Experimenting with online and in-person encounters
When I was in college one of the big issues on campuses was that the schools should not be investing in companies that did business in South Africa.
The divestment argument was that institutions of higher learning should not be supporting or benefiting from Apartheid in any way.
The argument on the other side was shareholder responsibility. The idea was that if all of the investors who cared about fighting Apartheid left, then the only ones left would be those that didn’t care about the important issues and nothing would change.
At the time I was left leaning but more middle of the road than I am now.
I saw both sides.
I also understood that the level of investment we were talking about would have little or no effect either way. In fact, it would probably hurt the universities more than the government the protesters were trying to change.
But, sometimes the decisions we make are important to us and who we want to be and how we want to be. Me deciding not to be a Tesla owner anymore didn’t effect anyone but me. The car I have now is not as nice and doesn’t go as far - but I feel better driving it.
And now Elon owns Twitter. Do I stay or do I go?
I see both sides.
In tech we talk about code smells.
There’s code we spot and say, “something isn’t right here.”
When news broke of Paul Pelosi being attacked with a hammer in his own home, people I want to associate with said things like, “that’s awful” and “I hope he’s ok.”
You’d think that would be the minimal response even from people I don’t want to associate with.
Elon posted a link to an article that was suggesting it was a gay meetup gone wrong and that maybe there was more to the story.
Nope. The story was just as we thought. Someone hopped up on right-wing messaging had gone in search of the speaker of the house intent on getting the truth out of her or breaking her knee caps so that she’d have to be wheeled into congress as an example to others.
So now what? Do we stay or do we go?
Me leaving doesn’t hurt Elon.
Me leaving is not notable in any way.
Me leaving likely will hurt me and my business in tangible ways.
But me leaving might also help me.
Dave Winer disagrees. He tweeted, “Why would I leave Twitter? It’s like living in NY and not taking the subway. Sure it’s dirty and smells bad, but it’s how you get places in NY.” (https://twitter.com/davewiner/status/1585744331167698945)
I don’t know. There’s a point where the dirt and smell get to be so bad that I wonder if I should even be in NY - let alone be riding on the subway.
The middle ground
Maybe there’s a middle ground.
A couple of years ago I stopped posting publicly on FaceBook and took down all of my pictures, posts, and comments.
Friends wrote to tell me that out of sight would be out of mind - and I suppose that’s true.
I still spent way too much time checking FB and reading what others were up to.
I feel better now that I’ve been locked out and I won’t make the effort to be let back in.
Sure I’ll miss hearing about friends here and there. I wouldn’t have heard about the birth of a child half a world away any other way. You could say not being there hurts me. It mostly has no impact on anyone else. And on balance I feel better.
Maybe I’ll wean myself off twitter the same way.
Post and comment less. Quietly start unfollowing people. Check in less often. And then one day delete the app from my phone.
I’ve looked around for alternatives and am back to checking out micro dot blog and mastodon. I don’t know that either is for me.
The thing I’ll miss is hearing from the people I like and respect but don’t encounter any other way.
Asha, for example, popped up and mused about her relationship with the internet the other day. “The questions you might ask yourself,” she wrote, “are probably different than mine. One thing is universal, however: time is our most precious resource. Spending it on Twitter has got to be worth the cost.” (https://twitter.com/ashadornfest/status/1587085578402942976)
That’s it exactly.
If someone like Asha ran Twitter, I would feel good about staying. I want someone who recognizes that time spent must be worth the cost.
Maybe I have to reconsider my interactions in real life.
I drove out to see Maggie this past weekend in my Chevy Bolt.
On the highway, going as fast as I was going, with the heat on low, it didn’t get nearly the 260 mile range that it estimated when I left the house.
125 miles later I stopped outside of Pittsburgh to charge the car and stretch my legs. As I was coming to the end of my charge session a Mustang pulled up and the driver said hello as he plugged his car in.
This has generally happened every time I have charged an electric car. I don’t remember it ever happening when I stopped to pump gas. Perhaps it did - but it wasn’t a regular occurence.
Another 125 miles I stopped again in the middle of Pennsylvania. I plugged the car in and headed in to the Sheetz to use the restroom and get a cup of coffee and a couple of fruit pies.
When I got out a guy was plugging in his Chevy Bolt at the charger next to me. He struck up a conversation. He was traveling from Louisville heading to New Jersey to see his mom.
Before long, another Bolt owner pulled up. The third charger wasn’t working but I was almost done so we all chatted before I drove off a little early to make room.
An hour and a half later I pulled off the turnpike in Carlisle to charge the car enough to make it to Philadelphia. One of those new Ford F150s was charging next to me. I talked to the driver while his wife took their dog for a walk. The lady who was charging her VW ID.4 got out of her car to say hi.
Five minutes later the guy from Louisville pulled in and started to charge and joined in the conversation. As I got in my car to head out, the driver who’d taken my place at the last stop drove in and waited for me to move on once again.
I got to Philadelphia a little before seven and Maggie and I walked over to a bar in her neighborhood to watch the first game of the World Series.
The bar wasn’t crowded at all. We found one stool at the bar and were waiting for someone to return to see if he’d move over so we could have two seats next to each other when the woman to my right struck up a conversation. She’d had to stand an hour before getting a seat but they were leaving and I could have her seat.
We chatted a little while longer while Maggie looked at me with a raised brow. She wasn’t used to me engaging in idle chatter with a stranger. To her it felt like I was flirting and it made her a bit uncomfortable.
The guy to our left came back and moved his coat over a seat so Maggie and I could sit together and he talked to us about the game, where we were from, what we did, what he did, and so on. Again, I think I surprised myself and Maggie for not giving the guy a look to shut him up.
The guy told me his name. I told him mine. I promptly forgot his and felt bad when he said goodbye to me by name when we left. It felt mostly harmless - like an online encounter - and this in person chatting thing is just something I’m trying.
As I re-examine my relationship with the internet and experiment with new platforms, I’m experimenting with the way I interact with actual people as well. I’m not sure where I’ll end up with either.
Saturday I watched Maggie’s rugby game, met friends for a late lunch and got back on the road. A couple hours later I pulled into the Sheetz in Carlisle. I plugged the car in and went in for a hot chocolate.
When I came out, there was my friend from Louisville. We ended up meeting at the next two stops as well.
I say “friend from Louisville” but it was a bit like “online friends”. We aren’t really friends. We exchanged stories but never exchanged names.
Maybe my real life relationships will become more like friending people online.
As to my politics, I don’t think that my positions have changed so much since college, but from the outside it looks like I stand further left in a landscape that has shifted right.
I probably do lean further to the left. Like a mime with a rope trying to pull the center back closer to where it once was. Unlike a mime, I now speak while performing in public.
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 136. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe