Archive for May, 2010

I’m leaving facebook tomorrow.

It’s interesting to see how people react to this. I know a few others who are also leaving, and many seemed surprised that I would take so drastic a measure.  But the facebook relationship is an abusive relationship, I’ve discovered, and to continue to participate in it is destructive and enabling.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg has said publicly that he doesn’t believe in privacy.  That’s nice.  Maybe one day someone will steal his identity and sap his bank account.  Perhaps he’ll have kids one day and some savvy marketers will find a way to exploit them for their own needs.  Or maybe some compromising photos of him will circulate on facebook before he finds a way to shut them down.  That would be poetic.

But his personal beliefs aside, how about the fact that he has utter contempt for people who use his own creation.  I believe the phrase he used to describe facebook users who trusted him with their information was “dumb fucks.”  Classy.

How about this nice visual showing the evolution of privacy on facebook.  Clearly what’s evolving here is how much privacy is shrinking, and there’s no compelling reason for things to go back the way they were because facebook makes its money from selling off information.

And as if all that weren’t enough, it seems there are people out there who make Zuckerberg look like a saint by utilizing facebook as a portal to steal accounts or personal information through spyware and malware.

Yes, I know there are more reprehensible companies to be found, whose products I use while completely unaware of the corporate policies attached.  I’m sure I’ve inadvertently purchased articles of clothing made in sweatshops, or purchased a snack food item in this country made by a company that uses their money and power to dictate diets in poor countries.  I know for a fact (after the fact, of course) that I frequented in a restaurant that was owned by a person who trafficked sex slaves that were forced to work in the kitchen.  But once I was made aware of these offenses I felt obligated to make a decision whether or not I would continue to support these companies and their behaviors.

And in the case of facebook, I cannot.

So while many people have been telling me over the past couple of years that social networking is an essential part of my internet presence as a writer, particularly among a younger demographic, I find myself questioning the importance of the medium and well as the message.  The internet is a great tool for communication and sharing of information, and I can see how it can be used to build and maintain social connections on a variety of levels, but as a platform I think facebook has proven to be unfriendly, irrelevant, and ultimately antisocial.

Tomorrow I delete my information and shut my facebook account down.  And this will be the last time I ever talk about it.

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For now, at least, that’s my current mindset.

Facebook has gotten too ugly, or at least I can no longer ignore the parts i don’t like, and so I’ve decided it’s time to part ways.  The recent security issues have pushed me over the edge but there were other things as well.  The sense of feeling like I’m “not in touch” and needed to check to see what everyone else is up to has become more a distraction than a social interaction.  The false sense of connection facebook engenders cheapens the notion of friendship and reduces communication to a disjointed stream of announcements.  And unless or until I have a reason or need to market myself to a network of “friends,” I don’t feel like being facebook’s “market” of exploitable data.

But for the time being I am keeping my Twitter account.  Though tweets have the same feel as facebook status updates the overall effect feels like more of a conversation than a personal billboard exchange.  I’ve participated in live conversations on Twitter (and wish I had time to do more of that) with a network of like-minded individuals that I didn’t have to recognize as “friends” or have to worry about private information being shared in the process.  On facebook, a comment thread takes days for a handful of people to respond, making it feel like the Pony Express, while Twitter’s real-time narrative actually feels as lively as a conference call.   I can dip into areas of interest on Twitter by checking out hash tags as though drifting through a cocktail party and catching bits of conversation.  What it loses in personal connection it makes up for in quality and interactivity.

And to be honest, I never much cared for the weather-reporting and navel-gazing aspect of facebook, even while I actively participated in such activities.

It says something that the Library of Congress negotiated to become the depository for the Twitter archive.  I don’t know what exactly it says, but it says something that a similar negotiation was not made for facebook – although facebook has managed to catch the attention of Congress, if not its library.  Perhaps it has to do with a sense of historical importance, or the idea that there is a value in conversational exchange that isn’t diluted by ridiculous polls, or Mafia Wars, or the idea that “liking” something automatically makes you a demographic for marketers.

