Kin Lane: Working To Avoid The Drowning Effects Of Real Time

A million times, this:

You hear a lot of talk about information overload, but I don’t feel the amount of information is the problem. For me, the problem comes in with the emotional investment demanded by real-time, and the ultimate toll it can take on your productivity, or just general happiness and well-being. You can see this play out in everything from expectations that you should respond to emails, all the way to social network memes getting your attention when it comes to the election, or for me personally, the concerns around security and privacy using technology.

Source: Working To Avoid The Drowning Effects Of Real Time ·

I’ve definitely been feeling this fatigue more lately. Describing it as a “real-time toll” is a good way to look at it. It’s definitely not information overload – it’s sensory and emotional overload as a result of a flood of realtime demands on attention and connection.

I am actively reducing the number of real-time platforms/connections/whatevers that I pay attention to, and am actively trying to do as much as I can on my own schedule. RSS is on my schedule. Checking and responding to email is on my schedule. Twitter/Facebook/etc are more real-time environments, so I’m reducing the amount of time I spend there.

Update: the Related Posts feature pulled up this post from 2008. “Real-time toll” is a perfect way to describe what I was getting at back then:

Every time I read an update by someone that I care about, I think about that person – if only for a second – and my sense of connection is strengthened.


I’ve been frustrated by how much time I burn away fidgeting with social media. Lately, it’s been essentially a form of self-regulation or soothing as it feels like civilization is melting down. Trump stumbles to pronounce a 5-letter acronym fed to him on a teleprompter? Ugh. To Twitter! etc.

The world isn’t melting down. I need to snap out of the pattern of just pissing away time on social media. So, I’ve deleted the Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone and iPad. And I’ve added a handy /etc/hosts file to my Mac that will block everything (even MySpace and Orkut! Thank Jebus!)

Anyway. I’m not deleting any accounts. I’m not disappearing. I’m (hopefully) just snapping out of this pattern of fidgetting with social media rather than doing literally anything else that is more interesting and productive and relevant to anything – even nothing. Life is too short for that kind of bullshit.

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Anil Dash on The Web We Lost

David Weinberger shared his notes from Anil Dash’s recent talk at Berkman about social media and the (d)evolution thereof. Some really important stuff in there.

on shared values and culture:

There was a time when it was meaningful thing to say that you’re a blogger. It was distinctive. Now being introduced as a blogger “is a little bit like being introduced as an emailer.” “No one’s a Facebooker.” The idea that there was a culture with shared values has been dismantled.

on metadata and intentional sharing:

A decade ago, metadata was all the rage among the geeks. You could tag, geo-tag, or machine-tag Flickr photos. Flickr is from the old community. That’s why you can still do Creative Commons searches at Flickr. But you can’t on Instagram. They don’t care about metadata. From an end-user point of view, RSS is out of favor. The new companies are not investing in creating metadata to make their work discoverable and shareable.

on lock-in and the impact of corporate control over discourse platforms:

We have “given up on standard formats.” “Those of us who cared about this stuff…have lost,” overall. Very few apps support standard formats, with jpg and html as exceptions. Likes and follows, etc., all use undocumented proprietary formats. The most dramatic shift: we’ve lost the expectation that they would be interoperable. The Web was built out of interoperability. “This went away with almost no public discourse about the implications of it.”

on streams, and the algorithmic control of conversation flow:

Our arrogance keeps us thinking that the Web is still about pages. Nope. The percentage of time we spend online looking at streams is rapidly increasing. It is already dominant. This is important because these streams are controlled access. The host controls how we experience the content. “This is part of how they’re controlling the conversation.”

on the lack of historical context:

We count on 23 yr olds to (build websites/apps/tools), but they were in 5th grade when the environment was open.

First. Dang. That makes me feel old. But, how can we expect the people that are building the current and next generations of things to have learned from history, when they weren’t around to experience it to know how important this is, or how it can be done differently?

I’m not sure that we’ve lost the web. Yes, the open web is marginalized, and the corporate streams are predominant. But, it’s not over. Eventually, Facebook will fall – my gut says they’ll do something colossally stupid with the new Facebook Home android thing with constant tracking of users, and may (finally) attract significant attention and oversight. And then, people will likely withdraw. And eventually come back to wanting to control their own content and activities rather than unthinkingly relying on “free” corporate streams…

Gehl, R.W. (2013). What’s on your mind? Social media monopolies and noopower

Gehl, R.W. (2013). What’s on your mind? Social media monopolies and noopower. First Monday. 18(3).

On noopower1 through marketing and repetition extended into ubiquitous social media:

Operating within the larger political economy of advertising–supported media, it is not surprising that Facebook, Google, and Twitter mirror marketing’s penchant for experimentation and repetition. Software engineers working for these firms pore over data about what actions users most commonly take — that is, what is most often repeated within the architectures of the sites. These engineers then constantly tweak their interfaces, APIs, and underlying software to reinforce these actions and to produce (they hope) new ones. The tiny changes in the Google homepage, for example, are akin to ripples on the surface of a body of water caused by motion deep underneath, as software engineers seek to increase the attention and productivity of users of these sites.


