The Psalms

media

lol Artifact

A rushed request for pause & reflection on why we use social media.

I have not been able to follow any more accounts on Twitter – from @NeoYokel, my primary, eldest account – for several years because of a limit implemented at some point by Twitter and documented in this help document. Considering the breadth of the mechanic's significance for other users, I have often been compelled to explain this to new followers. Recently, it occurred to me that a handy, brief explainer page might streamline this process, so I created “Why I Didn't Follow You Back” – in both GitHub Gist and Medium post form. Other than a lack of reciprocity in engagement which I can only speculate to occur in the minds of the opposite parties involved in this dynamic, this limitation does not detract from my Twitter life, as I exclusively consume content in Twitter Lists (which I have spoken about extensively, elsewhere.)

A big theme in my 20s has been coming (slowly) to terms with the fact that I built my entire adult social life around a single, centralized social media Web Site. I mentioned this in my Tweetbot 6 review, recently, but – as I also strive to be a more sincere person and spend more time adding value to others’ lives – I’ve concluded that it is the time now to speak as openly and vulnerably as I can about my “Social Media Methodology.” Most of the resulting insights will not be new information, but I continue to encounter greater and greater confusion in the face of my well-meaning behavior online and I have decided to stop disregarding it.

This is not an essay about how to “optimize” your social media use. It is – at least in part – a sort of manifesto against the very idea of designed online behavior beyond simply being considerate in a sense that predates even the spoken word. I, myself, have occupied a position well on the chaotic side of the spectrum. You could say I have been mostly chaotic neutral throughout my 12 years on Twitter thus far, and am actively working toward (and advocating for) chaotic good. Perhaps inevitably, I'm going to wade into some experiences with a few specific social media phenomena which I am particularly reacting to, here.

Assumptions at bat

  1. For the vast majority of mainstream social users, no amount of [insert vague overused marketing jargon noun] will ever result in a substantial accumulation of money/“influence” (which seems to be the diluted zag of “POWER” of the moment.) Those interested in learning about “marketing” should know that no authority on the subject would ever tell you to start with Twitter – this I can say with certainty.
  2. Though Twitter was designed upon certain frameworks with certain rules which form quantifiable formulas where they are dependent upon a user's choices/methodology to produce results which we have, indeed, become more adept at predicting with study over time, it was not created as a game to be won. Perhaps more importantly, the “prize” of “winning” in the sense held by those who resist this assumption (notoriety, “influence,” relevance) has continued to prove ultimately worthless (or worse) time and time again throughout the very short history of the cultural element as it exists today.
  3. If both 1 and 2 pass scrutiny, the only remaining reasonable prerogatives in one’s social media use is to engage with both strangers and friends in a manner which generally adds value to the lives of all involved.
  4. 3 is not only possible – it is easily reproducible. Most of my evidence is centered around my own experiences, but I believe – if I took the time – I would be able to find infinitely many publicly-facing examples.
  5. Though I am going to use my own methods to demonstrate 4, neither my ideas nor my behavior are the only means of interacting positively on social media.

I've come to the conclusion fairly recently that I need to become brutally frank about the discrepancies I've observed between others' accounts of their social media use and my own as soon as possible. The great, ambient grousing summoned throughout The Plague from even the first picogeneration to be born directly into The Social Web really challenged my assumptions about its actual purpose in the day-to-day lives of those in the center of the adoption curve. You mean to tell me you've been spending all that societally-alarming time on your phone... On social media services... and you haven't made a single international friend? Or happened across a single niche community surrounding some bizarre practice or knowledge you'd long thought you were entirely alone in? What exactly have you being doing with all that tapping since your toddlerhood, then? I had absolutely no clue how utterly ineffective the vast majority of n̳o̳r̳m̳i̳e̳s̳ still are at using social media for its general purpose in the most abstract sense: “human connection.

The essential realization toward which (I desperately hope) the largesse of America is being carried by conversations around An Ugly Truth, as well as countless lower-profile essays, features, academic papers, and general shit shooting is that the responsibility for this ignorance rests solely on the platforms who systematically reformed the controls originally handed over by default to early adopters like me. I would love (for both selfish and very humanitarian reasons) to be able to proclaim some precious, one-of-a-kind genius as the sole differentiator between my complete confidence in my ability to design and maintain social software configurations that have kept my online consumption entirely free of unwanted encounters and the amount of regular involuntary bullshit I hear described in the day-to-day online existence of everyone around me. The truth, I suspect, involves my being of the most privileged category of human in Western civilization combined with the group of high school friends who adopted and socialized me. (A story for another permalink, certainly, if not my equivalent of Trick Mirror.)

More importantly, perhaps, I don't think I can recall a single instance of sincere malice from within myself toward anyone who'd actually converse with me. On the occasions I have been all huffy and confrontational, I do not remember a single example in which I was unwittingly ejected from a conversation left feeling unsatisfied.

Over the past few months, I've started a few Posts for this blog regarding Twitter, its properties, and its recent feature addition frenzy which I'll probably never finish. I finished the first and narrowest one – the aforelinked Tweetbot 6 review – but the (debatably) most important one – highlighting how irresponsibly and distastefully Twitter butchered Periscope and built Spaces atop its technology – would make less and less sense as time goes on. I definitely got caught up in the “death” of the live video streaming service, fueled by my now quite old desire to celebrate it, which I will hopefully accomplish eventually in a very sentimental essay. If I can successfully link them editorially, the subject encompassing Spaces – social audio's “moment” – would also include mention of RSS, “Podcasting” (the term describing the medium,) Spotify, and Clubhouse, inevitably. Instead of counting on my future self entirely, however, I'm going to begin by discussing that last one.

Clubhouse Blasted Logo

The (‽‽‽th) Social Audio Renaissance

Exactly one month ago, I finally broke into Clubhouse thanks to a random kind stranger on Twitter who preferred not to be named. April 25th was the first time I set eyes on the app – though I could've (and usually would've) looked up screenshots and/or browsed the litter of how tos available, I did not. By this time, I'd accumulated quite a bit of experience with Twitter Spaces – derided universally by tech media as a “Clubhouse clone” – and therefore assumed the original would be “better,” at least in pure feature terms. What I found, however, was even less evidence that anyone building Clubhouse has been/is/intends to be a regular Clubhouse user. Spaces, at least, included five emoji reacts for listeners from the beginning: 💯✊✌️👋😂. Clubhouse's exclusive means of Listener-Host interaction is Hand Raising, which is essentially requesting to speak, even though the hand waving emoji is literally featured in their logo. (The fact that neither have thought to add 🙌 is absolutely inexcusable/inexplicable.)

In case you weren't aware, I appear to enjoy trying out new social services. My password manager is full of literally thousands of credentials for social media apps/services/startups – most of which have undoubtedly collapsed or been absorbed by a larger entity. Since generating said credentials has become such an easy process, especially, I tend to immediately sign up for an account on just about every one I hear about. (I even have a Parler profile I cannot bear to actually look at.) Generally, I sign up, follow anyone I know from elsewhere if given an account-bridging option, poke around enough to figure out whether or not the service in question could add something to my online existence, and end up leaving for good. Most of these services are not unique in any way, to a perplexing degree. A few – like Pinterest – gain success separately as I give up on trying to integrate them into my life. The miniscule remaining percentage, though, end up becoming a part of my daily existence. The most recent of these dates back to April 2017, when I first discovered Mastodon.

The Feature Story

“Social Audio” did not begin with Clubhouse. Anchor originally launched as a “public radio” app, believe it or not. Extratone's channel was actually the first to be featured in their Music section, once upon a time. Frankly, that happening was the most positive outcome of my social media service accumulation habit. More recently, Stereo launched, describing themselves as “the premier LIVE broadcast social platform that enables people to have and discover real conversations in real time.” Bizarrely, the most legitimate media coverage I could find of Stereo was from Glamour UK, and its author definitely spent less than a day actually using the service. Adam Corolla remains #1 on its earnings leaderboard and its conversation export feature is a personal favorite. The Big WIRED feature on the subject from December of last year does not mention Stereo but lists three other “alternatives:” Wavve, Riffr, and Spoon. (None of which are actually competitors/alternatives. Sorry, Arielle.)

I probably shouldn't proclaim to be an authority on social audio, but I am definitely a veteran. From that context, I must say that Clubhouse is horribly unoriginal – not only in the sense that “successful” business implementations of others', previous ideas tend to be diluted versions of the original, but almost pitifully so. I will commend the app's developers on their somewhat-thorough release notes (even though they can be viewed only when first opening the app after an update instead of in the designated space on the App Store,) but the extent of linkable Clubhouse documentation amounts to eight blog posts and a “Community Guidelines” Notion page. Though I've only been a user for one month, I wonder what the fuck they've been doing since launch, given how sparsely-featured the app is at this moment. There are Notifications, Profiles, and Clubs – the latter of which cannot be created until a user surpasses an unknown threshold of renown(?) on the app. Competent calendar integration may be the service's singular innovation, though support for Outlook has yet to be added. The Big Issue, though, is finding a “talk” to attend that will not drive you utterly insane...

Clubhouse Bullshit

The Grand Delusion

I wrote the assumptions at the beginning of this Post in a single go after a particularly icky Sunday Clubhouse experience out of a deep concern that'd been growing since first exploring the app. The content I've found there is not at all what I expected, to be honest. I've found it almost entirely indecipherable, which makes critique beyond just fucking screaming difficult. The New Yorker's Anna Wiener did a much better job than I could realistically manage in “Clubhouse Feels like a Party:”

There was something pleasant about meandering from conversation to conversation, as if I had walked into my own home to find a conference in full swing. But I also wondered, Why did I let all of these people into my house?

...

It is hard to shake the feeling that everyone on Clubhouse is selling something: a company, a workshop, a show, a book, a brand.

More recently, her publication's nemesis declared “The Clubhouse Party is Over,” but I wouldn't know. None of my friends have ever Tweeted a Clubhouse link (determinable via this Twitter search.) Very few of the tech industry celebrities I follow have, either – pretty much just Chris Messina and Jason Calacanis. This is noteworthy because I believe my list of followed accounts on Twitter to be particularly diverse. I actively followed accounts across my various interests from ages 15-25 (when I hit my follow limit) and basically never unfollowed anyone. I would imagine there are several accounts within that list which I would be ashamed to be associated with, now, and yet none have shared a Clubhouse link. Reading any further into this observation would require actual data journalism, which I'll leave to the pros. It does prompt the question, though: if nobody I've ever known or been interested in on Twitter is using Clubhouse, who in fuck is?

Frankly, I do not understand the business incentive behind the massive duplication of other software/services defining featuresets of late. I see that Instagram stories have eclipsed Snapchat's in terms of sheer user count, but I do not understand why its leaders would choose to fuck their legacy by such blatant idea theft, much less why Twitter, Facebook, Patreon and even fucking LinkedIn have implemented nearly-identical featuresets. Though I know Ben Thompson's word on these matters should be easily digestible, I haven't been able to actually take a bite. For the End User, especially, I cannot even begin to conceive of what the leaders behind these decisions imagine the day-to-day experience of the average social media user looks like in the near future. How many apps am I going to cycle through to get a single story-type piece of content satisfactorily shared? Personally, I currently use three, and sharing a single bit individually across all of them one-by-one (since the current state of APIs is not conducive to consumer-targeted mass-sharing tools) makes me feel utterly insane.

