Dispatches from the Outskirts, Nov 3 Edition – The Social Media Dilemma

What are you supposed to do when the elixir is sweet, but the bottle it comes in is toxic?

That’s how I feel this morning, reading this coverage of the Senate’s hearing with the representatives of the three biggest ad-based web platforms – Google, Facebook and Twitter:

“Russians have been conducting information warfare for decades,” said Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in his opening remarks. “But what is new is the advent of social-media tools with the power to magnify propaganda and fake news on a scale that was unimaginable back in the days of the Berlin Wall. Today’s tools seem almost purpose-built for Russian disinformation techniques.”

I will confess (as will surprise absolutely no one) that despite my cute “no Facebook” cover-and-profile photos, I am not fully recovered from my Facebook addiction.  It’s made a huge difference taking the mobile app off my phone, but I still have it on my iPad, and the browser version is only an “f” key away. So, yes, I’m still looking in several times a day.  Like an alcoholic who keeps venturing in to the tavern…

My little sister is coming to visit

And when I do look over the wall, I see all kinds of things that I find appealing.  Like this post from Mary Gauthier about hanging out with Sarah Silverman. Or this thread from Rod Picott about the end of the baseball season (I even contributed a comment to that one).  Or this delightful photo my sister posted from our family photo albums as she prepares to visit Tennessee over the weekend.

All of that feels harmless enough.  But the whole time I’m wading through this digital swamp I can’t seem to shake this nagging feeling that something is just not right about all this.  There is something lurking beneath the surface, something deceptive, almost pernicious.  It’s the feeling you get when exchanging light-hearted digital banter, but slithering around our feet is a big-mouthed s culture-devouring beast.

In addition to reading the above linked “WIRED” commentary on the Senate hearings, I also listened yesterday to Terry Gross’s interview with  feminist writer Lindy West – who recently bailed on Twitter after being subject to entirely too much vicious trolling.  She nailed the essence of my own dilemma when she said:

My presence on Twitter felt like an endorsement of Twitter — and I do not endorse Twitter. I think Twitter has done nothing to protect this country against this catastrophe that’s befallen us, and I just couldn’t be a part of it.

But at the same time, I don’t get to be a part of these really, really important and often beautiful national conversations that are happening right now…I feel very behind…

I really loved being able to communicate with people, and learn from people and, you know, riff, joke around with people. And so in that way, I guess the silencing campaign succeeded. You know, I’m not there. I’m not part of that conversation. But it’s – my mental health and my personal life are much, much better not on – not being on Twitter.

That’s precisely how I feel about Facebook – that my presence there is an endorsement of a platform that is undermining the fabric of the our fundamental institutions, and that the relentless compulsion to open the app and “tune in” was somehow damaging to my mental health.

I say all this while fully grasping the ironies involved – not the least of which is using Facebook to declare how much I dislike Facebook.

There is also the fact that for most of my adult life, I have actively studied the history and evolution of communications technologies (why, I even wrote a book about it!), so I know that all this “social media” stuff is just something “new” that we have yet to fully grasp the meaning and value of.  And I get that by pushing away from it I am consciously participating in the next wave, the pitchforks-and-torches reactionary big-tech backlash we are now seeing unfold.

So yes, ironies abound.  But for now at least I still feel that getting an active handle on my “social media engagement” is a necessary element of my recovery.  And that in so doing, I am  shooting a tiny arrow of defiance at the ramparts of the big tech fortress.

That will have to do for now.

Oh boy, medieval imagery: We must storm the ramparts of Big Tech!

 

Bart Giamatti: “It Breaks Your Heart”

Once upon a time, a poet philosopher (and former Yale University president) named Bart Giamatti (and, yes, the father of actor Paul) served briefly as the Commissioner of Baseball.  A heavy smoker all his life, Giamatti died at age 51 after serving only 5 months as Commissioner.

Despite his brief tenure, Giamatti left a lasting mark on the game, In addition to being a scholar, a tough negotiator and a stalwart Defender of the Game (Giamatti oversaw the permanent exile of Pete Rose), Giamatti also wrote extensively about the game.  His writings were compiled in a 1998 book called A Great And Glorious Game.

