Disingenuous to the End

A little over a week ago Dalton Caldwell updated the App.Net blog for the first time in almost three years to let people know that the headless project was going to be shut down on the Ides of March due to diminishing revenues. This is the first time Dalton has communicated in any fashion to the people who continued to use the platform his company created since his State of the Union post in 2014 where he announced mass layoffs and a halting of further development. Usually when posts of this kind are made, it's often more interesting to read between the lines to glean what's not said than to take the words at face value. Interestingly, this post doesn't have anything written between the lines at all. It's a straight up statement of reality wrapped in a blanket of disingenuous words.

From the blog post:

In May of 2014, App.net entered maintenance mode. At that time we made the difficult decision to put App.net into autopilot mode in an effort to preserve funds and to give it ample time to bake.

Ample time to bake? The tech press and a lot of the most active people on the network saw the 2014 blog post as a sign of failure. People left in droves, and developers nervously continued limited development of existing applications that used the platform. Very few new applications were made after the State of the Union blog post. The phrase "ample time to bake" is a very polite way of saying "we wanted someone else to make the platform great for us".

He goes on to say:

Ultimately, we failed to overcome the chicken-and-egg issue between application developers and user adoption of those applications. We envisioned a pool of differentiated, fast-growing third-party applications would sustain the numbers needed to make the business work. Our initial developer adoption exceeded expectations, but that initial excitement didn’t ultimately translate into a big enough pool of customers for those developers. This was a foreseeable risk, but one we felt was worth taking.

Seriously? There were hundreds of people working with dozens of developers to create lots of interesting tools on the platform. The problem — if it could be called such a thing at all — was that most of the paying subscribers on the service weren't there for the platform. They were there for the social network. The proof-of-concept project that become the core use of the system. Ultimately, ADN was marketed as a Twitter alternative during the KickStarter campaign and, when people who paid good money were completely happy with that alternative, the creators of the project were disappointed and quit.

Since then, the system has carried on as best as it could. The ever-growing database of automated posts has resulted in an increasingly slower response time from the APIs. And the ever-shrinking community has resulted in an atrophy of actual usage. ADN is a shell of its former self, and any developer who might want to develop on the API would undoubtedly first look at the existing uses of the platform before investing countless hours and dollars into creating new software and services that relied on a system they'd have no direct control over. Who in their right mind would say "Oh, here's a pretty decent API1. This used to be popular, and the creators have pretty much disappeared and are unreachable, but let's see what I can do with this!"?

Nobody would say such a thing. Anybody with enough ambition to build a new tool on an a service that was abandoned by the very people who made it would grab an open API project from GitHub and host their own back-end, or use one of the many commercial APIs that are actively maintained and enhanced by people who give a darn.

Dalton & Co. did not fail to overcome the chicken-and-egg problem at all. They failed to overcome their inability to communicate their goals and ambitions. They failed to interact with the vibrant community of 27,890 active humans using the network in May of 2014. Ultimately, they failed to listen to what people wanted and work within the realities they faced.

Not All Bad

All this aside, I did enjoy a lot of my time on ADN. I met some really incredible people. I learned a lot about gender and sexuality. I learned a lot about unfair bias. I learned how important transparency is when providing a service to people who give you money. Heck, I even learned a lot about software. The current version of 10Centuries has an API that was heavily influenced by what I found while working with App.Net's API, and I've made efforts to build and improve upon what I found so that others hopefully won't shout at their screens like I occasionally did when expected datasets were not returned. And while I may not have been around on that network very much in the last year, the community will always have a place in my heart.

Nothing can last forever ... though some of us certainly try.

P.S. For posterity's sake, here's a link to an image of the last three blog posts on the ADN Blog.


  1. ADN did have a pretty decent API despite the various inconsistencies one would find when working with it.

Pursuits

Last week the tech press was abuzz with Medium's surprise move to lay off a third of its employees as the organization begins the process of redefining its business model to one that is more in line with the original concept behind the publishing platform. Evan Williams, the founder of Medium, had this to say in his blog post announcing the move:

We set out to build a better publishing platform — one that allowed anyone to offer their stories and ideas to the world and that helped the great ones rise to the top. In 2016, we made big investments in teams and technology aimed at attracting and migrating commercial publishers to Medium. And in order to get these publishers paid, we built out and started selling our first ad products. This strategy worked in terms of driving growth, as well as improving the volume and consistency of great content. Some of the web’s best publishers are now on Medium, and we’re happy to work with them every day. We also saw interest from many big brands and promising results from several content marketing campaigns on the platform.