My lack of understanding would be meaningless if it were not so widely shared among my peers – young, brilliant, multifaceted, and distinctly original creators who (in large part) make stuff on the internet full-time. They are who I'd actually plan ahead to hear from in a live broadcast setting like Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces, but Twitch seems to do just fine. For audio broadcasts, specifically, the hip, fresh sources which come to mind are all distinctly Open Web: Datafruits.fm, Solarpunk.cool, Poolside.fm, and my Mastodon friend Vanta's stream. The potential of the term “social audio” is truly being explored by projects like Rave.DJ – a homegrown, Patreon-funded service for sharing mixes/mashups. On a smaller scale, the sky is the limit for Whyp.it as a pure audio playback/annotation tool for creators (as developed by Brad Varol, whom I interviewed in March.)

Compared to these, most of Clubhouse's communities seem bleak at best. As I may or may not get around to arguing thoroughly about Twitter Spaces, these services' fundamental, near-complete disinterest in Discovery of new voices and their subsequent servitude to only their most popular users should be extremely worrying for us all – including those who benefit most.

Tinder Obfuscation

The Consequences of Strategy

I have more than my fair share of stories and peeves about dating apps. On several occasions, for instance, I have corrected those who cite Tinder as the origin of the directional swiping interface, explaining that it was actually the now-defunct service Hot or Not who did so some 15 years ago. (Why on Earth I am compelled to do so, nobody knows. Not even God.) Somehow, though, I think most of us can agree that Tinder is the least shitty of the explicitly hookup-ish spectrum of the genre. Or at least, I thought so, until I happened to spy the “Photo Tip” embedded above beneath a preview of my profile on the iOS app.

The innocuousness of this advice, which surely would not be dispensed in any other context without immediately screaming malice, has been on my mind ever since. It is not the devil who tells you to make sure a passing potential match doesn't immediately learn you have children, but the Marketing Man. (Yes, they are distinct. I would explicitly discourage that particular sort of demonization, mostly because it has proven completely ineffective as cultural critique.) I am in no position to relevantly explore the topic of Society & Sex, generally, other than to insist that most people on Tinder in my area, at least, are not looking to leverage it for the dick. They are looking for dates, and a good many are working class single mothers. To be clear, I’m not trying to suggest anyone in this demographic would be “fooled” by such a suggestion. Offended, perhaps, and/or activated in such a way that would lead to them replacing all of their profile’s pictures with photos of just their children. Regardless, this social group defined by a distinct lack of free time, if nothing else, represents an antithesis to the practice of optimizing one’s swipe ratio.

I think I’ll stop there with this Chapter of David Blue’s Tech Gripes Grapes and pledge to arrive back again exclusively through haphazard/unintentional means, if I ever do.

#media

Chuck Klosterman

The genius of one Chuck continues to perform to the refreshing benefit of scholars in American culture.

Thanks to an episode of Peter Kafka's Recode Media, I've just now discovered that former New York Times Magazine Ethicist, author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, and longtime men's interest media-affiliated sports and music columnist Chuck Klosterman pronounces his surname kloa-ster-men instead of klaw-ster-men as I have been, shamefully – even within earshot of other human beings on a handful of occasions. I am willing to submit myself for punishment for these transgressions under the single condition that I be allowed to call him Cuck Klusterfuck the next time he ends a spoken sentence with “or whatever” in an interview – an unfortunate habit he's maintained for years. If my own byline had any pedigree in the world of literary criticism, I would now collect his penance simply by including those hateful, 90s stoner-kid buzzwords in every quote, unedited, but it most certainly does not. I've searched moderately hard for any reason to bother contributing any criticism of books or their authors and returned with very little. I've read The Broom of the System and White Girls this year, yes, but I'd have to be a Fuck Boy to write anything about David Foster Wallace, and Hilton Als’ elegant, genre-busting masterpiece is so far beyond both my societal rights and perceptive capacity that I wouldn't dare utter a single editorialized peep about it – aside from a log line-length recommendation – even under immediate threat of certain death.

Given my recent voluntary relocation to Portland, Oregon and the word-y pursuits on which I choose to spend all of my money and energy, I should adore everything about Chuck Klosterman and in turn he should be completely invisible across the under-30 demographic, yet I’ve found a special originality in his voice since first exploring it and I think it might be worth requalification. A good friend of mine once dug his first novel Downtown Owl out of a bulk box of bargain books she’d bought as a preteen, long ago and became an enthusiastic fan of his perspective and a harsh, but fond critic of his persona. It was her copy of his second that I read first: The Visible Man – ultimately a surprisingly-original take on the psychologist of a gifted outcast tale that classically exemplifies the easy-to-digest yet thoughtfully-exploratory reputation of his craft. Thanks to her library card, I was able to follow it up immediately with Chuck’s latest, most topical work – an anthology of past essays written for publications like The Guardian, Grantland, and GQ entitled X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century, which proved an impossibly entertaining, even more polished execution of The Quaint Chuck’s Explanations in non-fiction form, beginning at onset with refreshing brevity in its introduction.

I’m not fully accredited by either side of the professional equation (sportswriters think I’m too pretentious and music writers don’t think I’m pretentious enough,) but I’m able to write about whatever I want, as long as it actually happened.

Using “pretentious” even when just vaguely and loosely expressing other readers’ thoughts about your work is the first of many miniscule technical infractions against convention laid down in X’s arrangement which proves to act toward the benefit of its experience. If you substitute car nerds for sportswriters, I’d personally identify with this picoautobiography in a big way, but more importantly as a reader I had never encountered anything written about sports which I would describe as pretentious, per se, and that realization could very well have birthed enough curiosity to land the sale, had I been skimming in a bookshop, which I would’ve eventually been pleased with.

Now, during what we should hope to be the first dawn of a new microera of sincerity, we must recognize how valuable it is for Klosterman as an observer to be comfortably engaged with his subjects, emotionally, and confident in the value of his commentary in middleage without the need to insist upon his eccentricity, as so many cringey, culturally-daft Dads do, these days. He uses keywords in his writing and spoken publicity that should dismiss him immediately as one of these – a nostalgic, out-of-time dork – but are instead somehow magically manipulated to serve him in articulating reasonable, even profoundly-innovative insight. As I have explored his bibliography and his publicly-expressed thoughts, I have been caught up and hinged on a single supposition: Chuck Klosterman is the only white, 46-year-old bearded Portland Dad you should be reading. Do mind that I am in no way exempt from this lens, but it’s still my job to determine his viability as an intellectual – a “thought leader,” even – for those of us who were conceived around the same time he was wrapping up his collegiate sentence at the University of North Dakota.

For a solid hunk of the American reading audience, a quick, elemental vector of quality and mastery we look for in an essayist is the ability to “transcend” their subject matter for even the most presumptuous and conceited among us, usually to deliver a more abstract sentiment to leave with. Here, Klosterman’s significant career experience is irrefutably evident – in X, he achieves this transcendence organically with a fluidity unlike anything I’ve read before. We can already check a single box: convincing even a young professional twenty-something to shell out for a physical hardback of contemporary non-fiction requiring any sort of academic effort to consume is going to be nigh-impossible, even though X actually happens to be the best-looking specimen of print product design I have ever handled across cover, type, and layout. It’s been difficult having to convince myself to give this copy back.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must take special care to emphasize just how highly I regard Peter Kafka as editor and interviewer extraordinaire within the Media beat – well-proven to be capable of hitting consistently hard on both novel and old guard industry personalities with refined, seemingly unimpeachable stone-faced skepticism. However, this Chuck Klosterman interview for Recode Media is an uncharacteristically disarmed display of serious admiration: he introduces X with an outright confession: “It’s great. I bought it. I bought a signed copy,” which is an unexpected oddity (though not an unwelcome one – I’m glad Peter enjoys his life.) Their conversation dips briefly in personal history (Chuck and his wife moved to Portland from Brooklyn for its proximity to family) before plopping down upon the substance of his clearly superb and matter-of-fact interview technique. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a conversation between Kafka and any previous guests with whom he was quite so obviously alike in general disposition.

The only reason I’m able to ask you these questions is because I’m a reporter and I can ask you questions now that I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable asking you if we were friends, so I’m not going to pretend that we are and I’m not going to create some fake thing where we’re going to have a relationship beyond this conversation. I’m just going to ask you the things I want to know about and I hope that you respect the fact that I’m just being straight with you. I find that that works much better.

From the broadest possible pop cultural lens, Chuck's most spectacular and widely-circulated work, demographically (I assume) is his 2015 interview and cover story for GQ with Taylor Swift – then “the most popular human alive.” Yes, it really is worth dwelling on the image: this guy... this very Dorky Dad, just hanging out with the most highly-demanded teen idol who's ever lived, sitting awkwardly next to her in the backseat of her car as she maniacally panics to accept a call from Justin Timberlake. When one Chucks such a distinguished contrast upon such a high-profile contemporary medium, the weight of the potential scrutiny becomes palpable, but Klosterman anticipates and braces for this (very risky) business in the only manner he can: acknowledging it over and over and over again in the second paragraph of his every interview appearance.

It doesn’t matter if it was complimentary or insulting necessarily. It would seem as though I wasn’t taking her seriously as a musical artist, and the idea is that I do. That’s why I’m writing about her is because I do think she’s a meaningful, significant artist. It’s not worth the risk of having the story then get shifted by other people who perhaps just perceive themselves as somebody who’s a watchdog for certain signifiers or certain elements of the culture and that their job is to be on the watch for this. If your story then gets moved into that silo, that’s all it’s going to be remembered for... It’s a touchier thing now. It’s a more dangerous thing.

In the print itself, the cover story is prefaced by a very short but uncomfortably-telling complaint about changing expectations for culture writers. One might reasonably suggest that Klosterman regards the practice of calling out or remarking on “creepy misogyny” as “dumb” – nothing but the byproduct of changing “times.”

Something you may notice in the following 2015 feature on Taylor Swift is that I never describe what she looks like or how she was dressed, even though I almost always do that with any celebrity I cover... If I did, it would be reframed as creepy misogyny and proof that I didn't take the woman seriously as an artist. It would derail everything else about the story. It would become the story.

But… is it? Note how desperately close his language comes to the common white guy whining about feminism classification without actually fitting the bill. Right…? It doesn’t? Surely, it must be certified Awake through some combination of keywords or format I’m unfamiliar with or unable to visually register because Klosterman’s ass would have long been grass, otherwise. These 224 words are X’s most contentious, which you could call impressive, all things considered – he appears to care enough about his public image to curate it somewhat diligently. When a motherhood blogger published an open letter in 2013 citing three very ableist uses of the R-word in his work, it only took him two days to respond: “I was wrong. You are right.”

More than any other writer of his demographic, Chuck Klosterman has a close, wary relationship with the everchanging contextual boundaries of public expression. He knows when to be transparent with his feelings on progression, and he's careful to avoid what could be “problematic” for the sake of functioning better as a writer (I assume.) For Slate's I Have to Ask podcast, he managed to speak extensively about these mechanisms for nearly an hour without bellowing anything definitively cringey.

I can’t say it’s better or worse. It’s just different, and because it’s different, it makes me feel uncomfortable, but there’s actually like an adversarial relationship with the history of anything, and that somehow that history is seen as oppressive. And you shouldn’t even know about it. It’s better to live in now.

A quick jaunt from pretty horrendous to almost-ideal, then. If we are to place our faith in Chuck as our last bearded champion, we must hope that last sentence is sincerely intended to be his lens to the changing world. Granted – even if it is the truth – it’s not as if persistent acknowledgement of one’s position can miraculously wash away any systematic patriarchal dynamics involved in authoring (or reading, for that matter) a high-profile feature of a young woman on cover of a magazine which explicitly seeks most to speak to “all sides of the male equation,” (are you sure about that, Condé Nast?) especially considering how unlikely it would've been for me to read anything about Taylor Swift outside of this very white man's anthology. Fundamental themes of power and control are threaded throughout both his fiction and non-fiction, which is especially prevalent in the Macho Big Boy cultures of the athletics and music industries. In profiling Taylor Swift – the undisputed apex of the latter in 2015 – Klosterman provided a firsthand account of the grueling maintenance of a public and private personality under tremendous strain from said factors as they were magnified to the max by the most extreme celebrity.

