Internet And Social Media

Keeping an historical record - the "era of input" (RL239)

We are currently in the “input”-era: Today there are people who remember the time when information was scarce, but who also live in the time of the Internet. Behind us is a generation who still looks up things in books. In front of us is a generation who only knows the Internet. This is why our generation is the Wikipedia generation, responsible to get as much stuff on the Internet as possible. John was once thinking about keeping an almanac over many years, for example about the weather or the blossoms of the Catalpa tree in the back yard. There are many almanacs in houses and farms everywhere, but it is crucial that we input this information now and preserve it for the future, otherwise it will get lost. People never thought of this kind of record keeping, because there was no medium to share it, but now we have the Internet. John and Merlin even have a podcast with literal recordings of them, something much bigger than any record that John has for example of his dad.

John once got a box from his mother called “Pictures of people you never knew” with photographs of her highschool friends who were no longer connected to anybody. Johns mom was sitting with him and writing the people’s names on the back of the photos. In the past, this kind of information disappeared with every year passing by, but now with the Internet it can be conserved forever. There is a tremendous record of people who are just now dying and we have an opportunity to reach back and bring that pre-Internet information forward into the future, otherwise there will be a clean cut in history that divides the pre-Internet era from the time when people were keeping records of themselves.

The new era of self-documentation on the internet (RW15)

We are currently at an interstitial moment, an era where we are building the infrastructure without any real concept of how it is going to be used. The next generation and the one after that will be living in a world where all of this will already be built for them. They don’t have to think about it and they don’t have to chose which voice-over-internet protocol to use. Perhaps there will be a generation in our near future that starts to utilize this technology in a way that we can’t imagine and perhaps they do create kind of an utopia out of what we’ve made? We will be remembered as an era in between, because we did the work of digitalizing an analog world and future generations will take that and run with it. Rachel Lichtman, who’s house John is podcasting from, suggested that the legacy of the 20th century and all the centuries before is in the hands of our particular generation. It was not the Baby Boomers who, although they created a lot of Rock 'n' Roll culture, didn't have the ability to process it. They were self-absorbed and contemptuous of their parent’s generation and everything that had come before. They were so consumed by their own schism that they had no ability to contextualize what they had made or what the people who came before them had made.

Our generation, generations X and Y, does have a bigger perspective and a longer view. If we don’t digitize something now, it won't exist to generations that follow us. They won’t go back to the books! If it doesn’t make it on the Internet, if there isn't somebody right now who decides that these books need to be digitized, these paintings are important, this music is important and here is why, then by the next generation or the one after only the weirdest librarian will bother to go back to the last few remaining libraries to look up that stuff. Right now it is pouring in to the burg and we are the ones doing it. We are the ones asking for those Beach Boys outtakes, we want to hear the soloed drum tracks of 2112. We want to consume this material, even though it is across eras, because we have one foot in the 20th century. We remember when art, data, books and music were still difficult to acquire, expensive and important. It wasn’t a world where all information was available all the time, but you had to make choices. It is incredible to think that we are this filter in time and that we are doing this massive collecting and collating. Fandom is a big part of it. It is kind of a wall in history. We are producing the culture of the future and the archive of human history. John’s daughter and Dan’s daughter will go to the Internet. We do that already! If it is not on the Internet, it must not be important enough for somebody to get it in there.

John’s dad lived from 1921-2007, what about him is on the Internet? Nothing unless John said it or put it there! Are most of us going to bother putting the stories about our grandparent’s lives onto the Internet? We are probably not! We all have stories of our grandparents, but how many of us will give us their Wikipedia-page even though they weren’t important people? From here on, every person who ever lived is going to have a complete archive of their whole life. It is all on there! From this weird moment going forward, identity is going to mean so much and is going to be so systematized. Future generations will find total darkness when they look back past now. People of history are going to be this undifferentiated, unknowable darkness, which is not how we see history today, because we still use our imaginations to imagine Mozart, Alexander The Great or our grandparents were doing. John’s great-grandson is going to know what John was doing because he can listen to this podcast, but he is not going to know anything about John’s dad that John didn’t say explicitly. This is a profound jump and our generation might not going to reap the benefits of it or even know what it is going to produce.

In the movie Her they created an AI of Allan Watts based on his writing, his public speaking and the information that people had about him. Think about how much we do put online about ourselves! They talk about this in the episode of Black Mirror where an android is able to develop the full personality of someone who is deceased based on that person’s online postings. The only thing documenting Dan’s grandparent’s childhood are probably three photos, collectively. They are documenting the big events of their lives, like when they got married, their babies and when those babies graduated college. Think about the introduction of the photograph! It only goes back to the 19th century.

The compulsive self-documentation that characterizes our age started with blogging where normal people were documenting their day. Then there was the selfie and the Instagram account. Even when John was in college and you still had to develop your film, there were sorority girls who took 1000 pictures of themselves and their friends at parties. It was fairly late 20th century behavior. Podcasting and recording candid conversations is an extension of that. Jonathan Coulton came out with music that was about robots and monkeys and put it on the internet precisely at the moment when people who wanted music about robots and monkeys had already congregated. It was this perfect storm! We have all reflected upon why he got popular in the moment he did, but it was the perfect confluence of music for nerds that he published on a platform that is really only accessible to nerds looking for ways to strengthen the bond between one another. They could share this music with each other as a way of saying that they are a community. Podcast-listeners are typically at this early stage. They are largely people who are working on constructing AIs and there is enough of an overlap between those two groups. A lot of John's listeners are scientists, engineers or people in the computer-fields looking for inspiration.

