Social Media is a Cancer

Sunset over Wilmington Island

Back in January, I came up with my new social media rules and they worked for a while, but the more I actually looked at how I felt before and after a session on Facebook or Twitter, I decided they weren’t working – and worse, that at least those two platforms aren’t worth it.

Facebook is a cancer that’s taken our relationships and turned them against us in order to sell advertising. I’ve always called Facebook “what community would look like if designed by a sociopath” and it just gets truer. Facebook, as a company, has no ethics, no moral compass, and lies constantly about the effects it has on our society, and more importantly, our relationships. It’s powered by outrage and amping up emotions.

I started taking stock of my emotional state before I opened Facebook and then after I close it, and I never feel better after having scrolled through the outrage-of-the-day posts, dumb memes and gripes about this and that. Never. Not once.

Twitter’s even worse. I used to say that Twitter was the internet’s dinner party where you’re always two seats away from the best conversation. Now, it’s the internet’s brick fight. It’s constant outrage, clapbacks, sarcasm, and vain attempts at temporary viral glory. It’s gone from fun to toxic.

So, what to do about it? Eject. I now treat Facebook and Twitter like email addresses I don’t care about. I check it once or twice a day just to see if I have any new notifications and that’s it. I might post when I write something new here, or if there’s an event I’m organizing (like codebar), but that’s it. No more endless scrolling. No more posting in hopes of more likes. I still post photos to Instagram, because photos are great and it’s been somehow immune to the worst impulses of its parent company.

It’s taken a while to break the habit. Deleting the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone has helped. But, I also installed several new games on my phone to try to keep myself from going back to old habits (I’ll just start toxic new ones, yay!). Instead of compulsively opening Facebook when I pick up my phone, I’ll see what’s going on with the Angry Birds or if I can level up a hero in Fieldrunners Attack.

I’m sad about the state of social media. I had such hopes for them bringing people together and building empathy. Unfortunately, it’s brought together nazis, pedophiles and assholes – and the rest of us now have pointless arguments to make algorithms happy. It’s all so… stupid.

I don’t know where those platforms will end up, but at this point, I don’t care and they can go there without me being trapped there.

Summer Media Consumption

A big oak tree covered in spanish moss at sunset.

I’ve been a fan of Jason Kottke’s Media Diet posts forever and decided it’s time to start my own, because I consume so much, I forget what I’ve seen, what I like and what to recommend to folks. So, consider this the first in what will hopefully be a series of “stuff Kevin’s watched so you can watch it to” posts.

  • Crawl (might still be in theaters?): I saw this on vacation with my kids, my brother, his wife and daughter. It’s a great summer scare, and lots and lots of alligators. Rating: B
  • Black Spot (Netflix): If you like Twin Peaks, but wanted more procedural elements and 99% more French, and a little less David Lynch, this is the show for you. Set in an isolated small French town in the mountains next to a huge forest, there’s spooky creatures in the woods, personal drama, weird murders and compelling characters. Rating: B (I think the show needs to pick whether it’s supernatural or a police procedural… it’s not enough of either to be an A)
  • American Gods Season 2 (Starz): I caught up on this one with a free preview week on Prime (it’s great – if there’s only one show you want on a network, get the 7 day free trial of the channel on Prime Video and binge it, then cancel). This is one of the most beautifully produced things I’ve ever seen on television and watching Ian McShane and Orlando Jones chew through that beauty, stealing every scene they’re in, is a joy. Rating: B+ (it’s a little uneven)
  • The Deadwood Movie (HBO): You should read this profile of David Milch before you watch the movie. This is a loving (well, what Deadwood thinks of as loving) farewell to one of my all-time favorite shows. The characters are all older, a little worn down, calcified or fading, and I couldn’t think of a more beautiful send off. It’s gorgeous, and the last 2-3 scenes are beautiful. Rating: A
  • The Boys (Prime): The antidote to OD’ing on Marvel and DC. More Watchmen than Spiderman. Rating: A+
  • Undercover (Netflix): It’s a Flemish cop show based on a true story about an undercover operation against one of the largest MDMA producers in Europe. Lots of fun. Rating: B+
  • The Mechanism Season 2 (Netflix): Brazilian show, also based on a true story, about fighting large scale government corruption. The second season moves a little slower than the first, but the last three episodes are worth the wait. Rating: B+
  • Big Mouth (Netflix): Gross, juvenile (it is about puberty) but ultimately sex-positive and kind of joyful. One of the funniest things I’ve watched in a long time. Rating: A+
  • Blown Away (Netflix): It’s The Great British Bake Off, but glass blowing. It’s way better than I thought it would be, and the contestants are all great characters. Rating: B
  • Taco Chronicles (Netflix): Short light series about tacos! Each episode concentrates on a different variation and you’ll definitely learn something. Rating: B+
  • Street Food (Netflix): It’s Chef’s Table for street food and just as good. Just turn on subtitles and the original language, or it’s hella confusing. Rating: A
  • Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh (OMG, it’s a book!): I know, I’m as shocked as you are. This is a short book, but beautifully written and compelling. It’s got old myths, old gods, young men, old women and one of the most satisfying relationships I can remember in a book. Rating: A+

