On Running Away

I tossed off a tweet when I was making breakfast the other day:

Advice on leaving (your place of birth, social media platforms, etc.): Make sure you’re running toward something, and not just away from something! ✨

What prompted it was I was cooking breakfast, and reflecting on my move from Atlanta to Los Angeles a few years ago, and then from Los Angeles to New York City. When I told my family about the first move, my dad was curious why, and shared something along those lines. He was nudging for details and trying to understand my mindset – was I hurting? Worn down? Desperate? Or alive, seeking, hopeful? It stuck with me. And luckily the second move was much higher on the “running toward” than the “running away” side of things.

I was also thinking of a certain website that’s been in the news lately for leaning into some of its worst qualities. I’m one of the lucky people with a small, friendly following that generally has a great experience. I see many people who seem increasingly frazzled and broken by theirs, though. I don’t feel it directly, but I can understand it. It’s valid, as all emotions are.

I think the part of the advice above that I love the most is the attitude it implies – positive, constructive, optimistic. Reminds me in a slant way of the current tag line for Alan Jacobs’ blog:

More lighting of candles, less cursing the darkness

I’d always want to leave with a promise of something better, not a curse on the past. I’m open to the idea that Mastodon or Post or Hive or whatever is a better Twitter than Twitter. And I hope if (when?) I leave I’ve got a good vision of what “better” looks like. Eventually every escape will come to rest, and when you look around, it helps to have some standards to measure by.

Similar to Amy Poehler’s perspective I shared a few years ago:

I see life as like being attacked by a bear. You can run, you can pretend to be dead, or you can make yourself bigger.

I don’t want to wear out my shoes fooling myself. What will make me bigger? It may not be another app. I’ve got time to think it over. I hope you do, too.

Bras on Instagram

I really liked Lauren Hallden’s Towards a Bra-Free Instagram Experience. It made me start to wonder about the effects of a social medium when it thinks you are something… but you are not that. Every so often I’ve noticed an account can stumble into a sort of algorithmic death spiral. I remember years back when I foolishly gave The Great Gatsby five stars on Amazon, and for months on end it thoughtfully suggested classic after classic after classic after classic. I guess that’s to be expected. But what’s get interesting is that somehow it’s not just an annoyance – I don’t use the suggestions that much – but it also feels like a wrong worth correcting, a sense of identity betrayed. And I have to try to convince the black box that this is what I’m about.

I’ve spent my fair share of time on Instagram, and don’t really regret it much. Perhaps that’s because the channel isn’t as emotionally charged as others can be. But I recently removed the Instagram app from my phone, just as a little experiment. I still log in every now and then on the iPad to see what’s up. (By the way, Instagram via iPad web browser is so much better than the iPhone app it’s crazy. There also seem to be fewer ads?)

This removal is also part of a re-RSSing (and re-assessing) project I’ve been trying to do. If I check comething a lot, find a feed. If I think about a topic a lot, find the feeds. Instagram doesn’t have any built-in feeds that I know of, but you can cobble something together through various means (for example). So far I like this approach. I see only what I wanted – and I miss what they think I wanted. I’m okay with this. This product manager idea of “discovery” has never ranked high on my list, and I don’t miss content-hopping down the bottomless pit. That’s what Twitter is for.

The Politics of Empathy and the Politics of Technology — The Message

Then there’s the question of automated changing of profile pictures to express sympathy, a form of emotional disaster relief. We first saw this phenomenon when Facebook created an easy way for people to apply a rainbow overlay to their profile pictures to support and celebrate a civil rights win: marriage equality. Even if you approve of rainbowing profiles, you have to acknowledge that by encouraging rainbows, Facebook was making another political choice, like the way Safety Check was a political decision.

The Politics of Empathy and the Politics of Technology — The Message

An Old Fogey’s Analysis of a Teenager’s View on Social Media — The Message — Medium

We’ve been down this path before. Andrew is not the first teen to speak as an “actual” teen and have his story picked up. Every few years, a (typically white male) teen with an interest in technology writes about technology among his peers on a popular tech platform and gets traction. Tons of conferences host teen panels, usually drawing on privileged teens in the community or related to the organizers. I’m not bothered by these teens’ comments; I’m bothered by the way they are interpreted and treated by the tech press and the digerati.

An Old Fogey’s Analysis of a Teenager’s View on Social Media — The Message — Medium

On disclosures, Instagram photos of your kids, and the “artist as genius” myth


“That’s all any of us are: amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.”
—Charlie Chaplin, Limelight

My wife and I have been talking so much lately about “authenticity” and “honesty” online — this insane idea that you can really tell who or what someone is and how they are doing just by what they show you of themselves on the internet. That social media is somehow a more “authentic,” or more “human” way of presenting yourself, warts and all, to the world. (As if it weren’t, in fact, making it easier to invent more perfect, alter egos — as if we aren’t all carefully selecting and choosing the bits and pieces of our life to show each other — and as if, “IRL,” we didn’t already choose what bits and pieces to show our friends when they came over to dinner [“Sweep that mess into the closet! Do the dishes! Put away the embarrassing records!”]) And how, inevitably, you start measuring your own life against what you see of the lives of others. (cf. “Keeping Up With The Joneses” and “The Referendum” and my friend Paige’s “Why Facebook Makes Us Miserable.”)

This used to happen to me with other artist friends of mine who I follow online, but actually, it was a positive thing. I would see that so-and-so had been on a drawing tear, posting tons of really interesting drawings, and some of them would be really good, and it would get me wanting to draw. Only later, when talking to them in person, would it turn out that they were just as lazy and uninspired sometimes as I was. The myth contained in the images, in a way, did me good, because it made me push myself. But I wondered, for other aspiring artists who aren’t as driven or delusional as me, if the opposite wouldn’t be true, and they would feel discouraged.