Despite of what John Siracusa says, people today are making small decisions that have a profound effect on what gets made rather than just being people who are churning or doing the work of others. Those small design decisions that are left to the hands of the builders of things make a profound effect on how this stuff is going to be used in 25 years. John’s mom was programming computers in the 1960s and 1970s. They only used two digits for dates, because they never imagined that the computer programs they were writing in the 1970s were still going to be underpinning the entire insurance- and banking-industries 30 years later. They were churning out this code because they had a deadline and they needed to save those two characters. Then it got to be the years 2000 when he were ”oops, that stuff is still running everywhere behind the scenes!" The same is going to be true for the things that are built right now. We are probably stuck with Facebook for a long time and it is going to morph into something. 100 years from now there might still be some line of code somewhere deep in the background that Mark Zuckerberg wrote in his dorm. Those decisions are going to have a profound effect and those people are right now pre-disposed to listen to 5by5 programs, frankly.

Curating your story online (RW61)

John is no longer on Twitter (as of March 2017) and he does not have any public outlet for his wit anymore. Twitter is where his wit lived, but maybe Twitter is not where his wit belongs. Dan agrees that it is phenomenal how negative a place Twitter has become and he doesn’t try to have conversations on Twitter any longer, but he just follows peoples who share news and links he is interested in. Part of the whole problem is that the Internet is too close to us because we are holding it in our hands all the time, making it too important, squandering time and attention. John would much rather only use his phone for the maps program, and not look up everything in Wikipedia all the time. He would much rather try to remember things or not know them until the evening. He is even having doubts if he should continue to be on social media altogether, because he feels like he is trying too hard to make Instagram something for him that it cannot be. Dan wanted the Internet to be the whole knowledge of our civilization, but that is not what we are using it for.

If you go "online", the question should be what you want to contribute and what you want to get out of it. In his quest for his contribution, John is trying to find little vignettes, little shadow boxes, on a shelf or in a corner. He enjoys posting a picture on Instagram and somebody instantly recognizes certain special items. For example, in this post, somebody commented on the Chairman Mao lighter that played the Chinese national anthem when you open it, but nobody said anything about the East German transit visa in the background which was a bit disappointing. John arranges the things in his house in little still lives, trying to figure out what his plan is. Sometimes owning certain things is embarrassing, but at a whole, it is still kind of cool.

Many people don't care about their online personality, because they are transient and John resents people who don't tell the interesting story of themselves, but just post pictures of their dogs or other mundane things. "You are more interesting than you think! To put the interesting stuff about yourself online is not embarrassing, it’s not that people are going to criticize you. You want to be your most interesting self online. Finding a path to have your interesting self - not your true self - be the thing you publish is the long term argument I make with myself." John values wit over beauty and would much rather see people focusing on their wit instead of their beauty if they have the choice, otherwise your online representation becomes in-congruent. One example of the in-congruence between personalities and their social media streams are the flight attendants John met at the event with Richard Branson in March 2017 who were great people in real life, but seemed awful on their Instagram feed.

To make your Instagram your story of the world, you should post a few selfies now and then. John wants to see his friends’ faces. Dan interjects that you can unfollow people who post things you don't want to see in your feed, even if they are your friends, because it is not personal, but John disagrees. In real life, you wouldn't tell people “well, if you don’t like me talking about my dog, you don’t have to be my friend, I don't care if you want to talk about your hard time". On the Internet, one removed, that is all of a sudden okay. If you want to post photos of your dog or about watches, then there is unlimited bandwidth available to create a blog or a podcast about that special interest, but if you clog up your personal feed with things that are not about you, that is a misinterpretation.

We are all in the media now, we are all publishing and there is barrier to entry anymore, but we can publish the most boring newspaper we want. Your personal Instagram, on the other hand, the one that says your name, should tell the story about you, not about your dog. Because otherwise, where would one find out things about other people online? The dog means nothing to anyone besides yourself and the same is true for pictures of your children. John wants to know people better by seeing what they think is funny, but terrible pictures of their dog, calling it "my love" are resentful. People wouldn't post pictures of their significant other in the same amount and in similar poses, calling them "my love" in the same way, that would be creepy, but they do it with their dog. It’s a stage people go through, because people are waiting longer until they have kids, so they get a dog or a cat and let the pet control their whole life, they think of them as children, which is very peculiar. Nobody cares about pictures of sunsets either if you are not a travel photographer for National Geographic.

Facebook (RL161)

When John was introduced to Facebook, the first thing he noticed about it was the terrible name: Facebook! John does not like anything about the word "Face". A rock face might be something, but a human face or an animal face? When that young guy in the movie "On Golden Pond" called kissing for "sucking face", it did not only ruin the movie for John, but that entire year of his life! John was just friending everybody on Facebook, because he is not curating anything. He is not creating a special place for his people, because his people are not even on there. Instead John had accepted friend requests from whoever over the years. Some time ago he arrived at the 5000 friend mark which is the most you can have. Facebook imagines that their product has a correct use. There are a lot of people friending him every day, but he can not show them his face and take their face into his book of faces. Every day some 1-4 people disappear from his friend list and every day he is allotted between 2-5 new opportunities to accept friend requests. He always gets to the head of the queue and lets 2-5 people in.

