Monday, October 9, 2017

Twitter140 vs Twitter280

I've been thinking about this Twitter 280 thing. I'm worried Twitter doesn't understand why people like it. I'm worried that in the search to find itself, Twitter wants to become Facebook.

Twitter is not a tool for publishers. It is a tool for readers. Its value is that it fights the overall trend of the Internet, to make publishing too easy. It forces people to edit relentlessly, to make things fit. That value is destroyed by giving people a comfortable amount of room to publish without thinking.

Every other forum on the network wants to allow enough space for people to say what they want, to publish what they want. This is fun for people who think they have something to say, but it's not fun for people listening to them. I fear that the people who love Twitter, who find it a fabulous tool, are not going to be happy in a world that removes this impulse.

It's not that I don't sometimes wish I could say more, but I have respected that there was a reason not to. But now there is a pressure to change. And I've been pondering how to strike a balance between just digging in with the #Twitter140 crowd and blindly accepting #Twitter280 as the answer.

A proposal of sorts

It occurs to me that the central feature of Twitter is the main feed. This is a stream of elevator pitches, bids to readers to care about a topic. This is what I think must be preserved. I don't know that I would have picked 140 characters. I understand its arbitrariness. And yet it has worked well. I just don't think 280 characters is needed there. I'd like not to disturb that. I want people to think hard about how to present an idea, so that as a reader I will see a stream of crisply edited ideas.

But when I see an idea that someone has thought carefully about, I want to respond sometimes in detail. I may not have a lot of time to spend on my reply, not as much as they should have in opening the conversation. But then again, anyone reading that particular topic must be caring about the topic, or they wouldn't have clicked in. So it seems reasonable for replies to be slightly longer, perhaps 280 since that is the proposed amount. I think I'd be OK with 280 character replies.

But what if someone wants to retweet those? If they've been sparing in their reply, keeping under 140, they should simply be retweetable. But we could have different operations for retweeting longer replies. We could have "Retweet Elided", which would put in an ellipsis (…) as the 140th character. Or we could have "Retweet with Summary", where it was the job of someone retweeting to summarize the response in a way that points through to the underlying post. I'm sure they could come up with a way to visually relate these in a way that respected the main feed and allowed one to see the summary and expansion if the reader wants to click through.

I think this kind of hybrid approach, which retained the 140 character feed and allowed for more expansion in the meat of a conversation, would continue to offer Twitter value. But I think they're on the brink not of finding an answer, but of losing their essential character. That would be very sad.


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Monday, July 10, 2017

Collusion illusion allusion elusion

In response to a tweet by @Limericking, I wrote this limerick in a tweet:

By treasonous channels he learned
His opponent was soon to be burned.
Though sad he’d not led it,
He lusted for credit.
And with that collusion, votes turned.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Limited-Time Offer

Climate is cancer.
Delay is hope we've squandered.
We can't buy it back.

#ParisAccord

Originally published to Twitter in response to a tweet by David Brin.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Tenuous Tenacity

Life is a calm room,
 hurricane raging outside,
 paper walls between.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Maybe You Have Two Cows

There are some descriptions of various political systems running around the net that are expressed in terms of you having two cows and how each political system affects you.

Here’s one about Democratic Socialism that a friend quoted on Facebook:

Democratic Socialism
You have 2 cows.
You pay your taxes.
You now have free healthcare and free college
 and a government that isn’t owned by billionaires.

I don’t find this to be as useful as it could be. Its tone hints that Democratic Socialism isn’t carefully thought through. Or, at least, that’s how the opposition spins it, unquestioned by media.

