September 2009

links for 2009-09-17

Facebook doesn’t ruin friendships, being a self important asshole does

I’ve had this WSJ article by Elizabeth Bernstein called ‘How Facebook Ruins Friendships‘ open in a tab in my browser for over a week now because I’ve felt I needed to say something about it. Unfortunately due to the fact that I’ve been in the middle of traveling around the world and that the article is so massively flawed I haven’t been able to decide where to begin. I just reread it and realized what is stumping me.

I want to write something lengthy about how it’s the old problem of misunderstanding the technology and one group of people asserting that another group of people should use something as flexible as Facebook in only one way, and assuming anyone using it another way is wrong. The reason sites like Facebook and Twitter are so popular is that at facevalue they are simple, but their simplicity allows people to use them in ways that work best for them, which is rarely the same way someone else uses them. This isn’t a bug, it’s a feature and something we’ll be seeing much more of in the future. Some people can’t grasp that concept and insist on thinking there is only one way to interact with them. In real life we don’t only interact with people in one way, we have a million different choices depending on the person and the situation and Facebook and Twitter are some of the first major steps towards having those kinds of relationships online as well. As a society, we never think that the person who stood in line next to us at the coffee shop, our cousin who we haven’t seen in months, a co-worker from 3 jobs ago and our neighbor are all jerks because they don’t talk to us the exact same way our closest circle of friends does, so why do we expect that kind of uniformity online?

I want to write yet another piece about how the problem lies more in how we classify “friends” online, and how early attempts at this have made the road harder, but Facebook and Twitter are more educated steps in the right direction. Before the internet we had endless ways to classify people we knew – Friends, relatives, neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances, boss, ex roommate, penpal, etc etc etc. Each one of those meant something very different and we all knew it. When we moved online we were forced to decide if someone was a friend or not, with no other options. That both bumped some people into categories it shouldn’t have as well as watering down the term “friend” itself. The popularity contest encouraged by almost everyone of having more friends on a site then someone else only ads more to this. Is someone you’ve never met and never talked to a friend simply because you both have stated that some other person is your friend, or because you live in the same city? Likely not. While both Facebook and Twitter allow you to limit and adjust the kinds of info you get, and send, to different kinds of people, most folks just accept all and broadcast all which clutters their stream and makes them say things like “Why is your life so frickin’ important and entertaining that we need to know?” as someone quoted in Ms. Bernstein’s article states.

Which brings me to the crux of this – Ms. Bernstein starts her piece by saying “Notice to my friends: I love you all dearly. But I don’t give a hoot that you are “having a busy Monday,”” Guess what, if you don’t care if someone is having a busy Monday chances are you don’t love them, and shouldn’t be considering them your friends. And I’m not saying that in a bad way, I’m noting user error here. Clearly Ms. Bernstein has made the mistake of classifying acquaintance as a friend and now she’s annoyed because she’s given them too much access. There is nothing wrong with not caring about the intricate details of every single person’s life. There is something wrong with saying every single person is your friend and then complaining that your friends are telling you things you don’t care about.

There are people I know, perhaps because I worked with them years ago, that I’m connected to on Facebook. I would not consider these people friends, we never hang out and I haven’t talked to them in ages, but I wouldn’t deny that we know each other and if I saw them in person I’d stop to say hi and catch up. I don’t care if these people are having a busy Monday and that is why I have Facebook set to not show me updates from those people. There are other people who I see on a regular basis, will rearrange my schedule to hang out with if I have the chance, and honestly enjoy the company of. These people are my friends and I do care if they are having a busy Monday.

If there was no internet and I saw one of these people in person and they said they were having a busy Monday I’d probably ask why, I might even ask if there was anything I could do to help. Conversely if there was no internet and the person driving next to me rolled down his window to tell me he was having a busy Monday I’d likely roll mine up because I don’t care. But I know someone else out there probably does.

That might sound rude, but it’s because we’re looking at this as a 1 to 1 relationship. The web, and Facebook in particular isn’t 1 to 1, it’s 1 to many. You might not care about something someone is saying, but likely they aren’t saying it to you, and there is someone else out there who does care. You shouldn’t be annoyed they are saying something you don’t care about, you should realize you are doing something wrong and need to adjust you consumption of info to make sure you are only getting info you do care about. The people aren’t assholes for saying something you don’t care about, you are for assuming they are only talking to you.