The one thing I did like about facebook was the ability to find and reconnect with people from my past who had slipped away for a variety of reasons.  This was a double-edged sword, of course, as my 30th (really? sheesh I’m old) high school reunion edged on the horizon and people who wouldn’t have given me the time of day back in high school suddenly wanted to include me on their roster of friends.  But the ratio of friends I wanted to reconnect with against those I didn’t was a very lopsided affair.

If you’re reading this then you probably already know how to get hold of me, and there’s always Twitter for the other bits.  Heck, if anyone’s interested, I’d be open to something postal.  Not necessarily letters – email is best there – but maybe something more creative and personal.  Something with some meat to it, rather than this facebook diet of soundbite broadcasting.

So long, facebook.

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I don’t know that I would have cared that much for the books of Lewis Carrol if it hadn’t been for Martin Gardner.  I certainly never would have discovered The Hunting of the Snark back in fifth grade, and I don’t know that I would have enjoyed lateral thinking if I hadn’t discovered Perplexing Puzzles and Tantalizing Teasers around the same time.  As an adult, an educator, seeking sources for presenting logic problems and puzzles to students Gardner’s Aha! books reminded me not only of those earlier books but that he had been a much larger influence on my reading then I realized.

The summer of 1972 my family moved to another part of town, to a new neighborhood.  In those odd, alienated days of late June I remember exploring my new neighborhood and discovering the local branch of our town library.  It was carved into the stage left wing of my new school’s cafetorium, a room perhaps ten feet wide and forty feet long.  Seeing that our family of six had just moved from a two-bedroom apartment to a spacious three-bedroom house the smallness didn’t seem unusual or limiting to me; cramped living arrangements happened in the world, libraries included.  The library was an open-armed sanctuary with a choice selection of books for a lonely 11 year old boy.  That library and its books shaped a lot of who I am as a person and a reader.

I was probably looking for books I already knew – Pick a Peck of Puzzles by Arnold Roth seems likeliest – when I stumbled onto Martin Gardner.  I remember Perplexing Puzzles looking very approachable, with clear language and Laszlo Kubinyi’s pen and ink illustrations, even though I often couldn’t solve the riddles or puzzles.  Unlike many of the other similar books intended for children the puzzles didn’t talk down to me as a reader or go for short term entertainment; the problems invited contemplation even after I had given up and gone in search of the answers in the back of the book.

When I went in search of more books by Gardner I was surprised to be led to Alice in Wonderland, exhaustively annotated by Gardner and full of crazy details outlining all of Carrol’s logic and whimsy.  I confess, I might not have actually read Alice before then, having probably assumed I knew all I needed to know from the Disney movie adaptation.  I do know that I read and grew a deeper appreciation for for the possibilities of nonsense even when it wasn’t thick with hidden meaning.  The invention of words, Carrol’s definition of portmanteau words, the rhythm of the language… I can’t say I would have picked that up without Gardner and might not have continued my friendship with books and libraries if I wasn’t constantly in search of the type of surprise that came with discovering books like Gardner’s.

Edward Lear wasn’t far behind, and books of codes and ciphers, Ray Bradbury and Vonnegut closely after that.  Although it sometimes seems like very distinct, wildly disparate times in my reading timeline the through-line from Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House is a scant two years.  And in between I don’t know how many times I went back to Gardner to help pull at the taffy of my brain and expand it further into shape for lateral thinking.

I don’t know that the current generation of emerging adolescent readers have anyone doing for them what Gardner did for me back then, but at least his books are still in print and widely available just in case.

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Once I realized that my current work-in-progress would be a “period” comedy set in 1977 I knew I would eventually have to do research.  Having lived through the 70s, and having many vivid memories of those times, I find myself getting caught up on the details.  I’m not looking for photo-realism so much as I just don’t want to be careless.

I have been trying to gloss over the details as I write, promising that I’ll delve into the research on revision, but almost daily something comes up that prevents the writing from moving forward because the missing details is bothering me.  Today the question was the running time for a specific film, and some background on Angela Davis.  This information was for logistical purposes – what was known when, how late were my characters at the theatre – and not necessarily the sort of thing that would derail my writing flow.