Here we see Swift’s circuitous dilemma: Any attempt to appear less calculating scans as even more calculated. Because Swift’s professional career has unspooled with such precision, it’s assumed that her social life is no less premeditated.

I’m right there with Chuck: I’ve even found a fundamental pillar in Power and Control relationships supporting my own fiction experiments: how we attain them, how we lose them, and how best to make use of them – all of which had apparently been quite problematic for Taylor Swift for most of her adult life, though we wouldn’t be allowed to really comprehend how deep her inner turmoil had drilled until it overwhelmed even her expertly-designed self-control four years later, boiling over entirely with such unexpected violence that all of America’s pseudorural glam-pop-country-glossy-chode-hipsters let out a simultaneous, dangerously-alarmed holler of OH FOR PETE’S SAKE that was actually heard and recorded from the overflying orbit of the International Space Station.

It’s somehow different when the hub of the wheel is Swift. People get skeptical. Her famous friends are marginalized as acquisitions, selected to occupy specific roles, almost like members of the Justice League ('the ectomorph model,' 'the inventive indie artist,' 'the informed third-wave feminist,' etc.). Such perceptions perplex Swift, who is genuinely obsessed with these attachments.

No, it’s not only worthwhile as an exercise in superbly athletic self-awareness – the Taylor profile is profound. I’d recommend reading and treasuring it with or without the rest of the anthology because bizarre intersections like these are rare to come by from anybody else. Short, sharp, and occasionally somewhat petty notions are what Chuck Klosterman does best and most originally. Thanks to a digression of Kafka’s beginning with “you and I are about the same age…,” he arrives (by way of REM, believe it or not) at a significant statement about youth and identity.

It seems strange to me to be into music for its coolness outside of high school. That seems like that’s the only time when you’re a young person and you’re using art basically to create a personality because you don’t have a real personality yet.

Klosterman is debatably exempt from the traditional academic abstract of “objectivity” for the vast majority of his notable work because of its stated primary subject: his “interior life.” Perhaps the success of his voice could be at least partially attributed to his development of an existential muscle – a perspective unique enough to entertain, yet no less recognizably Midwestern with which he’s been able to reflect particularly clearly on the profession in tandem with the experience he’s accumulated over the course of his career.

You know, when you’re young, you’re a real emotional writer if you’re a writer… If I was a young person now, I would be incredibly attracted to the idea that when you’re 22 you can be a national writer, which was impossible when I was 22.

In a way, Klosterman does surmise that it was indeed its objectivity that media lost, and that writing is no longer a “one-way relationship,” but a sort of ridiculous dance in which “many people feel the reason they’re consuming media is to respond to it… that it’s not for the content.” I would remind old Chuck that there are very few functioning adults outside of academia or retirement in the United States who spend much of their time reading anything solely for the sake of absorption, and the disparity between those who were and weren’t was exponentially greater in the past. The story of American media is defined by its cycles of waning and waxing democratization, but many of the more traditional avenues in the business have bet on the “two-way relationship” to keep them relevant.

My own favorite chapter of the collection is a 2500-word personal essay constructed for Grantland to answer a single incongruity: “Why is watching a prerecorded sporting event less pleasurable than watching the same game live?” Some form of this question has at least mildly troubled every American since the 1960s, including myself, and Klosterman manages to provide an entertaining and concise analysis of this plight through his own wisdom. In its short preface in the volume – which was written “in 2008, in Europe, when [Chuck] was pretend depressed” is the story of his encounter with a house-painting stranger, to whom he explains the meter for success in his opinion-manufacturing profession, as he sees it: “If a large number of strangers seem to think one of my opinions is especially true or wildly wrong, there is somehow a perception that I am succeeding at this vocation.”

Last weekend I was in a hashish bar in Amsterdam. It was post-dusk, pre-night. The music was terrible (fake reggae, late-period Eric Clapton, Sublime deep cuts.) I was sitting next to a British stranger with a shaved head and a speech impediment. Our conversation required subtitles, so I imagined them in my mind. He told me he had lost three family members within the past year: his mother, who was sixty-six; his uncle, who was fifty-six; and his sister, who was forty-six. He said he'd just turned thirty-six. He asked if I saw a pattern developing. “Yes,” I said. “But only numerically.” I asked what he did for a living. He said he was a housepainter. He asked me the same question about myself. “I manufacture opinions,” I said. “Really?” he asked. “How do you know if you’re any good at that?” “By the number of people who agree or disagree,” I said in response. “If a large number of strangers seem to think one of my opinions is especially true or wildly wrong, there is somehow a perception that I am succeeding at this vocation.” “That’s interesting,” said the bald British man who could barely speak. “I guess house painting is a totally different thing.”

Rarely are situations or discussions that begin with back in my day actually constructive in any sense, but Chuck Klosterman appears to be the exception. If you’re willing to indulge him, you may find yourself reassured. He now writes from a remote cabin (with WiFi,) was tortured – like all of us – in sifting through and compiling his old work for X, and finds its index to be his favorite part.

Exploring the index from a book you created is like having someone split your head open with an axe so that you can peruse the contents of your brain.

He is willfully and completely ignorant of the Harry Potter franchise, yet able to sincerely witness and convey the nuances of back-to-back Creed and Nickelback concerts in a confident, fascinating technique of which any other music or culture writer would deprive you. He is “almost embarrassed” by his emotional attachment to the Charlie Brown peanuts. (See: Chuck Klosterman on Charlie Brown.)

I haven't watched A Charlie Brown Christmas in at least twenty-five years, solely because I can't emotionally reconcile the final scene.

You’ll notice that his entire answer to the live television debacle is – again – entirely about control (or the lack thereof.) In fact, his relationship with and desire for control also contributed to his choice of profession.

Part of the reason I became a writer is because it was this completely controlled reality where I could do this thing by myself where you’d go out and you’d do the interviews and stuff, but then you’re back by yourself, transcribing and then writing. Then, when the story is done and you send it off, that’s the end. Now that’s the middle. Now it’s like, when the story is published, it’s the middle of the process very often because the consumer feels differently now.

While Klosterman’s voice is pleasant to someone like me, neither it nor himself necessarily belong to The People. In his X review for Paste Magazine, B. David Zarley proclaims essays to be “a love letter to a moment,” concluding that Chuck is “’effectively narcissistic,’ proving that culture essays can teach us something about ourselves and the people around us.” For The Washington Post, Justin Wm. Moyer notes “it’s hard to think of another writer who could make a 30-page, deeply reported essay about a North Dakota junior-college basketball game interesting,” suggesting that this new collection marks Klosterman’s ascendance from critic to philosopher. From what I’ve read to date, I would counter that he has always fulfilled the term to the extent of its usefulness in the 21st century and is even now beginning to redefine it. Last January, he braved the “dystopic” Google Gates to speak critically for a crowd of Googlers, describing them as “an umbrella over the entire culture,” and urging caution and reflection in the coming future to keep them from doing “something bad.” His engagement with them – especially during the Q&A – is a fascinating insight into the Greater Google Mind, and I would encourage any invested parties in Chuck Klosterman’s role as a philosopher to watch the talk in full. I was unfamiliar with “the boat-sails-wind analogy” before I read James Murphy’s interview for LCD Soundsystem’s “last album.”

Your life is a boat, the sails are your emotions, and drugs are the wind. When you're a kid, your boat is small and your sail is huge, and drugs are like a hurricane.

Control x Time = the Klosterman beat. I suppose this must be what other entertainment writers are referring to when they accuse Chuck of nostalgia trafficking, but I can’t be so sure. Though I’d like to think my own snout for the stuff is especially well-tuned, I am undeniably from a different planet – even auditorily. All but one or two of the musicians interviewed throughout X were entirely unknown to me by name, which Klosterman’s voice managed to make even more compelling – not to mention the included stories of athletes and the sports industry, which include stories of the human ego, paranoia, and complex drama that always manage to transcend their setting when articulated with such dexterity.

I’ve never before written a book review of any sort – nor am I defensibly qualified to compare culture writers – but with good ole’ Chuck, I dove much further in order to tackle one very important question: should Klosterman be recommended reading for anyone under 30 above or alongside bestsellers like George Saunders or groundbreaking essayists of color like Hilton Als? In many a case, I must conclude by saying, simply, that something of value would be forgone if we shunned Chuck, even if his insight is old news to all but the most rudimentary yokels. I have little to offer women or people of color, but I’d bet X would prove itself worth a library trip for any idiot white guys in their lives who may be falling far behind. I don’t know of any other voices who are in a better position to introduce these issues, nor any who are quite so practiced at handling them delicately. While Jenna Wortham-level readers will gain little to nothing from this examination or the ecology of its subject (and will likely find themselves pausing momentarily for a deserved jest before moving on and returning to their high-level plane of complex neoliberal commentary,) but most of their less-aWoken fathers should find in Chuck a man they can truly trust, who manages to consistently distill and articulate the need-to-knows of the most complex pop culture and pop science conversations without using any of the academic language found in most institutional discourse which daddy finds too condescending and superfluous to bear. Those readers who’ve absolutely fucking despised my voice so far in this essay should give Klosterman a go – I take as much time as I can muster to fiddle with and season the words in context like this work because I basically *enjoy* the bullshit, yet I’ve found both X and But What If We’re Wrong? remarkably refreshing and impressive exercises.

[These are] the cultural conditions in which I was raised under and which I pursued journalism under. That was part of the thing that drew me to the idea of being a reporter was I was like, this is something I can do, I think. My ability to detach my personal emotions from what I am investigating, while not perfect, I can do this. And now it turns out that the opposite is what’s desirable. I think it’s really going to change the kind of person who goes into media going forward.

Reading Chuck Klosterman is going to be perturbing, but true sincerity is almost always uncomfortable. Comprehensively, his nonfiction represents perhaps the most important possible behavior to encourage from both the critic and his readership because it incubates and exudes sincere curiosity and a genuine interest in learning to listen. From the perspective of quantified societal contribution, I’d argue that Klosterman’s craft is a significantly more honorable and worthwhile pursuit than greater academic literature in its unique and entertaining treatment of subjects the establishment tends to pulverize into minutia. Unless he’s broke and/or bookish, buy X as a gift for your Dad and at least give it a try when he’s done. If nothing else, at least read the Taylor Swift interview, okay? If he doesn’t enjoy the book, I’m always available if one or both of you need to blow off some steam: give me a call at (573) 823-4380. (Normal text messaging / talktime rates will apply.)

🗎 PRINT/PDF

#media

Tump

Ten percent of the United States' adult population cannot functionally read or write (conservatively) despite the exponential increase of required reading in the average American's day-to-day life thus far in the 21stcentury. For written American media, especially, one would assume that a financial and social incentive for maximum literacy in the populace should present a straightforward justification for intense widespread coverage of this particular disparity, yet most related coverage in mainstream national magazines and newspapers is alarmingly sparse and often requires a less-than-socially-conscious context (e.g. a for-profit startup) to actually appear in news feeds. From the most wholesome assumption of the industry's general values — that it holds “newsworthiness” above all — we must assume that it does not generally consider American illiteracy “interesting enough to the general public to warrant reporting” as we examine the intermittent discourse surrounding the issue that does achieve publication.

