Remapping My Digital Footprint

Twit­ter’s volatil­i­ty has me rethink­ing every­thing. Words like “inten­tion­al­i­ty” spring to mind, but also, I don’t need to be on the plat­form quite as much as I have been since 2008. It’s offer­ing an oppor­tu­ni­ty to rethink how I show up online and where I choose to cre­ate and con­sume con­tent. Not the first time, cer­tain­ly not the last, but one of those, you know, inflec­tion points that gives you a moment to pause and reflect.

Have I been doing it wrong the whole time? Maybe I have.

I’ll unpack that. I just logged into Feed­ly for the first time since Google Read­er shut down in 2013. It was like open­ing a bunker that closed the moment the war end­ed. There were blog posts wait­ing for me from cor­po­rate sites I used to fol­low for work and thou­sands of unread music and tech news items from near­ly a decade ago. It was rev­e­la­to­ry. It was the web we lost!

Flash for­ward a decade. We’ve been con­tend­ing with algo­rith­mic feeds at every turn. Even a glimpse of a pure­ly chrono­log­i­cal time­line made me thing: what if I just go back? I can’t pre­tend any­one will fol­low suit, but how can I make my own expe­ri­ence of the web better?

For starters, I’m going to sub­scribe to Feed­ly. I’m using Dis­cord to keep in touch with com­mu­ni­ties I’m part of on Twit­ter that are dis­pers­ing. I’m play­ing with Red­dit more inten­tion­al­ly. I’m lov­ing Patre­on and Mix­cloud and pod­casts. I’m obsessed with Tik­Tok. I just edit­ed way back on Insta­gram fol­lows and pro­duced a bet­ter expe­ri­ence. And I’ve joined Mastodon.

Mastodon? Isn’t that just Twit­ter all over again? Maybe it is? But maybe it’s not. I am being very selec­tive about how I build com­mu­ni­ty there. I’m not try­ing to build what I’m leav­ing on Twit­ter. I’ve built an audi­ence around loca­tions and jobs, first as a music crit­ic in Philadel­phia and then as a cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tor there and Detroit, across three indus­tries. The effect is like watch­ing those chunks of the inter­net per­form Google search­es in real time around the clock. It’s exhaust­ing. It’s self-inflict­ed. It’s over.

What I’m lov­ing about onboard­ing to Mastodon is how slow it is. I’m remind­ed of those ear­ly days on Twit­ter when you saw every­one’s @ replies and you held on for dear life. But this isn’t like that. I’m look­ing for some famil­iar faces and then look­ing at who they’re fol­low­ing and who’s fol­low­ing them. What I’m try­ing to do is build some­thing around my inter­ests in music and cul­ture and leav­ing work to LinkedIn. There’s a slow­er web if you want it!

If you’re feel­ing com­plete­ly wiped out by the expe­ri­ence of try­ing to repli­cate what you feel you’ve lost, build some­thing bet­ter slowly.

How Do You Game in 2022?

My pro­gres­sion into gam­ing was pret­ty straight­for­ward. I start­ed with a VIC 20, fol­lowed by a Com­modore 64, then an Apple IIGS, got a SEGA Gen­e­sis for Christ­mas junior year, then off to col­lege with a Hewlett Packard Pavil­lion. My PlaySta­tion 1 got me through grad school and a PS2 got me through years of under­em­ploy­ment. I dropped my Sony loy­al­ty, get­ting an Xbox 360 when we bought our first house. I upgrad­ed to a Forza Xbox One when I went to Ford. We added a PlaySta­tion 4 Pro a few Christ­mases ago, then to an Xbox Series X last spring. My youngest got a Nin­ten­do Switch some­where along the way, too. This Christ­mas we added a PlaySta­tion 5 and an Ocu­lus Quest 2.

It’s at once embar­rass­ing and over­whelm­ing to try to man­age four gam­ing sys­tems simul­ta­ne­ous­ly and eval­u­ate which games make sense for which plat­form. I’ve tried to sim­pli­fy things with Xbox Game Pass Ulti­mate as part of the Series X pur­chase. That’s been help­ful from a dis­cov­ery and every day play stand­point for count­less titles that would­n’t have been worth $60 or more to prove disappointing. 

