From Inbox Zero to Inbox Infinity? Or, Why I Learned to Stop Stressing About My Unread Message Count

The last three days have been focused, to remarkable degree, on communicating. Mostly catch-up stuff. Monday and Tuesday were spent, 10 hours each day, just responding to accumulated messages. Whilst munching dinner yesterday, I came across an interesting article in The Atlantic by Taylor Lorenz titled “Don’t Reply to Your Emails: The Case for Inbox Infinity” that triggered some introspection about all of this effort.
Lorenz’s argument, in essence, is that one ought not waste the time trying to keep abreast on communication because it’s a never-ending fight that offers relatively little return on investment. In fact, responsiveness invites additional unnecessary correspondence that adds to the load, in a never-ending spiral of slavery to inboxes and social dashboards. The more responsive you are, the more people send to you, thus the more you have to deal with. Thus, choosing to not read and respond to messages is a healthy life choice and a savvy business strategy: Embrace Inbox Infinity.
I get it. But the Midwestern Nice guy in me thinks that a one-sided screw-you policy borders on the sociopathic.
So I crunched some numbers:

  • On any given day, I receive anywhere from 300 to 500 emails. Of those, about one-third are personalized-yet-unsolicited messages that don’t get caught by spam filters, one-third are notifications of some sort that I inspect and then (usually) delete, and one-third incur some sort of response — a reply, a forward, a follow-up task. So I must engage in some way with anywhere between 100 and 150 emails daily. And that’s across four actively trafficked email accounts and an additional five lightly trafficked ones. I’ve occasionally kept an Inbox Zero-like state for a week or two. Consistently, I need to spend 90 minutes per day in Outlook to make that happen, and just for email.
  • On average, I receive roughly 100 social notifications each day, across Facebook (personal), Facebook Messenger, six Facebook Pages I administer, two Facebook Groups I administer, eight Twitter accounts I singly or jointly own, my personal LinkedIn account, two LinkedIn company accounts I administer, my Instagram account, two Instagram company accounts, and one mostly dormant Tumblr account.
  • I receive between zero and 50 text messages per day.
  • For Caffeinated Press, Write616, and Vice Lounge Online, we’ve deployed a ticketing system, so those websites incur additional messages (between zero and a dozen, each day) that almost always require non-trivial follow-up. Some of the CafPress tickets are editorial queries, which on average take 15 minutes each to resolve for the easy ones and 30 minutes for the hard ones. In addition, both CafPress and Write616 provide community forums that include segments with more-or-less active communication. For the CafPress forums alone, over 2018, I lodged more than 300 new messages. And probably 12 of the last 20 hours I’ve spent cleaning up comms has occurred in the CafPress ticketing system, where I’ve personally touched or closed roughly 120 tickets over the last three solar cycles.
  • For Caffeinated Press, Write616 and Gillikin & Associates, all of which use the Zoho One platform, we use Zoho Projects, and most project-related correspondence happens in the context of per-project forums or discussion threads.
  • Some of the editorial consulting work I do relies on a private Slack channel — not high traffic, though, which is good.
  • Telephony? I can be reached (“reached,” he jokes) over 10 different possible phone numbers associated with three physical telephones and five voicemail boxes.

In other words, I get a ton of correspondence stretching over nine email accounts, five social platforms, five voicemail boxes, three ticketing systems, three project-management platforms, two community forums, a slack channel and iMessages. And a partridge in a pear tree.
I understand that I’m an unusual use case. I lead two small businesses, run a freelance editorial gig off the side of my desk, co-host a long-running podcast with a vibrant listener base, volunteer on a non-profit working board and have my own hobbies and personal writing endeavors. And believe me, I’m not complaining. I’ve made my choices and even though I’m scheduled (really) from 7a to 11:30p Sunday through Saturday, I’m doing what I want to do, and I own the trade-offs I’ve incurred to split my time in so many diverse ways. “Living your best life,” or whatever the kids these days hashtag.
So, even though I’m inundated with communication, it’s not like I’m a victim of it. Yet to keep abreast of everything and to be highly responsive in the short term, across all communications channels, I’d have to dedicate 2.5 to 3.5 hours, 7 days a week, to do nothing but communicate. Not to work. Just to communicate. Assuming that the prompt engagment wouldn’t generate additional engagement that opens that window even wider.
So in most cases, I elect to not spend that much time managing communications, and instead pursue work that can lead to better financial outcomes for me and for the initiatives I support. There’s always a balance, of course, and I don’t always get that balance perfect, but if given the chance to do something of value, or to talk about doing something of value, I’ll prefer the former to the latter.
And that’s the rub.
I think people who have invested their time differently — e.g., folks who work one day job and reserve evenings and weekends for friends, family and a hobby or two — mosey up to the communications table with a very different set of expectations. When they send emails, they expect responses within a day or two. When they leave a voicemail, they expect a call back. When they reach out on social media, they expect acknowledgement. For them, timely reciprocal engagement is a default framework for viewing interpersonal communications.
Which, you know, ain’t exactly unreasonable.
Yet it’s not terribly unusual for me to incur read-and-respond lags of 90 days or more. Some of my pending tickets are nine months old. None of this delay is a function of me hating the sender or deciding that my needs are more important or not caring a whit about others’ good-faith reach-outs. It’s a function of being swamped. Having decided that 2.5 to 3.5 hours every day managing inboxes and dashboards isn’t in the cards, then every day I fail to keep up accumulates a debt that swells and swells and swells, interest compounding relentlessly until eventually — and I do this two or three times per year — I take a day or two off, decamp to coffee shops, and do nothing but play communication catch-up, triaging what I can, deleting what I can’t, and moving forward as best as I can.
So what’s the solution? How does one bridge the gap deep cultural gap between timely reciprocal engagement and inbox infinity?
Some attentive blog readers may have picked up, over the last year or so, on this theme of me writing about the tyranny of the inbox. I went astray, I think, in originally trying to be omnicompetent. So I set expectations that, as they slipped, didn’t help. I recognize that others have legitimate needs to which I should respond, so I’ve been working hard over the last year to erect a bridge that crosses that gap while minimizing (never, alas, eliminating) the attendant friction for both sides. In some ways, it’s like learning a different language or navigating a foreign culture.
I think — I hope! — I’m making some progress, though:

  1. I’m focusing more and more on getting people out of my email inbox. The use of ticketing systems and project-management tools means that others can swoop in as needed. (I’m still working on getting the “others” to actually swoop in, which is a conversation for a different day.) It’s easier for me to schedule time to view a project’s notification history or a ticket queue than to pick apart disparate emails amidst a sea of email noise and then magically plot the projects in my head.
  2. I’ve been much more aggressive lately in telling new-to-me people that (a) I don’t do status reports, and (b) expect long delays in routine correspondence. Most people understand and offer the attendant grace. A few people don’t seem to believe me when I tell them as much, so I’m continuing to refine the message so that expectations are set up-front.
  3. I’m going to start being more aggressive in redirecting communication to the right channel. For example, I cannot conduct business conversations on my personal social-media channels. Not because I’m trying to be a dick about it, but because Facebook and Twitter aren’t part of a task-based, discoverable workflow.
  4. I’m committing in 2019 to hold more frequent and available open office hours. If something is so important that it requires immediate attention, the door is open to an in-person conversation. If it’s not important enough for a direct chat, then the priority clarifies itself.
  5. I’ll continue to ignore the bullies who hector, cajole, demean and dismiss in their escalating attempts to get attention. This phenomenon happens more often than it ought with authors, who (despite early level-setting) nevertheless have persuaded themselves that I’m at their beck-and-call then become angry when their beck isn’t called. I will never justify myself or give in to digital bullies. Ever.
  6. I accept that some things that might warrant a response, in the abstract, don’t rise to a return-on-investment level in the real world. Therefore, I won’t beat myself up if I can’t attend to everything.

I used to get stressed about falling behind on communications. (I don’t talk about my mental health on my blog, but if people understood what havoc Caffeinated Press hath wrought, emotionally —.) I don’t stress anymore. I suppose I’ve embraced the Serenity Prayer. Part of the “doing many things” lifestyle is that I accept that not everything that should be done, can be done. At least, not by one person. And scaling back — to only do those things where you can guarantee you can get 100 percent done on a highly predictable schedule — presents its own set of risks, mostly financial; the more tongs you pull out of the fire, the more dependent you are on just a few investments, and if any of those dwindling investments dry up, the result is catastrophic.
I’ll admit, though. For a while, I really did toy with saying, “Damn the torpedoes! Full Inbox Infinity ahead!” But I just couldn’t. I might not be perfect, but I do try to not be an asshole.
Yet as I continue to stumble on, doing the best I can, I’ll at least take some solace in not feeling as bad about myself as I used to.

Some Thoughts About Podcasting

A friend from Texas recently solicited some advice about getting started in podcasting. As co-host of The Vice Lounge Online—a weekly lifestyle show celebrating casino gaming, premium cigars and fine adult beverages—my colleague Tony and I have pushed more than 340 weekly episodes stretching back six years. In light of my friend’s question, I’d like to share some high-level points, organized by high-level categories.
Technical Requirements

  • Good equipment. If it’s just you, then a decent USB microphone (Blue, Yeti) is fine. If you’re going to have several people, get a mixer and solid unidirectional cardioid mics. Our setup (an eight-input mixer with XLR mics) pushes to a single USB plug that inserts into a laptop.
  • Editing software. Audacity is free and open-source; we use it for VLO. Adobe Audition is probably the gold standard, but it’s not free. Some folks have had good luck on their Macs with GarageBand.

Content Requirements

  • Good environment. Rule of thumb: It’s always easier to control the recording than to fix a bad recording during the editing process. Have a spot to record where there’s no extra sound (fans, furnaces, running water) that will detract from listeners’ enjoyment.
  • Solid script. Plan what you’re going to say, at least at a high level. Stream-of-consciousness rambling works for some kinds of podcasts (lifestyle stuff, gaming reviews) but generally, a listener wants some value that comes from the host having prepared in advance.
  • Listener predictability. Podcasts that push randomly will struggle to gain traction. Publicizing a reliable release schedule and aiming for similar lengths for each show, help listeners to know whether to subscribe to your show.
  • Brand identity. Give your show a catchy name and a logo that appears in audio programs. Having a website to support the show helps, too. A tagline, social-media accounts and clarity in advertising promotes discoverability.
  • Bumpers. Use Creative Commons or a similar source to find bumper music to introduce or sign off each episode or to separate content within a show. Remember, don’t infringe copyrights!

Hosting & Pushing Content

  • Pushing. The industry supports several podcast aggregators (Podbean, etc.). As a matter of personal preference, at VLO, we self-host our content on our own website. We upload the finished MP3 file by FTP to our own Web server and rely on RSS to syndicate. When you sign up for different syndication services (Google Play Music, iTunes, Stiticher, etc.) your source file will be your syndication (RSS) link from your website. That way, you push a new episode by publishing a blog post with the MP3 file linked to the post, and the aggregators will automatically ingest the MP3 file for serving up to listeners.
  • Metadata. Podcasts have metadata as part of the tags in the MP3 file. Study these. Different syndicators (notably, Apple) require metadata to be embedded within the MP3 file that serve important roles within their distribution channel.

Metrics & Monitization

  • Reach. Bad news: Podcast metrics are awful. There’s no good way for any producer to get comprehensive statistics about a show’s reach, because different aggregators share (or not) different bits of information, and sometimes a cached copy of an MP3 is pushed instead of re-downloading each “play.” So you shouldn’t put a lot of stock into your estimated reach.
  • Cash. Monetization is tricky, but you should focus on building an audience of engaged listeners before you try to monetize your show. Just my advice.

Building Community

  • Social media. Talk to your listeners! Start social-media accounts for the show. Engage with listeners, because engaged listeners promote the discoverability for your show.

Advice for Aspiring Podcasters

  • Be patient. The market is saturated with podcasts. You are unlikely to see appreciable listener uptake for years unless lightning strikes (e.g., you randomly get featured by Apple) or you have some sort of major content-distribution partner.
  • Quality matters. Shows with weak scripting, poor audio quality and unpredictable release schedules will struggle to find and retain listeners.
  • Engagement matters. Depending on your show’s content, you’ll likely find that maintaining relationships with your key listeners helps maintain energy, inspire content and promote discoverability. Seek ratings. As for reviews. Reference listeners on the show.

Good luck!

Information Ownership and the Right to be Forgotten

Much ado was made a few weeks ago about the European Union’s judicial determination that individual Europeans have, in broad strokes, a right to be forgotten on the Internet. Google protested, but now must honor requests to remove search results about a person from the E.U. at that person’s request.
Google, for its part, is suggesting passive-aggressive compliance — by following the directive strictly but publicizing that they removed the results and linking to the request to remove them. In other words, by shining an even brighter flashlight on the material intended for removal.
All of this comes back to two important questions:

  1. Who “owns” information about a person?
  2. To what extent can a private person control the release of information about himself?