However, in building out this model, we realized we didn’t yet have the right solution to the big question of driving payment for quality content. We had started scaling up the teams to sell and support products that were, at best, incremental improvements on the ad-driven publishing model, not the transformative model we were aiming for.

To continue on this trajectory put us at risk — even if we were successful, business-wise — of becoming an extension of a broken system.

So an ad-driven model isn't what they're looking for and the short burst of attention an author receives is nice, but not nice enough. Sounds fair. The next question really comes down to alternatives and the viability of them. I've thought a lot about how publishing platforms could really encourage greater readership and attract amazing writers, but have yet to conjure up anything better than a magazine-type model that has both free and "premium" articles with an App.Net style voting mechanism sent out every month where subscribers can rate how much they enjoyed certain authors. From here, a percentage of the subscriptions would be distributed among the authors and that might encourage people to share really interesting content on a given platform.

Medium Logo

Maybe.

Systems like this would likely be gamed almost as soon as they're released as people try to collect as much of the monthly distribution as possible, which would lead to authors who don't game the system feeling left out. This is certainly how I've felt with a number of past blogging sites where you essentially wrote about a given subject and — if enough people read your article — you'd get a few cents per month. The people who earned a decent amount on such sites were writing hundreds of articles a week in order to maintain a basic income ... this isn't something that encourages much more than Gizmodo-style summaries.

Another option — and one that I've considered building into 10Centuries — is giving authors the tools they need to have their own subscriptions on the platform. Doing this would allow the authors to potentially earn their worth by building their own readership. All the platform would be responsible for is making sure people can get the content and processing the fees. A nominal charge could be taken from the subscriptions, and people would likely find this option easier than setting up their own WordPress site, installing the various plugins that are needed, and fiddling with issues whenever a software update breaks something. Depending on what sort of value add services a publishing platform wanted to provide, it would be wholly possible to offer mobile apps that readers could download in order to avoid dealing with RSS feeds or visiting a website in a browser, and usage stats could be fed directly back to the authors.

I can think of at least a dozen creative people who would likely jump at the chance to have such a thing, but is it something that people would actually want to use?

This is what has held me back with a number of features on 10Centuries. I think of something that would be useful for someone — or several someones — I know. I examine the feasibility of building the features into the platform and see it's not particularly difficult. And then I come to my senses saying something like:

Wait a minute. If this is such a good idea, why hasn't it been done before? Maybe it has been done and people simply didn't want it. Perhaps it's better to focus on other parts of the system before doing this other one.

Which is crazy ... but is generally how I've stopped myself from going in new directions.

Medium is an interesting platform, and they have a lot of smart people working on making the system better for everyone. Whatever direction they decide to take their business model, I wish them the best of luck. Ad-supported systems are not the only way to earn a decent return with online businesses, and it's great to see a company try something different. Hopefully they will find something that works for both the creators and the readers that rely on the platform.

Post 2484

Today was one of those days where you get into work with a plan to do one thing, get side-tracked with an email outlining a different thing, and complete something both wonderful and unexpected half an hour before the end of your Friday shift meaning you might actually have a few minutes of peace before leaving to catch the train home. All in all, it wasn't bad. There is still quite a bit of work waiting to be done after the weekend, but that's par for the course and ultimately good for a person who wishes to be gainfully employed for the next little bit. Unfortunately, while on the way home, the good efforts of the day took a turn for the worse when email was used instead of a telephone call to announce that a server was down at the day job. As one might expect, there's squat I can do with downed servers when outside the corporate network, and VPN access is pretty much forbidden at this point.

But the struggles of work and the institutionalized silliness that one finds in any corporate environment isn't really the topic for this post. Instead I'm thinking more about something very different: the pursuit of happiness.

One of the greatest things anybody can figure out is how to be happy. This is not quite as easy as it sounds, nor is it a static answer. Instead we find that the ultimate set of conditions that go into making a person "happy" expands and contracts over time as one's fickle nature adapts to the changes that accumulate day after day. That being said, the one thing that I have long sought in my own pursuits has been the incredibly fluid and immeasurably precious resource called time. Like millions of others, I want to have more control over how I use my time. Sadly, the only way to do this while enjoying a decent standard of living is to somehow acquire a great deal of money or fall into a time warp like Bill Murray did in the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day.

