Happy National Coming Out Day!

I came out to my mom twenty years ago, the day after Ellen Degeneres came out on national television. I was so inspired but I was so terrified. I could only make the attempt over the telephone and I couldn’t even say the words; I made my mom guess until I finally said “Yes” when she finally got around to “Are you gay?” Coming out became easier after that, but you never really stop coming out.

Why, when we have marriage equality in the United States, is it still important to come out? Because some tolerance is not full acceptance. Because intolerance never seems to go away. Because it’s still necessary to stand up and be counted. Because people still react in surprise or anger or hate. Because LGBTQA+ children and adults are still being bullied, attacked, murdered, shunned, disowned, fired, and discriminated again. Because the globe is still overwhelmingly bigoted and violent toward LGBTQA+ people. Because it still matters and will continue to matter.

Things were better for me after I came out. Every time I come out. But why shouldn’t things have been good to begin with, despite me being gay? Why couldn’t I have grown up loved unconditionally, free to be me, comfortable with my sexuality? Why did I wait until I was 24 years old to start the process? Why did it take a celebrity to inspire me enough to start? Why is coming out still so hard? Why does there have to be a process of coming out at all?

Because we still have so far to go.

I Honestly Don’t Know

what my blog is for.

But first: Twitter. When I tweet on Twitter, and don’t receive likes or retweets, I feel that the reasons why I have an account are hardly reason to continue. On social media. When I do receive feedback, it’s a jolt, like a hit, like I’m not alone, like I’ve connected a transect through humanity that happily includes me. It passes as quickly.

This is not a post about depression. Or isolation.

When I use Twitter the other way, in which I dip into the real time news/entertainment/slice-of-life river from all the accounts I follow, I find reality unfiltered and too damn large. All that outrage. All that eating. All those jokes and wit. All the news, the merriment, the sarcasm, the tears, the depression. All that humanity and artifice and the closest thing to a face is a little image or avatar and some emoticons. What would I be if I sat across from you while you verbally tweeted to me fragmented moments or sustained ranting, and your hand I held in my hand? Would I compete with you? Between your words, while you caught your breath, would I fit in my own careful observations about my current mood and the state of the world?

This is not a post about social media. About isolation.

There are several things I wanted to tweet about tonight.

I watched the first episode of that new The Exorcist series on FOX. It was really good! One really good scare, smart writing and directing, and a twist at the end that suggests a widening of the story. This is not a remake of the movie. A quick scene makes it clear this happens in the same universe as the first movie, but years later, to different people, from different backgrounds, with, perhaps, a much more involved and expansive plot by the forces of evil. What is it saying about the real world, though? What are the writers, filmmakers, and actors trying to tell me? I got the episode for free on iTunes; am I going to buy the entire season? Do I have time for more TV?

How I’ve not written much lately, but I have plans. In October: research mode including a few hours a week at the university library, watching horror movies and TV shows all month long, and reading back issues of Nightmare magazine. All of it in preparation for the supernatural horror novel I’ll be writing during National Novel Writing Month. Two solid months of effort leading to a first draft.

An apology and/or explanation for not tweeting my thoughts on last night’s Presidential Debate? But I shared other people’s tweets.

Some joke I’ve already forgotten. I would have laughed, tweeted it, wondered why it didn’t get any hearts or retweets, and then deleted it when I remembered humor is not my brand. What brand? My online writer’s platform, the one that includes Twitter, this blog, and LinkedIn.

Here are the reasons why I canceled my LinkedIn account this afternoon:

  • Earlier today, I was talking to a co-worker about something completely different but during the conversation I became convinced that the very best response I could make to what we were discussing was to cancel my LinkedIn account.
  • I dislike the site very much; it’s very ugly.
  • I’m in that minimize! and simplify! mood again.
  • Microsoft owns LinkedIn. It’s fine. It’s fine! I’m not sure how I really feel about that.
  • I’m not looking for a new job.
  • Two anonymous lookers looked at my résumé recently.
  • I change LinkedIn notifications to none yesterday.
  • I linked my LinkedIn account to my WordPress account and every blog post wants to automatically share to LinkedIn, but why would I share my blog posts there?
  • What am I using LinkedIn for?