The first question might appear before U.S. regulators sooner rather than later. The Federal Trade Commission launched an inquiry into data brokers and lawmakers are increasingly skeptical of the breezy privacy practices of these companies. The second question is murkier: Public records are public records, but to what extent does a private enterprise enjoy the right to profit off aggregating and publishing public records? Does the right to free speech mean the right to restrict dissemination of speech if the subject of that speech demands it?
When the E.U.’s decision hit the media wires, the response was predictable. Data brokers argue that it’s better to be served relevant ads than irrelevant ads, so consumers shouldn’t worry about what’s going on behind the curtain (never mind folks who don’t want to be served ads at all). Companies, in general, are increasingly reliant on large-scale data analysis to refine consumer targeting, so giving people the chance to opt out of that targeting directly affects their bottom line.
I believe that my information is my information, and that the only companies entitled to use my information are those I’ve elected to do business with. I’ve never conducted business with a data broker, so the data broker has no right to profit off the sale of information about me that it compiled through surveillance I didn’t authorize and wouldn’t consent to. As such, I support regulation that eliminates or tightly regulates consumer data-sharing among companies, as well as transparency and strong limits about what kinds of information can be collected and the consumer’s right to amendment or deletion.
The question of the right to be forgotten is more intriguing. Let’s say Bob writes a nasty blog post about me. Google indexes it and serves it up when someone searches for my name. What is to be done? Bob may be entitled to say nasty things, provided it doesn’t cross the line into defamation, but why should Google have a right to make that information easily discoverable? Don’t I have the right to have negative material affecting my reputation more difficult to discover? Google’s argument is a variation on the meme that “information wants to be free.” Bollocks. Google makes money on selling search results, so it doesn’t want to harm its core business, principle be damned. Bob can write what he wants to write, but Google has no First Amendment right to make that information discoverable, such that it trumps my right to avoid inappropriate public disapprobation.
It may be true that there’s no such thing as privacy in the digital age, but there’s something to be said about the effective privacy that comes from information obscurity. Bob publishing mean things about me is what it is, but I have a vested interest in not making Bob’s vitriol the first thing that pops up on search results about me. Making some things more difficult to casually uncover is probably a reasonable middle ground between victim’s rights and free-speech rights. Certainly, Google’s perspective that it’s entitled to link everything/everywhere is much more philosophically controversial than its defenders care to admit.
In any case: There’s a trend afoot to turn consumer data into a commodity. Fine. Then let’s regulate the data brokers and companies like Facebook and Google as if they’re utilities.

Corporate Speech: A Threat to Public Health?

Color me perplexed.

The same people who railed so strongly against Citizens United and lament the alleged corrupting influence of corporate money in politics now express concern about last week’s Supreme Court ruling prohibiting unions from levying special assessments against non-members in a closed shop, when the levy is intended for political agitation.

If you cut through the rhetorical crap, the message seems to be: Corporate speech bad, activist/labor speech good. Nice gig, if you can get it.

You see this tendency most audaciously expressed with some of the defenses offered of late in support of Mayor Bloomberg’s fatwa against sugary beverages. One friend of mine, who used to be a libertarian before he drank deeply from the Obama Kool-Aid (now there’s a sugary, nutrition-free drink I’d favor banning!), told me that bans are justified in part because corporations market sugary drinks to the masses, and the masses therefore are sufficiently influenced that they sip their way into an obesity that translates into socialized long-term avoidable health care costs. Only the power of the state, wielded by the vanguard of health commissars to ban large-size sugary drinks, can turn the tide against the wave of obesity set to roll across America like muffin tops on the first warm day of spring.

When I ask whether individuals should accept responsibility for what they consume, the response is: Well, corporate marketing influences people, so deploying state power to regulate what they’re marketing is permissible.

My response: So what? I’m exposed to hundreds of marketing messages each day. I saw like a dozen tampon ads on TV yesterday but that doesn’t mean I’ve developed a subliminal compulsion to purchase feminine hygiene products.

Marketing has two primary purposes — to make someone aware of a new product or service and to influence a person’s decision about which product or service a person should partake when shopping in a specific market. Hence, the goal of a Ford ad is to get you to buy a Ford when you’re in the market for a new car — not to force you to join the car-buying market.

Don’t be fooled: The Bloomberg ban and anti-corporate-speech agitation stem from the same root — the belief that corporations have an agenda that almost universally is inconsistent with the public good, and that citizens are usually incapable (to their ultimate detriment) of escaping the marketing messages of these corporations.

In short, it’s a conspiracy theory. Evil billionaires deploy “advertising” and helpless citizens are compelled to obey, thus fattening the pockets of corporate hegemons while leading to environmental despoilation, obesity, false consciousness and whatnot that the rest of society will have to pay for. Only the power of the regulatory state can protect the people from utter ruination while protecting society from the harmful externalities these fatcats would force society to bear.

Of course, there are two chief problems with this schema, apart with the slighlty snarky way I’ve presented it.

First, to the extent that corporations are legal entities, it’s not clear why their speech should be less protected than that of other organized groups. Corporations are associations of citizens who band together for a common purpose — e.g., profit. They’re often beholden to shareholders who prefer that the corporation focus on profit and not on social engineering. In this sense, corporations are fundamentally no different from other associations, including labor unions and political parties and non-profit interest groups. They are aggregations of people joined together for a common purpose. That one’s First Amendment rights should be curtailed on account of that purpose (provided, of course, the purpose is legal) seems odd. Any restriction on corporate speech, for example, should mirror restrictions on union speech or the speech patterns of various NGOs and non-profit entities.

