Communication & relationships

Anti-Social Media

No small amount of pixels have been spent talking about social media and a stroll through the Networks or Communications categories on my own blog will  expose much navel gazing. Nabil is continuing to think about these things which I found because Warren mentioned him, while adding some of his own sage advice. I’ve been doing more thinking and less acting on those thinkings recently and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the current state of things. If anything I’m more aware of nuance than I used to be, that is I’ve always been quite up front that my own perspective is just that and shouldn’t be applied to or against anyone else who certainly has their own perspective as well which is equally as valid or invalid as mine. The issue now is that I’ve got more than one use case personally and so what works for my left hand is sometimes more complicated for my right.

People still talk about a blog post I made 7 years ago about why I stopped using Facebook which I still stand behind, for myself, but I also understand how that reasoning in a different context with different people doesn’t make as much sense. I used to think it was a privilege to use social media and I’m much more aware these days that in fact it’s a privilege not to. If your car breaks down in the middle of no where and after walking for miles you find a restaurant and go inside for a drink of water do you complain because they only have bottled water from the brand you dislike and no running water, do you throw the water back at them and keep walking? Or do you drink it so that you don’t die of thirst and then try to find a better option next time? I don’t know what I’m really saying there other than that I can make a weird analogy about anything.

When I lived in Los Angeles if I wanted to see friends I had 100 different places I could go to in a few minutes to do that. If I wanted to talk to people they were all awake and online. If I wanted to see familiar people but didn’t know or care who they were, I had a list of places I could go and for sure would stumble into someone I hadn’t planned on seeing that day. Living in Tokyo is different. I don’t know as many people, the people I know are asleep when I’m awake and coordinating social anything is a struggle. How that translates into online usage is that I find myself missing people that I can only connect with on social media. I went back to using Instagram before leaving LA because I wanted to use it as a portfolio for my photography because that’s where people were looking. I’ve done that, but I’ve also connected to friends new and old and been invited to participate in projects I never would have otherwise. I have conflicting and mixed feelings about this.

I walked away from Twitter for a while at the end of last year which I think was a good hard reset, but I find myself now realizing some of the value that I’m missing from it. I have private Slack teams and mailing lists, but there’s something different about the stream you get from the same people and the stream you get from the open world of the unexpected. I don’t know how I will continue to use these things, but it’s something I’m thinking about. I need to understand the balance between consuming and publishing, for myself. What is it that I want to say, and where & who do I want to say that to? And what do I want to read? I fired up an old RSS reader today too, but I have no subscriptions. I don’t know where to even find a list of my friends feeds anymore. I don’t know who to follow, who to mute, who to ignore. By all this I mean to say that for the last 19 years or so I’ve carried lists from one place to the next, with preset groups to follow and communicate with. I don’t have any of that now, and it’s like slowly wading into an ocean that I know I’ve been in before, but so long away I forget where the drop off is, so I’m being cautious.

On Leaving Twitter

Over the past few weeks I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m effectively done with twitter for personal use. If you know me, you know this is a big deal and I tell you it was not a decision I came to easily, nor one that I’m happy about making. I quit Facebook in 2012 because I didn’t like what the company and the site was doing but I didn’t really use much to begin with so it wasn’t that big of a deal, this however is heartbreaking, and I feel like I’m on some level admitting defeat.

As backstory for those less familiar, I joined what was then called twttr on July 14, 2006 making me one of the first 140 people to sign up for the service, which is only notable really because tweets used to be restricted to 140 characters. Twitter has been a major part of my life since then, redefining relationships and how I interact with people and reshaping communication online in ways I can’t even begin to describe. How I used twitter changed over the years [pt 1 & pt 2] and I spent a lot of time thinking and talking about how it might be used by the world at large. I got engaged over twitter (though I met my wife in person like a normal human). I’ve felt passionately about features that were added, some I loved and some I hated. At one point I changed all of my contact forms to tell people if they wanted to reach me really the best and only way was over twitter.

In 2015 then CEO Dick admitted that Twitter was terrible at dealing with the growing abuse problem and I wrote up some suggestions begging for someone to take note and fix things on this site that I loved. I took a break from Twitter for a while after that when things didn’t seem to change and then a management shake up and reorg changed some things and I hoped for the best and found my way back using it regularly.

My usage of the service has surged and plunged. When I hit 100,000 tweets I reflected on the ephemeral nature of twitter and deleted my entire history and set up a service to automatically delete all tweets once they reached 90 days old. Since enabling that, I’ve never had more than 30 tweets live which is a reflection of how my usage has dropped off. This isn’t because I got bored and went elsewhere, it’s because the site has become such a cesspool that depresses me anytime I use it. And that seems to be the overwhelming feeling others I talk to about it are having as well.

Recently, it’s become very obvious that Twitter’s management has no interest in fixing things, and perhaps they never did. Looking back now it should have been obvious, though I’ll admit I always wanted to give the benefit of the doubt because of how much the site really does mean to me. Earlier this month I announced through my mailing list that I was going to take stock of how I was using the site and refactor. I unfollowed everyone and made a few new lists to try and keep track of what I needed to keep track of, and removed the app from the front screen of my mobile devices. I didn’t use them. I felt better staying away. I’d thought I’d slowly find my way back again, but what I found was that I didn’t want to.