The demise of Twitter and Idiocracy taking over our culture (RW64)

The other day it did not even take 5 scrolls for John until there was somebody taking a small, smug superior shot at him: "I can't help but think that the dogmatic leftist @johnroderick and others keep addressing is a straw man.", as if John and Merlin were shooting arrows at the radical progressive that doesn't actually exist except as a target for our angry middle aged liberal slurs. Why are those people doing this? Are they trying to start a conversation with their followers who all listen to the same podcasts? They mentioned John explicitly, so they wanted him to see it! Did they just have an idea about how they disagree with John's opinion? That particular poster is a fan of the program, yet he wants to start an argument with John. The two favorite tropes that college students throw out are straw men and ad hominem. There are a lot of other forms of argument, there are a lot of other ways to engage with somebody in a discussion of ideas than to throw that kind of little college sophomore level shot across somebody's bow when you are trying to engage them in a conversation. Is that what Twitter is now? Something changed and now you are not getting enough out of the good interactions anymore in order to deal with the idiots. People aren't funny anymore, but they think they are being funny in a way that's more negative than positive. Trying to do anything on Twitter other than "Here is a cool thing I made", even just asking simple questions will give you a lot of people saying "You are doing it wrong!" Something has really changed during 2016 and 2017. While Twitter was almost like exchanging email with a bunch of people in a pretty cool way, it now just seems like you can do no right there. A lot of the other interesting people are now doing the same thing: They use it just as a one-way conversation and they feel obligated to be serious all the time. John Hodgman hasn't made a joke on Twitter in a year or longer, but he just posts things he wants to sell you!

John (Roderick) used to post his random thoughts 10 times a day, but when you post something like "I'm at the DMV and the guy in front of me has a really funny haircut" you will get replies that your tweet was insensitive because there was a mass shooting that same day. Yes, it is jarring if your tweet comes after someone mourning the victims, but everybody knows that you would not do that to be insensitive! You are going to figure out soon enough what is going on and you are going to adjust your tone accordingly. It is not insensitive, but it is very clear what is happening! Those people are not taking a second of reflection, but they are just ejaculating the first thought that comes into their head. Yelling at somebody who did not know about a shooting is not being responsible and respecting the limitations of the medium. Respecting the medium is to give people a break. People make the assumption that everybody is on the same page and everybody is looking at the same things. People just tweet "I can't believe this!" without any link or reference to what they are talking about and they suggest that their finger is on the pulse of the planet and they don't need to specify what they are talking about and "If you don't know, maybe you shouldn't really be here and if that tweet is confusing you, then it is not for you!" Don't just make a comment about something, but go a step further and share and educate! Don't create a meaningless stream of tweets that are generally negative, usually provocative and rarely helpful. "Speak only if it improves upon the silence", Gandhi said!

In the early days, Twitter felt like a highbrow medium. It was voluntary, it was done purely for comedy, diversion and sport, but barely about the news. As time went on it became more and more newsy. As more and more people went on there, the standard declined and for a long middle period, Twitter was a middlebrow place. Everybody on there was educated and everybody had jobs that had them in touch with a computer or a smartphone. That large mass of people, the middlebrow, all love to be flattered about being part of the smart gang and about getting the references and liking the same films, but they are not contributing as much, because creativity is not their game. They are the audience, not the makers, but they would start contributing as though they were makers, just because they could. They behaved as though their comment on somebody else's art was art in and of itself and made them a player. You would have a conversation on Twitter with someone you knew and then some random swings in trying to be funny. "Who are you? Why are you here?" It is not a case of elitism per se, it is a case of "There are creators and you join that group by virtue of your work and not by virtue of simply your desire to be member of that group. You don't just get to decide! Go do your work and make things! If people will find them and they are good, you will become a member of that group. You don't get to decide if you are as smart and funny as you think you are." Inevitably, as the medium got more and more popular with millions of people on there, the lowest common denominator sets the tone, because they are flooding the airwaves, That flood cauterized in such a way that the creators no longer felt they can push back the wave.

For a long time Patton Oswalt continued to be funny and poignant and continued to push back against people that were lobbying accusations on him. Comedians were saying "It is comedy", while people would say "It's not comedy, comedians never punch down!" and comedians would say "What are you talking about? Who made that rule? And who are you to tell Patton Oswalt what the rules of comedy are, random person?". That kind of thing makes you sound smart, it makes you sound like you know what comedy is, and like you are not only Patton Oswalt's equal, but that you are in some kind of role where it's your job to chastize and guide Patton Oswalt in the pursuit of his own career, and it flatters you that you are a member, a smart, not just some guy sitting in front of his smartphone, desperately trying to get Patton Oswalts attention, but now you are a celebrity in your own right! Who are you? Show me the movie you wrote, the albums you put together, so you can weigh in not just as a critic, but as though you are a peer, but right now you talk to me in a way that a peer never would!

When Idiocracy first came out it was very easy to say that it was already happening, and as the years have gone by it has become even easier to do so. In the beginning of 2017 it felt terrifyingly prescient that these things that seemed like pretty gross exaggerations even a few short years before all had a grain of truth to them and we were only a few years away from putting energy drinks on plants. The danger of the Idiocracy is that pointing at it flatters each one of us because we think we are above it and not a part of it. It is the idiocracy is in each of us that would make us follow a chain of 50% off signs and we would walk right into a meat grinder. That's how idiocracy happens, not by electing a reality star to the presidency of the United States, but because each one of us independently decides that what matters is something that doesn't matter. Each one of us decides when to stop putting funny things on the Internet because there are too many dummies, and then all that's left on there are the dummies who have all convinced themselves that they are the smarts, and because there are no smarts left on there, they must be the smarts! Little by little, the smarts get more and more tired and more and more isolated and then the Hoi Polloi, the mass, is left arguing with each other. Nothing is concluded, nothing is built, there is just a lot of screaming back and forth about who is wrong at the lowest possible level of argument. Everybody is a victim all the time, everybody is a hero all the time, and the level of discourse is just at the level of ants screaming.

