Exodus

Cal Newport writing for The New Yorker:

These people are generally well-educated workers who are leaving their jobs not because the pandemic created obstacles to their employment but, at least in part, because it nudged them to rethink the role of work in their lives altogether. Many are embracing career downsizing, voluntarily reducing their work hours to emphasize other aspects of life.

While it’s not exactly a precise comparison, the Bubonic Plague was a catalyst for not only one of the greatest redistributions of wealth in history but a direct path to the Renaissance. We are an amazing species.

Age of Anxiety

This is the Age of Anxiety for the reason of the electric implosion that compels commitment and participation, quite regardless of any “point of view”. The partial and specialized character of the viewpoint, however noble, will not serve at all in the electric age.

At the information level, the same upset has occurred with the substitution of the inclusive image for the mere viewpoint. If the nineteenth century was the age of the editorial chair, ours is the century of the psychiatrist’s couch.

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

McLuhan wrote that in the mid-1960’s in a gunpowder cloud of the Vietnamese War and the Civil Rights Movement. Understanding Media‘s publication year was the birth caul of Jeff Bezos and his convenient consumer culture. It’s a compressed, brilliant read.

Protection

David McCabe and Cicilia Kang writing for The New York Times:

A second provision [of President Biden’s executive order] will encourage the Federal Trade Commission to write rules limiting how the tech giants use consumer data, a response to criticism that companies like Amazon can leverage what they know about users to gain the upper hand on competing services and businesses.

Technology companies have long concealed their businesses behind complex End User License Agreements (EULA) to subjugate consumer data in return for free services. Upon accepting the EULA when using Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other social media publishing platforms, privacy became a fiction to tell children before bedtime.

If people want to publish their thoughts, amplify their ideas, connect broadly with the rest of the world, there is one question they need to answer — what am I willing to trade? Is it my privacy or my money? There is no clause in the Constitution concerning the freedom to publish, only freedom of speech: two entirely different means of communication.

The Work Identity

In an interview with The Creative Independent, Jonny Sunn, author and illustrator, offers

It’s related to that feeling of constantly needing to work on something or constantly needing something to fill your plate. I don’t know if I would say how we’re pressured to define ourselves by our work, or how we do define ourselves by our work, but there’s some relationship between how I personally identify who I am at the moment, to the stuff that I’m working on.

Digging The Hole

My shovel is old, ragged, the wood protesting loudly in its conversation with the stubborn, packed dirt of our backyard.

Schluct … schluct … 

I found my Cocker Spaniel, Sadie, lying by my nautilus equipment. I hadn’t seen her for the better part of the day and was a little concerned. She was old. 18 years. She had been having some breathing problems lately. Just that morning, I’d mentioned to my wife that we were going to have that uncomfortable conversation that dog owners have as their dogs approach the end. You can feel it, when it’s coming. As stupid as that sounds, as cryptic and dramatic – it’s the truth. You can feel it in your bones.

My daughter, Alyx, and I were watching Veronica Mars on DVD. We paused between episodes to get a drink and a snack. A sandwich: turkey, lettuce, mayo, cheese on white. We finished and I mentioned before continuing, I hadn’t seen Sadie today. She had the habit of occasionally going downstairs to lie on the concrete floor. It was cool in the summer heat and she liked that.

Schluct … schluct …

It has to be deep, this hole. My arms shudder as I smash into a shoe-sized rock, unyielding. Sweat covers my face and shirt, damp crescents beneath my arms.

I clicked on the light in the basement and walked down the steps, avoiding the choice article of clothing here and there left by a rushed wife or child. I looked to the left. Nothing evident. To the right, just clothing by the washer and dryer, stacked in Egyptian pyramids by color or material.

I move to the left, past the clothes. I see her, lying next to my nautilus. Next to her is a small pool of water, collected from our tired, choked air conditioning. In the light, I can see a thin ribbon of crimson, coiled around itself, snake-like.