But then I hit this one bit of dialog.  I have a couple of teen boys spying on a cute girl sunbathing in her backyard.  I know the details of the scene well enough – I lived it – but suddenly one of the boys is trying to articulate this girl’s characteristics through a comparison with actresses on popular TV shows.  One boys says “I can’t tell from this angle if she’s more of a Sabrina or a Janet.”

The references are to Kate Jackson’s character in Charlie’s Angels and Joyce DeWitt’s character on Three’s Company.  I promise you, conversations like this really did take place, but what made me instantly uncomfortable was whether or not it would have been possible to have this conversation back in 1977.  Were both shows on the air in April of that year?  If not, I’d need a different set of comparisons, but I liked the line as written.  Not knowing was killing me so the writing stopped for an internet search.  Indeed, the 1976-1977 season was the debut for Charlie’s Angels, and Three’s Company was a mid-season replacement that began a month before the scene takes place, making the comparison topical.  My memory of that spring was accurate, and the line stands, but I lost the flow of the writing as a result.

I think it’s agreed that details are what gives books set in the past their punch, and yet I recognize at the same time that the contemporary reader isn’t going to know or understand when this information is incorrect.  It can’t be assumed they know the references, and it would be equally unnatural to have these boys explain what would have been common knowledge to one another, and thus begins a tricky second-guessing game of “Is it relevent?”

A few weeks ago I saw the movie Hot Tub Time Machine, a different period comedy that plays the 80s for farce, and I kept wondering how accurate some of the details were.  Am I making too much of a gross-out comedy to say that I thought some of the songs were off, and wondering if the ski slopes really were that wasted and…pastel?  But all this made me realize that, yes, the details must be spot on because otherwise they become a distraction to the story and they undercut the humor.  The reader (and moviegoer) should be saying “Wow, I remember that!” and not “That’s not possible.”

So, yes, the accuracy matters.  The writing is slower going, but the details… ah, the details.  It’s amazing how many more memories come scurrying out when you lift the research rock on a single detail.

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April did not go as I’d hoped. Not that my hopes were great, in fact I thought they were fairly modest; keep working on the new book, keep pitching the finished one, oh, and for National Poetry Month, write three new haiku and one limerick a day. And things seemed to be chugging right along until


That’s how I described it, how it felt. There was thing in my chest that happened one day that felt like my heart taking a gulp. No pain, but it was accompanied by some light-headedness, some difficulty focusing. But just that once and then nothing.

Until the next day. A climb down and up the back stairs to the basement was cause for a few more gulps. And then again when I took my midday walk around the reservoir. And as I was taking my pulse I felt it, a moment where I had no pulse, and then the gulp, and then I had a pulse again.

And I freaked out.

Naturally, I went to the doctor’s office right then and had an EKG which showed nothing, because my heart behaved itself for the machine, but immediately after it was switched off it did it again. The decision was made for me to wear a Holter monitor, a portable EKG that you wear for 24 hours. It took four days before they could see me to be rigged up to the Holter, and by then things had mostly settled down. During the time I was wired up and connected to a device about the size of a pager circa 1992 I don’t think I had a single heart gulp. A little light-headedness, but even since then that’s abated.

I found it pretty hard to focus and write haiku or limericks during that time, and it took me a few days before I stopped beating myself up over missing an artificially imposed schedule.

It’s been nearly a week and the results from the Holter haven’t come, but past experience has shown that the only news that comes quickly is bad. My physician said that these sorts of things do happen but most people don’t notice them, suggesting that somehow I might be overly sensitive to occasional benign arrhythmia.  What a thing.  Some people are sensitive to heat or cold or changes in the weather, I apparently can feel my internal organs more acutely than most.

Until I hear otherwise – and I really won’t be satisfied until I can get a definitive answer about what happened, which is probably unrealistic – I’m going to take this as a sign to get and stay healthy and refocus my energy on the writing.

I try another poetry challenge next year.  I trust by then this will just have been little more than a blip along the way.  May.  New month, new goals: keep writing…

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