Time is one thing I will not have a great deal of for quite a while.

Blessing or Curse?

This post discusses Alzheimer's Disease and, on re-reading, asking whether it's a blessing or a curse may come across as incredibly crass. Mental deterioration is a very serious matter and is incredibly difficult for families to deal with. I understand and respect this more than words can say, and the words below outline my fear of the condition and what it may do to a person's sense of self.

Depending on how we look at just about any part of the ageing process, people can perceive the changes our bodies undergo as either a blessing or a curse. One of the many wonderful changes I've noticed with my own body over time is that I have less and less of a sweet tooth while also finding locally-grown green vegetables incredibly flavourful without the slightest hint of dressing. I really enjoyed lettuce and broccoli as a teen, but absolutely devour these two foods when they're on the dinner plate. Unfortunately, ageing can be quite brutal when people who have been largely independent for the vast majority of their life start to lose privileges, such as the right to drive a car or live in their own house. Today I joined the family to visit — to my knowledge — the oldest member of my wife's family; her grandmother. In just a few weeks she'll be 98 years old, though I doubt she knows this. She has Alzheimer's, which is one of those conditions that I have difficultly deciding whether it's a blessing or a curse.

Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's is in the top five of my List of Thing's I'd Rather Not Die From because it essentially zombifies us. Our bodies continue to function for a time, sure, but the person changes so drastically that there is very little of their past selves remaining. I've seen one person in my family go from being an incredibly intelligent, creative, and strong-willed person to a forgetful, frail shell of a man in the space of 5 years. By the end of his life, he could barely put a sentence together and he had trouble remembering whether he'd eaten food or not despite the empty plate in front of him. The person I grew up knowing was gone, though his body continued.

The same is seen in my wife's grandmother who, despite being almost a century in age, thinks she's still living in her childhood home which burned down in a tragic fire during the 1920s. She often asks if her father is asleep, despite the fact that he died just before the war. She shares fragments of memories from before anybody else in the room was born as though they happened just the other day, and then she'll repeat the story because she's forgotten that she's already shared the story. She does not remember her children very often. She doesn't remember her grandchildren at all, despite living in the same house as three of them for their entire lives. She doesn't remember attending my wedding, and asks if I am "a hired assistant". She lives in a different time.

This terrifies me. If Alzheimer's turns out to be a common occurrence in my family, will I contract the disease? Will my mind begin to deteriorate? Will I lose my entire self as a result? More importantly, will I be aware this is happening?

And this is where the question arises as to whether Alzheimer's is a blessing or a curse. The disease will be incredibly hard for the people around the individual who has the chronic neurodegenerative disease, there's no doubt about this. But is this a blessing in disguise to the person who is going through what is essentially the last stage of their lives? Rather than fight with their own failing body, they are slowly and quietly erased from their mind. The person who inhabits the body on the very last day is not at all the same person who existed five, ten, or twenty years prior. Or is this a curse, in that despite all our efforts in life, all the struggles and triumphs and experiences and friendships, we are not given the opportunity to face our last day with the full faculties of our mind?

I've been going back and forth on this for years ... because I simply don't know enough about the disease, and I am terrified of losing my sense of self. Yes, this fear is very much fuelled by ego, but there's no denying that diseases of the mind are some of the most terrifying for introverted people who spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about things.

The Terror of Becoming Charlie

Back in high school I read Flowers for Algernon, an incredibly well-told story of a man named Charlie with an IQ of 68 who becomes incredibly intelligent after an experimental procedure only to lose it all. What terrified me about this book was that he was cognizant of the decline. He wrote of his fears while desperately battling against time in order to find a solution to the problem. In the end, he regressed to his former self but with a slight surface knowledge of the things going on around him.

Is this what Alzheimer's is like? Are people consciously aware that they are losing their mental abilities? One common symptom of the disease is that people become frustrated and angry as they try to do things they once did with ease, only to fail time and again. Is this the anguish of losing one's self? Is Alzheimer's similar to Locked-In Syndrome, where people are fully conscious of what's going on around them, but completely unable to participate in the world themselves? Will I watch my final days and see the sadness family members feel for my fate through the eyes of a mild-mannered, forgetful shell? Or will I simply cease to exist?

Reincarnation is something that I strongly hope is real, as there is just so much in this universe to see and learn that a billion lifetimes is not enough. If this is the way the universe works, then it means that we have an eternal soul and — most likely — a mostly consistent personality. If this is the case, how does our non-corporeal self deal with such a drastic change in cognition?