Somewhere – it might have been at the Baseball Hall of Fame fame in Cooperstown NY, or maybe it was somewhere in Ken Burns “Baseball” documentary, I encountered the opening paragraph of that book.  Now that another baseball season has come and gone, that opening passage comes to mind once again:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.

Last night, it stopped again.  The seasons now – like the games – seem to go on forever. Maybe it’s fitting that these interminable seasons, with their interminable games, stretch into November.  The World Series ends now just a few days before we return to “standard time”  –and the darkness descends before the afternoon is over.

Roy Campanella – the second black player in the Major Leagues, seen here with the first.

I used to be a big baseball fan.  I grew up with the “Mantle/Maris Yankees” of the 1950s and 60s.  I became a “closet Dodger Fan” in the 4th grade after reading a biography of Roy Campanella – the second black player in the major leagues.  I became an Atlanta Braves fan when I moved to Hawaii in the 1980s and Turner’s TBS was the only “live” television station.   TBS carried all the Braves games in those days, and I watched as they compiled one of the worst records in baseball through the 1980s.  But for that dedication the Gods rewarded me with tickets for the first World Series game ever played south of the Mason Dixon Line – Game 3 of the epic 1991 World Series between the Braves and the Minnesota Twins.

And I’ve always been a Cubs fan. I believed for a long time that all true baseball fans were cubs fans, because you always root for the team that has “gone the longest without” winning the whole thing.  And until 2016 that was the Chicago Cubs.  Somewhere there is a photo of me throwing a shoe at at TeeVee after the Cubs lost the 1984 NLCS to the San Diego Padres…

But somehow over the past few years I’ve become less of a baseball fan. I was still a Braves fan when I moved to Nashville, but Ted Turner sold everything Time-Warner and eventually the games stopped showing up regularly on TBS.  They were moved all over the dial.

And then… TiVo.  I think it was TiVo that wrecked my ability to watch long baseball games.  Because TiVo made it unnecessary to watch commercials.  And if you’re going to sit through a four-or-five hour baseball game, you’re going to have to suffer through a LOT of fucking commercials.

But I did watch as much of this year’s World Series as time would allow, and even though Houston was the team that “has gone the longest without” (like, forever), I was disappointed when the Dodgers couldn’t get out of the dugout in Game 7 last night.

And now the season is over, and the darkness descends.

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot…

…. like the morning after Halloween… as the Christmas kiosks and decorations start showing up all over the Mall.

And probably not much longer before the relentless mind-numbing reputations of “barumpa bump bump….” etc.

Just shoot me now.

Yeah, bah humbug.  Riiiiight….

Time Capsule 1969:
*PIF and The Delaware Water Gap

It’s been a LONG time since I dug into that Epic Memoir I started working on like two years ago… based on the journals I started during my senior year in high school and first year of college – 1969 and ’70.

click to embiggen

But this morning I spent a little time re-learning a Phil Ochs song that I first learned… well, just a little over 50 years ago.  I know because I wrote down all all the chords and lyrics in a spiral note book.  And the date above “Power and Glory” is July 18, 1967.  I probably haven’t played the song since 1968, but I played it today.

And I think that inspired me to open the file for “Time Capsule” for the first time in a long while.

I’m still not entirely certain what this project is supposed to be.   I vacillate between concepts: Is it a book? The concept seems dated.  Could it be some kind of web-based, multi-media, interactive…. something or other?  That might actually might be interesting: availing myself more fully to all the stuff that is readily available via YouTube, etc.  Or could it a “one man show” in which I read and recite passages from the text and (finally!) get to  and perform the songs of the era that I still remember how to play and sing?

Maybe it’s all three.

But it ain’t gonna be much or anything if I don’t actually work on it.

So today I worked on it.  I opened the Scrivener file ad landed on a chapter I’d already written about my first experiences with the demon weed.  So I posted that as a new “chapter” called

*PIF and The Delaware Water Gap 

And if you’re wondering, here’s a recording of the Phil Ochs song that got me started.  It struck me as a useful reminder of what we’re actually trying to save while the institutions around us are crumbling…

Mama Barn and Her
Two Little Baby Barns

I made a “painting” today.

This original photo is from a road trip that Ann and I made around Lake Michigan in the spring of 2009.  We went up the Michigan side, stopped at Mackinac Island for a couple of nights, then crossed over the Upper Peninsula and went down the Wisconsin side.

This scene was somewhere on the Leelanau Peninsula.

All digital, of course.

But hey, at least I’ve got something too show for my day off…

Click to embiggen:

The old Day Farm in Sleeping Bear Dunes Park

Dispatches from the Outskirts
October 27 – #TMITM Edition

I encourage you to read Andrew Sullivan’s latest at NYMag.com:

The money quote:

It turns out that Mark Zuckerberg’s real achievement will be the collapse of a rational public dialogue and the empowerment of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Our sacred institutions are at risk not only because of the would-be tyrant who sits atop them, but because of the technologies  that put him there

Every time we post something, or comment on something, or reply to a comment,  we are complicit in sustaining an rogue ecosystem that undermines both our selves and our nation.

Facebook cannot go the way of MySpace fast enough.  How do you say that in Russian?

And no, the irony of putting that on Facebook – even “indirectly, i.e. by “lobbing it over the wall from my own website – is not lost on me.  I just really have no idea what else to do about it.

We are all hoist on our own petard.

Neener Neener

I got mine.  Did you get yours?

Of course, I had to stay up until 2AM to get it.

And the whole time I’m wondering, “is this really going to make my life better?”

I guess we’ll find out in a week…

But hey… it’s my job! (said the master of rationalizations…)

From “Halt and Catch Fire”
You Are Not Safe

The show is called Halt and Catch Fire.* It depicts the early days of what we now call “the tech industry,” first in Texas and then in Silicon Valley, in the early and-mid-1980s (when what we now call a “notebook” was known as a “luggable.”

I watched the first two seasons a couple of years ago.  I started to watch Season 3 last year, and have finally gone back and watched the entire season, and will soon start watching the fourth and final season which ended earlier this month.

One of the themes in the third season involves what can best be called “the pre-emergence” of the Internet. One of the characters has discovered ARPANET  and has contracted with a similar network hosted by the National Science Foundation.

[spoiler alert for H&CF S3 E8]

In the closing minutes of the 8th episode, one of the characters leaves a suicide note. He is in legal jeopardy for having released into the wild the source code for a valuable security software product. The Feds are closing in, and he has decided that going out a high window is better than prison. Before his departure, he leaves this warning on the dominant public BBS network of the day:

YOU ARE NOT SAFE

I, Ryan Ray, released the MacMillan Utility source code. I acted alone. No one helped me, and no one told me to do it. I did this because “security” is a myth. Contrary to what you might have heard, my friends, you are NOT safe.

Safety is a story. It’s something we teach our children, so they can sleep at night. But we know it’s not real.

Beware baffled humans. Beware of false prophets who will sell you a fake future – of bad teachers, corrupt leaders and dirty corporations. Beware of cops and robbers. The kind that rob your dreams. But most of all, beware of each other. Because everything’s about to change.

The world is going to crack wide open. There’s something on the horizon – a massive connectivity. The barriers between us will disappear. And we’re not ready.

We’ll hurt each other in new ways. We’ll sell and be sold. We’ll expose our most tender selves only to be mocked and destroyed. We’ll be so vulnerable and we’ll pay the price. We won’t be able to pretend that we can protect ourselves anymore. It’s a huge danger. A gigantic risk. But it’s worth it.

If only we can learn to take care of each other. Then this awesome, destructive new connection won’t isolate us. It won’t leave us in the end so… totally alone.

He says it will be worth it… and for the most part, it is.

But how much do we feel “connected” when in fact… we are alone?

And we are just beginning to get a sense what the Trojan Network has unleashed inside the city gates.

Ryan’s soliloquy sounds prophetic. It is “sent to us” from 1986 – but was probably written sometime last year.  The episode first aired on October 4, 2016 – before we had any real sense of what how the Russians had weaponized our “social media.”  So it actually seems even more prophetic, anticipating as it does the condition we find ourselves in just a year later – as we begin to learn of the vulnerabilities hidden in these networks.

The tech oligarchs who have brought us this “open and connected” environment have also unleashed the most pervasive surveillance system the world has ever seen, to which we willingly and gladly contribute.    Not even Orwell could have imagined…

And now begins “the tech backlash” – as leaders of all stripes try to get a rein on the beast.

The post and the  several that precede it are a part are probably part of that backlash.  Now I have to wonder if I’ve left one mob and joined another.

*

*The title “Halt and Catch Fire” refers to an early bit of code that could shut down a computer’s central processing unit.

 

Dispatches from the Outskirts of Facebookistan – October 23 Edition:
How To Self-Deport From Toxic Town

Facebook, meet MySpace.  Only… how do you say that in Russian? 

I’d like to be able to say I started something, or at least that I’m  an early un-adopter.

Then along comes this item from ReCode to tell me that maybe I’m just part of a growing trend:

How to quit Facebook (if the time suck, Russian ads or political noise has become too much)

There are many valid reasons you might want to quit Facebook. Maybe you spend too much time there. Maybe you’re tired of its cluttered app. Maybe you’re unnerved by all the Russia stuff.

I was an avid Facebook user for more than a decade. But due to a combination of the reasons above, I’ve almost completely quit Facebook over the past three weeks. No surprise, I have been much happier for it.

I haven’t actually taken any of the steps recommended above, but I have managed to reduce my visits to nearly nil.  I’m not really missing it.

I did stick my head through the portal this morning, and saw pretty much what I’ve been seeing for the past two or three years –  the same handful of people saying pretty much the same things.

And expecting different results?

And that’s definition of…. oh yeah… right.

I rest my case.

 

Dispatches from the Outskirts of Facebookistan – October 16 Edition

I have often referred to Facebook as the Internet’s “infinite random trivia generator” – a notion largely derived from the mind-numbing habit of staring at the display – laptop, desktop, or hand-held – and scrolling on, forever thinking that the next post will be something genuinely interesting or profound. OK, maybe the next one. Or the one after that. Or the one… you get the picture.

I have refrained from posting anything on Facebook (OK, maybe a comment here or there…) for the past week.

I suppose you could say that by trying to avoid Facebook I’m actually more fixated on Facebook than if I was just interacting with it normally. Maybe the problem is I just don’t know what ‘normally’ means anymore. But two weeks in to this self-imposed quarantine, I think I can safely say I’m not missing it all that much.

Anyway, here’s what you missed:

*

From Monday October 9:

There’s been a lot said both pro and con re: TN Senator – MY Senator – Bob Corker offering some choice observations about the Moron in Chief in the past few days. I tend to fall into “where was he when we needed him?” camp, for reasons that are alluded to in this delectable bit of diatribe from Wonkette– my go-to site for caustic and profane commentary on current affairs:

GOP Sen. Bob Corker Has Only Just Begun To Talk Shit About Donald Trump

The money quote:

It’s true that Corker has done a lot of fucked up things. The race-baiting ads he ran against Harold Ford Jr. in his first campaign come to mind! He is not a hero. But he is doing something important right at this moment. We feel like both of those things can be true at the same time, no?

*

OK, so Harvey Weinstein is fat and ugly. Couldn’t he at least shave? #UglyStubble

– – – – – –

Thursday, October 12:

Why do men still wear buns in their hair? You would think with all the ridicule and scorn that has been cast upon man buns that by now they would know better. #NoThatDoesNotLookHip

*

Now on to the really important stuff:

It’s discouraging to think that the Cleveland Indians could finish the regular season with the best record in baseball, and then lose three consecutive games to the New York Yankees and be knocked out of the playoffs.

The whole wildcard system sucks. The Yankees could’t even win their division, and yet they get to compete in the ALCS. Did I mention that the whole wildcard scheme sucks? That’s why.

Maybe I just feel that way because I grew up in a time when one team won each league and then went to the World Series. You won the season, you got to go the World Series.  There was no “Post Season.”  There was just the World Series.  Which was played in early October.  And during the day. That made a whole lot more sense than than this idea that a second-place team can be the “World Champions” – after playing all the games in the cold nights of late October.  Jeezus.

I still think of the Houston Astros as a National League team, so I don’t understand why they’re playing in the American League Championship Series, but at this point, at least they won their division, and they’ve never won a World Series. So I might start rooting for them.

The Astros were originally the Houston Colt 45s, and became the Astros when they started playing in that dreadful Houston Astrodome. For that alone they should be condemned to baseball purgatory, but I’m going to overlook that now that they’re playing in a modern new park – with a retractable roof so they can play outdoors when the weather and Houston humidity permit.

The Astros / Colt 45’s were among the first “expansion teams” in 1962 – the same year the Mets were formed – and the Mets won their first World Series a mere seven years later in 1969. So maybe it’s the Astros’ turn this time.

Anyway, I bought a Cleveland Indians hat and was gonna root for them in the playoffs this year.

Because I really don’t have a personal favorite team any more. I grew up with the Yankees, became a “closet Dodger fan” after I read a biography of Roy Campanella (nobody ever mentions the second black man to play in the Major Leagues…) in the fourth grade, and was a Braves fan for a long time after moving to Hawaii in the 80s (TBS was the only “live” national television station in the Islands for a long time).

But over the last decade or so, my interest in baseball has waned considerably – thanks to the interminable post-season games and the endlessly repeating commercials. Since I got TiVo in 2001, I just can’t sit through commercials anymore. So I don’t really have a favorite team any more and I have no idea who any of the players are.

So when it comes to the post-season and it’s time to try to care a little, I go by the theory of “root for the team that has gone the longest without” winning the World Series. Last year that was the Cubs. who hadn’t won a World Series since 1908 – even though they were playing the Indians, who haven’t won a World Series since 1948.

Now that the Cubs have won a World Series, I figured it’s the Indian’s turn. I bought a cap and was gonna root for ‘em. I got to wear the hat for exactly ONE game before the second-place-in-the regular-season (in other words losers!) Yankees knocked ‘em out of the stupid “Divison Series.”

I think I’m just going to keep wearing my Indians cap in mourning, but root for the Cubs in the National League and the Astros in the American League (that still sounds weird). But I’m not gonna buy another hat.

*

Famous questions from the Apple Store: “Do you have a thing that can get the boogers out?” (of an iPhone’s Lightning connector socket).

– – – – – –

Friday, October 13

I keep hearing about a news service called “Axios.” The references treat it likes it’s a credible news service that’s been around for a long time, but I swear I never heard of it until about a month ago. Whathefuck is “Axios” and why is its suddenly getting all this attention?

*

Here is my definition of an asshole: somebody who will stand in the middle of an audience, and not even look around to see if he’s standing in front of somebody. Hey, asshole… down in front!

– – – – – –

Saturday October 14:

More baseball: Is it really necessary to a emblazon all the uniforms and caps with a “Post Season” logo? I know it’s the post-season. I don’t have to keep being reminded every time I look at one of the players. #CrappyMarketing

– – – – – –

Sunday October 15:

This is “the Facebook effect” : In the one instant that I look at Fucking Facebook, I see something that somebody I know is photographing Jason is bell at the Ryman. I immediately feel terrible if that’s not me. Fuck you, Facebook.

*

I’m pretty tired of hearing people complain about the USB-C ports on the new MacBook Pros. It’s the port of the future. You need adapters to connect to the gizmos of the past. Get used to it and shut the fuck up.

*

Well, there ya go.  1200 words worth of witty and profound.

See ya next week.