Communication & relationships

You Don’t Need Your Own Discord

This is a potentially controversial position to take, but these days when people ask me how to start their own Discord server I have one simple bit of advice – don’t.

This isn’t because I dislike Discord, quite the contrary and honestly I find it to be incredibly useful and powerful for community building. The problem is there are just too many Discords. At this point “come hang out on my Discord” directly translates to “come hang out on my Discord instead of someone else’s Discord.” That’s not intentional, but it’s a limitation of there only being so many waking hours in the day and a limited number of those that people can spend hanging out on Discords. I don’t have any extra hours at this point, and judging by conversations I’m having and seeing happening between others – neither does anyone else.

Discord lets people join up to 100 servers which used to seem like an impossible limit to hit, but I’ve hit it and now to join a new Discord I have to leave an old Discord. Because I run a few Discords for various projects that eats up a few of my options, because some of those projects have sandbox servers there goes a few more. I’m relatively new to the Discord universe so I can’t be the only one who actually has less than 100 spaces available. One might ask why Discord doesn’t just up to limit for everyone, but honestly I think a better move would be to decrease it. Chop it to 50. Or 35.

Here’s the thing, just joining isn’t the issue – it’s the time you need to invest and there’s only so much of that. So every Discord server is competing for your (my) time and attention – not just with other servers but also with the rest of my life. If you are like me, you find yourself stressing about where you are spending your time, what you are neglecting, and how to be more efficient in your social interactions – none of which are very fun things to have occupying headspace.

The next question I get asked frequently is by people who have their own Discord servers, and they are wondering how to get more engagement or activity there. I have a list of minor suggestions and best practices that I’ve seen work, but those are all secondary to the bigger issue that people just don’t have the time to spend on all these servers. So unless you are offering something incredibly unique or already have a very committed audience I think spending time trying to get people to your server is counter productive. And I want to explain that a bit more.

One of the things we talk about right now is how important community is. It’s shaping up to be one of the defining factors of web3 in ways that some of us have been pushing for for decades. It’s exciting, and awesome to see. But you build community by contributing to a community, not by trying to get people away from other communities. And that’s what happening here, even if no one realizes it yet. That’s why I’m telling people in their heads they need to realize that asking people to come to their server is also actively asking them not to go to other servers.

So what’s the solution? Community. One Discord server with 20 artists is infinitely more compelling than 20 Discord servers for 20 different artists. This is the hypothesis that we’re playing with on Discord.art. I recognize that might seem like I’m asking you to do the thing I just asked you not to do, but I’m not. I’m just using it as an example. A number of us, many who had our own Discord servers that we were struggling with came together and decided to see what would happen if we combined forces instead. Invest in a community rather than trying to lure people away from others. And I think it’s worked, incredibly well to be honest. It’s super active, incredibly positive and has become a cultural hub for this moment in so many ways. That’s not because of any single person involved, but rather because the combination of all those people is greater than the sum of the parts. And hanging out together leads to further inspirations and collaborations that never would have happened if everything was segregated.

Another thing we did recently was look at what channels we have, vs what channels people are actually using. Again, looking to the community rather than trying to direct the community. We found that we didn’t need a huge chunk of those channels and deleted them – the result being a tighter and more active server. If you have your own Discord server I’d encourage you to take a hard look at your channel list and see what is actually being used, and consolidate anywhere you can. Having fewer channels means less cognitive load is needed to keep up, which takes less time and makes your server more viable. When I need to join a new server and I’m forced to pick a server to leave – 9 times out of 10 I’m leaving the ones with hundreds of channels because I’m already missing most of what is happening on them. I feel more connected to the servers with just a few channels because I know what is going on and who is there.

IF you can get your server down to just a few channels, my next bit of advice is to look around at the servers you also participate in. Are any others similar in size to yours? Some overlapping interests? Maybe even shared community members? If so, thats a prime candidate for a merger. Right now, every single say I’m being asked to join a new Discord server and that’s just impossible to manage. What I’d love to see in the coming weeks and months, is all of these disparate servers joining forces and consolidating under a unified roof. I would much rather be in 10 Discord servers that collect 10 different projects each, than 100 different servers for individual projects. And I think the communities around those projects will benefit from that sharing as well.

Let’s stop building new Discord servers and instead build stronger communities.

Avatars and Identity

My family moved around a lot when I was a kid. In fact I can date my childhood memories really well because I was in a different school almost every grade, so depending on which school or group of kids are in the memory I know exactly when it happened. This was the source of a lot of trauma for me (as soon as I’d make friends I’d move away and have to start all over again) which led to various trust and interpersonal relationship issues that I spent years working through, some better than others. This has manifested itself in various ways, one of which is that as you might know I’m deeply fascinated by and attracted to subcultures and communities – I never had “my people” as a kid, and when I finally found them in my high school years I never let go.

I gave a talk at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna once about my career, and jokingly said that bouncing from music to art to technology didn’t make any sense. The professor who had invited me to his class interjected that it made perfect sense, because the notable common thread through all my work isn’t the particular medium of the moment, but rather the community around it. He observed, perhaps better than any therapist I’ve ever been to, that in my work I’m always trying to build sustainable communities.Perhaps, he noted, because I never had a community growing up so I’m destined to spend my life chasing after them. Well thanks for that one there Prof.

But he was right.

I call myself a misanthoplogist which is only half a joke, most of the communities I dive into and immerse myself in are subculture, occulture even, and often skeptical of outsiders. Most of us are misfits and weirdos who didn’t fit in with the world we saw around us, so we built our own. Or since it’s so much easier these days, we found others like us and embraced the world they’d already started building. And once a part of this chosen family, which ever one that might be (or several concurrently, as I’ll get to in a moment) it becomes deeply important to us, shaping us as much as we shape it. We become the community, and the community becomes representative of us – our interests, our hopes, our dreams.

When I meet someone else from one of these communities out in the world we share an instant understanding and a bond that unless you are also part of that community, likely makes no sense. In fact, you might not even notice it. In this way, these friendships and communities become almost secret societies. Indeed, band logos, slang and inside jokes can map perfectly with some cryptic rune, sigil or foreign language. If you know, you know. If you don’t, you don’t. Forget music and just consider Hobo Symbols or Warchalking – just understanding what these markings mean puts you into a very tiny group. Now apply that same logic to graffiti’d gang tags or bumper stickers.

Those are physical world examples, but it should be no surprise to you that I’m heading towards the virtual. Years ago my ex-roommate brokep made a brilliant comment that he doesn’t use or like the then common abbreviation “IRL”(In Real Life) instead preferring to use “AFK” (Away From Keyboard) because in his perception, and for those around him, online was just as real as offline and the difference wasn’t which was real or not, but which had your attention at any given moment, and he didn’t want to perpetuate the false idea that things happening online were any less important or “real” than those happening offline. Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One takes this a step further by making the online more important than the offline, and the introduction of metaverses. I’ll get back to that shortly.

(A few of the NFT Avatars I own and use in various online communities)

My son has lived all around the world. I like to think this was a conscious decision informed by expert learnings and my own lived experience, but it could just as easily be repeating the same mistakes my parents made. Time will tell. But the point being at almost 12 years old he’s spent significant chunks of his life living in Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo and now Vancouver. And he’s traveled to dozens of other countries in the interim. When I was a kid in the 80’s jumping from school to school in city to city, I often tried to be penpals with friends I’d made but that usually lasted one or two letters until we’d both forgotten about it. The internet changed all that as we know, and with my son any school he’s been in has been for at least a 3 year stretch and he’s stayed in touch with a number of friends regularly, for years now, in any number of online worlds, primarily Minecraft where he and his friends can actually build out a world that remains the same no matter where they are accessing it from.

Knowing how insufferable I am in these posts, you can only imagine how much worse I am in person. My excitement this year about NFTs has infected every corner of my life and this has rubbed off on my son who has his own collection and is an active member of several related communities. So here’s what I’m starting to get at – when I ask him, out of all the places he’s lived and all the places he’s visited, which is is favorite – he points out that it’s not such a simple question as all the places have pros and cons. He’s a smart kid. If we’re talking about food then one city might be better. If we’re talking about hiking or snowboarding or bike riding then yet another city might be better. If he’s talking about where his friends are, then he knows exactly which Discord server he’d pick. Online or offline are the same – they are just different places where he spends time.

I get that. A few years ago I played some World of Warcraft with him, which was a game I spent a significant chunk of time playing in the early 2000’s. Walking through those in game cities felt every bit the same as it feels when I visit a city I used to live in, or a favorite place to travel. I know what’s around the next corner and where to get the good food. So I assure you, he’s not the only one who feels that way. I know a lot of people in my generation and a little older who would think that sounds crazy. But this is the future, and the younger kids all get it.

So to connect this back around, Discord servers are communities. Cyber cliques. Digital gangs. Virtual families. This is real life in every way, and the relationships we form there are just as real. I need more than one hand to count the number of friends who have had marriages end because of affairs being had with people they had never met in physical space. That’s as real as it gets. But that’s beside the point, which I know I’m talking a long time to get to, but here it is – offline I can I look at you and know who you are, know if I know you or not. Online, I look at your avatar. And your avatar can be anything. And if your avatar can be anything then you can be anyone, right? Right. That’s equal parts liberating and terrifying. If you can be anyone, how do you know who anyone is? Or maybe more importantly, does that even matter?

Going back to Ready Player One again, in the metaverse people were able to create avatars that were the perfect versions of themselves. Who they wanted to be, without the limitations of their physical lives (like, how much money they have or where they lived). And, they didn’t have to be just one person – they could be different people for different situations. This begins to really pick apart the idea of identity – but again this isn’t new or exclusive to the internet in anyway. People have had secret lives and kept separate identities offline forever. We all know someone who acts one way at the office and completely differently outside of the work environment. Or what about LARPers or Furries or hardocre Trekies. Or what about punk rockers who put on nice clothes to go to a real job between 9-5. I’m being a bit obvious but you get the point – the notion of being different people in different contexts is a very normal thing, and doing that online with an avatar in a community just makes it even more… well, real.

Back to my son – in the communities he’s a part of, no one knows he’s a kid. That’s intentional on his part, because he recognizes that people treat him differently if they think of him as a peer. And yes to alleviate any fears we know what he’s doing and who he’s hanging out with, and have regular open conversations about safety around that – but we also respect his wishes and love that he has this ability to safely explore who he is, and who he wants to be. His identity is connected to his Avatar. His Avatar shows his connection to this community, and unlocks special membership privileges. His Avatar is also a unique digital object that he owns, because it’s an NFT. There are a few thousand others who hold NFTs from this collection and while they might meet each other on the project Discord, they can also recognize each other anywhere else on the web as well. It’s a digital band t-shirt.

This week twitter announced plans to add web3 integration to the site with two examples of how they are going to do it – they are going to add tipping with Bitcoin, and verified ownership of Avatars. Now, if you’ve been reading the news or following related headlines you might have heard about the Bitcoin tipping part but likely didn’t catch the avatar bit. This is because most of the “technology journalists” writing about web3 have no idea what is actually happening and are just looking for recognizable buzzwords to drive stories and Bitcoin is recognizable but NFTs and Avatars are confusing so Bitcoin drives the story and the Avatar bit gets a passing mention just so that all the boxes are checked. I’m not just making that up, I’ve spoken with no less than 10 writers at major publications in the last 2-3 months who have all had similar stories. “I’ve written about art/web/entertainment/memes before so my editor just told me to put together something about NFTs but none of this makes any sense to me, can you try to help me understand what is happening?”

But this is a legitimately big deal. “Why would I buy it when I can just right click and save it?” falls apart the moment wallet verification is introduced, and a social platform as large as Twitter recognizing that what NFTs you own directly relates to your online identity is the tip of the iceberg. People already spend a lot of time, effort and money crafting and curating their online persona – the dismissal that they wouldn’t buy an Avatar to signify their connection to a community or social standing is silly. That’s so obviously where this is all heading. And the natural extension of this is if your identity is tied to an Avatar, and you have many different Avatars then you natively have the potential for many different identities. I might use my Bored Ape Avatar when I’m on the Bored Ape Yacht Club Discord Server and then switch to my Punk Cat Avatar when I’m on the Punk Cats server. Other people who hold NFTs from both collections might do the same, and we might recognize each other and intentionally connect those two avatars into one identity – but there’s no reason at all that I couldn’t keep an avatar in a separate wallet and when I switch to it also switch to a completely unique identity.

So far I’ve been talking about forums and websites, but as metaverses like Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, Sandbox, etc etc etc begin to pop up and start intermingling the situation gets much more interesting. When we’re talking about virtual worlds and not just screen names, it’s an entirely larger thing.

As someone who has been using my real name online for more than 25 years and has spent way too much time thinking about how identity and reputation and positioning impact online interactions, this is mindblowingly exciting. Scary as hell, but inevitable and totally obvious at this point. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Collectors + Investors

I woke up this morning to messages from several friends directing me to this tweet, asking my thoughts. Unsurprising, as anyone who knows me probably knows I’d have more than a few thoughts on something like this. I started thinking of snarky replies or gotchas that I could cleverly post and trust me dear reader, there were many that came to mind. But the more I thought about it, and read the replies from artists who seem to be bending over backwards to agree in hopes that the tweets author might check out and buy their work, I thought it would be better served with a more thoughtful response to illustrate why this is so problematic. Also, I would like credit for my display of maturity and restraint in not just posting a snarky reply. Sean from 20 years ago is wondering who the hell has hijacked his blog right now.

As an art dealer, I would refuse to sell art to someone who came in to my gallery and made a statement like this. I don’t say that hyperbolically – when I had a gallery this was a topic that came up from time to time and we were unapologetic about refusing to sell work to anyone who asked questions like “how soon will I be able to sell this and double my money?” or “do you have anything that will match my couch?” Additionally I’d actively and vocally advise artists to avoid selling work to someone with this approach because while a sale might be nice today, in the long run buyers like this will most likely make decisions later that will negatively impact the artist. And if you think of art as a long term thing, as I do, selling to a buyer like this is basically failing the marshmallow test. This is investing in the art and not in the artist. To me, the artist is always more important than the art. As an art dealer, I wanted to develop long term relationships with artists and watch them grow, and help out where I could. I wanted to look back on my life and the careers of artists I worked with and be proud of what we did together. This artist-first approach wasn’t always the best decision for the profit margin of the business but it allowed me to sleep well at night, and that 15 years after the gallery closed I still count many of the artists I worked with as close friends tells me I made the right decisions. As a dealer, I worked for the artists not the collectors. I wanted the value of the art to go up just as much as anyone else (and it has) but I deeply believe that this happens much more reliably by making decisions that are in the best interest of the artist, and selling to someone who only sees art as an investment simply isn’t.

As an artist, I would be disappointed to know that someone bought my work and didn’t want to be thanked for it. I would be sad to learn that they didn’t have any interest in supporting me or my efforts. This statement is both hurtful and dehumanizing. It says that this person sees artists as nothing but a factory to crank out things which will make them money. Amusingly this is one of the reasons I eventually got out of the technology start up world, which I wrote more about in The Interest Driven Life, but I couldn’t stomach having meetings with venture capitalists who didn’t give a shit about me or my dreams or my goals and only wanted to know how much money I was going to make them, and how fast. Now, I’m not knocking this kind of investing approach – I just think there are ways to do it which don’t hurt people. Invest in shitcoins or flip some Bored Apes. That doesn’t hurt anyones feelings, or make anyone second guess their life choices. I guarantee you no one at LavaLabs is going to be suicidal because someone is rage tweeting that their Meebit hasn’t doubled in value yet. Pure investors don’t understand (or care about) the difference between artwork and a collectable, between individual artist and for profit company.

For most artists I know, just admitting you are an artist is unspeakably hard. It’s a position filled with self doubt, insecurity and questioning choices, but deep down we do believe in our work and our vision and have to trust that somewhere out in the world someone recognizes and connects with that. I make art to tell stories, and find connections, and find communities, and build relationships. Not to make some investor money. I do recognize that I’m in a position of privilege to be able to turn down sales that I don’t think are a good fit, to people who I don’t like. Not everyone can do that, but that’s also why I try to forge the path so that it’s easier for the next group of artists. And I’m pretty sure I can confidently say that standing here at 46 years old, everyone who has bought my work in the last 20 years has done so because they either wanted to support me personally or because my work meant something to them personally – and I’m deeply thankful for that. I would sell my work to someone who loved it and planned to keep it forever over someone who was hoping to sell it at a profit any day.

As an art collector, I despised buyers with this kind of an attitude. Selfishly, because they usually had more money than me and would buy things I loved and it pained me knowing they didn’t actually care about them. I much prefer the Vincent Price / Dennis Hopper approach which comes from recognizing the value that the artists bring to the world, to culture, to society and trying to support that. I forget where but I saw Hopper speaking once and he said something like “If you do it right, being an art collector means you are just a care taker” going on to say that he saw his job as protecting the art he bought until the “real art” world recognized it and made space in museums for it. He says something similar at the end of this short video. He viewed collecting art as documenting a culture and a community. I visited his house in Venice Beach once and and stepped over carefully rolled up Basquiats in order to get a better look at framed photographs by artists I’d never heard of hanging on the walls. His love for the art and for his friends was unquestionable, and it made me feel so much better about my own collection which is almost entirely work by friends. Some of whom I knew before I bought the work, some of whom I became friends with after buying the work. To me, those relationships are so much more valuable than any individual piece of art, but often the art is a physical representation of that relationship. The context is different but I’m reminded of the lyrics to Softcore by Jawbreaker which accuses “They just want the wrapping, They throw away the prize.” As a collector who values and appreciates the culture and the community, it pains me to know that work is sold to people who don’t care about any of that. I understand why it happens, but I don’t have to like it.

To be clear, I don’t think this is a zero sum topic. You don’t have to care about the artist, or your investment. Someone can care about both the value of their investment and in the artist that created the art, and I’d wager to say most people buying art fit into that category. But a comment like the one above represents a hard far end of a spectrum which I can only sum up as “bad.”

When we’re talking about NFTs, which we often are these days, there is a tendency for investors to lump everything together. They see no difference between something created by hand or something created by an algorithm. This illustrates their deep misunderstanding of both art and NFTs. I think this is actually a dangerous mindset which can actually harm artists and communities, and would recommend steering clear of buyers with this approach. This is a brand new world and the collectors who love the art and want to build the community are still showing up every day. Let’s embrace the people who want to build something together with us. We don’t need to make sacrifices to make people who don’t care about us rich.

Blockchains As Social Archives

I’ve been thinking a lot about the transparency that comes along with transactions happening on-chain. Especially with art this takes some big steps to demystify a lot of what happens behind closed doors in the traditional art world, and the benefits to artists are obvious. While this doesn’t solve every problem, it’s the right steps forward for many. Shining a light onto this part of the business takes a lot of the power away from the dealers and puts it directly into the hands of the artists. It also makes the collectors who are more interested in flipping work a little easier to spot. Obviously this makes some dealers and collectors uncomfortable, but that’s how you know it’s progress. When the people who have traditionally held power start seeing the cracks in their structures, they start complaining.

Conversely, this is also really good for the collectors who are focusing less on the investment and more on the artists. The philanthropists and art lovers. Public ledgers make it much easier to know exactly what an artist wants and needs for their work without having to navigate through multiple layers of middlemen which has typically been the case. Even when dealers would put artists and collectors into direct communication, many were afraid to talk “business” out of fear of alienating a gallery or dealer who might feel threatened or cut out, and thus losing that resource for the future. Again, not every problem is addressed, but this is movement in the right direction.

But I think there’s an even more interesting aspect that hasn’t been widely discussed. We all know that the blockchain provides concrete provenance for the work, we’ll now be able to see everyone who owned the work going all the way back to the moment the artist minted it, or look ahead and find where something ended up. This is exciting because artists often lose track of where work goes once it enters the secondary market, unless the new owners are committed to being public about it, which many aren’t. We’ve all been talking about that for months, but another potentially fascinating detail is the ability to see everyone who ever tried to buy a work. The losing bids, the rejected offers – those are on chain too. At the moment we’re focusing on acquisitions and winning bids, but the story that gets us to that point is far more layered.

Imagine being able to look back in history and see everyone who ever tried to buy a Warhol, or a Basquiat, or a Haring – before they were popular. We know who ended up with the significant works, and work is being done by their foundations to fill in the blanks, but that focus is entirely aimed at knowing where those works are now. But consider how interesting it would be to be able to see the unsuccessful offers. To be able to cross reference those people and find someone who tried to buy work from all three of those artists, but didn’t. Then, being able able to see what work they did buy. Are there artists from that area that have been flying under the radar all these years? Did someone repeatedly get out bid by a specific rival? Were artists supporting each other?

I’m thinking about these on-chain transactions, documenting the bid history as a snapshot of community. Let’s talk about right now. A number of artists who are selling work in the NFT space are talking about how they are reinvesting their proceeds back into the community. They are putting some % of the crypto they make from sales back into the market by purchasing works by other artists. It’s been obvious to anyone paying attention that there is a huge (and important) overlap between people selling and buying work. Collectors are also selling their own art, artists are also collecting their friends work. That’s powerful today, but how about in the future? Think 20 years from now, being able to look back on a sale today with a bidding war between friends. This is evidence of a social network, and the power of a community. This of the forensics this will allow as well – being able to see the exact moment that an artist started gaining momentum. Or pinpoint a single collector who funded an entire group of artists with a buying spree, and how those artists in turn lifted others up with them. We’ll be able to see friend groups and shared interests – and divergences. Again, that’s pretty interesting today but it monumentally more so if a relatively unknown artist today blows up in the coming years.

Today we’re focusing on what all this changes and what is suddenly possible, but it’s all new in so many ways and I think we’ve only scratched the surface on how much this all will really change. I can’t wait.

Talking to friends, for no reason at all

[Originally sent out to my brilliant mailing list, to which dozens of people are subscribers.]

I snuck out for lunch the other day and grabbed pizza at a new favorite brick oven spot in Harajuku which happened to be silently projecting Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes on the back wall of the restaurant. (Unrelated, his upcoming film might be the best thing in cinematic history) It’s minimal black and white scenes making for a nice backdrop to the minimal black and white design of the dining room, though I don’t know if that was intentional. If you haven’t seen it and you enjoy people analyzing the subtleties of simple conversations then it’s worth adding to your watch list. I love it, but I can also sit and watch people all day long. It had been a while, but as it played silently I started remembering how fantastic some of the scenes are and decided to rewatch again soon.

Soon turned out to be last night. Michael Booth from the Denver Post originally wrote that “At least three of the spots make the hour and a half worthwhile through an addicting blend of hilarity and beauty” and before last night I would have agreed with that. The movie is made up of these short vignettes, conversations between 2 or 3 people that are completely unconnected, but begin to reference each other as they go. It’s hard to tell what is improvised and what is scripted, and if the actors are playing themselves or characters of themselves. Before I would have said it was worth watching just for the Iggy Pop & Tom Waits, and the Bill Murry & RZA & GZA scenes alone but something else struck me during this viewing.