Thus, just like corporations can’t withhold money from employee paychecks to pay for lobbyists, so also should union members be free from having dues deducted without their consent to engage in political lobbying. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Second, the specific claims against profit-seeking corporations rely on a curious thesis — that citizens are largely powerless to resist marketing. Although it’s undoubtedly clear that marketing influences behavior, marketing doesn’t determine behavior. If you’re thirsty and want a sugary beverage, and are in the mood for a 12-oz. serving, you’re not going buy a 44-oz. Ultra Gulp simply because you saw an ad for it. There’s no strong correlation between marketing and people engaging in self-defeating behavior. If you want 12 oz. of a drink, you’ll buy 12 oz. of a drink. The claim that corporations make it cheaper to buy in bulk — say, 44 oz. for $2 and 12 oz. for $1 — and therefore people will buy more than they want (at a higher total sale price) because they’re programmed to be bargain shoppers on a unit basis, strikes me as odd. Price sensitivity is a decision point for some people, but if you’re not price sensitive then bulk rates aren’t going to play into the analysis. If you are price sensitive, then this was already a factor that’s not related to a specific marketing initiative. Cart, horse.

Put slightly differently: Anti-corporate activists mistake the weak correlation between marketing and purchasing and assume that this correlation necessarily implies causation; this causative effect, in turn, needs to be regulated when people make market choices that these activists argue aren’t in the people’s best long-term interest.

My thought is this: Yes, some people are more sensitive to marketing messages than others, but the decision to engage in one behavior rather than another depends on a complex interplay of causes and effects — of which, corporate marketing messages necessarily play a very small part. If you’re going to drink enough Coke or Pepsi to become morbidly obese, then the determinative factor is likely a genetic predisposition to obesity or direct environmental factors and not TV commercials. To pick one very small and weak correlative factor and decide that it requires First Amendment restrictions seems like bringing a bazooka to a fly-fishing contest.

But even if we do decide that people are mind-numbed robots primed to obey every marketing message they receive even when it’s not advantageous to their survival, then whatever restrictions we place on corporate free speech must then be reflected in similar restrictions on the “corporate” speech of other corporate entities like labor unions, do-gooder non-profits and the like. Our system of laws requires equal treatment for equal conditions, and privileging the speech of non-profits over for-profits just isn’t supported by a content-analysis claim under the First Amendment.

The moral of the story: Attempts to regulate sugary drinks or corporate speech all spring from the theory that the average citizen isn’t capable of responding responsibly to marketing messages, therefore those messages must be regulated by benevolent overseers in government.

It’s for your own good. You moron.

Assorted Ruminations

Well. What an interesting couple of weeks it’s been. Summary commentary follows, on subjects as diverse as writing, politics, socializing and privacy. Read on, dear friends, and be enlightened.

“Society” Isn’t Responsible For Your Bad Choices

Big Al and I have engaged in several recent conversations about Occupy Wall Street, and in particular, about the nature of the main claims emanating like a vile penumbra from the protestors’ wish lists. The crux of the debate: To what extent is society responsible for the condition of people saddled with huge student loan debt and no strong employment opportunity?

Although Alaric refuses to state categorically that he thinks the protestors are totally free of moral culpability for the current condition, he does seem to argue that they aren’t solely culpable and therefore deserve a personal bailout. He asserts that the overwhelming social message that “college is the key to success” means that people really had no other choice if they wanted to be successful, and that colleges have misled many students about the value of their chosen courses of study. As best as I can tell, his position is that the social pressure to attend college mixed with bad or misleading counsel about the options available for majors means that many unemployed students were effectively sold a bill of goods. Therefore, in the interests of the macro economy, it makes sense to lighten their load and to implement reforms to prevent such from happening again.

Our debates have been lively. Although I appreciate his perspective — and do, in fact, concede that social pressure is a not-insignificant contributor to the higher ed bubble — I cannot agree that debt-laden students get a pass. For one thing, imprudence isn’t a virtue. Yes, I’m sure some people really did think that a degree in puppetry would be fulfilling — but did they bother to check the expected labor market for such a focus? Research is abundant and free, beginning with the Department of Labor public databases. As an ethics major, I realize that the only job I’m qualified for is one that requires “a degree, any degree” — no one is actively looking for someone with a B.A. in moral philosophy. I knew that going into it. I made my choices, and I have to accept my consequences. Choosing to go in willfully blind doesn’t provide a layer of insulation for when times get tough.

I get that for many people, life is challenging. I don’t think it’s society’s problem.