In late October, the American business and technology magazine Fast Company covered the recent successes of the “for-profit social enterprise” Cell-Ed, noting that “a huge portion of the American labor force is illiterate,” which it described as “a hidden epidemic.” The article's author, Rick Wartzman, mentions foremost that Cell-Ed's userbase is largely “foreign-born” and expected to eclipse one million in number by the end of 2019. Demographically, the magazine's readership is predominantly middle to upper-class, who are the least affected social groups by a significant margin as per illiteracy's strong correlative relationship with poverty. These factors combine to limit any real social consequences from such an article.

In direct contrast with the professional, market-minded perspective of modern business magazine, even niche independent publications from the opposite end of the media spectrum often trivialize, belittle, or generally mishandle the issue. In a 500-word “Editorial” written by The Editor Eric Black of the Baptist Standard — a small evangelical news website describing itself as “Baptist voices speaking to the challenges of today's world” — he points to a global increase in “illiterate people,” as he so comfortably brands them. Such language is inevitably counter-productive and potentially insensitive: to the eyes and ears of activists, educators, and the general public, such a term unnecessarily lends toward a restricted perspective of those people who have been left behind by the institution of read and written language in one manner or another and portrays them as a great vague collection of lingual lepers bearing their own distinct, inexorable, wordless ethnicity which inevitably bars them from the freedoms allowed by the Editor's learned capacity, including the ability to actually read his words of affliction. Simply put, he has dangerously oversimplified the issue.

To once again assume the best and infer that Black had a specific purpose in publishing his ill-supported opinion beyond continuity's sake of his weekly Editorials, it appears to be the promotion of a local Texan literacy “ministry” called Literacy Connexus, though no further specifics about the project are provided beyond “helping churches develop literacy programs for their communities, provide training and resources to overcome illiteracy,” which is virtually identical to the introductory copy on the organization's homepage.

So far, we've examined coverage only in special interest media, but what about legacy news organizations with the largest readerships in the United States? Despite oblivious use of the same ledes, a newspaper like The Washington Post can wield vast influence over the broadest possible readership and the public editorial trust. In November 2016, veteran reporter Valerie Strauss published “Hiding in plain sight: The adult literacy crisis” for Answer Sheet — her weekly newsletter designed to function as “a school survival guide for parents (and everyone else), from education policy to psychology” — which represents the most substantial discussion of American illiteracy in topical, widely-visible media (i.e. presence in a succinct search engine query.) She briefly introduces the issue with a bulleted list of illiteracy's consequences on modern society and the individual cited from a Canadian literacy foundation before turning the stage over to Lecester Johnson, CEO of the Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School in Washington D.C.

Johnson presents a passionate and well-informed exploration of the state of the literacy battle from the perspective of a full-time, locally on-the-ground advocate. Her op-ed's introduction includes the most essential observations and statistics throughout, noting “the children of parents with low literacy skills are more likely to live in poverty as adults and are five times more likely to drop out of school,” before setting upon a detailed examination of current and relevant organizations working toward solutions. Of course, it's largely centered upon her own organization, which she claims has “helped more than 6000 adults rebuild their education and job opportunities since 1985.”

It's significant that an institution as deeply embedded across the American political spectrum as The Washington Post address the issue of American illiteracy, and both Johnson and Strauss are certainly qualified voices for the undertaking, but when we examine this particular article, it's important we consider the context of the Answer Sheet newsletter and its intended audience. Though it's no challenge to pitch the importance of reading and writing to parents and professional educators, the most alarming and destructive issue at hand is the educational disparity between their adult peers. “There's a literacy problem in the capitol, but I'm not talking about young people who can't read. Many adults — perhaps even parents sitting next to you at back to school night — don't possess academic skills,” notes Johnson with her very first paragraph. However, considering the nature of parenthood, the audience primarily consuming these words are undoubtedly preoccupied with juvenile issues, specifically, and we can assume their capacity to empathize with their fellow working adults who could benefit from literacy education is actually lessened from that of childless readers of the same age as a result. “Despite the magnitude of the adult literacy crisis, most of those needing to make up lost ground are pushed toward traditional classroom settings—even though many of these people can't possibly follow through because of cost or work schedules or other obstacles,” she attests.

Perhaps more than any other American city, Detroit has been struggling with a serious illiteracy problem. According to a profile of the Beyond Basics program (which was adapted from an embedded video broadcast) on their local ABC affiliate's website, forty-seven percent of adult Detroiters cannot read, but even companies like General Motors — who donated \$250,000 to the Beyond Basics program earlier in mid-October — are getting involved. The article quotes Elijah Craft, a young man who was “reading at a first-grade level as a senior at Detroit's Central High School.” “Craft would rare venture from home for fear he would get lost because he could not read street signs,” reports WXYZ anchor Carolyn Clifford. She frames the narrative around a reference to the 2009 film The Blind Side starring Sandra Bullock: “here, you might call this story 'The Detroit Side.'” For local television news, this reference to popular culture likely strengthened the story's power ensnare viewers' emotional attention when it was aired, and even in this written accompaniment, it proves an effective — if a bit crude — analogy. The broadcast of Mr. Craft's interview also depicts his own deep emotional investment in reading when he begins to shed tears, which is not entirely communicated in the written article.

When the American news media discusses American illiteracy, it's almost always in secondary or tertiary form: either by way of a short post for a weekly education newsletter, an ultra-low-distribution niche editorial column, or a personality profile of a local activist. Perhaps the fundamental obstacle in the face of increasing the discourse surrounding this issue is that its resolutions will require — perhaps more than any other social issue in this country — advocacy by those who can read on behalf of those who cannot because of how sensitive and isolated many of them feel. When voices of advocates like Lecester Johnson are uplifted by major organizations like The Washington Post, the sociological weight of the illiteracy issue can be very powerful. In quoting former United Nations chief Kofi Annan, she sums up for its extensive audience what the facts should ultimately mean to them: 32 million of Eric Black's so-called “illiterate people” in the United States of America have been and continue to be deprived of their “human right” to functional literacy.

#media

Inmunis Logo

All of this may one day be worth significantly more revision and/or visibility in the future, but for now, just know that I rambled out all of this because it’s by far my most effective way to think, and this darned lowkey blog post has just provided a very long-overdue opportunity for it. Please feel free to read or even respond to it, if you’d like, but I’d like to ask that you don’t panic or circulate it. Thanks.

So far… the only intercorrespondence between staff at Inmunis is people having a problem with one another.
Before Extratone, there was Inmunis – my first, relatively short-lived attempt to launch an online magazine which wasn’t particularly important, but the experience surely did contribute to and inform my progression in understanding media that led to my (utter bewildered) current state. Anyhow, it’s fun to look back. Here’s the web archive’s last snapshot.

Inmunis Version 1 Web Capture

This, a derelict Twitter account, and two film reviews by James Wilson are all that’s left of inmunis.co.uk for good reasons – many of which I did not entirely shed when I tried again. Until I started Extratone and made doing “this” – incessantly reading/exploring the web, obsessively tinkering and experimenting with The Extranet – I actually had very little knowledge on or exposure to the state of digital publishing or the real depth of variety to be found with any significant effort to comprehend the current offering real, surviving magazines, online or not, yet was dumb and arrogant enough to assume that I’d seen it all and none of it was even close to good enough for me to read or seek to write for. I was actually delusional enough to regard myself as too smart and one-of-a-kind to lower myself by going back to journalism school – that I was so special, anything I put effort in creating was destined to turn out superb. Granted, I’d had the actual idea for less than two weeks before I experienced by far the most traumatic, soul-destroying, world-upturning, and life-altering event of my entire existence, which I think accounts for the insanity, and all of my decisions were inevitably preempted by the fact that I was a 21-year-old straight white male community college dropout, which accounts for (but does not excuse) their absurdity.

I’ve publicly implied before that it was probably only thanks to Drycast – which was also in its infancy during the time of The Big Event (episode 7 was published just two days before) – and its weekly obligation to sit down and talk with my favorite people about interesting stuff that I did not end up dead or institutionalized in 2015 (I wish I was exaggerating.) If there is a Gourd, let it be known that he is fully up-to-date and brand-activated – he sent me a fucking podcast to save my life.

Reading and compiling stories for the show notes throughout the week provided an early avenue for exploring and embedding myself into media. Beyond the actual content, even, it’s been the rationality in the tone which journalists generally adhere to that has drawn me in and provided a brighter and brighter guiding light to help keep my sanity in check after my world ended because New Media values empathy in tandem with critical thought. All my life, it’s been very important to me that I continue to learn the best way to both appear and feel smart and functional. I’ve long since accepted that I am very fucking weird – and not in the wow, I dye my hair bright red sort of way which helps people feel unique, but in the holy shit, I’m terrified of what would actually result in losing control of my facade sort, which is actually much less sinister than it sounds for you, and infinitely moreso for me.

This is why I still have a very infantile habit of becoming overwhelmingly frustrated with those who socially emphasize and celebrate their “weirdness” as an important part of their identity because my self-perception has long since transitioned from regarding my deviations as something that made me “unique,” to gigantic obstacles in the way of every possible aspiration which I’ll probably never overcome, but am doomed to kill myself trying. I’m now working on learning to appreciate those very fucking common people who are determined to prove how strange they are because ultimately, my own self-perception is just as ignorant, loneliness is not a virtue, and I’ve only maintained the whole charade because I’d rather have delusions of grandeur than acknowledge that I am also mostly unoriginal, and most of my truly more “original” behaviors could easily be described as simply unhealthy.

This is an important confession for this explanation because its “solution” is another crucial motivation behind my creation of Extratone – as both a symbolic and literal means of understanding and minimizing my own biases and bitterness by 1) surrounding myself with the huge amount young, talented people I knew with great ideas and 2) editorially committing to curiosity as the most precious ideal in writing (and in life.)

I do know that – for whatever reason – I really do have a special knack for identifying the culture and creators that are truly fresh, innovative, even cool among those who can’t comprehend or stand it and the heartbreaking number of those who actualize themselves by trying to act aggressively apathetic toward the status quo. This sense is far from 100% reliable and is certainly not of a greater quality than everyone on Earth, but I would still confidently suggest it’s at least better than most, and – as most of us know – it especially jives with and defines the world of magazines.

As I did in Spring 2016, I still believe that Extratone is the best way for me to hone my greatest talents and shed my biggest problems – that it is the name I can place on my endless journey to improve myself, which – most importantly of all – will all the while achieve the tightest possible adhesion to the only meaning of “original” with any significance or real world value at all, which serves human curiosity without punishing it in any sense. I could actually just be crazy or completely, irrationally inverted – and I know it sounds abstract and preposterous – but I promise it’s my best shot at one day performing my optimal function for the world.

The very first thing I did after I’d arrived upon these hypotheses and been abruptly forced to cling to them as my last hope in life was to obsessively search for a single mantra/battlecry I could drill into my memory and could shout under duress – including the temptation to escape the whole lot of it – to succinctly remind myself that I had at least one logical chance at a fulfilling life (and yes, it’s still funny that the chance is, in fact, a Web Site.)

Scribam quid non legerim is possibly grammatically incorrect to a scholar, but it’s the best possible translation I came up with in my Latin research of “I will write what I have not read.” It’s cheesy, yes, and a bit cringey in the middle of just any old day when it happens to catch my eye where it’s proudly displayed, all-caps, in the footer of our CMS, and – I’ll be honest – I don’t know if I could explain it over coffee to a stranger without turning red and covering my face, as I once could, but it’s (sincerely, in this one case) real gravestone material. (As in, if someone were to read this after my death, they would be encouraged to receive it as a bonafide last wish.)

#media

Periscope Death

The social network’s incongruities better its experience, if you know how.

On a recent Tuesday, I opened a just-begun livestream on Facebook from NASA’s official page with a panel of experts discussing Europa’s plumes (or something like that) and ended up sticking around for most of its hour-long duration because of the ridiculous realtime comments from some of its ~4000 viewers. While some participants were genuinely interested in the opportunity to engage the host’s authority with relevant and invested questions (which were intermittently fielded,) the vocal majority were aggressive, ignorant, and provocative shouts. From my observation, the most noticeably manic and persistent of these came from user Shane Langman. “Nasa can telephone the moon in 1969 but can't get a phone signal in death Valley in 2018,” he noted 16 minutes in. “We cant leave the earth or we'd have left it by now.” And there was Bobby Smith, who felt compelled to express his authority on NASA’s inauthenticity: “[I’ve] been researching since 2012 no real pics of anything all cgi.”

Bobby Smith

Assuming the additional all-caps, sans-avatar ranting I remember reading live was deleted after the fact by the culprits and/or the page’s administrator, it’s worth noting that the remaining archive is full of sincerely positive feedback: “It would be awesome to discover life in europe!!” Indeed.

After a few minutes of gawking at the mess, I noticed that the broadcast was being simultaneously streamed on Periscope (or is it Twitter Video? or Twitter Live?) so I opened both feeds side-by-side to compare their audience’s behavior. The Periscope’s viewers averaged about 1000 strong, and their comments were noticeably more orderly and decipherable. There was still trolling and self-promotion, but it wasn’t allowed to disrupt the rest of the committed discourse, perhaps because of each post’s character limit or rationed screen time. Looking between them, the contrast in the user culture and the function of the two services during the same, simultaneous stream was at discouraging odds with their respective popularity.

Neither are really very good ways to watch live video – Periscope, notably, was never designed for professional studio broadcasts – but the relentless malicious nonsense from the Facebook viewers pushed all attempts at real engagement away so quickly that I could see no point in making them at all. To be blunt: every conceivable corner of Facebook is an unusable cesspool (even in the shadow of NASA earnestness,) and its worth considering that something about the design of Twitter properties generally discourages such overwhelmingly stupid noise. That’s not to say that harassment, hate speech, misogyny, and radical racism have not been religiously neglected or mishandled as has been well-reported throughout the network’s history – perhaps even more than any other – but I (a cis white man, mind you,) have seen much more of these on Facebook in the wild than I have on Twitter during my longtime use of the two, despite spending exponentially more attention on the latter.

In my sparse Facebook browsing, I have witnessed childhood friends, professional acquaintances, and family members both distant and immediate publicly shame, harass, belittle, and spitefully argue with each other for the sake of absolutely zero meaningful resolution, conclusion, or intellectual progression. In my decade of daily Twitter use, I have seen tens of pedophiles and rapists publicly outed, suicides averted, government censorship circumvented, stories broken, artists made, and marginalized voices outspoken. I have also Tweeted things in the past (mostly variations of “I want to die”) that would now get my account temporarily suspended, as per the company’s latest attempts to minimize its platform’s toxicity – an encouraging suggestion that Twitter is finally catching up and learning to avoid its cultural blunders, which have been the single greatest exception to its most valuable core identity: its mistakes.

Twitter Home

Two weeks ago, Twitter proudly released the first redesign of its native Windows 10 app since its debut in 2015 – leading a new generation of upcoming “lightweight” Progressive Web Apps and – true to form – immediately reclaimed the title of clumsiest, least-useful Twitter client available. PWAs represent the industry’s readiest effort to “bridge the gap between web and mobile apps,” for which expanded compatibility must surely be the best case to make. According to Google – supreme enemy of the open web and all tasteful design – PWAs are offline-first, instant-loading, and immersive – none of which are reasonable priorities in building a Twitter client for Windows, an operating system running primarily on very powerful hardware. This sort of idiocy can be reasonably expected of Twitter, but bewilderingly, the Great Minds of tech journalism seem to be unanimously pleased by this decision, which invites one to suspect that they’ve all switched secretly to the exclusive, illustrious HP Elite X3 – the only smartphone on sale running Windows 10, because Twitter’s execution of these misaligned goals is mindbogglingly foul to look at and unnecessarily frustrating to use. After doing my best to put up with it for a few days, I found myself unable to conceieve of a single advantage this new application has over literally any alternative.

3 out of the 5 bulleted “highly-requested features” listed in their announcement are just… catching the app up with the web client as it’s been for years: the 280-character limit, Explore tab, and Bookmarks. “Adding” these web-established operations to an even-more-web-based application surely didn’t present much of a workload, but perhaps removing functionality justified the investment. The F and T keys no longer operate as shortcuts for liking and retweeting, which is such a misguided oversight that I can’t help but wonder if this app was actually intended to be utilized by anyone at all (besides HP Elite users.)

Am I missing something? Can you hear me? Are there any flesh-and-blood Twitters users left?

Twitter Poll

Then again, the ungainliness of Twitter’s new offspring could be attributed to the perpetual tragedy of its mother’s peril. The company’s luck has been on the down-and-out for eons in tech time: from its most recent plain text password blunder, to its constant inability to handle abuse, its endlessly tumultuous management turnovers, and its growing disinterest and disfavor among the public and potential investors alike – our cultural relationship with Twitter and its identity as a social network remains dramatically tense well past its tenth year, which is good news for its continued survival. One could certainly argue that the Tump presidency alone spared Twitter from a painful decline into irrelevance (or at least postponed it,) but I think we should acknowledge by now that turmoil is an integral component of the brand as an outlier in the connected community palette.

For myself as a long-dependent occupant, its inconsistencies and contradictions are endearing and necessary – a competent, profitable, and sensical Twitter may as well be Facebook. If you’ve been Tweeting as long as I have, you’ll likely remember that the company’s own offerings had occupied the bottom-most position in the hierarchy of preferable available clients throughout time and across all manner of operating systems until it finally nailed its Android and iOS software and usurped longtime third-party staples like TweetBot and Twitterific just a few years ago. Gadget blogging and What’s in my Dock? videos may very well be long-dead relics of a different era in tech media, but it’s disheartening to find through research that the steadily-declining quality of our user experience has been allowed to continue without much protest. Justifiably or not, Twitter has persisted in adding stuff nobody likes as they’ve gradually neutered all the great third-party development.

TweetDeck for Windows was perhaps the most powerful mainstream enduser social application that will ever exist. Before Twitter absorbed the tool in 2011, its diverse account integration allowed a user to send a single post across Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Google+, and multiple Twitter accounts simultaneously, and they could configure the client to do so with just the Enter key! In retrospect, it was naive to assume that such potent spam capabilities would continue to be entrusted to the general population without challenge, but the modularity and customizability of TweetDeck prime as a standalone application made it useful as hell and quite the power trip. Now, it exists only as a tamed, up-to-brand-guidelines web application, yet remains the definitive way to use Twitter on a PC if one desires an ad-free, single-window experience if only because of its congruence with another, even more forgotten feature of the service: lists.

TweetDeck

This is how I’ve seen desktop Twitter since I lasted looked at my timeline in 2010. Since then, I’ve followed about 5000 more accounts, so I’d imagine it’s a damned mess. I have a private list of my friends, which I try to read in its entirety, and a list of nearly 500 journalists, publications, and musicians whom I’ve found particularly fresh and original. Thanks to these, Tweets are presented in order, uninterrupted by ads. (They function the same on iOS.) The network’s linear chronology is an absolute use condition for me, so I’m thankful I completely missed the beginning of their progression toward algorithmic relevance thanks to my lists, and as I’ve since happened upon distress from mutuals and non-mutuals over missed or stale Tweets, I have taken the time to relay my gospel: lists are linear. And since promoted and sponsored Tweets began overwhelming and perturbing timelines, I’ve seen the displeasure and repeated: lists are linear and ad-free!

I realize how irritating it is when one plays the why doesn’t anyone listen to me?! card, so I’ve created a Twitter Moment to document the confusing silence I’ve gotten in response to these suggestions (though I couldn’t find any cases from the past, so I may be misremembering the extent of my charity,) and pledging to refrain from revisiting this pet advice of mine when writing about Twitter or other social networks in the future.

#software #media

Mark Fuck

The monumental amount of unsubstantiated gossip and conjecture enabled every day by Facebook is lethal to the human intellect. Can fire be fought with fire?

Today, after positing on whether or not a pastry was in fact the namesake of the battleship Bismarck, I was told by its owner – a local woman of a far-from-excusable age – that “[I] should be on that big bang show.” Upon such fuckery, I looked her in her eyes and informed her that she'd just changed my plans for the night: I was now going to go home, wrap my lips around the barrel of my Beretta, and blow my brains out. I should've known better than to so jest with a boomer immediately after receiving such glaring indicators of minimal intellectual function, but I fell for the hope – as I often do, to no avail – that such a jarring reaction would encourage reflection on her foul, tragically misled sentiments regarding the general state of youth, and perhaps even spare a peer or two from future tribulation.

Instead, she called the police.

Three round cops found me, an hour later, approaching hesitantly. Strangely enough, they were chuckling – maybe to a little joke about all the recent hubbub on the radio covering a recent wave of blatantly negligent medical care in American prisons, though I hope nervous laughter is just SOP when responding to a suicide threat. As all Columbia cops always are toward me, they were aggravatingly genuine and hilariously understanding. I began by simply recreating my interaction with their summoner, quoting her word-for-word, and – I swear to my new Lord – all three immediately released a choral “ohhhhh” in unison. I'll never know for sure if they actually assimilated the reality of the situation so quickly, but it'd certainly seem that way.

Clearly, I should've threatened her life.

Despite the day-to-day expression of our recurring wisdoms, habits, instincts, patterns and cycles of cultural metamorphosis in the discourse, the stream of “well, you know they were sayin' the world was going to end when I was in elementary school” to my ear has fallen abruptly silent since the inauguration. Our parents and grandparents are both impossibly fortunate and unfortunate, having to duck out as the most multiplicative (read: sickest) cerebral orgy in the history of mankind will just've begun nibbling on the slope to its climax. We'll be lucky if we'll still be able to articulate our goodbyes by the time they reach the door. Nonsense does a fuckin number on perceived wisdom, but the gaps are widening at a dangerous pace. Tectonic or domestic, we are all straddling expanding space, and the chill of its draft is now stealing too much of our heat to ignore.

Though it is entertaining in the moment (and otherwise redundant,) it would not be well-to-do of me now – nor was it, then – to leave the conversation in edgy absurdity. Yes, a part of me would like to campaign for Sheldon to be reclassified as an expletive, in disgust, but – as an adult in all-out sprint to make up for stalled emotional development – I must note that such a display of concern should've been at least reciprocated with a bit of explanation, if not appreciation. Still, there are much more appropriate reasons and situations in which to waste public servants' time.

It's not news – the Theory is providing some ghoulishly skewed portrayal of less-than-forty pseudointellectuals. Obviously, my savior's time was worth very little to her, but the fact that she spent any quantity of anything at all engaging with even a decidedly mainstream generationally ambassadorial bridge could be regarded – if stretched – as the result of a curious seed, which has skyrocketed in human value, as of late. It is undiscouragable. Read the trail a bit, and you'll find that your frustration is simply an expression of the terror that's ignited by the stagnancy of their pace.

It's great that you've managed to inch over to modern-ish sitcoms from Judge Judy and Independence Day , mom, but you're gonna have to really pick up the pace and work on following a few body modification communities on the darknet.

If an absence of solutions are the crux of the blog, here I'm now gloating.

To whom does the commoner look to for such solutions when they'd prefer not to terrorize their kooky middle age parents into a half century of brutal fasting under vows of silence?

The Big Thinkers! The Men of the Hour.

Yes, men. All Big Bumbling Billionaire Imbeciles.

Elon Musk cannot be the Nicola Tesla of the 21st century, or even the 20th, for that matter, because literally every mechanically-minded professional I've ever heard talk about battery technology has condemned it in some manner as an inescapable dead end, developmentally. Perhaps, then, the champion of electrochemical storage is the False Prophet.

No, I'm not capable of citing research or conjuring Mars-capable spacecraft, but I've been a bit too preoccupied with my country's class war and its 10% adult illiteracy rate. It's all well and good to be privy to romanticism, but it's not the 1960s anymore. Even Howard Hughes would be more concerned for the wellness of the species than our continued reach for the stars, were he still alive.

Well. Maybe not...

Charles Lindbergh would be, though.

We spent the 1990s preparing to rid ourselves of history because the smartest among us foresaw some facsimile of the renaissance we are currently experiencing. If they'd been shown a glimpse of some statistics on the volume of media we consume, they'd exclaim of their pride – no doubt – in their species' capability to progress, and perhaps even their own contribution to it. However, extended observation of an average American's day-to-day life would be lamented, in disgust, and a huge portion of the blame can be placed on one t-shirt-touting cyberyokel: Mark Zuckerberg.

His name is stupid, his spawn is ruining my life, and he continues to insist upon saying shit that frightens the bejesus out of me.

Zuckbrain is fucking scary.

Wiring the globe” is fucking scary.

Jarvis is fucking scary.

But Fuck, himself wouldn't be at all intimidating without his money. The scariest bit is the lack of class in the criticisms of his intellectual influence. Farhad Manjoo's attention has been diligent and premium as a Times er's should be, but the same occupation bars him from authoring with the color of unsubstantiated claims.

Mine does not.

Elon Musk is not an apologetic genius. He's willing to joke about his intellectual distance from the planet and its populace on Twitter. Apparently, his mind's even surpassed the need to punctuate. Crazy.

Google is well on it's way to becoming the neo-Vatican... yada yada yada, but they're too far gone – I do not have the expertise to address them. Fuck, though, is a singular short-sleeved, Even Stevens -haired young man without so much as private office space (even though his sentiments on breathing room at home are obviously inverse.)

Clearly, it's all just to protect him from the truth: The Apostle John's Book of Revelation is about Facebook. Fuck's cyberchild is the horseman, the beasts, and the plagues, stuffed into one tyrannical website.

And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

If I can repeatedly trigger accidental voice calls on Fuckbook Messenger, don't tell me it's not possible to inadvertently live stream myself on the pot.

The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

Of course, it's unlikely that Mark's essence was bred entirely of evil, but – like Tump, in many ways – he is an excruciatingly wealthy idiot. Though he is spending 2017 touring the United States, he doesn't seem to be all that interested in actually closing the gap between himself and the rest of us, which suggests that he only wants us to throw us off his extra-terrestrial, xenophobic scent. I can't imagine what The Mothership would really want with my Amazon browsing history, though.

And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.

Just to be clear, he is not The Antikhristos.

He'd better not be, anyway. I'd be absolutely Livid with Lucifer if his choice of a figurehead for his Big Plan was such a Fucking dork.

I mean... if Fuck wanted to spend his time crafting 6000-word essays, why the Fuck didn't he just build a Fucking CMS back in his Jesse Eisenberg era instead of the actual weekly-updated tower of digital Babylon? Surely, Satan would know better than to waste resources and pulverize creativity by ordering his Demonic Dev team to release regular builds for build's sake rather than on a per-need basis, but that'd be because The Tempter is an authority on incentive s as thoroughly as Fuck isn't.

If you’re equipped with the privilege of literacy, you’ve been reading a lot about Fuckbook’s political consequences, recently. Frankly, it’s about Fucking time, but I’m compelled to emphasize that the most significant motor driving the politik is fueled by the eldest, fossilized portions of our thought meat. According to Manjoo, “the News Feed team’s ultimate mission is to figure out what users want,” dipping in Facebook's ocean of action data, searching for a soul.

Yet another Fuckism that suggests he's an alien: everybody knows that nobody knows what they want.

There's a central mechanic of our brains that by nature wreaks a whole helluva lot of contradiction. If you've ever mentioned ADHD with your doctor, or know a hypochondriac/adderall fiend who has, you may have heard it described as “the lizard brain.” Simply put, it's the brain stem, and it's responsible for the most basal and primitively emotional instincts and habits; an anti-intellectual agitant, arguing at all times for the course of action with the most immediate gratification. The Great Clickbait War of 2013 was a startling demonstration that revealed the strength of the hold Fuckbook had (and still has) on these reptilian bits – the true location of its power.

“In surveys, people kept telling Facebook that they hated teasing headlines. But if that was true, why were they clicking on them?”

Volition is the Word of the Day. Here, we must once again invoke an ancient parable from the wise foretellings of the Disney film, Smart House: when dealing with human beings, boundless compliance quickly leads to abject misery for all parties involved.

Mindlessly, habitually, endlessly clicking... this is how we die.

Something about Fuck's direction is fundamentally poisonous to the human mind. Yes, he is assuredly too Fucking democratic, but misinformation is far from the only form of evil his creation has assumed. If you can jog your memory back a bit, you'll remember a much wider variety of brain-rotting filth.

In lapses of their existences' finitude, the 40-something second cousins of the world may still send you the occasional Can Crunch Saga invite, jarring you back to Jr. High in 2009, and forever associating themselves in your mind with the horrors of mortality and f u c k b o o k g a m e s.

Elon is a more likely candidate, but I'll leave those differentiations to the not-idle cult masses.

More than one sixth of all living eyes see Fuckbook every single day, placing its consumption behind only eating and drinking as the most universally human activity.

Mr. Fuck achieved his vision and became perhaps the greatest purveyor of words who's ever lived. He's taught (or... is teaching) us something very profound about ourselves: capability is not the whole of the equation. Ability on its own cannot guarantee growth, but it can often result in decay. Discussion does not inherently lead to connection. Population is not a cure for isolation.

That said, I must begrudgingly admit to you that I, myself am one of the 100 million users who've depended upon a “very meaningful” Fuckbook group for a “physical support structure” for which I have Fuck to thank.

I've spent half of my existence watching cheesy barnstorming movies, whirling around die-cast biplanes, seeking out stories from old pilots – military and commercial, and eventually trained to become one myself. As regular activities at young ages do, aviation became deeply ingrained into my identity, but my local community is very sparse – it's not exactly cool, these days. On Fuckbook, an unofficial group for members of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has allowed me to stay connected to the rest of the world's Soaring Nerds, which is no small deal. It's the only forum which I am compelled to participate in with 100% sincerity and emotional effect.

Photos of members standing proudly next to their first airplane, or of adolescent students in a similar pose after their first solo, or of three old white rubes on a hangar picnic, laughing around a fold-up table full of rudimentary ham sandwiches in front of two gleaming Stearmans...

They tug around on my heart like nothing else in life can.

I stopped flying lessons at 16 because I began to see behind the naivety of my childhood perception of what it meant to fly commercially and realized that I was unequipped for- and uninterested in the sort of challenges it presented. I haven't flown in seven years, but the community will always have a tremendous dividend of my core being.

These days, not a single person in my day-to-day life knows or cares about aviation, which wouldn't be laudable whatsoever – it's not exactly the most relevant goingson at the moment – were it not so emotionally necessary for me.

A few days ago, a member shared a photo with the group of Charles Lindbergh's modified Ryan cockpit, captioned “what airplane am I?”

In my youth, Lindbergh filled my closest equivalent to the 'childhood hero' role. My grandmother bought me a first-edition copy of The Spirit of St.Louis from a small town bookshop when I was six or seven, and I carried it literally everywhere with me until middle school. I watched the Jimmy Stewart film tens and tens of times, and I cried when I saw the Spirit in the flesh at the Smithsonian, yet I've never had an informed conversation about any of it with another human being. It really warmed me to see how many of the comments were correct answers.

Breaking news: it's nice to know that there are other people on Earth who give a shit about the same things you do.

Again – aspiration should always be encouraged. This is Fuck's vision for his creation, and it is feasible, even for myself. At least his public persona – however valid or invalid it may be – is making a huge effort to have positive consequence, even if his idiocy is imbuing itself within all of humanity.

Fuck is too powerful to be exempted from responsibility for what Fuckbook's done to the Western psyche over the past decade, but – like the Christian god – perhaps all we need require is his repentance.

I Refuse to Die Clicking

#media

Mastobird

Eugen Rochko has spent this year perfecting federated social media in Mastodon – his open source project. We spoke to him just hours before it became a global tech conversation.

The saga of Twitter, Inc. has been rejuvenated in 2017 by Tump's antics, corporate drama, and an amalgam of user and non-user disquiet with its decisions, though its financial viability has been in prominent industry conversation for half a decade. Since its pre-2010 outset, many 'a' feature has accumulated on its original, still-iconic skeletal software, and – though the net is undoubtedly positive – a few have gone.

Last Thursday, the company revised in bravado its poultrian default profile picture and its system of replies to exclude @s on all of Twitter's proprietary services, drastically changing two of its visual mainstays, and prodding a particularly lucent cacophony. Turn your ear, and you'll hear many familiar terms in the chants: limits, chains, strings, harassment, feedback, gamergate, nazis, etc.

These conversations are important, but they've gotten awfully stale.

If you listen a bit more carefully, you'll intercept a new one:

Mastodon.

It's the open source brainchild of Eugen Rochko, who's known colloquially as Gargron.

He's had one hell of a week.

Between the night of our first emails and our conversation, his flagship mastadon.social instance had doubled in users. Less than two hours after we said our goodbyes, his name was on The Verge's front page.

Despite the urgency of it all, he graciously lent me his time just after breakfast on Tuesday to discuss himself and the story behind the project, while the most significant day of his life was building around him.

“I'm perfectly fine with being called Eugene by Americans.”

Though the ink's still fresh on his compsci diploma, he's clearly prepared for the American press.


What's the story behind the project? Do you remember the specific moment when you decided to do this?

Many years ago, I had a friend that was really into federated networks when they were a new thing. That was when identi.ca was first created – at the very beginning of my developer knowledge and career.

A good portion of the stories written so far on his platform have framed it as an alternative to Twitter, which early Masto adopters refer to as “Hellbird,” or “the bird website.” Eugen isn't afraid to acknowledge his investment in the format.

I was a heavy Twitter user and I wasn't happy with where Twitter was going, so I decided to check on how the federated stuff was doing in the meantime. I found it in a very sad state, but thought I could contribute.

He began building on his own, with Tweetdeck's standard in mind.

I thought 'if I'm going to do something, it needs to have realtime updates and it needs to have columns.' I started with a bare-bones prototype while still [at University] in May or April of last year. It had no user interface, only an API that I was using from the command line. And I thought 'okay, it works. that's great.' Then, exams came.

Academics had to come before the project at first, but it soon supplied an ample post-graduation diversion. He focused his energy on building something more complete and eventually launched a Patreon page.

I announced it on HackerNews, and that was the first public release of the project. That's when I got my first users who weren't my friends, and some who were new to federated networks.

That was just over 100 days ago, and it gave way to his first feedback.

I started working on the first feature requests, shaping the project a bit differently. People were a lot more focused on privacy features than I thought they would be, although in retrospect, it makes sense. The previous [federated] project – GNU social – did not really have a focus on privacy features, or anything built in by default.

It compelled him to change things, and his work was well received.

Over time, I kept working on new features, and waves of new users came when it went viral in certain circles. The first was HackerNews and Product Hunt. Aral Balkan – a Twitter user with over 30,000 followers – picked up the project, gave it a shout out, and even did a giveaway of his app. He had a lot of followers from Holland; the Mastodon timelines became mostly Dutch.