Nobody respects authority anymore, but not in the sense that causes your hackles to raise, like the cops. Archeologists know more about dinosaurs than you do, except if you are an archeologist. That person is an authority on dinosaurs. If someone writes poetry, they are an authority in language better than you, unless you also are a word-professional - not somebody who writes copy for a company, but somebody who thinks about words all the time. Poets know what words are, they don't use them accidentally, they don't use them unintentionally. They are authorities, but we don't respect them anymore, we don't allow Patton Oswalt to know more about comedy than you do. Social media in general are the great equalizer. It is bad, it is caustic, and it is dragging us down so fast. The gains we have made over hundreds of years of building up what effectively is like a tower of culture is being washed away and just turned back to sand of a screaming horde. Very talented people gradually surrender and say "It's not just that Twitter isn't my medium anymore, but I don't know what to do instead and I don't know where I belong". A lot of smart people decide that they don't want to be left out. Their job is to be constantly righteous, not just when there are instances of mass shootings, but every minute of every day is a mass shooting! Every person doesn't just have to be aware of it, but has to take the same heightened aggravation about it.

The ugly side of idiocracy is that it implies ugly things like eugenics and there is no apparent solution. In Europe during the last 2000 years, there have been periods of hundreds of years where there was a massive contraction, where science, technologies and understanding of the natural world was lost. After that there will be a generation that rediscovers the science of prior ages and they rediscover the poets and the mathematicians of hundreds of years prior and there is a little renaissance followed by another age where it all falls apart again. It is disturbing to think that we are at the dawn of that kind of age. We still don't know how the pyramids were built. The thing that characterized the renaissance in Italy in the 1400:s is that they rediscovered the art of the Romans and of the Greeks which was 1400 years old and had been lost that whole time. In the artwork of the 900:s or the 1200:s we had even lost the technology of perspective, which was then rediscovered. When we rediscovered the architecture of the Greeks, the statues, the plays and the culture of the greeks in the 1400:s they seemed like they were from outer space. We are in a similar situation now, but this time there is no Bubonic plaque. The barbarians invaded Rome and burned it to the ground. Maybe that's what's happening now: The barbarians are at the gates. The barbarians are us.

The role of the Internet in John's musical career (RW65)

John is not going to break up with Twitter making a sweeping proclamation, but since the beginning of 2017 he is only tweeting through Instagram. Not going on to Twitter anymore removed a source of unexpected insult from his life. When you walk out the door in the morning, you don't expect to be insulted, maybe a drunk on the street yells at you, which is like water off a duck's back. But when somebody is really rude to you in a line at a coffee shop or your boss is angry at you for no reason, it adds unnecessary stress to your day. Running for office sensitized John to not get insulted, because back then there was constantly someone kicking at him, even if they were just in favor of his opponent. Politics is very personal. Many people are living their lives under constant insult, maybe because of a toxic relationship or a daily toxic drama. They are carrying that weight and tenseness waiting for the blow to come. John has been in toxic relationships. It is very hard if you love the person and you want it to succeed, but if there is an eruption of bad vibes every few days it becomes something unnecessary that we don't have to chose for ourselves. John has never been afraid of being alone. Many people chose to stay in a toxic relationship because the alternative is being alone. John likes being with people, but he doesn't have to be.

Twitter was a place with interesting conversations waiting, but then as you are scrolling through, each new message is an opportunity for people to say "your idea is dumb". It started to feel like a dread, and John does not want dread in his life. John's relationship with the Internet was a lot like a relationship with a person: During the honeymoon period it was a very fulfilling relationship, maybe with a bit of pathology in it, like going out and doing a lot of drinking together, having good sex, but not fighting, just bumbling around. Then it became a mature relationship, like doing business and the people he knew were family, but it was still fun. Then it started to go south and his partners went crazy and more and more abusive.

As John was using Snapchat for a brief period, he felt there was some door to a new world where Snapchat was gonna be a fun place. He never found it, because Snapchat is an utterly different attempt of being social that - unlike Twitter - did not feel normal for him. John doesn't know the next interesting place yet. The nice thing about Twitter was the cheap buy-in, the ability to flip through, to consume other people's output or to consume the news. Even now that he is not on Twitter anymore, John does not have an impulse to find another place. He does not miss the news, but is getting them through a digest Nextdraft or Quora.

For years, the Internet was a place where John was expending creative energy. It was unclear how productive it was, but it was fairly defensible for being a very creative space. John once had a big argument with his record label when he had a show in New York and wanted them to tweet about it on their Twitter account. The reply was huffy. They didn't want to jam up people's inboxes, so they just used their Twitter to announce big things. They didn't understand what Twitter is. It is not a newsletter! You tweet ten times a day! People following a label's account want to find out what is going on with the artists on the label! Still, they claimed they knew from newsletters of 1998 that people stop reading them if you send them too much. They even sent John a graph of all his record sales of all time and put an arrow on the day he started using Twitter. When you release an album, the sales spike, and then there is a long tail. On John's first day on Twitter, the record sales did not have a spike and the record sales continued as though Twitter had no effect. It was like a mic drop, like "No, it hasn't helped your career". It was insulting, and it was wrong. Twitter had been a big part of John's career. There are other ways of measuring your career as a performing artist than measuring records sales.