In an ongoing conversation with some friends we decided it really was time to just walk away. They agreed on using a hashtag to rally people around the idea, and I supported them on that but I didn’t use the hashtag myself because for me it was more personal. I wasn’t leaving because everyone else was leaving , I was leaving because that was the only thing left to do. I’ve tried, I’ve begged, I’ve hoped and nothing helps. The site I loved is gone, maybe it’s been gone for a lot longer than I want to admit. Maybe I’ve been hanging on longer than I should. It truly hurts to do it, but it’s time. So I’m done. Personally. I’m out.

There’s talk of “twitter alternatives” and last year I wrote a bit about Mastadon which is the most promising though it’s not perfect and nothing ever will be. I don’t really know if I want to just shove something else in the twitter sized hole in my chest right now. I don’t how how I’ll do the things I’ve come to rely on twitter for. How will I find relevant news or find out what my friends are doing. I’ve entirely given up on “networking” because I found it was easier to just ping people on twitter when I needed to, so I’m really cutting off some of my ability to find people. I hope I find a better way to do that. Maybe it’s linkedin. Maybe it’s an RSS reader. Maybe it’s lots of different private slack groups. A massive chunk of my adult life has revolved around this site, so I feel a little lost without it. But I feel better without it, so I know finding a new path is the way to go.

[This is also posted on Medium if you want to share it there.]

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.

What are we so afraid of?

Why are we so sure we know, and why do we care what everyone else thinks of us?

Road Closed

 

I’ve been noticing this come up again and again recently. It’s entirely possible it’s been a common topic before I noticed it but since I started paying attention, I see it everywhere. Last January I wrote a blog post/confession coming clean to the notion that I assume everyone around me has it all figured out and by some stroke of chance no one has realized that I’m just making it all up as I go. Yet. And the subtle back of your mind stress that goes along with such a thing. I number of people reached out to me and thanked me saying they were so happy they weren’t the only ones who felt that way. These were all people I respected and looked up to in ways, and people I knew had it all figured out— something didn’t add up.

Some people told me to look up impostor syndrome which I’d never heard of before but haven’t gone a day without hearing about it since. Remember in 2007 or whenever when every single person you met claimed to have ADD and that was the excuse for some weird personality fluke of theirs? I feel like impostor syndrome is the ADD of 2013.It keeps coming up in conversations, conferences, podcasts and blog posts. Everyone is an impostor it seems, or are they?

There is a terrific episode of WTF with Marc Maron where he’s chatting with Dan Savage, and they discuss that— at least in the US— only in-the-closet gay guys and straight dudes are constantly worried what other people think about their sexuality. Constantly worried that some action, some comment or some ill perceived glance will make everyone around them think they are gay. (Or in the case of the closeted ones, something will give away their secret) He added that women don’t generally have this concern because society is largely cool with a little girl/girl action without any assumption that either girl must be a lesbian for this to happen. And similarly no gay guys are worried about being accused of being straight, regardless of wether they ever had a straight sexual/romantic relationship. A gay guy can admit to dating women in college and not have their sexuality questioned, yet some straight guys are worried if they sit too close to another dude everyone will assume they are gay.

Tara just wrote a heartfelt post here on Medium about being afraid of turning 40. About thinking her age somehow reflects her usefulness, and the assumption that people are constantly judging her because of it. She points out that she never considers other peoples age, but is sure everyone is thinking about hers and afraid that they will assume she’s too old and thus must be out of touch. Of course she’s amazing and talented and has a line of people fighting for her time and attention. That’s not something that will suddenly change when she has one more candle to blow out on her birthday cake — but that doesn’t play into her fears.

I think with all of these examples, what it boils down to insecurity, but why are we as a society so insecure? Why do we care what anyone else thinks? It’s as if we can’t be comfortable with ourselves without someone else’s approval? Do we really think that lowly of ourselves?

I like to think that heavy doses of punk rock growing up was something of a don’t-give-a-fuck vaccination and I now have a healthy immunity to a lot of this. And I also feel fortunate to be able to quickly suss out what I can control and what I can’t, and then not stress much about things that are outside of my hands— what someone else thinks of me is planted firmly in the latter category. But even then I occasionally find myself wondering what people actually think of me. And I’d be lying to suggest I wouldn’t prefer that those opinions are positive, but I’m also not willing to compromise myself in hope of that. Perhaps that’s a different conversation but it took me many years to be comfortable in my own skin, as a kid I certainly wasn’t. I wish I could point to a single thing that helped me turn that corner but I can’t really put my finger on it. I don’t know what advice to give people, I don’t know what advice I would want to hear. Or would listen to now or then.

I think the main the thing is— we have to be comfortable with who we are. If we like ourselves then it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks because we know we have value, we know we’re worthy. If we don’t like ourselves, we’ve been listening to the wrong people and need to tell those people to GTFO of our lives. Or change the channel. For me, I think I’m just going to try and be more vocal about telling my friends and people I care about that I like them, not what they can do, or what they can do for me. Maybe I can’t change the world, but I can start with my circle of friends.