There you go, my first media diet! I’ll try to do these more regularly so they’re not this long. Happy viewing (and reading)!

Roadtrip Media Survival Guide

Dark storm clouds over some random shopping center in Northern VA.
The family just did our big annual road trip to see my family in Northern VA.  That meant over twenty hours on the road.  I almost always create a new Roadtrips playlist every year (first in iTunes, then Rdio, now Spotify).  This year’s was a little different since I let the kids add songs to it… and they did (for better or worse).  We didn’t end up listening to it on the big drives, but it was great for our trips around town with everyone in the van.

We mostly listened to podcasts.  This year, I created a new playlist in Overcast of things I’ve been meaning to catch up on, or that I know the kids like.  It worked great, especially since I limited all of those podcasts to only the 5 most recent episodes. It kept us from getting too many episodes of the same podcast in a row, and kept me awake since I never knew what was coming up next.

I had to skip podcast series where you have to have listened to all the episodes to know what’s going on, so no Limetown.

Here’s what we listened to, along with my recommendations (1-5 stars):

  • The Cut on Tuesdays: 5 stars. You never know what you’re going to get with the one. It could be an interview, or a fun story about “bad” dinner parties (my favorite episode), or a story about the history of birth control.
  • Revisionist History: 5 stars. Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast is now in its fourth season and it’s great. Super thought-provoking and great storytelling.
  • Scene on Radio (The Seeing White season): 5 stars. We only listened to the last four episodes of the season, but it’s amazing. It’s a great introduction to the history of whiteness, its power over the systems that run our lives, and some hopeful ideas on how to fix it.  It’s like a podcast of Dismantling Racism and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
  • Everything is Alive: 4 stars. A really silly concept: that everything is alive, so let’s interview them, but it turns into some mind-bending, funny, and touching conversations. I especially like the elevator one.
  • Every Little Thing: 4 stars. There’s some heavy stuff in this playlist, but ELT isn’t one of them. Audience questions get turned into explorations of things you never thought about. It’s always educational and fun.
  • Lore: 4 stars. You know about this one already, right?  Scary stories haltingly told.
  • Sawbones: 3 stars. The kids love this one.  It’s hit or miss for me.  Some episodes are great and hilarious.  Others just don’t work for me.
  • Solvable: 3 stars. Solid interviews with people changing the world. A little dry, but worth listening to.

There you go.  Hopefully that helps your end-of-summer roadtrips a little more pleasant.  Enjoy!

Talking About It

The last time I talked to a therapist for myself was when I was five or six after I fell into a beehive and then was petrified of bugs – to the point I had ulcers.

I found a program offered by my insurance company called AbleTo; it’s an eight week combination of therapy and behavioral coaching to help improve … whatever it is you need help with.

I asked for help making healthy choices and sticking to them – because boy have I struggled with that over the years.

In talking to my therapist and my coach I realized that I have failed to keep up with exercise and weight loss in the past not because I’m weak or incapable but because I’m too hard on myself. I get sick or hurt and feel like a failure… so I give up.

It’s the height of allergy season. I literally have a headache and sinus pain 24/7 right now. My therapist was worried that I’m hermiting myself away so we went through my calendar and she was blown away by how many commitments I have and am still able to keep.

And that’s when the light went on. I do not have to do it all and it doesn’t all have to happen now. Almost all of my guilt about things not getting done is self-inflicted. That guilt keeps me from seeing how much I’m able to get done in spite of my various health “challenges”.

So, no more. I will say no to things. I will do what I can and stop feeling guilty for not doing it all. I will stop sabotaging progress because that progress is halting.

Half assed is better than nothing.

Funny Not Funny

I was reminded of this story today, and wanted to write it down before I forget it.

My dad was in the Air Force for over twenty years, from a little after I was born until a little before I got married. He was a navigator, planned exercises and did all kinds of stuff I didn’t understand at the time.

When my brother, Tim, and I were high school, we went to his office after school (why, I don’t remember, and I think my mom might have been there, but I’m not sure). Almost as soon as he got there, he had to go talk to one of his coworkers, leaving Tim, me, and his desk, all alone. We were bored, so started looking at all the stuff on his desk. What did we find? His super awesome, self-inking, bright red, clicky-clack noise making, CLASSIFIED stamp!

We started stamping every piece of paper we could find CLASSIFIED: Post-Its, to-do lists, you name, it got CLASSIFIED.

Dad came back in, saw everything we “decorated,” pursed his already narrow lips, put his hands on his hips and said in his sternest dad voice: “Not funny.”

We, of course, thought it was hilarious. We thought it was so funny, we got him a blue, self-inking, clicky-clak noise making, super awesome, NOT FUNNY stamp for Christmas.

Developer Vocabulary Additions

This is my 20th year as a full-time professional web developer. I’ve learned a lot over the years… and at this point, forgotten more than I remember.

My favorite thing about being a developer is that we’re the heroes and villains of our story at the same time. We create the bugs and then get celebrated when we fix the bugs we create.

I’ve had a couple great bugs in the last week and my new response to the thanks I get from my Planted fam when I fix them is:

I’m sorry and you’re welcome.

It’s easy, concise, and both apologizes for creating the issue in the first place and acknowledges the gratitude for fixing it.

Elegant. That’s me.

My New Social Media Rules

Social Media, Social Media, Social Media! It’s awful! It’s ruining everything! Why are we all still using it then! I’ll leave it to experts to explain that part, but in an effort to extract myself from the worst of Facebook and Twitter, here are my new rules for myself. I’ve been following some form of them for over a year, and they’ve definitely made me feel better, almost as good as when I stopped watching cable news.

My Facebook Rules:

  1. Remorselessly snooze and unfollow toxic people, even if they’re close friends or family. I’m trying a two snooze then unfollowing if I still can’t deal with their posts showing up in my feed.
  2. Don’t dive into comments on a post where you don’t know everyone. There are too many trolls, and it’s not worth it.
  3. Don’t join new groups unless you have to.
  4. Never ever ever click ads. They’re almost always a scam anyway.
  5. No quizzes ever, not even the funny ones.
  6. Don’t share content from pages you don’t run.
  7. Set a timer. That’s your “mindlessly wandering Facebook” time. When the timer goes off, close the app.
  8. Use Facebook in a browser you don’t use for anything else (or use the Firefox Facebook Container extension).
  9. Before you post, think “should this be a blog post?” and post it here instead of on Facebook. It’ll last longer, and you’ll be able to find it again.

My Twitter Rules:

  • Don’t leave twitter open all the time. Check it like you would email.
  • Don’t speak in the internet’s, and especially twitter’s, default “sarcastic jackass” tone. Be conversational. Be helpful. Be fun. Because there’s too little of all of that.
  • Don’t feed the trolls (this is evergreen, but twitter is now majority troll and it’s just not worth it).

I don’t always follow them. I’m human. I screw up, and I can’t think of a case where I didn’t regret it almost immediately. I hope they’re helpful to you.

My Giant

If you go back through the archives, there are several posts about how funny my wife is. It’s been a while since I posted a new Jen story, and writing here is one of my resolutions for the year… so here we go.

At 3:50AM this morning, while I was very much asleep, Jen grabbed my leg and yelled, “There’s something terrible happening!”

“What?” I muttered trying to open my eyes and figure things out.

“Something bad is happening in the house. Go check it out!”

I was definitely awake now. I hopped up, rushed out of the bedroom, checked the kitchen, the doors, the windows, the floor (you know, for blood maybe? it was early), and then stood in the living room and just listened for a bit. Nothing. It was a house very much asleep… except for me.

I walked back to the bedroom.

“Did you find anything?”

“Nope. Nothing’s burning, no blood, all the doors are still locked. I think we’re good.”

“Maybe it was just a dream? OK, sorry, I know you don’t go back to sleep easily.”

“It’s fine. Better to check than not.”

With that, Jen put her sleep mask back on, rolled over and was asleep within 30 seconds. I think she was awake for maybe five minutes. I, of course, laid there, heart racing, trying to get back to sleep, for 45 minutes before I gave up, made tea (so I didn’t wake anyone up with the coffee grinder) and headed for the couch.

Re-reading this, it doesn’t sound as funny as it feels. But, it is a thing that happened, which makes it perfect for a blog post, right?

(and the title is a Twin Peaks reference… Jen is my very own giant, telling me crypticly that something is terribly wrong and to go fix it)

I’m on Team #OfficeHours

Inspired by Matt’s tweet, I’m trying out offering office hours on Fridays. You grab half an hour of my time on a Friday afternoon and we can chat about whatever you think I can help you with.

If you’re in Savannah, I also like to do coffee meetings weekdays between 8-9, but you should email me about those.

Some rules, because it wouldn’t be official without some:

  • Please don’t try to sell me anything. If you want to get feedback on your pitch, great, but I just… I don’t want to.
  • You set the agenda. Some things you might ask me about:
    • Savannah’s tech scene and TechSAV.
    • Savannah restaurants
    • Baking bread
    • Technical leadership
    • Ruby on Rails or CSS (or databases or javascript or whatever)
    • How to create a guerilla organization that actually gets things done.
    • How to write a resume that a robot can read
    • Being on a board
  • I guess “no sales pitches” is really the only rule.

And while you’re at it, why don’t you set up your own #OfficeHours and share what you know! It’s ridiculously easy to set up either Calendly or a Public Calendar on Google so people can talk to you.

My Friend Cindy Li

Cindy Li and Brian posing with silly glasses
Cindy Li smiling on top of Twin Peaks in San Francisco

I’ve worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years.  I’ve liked most of them, been friends with a lot of them, and loved many of them.  Cindy was definitely in the last category.

Cindy Li and I became fast friends and co-conspirators while we both worked at AOL.  We were on the CSS Working Group together.  We went to SxSW Interactive many many times (we had different but overlapping “gangs” at SxSW but we always intersected somehow during the conference – sometimes in the green room, where we’d try to distract each other’s panelists).  We went to countless dinners, lunches and dim sum brunches.  We caused trouble.  With our pal Jason, we built ficlets and came up with a t-shirt that became a bit of a sensation.

Matt Harris, Patrick Haney and Jason Garber sporting the Geeks Love * shirt at dim sum.

Cindy died on Monday, 10/15/2018. Cindy was amazing. She was equal parts creative, silly, kind, funny and smart.  She was a perfect co-conspirator.  She could take bad ideas and make them brilliant.  She effortlessly seemed to rally people to join the Cindy Li Vortex of Fun Adventures.

Cindy and Kevin making stupid faces for the camera.
Cindy tormenting Jason, one of her faaaavorite pasttimes.
Cindy, about to chow down on a steak at Austin’s Hoffbrau

Cindy brought people together.  She was the ultimate connector, and even though she’s gone, the connections she made with all of the people she impacted all over the world will remain.  After she was diagnosed, Cindy organized a small group of friends from all over the world into her support system.  We were all around, talking to each other about how best to help her and her family, and the whole while she was sick, she was there being the life of the party, right up until the end.  Even with her illness, she was connecting people and spreading love, kindness and empathy.

She was a vortex of love, and fun, and whimsy, and adventure, and you weren’t just along for the ride, you were an integral part of it. I don’t think anyone who knew Cindy thought they were anything less than 100% included and in on the joke, and that’s a rare and beautiful thing.  She was that way until the day she left, I imagine riding a Hello Kitty cloud on her way to organize an adventure with St. Peter and redecorate the gates of Heaven.

Her friends organized a site for sharing memories of Cindy as a way to share with her how much she means to all of us, and as a way for her sons to understand what she meant to us when they’re older.  You can share your own memory of Cindy by following the instructions there, read her obituary, and help her kids out if you’re able.