This works from the other side as well, when I post something online, be it on this blog, on Facebook or on Twitter I don’t assume everyone is going to read it. I don’t even want everyone to read it, but I know that some people are interested and for them it is valuable. Some people however think everything they put online should be read by everyone they know, and that causes problems because it has no basis in reality at all.

My point is that Facebook, or Twitter, or any other piece of software doesn’t ruin relationships. Misunderstanding people ruins relationships. Trying to put everyone you know into one cute little box ruins relationships. Assuming that because you don’t care means no one else does ruins relationships.

Facebook and Twitter and sites like them give you the chance to get closer to people you want to, more efficiently. It’s up to you to decide who that includes.

In Hong Kong

Day 2 in Hong Kong, finally bought the internet in the hotel room so I can spend an moment updating you to the wild affairs. Let me tell you, leaving Los Angeles at 1:50am, flying 14 hours and landing in Hong Kong at 7:05am makes for some really wicked jet lag. I’m usually pretty good at combating it with a combo 5 Hour Energy Drinks and Melatonin but even this had we all messed up. Tara and Jason were equally wrecked. We did some basic walking around yesterday but do to being tired and hungry and overall just out of it we didn’t really see much. I took some photos with my iPhone but for some reason it can’t connect to Google’s imap to send them so I haven’t been able to post anything yet. I’m going to take my real camera out today which I can upload right to my laptop and I’ll be able to post them in a batch. There’s also a Typhoon at “signal 3” which is apparently a big deal, or at least a big enough deal that they have warnings around and have the pool is closed which has been no shortage of distress for Tara. It’s been amusing to see her arguing with the staff about how regardless of the thunder and lightning, the posted hours for the pool state that she should be allowed in damnit. They weren’t convinced.

The coffee at this hotel is close to, if not the worst I’ve ever tasted in my entire life though. I’ll definitely be opting for the HK$400 Starbucks Soy Latte’s for the rest of the trip because holy puketackular.

Speaking of there is a Starbucks, a 7-11 and a McDonalds on pretty much every corner. I wish I was making that up.

It’s also crazy humid, which I’m pretty good with but it’s still rough. And I finally bought a rain coat though have been able to avoid actual water falling from the skies thus far. We’ll see how the rest of the day fairs.

Packing for Asia

Skipping the photo this time in exchange for a packing list. Tonight I leave town for 2 weeks heading to Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok. I’m Platinum level with AAdvantage so when I fly American Airlines all the carry on/weight limit rules don’t apply to me, this time however I’m flying Cathay Pacific so I actually have to take this all into account because I refuse to check luggage unless absolutely unavoidable, especially internationally, especially on discount airlines.

So according to the rules I’m allowed one carry on which can not exceed 15.4 lbs and is not larger than 22x14x9 inches. I’m also allowed one additional item such as a laptop and case, camera bag or purse, though that can’t exceed 9 lbs. This is going to be tricky…

Guest Editorial: It’s Obama Time

[The following post was written by Glen E. Friedman. In addition to being an incredibly talented photographer, one of the most outspoken activists for progressive change, and generally a constant inspiration, he’s also one of my closest friends. When I heard he was writing an epic piece about the current Obama/Health Care situation I offered to host it on my own site, as did many of his other friends because we felt what he had to say was important, and worth sharing. It will be up later today on his own blog as well if you’d like to pass it on and link to the source.]

It’s Obama Time!

Obama will address Congress and the American people on Wednesday –

In order for Americans to get the healthcare we all deserve, Barack Obama the POTUS, needs to take it to the scum bags on the right Wednesday night for real. No holds barred, attack ’em B-Boy style like we know you can and you never have yet. Break ’em off and down like the articulate 1st generation B-Boy we know you are under that nice suit of yours. We voted for you because we had HOPE and because we thought you represented the CHANGE that we so desperately needed. We weren’t totally delusional. We knew you were not going to nominate Ralph Nader as a supreme court judge or even put Dennis Kucinich in to head a new “Department of Peace”. Not to mention Dr. Cornel West as Secretary of State. Noam Chomsky as your personal advisor, etc., etc., no we didn’t expect any of that (although it would have been nice).

But what we did HOPE for was the guy who was cool enough in the primaries to tell us to “Brush your shoulders off” would not let himself get trampled by the “toys” in the last few months. The hypocrisy on the right has once and for all got to be spelled out for what it is, as clear as “La Di Da Di” or any nursery rhyme.

The value of being there

Joi has a very interesting post about the difference between upside and downside focus in investing. While I don’t have the extra cash to put this kind of approach into practice (someday!) it’s not an altogether new idea for me, just a different area. I’ve been applying this kind of focus in different aspects to other parts of my life, especially travel. I’ll explain why – often the potential upside far outweighs the concrete downside especially over a long enough time line. Let me give two examples before I elaborate on that. Most people are familiar with Woody Allen’s famous quote “80% of success is showing up.” This gets laughed off a lot as if it’s a joke but it’s actually not. If you look at the entire population of people you are up against in any field there are two massive chunks that this eliminates – The people who assume they won’t succeed and don’t try, and the people who try once and fail and don’t try again. Simply by showing up and trying again and again, the law of averages is in your favor with no consideration of talent or skill. Determination goes a very long way in much of life.

But this isn’t just luck of the draw by any means, it’s also one of the best ways to make sure that your talents and skills are in fact noticed. For many years I trained in Bujinkan and a story frequently passed on about the Grandmaster Hatsumi Sensei is that one of the reasons he was given the title was not that he was the best student, but that he was the most dedicated. This wasn’t to challenge his skill, there’s no question he’s a total bad ass, but to show the rewards of putting in the effort. The story is that many of Takamatsu Sensei‘s students regularly attended his classes, but none as frequently as Hatsumi Sensei. This was especially important because Hatsumi Sensei had to travel by train, often 15+ hours to make it to a class, where as many other students who were much closer didn’t always attended. Because of his dedication his skill was recognized. He didn’t look at the downside of making that kind of trek, he focused on the potential upside of what the training would lead to.

So bringing this all back to the main point, I often look at the upsides and downsides to a trip (be it to a conference or to a city). The downside is instantly tangible and easy to obsess over – this trip will cost me X and will require X days away from normal work, friends, family, etc. That is enough to convince most people not to go, or to go once and if they don’t see results not to go back. However, the potential upside of continuing to go, again and again is massive. Regardless of your talent or skill, if you aren’t around the harder it is for people to recognize it, where as if you are around all the time people get to know you and what you are good at. Being in the proximity of smart and talented people more often gives you a higher chance of interacting with and working with those people. This can result in fantastically cool pay offs, but patience is required sometimes. It’s not a tangible ROI you can calculate, but being dedicated showing up more often than someone else can only work in your favor.

But it’s not only business – in simple travel this applies to. On a long enough time line the benefits of being well rounded and well traveled far exceed the downsides of the cost (time/money) of any one trip, yet it’s the exactly that single trip cost that prevents most people from doing this.

I guess what I’m saying is that similar to Joi’s points about some investors ruining a deal because they are obsessing over a point here or there, my approach in life is that obsessing about the little details can cause you to miss out on the larger reaching rewards. Like Joi mentions in his post, in the worst case situation all you lose is the $ of the initial investment, but the potential upside is so much greater. In a way it’s “can’t see the forest for the trees” theory. Focus on the little stuff too much and you miss the really impressive big stuff.

Who are the internet troublemakers?

I’m trying to make a list. It may or may not be for a writing project I’m working on. OK nevermind, it is. I’m trying to compile a list of 100 hackers, pranksters, culture jammers and revolutionaries that changed the web. I have a good list already but I’m wondering who you think should be on this list as well? Important note: As this is a list of “internet” people who “changed the web” anyone suggested should have done something noteworthy online. There are a lot of amazing pranksters and culture jammers out there who aren’t doing things online so they wouldn’t be on this list. Also, I’d prefer people over groups, though I know that in some cases a group is the only option. Suggestions??