All Your Data Are Belong To Us

Back in the days before general availability of the Internet, an Engrish phrase found its way into geek history through the 1992 European release of Zero Wing, a Mega Drive port of an arcade video game. The phrase, just seven words long, read "All your base are belong to us", and this grammatical error in translation has survived 25 years of memedom. Most people will probably not remember where the phrase came from, but they'll certainly understand the intention. This broken English popped into my head while listening to Episode 1154 of Phoneboy Speaks, where Dameon was talking about how an American judge ruled that police can force a person to reveal the passcode for their mobile phone. The first thought that crossed my mind was "I'm surprised it took this long", but the two immediately after were — naturally — questions: "At what point is it acceptable for a person's entire digital history to be usurped by local law enforcement or a government?" and "Do we own our data?"

All Your Data Are Belong to Us

Our digital devices carry an incredible amount of information. Far more than most of us realize. With just my phone, the local police department would be able to determine where I've been every day for the last few years, who I've interacted with, my relationship with those people, email histories, message histories, GPS locations for at least 6,000 occasions1, plus a bunch of other data that could make my life a complete and total open book. Add to this the information stored on my encrypted notebook and mostly-encrypted 52TB NAS, and there's very little about me that a dedicated team of investigators couldn't figure out.

A lot of people might shrug and say "who cares? Nothing to hide, nothing to fear!" and move on to something else, but Dameon was right when he said that this is pretty much forcing a person to testify against themselves. Not every country in the world provides its citizens or visitors with the same rights, but there are general rules about what can and cannot be used as evidence. The problem is that our electronics reveal so much about us that it's easier to simply take possession of these tools and extract the information desired instead of following procedures, obtaining subpoenas, and requesting information the old fashioned way. If a person is not permitted the right to keep the data collected by their personal electronics locked, then does a person have the right to own data? If the answer is "yes", then a subpoena should be required before any sort of data extraction takes place. If the answer is "no", then people need to start asking themselves if it's worth having data at all.

Poof!

Following the trends that local and federal governments around the world are taking in the name of "keeping citizens safe", we're likely to see nations that once touted the freedom of their people remove the right to digital privacy. The United States and several European nations have strongly lobbied to have encryption protocols without backdoors deemed illegal, and people are arrested and compelled under all sorts of dire circumstances to reveal passwords to authorities in the name of "fighting terror". There's no reason for why, by 2022, people won't understand that if they're arrested, they'll need to unlock their phones and laptops and hope like heck nobody finds anything that might be twisted and used against them in a court of law.

Our own property will be used against us regardless of whether we are guilty or not, and the data copied from our devices to law enforcement systems will most certainly not be destroyed after a person is found innocent of all charges. No ... that won't do at all. Especially if the police are trying to build a case against activists who are starting to rock the boat a little too much.

But what are the options? Sure, we could decide to not own modern cell phones and laptops and live off the grid, but this just isn't very realistic anymore. Instead what people need is the option to have their electronics in a perpetual "default" state, where information is destroyed locally as soon as someone is done using an application, and the hardware must be fully capable of playing ball with the software.

While out for my afternoon walk I started thinking about what a cell phone that was almost always in the default state would look like from a software point of view. Anonymous VPNs would need to be in place right out of the box, and the network adapters would need to randomize the MAC address every time it connected to a network. Applications would need to always be wiped on close and, in the case of browsers, tabs would need to be impossible. Everything would have to operate in a single window, otherwise cookies and LocalStorage tokens couldn't be saved long enough to use social services like Twitter and Facebook. People would have to get used to using complex passwords for every service and sign in every time they open an application, and the phone would need to essentially disconnect from the cell towers unless it's being used for outbound traffic. Also, if there is a camera on the device, photos would need to be instantly stored somewhere online as local storage would be impossible.

With a device like this, you could surrender it to authorities and they'd have almost nothing to go on without subpoenaing the phone company and 3rd-party services to provide data, which is what they should be doing if a person was arrested for a serious crime. A laptop would need to work effectively the same way, and there are very secure flavours of Linux that already do much of what I outlined above. Is it ideal? Not in the least. It does, however, make it harder for an untrustworthy law enforcement or government agency to take a digital snapshot of your entire life and keep it forever.

But is it worth it? Is this something that enough regular people would consider doing to send a very clear message to the authorities? Our right to privacy and our right to not self-incriminate are key elements of citizenship in many of the world's countries. Will bad people do bad things and use computers to coordinate these activities? Absolutely. Will good people do good things and use computers to coordinate those activities? Absolutely. But to treat everyone exactly the same, revoking any semblance of agency we have over our own data, is lunacy.

The concept of privacy is not a blanket statement to mean that nobody can access our private lives or details. Privacy is our right to choose what we share and how we share it. Losing the ability to refuse a demand for our passwords is essentially the end of personal data ownership which would then lead to the obvious question: if we don't own our data, who does?

I, for one, would not be comfortable with a government owning all of the rights to the 1s and 0s I generate. It's a recipe for disaster.


  1. I have over 6,000 photos on my phone, and the operating system attaches GPS coordinates to each photo.

The New Untouchables

Last week Matthew Dowd, an ABC political analyst, posted the following on Facebook:

In the last few hours I have been called by lovely 'christian' Trump fans: a jew, faggot, retard. To set record straight: divorced Catholic.

Kevin Sessums shared the post with his followers and added the following commentary:

But as those who do hold Trump to the standards of any other person have found out on Twitter and other social media outlets these Trump followers are a nasty fascistic lot. Dowd is lucky he didn’t get death threats like Kurt Eichenwald. Or maybe he did and refuses to acknowledge them. If you voted for Trump and continue to support him and you think you are better than these bigoted virulent trolls, you’re not. Your silence enables them just as it did in the racist campaign that Trump and Bannon ran. In fact, hiding behind a civilized veneer in your support of fascism I consider more dangerous. We’re past describing you as collaborators at this point. That lets you off the hook. You’re Russo-American oligarchical theocratic fascists.

He was then banned from Facebook for 24 hours.

Kevin Sessums Responds on Instagram

If this is what we can expect for the next few years, then we're going to see some drastic changes in how people communicate with each other. People in English-speaking countries will start to take lessons from the Chinese populace who has learned how to very effectively communicate with each other despite the constant surveillance and excessive presence of Big Brother.

One Year of v4

Happy 2017!

One year ago today the very first post on 10Centuries v4 was made. Quite a lot of code has changed since that early post, and a great deal of information has been added to the system since. I just hope that 2017 continues to see positive growth, positive improvements, and positive gains in functionality.

Enjoy the first day of the year, and remember to not drink and drive. There have already been a lot of wonderful people who have left the world in the last few weeks. We needn't see more taken before their time.

P.S. ⇢ I wrote a short post going over the numbers for 10Centuries this past year. Do take a look if you're interested. This is part of my commitment to keep the platform's operations transparent and accessible.

A Is for ... ?

Earlier today Randolph wrote a thread on Twitter outlining some of the traits that make him the person he is. A lot of what he says in the thread I can relate to, given that we are both autistic, though to a different degree. Like Randolph, I cannot stand crowds for extended periods of time. Unfettered noise puts me on edge. People I don't know are not allowed to touch me. And, while I may not (consciously) stim, he and I both have a great appreciation for fast software and powerful databases.

Randolph Being Real

I've met a lot of people over the years who view autism as a problem. While it can certainly affect how someone lives their life, many people on the scale are incredibly creative and resourceful. Randolph says he can spend an inordinate amount of time on solving problems correctly or mundane tasks and I fail to find fault with this particular trait.

Mundane Power

While many people may not enjoy fixing corrupted databases, alphabetizing CD collections, or making sure that all of the pens in the box1 are functional every few weeks, these tasks can bring a great feeling of accomplishment. At the end of the day we can look back and say "Yes, I completed this thing!" and feel happy about it, no matter how silly. Heck, this is how I feel every time I clean the house or wash the dishes. I can look and see that something trivially important is done, and that it's done the way I want it to be.

Silly? Perhaps. But sometimes it's this sort of silliness that can save others a great deal of hassle.

Applying Autism

This joy of doing things correctly can be a great benefit to people who otherwise wouldn't identify a problem exists or couldn't care less about an issue. In the corporate world, there are lots of opportunities for someone who is very effective at auditing, verifying, or otherwise poking holes in processes that many people do a thousand times a week without ever once questioning. It's because of this terrible habit that I was able to move out of the classroom and into a development role at the day job, and it's because of this terrible habit that I've often fought with people about what sort of data is not allowed in "my" database. Many people will look for the easy way out, whereas an autistic person would stand back and say "Wait a minute, if we go through the pain now, we can reap great rewards later."

The same thing can be seen in the entertainment industry time and again. Music, movies, animation, dance, and just about any creative outlet has a core group of people who are so single-mindedly focused on their passion that all of the neurotypical people they work with can do what they do, but do it better. This isn't to say that "normal" people are nothing without autistic people to support them, of course. Such a sweeping statement would be stupid. The pattern we can see, though, is that when groups of people with different neuro processes get together, wonderful things are possible.

Randolph isn't ashamed of his autism, and I'm not ashamed of mine. We are who we are. We're (mostly) comfortable with ourselves, too. At the end of the day, this is the most important thing. So long as we're happy with who we are, and so long as we're able to use our abilities in useful ways, the people around us will benefit. This goes for anybody else, too. We can all take our unique skills, our unique perspectives, and our unique talents and put them to use to make something better ... even if it's just for the people immediately around us.


  1. I buy boxes of pens, as I go through them so often. Each box contains 20 pens, and I buy both black and blue every six months, red every year. It's almost time to replenish the stock at home ...

Eschewing Today

A few days ago The Guardian published a short little piece from Mark Boyle, a man who has decided to turn his back on modern technology and live completely off the grid. He's living in a cabin built in a very traditional manner without phone, electricity, or even running water. In his own words, using nothing "requiring the copper-mining, oil-rigging, plastics-manufacturing essential to the production of a single toaster or solar photovoltaic system." If Mr. Boyle can live the life he chooses without any of today's modern conveniences, then I hope he finds the happiness he seeks. He is not the first person to have an "I Quit Technology" published in the paper, and he certainly won't be the last. What I often wonder, though, is why so many of the people who decide to walk away from modern conveniences think of today's tools in such a negative manner and why so many do so on their own rather than join a community of like-minded individuals.

I decided to eschew complex technology for two reasons. The first was that I found myself happier away from screens and the relentless communication they generate, and instead living intimately with my locale. The second, more important, was the realisation that technology destroys, in more ways than one.

Mark Boyle

The quote above is something that I've heard a lot over the last 20-odd years as computers and the Internet has become more a part of everyday life, and the people who say it tend to think of these tools in a very binary manner. Either we use absolutely everything a piece of glass and plastic has to offer, or we use nothing at all. There doesn't seem to be a middle ground.

In the grand scheme of things, I agree with the idea that people can be happier away from the relentless communication that is enabled by always connected notebooks and smart phones, which is why just about every notification on my computer and phone is disabled. I don't need to have a bunch of apps vying for my attention, nor do I feel the need to be completely up-to-date all the time. Doing so is exhausting and ultimately pointless if you don't make a living writing for gossip sites. For this reason people can get my attention with a direct phone call, an email to a specific address, or a message on Skype. Otherwise, I'll see the message when I see the message. After doing this for social services and RSS feeds some five years ago, my general mood improved and I started being more present and offline while out and about in the world.

As for Mark's "realisation that technology destroys", I fail to see how this is even remotely accurate. Technology couldn't care less whether it's used creatively or destructively, for good or for evil, to help or to hinder. The tools that we create — and technology is a catch-all term for every tool we've created — simply enable humans to accomplish the goals they set out to do. This isn't to say that all technology is inherently beneficial or the best use of resources, but how often does humanity make the most of anything? We are an incredibly wasteful species with the tendency to destroy wonderful creations for our own purposes. Making a sweeping statement like "technology destroys" is no different than saying "men kill". It's a poor rationalization of a far more complex concept.

Reading through Mark's reasoning behind the "technology destroys" statement, I get the feeling that he's more disgusted with consumerism than technology. He's disappointed with the way people interact more with glowing screens than each other. I feel much the same way, as our excessive consumerism and isolationism does have a very clear impact on the world, but I wouldn't dream of turning my back on everything just because I'm upset with how other people use the tools I was once openly mocked for developing. Instead, I can try to lead by example and encourage better technology recycling and offline interaction habits. Unplugging from the world is no different than sticking our heads in the sand, so to speak. It makes absolutely no difference in the grand scheme of other people's lives.