Evening of Cocktails and Fine Dining

Last Saturday I welcomed the opportunity to have dinner with Jon and Emilie, Tony and Jen, and Joe. We started with cocktails at Tony’s office in Lansing, then went to Copper for dinner. The meal was delightful and the company was heavenly. We had a great time and settled on the dates for the “All Things Tony” trek to The Happiest Place on Earth in early June.

Scotch Is Good for the Soul

Good Scotch whisky is proof of the existence of a benevolent God. In recent weeks, I’ve enjoyed Ardbeg 10-year (a staple of Jim Murray’s list of top whiskys) and now I’ve laid hands upon another rare bottle of Ballentine’s 17-year. Add to that a good deal on Lagavulin 16-year, and life is good.

But added to the mix: Gentleman Jack. I saw a fascinating Discovery Channel documentary on how Jack Daniel’s is made, and it impelled me to pick up a bottle. Glad I did. GJ may become my default sipping whiskey.

NaNoWriMo Is Harder Than It Looks

So I’m writing a novel. It’s harder than it looks. The goal of National Novel Writing Month is to produce a minimum of 50,000 words in the month of November. Some people have already met their goal, and bully for them. I remain stuck in the low four figures, mostly because I started late and have been planning as I go. The prose I’ve generated so far, I’m mostly happy with. And I purchased Scrivener for Windows — an all-in-one writing application for professional writers — and sync its data files with SkyDrive so I can pick up on any of my computers. So far, so good.

The “discipline thing” presents something of a self-improvement opportunity. My goal is to generate 80,000 words and shop it for sale. As a published writer of non-fiction work, I hope I have at least a tiny bit of credibility to get an agent to look twice at my submission. But if not — it doesn’t matter much. I’m enjoying the craft of writing for writing’s sake.

The fun thing about NaNoWriMo? The social aspect. There are active forums and chatrooms for local areas. The “Ottawa County – Grand Rapids” group has been a blast. I’ve done two write-ins with fellow novelists already, and will do more in the coming weeks. It’s been motivating, and fun to connect with fellow local writers. Even if Elizabeth insists on circulating a paper chat room while I try to write and even if Jennifer won’t bring me Scotch. At least Adrianne gave me chocolate because she’s a nice person.

I’m Not a Commodity: Or, Facebook+Spotify Sucks Huge Donkey Dick

Having read of the hype around Spotify, the streaming music service recently made available in the U.S., I was eager to install the app on my phone and enjoy a wide library of musical bliss. The downside? The only way you can actually register for Spotify is to log in with your Facebook account and agree to share an astonishing amount of personal information (including your name, age, location, friends, and profile details) with Spotify. There is no other way to gain access to the music service. Spotify, seemingly caught off-guard, insists that people can create dummy, empty Facebook accounts if they wish — which seems to defeat the purpose.

Long story short: I refuse. I uninstalled Spotify. And for good measure, I logged into Facebook and stripped all of my data from the service. I deleted all my photos (except a really crappy one for the profile), untagged myself from everyone else’s photos, removed all my personal profile details, and set all privacy settings to the most restrictive level. I even “unliked” almost everything I’ve liked in the history of Facebook — only a few dozen things, but still. My profile is now mostly an empty shell devoid of useful marketing data. Fuck you, Mark Zuckerberg.

Note to Big New Media: I’m a human being, not a data profile. I own my information. You don’t. I grow weary of being offered “free” apps or services only to discover later that the fine print says that you get to commodify me into a package of information that you can sell to others and that I have no say in the matter (not even to opt out or to at least curate what gets shared). I’m also out of the game of “logging in with Facebook” (or Google, or Twitter, or …) — give me the chance to log in using de-identified information, or forego me as a customer. Next up for scubbing: Google. I’m watching you, Mountain View.

State of the GOP Presidential Race

Here’s what I know. Most significantly, Rick Perry managed to disappoint me; I can forgive a bad debate performance, but not a 100 percent failure rate in debate performances. Mitt Romney really does look like the default nominee, and despite Erick Erickson’s bloviations, I think he’d be a strong contender and a solid POTUS. Notwithstanding my lack of enthusiasm for his early debate performances (where he came off arrogant and picking fights on social issues he didn’t need to wage) I think Jon Huntsman might be the best man for the job — he’s sufficiently conservative, smart, polished and experienced. Paul, Gingrich, Bachmann and Johnson should probably exit, stage right. And Herman Cain? He just needs to implode and retire from the race before too much damage is done to the GOP brand. Between the sex scandals and the implausibility of 9-9-9, the risk to Republican seriousness is high.

What a Difference A Gigabyte Makes …

Last week, I acquired for the low, low price of $44 a 2 GB memory chip for my netbook (the package also included an 8 GB micro-SD card). I installed it, booted up the machine — and it purrs like a kitten. Still not quite as fast as my full-sized laptop at home (what, with its dual-core Athlon processor and 4 GB of RAM) but the netbook is keeping up admirably with a dual-boot Win7+Fedora16 setup.