John has worked with many different generations of musicians. Most of the musicians he was playing with at the age of 25 didn't play music past the age of 30, and most of the musicians he was playing with when he was 32 have diffused into different worlds, but didn't keep a public profile after they put out their last record. John hasn't put out a record in 10 years, but continues to have a career burbling along in popular culture somehow, almost entirely Internet-located. It is unclear exactly what his job is, but he keeps percolating thanks to the Internet and his active enthusiastic participation in it. The Internet has not helped him put out a record and it is hard to say if he would have if he didn't have the instant gratification of Twitter and then the creative gratification of podcasting, or whether or not the creative frustration that would have built up in him would have made him put out records in a pace faster than zero. It seems unlikely he would have ended up with a job instead, but there was a time in 2010 when he sure needed a job. If he is going to back away from the Internet, he has to back into something else, and that would be making music again, creative work that is more solid and hopefully more lasting. There would need to be an adjustment, because music does not have that instant gratification.

Using social media as a one-way medium as an artist (RW82)

There was a pernicious mentality saying that reappearing on social media as a performer after having abandoned it, just to announce the release of a record, was disingenuous, but plenty of people were doing it. Jonathan Coulton has not really participated in Twitter for 8 years, but every once in a while he posted that preorders were available for his new thing! The bigger the people get, the less actual interactions they seem to do on social media. Superstars are not replying to jim2418. John always loved to interact with people on social media and he still likes being accessible. He likes that people can reach out to him to ask questions or to communicate. It was one of the things he liked about Twitter. Only replying to verified users is boring! John hopes that people will still email him even if he is not on Twitter or Instagram anymore. Instagram was very fun until it became a place where people were ranting. John got caught in a cycle of following 100 people and the same people would be commenting on his pictures every day. He gave 3 hours a day to this interaction that was producing a slow drip of serotonin in him, but he can get that other places! (RW82)

Twitter comments: Can't let things go (RW68)

John really misses Twitter, his friends and the fun he had on the network. There is still no other place to throw out ideas and get a couple of responses. Every time John is lurking around Twitter a little bit more, his recent attitude about social media just gets confirmed. He posted a thought on Facebook speculating about a connection between Chris Cornell's passing and the 25th anniversary shows with Temple of the Dog from December of 2016 that had been reposted on Twitter and attracted comments by a random person along the lines of "How dare you do such kind of wild speculation! Imagine how the other members of the Temple of the Dog feel!"

People who take great umbrage on behalf of someone else who they also don't know are a very common occurrence on the Internet. The commenter was presenting himself as the defender of the feelings of the other members of Temple of the Dogs. John can't let those things go on Twitter, so he replied that the commenter is in turn speculating about how the members of Temple of the Dog are feeling, which is exactly what he is accusing John for. Either it is okay to speculate or it is not, in which case they should not do it either. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt: Maybe he is responding to having read a bunch of posts on his feed saying Chris Cornell's death was probably auto-erotic asphyxiation or Chris Cornell killed himself because he hates his own kids. This is a tragedy much more for his 10 year old kid than for his wife, above and beyond what anyone else could experience. He is leaving behind kids who are not googling for the comments right now, but when they will ask questions about their dad and read articles about it online, how much sense can they ever make? No one will ever know what was happening that night. He went off stage and 1.5 hours later he was dead. It is never going to be understandable.

At the time when John worked at a shop downtown, one of the customers would come in and throw his change down on the counter in a way that could be seen as rude. John would point it out to him, start an argument and would think about it for two days. There were a couple of encounters at that store that he still dwells on. There are a lot of people who can let things like this go, but he is not one of them. This brooding does damage to him and wondering what he should have said to somebody who was mildly rude 24 years ago is a waste of precious daylight. There has been very little emotional peace in John's life and he is really seeking it now. There is no reason to be irritated all the time, but some people like it, thrive on it and seek it. Being irritated all the time gives them a purpose and somehow puts a frame around their day. Life is not irritating unless you are pouring energy into it. There are people living in the same world who are not irritated all the time. When some dingeling has access to John's brain and can say things like that guy, it does a lot of damage. The guy thinks that he is smart, he thinks he is helping and doing a useful service, but he doesn't understand that he should just shut up. Why is he even here? After spending 40 minutes on Twitter, reading 25 interesting things, the comment by that guy is what goes home with him. John doesn't want that kind of damage and he needs to lose the good thing he loves in order to not have that. He logs on with a constant feeling of dread. Who will be accusing him of being anti-feminist today? Who is accusing him of being insensitive to the member of Temple of the Dog today?

Negative feedback from strangers (RW68)

It seems weird to share as much with strangers as we do. We are opening ourselves up to their comments and their thoughts. There are solutions like a locked Twitter or private Facebook account just for friends, but John doesn't subscribe to that world either and the last thing John's friends need is another Facebook account from him. John is kind of an open book and while he is not an oversharer, he will not sit and winch about his privacy either. He does like to broadcast, but he would almost need an assistant to filter his messages. It is not that John only wants the good news! If that guy who commented on his speculation about Chris Cornell's suicide had linked to his blog post about how speculating about other people's mental live is a disservice to us, John would have been fascinated by the idea he was exploring. The problem is: Even if John would unfollow every single person on Twitter who projects a bad vibe, as soon as something goes out, there will be guys like this coming in. John is unsure why he is not bulletproof to that kind of thing as he had similar encounters even in the days before the Internet.