What is my blog for?

My blog lets me write posts like this, missives that are much longer than tweets or even a series of tweets. Twitter is just not for long form writing. And that’s what I like to write: much more than 140 characters. Ever since Craig Mod and his team shuttered and archived Hi.co, I’ve been thinking I could have supported their project better, written there more, read other writers’ stories more. How I could read more longer form work if I stopped checking in on Twitter and its realtime blizzard of headlines and chatter leaving me time only to add articles I want to read to my reading list. Why is my reading list full of so many things I haven’t read yet?

I read about the city of Flint in Michigan in the United States and the contaminated drinking water there. I learned there are other towns with the same problems. It’s really about racism and greed. It’s about aging infrastructure and lack of priority. It’s about a basic need, the lowest tier on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one of our very basic physiological needs, and how it remains unmet even in the 21st Century here in the United States let alone around the world. What can I do about it? Be aware. Share. Donate. Vote. That’s not enough.

This is not a post about what I can and cannot do. This is not a post about how people are isolated.

What this blog is for are the following:

  • To be the center of my writer’s platform.
  • To share my stories, poems, and essays.
  • To review my favorite media.
  • To share things I like.
  • To write about science and technology.
  • To write about longer things.

That list is not helping. I think what I am saying is that I don’t want to tweet any more. I think what I am saying is that I feel little connection between my online presence and my offline presence, but I don’t feel they are that different, either. I guess what I am saying is that the question about what my blog is for is hard to answer. Am I the audience? Would it matter if I had more followers? If I opened up comments again? If I shouted into the wind and no one heard me whisper? What I’m trying to say is that the online, digital experience is still uncertain and I can see what is not working for me but not what will.

What I would have tweeted would have taken much less time and left me much less satisfied. It’s easy to get lost when there are fewer characters to work with.

It’s not clear that many more words will make it any easier to be found.

Maybe this post is about isolation after all.

Meet Me in WhatsApp

While Sarah Lacy’s “Follow the photos: The real reason Facebook just paid almost 10% of its market cap for WhatsApp” analysis is well done and likely part of the rationale behind Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp for a staggering $19 billion, I think SimonDSG and samueljesse in the comment section are closest to articulating what is really going on: Facebook is concerned about the rapid rise of the Asian mobile chat apps. These hugely popular mobile apps with hundreds of millions of paying users are the center of a social networking revolution unfolding all over the world, but especially among younger users and especially in the East. Hamish McKenzie wrote about this trend in his excellent book Beta China and it has only accelerated since then.

A lot of (us older?) people using Facebook today might be surprised to learn that Facebook through a web browser is now the old way of social networking, and will soon be obsolete. Many of us came to Facebook late, too. How can this daily activity in which we participate already be nearly obsolete?

WhatsApp and WeChat, among many other apps, are at the cutting edge of social networking. Both of these apps are centered around user-to-user and group chatting via text, photo, and video. They are also both mobile apps, a fact important to Facebook since most traffic to the social network now comes through mobile, and especially dedicated mobile apps (rather than built-in web browsers). I wrote about this trend toward dedicated apps in “How Apple Made the Web Tiny” but even I was unprepared for just how decisively mobile apps have conquered the web.

Lily Kuo highlights the differences between these two apps in her Quartz article “WeChat is nothing like WhatsApp—and that makes it even more valuable”. She points out at the end of the article that most users will be fine with using both apps. That may be true of users, but Facebook doesn’t want its apps to sit next to competitors’ apps; it wants to position itself to better compete against them. Facebook will either work to add additional capabilities to WhatsApp to make it more like WeChat and similar apps, or it will continue to buy and develop new mobile apps, creating a suite of apps that provides the various services people are migrating to as social networking evolves.

This is part of a massive decentralizing of social networking capabilities. Instead of a monolithic central organizing website, social networks are splitting into various mobile apps. Facebook’s recent purchases and app developments are how it is transforming itself. To be clear, though, Facebook is coming from behind; it missed the relevant trends at first. Now Facebook is trying to catch up with Asian companies like China’s Tencent (which owns WeChat) and at the same time it is trying to head off Tencent and other Asian companies’ push into international markets, including the United States. Consider this: in Apple’s U.S. App Store, WhatsApp is today the number one free downloaded “Social Networking” app, but WeChat is in the top 30.

If you are still using a web browser to access Facebook, consider yourself forewarned: big changes are coming, and a lot faster than you might want to deal with. Facebook’s $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp is just the beginning. Facebook is competing at a global level for users, attention, and money, and that means big changes are coming to your social networking experience.

The Future Wants You Healthy

Last year I turned 40 years old. Within thirty years I will be 70. I’m participating in The Quantified Diet study because I want to be active, healthy, and involved over the next few decades. These thirty years cover various mind-boggling predictions about technology and humanity that I want to be around to witness, to engage with, if they come true. For example, Vernor Vinge predicted in 1993 that:

“Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.”

Vinge’s focus on the arrival of superhuman intelligence as spark for this event is just one version of the Technological Singularity concept (and the one I favor.) Ray Kurzweil has more recently broadened the idea and predicts that around 2045 the event will result in a primarily non-biological human-machine civilization:

“It’s a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.”

Not to be left out, I have also been making predictions about our future, including the arrival of the Metaverse and the subsequent Great Vanishing of consumer electronics and other artifacts as they shrink in size and disappear into our bodies:

“Within twenty years, a new mass medium — the Metaverse — will emerge to take advantage of a global computing, communications, and sensing platform — the next-generation internet. The Metaverse will quickly subsume all other mass media and internet-enabled services, including the web. The consumer electronics industry will enjoy unprecedented success by providing to billions of people around the world a bewildering number of Metaverse-enabled consumer electronics. The industry will abruptly collapse, however, with the advent and mass consumer adoption of brain-machine interfaces and other deeply integrated biotechnologies. By 2030, the “Great Vanishing” of consumer electronics and other physical human artifacts will have begun as their capabilities are threaded into our biology.”

One of the components of the Metaverse as defined by the Metaverse Roadmap is Lifelogging:

“In lifelogging, augmentation technologies record and report the intimate states and life histories of objects and users, in support of object- and self-memory, observation, communication, and behavior modeling. […] User Lifelogs, (“life-caching,” “documented lives,” etc.) allow people to make similar recordings of their own lives.”

Wearables and the Quantified Self movement are recent examples of how early lifelogging technologies are already having an impact on society. Never before has it been so easy to track and quantify our activities, set goals, and form new habits, because never before have we had access to such capable wearable devices, connected sensors, and powerful apps like Lift. If you want to know exactly how out of shape you are, you should go to a doctor, but in addition you can also compile a much more detailed picture by making use of today’s lifelogging technologies.

The Lift app has already worked for me when it comes to forming habits and reaching milestones and goals. I floss every day now and I read and write nearly every day. I have accomplished more in the past year than I ever thought possible, thanks to Lift.
When it comes to my weight and overall health I have been less successful. Over a short amount of time I have returned to, and then surpassed, my previous highest weight. This has been a frightening experience. In just over a year I have gained 40 pounds. A combination of being 40 years old, returning to school, eating poorly, and giving up exercise due to plantar fasciitis resulted in me gaining 15 of those pounds in just the past four months. None of my clothes fit comfortably anymore. My legs hurt by the time I reach my office after the 12-minute walk from where I park my car. The strength I gained from CrossFit last summer and the aerobic endurance I earned from many miles of jogging nearly every day a year ago have fled me.

