The Facebook Cleanse


So I had some time to kill before an interview with the Bitter Esters Brewhouse brewer this morning (more on that later), and I happened across this article about a “Facebook cleanse”  on Slate. Since I’m off of Facebook for the summer, it called out to me.  Would I find some helpful hints for more fulfilling FB use when I re-engage with the site? Would it shock me?  Would I decide to delete my account altogether?

The answer is no for most of those questions.  The author, Dan Kois, explained that  he uses the birthday feed to pick friends to either keep or eliminate, and that was a novel idea.  If the person who is having the birthday is one Dan would truly want to  wish a “Happy birthday,” they remain friends. If not, that person gets off’d.   So that was a new concept to me-definitely one I like.  But when I signed up for FB it was to keep in touch with people all around the world. Who knows when I’ll need a recipe from Thailand, or a place to crash in California?  See, for me, despite its annoyances, FB is like a big, modern Rolodex.  Yes, I do genuinely care about many of my friends on the site, and want to wish them a good day on their date of birth.  So the “signal-to-noise” ratio of worth to worthless on the site is overwhelming, but not so much so that I want to delete people for just posting dumb comments.

No, for me, getting a Candy “Crush” or “FlappyBird” or whatever game request over and over and over… that’s the kind of noise that helps me decide who to off.   And really, at less than a month into my summer without Facebook, I’m doing just fine knowing those friends are there, if I need them. I mean, those friends and I have each other’s phone numbers and email addresses. Even snail mail addresses!  Why yes, I DO actually use snail mail to correspond with friends.

So although I potentially sound crass in my need for FB–networking–it’s not like I’m the only one: Kois himself admits that he friended random people just to grow his “brand.”  I’m not trying to grow a brand on FB, so that’s not my need there.  I would like to think I can still use FB  in the way I intended when I signed up for it years ago.  Which means I probably won’t use the Bday scroll any more or any differently than I do now.

Because really… if we are friends in real life but don’t hang out because a) we live on different continents, FB isn’t the thing that will draw us together– only  a trip will.   And if b) we are friends who live near each other but don’t hang out anyway,   we aren’t missing each other on Facebook anymore than we are in the real world.

Guerilla Radio- FARC’s rap video


Colombian rebel group FARC released a music video with Cuban rappers Cuentas Claras  early this week.  I think it will be a big deal in Colombia, of course, but sadly, the subtitles are difficult to read; I’m not sure if non-Spanish speakers will be able to understand the message behind the lyrics. Or the video.  I mean, FARC is, on the one hand,  asking for peace in this video. And as FARC has said for many years, “Colombia’s  farmers are the reason to live and to fight.”   But on the other hand, the list of terrorist acts committed by the group over the last 40 years is pretty astounding.  So what’s the real deal with this video? I’m not on Facebook for the summer, so I’m not  communicating with my cousins in Bogota right now, but I think it would be interesting to  hear first-hand what people are thinking–not just about the peace talks or the current state of affairs with FARC, but the fact that this group has made a rap video.  Are the days of physical acknowledgement campaigns behind us? Will rebel groups worldwide begin to use social media as a means of drumming up activity and interest?

For more FARC-related images, visit this TIME photo gallery.

The Right to Be Forgotten


“The right to be forgotten.”

Sounds like a sad song or a Nicholas Sparks book, right?  It’s actually way more relevant and important than either of these things. You see, the “right to be forgotten”  is the right to privacy.  In today’s Google-centric world, no one is forgotten–ever.  You got in trouble for smoking a joint in junior high and it made the news?  Your wife left you to be with your city’s mayor, and the media went crazy?  You ran a mom-and-pop  store and it went bankrupt?  If anything hits the news circuit or has been documented in such a way that there is public access to it, Google can find it.  Which means that other people can find it.

