures I assumed it must be true. But it had a contrary impact on me, rather than scare me away which was the intended motivation, it made me curious. Who was this lady who would make such a public attack on a group of people. Why would she do that? What was her story?

Once I started digging into it a different story came out, of course it’s much easier to find now, but I learned then that she wasn’t using the name “Madonna” as a slam against Catholics, but rather that was her actual name given to her by her very Catholic parents – it’s on her birth certificate. And her music, her art, was influenced by the imagery she’d grown up around. Like almost every other artist I’d learned about. An anti-climatic end to a story that had been so built up. I have to say, it was a little disappointing. (Luckily I soon found Slayer) But that got me thinking – if nothing my family had told me about Madonna was actually true, what else had they told me wasn’t based entirely in fact? And why would they tell me something like that?

Either they were purposefully trying to deceive me, or more likely someone had told this to them and they’d just accepted it as truth. Or maybe no one told them and that was just their gut reaction having been conditioned to react certain ways to certain things and assumed they had it all figured out – also a very real possibility. Maybe they were so insecure about their own beliefs that they had to proactively attack anything that they felt challenged them in the slightest bit. All options – but regardless, none of those options were reassuring. All of them lead to the inevitable truth that I could no longer accept anything they told me as the truth. I guess that stuck with me more than I realized. Thanks Madonna.

Subconsciously I’ve incorporated that lesson into my own parenting efforts, when my son asks me a question I make sure to answer honestly or if I don’t know, I tell him that I don’t know. Sometimes we look up the answers together. When I talk to him about my opinions I make it clear that people have different opinions and feelings about things, that this is what I think but he’s welcome to think about it and decide what he wants to think. I know I’m setting myself up for him eventually making decisions I don’t agree with, but he’s his own person and that’s his right. And him having his own opinions is far more appealing to me than him someday coming to the conclusion that I’ve been lying to him.

Make some noise

Me, Myself, and this blog,Music — Sean Bonner @ 7:18 am

Last month my friend Adrian told me he had an idea, and wanted to know if I’d be interested in collaborating on a project with him. He’d been reading my 30 days of fiction stories listened to some of the synth noise I’ve been messing around with and thought there might be an interesting fusion between those and some footage he’d filmed recently. It sounded fun.

The trick of course is that Adrian lives in Tokyo and I live in LA, so we couldn’t just get together and make it, so instead we started sending bits and pieces back and forth to each other. He’d send me some video, I’d send him some audio, he’d tweak the video and send back, I’d record new audio and send it, etc. It actually worked out pretty well, and the resulting piece of video art is something I’m quite happy with.

You can read Adrian’s blog post about it or go directly to the video hosted on vimeo.

Somewhat related, I’ve been having a lot of fun making this crazy noise stuff recently and think I might do more of it, but it seemed weird enough that I thought it should have it’s own name. So I’m calling it KILLAKEE CAT and I got the domain to house it. It’s a nod to this fun story. You can also follow @killakeecat on twitter for updates on new things whenever there are some.

How to save twitter aka #deardickc

Articles,Networks, Theory, and the Web — Sean Bonner @ 8:14 pm

I’ve been ranting about this on twitter for days, or years if you think about it, but thought it was time to collect some of these thoughts in one place. I purposely didn’t include punctuation in the title of this piece because it could just as easily be “How to save twitter!” as it could be “How to save twitter?” – in fact it might be both.

If you are reading this you likely know about @dickc, CEO of twitter, sending an internal note accepting that twitter is horrible at dealing with abuse and taking ownership of that problem. This of course is a problem that the rest of the world has known about, and has been discussing, for quite some time.

I’m not a twitter employee, investor or anything, so why do I even care? Because I love twitter, or at least I loved it, but it’s been bumming me out a lot recently.

As one of the first 140 people to sign up for twitter, I’ve seen almost every change the site has gone through first hand. Some of those changes were natural evolutions and just made sense – for example getting rid of the “All” feed which showed you every tweet by every user on twitter at once – eventually there were too many people posting too often for this to be useful at all. Similarly the addition of the “Replies” feed where you could see tweets by people talking directly to you rather than having to scroll through the feed comprised of lists of your friends or the aforementioned “All” feed to see if anyone had mentioned you. These were natural evolutions based on how people were using the site. The addition of “replies” changed everything, and overnight a jumbled string of comments turned into conversations you could follow. This little change has irreversibly changed how people communicate online. It’s impossible to downplay the importance of that.

The benefit of enabling conversations came with the side effect of bubbling up comments, or “replies” from people whom the recipient might not already be acquainted. This was a positive thing because it allowed anyone in the world to talk to anyone else, but it was also a negative because it allowed anyone in the world to talk to anyone else. The positive was more immediately apparent than the negative, but it wasn’t long before the negative was impossible to ignore. This was the start of a problem that was never effectively dealt with.

This is a lot of history but I’m getting to a point here so stick with me.

“Verified” accounts were introduced after St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa sued twitter after someone else set up an account in his name, the suit claiming twitter enabled this impersonation. Twitter denied responsibility sticking to their hands off “platform not publisher” approach to dealing with such complaints, but created “verified” accounts as a future solution – so that the public could tell the difference between real and parody accounts. At face value this seems like a viable solution. But it came with problems of it’s own (like new users assuming anyone not verified is fake), the largest however is twitter never publicly disclosed a set of standards or process for people to get their accounts verified. Worse, they quickly turned “Verified accounts” into a marketing product. Celebrities and high profile people who would give this new user class(* I’ll get to this in a minute) validity and value started popping up as twitter hand picked who to give these accounts too. Blue checkmarks became a hot commodity and it wasn’t long before business partners, read that as paying advertisers, ended up with verified accounts as well. As of this moment there are 121,215 verified accounts  (of 288 million users) and a quick scan of that list shows lots of brands, and lots of people associated with those brands, not a lot of people at high risk for impersonation. I clicked 6 or 7 of the most recent names on that list at random and not one of them had over 1000 followers. Meanwhile a guy who was on the original team that built twitter, the guy who started #hashtags and people with tens of thousands of followers aren’t. Hell even current twitter employees who are followed by the CEO aren’t verified.

I think we can all agree “verified” has nothing to do with how high someone’s profile is, or if twitter is assured the person is who they claim to be. Just sayin’.

It’s pretty obvious that twitter has felt that brands and businesses are their primary customer for quite some time. Which might be true, but only because they’ve never offered a way for people to be customers as well. Giving people access to their ad platform which is 100% designed for businesses doesn’t really count. The mistake here is assuming that their primary customers were their primary users. Or even should be. Individual people far out number the brands on twitter, and this is a loyal resource that twitter has been taking for granted. So it’s no surprise that when all efforts are spent to attract brands, people get left behind. Brands don’t harass each other, when all focus is on how to make brands happy, is it any surprise ordinary people fell through the cracks?

I’ve ranted for years about my problems with this system and won’t go back over all those here, suffice to say “verified” implied confirmation of identity when it fact it should have been something like “twitter gold” or “premium.” The manufactured exclusivity made it valuable, but detracted from it’s value. If you know what I mean.

This is actually where I think they made the biggest mistake, and where they can correct it all pretty much overnight.

I mentioned earlier that verified accounts are a user class. This isn’t transparent. To the general public a verified account looks just like any other account with the addition of a blue checkmark. But behind the scenes verified accounts have access to additional tools and filters which are designed specifically to improve the experience. Not the least of which is the ability to ignore everything but other verified accounts. As you can imagine there is very little verified on verified harassment.

So here’s the roadmap:

1. Give up the exclusivity of “verified” and create a transparent process for anyone to prove they are who they say they are and get verified. This isn’t a “real name” policy, it’s a “I’m a real person attached to this account” policy. Essentially letting “verified” be what it was initially promised to be – a way for people to know if the account is actually run by who it says it is.

2. Step 1 in play gives anyone access to these enhanced filters if they want them. Web and mobile should have mirrored features. Right now anyone using the web interface can filter replies to only see messages from people they follow, but they don’t have this option in mobile. Giving everyone all filters on all platforms makes harassment infinitely easier to manage, block and ignore.

3. To compensate for lost revenue from brands by removing the exclusivity of “verified” twitter should introduce paid accounts. Maybe this is tied to the verification process, but web users are far more comfortable with paying for accounts in 2015 than they were in 2006 when twitter launched. We happily pay for accounts all over the web these days so the oft repeated argument that people won’t pay for accounts rings hollow. If verification cost $5 a month, or $20 a year I can’t imagine enough people wouldn’t jump on it to more than cover the difference. In fact, I’d bet this route is way more profitable.

Now this doesn’t solve everything, but it takes some massive steps in the right direction.  I put up Dear Dick C (dot com)  in hopes to bring some attention to this, it worked (sort of) when I tried it with Marissa, so I thought I’d give it a shot again.

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