The point of the exercise…

After scrolling through my twitter feed and Facebook timeline this afternoon at lunch, I’ve come to the not-particularly-surprising conclusion that social media isn’t fun any more. Maybe it never really was fun, but it was once new and interesting and held loads of promise of being the for people to communicate in the new century. Now it’s become something more like a never ending grudge match of who can shout loudest, post up the most toxic memes, and get the most reverb from their echo chamber of choice.

Although I have occasionally learned new things thanks to a random post on social media, I can’t think of a single time that Facebook or Twitter have gotten me all turned around on an issue. The way in which we discuss our politics or other issues of the day on these platforms leaves me wondering if anyone has every actually changed their mind based on what they hear and see. It feels more like the perfect tool for those with their minds largely made up to entrench and find others who agree with them.

Look, I know I’m as, if not more mouthy and opinionated than the next guy… so if I’m managing to glam on to the idea that beaming these electrons back and forth at one another is an exercise in futility maybe there’s a thin layer of hope that things could improve. Given the absolute and total rage being thrown by the left and right and the moment I don’t see how any of it ends well. Maybe seeding that kind of division is the point of the whole exercise. If that’s what our benevolent electronic overlords were going for, well played.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Perception. Working for our Uncle lo these many years has given me an odd relationship with money, particularly with my perception of what constitutes a “large amount” of it. Sure, in my personal life $100,000 is a big number. It’s almost twice what I paid for my first place. In my professional capacity, though, throwing out round numbers in the tens and hundreds of millions is the rule rather than the exception. That’s why having long drawn out conversations about spending $100k makes perfect sense to my tax paying soul, but drives my professional self to madness. In the overall scope of the budget it’s barely a rounding error and I’d just like to get on with other stuff.

2. Facebook. I secretly suspect that we all have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. It turns out due to a recent policy change, my blog, hosted on WordPress, is no longer allowed to communicate directly with my Facebook profile. What I use to be able to do with one click can now conveniently be done with about twelve. I do love it when technology is used to make simple tasks even harder to do. I also enjoy it when the solution to having a handful of bad actors exploit a feature is to terminate that feature for all users. Look, I know Facebook is a “free” platform and they can do what they want, but honest to God at some points their tweaks and “features” are going to drive one to ask if it isn’t just easier to interact with the other platform instead.

3. The Privilege Police. I have a bad habit of browsing the comments when I read news articles or opinion pieces. I’d probably be far less agitated by the news if I’d stop doing that. On one recent article, every 3rd comment was some variation on “this was so written from a place of privilege,” as if that were somehow sufficient reason to invalidate someone’s opinion or personal experience as detailed in an article written from their point of view. It feels patently ridiculous to assume every American, living and, dead has had the same American Experience. I feel not one ounce of shame about where or who I’ve come from and will continue to tell my story from my perspective no matter the gnashing or teeth and rending of garments it may cause the Privilege Police. After all, they are perfectly free to write an article addressing the same topic or experience from their point of view. Apparently creating original content is harder than just sitting at the keyboard being offended by every damned thing.

It’s pointy sticks for WordPress…

It’s come to my attention over the last several days that the bit of technology that connects my WordPress account to Facebook to provide a helpful little notification that there’s something new to read seems to be not working as it should do.

Having been in at the creation of the internet, spending my formative technological years in newsgroups and chat rooms before moving on to more modern offerings like Classmates, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. I only mention it to establish my credibility as one who is steeped well in the art of screaming into the online void. The fact that nothing happens to be screaming back at any particular moment isn’t particularly surprising. The void is a big place after all. However, that little notice that “Hey, Jeff published something new” is something I looked forward to five nights a week.

The beauty of the basic WordPress account is that it works just about flawlessly 999 days out of 1000. There’s not that much administrative work to keep up with unless you have a deep desire to figure out what all the switches and buttons do. Mostly it just sits there and runs itself based on whatever selections you made when first setting up the account. I’ve stayed firmly rooted to this platform because it has required so little in the way of upkeep over the years.

There are, of course, there’s the odd day when something behaves oddly and you have to climb down into the engine compartment and start poking things with pointy sticks until it starts working again. That’s what it’ll feel like anyway, because I’ve very clearly lost touch with how anything deeper than the surface layer of technology works.

Goodreads…

I’ve had a hit or miss relationship with a lot of different social media platforms over the years. Facebook is a net good overall with its snark and funny animal pictures. LinkedIn was useless for me given my utter lack of interest in professional networking. Goodreads, though, has always been something of an odd duck in my estimation. I like the concept, but so much of it was duplicative of things I was already getting from Amazon or Barnes & Noble – reviews, recommendations, and so on.

The tempo of my reading has picked up over the last year or so. I’ve found myself plowing through more fiction than usual. Given my habit of picking up bundles of books on the cheap at antique shops, Goodwill, and in other non-online places, more than a few times I found myself with two copies of the same thing – usually something that I had brought home but not yet read. The ability to set books into an own it, read it, want to read it, and host of other statuses could be just the trick to help me avoid this in the future. unfortunately it also meant that I had some homework to do.