I was listening to the news this morning when a story about this right to privacy came on: The European court, in defense of a Spanish man whose home was repossessed in the late 90s, is backing this right and asking that Google amend its practices to allow individuals their privacy. Mario Costeja González said that he has the right to privacy and doesn’t want this unfortunate incident to come up over and over when his name is searched on Google (The irony, of course, is that now multitudes of people will know about his financial issues). Google argues that preventing public info from coming up would be akin to censorship.  In a 2012 blog post about the  idea of the “right to forget,” Google  differentiated between services that host content (Facebook, for instance) and services that direct people to content hosted elsewhere (Google sending a web user to Facebook).

Well, I had to know more about this developing aspect of privacy law, so I went to the Stanford Law review and read this article from 2012 about the right to be forgotten. Turns out that Europe has been championing this right for some time, since January of 2012.  The ramifications and potential pitfalls, according to   the Law Review?

The right to be forgotten could make Facebook and Google, for example, liable for up to two percent of their global income if they fail to remove photos that people post about themselves and later regret, even if the photos have been widely distributed already. Unless the right is defined more precisely when it is promulgated over the next year or so, it could precipitate a dramatic clash between European and American conceptions of the proper balance between privacy and free speech, leading to a far less open Internet.

With the advances in technology and the global network in which we now live, due to the internet,  it would seem that this court case has been a long time coming, in one form or another.  As I listened to the news story I thought it made sense that this guy should have his right to privacy, and I wondered about global, digital law and what kinds of thoughts are already in place.  When I found the Law Review article, I learned a bit more:

Europeans and Americans have diametrically opposed approaches to the problem. In Europe, the intellectual roots of the right to be forgotten can be found in French law, which recognizesle droit à l’oubli—or the “right of oblivion”—a right that allows a convicted criminal who has served his time and been rehabilitated to object to the publication of the facts of his conviction and incarceration. In America, by contrast, publication of someone’s criminal history is protected by the First Amendment. 

This seems totally crazy to me. One the one hand, I want to know if there is a rapist living down the street. I want to know if my banker got in trouble for embezzlement a few years back. I want to know if my doctor used to perform shady, hotel butt implants.  So I like that citizens have the right to access this info. But on the other hand, it does seem  a bit unfortunate that individuals might continue to be plagued by their past in this way.

So what’s the answer?  I think  when there is a public safety reason for information to be public–a doctor with a ton of malpractice suits or a pedophile a few blocks from a school (whatever the legal distance is)–the right to be forgotten should apply to certain facets of a person’s life, but maybe not all of them. We all have skeletons in the closet, and as long as they didn’t get there in a bloody murder kind of way, the public doesn’t need to know about them.  If they are the result of an ax-murder and lime-in-the-bathtub kind of incident, then perhaps the public shouldn’t forget about them so easily.  This is a complicated matter no matter which side of the ocean tackles it.  I’m interested to see things turn out for Google–and for all of us.


The education sector is constantly under fire from legislators. Whether it is a k-12 institution facing cuts to the music or sports programs, as we constantly see here in South Dakota, or a college facing cuts to academic areas, like those examined here, in the HuffPo. I might be a bit biased, working in higher education and all, but I’m always surprised when our government powers that be say that cutting education funding is a good thing in one breath and then lament the state of our country in another. OK, maybe surprised isn’t the right word, since I have no faith in politics and the people running that sector. Angered is more like it.
So as I drove to work this morning and listened to a story on NPR about the funding cuts made to colleges in South Carolina, at first I thought “Yeah, nothing new there.” But when the story took a turn and highlighted the fact that these particular cuts are related to books and some of the LGBT content, I was shocked. Don’t the legislators in S.C. remember that we live in a country that champions free speech? That seeks to promote a marketplace of ideas and freedom of thought?
Apparently not.  The LA Times has reported on this story as well, and according to writer Carolyn Kellogg, “The University of South Carolina Upstate would lose $17,000 for assigning “Out Loud,” while the College of Charleston would lose $52,000 for assigning Bechdel’s “Fun Home,” a memoir told in graphic novel form, to incoming freshmen.”