I would prefer something more plain and to-the-point. Then again, I don’t know if this describes Democratic Socialism. It just describes what I want. Yet somehow I doubt that Bernie would disagree with a lot of this:

Common Sense Politics
 (as interpreted by Kent Pitman)
Maybe you have 2 cows, maybe not.
Many have far less. Can we stop pretending everyone has it good? People are getting left behind.
People making enough to have a surplus
 pay tax on surplus.
Why are we taxing people who have less than they need to get by? So we can give it back to them later and call ourselves heroes? Leave them alone and get the money we need from the people who can afford it.
Forget this “skin in the game” crap
 about why everyone should pay tax.
Being poor IS having skin in the game. No additional reminder is necessary. The poor are not parasites, they are people society has failed.
And anyway, if you want fewer people, fund birth control.
Rich people pay their fair share
 and stop calling it pain.
Less luxury is not pain. Of course the money for a society is going to come from those who have a surplus. To do otherwise is irresponsible or inhumane.
Corporations pay tax on surplus, too.
Profitable corporations don’t need or ask for subsidies.
And it should go without saying, but...
Corporations are not People.
Corporations pay a living wage.
So employees don’t have to ask for government subsidy. Duh.
The military doesn’t get to waste money either.
No more buying stuff we don’t need just to supply pork to someone’s district.
A healthy and educated society benefits us all.
We pay for these collectively out of society’s surpluses, not by making people choose between these things and basic needs. And we stop calling the money that society pays for these things “expenses.” They are “investments.” It’s not “should we spend on healthcare or education?” but “should we invest in healthcare or education?”
To decide our future, we count citizens, not dollars.
Everyone should participate. Yet another reason education matters: We need well-informed voters. But it’s citizens, not dollars, that need a voice. Money always speaks loudly. Government is supposed to counterbalance that. Any suggestion that money needs a voice in politics misses the point of the Constitution, which assigns no special privilege to wealth, but rather takes it as given that we are all equal.
End Citizens United.
End gerrymandering.
Make voter registration easy and fair.
Fix Climate.
Now.
Or none of the rest of this will matter.

But, either way... Go Bernie!


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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Packaged Terror

After 9/11 we were in a daze, a fog that wouldn’t lift, as if the dust and debris of the towers had spread nationwide. It wasn’t clear at the time whether this was an isolated attack, or the first of many.

As if in answer came the anthrax mailings, about a week or so later. That compounded the daze. It was a strange time, and we were all uneasy.

The terrorists only did a little of the job, you see. They killed a few thousand, traumatized a couple of cities. But to make it a really national event, a global event, that required the media and the government. Each in their own way opportunists, they were—and continue to be—complicit.

We were asked to be vigilant about suspicious packages. At the time, that seemed prudent, almost welcomed. There is such an urge to do something in response to an awful happening. It’s an emotional need. A hunger that must be fed.

It was against this backdrop that I soon found a box hanging from my mailbox. Not in it. Just hanging from it. In a bag.

Never mind that I was no one anyone had ever heard of, living in a small town in the middle of nowhere anyone cared about. One’s own life always seems so much bigger and more important than most lives probably are. We all need to feel important.

The package said it was from my health insurance carrier, which to some less vigilant soul might have seemed fine, but I wasn’t taking “routine” for an answer. I hadn’t asked them for anything. I had no reason to suppose they would send me anything. And we were admonished to be suspicious, so suspicious we were.

After all, only the post office is allowed to put something in my mailbox. And this package wasn’t in the mailbox, just hung from it in a plastic bag, probably by someone willing to dispense anthrax but fearful of prosecution for improper use of a mailbox. That seemed to make sense. The kind of sense that people who live in fear are likely to make. The kind of sense that felt good to me. Never mind the fact that the package probably wouldn’t have fit in the mailbox in the first place, if this manner of delivery wasn’t an outright confession of guilt, it at least had “suspicious package” written all over it.

So I called the health insurance folks to check. “No,” they said. They had not sent it. In fact, the return address was an office that was not even open any more.

Well, that was disturbing.

I wanted to go to the FBI or something. But we had no such office in our tiny town. I wondered if perhaps they had trucks that went town to town, looking for possible anthrax mailings and carting them back to FBI Central. So I went to the post office and asked them. I don’t think they were prepared. The government was prepared to scare us, but not to address our fears.