Next was Marxist anime Twitter (including Extratone and I.)

Lots of furries; lots of LGBT people. That's when I really focused on privacy features and making sure all blocks worked because these individuals needed a safer platform than Twitter could offer.

Sidekick dashboard background processing jobs as of Tuesday morning.

Sidekick dashboard background processing jobs as of Tuesday morning.

“As you can see, the first bump is HackerNews, the second is Aral Balkan, and then anime/Marxist Twitter.”

And the last – now a bit out of date – is this week's spike, which is nearly double all previous waves.

Are you responsible for all of the code?

You can look at the GitHub page to see a specific breakdown of who contributed and how many lines of code, each. You'll see I'm at the top by a large margin, but there are [additional] people who've contributed interesting, good features & fixes, localizations, user guides, and documentation.

What's the story behind the name?

It's not particularly interesting. I'm a progressive metal fan, and I listen to Mastodon sometimes. They have a really cool name that refers to a really cool animal. It's a fluffy elephant! What's not to love?

It's also the inspiration for Mastodon's mascot, which was penned by Rochko's YouTuber friend Dopatwo after he realized how urgently he required an error page.

What does “federated” mean to you?

The biggest problem with this term is that it's new for lots of people. People who've come across federated networks in the pastinstantly understand what it means and how it works, and people who are new to the concept have a lot of trouble before it clicks. But when Twitter first started, people didn't understand what 'retweeting' meant, so it's not a unique problem domain.

I don't know where it comes from – maybe BitTorrent – but people seem to think that when something is 'decentralized,' everybody gets the same thing; that it's all synchronized one to one. In actuality, 'federated' means that people in different instances can talk to each other, but the content is different depending on the users there, what they do, and who they follow.

Though instances are infrastructurally independent, they can communicate with one another. On a user level, timelines are still determined by who you do and do not follow across the entirety of all instances.

What if Twitter comes to you in the near future with a job offer?

[Rochko laughs.]

If it was any other company, I would think about it. A job is a staple source of income, and – depending on the company – could involve doing something important, but I have zero faith in Twitter.

Does this all mean that I finally get to live out my serif Twitter dream?

Yes, I suppose on your own instance, you could change the stylesheet...

So if I set up my own instance and started charging for its use, I'd be in the clear, legally?

Yes, that's okay. The code is licensed under AGPL version three, which I picked because other projects in the same space are using it. The difference between AGPL and GPL is that [the former] forces you to contribute back to the appstream code repository if you make any breaking changes.

For example, Eugen explained that WhatsApp originally used XMPP for its chat protocol, which meant that Facebook and Google Talk users could connect to it, too. However, the company progressively locked down the platform over time, leaving virtually nothing visible that was unique to XMPP in its current iteration.

To prevent somebody taking Mastodon code, placing it behind locks, and stripping out the federation part to make Twitter II, I'm using this license.

The thing to remember about free software is that 'free' means freedom of the user, not that it's zero cost. It's perfectly fine to charge for free software because developers need to live, too.

I've seen a lot of multilingual 'tooting' these past few weeks. Can we expect an in-app translate function like Twitter's on Mastodon?

I don't think I could put in a 'translate this toot' button because APIs from Google and Bing are quite expensive at scale. I'm not 100% promising this, but I can probably put something in where people can select which language they post in, and then just filter the timelines. That would at least solve the problem of being confronted with lots of French posts, without knowing any French.

The only complaint about Twitter I remember that hasn't already been addressed here is the capability of editable 'toots.' Is that a possibility?

That won't happen. There's actually a good reason why they don't do that. It's simply because you could make a toot about one thing, have people favorite it and share it, link it from other places, and then suddenly, it says 'Heil Hitler,' or something.

Mastotile

It's a bit preposterous to continue the conversation as if Twitter and Mastodon are interchangeable entities. They exist in separate ideological and mechanical spheres, and will both continue to do so for a very long time.

That said, the fundamental user interface design and current cross-community user saturation do warrant comparisons between their functions. More likely than not, you'll create a Mastodon account because a link found you on Twitter, use it because you prefer its type of ecosystem, and you'll stay after realizing that nearly all of your age-old qualms have been addressed, if not already rectified. While FOSS and Federated may seem at times like jejune ideologies, their advantages are especially tangible in this context. Should you find yourself needing to complain about something, you'll find an audience. Perhaps it'll be your command line.

It's nothing but negligent to describe Mastodon as an alternative or clone.

It's more like Twitter's son.

It's leaner, quicker-to-change, much more flexible & democratized, and less corrupt. Though I didn't ask its creator what he intended to gain from all his effort, I think his commitment itself denotes a preoccupation with progress. Those of you who've been let down by the tools you've been given to control your words' exposure will find startling competence in your ability to determine per-toot privacy, or reserve your raucous photos and terrible memes from followers who are not necessarily complicit consumers. Naturally, it's also much less dependable, though a single instance outage will never leave you truly, completely silent. And the support will come.

It's been a privilege to be observer and participant in the first lightening of a new online community. In the moment, we enjoy our lavender haze -when the spaces are filling primarily with users who are sincerely interested enough in discourse to have sought it out.

Sarah Jeong's account of her Twitter exile is a good, long read if you're craving more specifics, and Eugen's Medium offers a more complete explanation of federation and its place in the industry, straight from the source. Apparently, he's just as articulate with words as he is with code.

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd bet it's not the last we'll hear from him.

#software #media

The following was sent as part of a personal TinyLetter I've just begun in the hopes of rejuvenating my ability to tell stories.

There are a few entities which continue to validate what I'm pursuing, but Joshua Topolsky and his The Outline are particularly worth noting. In search of reassurance, I listened to a podcast he appeared on in February, last night, and also found one from 2013, when he was still EiC of The Verge. Basically the entirety of the first is within the idealism I've risked most of myself for, in case you're curious. I've looked up to Topolsky in a huge way, this past year. He has done – and is doing – many things which I am intrinsically drawn to earn for my legacy, and the presence of his wife on his staff (their few podcasts together are adorable in a very particular way,) is idyllic in appearance, at least. I love the way they talk about each other. I suppose spousal editorial staff is probably the personal hell of a good many people. Perhaps, it's even my own. Listening to him talk on Digiday, though, reminded me – along with a few other works I've consumed lately – that technically, Extratone is a business. Or at least... That it must become one eventually or die forever. While trying to explain my future plans to a friend, I inadvertently layed out some 'steps for growth.'

  1. Form and activate the community.
  2. Build a beautiful, one-of-a-kind method of content delivery.
  3. Attain a fairly dependable content cadence.
  4. Sell the product in a way that immediately and – from then on – consistently ensures and/or furthers its quality.

I guess we're somewhere between 2 and 3 right now. I'm still building a body of written work more or less on my own, which is okay, considering that nobody is paid. I suppose it'd be most desirable – before I move to the Northwest – to figure out how to make The Tone as much of a learning experience for my closest staff as possible. And regardless of all other external goals of the magazine, I think it is more than safe to say that I've learned more in the past 10 months from a fucking WordPress website than I would've if I'd spent that time at the Journalism school. The first annual renewal payment for extratone dot com just went through, actually. A year ago, I was much more entertaining, but virtually directionless. I honestly can't tell if I feel any better internally, day-to-day, but I know I am at least attaining the capability of real friendship for the first time in my life, and I suppose that's more than worth losing virtually all of my engagement on Twitter.

Perhaps its even worth losing a portion of the freshness in my perspective – the stuff I thought made it worth it in the first place. Especially if my staff maintains it healthily within their own.

I'll admit that – in retrospect, after spending a year reading, writing, and digitally fussing – a lot of my original content smells like edgy nonsense. Some of the work within our network does too, honestly, but it's usually much less so.

Of course, that transition required an excruciating crucible, for me, but that's exactly why I'm incessantly compelled to make as much use of my trauma as possible: so that my friends and staff may be able make progress toward more fulfilling lives without such a massive up-front cost.

As I was writing my interview with mastodon's creator, I kept an eye out for related coverage, and eventually saw what [PCMag](http://www.pcmag.com/article/352875/what-is-mastodon-and-will-it-kill-twitter) did, and it's unwanted rant-spuringly aggravating language.

For most of my adult life, I've been trying to figure out why publications like PCMag feel it necessary to belittle their audience and their subjects to such a degree. Silicon Alley can't possibly be that vapid as to nix all soul in any story, ever.

uh I mean… What in the hell is this, even?

I haven't been a reader since I used to loiter in Barnes & Noble with a pile of print editions in the oughts, but this sort of layout has got to be some kind of digital sin.

I'm not going to bother digging through the publication to compare this work with others for the moment. Perhaps one day, I'll feel the need to polish this rant into an argument and make it more visible. Surely, though, the proximity of this abomination to the word Mag or even Magazine must keep somebody awake at night.

That's not to say it doesn't take some sort of discipline. I doubt I could write in this way without hulking hyper-deliberately over wherever the fuck this dialect comes from. I think it's almost certainly more efficient as an informative device than my piece, or Sarah Jeong's, but the assumption that readers would be so disinterested as to hesitate to even commit to complete sentences regarding something actually newsworthy for a technology publication should be taken personally.

(This is going to echo what Topolsky said in both of those podcasts in big ways, but I'll try to keep it relatively brief.)

I believe there is an audience that is craving attention to detail in their stories, a more intimate, longer-lasting, and more invested relationship with a much smaller number of publications.

Even a sense of involvement in the process. It's probably a direct result of my longtime consumption of car magazines – most of which still have sizable sections dedicated to direct, public correspondence with readers. It's also cross-platform to a surreal degree. Auto journalists of all tiers will straight up engage with you on Twitter. (MotorTrend literally prints YouTube comments.)

Sure, the readership is old, and the topic is an outlier (it's fairly common knowledge that 'car people' are waaaay more vulnerable to obsession than other special interest communities,) but the species is more or less the same, and the results are plain as day, any time you care to look. In recently returning my attention to technology journalism, I've noticed an irritating affront to meta conversation with strangers. My theory is that they've been paid for their words so long that they develop a very particular greed towards them, which is why academic journalism institutes are immediately shunned by their alumni after graduation until they are definitely Too Tired to sling copy and begin to climb sortof diagonally through editorial titles until they are stashed away in some hole. Then, after ruminating until their first encounter with Actual Death – if they're still interested in the whole thing – they crawl out to be propped up in front of moderately sized bodies of petrified students to scream in 100% bitterness about The Ethics that plagued them spiritually and financially their entire career at the acolytes as their last joke on the world.

But they won't engage with strangers on Twitter.

As someone who – for better or worse – chose to sidestep the academic route, I will never advocate for any value in withholding information – especially funny stories – about Extratone's operation. If anything, rediscovering relevance is a wholly meta pillar of our editorial bent. (Hence, why Tim calls us The Nieman Lab of Community College.)

I also believe the subscriber & advertising revenue models are directly - if not primarily - involved in the constriction of conversations regarding a publication's operation. It's my goal to cultivate a group of subscribers that are directly invested in the product (there's another new word on my part) financially, intellectually, and emotionally. It's not exactly unheard of, ya know.

Anywho, I'm going to leave you in peace for now. I've really enjoyed this wanton spewing of conjecture, but then... who doesn't love to go on, unchecked?

Is this what blogging is? It's fucking obnoxious.

Thank you for reading and beware the fucking egg.

#media #meta

JFK

A man with a 6th-grade knowledge of moderate politics would plea for your reflection on what it really means to be your Commander-in-Chief.

I hope you’ve read something about “The Great Debate” this morning.

You know — the first televised U.S. Presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, 56 years ago today. The one “decided by makeup.”

If you don’t know the story, please Use Your Googler; I am the last source you should be receiving your first commentary from.

That so disclaimed, let us reflect on the fascinating — if somewhat universally disturbing — position in which we find ourselves. (Or, should I say — …you find yourselves.)

Two options: a ruthless, ridiculously-overqualified and progressively — appropriate flagship of a Democratic Party candidate, opposite an out-of-control, offensive joke of a destructive force that has been directed inward, toward his own Republican Party.

The only plausible hesitation for the former’s candidacy being a fundamental misunderstanding of the office’s necessities, and of the dangers of the “honesty” popularly idealized in the latter.

At least they are opposites, so I’m interested enough to write you.

“The Great Debate” was an ultimate test — not of television — but of the American intellect, and it failed. From the outset of democracy’s greatest leap in perceptive democratization, superficiality claimed victory over policy.

Today, we are to extrapolate in the journey we’ve taken in the 56 years hence, into — by any standard of measure — another world, entirely. Most importantly, into one with such gigantically-swelling intellectual disparity that it cannot possibly be monitored accurately, even moment-to-moment. The continued feasibility of Donald J. Trump’s candidacy is alarmingly conducive to the fact.

Note: Donald Trump will not be President of the United States as it has been understood. If he is elected by process, he will be promptly impeached, or the function of the office itself will be reexamined.

My bias is here: I genuinely believe sociopathic traits make for effective leaders, and am unable to respect anyone without control over their public persona. Trump’s defining acceptance of his undisciplined whirling relegates him — for POTUS, especially — to nothing more than an amusement. He is incapable of the duties that define the position as I know it. (e.g. a commemorative visit to Hiroshima, or participation in the G20 summit.)

In such spirit, I — perhaps one of the least-qualified political commentators with any sort of voice — have a question to ask of you: are you ready for the first ironic President of the United States of America?

Perhaps you’d counter, though, with something like: are *you* ready for the first *authentic* President of the United States of America?

No, America, I am not. And — forgive my patronization — neither are you. I know you feel profoundly devoid of an expressive leader. You, the most hardworking pillars of this society — I know you’ve craved a voice in the game for a very long time, but Mr. Trump’s is no nearer to your own than Mrs. Clinton’s. In fact — in the inescapable game that is the Presidency — she is the better representative simply because she posses the ability to assume any sensical power whatsoever.

The only insight I have to offer you is that honesty has not, does not, and will never have a place in the White House as long as it stands. This truth is neither good nor bad — it simply is.

I would plead you to acknowledge the complexity of political maneuvers — regardless of your own moralism — and the truer nature of the role you will ask one of these individuals to fulfill.

I would ask you to imagine which of the worst of the two you’d rather hold the nuclear briefcase — the tactful, or the primal?

But — if nothing else — I would suggest you ask yourself if you’d really like the same mouth that formed these words about women to deliver your next State of the Union.

#media

In the midst of arranging Feebles for print, I stumbled upon an author and “book designer” engaged in launching a community for self-published, independent writers. I'm not going to specify names because I have no interest in shitting on his company, nor “what it stands for.” I don't want to shit for you at all, actually, just note a few still-underrealized realities about the sheer ludicrousness of the word business as it stands. Let's say you've got some manuscripts you've been sitting on for a few years, and you're introduced to the concept of self-publishing by an evermore earnestly-curious man on the radio named Audie one day. He and his interviewee (the owner of a self-publishing service) seem to say, curiously, that because an author's profit-per-unit can potentially be “four to five times more” than if he/she is published traditionally, self-publishing has now shed completely its aura of desperate amateurism.

But – whoa, Nelly – writing to sell books, and writing books have perhaps never been further apart. And gee – you certainly didn't write to sell; selling hadn't occurred to you at all for a very long time, but from just one search, you find Our Friend, back from his own experiences as an author and editor, qualified and insistent that you can make money selling creative works of fiction.

And Jesus Christ… All that said, I must admit to you that I've just finished Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, and was unable to commence this “review” without wondering aloud for you how Kilgore Trout – perhaps Kurt's favorite creation – would feel about this Friend's business.

It was actually my Aunt Ayn who taught me to write, so Vonegutt was a mediocre Ray William Johnson-associated YouTube band until after high school, when “lots of people” started telling me to “read Vonnegut, man,” even though I cannot recall any specific events or recommenders. For whatever reason, though, I'd bought a copy immediately after a friend mentioned it, recently, and found him (in this particular work, at least) to be awfully sane for my taste, yet particularly resonant. Though written to make me think it was all a big one-draft ramble, Kurt's a bit too curt for it to be believed, I think. Auntie Rand would've double-taken his beratement of “in nonsense is strength” if she'd made it that far. I hope she did, because I found the image of her taking in his occasional hand doodles to be very amusing.

Dwayne Hoover is awfully absent – and therefore, a very versatile storytelling device, though not in a lazy sense. We're repeatedly notified about an imminent convergence. Eventually, it's explained that the endgame involves Dwayne exploding into a violent revengeful tantrum against all the lifelong enemies of his subconscious. Including “people with brown skin.” Can I just bring up Ayn Rand again? I hope it's okay.

Kilgore Trout is the most dangerous villain I've ever experienced. He has little to lose, and – like Vonnegut, it would seem – finds his observatory position in the world to be immensely amusing. His last amusement, even. Remember Ellsworth M. Toohey, the corrupter? I think they would've gotten along, funny enough.

Yes, and Hoover would be Peter Keating, the corrupted. I'm reaching, yeah, but when do I not? Their immediate difference is the lack of malicious intent in Trout, of course. He is an aimless science fiction writer, who gives Dwayne a volume simply to shut him up. Neither villain is believable, per se, but both were written to be personifications of ideals; vehicles of metaphor.

I think Rand could've quite easily become Vonnegut, were she to stick around much longer, but perhaps I believe so only because I've experienced a quantifiable transition from her sort of thinking (vaguely) to his (perhaps less vaguely.) An incorruptible commitment to absolute was Ayn's most potent conviction. Growing up as a white cis male, I was aching for a method of simplifying the world which I knew more and more to be infinitely complex. Inevitably, with age, I think a limitless appetite for the complexity must form, lest one spend the rest of his/her life fighting the singular truth in a miserable fortress of seclusion and amphetamine abuse.

The key to Breakfast of Champions' genius is its utter lack of angst. Aside from his brief definition of a being – “an unwavering band of light” – Kurt had little interest in writing a manifesto, yet his perspective in his curious commentary manifests a much more profound critique of American society than Rand ever could've from her hole.

As such, I think it's wisest to leave a rudimentary whole measurement of a writer to Aunt Ayn, but perhaps a particularly relevant spectrum in this case is clarity of sight. Rigid idealism has its place in literature, no doubt, but it's an awfully boring one without a writer's feet on the ground.

How does this all relate to self-publication? Well, Our Friend, it turns out, offers preset novel “templates” to members of his writing community, into which one can “plug in” characters, setting, and basic plot elements to a degree of his/her choosing. And his YouTube channel is stuffed with all sorts of tutorials on formatting and – more disturbingly – how to create sellable cover art with Photoshop. Naturally, it includes instruction on stock and rights-free images.

Though I've yet to read one, it doesn't take much imagination to comprehend the inevitable product. From Our Friend's vlogs, I can suppose a heavy focus on the adolescent market. What makes the whole concept noteworthy in my mind is the why? I'd like to think that I have a fairly-realistic grasp on the potentialities of writing for profit, and am obligated to wonder why one would “compromise” his/her “creative integrity” by publishing literature to sell, of all things.

As I understand it, the methodical approach to authorship being encouraged is applicable to literally any other field, creative or not. It's curious and impressive, frankly, as their sales potential seems to be vastly superior to anything I'll ever bother to publish, but I must weigh in because of one quantifiable detriment: saturation.

Someone is spending their money on these works – probably for their kids. I'm not a parent, but I'd be tremendously ashamed to discover that a book I'd given as a gift to anyone had been manufactured in this manner. Not just in the sense that most light literature is manufactured – written in hearty observance of academic rules of storytelling – but literally mass-produced with a goddamned intellectual stencil.

Without sounding like I'm complaining... My singular self-published poetry collection is probably of significantly less whole-value to the majority of readers, but I can't help but think the effort put into its hand-drawn cover art and meticulously-arranged typography would make it a more comfortable investment, if anything else.

This brings us to a distinctly-academic mainstay which I have always taken issue with: “consider your audience.” I first encountered this proverb in the context of a composition studies course, mind you, where its consideration in the essay medium makes unequivocally good sense. If we agree that an essay is defined by an uncompromising commitment to its effectiveness in making an argument, audience awareness is essential. If you were asked to decide on one primary purpose of writing in general, though, would it not be identical?

Why didn't Kurt Vonnegut or Ayn Rand simply write essays? Well, the latter wrote many, but their sales have always been all but invisible compared to The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. (Both of which resemble essays more than fiction, at times, but I'll spare you that conversation.) Did they consider their audience? Certainly not in the way my first Google result articulates it:

Ensure that your documents meet the needs and expectations of your readers.”

Ooo boy. To me, that translates a little too easily into “write what your readers want to read.” And maaaan... If there's anything that experience and Donald Draper have taught me, it's that people have no idea what they want, especially from art. And that's a reasonable mentality, isn't it? Perhaps even an exhaltable one. I know that predictable stories are my number one turnoff, personally. If I expected to exist for an eternity, I'd absolutely indulge every single creative work I could find, but I do not, and that realization (as I stated in my last Freq Check,) has propelled an underlying preference in all of my consumption decisions: what I have not (before) seen.

Obviously, then – if you take my word for it – Our Friend's endeavors are in direct ideological opposition to my own, which would make him my arch nemesis, if 21st-century industry were a bit more theatrical. But – like most heroic protagonists – I'd be much more interested in “turning” him than censoring him, were we ever to engage. In fact, I'd probably end up defending his and/or his constituents' right to sell their trash if CreateSpace or other self-publishing services called it into question.

Overwhelming content volume can be entertaining; Drywall was my own foray into that uniquely contemporary experiment. It's the sheer ease of publication, though, that makes “good” literature more precious than ever. Admittedly, a glance at Amazon's current top ten bestsellers list indicates that I am undoubtedly out of touch as far as the market is concerned. I know that my mother and sisters have mysteriously reverted back to print from the Kindles which they used for a few years, and that audiobooks make me supremely uncomfortable. I also know that reading a book – whenever I bring myself to shut out everything else – is an unrivaled vehicle of cognitive serenity.

A significant mission for Extratone lies in an upcoming reactionary movement to culture's “circus stage” (by way of the Internet.) We determined the event's inevitability on Drycast, a year ago, and have made occasional efforts to posit more thoroughly on The New. It must involve a reduction in content consumption, fundamentally, which will constrict because of an increasing demand for more explicit purpose in all media. We are not to be the alternative, necessarily, but the intermediary arbiter of the enabling discussion, hopefully with the outcome of increased awareness. What is and is not relevant? Why am I consuming this?

As the end of Breakfast of Champions draws abruptly closer, Vonnegut mentions his schizophrenia, which is – as you probably know – fundamentally characterized by loss of the ability to determine what is and is not real, and primarily treated with antipsychotics. Interestingly enough, extremely high doses of amphetamines (which Ayn Rand did use heavily, by the way. I wasn't making that up) can actually induce psychosis, which could crudely be described as cognitive noise. I could've missed the intended function of their works, but for me, they illuminate a distinct relationship between the abstracts of truth and relevance which, for the moment, seems particularly necessary.

Two opposing reflections of Americana; both helpful in preparation for its future.

May we never lose ourselves in the noise.

#media