This is dumb. Our First Amendment says

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Pretty sure this is an “abridging” of “the freedom of speech.” And yet because the government in S.C. itself is behind it, the punitive reduction of funds will take hold.

One of the politicians in the NPR piece said that he was upset about “Fun Home” because the college did not offer another book that showed a different viewpoint.  Republican Rep. Garry Smith said that the class should have been exposed to “multiple perspectives,” and this book didn’t do that.  This too, is a ridiculous claim. As an educated man, Rep. Smith certainly went to college somewhere; the last time I checked, all classes DO offer multiple perspectives during the discussion of a book. And a book, be it a novel, a memoir or a graphic novel (which in this case is also a memoir) is the springboard for discussion of those multiple perspectives. 

It’s a sad day for our nation’s students when government gets involved in such a manner that makes learning about other viewpoints not only a political maneuver but also an act for which one must fight.  I applaud the students of these schools who are staging demonstrations and protests; and I hope that anyone who hears of this story is able to take into consideration all of the perspectives at play, finding his or her own understanding of things. After all, isn’t that what literature does for us? Isn’t that the highest aim of education– to teach and enlighten and challenge?



The house hunt continues


When I entered a bid for a rambling 1970s house with a huge yard last week, I had one thing in mind: Price.  The house was structurally sound, the basement paint and bathroom were wonderful, and the kitchen was decently  sized. But the absence of carpet and the overwhelming stench of cat piss made me question whether or not the bid was a good idea.  But the yard and the prospect of getting a house for $50,000 drew me in.  I figured that the money I’d save on the house could go into renovation, and I’d end up with something spectacular. 

Well, no big surprise, but mine wasn’t the winning bid.  So I’m off to look at another property tonight.  I spent the weekend wondering if I’d made a smart decision and  thinking about the way I’d compromised my plans for a house because of price.  I wanted a 3 bedroom– this one only had 2, but the potential to make a 3rd work maybe (big maybe) was there. I also want a nice dining room–this house had a long space leading from the kitchen and extending into the living room that would have worked but wasn’t a dining room.

As I prepare to check out another property I have to remind myself that I’m in no rush to find a house, and that what I’m looking for is what I want for a reason.  But the lure of low prices is one that can suck a person in to anything.  I’m thankful I didn’t get the house I bid on–not because it was a bad choice, but because it would have been a ton of work to renovate–and that has taught me something about myself and my time as it relates to this process: I do not want a complete fixer-upper, and although I like the idea of saving money on the mortgage and putting it toward the renovations, I need to be realistic about how much time I have to put into a project like this right now.

Funny how we can learn lessons even in “losing” while house hunting.

The end of the press release?


Have you ever worked for a company that issued press releases? Perhaps you’ve been on the side that generates them, or maybe you’re responsible for reading each of them to stay breast of what your company is doing across the board.   Or maybe, like most people, you don’t care about press releases, because you’d rather get a whole story, not just a few facts and quotes strung together in a brief few paragraphs.  Well,  regardless of your familiarity with these items, the tech powerhouse GE  is looking to move away from press releases and into more  narrative storytelling for its brand promotion and facts.

“The ultimate goal is to retire the press release,” said Tomas Kellner, Managing Editor of GE’s external blog GE Reports.  The press release is “a great holder for facts, but you’d never want to read one. We want to tell stories.”

Wow. Storytelling is front and center in today’s branding game, and with all the platforms for storytelling like Pinterest, Tumblr,  etc. out there,  it’s easier than ever for brands to tell their stories in more palatable ways than putting out a press release and hoping journalists will bite and do a story.  Yep, you see it coming:  The end of journalism as arbiter of what the public knows about a company, how it’s covered and when.  Kellner was speaking to Sam Slaughter at Contently,  another kind of media platform, and you can see the published interview HERE. While you’re there, check out their coverage of ‘the end of journalism.”

1-3-5: Planning for the future


Do you have a five-year plan? How about a 3-year plan?  Any idea what you want to accomplish in the next year?  Well, if you don’t, maybe you should.  That’s not just my personal opinion,  that’s science.  Research shows that planning  things and thinking about what you’d like to achieve will actually help you acheive them.  Personal case in point:

When I learned about a progam that allowed students to spend a semester in Washington, D.C., during my freshman year of college, I  carefully laid out a plan to ensure my participation in that program. It meant I had to budget my time wisely, sign up for classes right away so I could get into the ones I needed as they were offered, and take the right kinds of classes to get the required number of credits necessary for the Washington Semester.  My advisor helped  with this (a good advisor is crucial to planning as a college student), and by the time my junior year ended, I only needed one more semester of college credit and I was able to go to DC to earn it.  This good bit of foresight helped me stay on track with graduation when, at the end of that D.C. semester I had a stroke and couldn’t do much of anything, let along think about college.  To this day I credit the experience as what really helped me see the value of planning.   I found a goal, did what I needed to obtain it,  and enjoyed the rewards of setting and accomplishing that goal. To be sure, as evidenced by this same story, life doesn’t always go according to plan.

As I recovered from my stroke I had to learn how to type (and drive, and do all kinds of things) again, and my dreams of journalism pretty much limped along as I did.  For a while I felt like goal-setting and planning were a waste of time, since life throws in unforseen diversions that can’t be planned for.  Despite all this, I still I agree with people who talk about their 1-year or 3-year or 5-year plans.  Working toward something and falling short or failing is better than not having anything to work toward, and just drifting aimlessly. 

However, while  I fully believe that goal setting is good, ambition is good, and positive thinking is good,  being too sure of things can lead to unfulfilled expectations.  

I used to date a guy who said  that whenever he got too excited about things they either a) never happened or b) didn’t happen the way he wanted them to, and he was let down.  At first this sounded sad to me, but eventually I came to see that his ability to temper his excitement with reality served a strong purpose: it helped him cope with life, even when things were good.  So yes,  planning and dreaming is good, but too much of a good thing can, well, become a bad one. And too much of a good thing, in a hyper-false way, can definitely become an annoying one.

   In 2012 journalist Oliver Burkeman wrote the book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, and  in  an NPR interview from that year, he had the following to say: 

saying positive affirmations to yourself in the mirror can make you feel worse and that visualizing the future can make you less likely to achieve it.

I appreciate Burkeman’s reminder that simply saying happy things to oneself isn’t  really creating a reality. Action is what creates a reality.   Action, and having a plan.

So how to balance this need for planning with the need for self-preservation in the face of an uncertain future (I don’t care how well you plan, your future is uncertain!) ? I’m obviously no expert, but if you look at basic steps toward becoming more healthy, I think you can modify them to fit whatever other goals you want to accomplish in the future.   For instance, there are medically documented stages of change, which can be seen in the “spiral model” here.  

Currently, I’ve set (in my mind) a 1, 3 and 5-year plan for myself, and I’m definitely in the first spiral, that of contemplation and preparation. What do I want my future to look like, one year from now. Three? Five?  I have very concrete ideas for myself (finish my book, year 1, secure a publisher by year 3, find property in Colombia near the water, spend part of each year in Colombia, at said property), but the how’s of these things are less clear, the further out they are. 

I think this spiral is helpful if only to remind me that things take time (and more than just  mantras said before the mirror).  If planning for the future isn’t planning for change, then I don’t know what kind of future  I’d be looking at.

Morning drive poem


Charcoal car clamoring for street-side entrance
driver fueled by Caribou.
Two days this week
two days this week
you’ve cut me off
on our commute.
Your jangled nerves
your burning tongue–
may your morning jolt
of liquid speed
propel you.