This quandery got ratcheted up a bit more after our son was born. I started thinking about how fundamentally unprepared I was for the experience of caring for a newborn. It was simultaneously the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. (As I like to say, even the best baby in the world can still be a complete fucking monster.) I remembered how people told me it was tough, but nobody told me how fucking distressed and insane sleep deprivation would make me, how absolutely full of despair I would feel for that first month, how it would dredge up feelings I hadn’t felt in years, etc.

And yet, there I was, feeling pretty fucking dark, Instagramming perfect photos of my cute kid sleeping, my wife looking like an angel, etc. And there were my friends doing the same, even though I knew, after a drink at the bar, their struggles were mostly the same as mine.

I was talking about this with my friend Steven, and I suggested that there should be a kind of “shadow gallery” on Instagram — a place where you post pictures of your kid at his worst. He said I absolutely had to do this. (He had a friend whose first move after giving birth was to call all of her girlfriends who were moms and swear them out for not being honest with her.)

And then, of course, I thought of a “shadow gallery” for artists — places where they post their work at their worst, where they acknowledge, that they are, in fact, not natural-born geniuses. A blank Microsoft Word screen. A terrible, sloppy drawing. Their Google search histories…

(You’d think someplace like Dribbble would accomplish this — but every work-in-progress I’ve ever seen a designer post there has been borderline perfect. Things organized neatly…)

Then last night my wife sent me this post my a mommyblogger, acknowledging that the reason she seemed so productive is that she has a nanny.

Why are we, as women, so reluctant to talk about the people we hire to help us so that we can do what we do? What are we afraid of? People thinking we CAN’T do it all?

Well, duh.

We fucking can’t.

So what’s this big secret we’re trying to keep and who do we think we’re fooling?

And what is it doing to people who read our blogs and books and pin our how-tos and think that all of these projects are being finished while children sit quietly on the sidelines with their hands in their laps.

What is it doing to you?

We write disclosure copy on posts that are sponsored, giveaways that are donated. We are contractually obligated to label and link but where is the disclosure copy stating how we work from home with small children? How we shoot videos and meet deadlines and go to meetings and travel around the country attending conventions and conferences.

We have help, that’s how!

People have asked me, over the years, how I’m able to do so much. (My first thought is always, “So much? Boy, do I have you fooled.”) Now, I’m thinking of this idea of an Artist’s Disclosure. (Brian Eno had one in his Diary: “one of the reasons I am capable of running three careers in parallel is because I married my manager.”) I’m thinking about what my disclosure might look like, and whether I have the guts to share it, and whether it’d really do anyone any good, including me.

Reminds me: one hiker I met on the Appalachian Trail made sure to take pictures of himself during the worst days on the trail. Tired, cold, rain-soaked, heat exhaustion, dehydrated, muddy, cranky, whatever. It’s a way to remind yourself of the price of admission, and a reminder that you did, in fact, keep doing this cool thing despite the occasional suckiness.

On disclosures, Instagram photos of your kids, and the “artist as genius” myth

Audience as affordance: Twitter versus Facebook — Remains of the Day

In reference to Matt Haughey’s essay:

What could I possibly write as a status update that would be interesting to my father, one of my coworkers from my first job out of college, the friend of a friend who met me at a pub crawl and friended me, and someone who followed me because of a blog post I wrote about technology? This odd assortment of people all friended me on Facebook because they know me, and that doesn’t feel like a natural audience for any content except random life updates, like relationship status changes, the birth of children, job changes, the occasional photo so people know what you look like now. So unlike Haughey, what I struggle with about Facebook is not the constraint to be consistent with a single conception of myself, it’s the struggle to target content to match multiple versions of myself.

Audience as affordance: Twitter versus Facebook — Remains of the Day

Jacob Silverman: Some Notes on a Book


Last month, I sold a proposal to HarperCollins for a book about social media and its role in online identity, privacy, self-expression, and Internet culture. All this began with my “Against Enthusiasm” essay in Slate, but I’m now looking more broadly at the attention and sharing economies; how (for some people) life becomes reconstituted around the ways in which we can broadcast it online; how the wall between online and “real” life has largely collapsed; the values engineered into social networks (which include incessant liking and favoriting); and so forth.

If you’re interested in talking to me about the book, want to send me something to read, or you think there’s someone I should be talking to, please feel free to get in touch. I’ll still be doing some freelancing and book reviewing, though I’ll be focusing more on social media and the culture of technology. But for now, it’s time to get to work. The book will be out sometime in 2014 (release date TK). Thanks for reading.

I like and reblog this without reservation.

Jacob Silverman: Some Notes on a Book

Post-industrial creatures of an information economy, we increasingly sense that accessing media is what we do. We have become terminally self-conscious. There is no such thing as simple entertainment. We watch ourselves watching. We watch ourselves watching Beavis and Butt-head, who are watching rock videos. Simply to watch, without the buffer of irony in place, might reveal a fatal naiveté.

William Gibson on Twitter, in 1996. Cf. Marshall McLuhan, (via)

All things are short-lived–this is their common lot–but you pursue likes and dislikes as if all was fixed for eternity. In a little while you too will close your eyes, and soon there will be others mourning the man who buries you.

Marcus Aurelius on fame, death, and social media.

This continuous modification of man by his own technology stimulates him to find continuous means of modifying it; man thus becomes the sex organs of the machine world just as the bee is of the plant world, permitting it to reproduce and constantly evolve to higher forms. The machine world reciprocates man’s devotion by rewarding him with goods and services and bounty.