In the episode entitled ‘No Problem’ Alex Descas and Isaach De Bankolé play a pair of old friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time, but are meeting up because apparently Alex called Isaach out of the blue recently asking to talk. Isaach expresses how happy he was to hear from his old friend Alex and the two agree it’s wonderful to see each other. Isaach then asks his old and obviously dear friend what the problem is, assuming that must have been the impetus for the call. Alex says there is not a problem leading Isaach to question why his friend can’t trust him with whatever the problem must be. This goes back and forth a bit, Isaach obviously cares for his friend and is visibly hurt by the silence, and Alex seems put off by the questioning leading to awkwardness that extends until Isaach decides to take off, leaving the invitation to confide in him open. This is a really long way to getting at the point – there is a notion here that is more powerful than immediately recognizable. The idea that we all have these friends, best friends, who we can not talk to for years and still consider them to be friends.  People who we wouldn’t hesitate to call if we had a problem and would expect the same from them, but in practice don’t even call otherwise.

And why not? Especially as adults the important interactions become fewer and farther between. Somewhere along the way catch up calls became text messages and social media likes.

I started wondering why that is. When I think of my very favorite people on this planet, I’ve actually spoken with very few of them in recent memory. Some I’ve interacted with online, liked a photo they posted or made a quick joke in an ongoing group email thread, but we haven’t really talked. Sure, I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of my very best friends while traveling through their cities but that requires planning and effort, and it’s the exception, not the norm. Living on the other side of the world now only makes that separation feel deeper, the distance that much more tangible.

“These days the people I love are spread so far apart. All out of reach.” – Ache, Jawbreaker

When I was younger, as I imagine many of you will remember, long distance calls were expensive and you had to hack pay phones to have any kind of meaningful chats with friends anywhere outside of your city. I still clearly remember the hours I spent at payphones when I lived in Florida talking with my friend Sean McCabe who lived in Philly at the time. I’d sit outside for 3-4 hours in a stretch. Talking about nothing really, but it meant everything. This was circa ‘95 and while we’d become friends online, when we wanted to talk we still picked up the phone.

And here we are all these years later with a million essentially free ways to video chat and I can’t remember when the last time I had a call with a friend without a specific preplanned purpose. When I think of the last people that I’ve had calls with who aren’t right in my physical vicinity it’s 90% work, 10% family and nothing else. Meanwhile I watch my 9yo son spend every second he can on the weekends FaceTiming with his friends in the US and Europe – time zones be damned. They play video games and watch YouTube on one screen and have another propped up with video just to hang out with each other. He doesn’t realize it now but these are precious, beautiful interactions that at 9 I couldn’t have even imagined having. At that age I was excited to steal 5-10 minutes on the phone with a friend from school, not much more was allowed because those were the days before call waiting and tying up the home line for any extended period of time was not cool.

So it’s easier than ever now, and yet I feel more out of touch than ever as well. I don’t think I’m the only one. One of my standout memories from the last few decades is a call a received from a friend out of the blue for no reason, just to say hi. This is stand out because it’s one of the only times post 2000 that I can ever remember it happening. But why? Are we so busy that we can’t spare a few minutes to reach out to people we love? Are we so stressed that the idea of trying to schedule something is monumental and the mere idea of calling out of the blue unsolicited feels monstrously rude? But maybe we need to be monsters if that’s the case. Scheduling a call for next week seems like it requires a purpose. An out of the blue call today, right now seems like it needs an urgent problem. But maybe the problem is that we haven’t talked recently and that urgently needs to be resolved.

I guess I strive to be both Alex and Isaach, from their own perspectives. I want to be there for my friends if they need me, and I want to be comfortable just calling them out of the blue for no reason. I’m better at the first thing than the latter, but I could be better at both. We probably all could.

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.]