But I am very poorly today & very stupid & I hate everybody & everything.
Not feeling it today. I’ve felt distracted and irritable most of the day, and at odds with time.
I’ve long maintained that I write here at my whim, and not as a brand or for an audience, but I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t tickled when I see an uptick in readers, get responses or likes, or any other sort of feedback that makes it feel less lonely and like shouting into the void. Then, there’s the personal desire to show some consistency and that I can be reliable, and the feelings of guilt if I don’t maintain that self-imposed schedule.
But sometimes your brain is just sour, and your time is scattered, and your focus is lost in the fog.
As I mentioned in an earlier post (and you might have surmised by the flurry of posts), I’m on my annual sojourn to Squam. It’s a time to see family, decompress, swim, and take stock of things. I look forward to it every year, and always make time for it, even if it means not doing as much other travel as I’d like. I like to sit on the porch and look out at the lake, and listen to gentle waves against the shore and the wind in the trees. It’s nice to catch up with people, too – I may not always be as directly participatory, but my ears are open and it’s nice to pick up what others are doing. It’s a particular feeling that brings some level of contentment and unencumbered activity.
And then he would do something absolutely extraordinary: He would roll over onto his back, and present his soft belly. I always marveled at the courage of that, his ability to be so absolutely vulnerable to us. He offered us the place ribs don’t protect, trusting that we weren’t going to bite or stab him. It’s hard to trust the world like that, to show it your belly. There’s something deep within me, something intensely fragile, that is terrified of turning itself to the world.
I’m scared to even write this down, because I worry that having confessed this fragility, you now know where to punch. I know that if I’m hit where I am earnest, I will never recover.
It can sometimes feel like loving the beauty that surrounds us is somehow disrespectful to the many horrors that also surround us. But mostly, I think I’m just scared that if I show the world my belly, it will devour me. And so I wear the armor of cynicism, and hide behind the great walls of irony, and only glimpse beauty with my back turned to it, through the Claude glass.
But I want to be earnest, even if it’s embarrassing. The photographer Alec Soth has said, “To me, the most beautiful thing is vulnerability.” I would go a step further and argue that you cannot see the beauty which is enough unless you make yourself vulnerable to it.
John Green, “Sunsets” from The Anthropocene Reviewed
Found via Kottke, here’s an excellent timeline of the idea of remote work and digital nomadism. The idea has been around for a long time – the timeline starts in 1964, with Arthur C. Clarke predicting it (well before it was broadly feasible – it’s sort of remarkable how much some of those 50’s and 60’s futurists managed to nail it). It’s been a long time coming, and while it’s not for everyone, the pandemic certainly gave many more people the chance to try it out. (It’s an imperfect trial, since being in quarantine and many places in lockdown isn’t necessarily indicative of what it would be like if you didn’t have that restriction and background stress.)
It’s unsurprising but sad that many companies are already insisting people come back to the office, despite it: a) arguably being too early given vaccination rates, new infections, and variants; b) not being necessary, based on general productivity gains and losses compared to in-office; c) not being what their employees want, many of whom seem to prefer either remote or a hybrid of in-office and remote. (Personally, I’m quite happy working remotely 90% of the time, but recognize that it’s useful to get some real face time, too. Anecdotally, I seem to do best when I’m off remote most of the time, then go into the office maybe once or twice a week. I’d be interested in trying out something like being primarily remote and then coming to work from the office for a week or two maybe once a quarter or a few times a year.)
Anyway, definitely some food for thought, and interesting to see the sort of evolution and adoption of digital nomad lifestyles across the past few decades.
The Tchotchke Internet is a social media landscape of digital flair and knick-knacks, a direct evolution of the freemium user experience. It’s the small ways that users can spend money (or make money) to have a better experience on social media. It’s Reddit Gold, Discord Nitro, Twitter Super Follows, celebrity verified checkmarks, premium Zoom calls, NFT galleries, Ethereum domain names in your bio, Fortnite skins, Roblox Robux, personal Minecraft servers, custom Twitch emotes, Linktree URLs, cryptocoin giveaways, Clubhouse invites, and social media partner programs.
People are spending a lot of money to express themselves online and most of what they’re paying for is basically the digital equivalent of an emo kid’s backpack covered in Hot Topic pins, random little digital artifacts that bely some kind of personal identity.
It’s a clever, and I think apt, name for how the internet has shifted recently, and continues a trend we’ve been seeing for a while around virality, monetization, and content creation. We’ve been talking about “influencer culture” for a while, and I think this is a (perhaps inevitable) continuation of that trend. I think that the “digital flair” is definitely an attempt at status signaling, but also an attempt for some to feel like they can still express themselves and be part of the larger dialogue. As the nature of discourse on the internet increasingly feels like broadcasts (one-to-many, and largely in one direction), having little ways to make your mark feel increasingly important.
I’m on my annual sojourn to Squam this week, listening to the lake and the loons. I’ve got a few personal projects I’ve been meaning to do that I hope to work on while here (in addition to the socializing and swimming and such). For instance, I’ve been meaning to move away from Google Analytics for monitoring site traffic. No diss on the quality of the tool, but philosophically I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with handing over my site’s viewership information to Google for their own purposes. I do still want some level of monitoring, though: site stats aren’t strictly necessary, but I’m enough of a stats geek that I do like to occasionally see what pages are getting views, what links are getting clicked, and so on.
There’s a couple different open source solutions out there that serve this purpose. Matomo is a popular one (it was previously named Piwik and has been around for quite some time), but seemed excessive for what I wanted. Personally, I ended up landing on Plausible. It’s fairly lightweight, fast, GDPR compliant, doesn’t collect PII, and I can self-host it. Setup was a little bit of a pain, but not an insurmountable one. To be more clear: installation itself is easy, as it’s just a docker container, but it terminates to http, not https. This meant I needed to set up a reverse proxy to pass it through a secure connection, or else browser content protections would block the script (they don’t like mixing secure and non-secure files). But hey, good opportunity to learn something new!
Over at Garbage Day, Ryan Broderick discusses A Unified Theory of Online Anger, noting how algorithmic social media has effectively been weaponized (notably by the right, but let’s be honest, not just by them). They’re not wrong.
As these trending main characters go viral on Twitter, hundreds of online outlets race to turn this into content. And there’s a real financial incentive for covering these stories. As most people working at various content mines can tell you, the thing Facebook readers love the most is getting mad about stuff that’s happening on Twitter.
The blog has been lying fallow for a while. It’s getting to be time to till the fields and resume a regular practice. Sorry for the radio silence! I know how lonely the isles of blogging can be. I hope to resume a more regular practice soon, but not quite yet. Bear with me while I get my shit together. In the meantime, what’s happening?
This week in Portland, there is finally a cold snap and some snow, and related posts about snowpocalypse. However, I’m not there. I’m in Hawaii, on the island of Maui, listening to the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. I’m okay with this.
How, why, what? Well, the short version is that my brother’s girlfriend ended up getting hooked up with a week in Maui, and the place was big enough that they decided to invite me along. So it’s me, my brother, his girlfriend, and her kids.
While I recognize that it’s, y’know, during a pandemic, and I do feel a bit guilty about being “part of the problem” (so to speak), we’ve been doing our due diligence. Hawaii requires negative COVID tests, documented and certified by trusted testing partners, in order to not be quarantined and checking in daily for 10 days, which we did. One of us is even vaccinated (both doses). And at a certain point of stress and depression (and frankly the pure temptation of free lodging in Hawaii), you decide to take the calculated risk and do the damn thing.
The water has been warm, and ranging between 70 and 80 each day, with a nice ocean breeze. We’ve already seen whales breaching and playing, hung out on the beach, and just generally taken things easy. We have a list of things we want to do while here, but none should be particularly stressful. I was a little nervous about going (because pandemic, and related guilt about traveling during one), but being here has really driven home how much I needed this. I’m not actually unwound yet, but it’s kind of like when some background noise you’ve been trying to tune out finally stops — it’s only when you’re removed from the stress that you realize how much you’ve been storing in your body. I’ll get there (knock wood).
It’s been 18 years since I was last in Hawaii (last time was January, 2003). The last time I was here, I was 21 and engaged. It feels like a lifetime ago. I’m a different person now, for better or worse; it’s interesting how, while my experience is different, the place itself doesn’t feel that different to me. The timelessness of paradise, I suppose.
Something that has struck me (maybe because I’ve been thinking about such things lately) is how many people here are effectively acting like expats despite Hawaii being part of the same country — here as digital nomads, working remotely and riding out the pandemic. Between the cost of everything being notably different than the mainland, and the place really sort of having its own culture (both literally, as in the native Hawaiians, and more figuratively), it’s sort of the “lite” version of living in a different country. That’s just my outsider’s take, though — maybe the people actually living it would feel differently.
It’s been a few months since I wrote, and honestly, I’m not even sure where to start. The tail end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 have been an interesting time on so many levels. It’s been stressful and disheartening for many, for a variety of reasons that probably don’t need delving into (the election and resulting shenanigans, for instance). Just for my own sanity, though, time for a check-in.