“Go to the fire department,” they said. I shrugged and did.

They seemed as confused as the post office. They suggested the police department, and off I went.

The policemen puzzled at the box I was carrying and finally one of them said “Come with me.”

So I followed as we walked outside to where some kids were playing basketball in an open area with lots of cement on the ground. The policeman shooed the kids away, taking control of the space for his own clever plan.

“Stand back,” the policeman said, aiming a gun at the box.

“But...”

I tried to explain that it was anthrax I was worried about, and that a gun seemed the wrong idea.

It was too late. He had shot it.

Fortunately, since we were standing much too close and the kids would have probably never gotten to come back to play, there was no explosion. Nor was there any powder.

We opened the box. It was a catalog.

I called the health insurance company back. “Oh that,” they said with a kind of verbal shrug. “Yeah, maybe they still do catalogs out of that office.”

I worry a lot about terrorism these days, but not always about what the terrorists will do to us. Now I have a new worry: What we’ll do in response to the terror. What we’ll let our government do in our name, just so they can feel good having done something. Seeing that event, and that pointless act, an act so stupid you’d think it was fiction if you hadn’t been there to watch it, it was easier to understand how we started a pointless war.

And I don’t know what’s weirder—that he did that or that I stood by and let him. It was weird what they did, but it was also weird that I just went along with it. Looking back, I guess it was more caught up in that societal daze than I had realized.

But it’s who we are, we human beings, all of us. We’re easily afraid, and then more easily corralled. We need to know our propensities, and to recognize when they’re overtaking us, lest the simple option of exercising sanity elude us at the most critical of times.


Author’s Notes: If you got value from this post, please Share it.

I never got around to telling this story when it first happened, but in light of recent events in Paris, and my worry about the selfish manipulation of politics that will inevitably follow, I decided perhaps it was finally time. After more than a dozen years, one or two details might be off in small ways, but it’s the moral that matters, that we’re vulnerable in times like this—not just to terrorists, but to our own terrors and to those who would exploit them.

For more on the politics of preying on fear, I heartily recommend Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Passing of the Salmon

“I have some bad news,” the bartender tells me, just recently, in fact. I prepare myself for the worst. She’s getting to know me quite well and probably actually knows the things that matter to me, I realize.

I don’t drink, mind you, but I’m there several times a week. I drink diet coke and ask them to take their ahi tuna salad and substitute salmon. I’m pretty regular about that. It’s not typical bar food, I suppose, but it suits me.

I like salmon. I eat it a lot. I have a couple ounces for breakfast. And it’s a common thing for me to eat when I eat out.

“I have some bad news,” she says again, making sure she has my attention, and that I’m prepared. “They’re changing the menu. There’s not going to be any more salmon.”

I am stunned. I stare at her in anguish. It’s what she expected, and she seems sad. She knew this wouldn’t sit well. But I explain.

“The salmon were going away anyway,” I explain. “I always expected that. They’ll be extinct. And often when I eat salmon, I think, I’m really going to miss this. I just didn’t expect it so soon, and for this reason.”

There are still salmon in the world. That’s good at least. But she’s right that I’ll be sad when I come to the restaurant. Still, maybe it’s a wake-up call. Practice. The salmon aren’t quite gone, like the rest of the ecology. Climate change mostly, though we’re fishing out the oceans anyway, and not taking very good care of anything else.

I expect mankind itself to go extinct inside of 20 years. It’s not going to be pretty. Maybe if we started saying it out loud now, it would hit us in time to do something.

I’m going to miss the salmon, when it happens for real.

And soon after that, humanity itself.

Though whatever’s left probably won’t miss us.


Author's Note: I attended a Cary Tennis writing workshop this last weekend. This is one of the stories I wrote. The writing prompt was:
Visualize something you really love. Use the phrase “I'm going to miss you.”