(cross posted to Medium too)

Message Boards might just be the solution to Comments

In the mid 90’s the community where I spent the most time online was Alen Yen’s ToyboxDX. This site was the epicenter of the Japanese toy collecting world, and naturally in our pre-twitter, pre-blog, pre-social networking world, the message board there was where all the action was. This was also a pre-wikipedia world so research was much trickier and that message board was invaluable for those of us trying to figure out what toys which companies released and when. I still have good friends who I first met soaking up details about rare chogokin and sofubi there. We had built a vintage toy nerd utopia… and then the Transformers kids showed up with their unrefined discussion about toys made in the 80’s. People threatened to leave the site because it had become a cesspool of US released plastic toy talk. It was a nightmare as you can imagine.

Until someone had an idea – what if, all Field of Dreams style – we could build something for those Transformers dorks that would be more appealing to them and would get them out of our faces. We made a special “Transformers” section of the message board (along with an “off topic” ghetto) and instantly the problem was solved and the classic toy threads returned to their previous unmolested toysnob glory.

In the years since then I’ve thought about this strategy time and time again when working with communities online. Adjusting where someone hangs out is easier than adjusting how they hang out. It’s not about getting someone to talk about something else, rather finding the right place for what they want to talk about.

Encryption and Privacy – What I’m Using

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[Originally posted on Medium] Can you imagine if an email program shipped today without a “reply all” feature? Or a browser shipping without tabs? It’s a crazy prospect because those things are used so frequently used, to not include them would ensure instant death for this new software. I’ve often complained publicly that privacy and encryption tools aren’t thought to be just as crucial, and expressed some annoyance that developers don’t consider them mandatory. Afterall, if these options were baked in and simple people would use them all the time, right? Or at least much more frequently. Recently a friend threw this back at me and asked if we, all of us, are not to blame for these things having a low priority because we neither use them regularly nor demand their inclusion in our software?

I initially objected to this idea, but the more I thought about it the more it rang true. Saying “it’s too hard to use so I’m not going to bother using it” doesn’t provide any motivation for people to make it easier because hell, people aren’t using them anyway. On the other hand if people used these things regularly and “how hard it is” became a common gripe, then making it easier would suddenly be very attractive. Looking at it this way, maybe we really do only have ourselves to blame that these technologies and assurances aren’t ubiqitus. And when faced with a realization like that, I always feel like I have to at least try.

So I spent a few days looking back over the tools I’ve used in the past, the tools I want to use now and bringing things a bit more up to date. There’s always a balance between convenience and usefulness because I know myself and if something is a pain in the ass I’ll eventually stop using it. So one of my main criteria here is that is has to be easy to use, even if there are a few hoops to jump through in the initial set up stages. I’m a Mac users and do a lot of my work in the browser so I have a preference for tools that “just work.”

As I have these conversations with others from time to time, I thought I’d share what I found and what I implemented so that perhaps others might find something useful in the mix. I don’t pretend to be an expert here and welcome suggestions for improvement.

Introductions: The Art of Curating People

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(I initially published this piece on Medium)

Over the years I’ve often found myself in the situation of knowing two awesome people who didn’t previously know each other, and been lucky enough to put them together and see even more awesomeness result from that new connection. I’ve done this enough that from time to time people have referred to me as a hub that connects a bunch of spokes. I blame my short attention span on the fact that I’ve got a foothold in a number of different networks – technology, art, music, etc… – which helps out here as well. To skip to the point, I like connecting people.

Now I should point out immediately that I don’t just connect anyone and everyone, and this is where the “art of curation” business comes in. I could be mistaken, but I think I have a pretty good sense of what people are doing and where they might click and I take considerable care on who and how I introduce people. You’ll see why that is important in a moment. So of course, in thinking about introducing people, how you do that becomes ultimately important. In this, as with many other things in my life, I think about what I like, what works for me, and then try to apply that outward.

What I like: When someone I know and trust connects me directly to someone else they know and trust, gives context for the introduction (who each of us are, how they know us, why we’re being introducted), and then gets out of the way so that I and my (potential) new friend can chat and see what might come from this. I feel like this is the most natural way to meet someone and interact with them, with the least pressure. The best introductions that have ever been presented to me have happened this way.

What I don’t like: When someone I know puts me in touch with someone, or asks to put me in touch with someone, and then tries to play middle man on all interactions, almost holding the contact for this other person at arms length. Right away I feel pressure to say the right thing, or to jump through someone elses hoops and it becomes very difficult very quickly to interact with this new person. I’ve made a few freinds from this, but more often than not talks never go beyond the initial moderated chats.

What I really, really, really, really don’t like: When someone I may or may not know connects me with someone they may or may not know, gives no context for the introduction and then acts like the three of us are instantly best friends, business partners and possibly lovers. This is awkward on every level, and there’s really no way anyone can walk away from it feeling at all positive.