I’ve spent a bit of time each of the last few weekends cataloging the collection. Today I can report that I can account for all of the physical books I have on shelves here on the homestead, all of the ebooks, and even what’s sitting out there on my Amazon wishlist waiting to be shipped over to me. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a comprehensive list of what I’m reading put together. I spect I’ll find it surprisingly useful to have access to it in my pocket at all times.

Both my inner geek and my outer compulsion to have a world that’s neat and orderly are well satisfied at the moment.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Facebook live video. I get it, Zuckerberg. You did a neat thing and can push live video direct to my phone. That’s nifty. But really what I need my social media to do is compliment my daily activities, not attempt to hijack and monopolize them. One of the reasons I still like Facebook is it isn’t time dependent. I can check my news feed periodically throughout the day, check responses to comments, laugh at a few cat pictures, and then move on. Getting 20 notices an hour that friends and pages I follow “went live” isn’t helping. Thank God now that it’s become a thing you did at least give us a toggle switch to make it go away.

2. Rescheduling. If you have a meeting set up with one of the gods on Olympus and the date and time of that meeting gets changed three times in as many days, you know all you need to know about the priority of the effort in which you are engaged. Look, I’m perfectly fine being a low priority, but it would be helpful to know that well in advance so I can allocate my own time spent working on a particular project appropriately.

3. You and the team. I got an email a few days ago asking for “me and my team” to review something. While it’s adorable that anyone things that my work output is the collective group effort of some mythical team, it’s just me down here banging shit out every day. Those reports you’re getting, those briefings you’re reading, those endless meetings being attended, that’s me. It’s not a vast team of people coordinating this jackassery. I’m an army of one down here in the belly of this particular beast. However, if you do indeed believe this product to be the work of a team, I believe it’s high time we started talking about a step increase and a title bump.

Break…

It’s recently come to my full and complete attention that I have a problem. As usual, it’s one of my own making and I take complete responsibility for it. Increasingly I’ve found myself pulled further and further into the rabbit hole that is Facebook. Between that and dwelling far too much inside the echo chamber between my own ears, it’s not the best of times.

I feel less able to focus and driven largely to distraction – or perhaps it’s just allowed me to better focus on the wrong things. The Facebook experience has reached a point where it seems to be pulling me further afield from how I really want to spend my time, namely real reading and real writing. The shouting match of Facebook has left me with the distinct impression that it’s currently taking more from me than I’m getting in return. Under the circumstances it seems that the most reasonable thing to do might be to take a few steps back, reinforce the center, and then evaluate where things go from there.

None of this should imply I’m not curious about the day to day comings and goings of the 500 or so people I’m connected with, but I just don’t know that I’m currently curious enough to keep grinding myself down to slake that curiosity. Increasingly what I’m finding delivered into my feed are items I’d be better off, or at least happier, for not knowing. As it turns out, sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Who knew, right?

I never thought I’d find myself pondering the virtue of seeking at least partial refugee status from the social media age, but there it is. Will I do it? Can I? I have no idea. Should I do it? Yeah, that answer is resoundingly clear. What that could mean given the interconnected, but somehow less intrusive feeling platforms like Twitter and Instagram remains to be seen.

The only certainty at the moment is that nothing I do will in any way negatively impact my ongoing commitment to writing here as often as possible. Since the beginning, and even more so now, it serves as my primary check valve to vent off anger and frustration before it becomes something less manageable. You’ll never know how fortunate I count myself that I learned early on the importance of “using your words.” In a world ruled by 140 character limits, hanging on to the ability to communicate in prose feels all the more important.

Beyond all of that, I won’t even speculate about what taking a Facebook break may look like – or even if I’ll end up doing it at all. At the moment, though, it’s sounding like one of the best ideas I’ve had in years.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The internet as everlasting know it all. I got a book recommendation from a friend earlier this week. I’m always looking for interesting reading materials so I saved the name and filed it away for my next visit to Amazon. The next morning of course, the book electro-magically shows up in my Facebook news feed as a “recommended buy from Amazon” ad. This is just all basically confirmation that the internet is a damned creepy place, even when you’re not getting catfished.

2. Picking your friends. Once again, the tide of “if you vote for Candidate X, just unfriend me” is upon us. Let the record show that I don’t determine my friendships based solely on an individual’s politics, orientation, gender, ethnicity, or any other single factor. Funny thing is, I don’t think of my friends as a group of one-dimensional elements so much as I do the sum of their parts. That means I can both enjoy their company and disagree with them on political philosophy all at the same time. Maybe it’s just me. With that said, the chances of me changing my mind on most of the issues I find important are slim to none. I will continue to post occasionally about those issues, but certainly not to the exclusion of all other aspects of life. Come to think of it, if my politics are the only reason you’re hanging on to me, maybe it’s best to just let go after all. There just can’t be much value added to friendships based on just one slim sliver of what makes a person who they are.