The Quantified Diet offers me the possibility of improving my health and losing weight, among other personal accomplishments, while also letting me contribute to a larger project that might very well lead to a better understanding of diets in general and their effectiveness. The four-week period of this effort, the daily steps requiring a daily check off, the occasional surveys, and the conversation through Lift’s discussion and notes features as well as journal posts like this one, offer all of us participating an opportunity to learn more about ourselves. Whether or not we succeed individually, by the end of this month we will have learned something useful, and can expect additional lessons learned when our data are compiled and analyzed. I think it is important to have personal goals, and the way this project is organized appears to maximize reaching them, but I also think it is important to look at this effort as a kind of global calibration, a baseline when it comes to diets that can be build on after this initial effort it over.

Meanwhile, by participating I am taking an active step toward improving my chances of living and thriving to at least 70. Within that short thirty years the predictions above will be put to the test. The time span serves as a reasonably short time limit to this futurism silliness, if it is silly. And if it is not? I’d rather be fit and healthy when the human era comes to an end, whatever that turns out to mean, than not.

The Bittersweet Years

Susan Fonseca gave a talk last January at a TEDx event in San Jose, California about waiting for promising emerging technologies to arrive. Her father passed away for need of an organ despite promising advances in 3-D printing:

Fonseca’s experience is a poignant illustration of what I refer to as “The Bittersweet Years”. Technological progress in this era is sometimes rapid enough for sweet joy but most often slow enough for bitter grief. In the Bittersweet Years, the evocative distance between emerging technologies and their clinical use is measured in, as Fonseca notes, life itself:

“For my father, the space between the technology that is and that will be was the difference of life itself. More heartbreaking because my mind knows that there’s something better, there should be something better, something almost within my reach.”

These words do not express an unrealistic desire for a far future. Quite the opposite. As a founding member of Singularity University, an organization seeking to bring emerging technologies to billions of people at once, and as quickly as possible, Fonseca has long been in a position to observe and understand the pace of technological progress; she knows just how close many of these emerging technologies are from being part of everyday life, and now she knows it even more painfully after the death of her father. Fonseca with great frustration notes that:

“The people and the tools already exist.”

Technological progress in time for our loved ones to benefit requires something more than speed alone; it requires improvements to the architecture of progress itself, by allowing more and more people to participate in determining our future. Another insightful quote by Fonseca:

“I believe that real success and breakthroughs will happen when everyone contributes at their highest levels of creativity, experience and wisdom.”

One important step toward such widespread contribution is to connect people who have previously been underrepresented in technology. Fonseca is also founder of Women@TheFrontier, an organization whose mission is:

“to identify, connect and activate a new peer-to-peer community of female visionaries and thought-leaders.”

Everyone is affected by technology. Empowering women and other underrepresented demographics through efforts like Women@TheFrontier provides fresh perspectives, unique collaborations, and new contributions, and it creates a larger pool of informed people working together to build a positive future.

No matter who we are, there is yet one other distance to be bridged, and it is a particularly difficult one: the space between opinion and action. Many people mistake opinion for action. They think that if they are opinionated, self-righteous, loud, angry, sarcastic, disrespectful, and demeaning, then they have taken a constructive action. They also think they are being creative, experienced, and wise, as well as skeptical, realistic, blunt, and participatory, but they are none of these. If we would all just:

  • be quiet more often;
  • listen;
  • think, both critically and quietly;
  • allow ourselves to feel hope and awe;
  • collaborate; and then
  • act, both critically and quietly,

then we, like Fonseca, could stop waiting! Yes, even self-improvement – learning to be better thinkers, collaborators, and agents of change – can help us improve technological progress, involve everyone, and confine the Bittersweet Years to as short an era as possible. We can emerge on the other side of the Bittersweet Years with more of our loved ones standing healthy and happy beside us, the beneficiaries of emerging technologies well within our reach.