John needs to have a public component of his life. He doesn't just want to be a hermit and turn the Internet off and sit under a tree like a swami with his little wooden bowl, hoping somebody comes along and puts a crust of bread in it. John wants to be in the world talking about stuff. He loves to get pushback from smart people, but that makes him at the same time accessible to the class of people who are not smart enough to realize that they are not smart! The Internet in its pure democratic state does just invite everyone freely. There is no ranking by quality other than the little blue checkmark. There is no "one-star" rating, warning for people who nobody likes and their comments are garbage. There is no yelp you can turn to, all you can do is look at the person's profile and see they have 45 followers, but that is not a gauge! Who cares how many followers somebody has? John has been off Twitter and it has given him relief, but a lot of people reach out and beg him not to be gone from Twitter. John can feel that and wishes he could work out a solution.

Disagreeing on the Internet (RW76)

A lot of energy on the Internet coming from science-, or cultural-oriented people, from people with a strong sense of morality or people with very strong political feelings is directed at correcting other people. If you disagree with somebody, it must be because that person is uneducated. It is no longer possible to accept that they do understand your idea and still disagree with you. They have read the books and they understand where you are coming from, but they disagree. Many liberals today are very condescending about conservative people and think that conservatism is a product of ignorance that - first of all - needs a solution and that the solution is to educate them, which comes in the form of an extremely pedantic and condescending slow-talk-explanation of how things actually are. Conservative people are not persuaded by that and feel instead that liberals are boneheaded and brainwashed, that they have a naked self-interest or that they are just on a power-trip, trying to get off that trip by forcing people to abandon their long-held traditions and forcing laws down people's throats. Neither viewpoint allows for the fact that the disagreement comes from different conclusions that people have come to after having been exposed to the same information.

The topic of profiling for instance is a controversial word because it implies a lot of racism. John did not completely explain his position when he talked about airport screening recently and he did not go down a check-list of pre-apologies so people won't yell at him. The torrent of response he got was in the form of people wanting to educate John about things. Long-time listeners know that this is not the conversation they are having. John is not saying "everyone in a hijab up against the wall", he would not suggest that and that is not even what they are talking about. The letter they got from listener Jonathan a week later did not try to educate him, but instead wanted to give an inside perspective to the listeners.

There has been a period of time during Roderick on the Line when John was talking about a lot of difficult things and got a lot of emails accusing him of being ignorant. They wanted to educate him about how things are, which was extremely frustrating, because you cannot argue with every single person. Luckily their audience largely recognizes who their hosts are. While there are plenty of people who don't agree, they are still getting something out of the podcast that doesn't require them to write a letter every week saying "Once again, Sir, you are incorrect about global warming". There was a taxi-driver from London who was pro-Brexit and was really mad at John because John thought that Brexit was hilarious. Then Trump came on the scene.

John likes the idea of Dan filtering emails, because he doesn't like to open mail of somebody trying to educate him. If you want to educate John, start off with a paragraph on why the fuck you know more than he does. When John talked about drone warfare, he got an email from Lt. Colonel Matt Martin, a decorated drone pilot who later became a good friend. Yes of course, John will pull up a chair! Lay it on me! It turned out that they just had different opinions about strategy. From within the military, Martin has convictions about what the military's job is, about ethicacy and about the role of America. He did not just repeat things, but he is a deep thinker and is playing with the same building blocks, he has just arranged them in a different order than John did. If you want to disagree and yell at John, phrase it that way, but don't come at him as if he doesn't know. Show him in one paragraph or less the o.B.E. behind your name that suggests that you are the expert rather than just somebody who read the same tweets than John did and decided you knew better.

Certainly if you meet somebody in person you presume that they are much more interesting than they are dull - you have to! Even the ladies down in Arizona who are spraying vinegar into the air to counteract the chemtrails, because they heard on a talk radio show that vinegar in a spray bottle will purify the chemtrails air. Even those people are delightful! Why would John want to yell at them, rather than just enjoy sitting in a lawn chair and watch them all day, asking them questions and chatting? How can you feel so strongly about a thing that you needed to tell somebody they were wrong and rob yourself of that wonderful afternoon?

Getting others to agree with you online (RW80)

John doesn't like to read things by people who feel very secure in their position, but who probably only know 10% of the important information. John has realized recently that it is very easy for people to get others to join them when they advance some random theory. This is true for both sides of the political spectrum and not only for political topics. If you say "I think that the reason for the worms in the apples in my yard is Global Warming", you will get as many faves and retweets as you want, because there will always be somebody who agrees or who feels that there is no harm in agreeing. That is why the anti-vaxers had such a long run and created so much havoc: Somebody said something - like vaccines cause autism - and enough people who don't know anything about the topic supported them. They were able to create a loud wall of screaming against the almost universal agreement on the part of people who do know stuff.

If you say that worms appear in apples naturally if you don't spray for them (and spraying for them is hard because it involves a whole process during the winter when it is cold), then you get the response that you are saying Global Warming is fake and you are opposed to our global efforts to reduce Global Warming. But no, you are just saying that apples and worms is a whole different thing and global warming plays no role. Then somebody will say "Oh really? This year it was so hot that the apples fell to the ground and were all mushy before I could even eat them", which might be true, but it has nothing to do with worms. The problem is that the person who initially posted this theory now has 10.000 likes and feels completely validated and people who discover the post later only see that this guy got 10.000 likes, which means it must be true. For John it is impossible to engage at all. It feels like those kind of arguments are starting to pervade and what is frustrating is that a lot of it feels really well-meaning on both sides.