One Needn't Go It Alone

Amish Life

I'm sure we've all wanted to get away from it all at one time or another, perhaps escaping to a tropical atoll in the middle of the Pacific like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Living completely off the land and eking out a simple life without the endless distractions that make up so much of our day. While this can sound attractive at times, it sets us up for failure in a pretty big way. The world has been tamed in many ways, but it's still a hostile place for those who are under-prepared or over-confident. Going it alone and living off the grid can leave a person or family susceptible to an awful lot. This raises another question I've had for people choosing to reject modern technology and live like our ancestors: Why not really live like those who came before us and join an Amish community?

While it doesn't happen very often, people are more than welcome to join the Amish community so long as they commit themselves to following the Ordnung. Wikipedia does a great job of explaining it:

The rules of the church, the Ordnung, must be observed by every member and cover most aspects of day-to-day living, including prohibitions or limitations on the use of power-line electricity, telephones, and automobiles, as well as regulations on clothing. [...] As present-day Anabaptists, Amish church members practice nonresistance and will not perform any type of military service. The Amish value rural life, manual labor and humility, all under the auspices of living what they interpret to be God's word.

So, be a true member of the church, be an active member of the community, follow the rules, and be a shining example of humility. In exchange you get to be part of something bigger than a single person could possibly be alone, and you get to contribute towards something worthwhile. While some Amish affiliations will permit limited use of technology, some outright reject the vast majority of it, as the chart below shows.

Wikipedia — Amish Affiliations

Being an island unto one's self seems awfully selfish and more wasteful than being part of a community. The great thing about the Amish is that, even if you choose to not join their religion and live life the way they do, they'll gladly let you join in many of the community events so long as you're civil.

To What End Will One Go?

The last question I usually have for people who want to reject tech is whether they'll reject modern science, too. Modern technology is ultimately the result of modern science. We couldn't have any of our digital tools without a deep understanding of physics, and we couldn't have the plethora of plastics and alloys we use without a solid grasp of a lot of different fields. Rejecting technology may as well be the rejection of modern science and, if that's the case, at what point will one draw the line to say "any science from after this time in human history is not for me"?

At the end of the day, everybody is free to make their choices. So long as nobody is hurt as a consequence, my opinion of these choices is neither here nor there. I do wonder whether extreme decisions are made without a complete understanding of what one is rebelling against, though. Technology can be used for good. Technology can bring communities of people together in unique and wonderful ways. Technology can help extend our lifespan. Technology can ensure our food is clean and safe. Technology can provide for us a toilet that doesn't smell like a porta-potty after a week at Burning Man.

Ultimately, the problem isn't the technology. It's how we decide to use it, and how we decide to perceive others who use it differently.

A KFC Christmas

One of the many wonderful benefits of visiting other countries is experiencing a different culture. I first came to Japan in December of 2005 and, as one would expect, everything was oddly similar yet strangely different. One of the many differences that caught my eye and continues to bring a smile is the country's traditional KFC dinner on December 24th. Other restaurants and food vendors try to sell their own brand of fried chicken but, if you're following custom, it's got to be KFC. This is something I've long wondered about. What could possibly drive millions of people across the country to pre-order a bucket of finger lickin' good fried chicken weeks in advance and pick it up the day before Christmas?

As one might expect, the answer is terribly uninteresting.

KFC For Christmas

Back in the late 1960s, the foreign community around Nagoya started asking KFC locations if they could prepare some turkey. The traditional western fowl is rarely found in Japan and people who live thousands of kilometres away from home will often go to great lengths to try and bring a taste of home here. This was much more difficult in the days before the Internet and 2-day deliveries from anywhere on the planet. KFC was really the only option.

By 1971 the stores started taking notice and, while they didn't order in any turkey for the expatriates willing to pay for the luxury of exotic bird, they did start communicating the requests to the company's head office. Starting in 1974, riding on Japan's fast standard of living improvements and people's insatiable appetite with foreign customs, KFC launched a campaign featuring Colonel Sanders and Santa Claus, encouraging people to enjoy the holiday season with a bucket of fried chicken. It was pretty much an overnight success, and families all over this island nation have enjoyed the greasy fare ever since.

Interestingly, supermarkets did start carrying turkeys around American Thanksgiving and Christmas time, but you'll rarely find more than 2 birds in stock. Turkey just isn't at all popular here, and most people simply don't have ovens large enough to handle a regular-sized bird. Chickens will never be so lucky.

So there you have it. If anyone talks about how crazy it is that millions of families across Japan dig into a bucket of fried chicken on Christmas Eve to celebrate the holidays, you can tell them it's because of a manufactured tradition reminiscent of Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and just about any other heavily marketed day of the year.

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