Schluct … schluct …

Sadie was my dog. She was always my dog. And this is my work, my responsibility, though we all share the loss. I’m thinking about the hole and the ugly sound my shovel makes when it begrudgingly pierces earth. Somewhere behind me, my daughter is crying. It’s taking forever to dig this hole.

“Sadie?” I said, not quite whispering. My daughter was waiting half-way down the steps. She could hear it in my voice. She said something under her breath. I nudged Sadie. She was stiff. Cold, fluid mouse-tailing from her nose. I returned to the steps and caught my daughter’s eyes.

It was a long moment. We look into each others eyes. No words.

“I need to call your mother.”

Schluct … schluct …

I’m talking to my daughter a few short minutes ago. “We always bury our animals in the ground, Alyx. Why do you think we do that?”

“So they go to Heaven?” she answers.

“Kinda. But that’s not why we do it. Why do you think we do it?”

“I don’t know.”

“So they help create new life. That’s their next journey. We feed them to the earth and they feed life on earth. As hard as it is to understand or hear, that’s how Mother Nature likes it. And as hard as it is to understand or hear, it’s a noble journey.”

Schluct … schluct …

She was watching her friend’s dogs while they were on vacation. Her cell phone was ringing. I suspect she was probably already asleep. She had to get up early the next morning for her landscaping work. It was going to be hot and humid so she would start early.

“Hello.” She said, her voice crusted with Nod.

“You need to come home.”

“What’s wrong?”

“You need to come home. Sadie. Sadie’s gone.”

I sway backwards. It’s deep enough. It’s finally deep enough. I climb out of the hole, knees unsure. Wheezing, I grab a blanket and descend into the basement. I wrap her body in the blanket and walk upstairs and outside. Everyone is there, waiting. I place the bundle into the dank hole and my wife and I begin to fill it. It doesn’t take long.

Now we stand at the grave, sniffling. My daughter and son are crying, but no one is saying anything. Someone should say something.

“I wasn’t there with you … at the end … to see you off. I’m sorry.

“I’m sorry … goodbye …”

Published
Categorized as Writing

Distributing You

Mark Weidenbaum writing for Disquiet:

Social media is “social.” Blogs are “web logs.” Social media expects feedback (not just comments, but likes and follows). Blogs are you getting your ideas down; feedback is a byproduct, not a goal.

As a content creator on social media, you do not really control the channel. You do not make the rules. YouTube has a limitless list of videos railing about changes to YouTube policies curtailing creators’ ability to monetize their content, editing that content, and various other seeming treacheries.

At the end of the day, social media content creators signed up for the built-in community that platform fostered, under rules defined by the platform. And to my knowledge, if those same creators leave the platform, there is not a fluid means of taking those followers with them.

It’s your content, but it is their platform. More, it may be their audience, too.

Blocked and Broken

Elizabeth Dwoskin and Gerrit De Vynck reporting for the Washington Post:

Experts in free speech and technology said … issues are connected to a broader problem: overzealous software algorithms that are designed to protect but end up wrongly penalizing marginalized groups that rely on social media to build support. Black Americans, for example, have complained for years that posts discussing race are incorrectly flagged as problematic by AI software on a routine basis, with little recourse for those affected.

How do you edit the world? Social media companies have taken to the load-bearing response of using algorithms based on keywords and various other techniques but the fact remains: people are creative. They learn how to game the system in place. And algorithms are notoriously stoic in response.

Work fast and break things may be an inspiring mantra for a start-up, but when you’re the largest social media company in the world, you suddenly find yourself in the unique position of further breaking an already broken world.

Educating Obsolescence

We have a generation that is growing up with modern computing interfaces. Instead of creating new tools for education, we are still pushing the “classic” models onto them. Why?