Discussing difficult topics on the Internet (BW205)

The promise of the Internet is to give us access to interesting thoughts of people who never had a voice before and who never had the opportunity to put their thoughts on the table. Unfortunately, most of the people with interesting thoughts spend too much time bitching, moaning and live-tweeting about the Oscars while their responsibility would be to grapple with the big questions, to make proposals and to run them up the flagpole and see who salutes. We are all terrified to put out a blog post with the title ”My thoughts vs Iraq”, because you will get 500 angry emails from people who have never been 15 blocks away from where they were born. We can’t let that be the character of the Internet for much longer! Too much of the Internet is negativity and lost possibility! Wasn’t the Internet an utopian feeling in the beginning? We had finally broken down all of the structures that have kept us in intellectual bondage! We were finally going to give free voice to all of the radical ideas and we were going to weigh those ideas on the strength of the thinking rather than on who said it or whether The New York Times decided that it was worth including in the paper. It is a pity that many smart people out there have settled for writing and commenting on pop culture or writing and commenting on other people writing and commenting on pop culture.

Thinking about how to address Postcolonialism in Africa is confusing, even if you are interested in that stuff. It feels particularly overwhelming if you have 5 different ideas that you want to put out there and the first 5 things you are going to be accused of will be so harsh and so ugly that you don’t want to read your Twitter feed anymore when you wake up the next the morning. Instead you are going to talk about the new Batman movie and even though you are going to get some angry tweets about that as well, you can laugh it off because Batman doesn’t matter. If you instead talk about how we should regard the aftermath of the Balfour declaration, about tribalism in the 21st century, or about the US military’s role in Africa, you are going to get trolled from all sides. "Shouldn’t the generals be doing this work? Does this work really belong to us?" - "It doesn’t!" There are smarter people in a think tank somewhere in Dallas or in Alexandria, Virginia and those people should be making the call. Military leaders are often less qualified to think strategically than even your average person who has been reading the newspaper for 20 years. The careers of incredibly capable people have been in institutions that did not encourage a strategic world view. Your average person who follows the news can construct a strategic view and we should spend much more of our time talking about that! It would be so much more interesting, but it is hard and it can be ugly.

As a patriotic American and as someone who believes in America, John feels a renewed responsibility to be part of the conversation. If America is going to be out there, he wants us to do good work in the world. If we are building drone bases in these places, shouldn’t we also work on other kinds of outreach? Do we not actually still believe in democracy as a thing? Even the idea of democracy has become tarnished because of the neocon approach of shoving it down your throat and if you don’t like it, we are going to blow you up! That doesn’t discredit democracy, it doesn’t make it an ugly thing. It doesn’t mean we should sit back and say that female genital mutilation is part of their culture and we should just let it ride, but if you are going to go after that, you have to build a new mentality which would be colonialist. It goes around and around and around, which is fascinating! Democracy should be something that we are thrilled to talk about, argue about and have different opinions about. It should not immediately default to pointing fingers at each other and calling each other all the dirty names we can think of, which seems to be what Internet culture has generated. There are people who are ticking boxes and who will tell you that what you just said sounds racist, but what are they talking about? If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail!

The movie American Sniper is obviously a jingoistic fantasy where every Iraqi is a bad guy and every American is a hero, but it is a great war movie. This sniper guy is a) a complicated guy, he is b) doing a complicated job and c) for a military that has a complicated and incomplete idea of what it should be doing in this place. As soon as you say any of those things, 50% of this country has decided that you are a communist! How can John address that side of the world as an American who used to know every tank and airplane in the Army? You should at least get a flag pin for once upon a time having cared about the AC-130. John can recognize that this guy is complicated and so can you. It doesn’t threaten us to say something nuanced about American Sniper. We don’t all have to say that it is either the greatest movie in the world and America is the greatest country in the world or that he is a stone cold killer and a heartless redneck. Maybe the listeners can point John to the blogs where people are talking about the stuff that is hard to talk about, those tiny little places on the Internet where people are having moderated discussions with each other.

Sometimes people want to talk to John about stuff he has said on his podcasts. They lean in and whisper that the thing John said really resonated with them and there is always a conspiratorial feeling, even if the material is not especially controversial. Why are we whispering? People are afraid that somebody accuses them or points their finger. You need a thick skin and you need to brush it off, but we are genetically programed to not wanting people to yell at us! You don't want to wake up in the morning, have your first cup of coffee, turn on your computer and realize that something you said innocently or thoughtfully the day before has inspired 75 people to write you, call you an idiot and they hope you die. It is easy to say you should brush it off, but a lot of us are artists because we do have a lot of feelings.

Do we need the Internet? (BW205)

The other day John's daughter asked him what the Internet was and John tried to describe it to her. He immediately started feeling like a total asshole. It should be easy to explain, but every word that came out of his mouth was just like: Why is there an Internet? What is the Internet and why is it really just a thing that we built because we could? Now it exists and one day it will reveal its purpose and it will actually be a good thing that is explainable to a child. We developed all these capabilities to digitize information and once we had developed them, the next logical step was to connect them all. It actually has no real purpose yet. We didn’t build it because we needed it, but we built it because it was just the next logical step as we developed the ability to.