Where things get trick­i­er is know­ing which Switch titles are actu­al­ly good for a 2nd grad­er. He’s a good read­er, but some of the games ask a lot of the play­er. Addi­tion­al­ly, try­ing to stay on top of PlaySta­tion exclu­sives may be a chal­lenge. I’ve his­tor­i­cal­ly been an EA devo­tee, so sto­ry-ori­ent­ed games are a bit of a blind spot for me. I’ve pur­chased so many games I nev­er had a hope of fin­ish­ing once we had kids. I did­n’t do a great job man­ag­ing across plat­forms on the last gen con­soles we had pri­mar­i­ly because friends had PlaySta­tion and the prospect of play­ing togeth­er online in the pan­dem­ic was attrac­tive. It has hap­pened maybe a hand­ful of times.

Final­ly, Ocu­lus Quest 2 is new ter­ri­to­ry alto­geth­er. I’ve been gen­er­al­ly bear­ish on VR with the excep­tion of some indus­tri­al appli­ca­tions. What I’ve seen in the last week are some pret­ty sim­ple games that are fine, if not espe­cial­ly immer­sive and fun. Look­ing at this list from the Verge, it looks like there are few com­pelling options for a sports-for­ward kid.

What’s com­ing in 2022 that’s worth look­ing out for?

Another Hex-mas Miracle

I can’t remem­ber if I’ve ever been able to lis­ten to as much of Jon Solomon’s 25-hour #WPRBX­mas as I did this year. It was fan­tas­tic as usu­al and pro­duced some great quotes from my sister-in-law.

But the real Christ­mas mag­ic hap­pened on Christ­mas Day, as the Fall set wrapped up with the debut of Chica­go Now’s Hex-mas Enduc­tion Hour.

When I tell you I could­n’t buy it fast enough. I was spell­bound from the open­ing notes of “The Christ­mas­si­cal.” A must for any Fall fan!

Why Are Voice Assistants so Dumb?

The voice assis­tant seemed so cool and made so much sense. What happened?

If you fol­low Inter­net of Shit, you already know. This Bloomberg sto­ry about Alexa adop­tion sug­gests even the biggest play­ers in voice-enabled hard­ware are strug­gling to find their why. 

We have sev­er­al Echos in our house, all of which are used for extreme­ly banal rea­sons that are just eas­i­er than con­nect­ing dumb speak­ers by blue­tooth for the most part, or press­ing but­tons on an oven timer. Of course, they were envi­sioned as trans­for­ma­tive tech­nol­o­gy, not egg timers.

Bloomberg does­n’t go deep on this, but points to the over­all onboard­ing expe­ri­ence as being where users seem to check out, if not short­ly there­after. Some of the com­plaints are famil­iar: in an effort to get you to do more with the device, it starts ask­ing you if you’d like to try new skills, few of which have any rel­e­vance to what you’ve been doing with it.

Dieter Bohn wrote how we’re still get­ting voice assis­tants wrong for the Verge in 2019 and if you search the title of this post, you’ll find no short­age of com­men­tary. Heck, Android Author­i­ty asked their read­ers if they used them and the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty said no. To be clear, this isn’t that they strug­gle with nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cess­ing — they absolute­ly do — it’s also that they don’t seem to con­nect to any pat­terns in usage and then devel­op intel­li­gence built around it. Isn’t this what AI and machine learn­ing is all about to the layperson?

It’s not just Alexa; it’s every voice assis­tant I’ve ever used. If you’ve found any Alexa skills or rou­tines use­ful, share them below.

Another Year Trapped in Amber

I was try­ing to find the right way to describe how 2021 felt and then I read this:

For Niko­las Tsamouta­l­idis, an assis­tant prin­ci­pal, the most vivid image of the post-pan­dem­ic stu­dent body was at lunch this year, when he saw ninth graders — whose last full year in school was sev­enth grade — prepar­ing to play “Duck, Duck, Goose.” “It’s like fifth or sixth graders,” he said, “but in big bodies.”

New York Times

There was a meme float­ing around Face­book this year that went direct­ly to the heart of this, name­ly, that the last “nor­mal” year for a 7th grad­er was 4th grade so the above hit me hard. I cer­tain­ly see it first­hand with my own kids, but rec­og­nize how adults have been impact­ed, too.

At the out­set of the pan­dem­ic, we quick­ly make some risk assess­ments around our pod. They weren’t per­fect; in fact it was com­plete­ly porous, but pared down nev­er­the­less. Our core group was real­ly three fam­i­lies. It has­n’t changed much since. We vis­it­ed Michi­gan twice this year and it was like step­ping back into our social lives.

At the out­set of the pan­dem­ic, it tru­ly felt like an oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­plete­ly reimag­ine our­selves and how we live our lives. It’s felt more like try­ing to get tooth­paste back into the tube, espe­cial­ly as new vari­ants emerge and dis­rupt our lives again and again. How can we as a soci­ety real­is­ti­cal­ly address these challenges?