3. Rain. Seriously. I know I put down sod and the fact that I’ve had a good soaking rain fall on it 5 out of the last 7 days is like mana from heaven, but we’ve reached the point where I’d dearly love to see maybe an hour or two of actual sunshine. Preferably not when I’m buried in the back corner of a concrete building where exterior weather conditions are well-nigh unknowable. I know it’s a big ask – one the forecast says could be out of reach for the next week at least. I’m happy as a clam not to have to drag hoses all over the yard, but a few minutes of sun on top of my dome would more than make up for half an hour of watering duty on the afternoon of nature’s choice.

The privacy of Facebook…

So at least one major news outlet is making a big stink that the US Department of State doesn’t include taking a look at the Facebook page of people entering the country – in this case on the now infamous K1, fiancée visa. The official line is that it would be an invasion of privacy, which is the point where their argument starts to lose me.

I’m not at all sure that there is, or should be, any expectation of privacy when it comes to information you share with people on Facebook. The very nature of the platform is that the information is put there so that many people can see it all at once. That’s kind of the point of social media unless I’m missing a mark somewhere.

I don’t guess there’s much chance we can all agree on this, but it seems reasonable to me that the nice bureaucrats over at State could probably take a look around an applicant’s Facebook page and go ahead and rule out those who are friends with ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or any of a number of pretty well known enemies of the state. If it’s sitting right out there on an open source platform and they’re not bright enough to keep that sort of jackassery encrypted, we could at least skim off that proportion of potential terrorists who are not so bright instead of welcoming them with a green card and tax ID.

If you want to be let into the country in order to wrap yourself in its benefits and protections, I’m not at all sure letting the investigator give your online life the once over is any more out of line than expecting you to list your next of kin and a few personal references.

 

I’d just waste the rest…

So last week Mark Zuckerberg promised to divest himself of 99% of his fortune over his lifetime. About 13 seconds later, the chattering class filled the internet with complaints that he wasn’t giving it away fast enough, or to the right causes, or that he was just structuring the donations to be a tax deduction.

Without coordinating with the founder of Facebook on where he stands on the issue, my initial response was 1) Who the hell empowered anyone to decide how fast someone should give away their own money; 2) You go ahead and pick your causes and I’ll pick mine; and 3) If you are going to give away the better part of $49 billion, you’d be absolutely insane not to plan for the tax consequences of doing so.

The super-wealthy in America have a long and noble tradition of charitable giving. The barons of the industrial age built libraries, universities, and other public institutions that still dot the country. While even in my wildest, most avaricious dreams I’m not in the company of a Rockefeller, a Carnegie, or a Zuckerberg, I pretty much want to be left alone when it comes to what I give and the causes I choose to support. In my case the causes tend to be local and animal focused almost exclusively – figuring that sick kids and the disease of the moment are always going to find reasonably strong support.

No matter how worthy your cause, telling people that they’re wrong for not donating exactly the way you do (or would) is a pretty ludicrous proposition. If you don’t like what Zuck is putting is cash behind and how it’s being structured, go on out and raise $49 billion of your own and give it away any damned way you’d like… and then remember not to claim any of it at tax time. Unless you’re planning on doing that, I’m not sure I even know what you’re talking about.

It might be helpful in this circumstance to just be glad that people like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet are doing their bit. Under the same circumstances, I’m not at all sure I’d be able to restrain myself from spending half of it on gambling, alcohol, and wild women and then just plain wasting the rest.

With that in mind, my hat’s off to the lot of them.

Spooling up…

If anyone has been following along my “official” Facebook page, they’ve probably seen that I’ve spent the last few nights getting my research on. Conveniently, in the modern world it’s easy enough to research from the comfort of my own home. It’s made even easier because the primary sources I’m interested in are all things I wrote between 2008 and the present day.

If there’s anything I’ve noticed while wading through thousands of my own words it’s that some of the writing has been extraordinarily bad. For those of you who have been with me for a while now, I’m sorry about that. Apparently I really do need an editor to follow me around full time. Fortunately, I’m getting the chance to clean some of those issues up as I go along.

The good news is that even though I’m less than two years into the material, there’s also some really good, cheeky stuff in there. Way, way more than enough to build on. Way more than I thought I’d find. When I kicked this off I assumed the research was going to be the hard part. The more I get though I’m realizing that the hardest bit is actually going to be deciding what stays in and what fades back into the mists of the last half decade. Admittedly, that’s not the worst problem I’ve ever faced.

If I had to guess, optimistically I probably have a month’s worth of material left to go through. More realistically it will take me closer to two months after you allow for all manner of what conspires to distract me from making forward progress. After that it’s back to the grind of 300-500 words a night until something that reads like a first draft magically appears on the screen.

Reading back over that last bit, this would be one of those times when I wonder whether I’ve lost every bit of sense I ever had.