Om Malik, from his blog article The Paradigm Shift

That Ivory Orbit

The Authenticity of ‘Got Milk’

Back in 1993, the California Milk Processor Board needed a fix. The problem? Improve milk sales. Dairy was in a slump. Focus groups conducted by Jon Steel — a partner at advertising firm Goodby, Silverstein & Partners — painted a fevered picture of an emotional connection to milk in its absence. Testimonials gave pitch and tenor to this portraiture. Milk was a ‘thing’ and if it wasn’t sitting in the fridge, was breakfast (never mind cereal) even an option?

Steel walked his findings back to the advertising group, reporting that the problem was “about running out of milk”. Jeff Goodby, another partner, casually mentioned

Why don’t we call it ‘Got Milk’ with a question mark?

That’s the part of the story people focus on — that simple, concentrated beam of inspiration wherein two words define a campaign and that campaign scrawls an indelible scar across the collective cultural face. ‘What was in his head when inspiration struck,’ is the cat call of countless advertising students. Or at least, those who were around in 1993 or studied the campaign’s impact in higher ed. It’s all romance and theater.

Yet the invisible part of the story is that milk is not essential to our diet. Calcium, sure. But calcium comes in numerous shapes and sizes, you can get it (as you could in 1993) as a supplement. So the advertising firm couldn’t exactly claim calcium essential nutrition like vitamins A or B.

Instead, the bright folks at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners decided to hit you in the heart. Everyone can relate to the classic milk mustache you had as a kid after taking a swig in the morning, before social niceties interfered with the great, big morning gulp. ‘Got Milk’ takes us back to the simple days of childhood, illustrated by this celebrity on this month, that celebrity the next. It gently tugs on your childhood memories while altering to the celebrity du jour, showing just how malleable a brand can be when it wants to be, when it needs to be.

Almost three decades later, ‘Got Milk’ still defines what an authentic approach to brand is while cat calling from the red seats, ‘you have to be flexible, you have to be supple’.

Most importantly, you have to be honest.

The Cost of Narrative

In 2004, HBO aired a series called Deadwood, a Western-style show by creator David Milch. Milch’s vision of Deadwood trafficked in all the traditional tropes of the Wild West, but applied contemporary sensibilities to its numerous subplots, making for a compelling narrative.

At the time, HBO was well on its way to transforming into a premium programming channel with the help of shows like The Sopranos, David Chase’s crime masterpiece about family, money, and trust. The Sopranos changed the way American audiences viewed television, leveraging long-form narratives in ways that echoed prior network shows like Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue 1 yet reflected contemporary social dilemmas viewers could relate to.

As a result, The Sopranos won numerous Emmy and Peabody awards, combining razor-sharp writing with excellent casting and direction. Deadwood, gritty, dusty, followed in those same footsteps, redefining the Western and capturing award after award.

Then, after three seasons, it ended2.

Brian Boone, writing for Looper, offers a litany of reasons for Deadwood’s cancellation: expense, lower viewership numbers, corporate infighting, managerial chaos.

The unseen bruise, purple and malformed, is trust in the HBO brand. Premium narratives require conjunct faith: if you’re going to be dignified in your storytelling, if you’re going to maintain intricate plot structures and characterization (such as The Wire 3), viewers need assurances the show is going to breathe until its story is finished. After all, audiences are committing the time of their lives — the only real currency in the world — to these stories.

1 NYPD Blue was also created by David Milch and garnered much acclaim for its gritty portrayal of the life of New York City police officers, both professionally and privately.

2 Not terribly surprising, shows end all the time. The challenge with Deadwood stems from its then popularity, launching the careers of Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane. One could make numerous parallels with shows such as Arrested Development, a postmodernist comedy about a dysfunctional family in real estate, or even Firefly, a space Western about being on the wrong side of a war.

3 I’d argue that The Wire still remains the most elegantly crafted crime narrative on modern American television with a very close second going to Breaking Bad. It seems important to note that capitalism yields an unseemly hitchhiker called ‘brand’. Brand influence conflates truth with elements of fiction. Sadly, consumers are mostly untrained in filtering brand truthiness.