Real–time data collection on links clicked and videos watched provide marketers with the data they need to experiment with different messages, images, sounds, and narrative structures, allowing them to tailor messages to target publics, and then this process is repeated, ad nauseam, in a cybernetic loop. Behavioral tracking of users allows marketers to repeat messages across heterogeneous Web sites as users visit them, as well as make sales pitches via mobile devices as users travel through space. The messages that result in sales are repeated; those that do not are archived (perhaps they will be useful later). Liking, “+1”ing, or retweeting an ad enters users into a contest to win a trip to the theme park built around the movie that was based on the video game currently being advertised, a game in which the main character must use social media to build a following to solve a crime. All of this is, of course, a marketer’s dream: the observation, experimentation upon, and ultimate modulation of the thoughts of billions, the chance to increase what they call (in some of the most frightening language imaginable) “brand consciousness” over other forms of consciousness and subjectivity. It is the reduction of the scope of thought to a particular civic activity. It is the production of the flexible and always–willing global consumer as the real abstraction of our time. Consumption über alles.


Thus, to counter the reductive noopower operating in and through the social media monopolies, activists and technologists must create systems that allow for radical thought and heterogeneous uses, for differences that make a difference. The alternatives to social media monopolies must be built with protocols, interfaces, and databases all designed to promote new political thinking — noopolitical thinking — and to resist reduction of thought to repeated marketing messages of all varieties. We all can agree that this is probably impossible, but we always must keep a better future on our minds as we work with what we have on our minds.

  1. “power over minds, power over thoughts” []

Bassett, C. (2013). Science, delirium, lies?

The potential for thinking through new re–combinations, new ways to draw up code and language into a new media politics are suggestive. But I want finally to return to the question this article began with: more or less? This text has been framed by a belief that social media monopolies ought to be disrupted — and in the name of at least two of the things they are axiomatically understood to promote (social justice, solidarity as a form of community) and do not. It has been argued that this disruption might be attempted through a toolset — silence, disruption of language, and the exploitation of language’s capacity for polysemy (the metaphor and the lie) — that is not often considered as apt for such a task. My conclusion, and here I return to salute Ivan Illich, is that these tools can be deployed to produce other kinds of more convivial engagements — a better commons — than our apparently ‘social’ media enable. Above all, I have wished to take seriously the idea that communication density, and increasing communicational volume, does not — in and of itself — indicate more understanding, freedom, openness, or ‘good’. To make this case demands also taking seriously the idea of a media politics that begins with silence.

Bassett, C. (2013). Science, delirium, lies?. First Monday [Online]. 18(3).

the (anti)social graph

So much goodness in this article, but this kind of jumped out at me…

Imagine the U.S. Census as conducted by direct marketers – that’s the social graph.

Social networks exist to sell you crap. The icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party, is the entire driving force behind a site like Facebook.

Because their collection methods are kind of primitive, these sites have to coax you into doing as much of your social interaction as possible while logged in, so they can see it. It’s as if an ad agency built a nationwide chain of pubs and night clubs in the hopes that people would spend all their time there, rigging the place with microphones and cameras to keep abreast of the latest trends (and staffing it, of course, with that Mormon bartender).

We’re used to talking about how disturbing this in the context of privacy, but it’s worth pointing out how weirdly unsocial it is, too. How are you supposed to feel at home when you know a place is full of one-way mirrors?

We have a name for the kind of person who collects a detailed, permanent dossier on everyone they interact with, with the intent of using it to manipulate others for personal advantage – we call that person a sociopath. And both Google and Facebook have gone deep into stalker territory with their attempts to track our every action. Even if you have faith in their good intentions, you feel misgivings about stepping into the elaborate shrine they’ve built to document your entire online life.

Open data advocates tell us the answer is to reclaim this obsessive dossier for ourselves, so we can decide where to store it. But this misses the point of how stifling it is to have such a permanent record in the first place. Who does that kind of thing and calls it social?

(emphasis mine)

The whole Reclaim project has been about withdrawing from the hosted social networks in an attempt to control how things are presented while also short-circuiting the tracking and analytics that are sold to marketeers.

Since I’ve been posting all of my stuff here, instead of Out There, it’s definitely felt less social. I can’t see a “social graph” of who reads what I write, or sees what I post, or +1s stuff, etc… And, since I don’t run any web analytics on my site (aside from truly rudimentary apache log crunching), I don’t even have a rough idea of how many people read/see/etc… what I do.

If it’s less “social” (if tapping into a corporately-monotized social graph makes it social), it’s also feeling more… valuable? meaningful? It’s become less about metrics (impact, readers, page views, etc…) and more about… Well, I don’t know, really… I’m seeing my site, and the stuff I do here, more as documentation. A living documentary project, rather than an obsessive collection of synthetic “friendships”. That’s an interesting angle I hadn’t considered when I started my version of the Reclaim project

(other posts on the same article, by John Gruber and Stephen Downes)

on conformity through positive reinforcement

From [Neil Strauss’ article in the WSJ](

> Just as stand-up comedians are trained to be funny by observing which of their lines and expressions are greeted with laughter, so too are our thoughts online molded to conform to popular opinion by these buttons. A status update that is met with no likes (or a clever tweet that isn’t retweeted) becomes the equivalent of a joke met with silence. It must be rethought and rewritten. And so we don’t show our true selves online, but a mask designed to conform to the opinions of those around us.

and contrasting Like culture with the power of positive narcissism:

> “Like” culture is antithetical to the concept of self-esteem, which a healthy individual should be developing from the inside out rather than from the outside in. Instead, we are shaped by our stats, which include not just “likes” but the number of comments generated in response to what we write and the number of friends or followers we have. I’ve seen rock stars agonize over the fact that another artist has far more Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers than they do.

and on freedom from Like culture:

> So let’s rise up against the tyranny of the “like” button. Share what makes you different from everyone else, not what makes you exactly the same. Write about what’s important to you, not what you think everyone else wants to hear. Form your own opinions of something you’re reading, rather than looking at the feedback for cues about what to think. And, unless you truly believe that microblogging is your art form, don’t waste your time in pursuit of a quick fix of self-esteem and start focusing on your true passions.


The Whale and the Reactor: Mythinformation

More notes on Langdon Winner’s *The Whale and the Reactor*, published in 1986. A decade before the internet really began to take off.

Chapter 6 deals with “mythinformation” or the myth that increased access to information via computers and networks leads to increased individual democratic power.

On the great equalizer:

> The computer romantics are also correct in noting that computerization alters relationships of social power and control, although they misrepresent the direction this development is likely to take. Those who stand to benefit most obviously are large transnational corporations. While their “global reach” does not arise solely from the application of information technologies, such organizations are uniquely situated to exploit the efficiency, productivity, command, and control the new electronics make available. Other notable beneficiaries of the systematic use of vast amounts of digitized information are public bureaucracies, intelligence agencies, and an ever-expanding military, organizations that would operate less effectively at their present scale were it not for the use of computer power.

on conservatism rather than revolution in the computer age:

> Current developments in the information age suggest an increase in power by those who already had a great deal of power, an enhanced centralization of control by those already prepared for control, an augmentation of wealth by the already wealthy. Far from demonstrating a revolution in patterns of social and political influence, empirical studies of computers and social change usually show powerful groups adapting computerized methods to retain control.

on political arguments for digitization:

> The political arguments of computer romantics draw upon a number of key assumptions: (1) people are bereft of information; (2) information is knowledge; (3) knowledge is power; and (4) increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power. Taken as separate assertions and in combination, these beliefs provide a woefully distorted picture of the role of electronic systems in social life.

on public participation in politics:

>Public participation in voting has steadily declined as television replaced face-to-face politics of precincts and neighborhoods. **Passive monitoring of electronic news and information allows citizens to feel involved while dampening the desire to take an active part.** If people begin to rely on computerized data bases and telecommunications as a primary means of exercising power, it is conceivable that genuine political knowledge based in first-hand experience would vanish altogether.

on social paralysis by ubiquitous monitoring:

>Confronted with omnipresent, all-seeing data banks, the populace may find passivity and compliance the safest route, avoiding activities that once represented political liberty.

on removing social buffers:

>One consequence of these developments is to pare away the kinds of face-to-face contact that once provided important buffers between individuals and organized power. To an increasing extent, people will become even more susceptible to the influence of employers, news media, advertisers, and national political leaders.

I’m guessing the book read like a breathless fringe manifesto. It’s surprising how accurately Winner’s predictions describe modern society. Passivity and complacency, the illusion of connectedness in the face of isolation, real democracy collapsing under the weight of increased media exposure and ubiquitous monitoring of citizens.

on personal branding as contempt for human interaction

A discussion broke out on the twittertubes and spilled over onto a couple of blogs, about the nature of branding etc… Rather than trying to pull that all together (read Luke’s take on it), I just wanted to dump my thoughts on the subject in >140chars.

social media

I was on a panel at the Making Sense of Social Media conference last month, where I shared my recent experience with being googled by a journalist and shoe-horned into the “raving opinionated blogger” slot in a story he was putting together. Someone else on the panel mentioned that I had built up a robust brand, through my blogging and photos, and that personal branding was what made these things possible.

I was stunned. Personal branding?


That phrase makes my skin crawl. It’s about as relevant to what I do as “markets,” “consumers” and “monetization”. It distills human interaction into a simple produce-consume transaction, where all we bring to the table is our ability to either create new content, or consume the content of others.

But, to me, this stuff is about so much more than that. This “social media” stuff. It’s not about content. It’s not about producing or consuming. It’s about creating. It’s about connecting.

Could it be perceived as “branding”? I suppose. But only by someone who only primarily valued the productification of everything and everyone. I may be hopelessly naïve, but I see the products as by FAR the least interesting aspect of “social media.”