In the history of human kind we have built a lot of things because we needed them, like we built roads and dams and electrical grids. We built the electrical grid a long time before everybody had an electric mixer. We built it initially because we wanted to have light bulbs in the outhouse, because it sucked to go out to the outhouse in the dark to go to the bathroom. Let’s string wire all across the country to enable everybody to have electric light! It was only later that we discovered electric mixers, washing machines and microwaves. We did the same thing with the Internet: You can read a magazine on your phone! What about that, huh? Pretty good trick, right? Nobody has actually developed a convincing reason for it. Initially it was built for the researchers at the universities to share their research with one another while before the Internet they had to write letters to each other. The Internet was a way to communicate quicker, because God knows life is short! There is so much stuff we need to get done in the time we are waiting for those letters to arrive and now we can send emails and get back to the marathon of Bob’s Burgers which was waiting there in our queue. John is an utopian, but he is also a technophobe. What is the Internet for? Dan had a very good fan page about The X-Files in 1995!

Comparing the Internet with clean water and electricity (RW68)

However much John thought he was about to become a denizen of the Internet, it does not seem true anymore and he might need to turn around. Earlier in the year, saying "I'm going to go back to a flip phone" felt like intentional ludditeism and was a thing of the past. We have to embrace that we are all constantly looking at our phones and go on with our lives! Now John realized that this is not necessarily inevitable! When clean water came to the city, some people didn't want to spend tax dollars on putting water pipes into the dirt because they had a well at their house that worked fine for them. Gradually the city determined that everybody wants those systems, so everybody got water and electricity while there were still people who held out against it for various reasons. When John's mom was a kid, some rural houses still didn't have electricity. It is possible that there will be some kind of cultural divide between people who enthusiastically opt in to the Internet and people who defiantly opt out of the Internet, but the question is if that will be true for a generation that grew up where there has never been no Internet.

Dan and John come from a time where you knew people because you met them. Either you were introduced to them or you both had a thing in common that you liked doing. But today we consider people that we only know online as our closest friends, although we have never met them in person. Still, when we finally meet them it changes everything, usually for the better. Dan would much prefer if he and John could be sitting in the same room to record the show. He likes people, hanging around with people, or talking to people. Dan worked from home for many years and he was so proud that his commute was only 15 steps from the kitchen. Dan was super-productive without interruptions, but he much prefers interacting with other human beings.

How can you be on the Internet and still live without its ugliness? John doesn't want to introduce his kid to a world where the tiny little shittyness is a constant and where you are exposing yourself to shitty people all the time. If we all only had 20 friends like we used to and one of them becomes shitty, then you stop being their friend. But now shitty people have as much access to you as your friends do. For most people it is a fait accompli, they have made their decision, they are on the Internet, it is not something that they are fraud about. Continuing to be fraud about it is dull, because we are just recapitulating the problem over and over.

John slowly going back to Twitter (RW80)

Many listeners respond to John’s podcasts via Twitter. Dan felt that John was still looking and would see the feedback, but since the beginning of 2017, John didn't even go anywhere close to Twitter. In the second half of the year he started to log on once a week, just to read back what everybody had said, but without engaging. Then he started to fave things in cases where people said something really nice or really clever. In August of 2017 he had come to a point where he was looking at Twitter every 3-5 days, while he had looked at it between 6 and 60 times a day in the past. Part of the reason was that Instagram, the place where John was hiding in the meantime, had become more and more political. People screnshotted their Twitter and put it on Instagram, which is like "Oh, okay, you are using social media wrong!". As soon as Instagram didn’t feel like a hiding place anymore, it was having the perverse effect of making John feel like he should just go back over to Twitter.

When John left Twitter, he felt like that would be the death of Twitter, but then he realized that Twitter was fine without him and they have been puttering right along. He still cannot trust his ability 100% to be on Twitter and not get into any specious political arguments with people. Those arguments resolve nothing, but they create a pit in his stomach all day, which is a situation he does not want to rejoin. On the other hand, John would like to rejoin an environment where smart people are sharing ideas. He does however not have a solution for how smart people can share ideas without getting into specious arguments with a third party that is not operating from the same information base. It feels increasingly pointless to argue with people who don't have the same volumes in their library.

If you say "Look, I don't think you should be sucker-punching people in the streets!", then you are sympathizing with Nazis and therefore you are a Nazi, which is the thing that finally threw John off Twitter (his last tweet before leaving was from 2017-02-01, see story here). John is fucking Captain America of punching Nazis, but he is just not for sucker-punches. Still, many people told him that he was a Nazi sympathizer! There is so much to be critiqued and argued against on the right that it feels like you are wasting your time if you spend it for arguing against something on the left. You should be fighting the real enemy instead! It is very important to keep your eyes on your own people as well. Leftist critics of the left are very important! But if you criticize anything on the left, you very quickly become a proxy of the right. As crazily different those worlds seem, the lines are blurred more than ever before! The methods of the radicals and the reactionaries are the same, but they are just used in different ways.

John is looking at Twitter and wants to go back on there because there is so much fun to have, so much information to be shared and so much difference to be made in the actual world, but at any moment you can walk into a thing where you get 75 angry tweets a day for three days and while that seems like a small matter, John is affected by this kind of thing. It is easy to not go to the dance club where everybody is crazy. You just stop going to that dance club. John does not feel safe on Twitter, which doesn't sound like him, because he normally goes lots of places where he doesn't feel safe, but if you go down an alley and you get punched over and over, you stop going down that alley, no matter how brave you are! John feels bad being disengaged, because it is not his natural state, but it is now who he is. He does not want to be constantly at war, neither is he somebody who can sit idly by, pretending he is not hearing bullshit when he actually is.

John has been over at Instagram sharing pictures of his cats for the last 6 months (not literally!) and taking a breather. He does not know yet how he is going to get back into the game.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License