Truth be told, I think I’ve finally settled on an all-Microsoft approach to data management. My laptop, netbook and smart phone all run Microsoft OSes, and I use Windows Live SkyDrive for all my personal cloud storage. I’m increasingly centralizing information with OneNote, conveniently synchronized across all my screens. Although it’s not a perfect setup, I’m satisfied with it and am more productive than I was in the days of miscellaneous FTP syncing and random OS mixes.

… Also, a Single Settings Tweak

The only non-MS device left in my portfolio is my HP TouchPad. Granted that I acquired it at firesale prices, I find WebOS to be snappy and elegant. I was tempted to install the CyanogenMod tweak to push it to Android, but why screw around when WebOS works? The only problem I had — and it frustrated me to no end — was TouchFeeds, an RSS reader that’s simple and robust. However, it would hang the tablet on occasion and sometimes be mind-numbingly slow. Slow, to the point I wanted to chuck it at the window and grind my boots on the shards just to show it who’s boss. Funny thing, though: Simply changing the TouchFeeds setting to stop auto-mark-read-as-you-scroll completely fixed the problem. Now, I just push the “mark all read” button and it flies like a dream. Sometimes, just screwing around with settings solves problems.

Pictures on the Wall

Last weekend, I finally got around to printing 21 4-by-6 photos for the huge wall-mounted photo display I got for a steal a while back. Picking which 21 I wanted to print prompted a delightful trek down memory lane. It also reminded me of how bad of a job I do at taking pictures, despite having a 5 MP camera in my HD7. Now the display is prominenly affixed to the wall of my living room.

News Roundup III

Of interest —

  • Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City argues that making illegal immigrants pay a fine, catch up on back taxes and learn English in order to become lawful residents is not “amnesty” because the illegals aren’t getting something for nothing.  Ummm, OK.  He also says that the Catholic Church supports a country’s right to enforce its borders, although the U.S. bishops believe (apparently, anyway; straight answers are hard to come by) that current U.S. policy is unjust because … well, just because.  Inasmuch as there are signs of hope within the U.S. episcopacy regarding its recovery from its jackbooted leftism following Vatican II (remember how the bishops got involved with nuclear disarmament?), on some issues the Men in Purple haven’t quite figured out how to reconcile state sovereignty against the nostrums of left-wing human-rights activists.  Although I am sympathetic to the plight of many poor Mexicans who seek employment in the United States — I dealt with some of them, working for a Meijer store near a farming community, and came away from that experience with a positive impression of itinerant laborers — one would think the bishops would seek first to influence the socioeconomic situation in Mexico before reflexively criticizing the push by some conservatives to enforce existing border-security laws.  This is a supply-and-demand problem, but wouldn’t it be more consistent with authentic Gospel teachings to agitate for reform in Mexico’s redistributionist, crime-ridden culture than to berate Americans who oppose an open border and all the social and economic externalities it entails?
  • I am giving serious consideration to dumping my Facebook profile. The growing privacy/security instability of that platform is really starting to worry me; I am not a fan of having my personally identifiable information made available to the masses, shared without my consent and sold like a commodity with no compensation pushed in my direction.  There is a call for an open-source set of APIs to replicate Facebook functions without needing to use Facebook.  I’m considering doing something similar with this blog — deleting the Facebook and using gillikin.org as my central social-networking repository, with Twitter as the outbound push and all of my data focused inward, under my complete control.

Happy Mother’s Day.

"Remember November" — the RGA Gets It

The new advertising campaign from the Republican Governors Assocation, called Remember November, astonishes me for one simple reason: At long, long, long last, it appears that some in the Republican Party finally get it.
The two major Web ads released so far have been breathtakingly good; they feel like a movie trailer, and I actually had an emotional response to them. The juxtaposition of imagery, background music and iconic imagery is both powerful and well-done.  It’s not often I’m impressed by political marketing, but Remember November does make my head nod in respectful appreciation.
A few comments on the RN campaign:

  • The mix of “V-for-Victory” and Guy Hawkes imagery is powerful, even for those whose knowledge of English history is a wee bit deficient. I suspect that the suggestiveness — the provocativeness — of the ads was a deliberate, first-rate example of call-and-response.  By giving the Left something to get upset about in eminently predictable fashion, the RGA is in a position to anticipate the blowback and thereby control the message.  This is smart.
  • The effort by the RGA is an implicit repudiation, I think, of the debacle that is Michael Steele’s RNC.  Kudos to the RGA for having the balls to get in the game and avoid the RNC’s shameful dithering.
  • The above point notwithstanding, it’s curious that the RGA is mounting a significant campaign that isn’t specifically geared toward gubernatorial races, and it’s simultaneously heartening that the campaign’s message is an unambiguous call-to-arms against big-gummint liberalism.
  • RN represents the first stirrings that some on the Right are willing to embrace modes of communication that resonate outside the typical country-club market that so much Republican advertising seems to favor.  RN is a shot in the arm for countless YAF and College Republican groups, who finally can point to an official party message that can appeal to younger voters. In 2006 and 2008, the Dems had the “cool” factor in spades, which may be one reason that so many college students — who profess a liberalism whose implications so few can clearly articulate — gravitated to Obama. Like it or not, a trendy countercultural message resonates with students much more strongly than a litany of policy points will.
  • The campaign seems to get that the most salient sociopolitical issue in the U.S. in 2010 isn’t health care or the environment or Afghanistan, but rather the proper relationship between government and the people.  The litany of talking points against the Democrats in Washington has been so oft recounted that another exposition merely belabors the point.  America is a center-right country, and the antics of the Obama regime seems to have re-awakened a long-dormant disaffection with government overreach and incompetence at all levels.  How this disaffection plays out at the ballot box this fall will be a talking point for pundits for a generation.

So.  I’m going to Remember November.  Will you?

“Remember November” — the RGA Gets It

The new advertising campaign from the Republican Governors Assocation, called Remember November, astonishes me for one simple reason: At long, long, long last, it appears that some in the Republican Party finally get it.

The two major Web ads released so far have been breathtakingly good; they feel like a movie trailer, and I actually had an emotional response to them. The juxtaposition of imagery, background music and iconic imagery is both powerful and well-done.  It’s not often I’m impressed by political marketing, but Remember November does make my head nod in respectful appreciation.

A few comments on the RN campaign:

  • The mix of “V-for-Victory” and Guy Hawkes imagery is powerful, even for those whose knowledge of English history is a wee bit deficient. I suspect that the suggestiveness — the provocativeness — of the ads was a deliberate, first-rate example of call-and-response.  By giving the Left something to get upset about in eminently predictable fashion, the RGA is in a position to anticipate the blowback and thereby control the message.  This is smart.
  • The effort by the RGA is an implicit repudiation, I think, of the debacle that is Michael Steele’s RNC.  Kudos to the RGA for having the balls to get in the game and avoid the RNC’s shameful dithering.
  • The above point notwithstanding, it’s curious that the RGA is mounting a significant campaign that isn’t specifically geared toward gubernatorial races, and it’s simultaneously heartening that the campaign’s message is an unambiguous call-to-arms against big-gummint liberalism.
  • RN represents the first stirrings that some on the Right are willing to embrace modes of communication that resonate outside the typical country-club market that so much Republican advertising seems to favor.  RN is a shot in the arm for countless YAF and College Republican groups, who finally can point to an official party message that can appeal to younger voters. In 2006 and 2008, the Dems had the “cool” factor in spades, which may be one reason that so many college students — who profess a liberalism whose implications so few can clearly articulate — gravitated to Obama. Like it or not, a trendy countercultural message resonates with students much more strongly than a litany of policy points will.
  • The campaign seems to get that the most salient sociopolitical issue in the U.S. in 2010 isn’t health care or the environment or Afghanistan, but rather the proper relationship between government and the people.  The litany of talking points against the Democrats in Washington has been so oft recounted that another exposition merely belabors the point.  America is a center-right country, and the antics of the Obama regime seems to have re-awakened a long-dormant disaffection with government overreach and incompetence at all levels.  How this disaffection plays out at the ballot box this fall will be a talking point for pundits for a generation.

So.  I’m going to Remember November.  Will you?

Online Privacy: Time for Action

You visit a favorite Web site. You browse a while, and then you notice that all the ads you see are remarkably well-tailored for your unique preferences. The banner ads or AdSense offerings are for things that you like, or for businesses that are local to you. Product suggestions are for things you’ve recently browsed or purchased from a mail-order company.

How on earth does “teh Internets” know these things?

Simple.  You are a number in an enormous database, and the data associated with that number is growing at a frightening rate.

Savvy Web users already know that cookies can track your browsing history, but the old standby of blocking or deleting cookies is no longer enough.  Marketers are increasingly integrating offline data, or data from other online sources like social-networking sites, to develop a comprehensive profile about you. This profile worth its weight in gold — it can be sold and shared as an asset.  Worse, this aggregation is happening behind the scenes, with users unaware of the wide variety of information being integrated into their marketing profiles.

Ryan Singel, writing in Wired on April 9, reports that some privacy-protection groups have had enough: