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  • feedwordpress 06:30:03 on 2019/11/21 Permalink  

    A primer on South Asians and Desis 

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    I often talk about South Asian people, or how I identify as being an American of South Asian descent. Many folks outside our communities don’t always know the details there, so I wanted to share some generally useful info, in hopes that it answers a bunch of questions that maybe people are uncomfortable asking, or don't quite know how to Google.

    Disclaimer: I'm far from an expert! This is just sharing my own understandings, and others may disagree with some of these interpretations.

    First, "South Asia" is different from Southeast Asia, a term which also commonly used in the U.S. Specifically, South Asia encompasses countries and cultures like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, The Maldives, Afghanistan, and Bhutan. (This isn't comprehensive — the boundaries can be fuzzy, and there are longstanding South Asian cultures in other countries like China.) By contrast, Southeast Asia typically refers to countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Laos. So, though both terms are imprecise, there's a distinct geographic separation, and an even more distinct cultural separation.

    We talk about South Asian cultures collectively because the political boundaries are relatively recent and were greatly influenced by violent colonialism. Events like Partition (one of the largest, most brutal forced migrations in human history) happened in living memory. More to the point, we often share culture and deeply personal aspects of identity like language, religion, cuisine, music and arts across these relatively young boundaries. This is notwithstanding the political tensions between some South Asian countries. Also, much of the desi diaspora lives outside of South Asia, and millions have never been to the subcontinent but have lived in parts of Africa, Asia or the Americas for generations.

    Sometimes I describe our people, including people in the South Asian diaspora as “desi”. This is essentially an in-group term meaning “a person of South Asian descent”. It’s not offensive if other people use it, though it may sound a bit affected. Do note, though, that some people don’t like using “desi” as a demonym, as it elides the history of marginalized cultures in the subcontinent, and perhaps perpetuates casteism in the diaspora. I didn’t grow up using the word, and don’t speak Hindi, so I’m still learning about this connotation!

    Many people I know in the diaspora identify first with the regional culture they’re from. For example, you may know people who are Punjabi; this can imply a connection to language, food, clothing, music, even faith in a way that crosses political boundaries. Even my view here is skewed; I’m by no means an expert, and I really grew up around very few other Indian people, including almost none from the region (meaning language & culture) that my family is from. One confounding thing to outsiders is that nearly every region has its own unique language, both written & spoken, and some languages (like Hindustani/Urdu) are similar when spoken but have wildly different written forms. It’s more analogous to countries in the E.U. than to states in the U.S.

    Also surprising to many outside the community is that nearly all South Asian countries (and thus South Asian diaspora communities) are very multi-religious. You know of Hinduism & Islam, but Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism & other faiths have more than 100 million collective followers in South Asia. This is true despite the sometimes severe political oppression that many groups face, especially in a time of rising religious fundamentalism from a lot of the people in power.

    This stuff can feel a little complicated, and that's made even more fraught because we’re so marginalized in countries like the U.S. There are  roughly 6 million South Asian Americans in the U.S. — nearly 2% of the population. That makes us collectively more populous than the 30 smallest U.S. states are. Despite this, we’re never even mentioned in political polls.

    That invisibility is particularly dramatic when you consider that there have been South Asian immigrants for > 200 years. Our first significant presence began in the 1800s, when we were welcomed into Black neighborhoods in New Orleans, Harlem & Baltimore. Later, South Asian workers came to the west coast to build rails & farms. At each new stage of South Asian immigration, we faced barriers both political & social. The Asian Exclusion Act barred our immigration & eventually led to revoking citizenship for desi immigrants. South Asians were also subject to violence, including lynchings and mass killings. We’ve also faced deep struggles within our community. Tensions often arise between immigrant & native-born desis, and we can carry forward animosities that are grounded in tensions between our countries of origin. Casteism and colorism plague our community, and anti-blackness often poisons our solidarity with those who welcomed us first. Domestic violence & misogyny are epidemic.

    Despite all these challenges, and the often-tenuous grasp we have on our identity in the U.S., the last few years have seen an unprecedented visibility & presence for South Asian Americans even in the face of white supremacy. We’ve got our first TV shows, first feature films, a real presidential candidate, and a number of prominent business leaders. We finally exist in culture.

    I'm optimistic that enough people are even curious about these topics and want to know more about us in a way that promises more acceptance and support in the years to come.

  • feedwordpress 21:39:42 on 2019/11/11 Permalink  

    The Sound Of Your Voice 

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    The Sound Of Your Voice

    Even though I watched the medium of podcasting being created since its inception, I'd always resisted a little bit participating myself. I think I just felt more at home in this format, blogging, as that's where I'd found my voice.

    Well, that might be a bit hard to believe now that I've been on lots of different podcasts. But it feels like I'm really finally getting the hang of it, and I hope you'll check out some of the recent conversations that I've been lucky enough to get to visit.

    The Weeds: The Internet We Lost

    This was a really great conversation with Matthew Yglesias — especially because we didn’t just  go into some old visions of "the good old days of the web" (which never actually existed), but because we got to talk about the evolution from those days — and how the independent web is  resurgent today. You’ll want to hear this!

    The New Rules of Work: Communities Are Diverse. Why Isn’t Tech Talent?

    This conversation with Kathryn Minshew started by talking about the structural barriers that keep tech from being inclusive, but we also offered some hope about people and companies that are doing the hard work today.

    Developer Tea

    This is one of the first times anyone's ever asked me about the deeper motivations for why I got into technology in the first place. For all the criticisms of tech that I often have, there's something really meaningful about why I've always loved coding and tech, and we got to dive into it in this two-part interview.

    Switched On Pop: Why U Love 2 Listen 2 Prince

    Oh, you can't miss this one. With the upcoming release of the Deluxe Edition of Prince's 1999, I went on Switched On Pop to let my funk freak flag fully fly, and we had a blast. You are gonna love this one.

    The Sound Of Your VoiceThe Sound Of Your Voice
    The Sound Of Your Voice
  • feedwordpress 14:41:51 on 2019/10/02 Permalink  

    Every Day, A Little Better 

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    Every Day, A Little Better

    [CW: mental illness, self-harm] When my depression was at its worst, it felt almost like a constant, physical pain. Getting away from that crushing weight felt as urgent as pulling my hand away from a hot stove, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even imagine a respite or a pause in the misery, let alone conceive of a day when I wouldn’t have to think about it, when just lifting that weight off my chest wasn’t the singular concern of my every waking hour.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, to start: I’m an incredibly fortunate person, with a wonderful family, a thriving career, and a platform that lets me speak my mind to the world. I’m thankful every day for these blessings, and try to be worthy of the gifts I’ve been given. What’s more, I am privileged enough to have some stability and kindness in my life, granting me a resiliency I am deeply grateful for. I want to start by reciting how appreciative I am for my life now because it’s the thing I most wish I could tell my younger self as I was struggling.

    For most of my teens and twenties, I wrestled with depression as either a specter that lingered over everything, threatening to yank away any joy or peace that I found, or worse as a predator that stalked me and actively fought me finding any happiness or comfort. In reading other people’s stories, I find that the details of my experience are maybe a little different, but the high level pain of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted seems very similar to what so many have endured.

    The truth is, I’ve never kept my struggles with mental health a secret; I wrote about it all on this site back when blogging was still vibrant and booming before social networks took off. And my personal view was that I didn’t have any more stigma about mental illness than about, say, acid reflux. “Here’s a health challenge I had. It was serious. Because I was fortunate enough to have good medical care and a solid support network, I was able to treat it. A combination of the right medication, changes in diet and sleep and exercise, and being mindful about my wellness overall helped me manage it and make it something I live with but don’t have to worry about on a daily basis anymore.”

    But I’ll be real: I’ve been quiet about it. When, after a decade and a half of people asking me, o finally started a podcast last year, I figured I’d just be talking about tech and software. I did not think I’d start a new season of the podcast by talking about the fact that I’d once wanted to kill myself.

    I don’t mean to be glib about it, because it still terrifies me to say it out loud. I’m not ashamed, but o worry about my family or loved ones having to face the stigma over my own issues. I worry about my colleagues and coworkers feeling unsettled or uncomfortable with me talking about this, even though they’ve been nothing but sensitive and supportive. I worry about still having to do business in a tech industry that struggles with issues of inclusion on the best of days, and how it will react to me being fairly visible while sharing this kind of message. And I care deeply about being an advocate for universal, freely available access to vital mental health care when I also know that our American healthcare system is so screwed up its hard for me to get every detail right at the company that I lead.

    They’re going to say I’m crazy. They’re going to say I’m a hypocrite. They’re going to say it’s not that bad and I’m pretentious for pretending I’ve struggled. They’re going to say nothing, and just uncomfortably back away, forever thinking less of me and embarrassed by what I said.

    So today, I‘ve spoken about my experiences more directly and more publicly than I have in decades. I of course want everybody to reach out for help and support if needed, but I also want to tell the story of how it’s possible to make a new life where you’re thriving and joyous, not just enduring the pain. Not everybody gets there, and no two people follow the same path, but it absolutely _can_ happen. I’m living proof.

    I’ve also found something that brings me joy and inspiration today: seeing others take care of themselves. When I was at my lowest, my hardest struggle was to forgive myself for not fixing everything all at once. The most significant breakthrough I had was reframing my challenge as just trying to do one thing a little bit better, every day. A small, incremental change that felt manageable would be the thing that saved my life, not some monumental effort to transform everything at once.

    Few things have brought me more joy than seeing my professional work at Glitch, where people can create anything they want on the web, become a place that people make tools that help them do a little better every day for themselves. Almost from the first day, we’ve seen people make little reminders or nudges or assurances that, while certainly not displacing the need for therapy or medication or proper treatment, become part of a larger effort to take care of themselves.

    I’m really proud of the work our community and team have done to tell these stories, and I’m appreciative that I get to tell my own story as part of a larger effort to remove stigma and ensure that people get the care and support that they need and deserve. I do hope you’ll give this story a listen.

    One final note: I’m far from a mental health professional. My experiences may well be completely non-standard and certainly don’t reflect what many other people go through. So while I’m happy to talk about my story and open to connecting with people around it, I’ll be setting boundaries around how much I can help people who may be struggling with similar challenges. Please know that doesn’t mean I don’t want to help, or that you can’t overcome your own challenges, but simply me trying to manage my ability to be supportive without being overwhelmed.

    Here’s to getting a little better, every day.

  • feedwordpress 05:17:39 on 2019/09/11 Permalink  

    Eighteen is History 

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    Eighteen is History

    There are kids now who are old enough to go fight in wars that were justified back when they still had their umbilical cords attached. For them, the attacks are only history; that's all they ever were.

    I can sort of understand it. I was born after Vietnam, after Watergate. But my whole childhood, these were the points of reference, the milestones used to justify choices or underpin arguments. They were totems, symbols, history. Only history, not something real.

    And these days I spend a lot of time with people for whom 9/11 is only history. Someone who is as old today as I was that day would probably have been shielded from knowing too much at the time. They'd have been as young as my son is today, and I still shield him from the full weight of my memories of that day.

    Frankly, that's hard for me to process. We still ground so much of our social and political rhetoric in that day, so it's easy for me to forget that for many (for most?), it's only a signifier, with none of the visceral evocations of memory. I remember how 9/11 smelled. I remember how my city smelled, for months. I can still look up at a clear blue sky with the slightest breeze in the air and imagine that morning, and remember when the wind shifted and the plume came over our neighborhood.

    So, it's up to me to let it go. To let it become history. I don't mind that younger people don't have the same reverence for the moment. Maybe I'm kind of glad they don't. I can see now what I couldn't see then. Those of us who witnessed that day, even if only in a small way, will fade from the cultural conversation. When I was young, you would still hear people talk about D Day, or Pearl Harbor. Being young and insolent, I never had much patience for listening to the stories. Young people don't have reverence for these moments.

    I guess we said we'd never forget. But the consensus around grief, around memorial, around observance — that fragile fiction faded by the time the smell dissipated. We didn't get around to deciding what it was, exactly, that we were Never Forgetting.

    And so, we ended up with this legacy. There are ritualized remembrances, largely led by those who weren't there, those who mostly hate the values that New York City embodies. The sharpest memories are of the goals of those who masterminded the attacks. It's easy enough to remember what they wanted, since they accomplished all their objectives and we live in the world they sought to create. The empire has been permanently diminished. Never Forget.

    But I still maintain a little bit of hope. Because just as a new generation doesn't revere the memories of those of us okd enough to bear witness, they are also not despairing over the failures of our follow-up. This is the world they've always lived in, the starting point they were always given. So there was never anything other than moving forward from that day.

  • feedwordpress 03:50:35 on 2019/07/23 Permalink  

    20 Years of Blogging: What I’ve Learned 

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    This week marks the 20th anniversary of this blog.

    20 Years of Blogging: What I’ve Learned

    I thought the best way to observe the milestone, and to try to pass along some of the benefits I’ve gained from keeping a presence online all these years, would be to share some of the most important things I’ve learned since I started this site.

    It’s almost impossible for me to remember my life when I started this site, or to really understand how much it’s changed after tens of thousands of hours spent on social media in the decades since. More than anything, my response to twenty years of writing and sharing things on this site is an overwhelming gratitude for all the opportunities it’s opened up, and a deep appreciation for the relationships and connections that it’s made possible.

    Now, I’m hardly an expert on major aspects of life. But If you have enough of a high profile, or spend enough time who are at a different stage of life, you’ll regularly end up being asked for advice. So, while I may not have any particularly unique insights, I hope that simply sharing my most responses to the types of questions I’m asked most frequently may have value to people. And of course, if you disagree or have any corrections for things I’ve gotten wrong, please don’t hesitate to write about such things on your own site and let me know that you did!

    20 Years of Blogging: What I’ve Learned

    Understanding Technology in Society

    As is probably appropriate to observing an anniversary of this blog, the first set of lessons I’d share are about technology and social media itself. Some of the most fundamental lessons were summarized in a piece I wrote last year, "12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech". I go into more detail there, but some of the key points are pretty easy to understand:

    • Tech is not neutral, and not inevitable.
    • Most people in tech want to do good, but tech history is poorly understood. As a result, many in tech don't understand how tech can have negative impacts when they think of themselves as good people.
    • A lot of tech is created without much explicit knowledge about users or ethics.
    • Tech is never created by one single genius, and is mostly not made by startups.
    • Most tech companies make money in a few ways that usually aren't about selling tech itself, and those business models skew all of tech. (One of the worst effects of those business models are the creation of fake markets.)
    • Tech is as much about culture as it is about innovation, and thus no one institution can fix tech's problems — it will take a broad effort. And that effort will have to go far past traditional tactics like boycotts and regulation to truly have an effect in reforming tech.

    All of these observations about how tech works are grounded in a broader, more important perspective that I wrote about a few years earlier: there is no "technology industry". Every industry, and every social institution is both shaped by, and responsible for creating, technology, and so trying to understand tech as if it were a conventional corporate industry isn't a useful perspective.

    After years of thinking about the place of technology in society, I'm increasingly asked to summarize the challenge facing society today as we reckon with how tech is changing our world. Perhaps the most cogent articulation of that challenge happened a few years ago in this conversation with Krista Tippett for On Being, where we talked about tech's moral reckoning.

    How Social Media Works

    In addition to broad observations about tech, I've tried to articulate some of the specific lessons I've learned in 20 years of creating, and living in, social networks online.

    One of the most popular things I've written about my lessons in social media was actually on the fifteenth anniversary of this blog, when I shared 15 lessons from 15 years of blogging. Maybe one of the most important points outlined there is to always write with the idea that what you’re sharing will live for months and years and decades. I also do still strongly believe that someone who really has a strong point of view, and substantive insights into their area of interest, can have huge impact just by consistently blogging about that topic. It's not currently the fashionable way to participate in social media, but the opportunity is still wide open. (I also published a far sillier list of 10 rules of Internet, which still kinda holds up.)

    Then, there's the evergreen truth: If your website's full of assholes, it's your fault. Of everything I've written over the years, this piece from 2011 gets cited more than almost any other. When I first started talking about the idea a decade ago, it was often seen as heretical, and the concept of holding online platform owners accountable for the worst social impacts that they enable was commonly seen as absurd. When I warned that Facebook was gaslighting the web, I was called alarmist. When I said, a decade ago, that Facebook was due for a reckoning for what it was doing with users' data without their consent, I was warned that I was ending my own career.

    I wish I could find some validation in the fact that culture has shifted so much in this regard, but the truth is that people only clamor for accountability now that such an egregious amount of damage has happened. And that harm was exactly what I had been hoping this kind of writing would help prevent. I failed.

    My presence on social media is an odd one. I've been around longer than most, which gives me some perspective. I have a social network that sort of resembles that of a famous person, despite not actually being famous, and it yields glimpses into phenomena like what it's like being verified on Twitter. This was all forseeable; back in 2002, I wrote about how we'd have to own, and control, our identities online:

    We’re all celebrities now, in a sense. Everything that we say or do is on the record. And everything that’s on the record is recorded for posterity, and indexed far better than any file photo or PR bio ever was.

    But I still have some hope for how social media might evolve. By doing things like looking at the history of what's worked for social media in the past, we can predict what sorts of things we might want for the future. And to be clear, I'm not someone who thinks there was a "good old days"; social media has always been too exclusionary, and too dependent on systems and infrastructures that replicate the injustices of society as a whole. It is possible, though, to make new systems that are a little more equitable, and I still haven't given up on that hope at all.

    Ultimately, it's my belief that social networks are systems that can be intentionally designed, and intelligently managed, to ensure that their primary impact is a positive one for the people who use them, and for the world. This is an optimistic idea that was the original spark for the creation of platforms, and a promise that's been painfully abandoned in the years since. But I think we have learned enough lessons for it to still be worth trying to make something that works for the world.

  • feedwordpress 15:44:05 on 2019/06/04 Permalink  

    Can You Trust A Company In 2019? 

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    Being trusted is a huge advantage for any company that can pull it off. But is it even possible for people to trust a tech company right now?

    Can You Trust A Company In 2019?

    Union Square Ventures is one of the best-known and most respected venture capital firms in the world. Every year, they get together all of the CEOs of all the companies they've invested in to talk about Big Ideas. And this year, they shared one of the ideas they're focusing on most: Trust.

    The whole presentation is worth reading over, as I think it outlines the business argument for the importance of trustworthy companies extremely well. In short, being trusted provides enormous value to a company. It protects against competition, increases customer loyalty, helps improve recruiting and retention, and has many other less visible benefits. Trust is a massive strategic advantage. You want your company to be trusted.

    Of course, this is a slide deck from a company that makes tons of money investing in giant tech startups, so it's entirely grounded in that perspective. For example, take this slide, talking about how companies break their core promises:

    Can You Trust A Company In 2019?
    Breaking the Core Promise is the biggest risk

    I'd of course take issue with, for example, the Uber line item here. The core promise of Uber depends deeply on the community you're in. Maybe for wealthy white tech insiders in San Francisco, Uber's core promise is about convenience. But for black passengers, Uber's core promise is reliability, in contrast to trying to hail cabs whose drivers can't be trusted to stop, or transit systems that don't serve every neighborhood equally. For South Asian drivers, the core promise Uber made was control over making a living, in contrast to being dependent on extractive medallion programs or coercive fleet owners.

    What's not obvious is that trust relies on social signaling, so even though Susan Fowler, who became the voice of Uber's workers speaking up against hostile working conditions, is a white woman, her unjust treatment provided a valuable and credible way of judging the trustworthiness of the organization even for people who were seeking a different core promise from the company. Uber profiting off of the protests against Trump's travel ban catalyzed the #DeleteUber movement, and though it was centered on protecting Muslim travelers, it again provided useful signal of trustworthiness to people in other communities.

    This is because trust is based in an ethical context, and on values. People do not simply evaluate companies based on the economic value they provide, they decide to trust companies based on a moral framework.

    And in this moment, when the biggest, most visible tech companies have betrayed so many people so completely, almost no company can earn trust. This is especially true because so few tech leaders are willing to speak to the core social issues that have undermined trust — concerns like pervasive surveillance, abuse of privacy, economic inequality, systemic racial discrimination, persistent harassment and abuse on platforms and in the workplace, and complicity in systems of violence and persecution. Compared to those challenges, conventional worries like system downtime or app performance shrink into relative irrelevance.

    So why even bother?

    If the situation is so dire, why am I even bothering to share this view on the value of trust? Well, the simple answer is that I'm the CEO of a tech company. And I'm trying my damnedest to make sure Glitch is a company that can be trusted — by its employees, by its industry, by its community, and by the world. Honestly, it's hard as hell these days because most of tech isn't even aligned to trustworthiness as a goal, and even those who still believe in that ideal have (understandably!) become so cynical and jaded that they've either preemptively given up on trying, or mock efforts to be trustworthy as hopelessly naive.

    I don't know if it means I'm stubborn, or still just overly optimistic, but we do keep trying.

    When people join Glitch, I generally give them a short presentation explaining what we're trying to do and how we run our company, and I went back and looked at one of the slides that shows up early in the presentation.

    Can You Trust A Company In 2019?
    Trust is our most precious and fragile asset.

    Usually at this point in the conversation, I explain to the person who's new to the company that right now, people like us and trust us. Right now, they do. I then mention that every other company I've ever been at, and really, nearly every company I've ever seen, screws this up. They break the trust of the people who were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. And most of the time, it's for no reason at all. (Sometimes, it's just so the company can make money. Which is shitty, but at least makes sense, as compared to betraying trust simply through incompetence.)

    What's interesting is, once I was reflecting on trust, I realized that a lot of the things that I talk to our team about are about building trust, maintaining trust, being worthy of trust.

    For example, we recently had the whole team in at our headquarters in NYC, and I looked over a few of the presentations that we did to talk about goals and vision and strategy, and some of these slides jumped out at me.

    Can You Trust A Company In 2019?
    We differentiate Glitch by telling a story that is true and meaningful.

    This message jumped out at me, not because it's particularly unique, but because of the emphasis we put on making sure our story is true. So many companies just say things, without regard to whether they're real, and it always bends my brain to realize that they don't even seem to care about the validity or veracity of their messages.

    The part about being meaningful also seemed important, because trust has to be about things that matter — it's easy to trust a company about minor things that aren't very important. It's a lot tougher when it comes to issues that are vitally important.

    The inside and outside have to match

    Can You Trust A Company In 2019?
    We must consistently be on the inside what we hope to inspire on the outside.
    Can You Trust A Company In 2019?

    These next few slides came from a conversation about how we should run our company, and centered on the ugly reality that most companies talk about ideas to the outside world that have no bearing on the actual practices within their organizations.

    The extraordinary thing here is that companies don't seem to realize that it's impossible to trust anyone if you know they don't practice what they preach. Even if a company is secretive enough (or obscure enough) that outsiders don't know whether its internal processes are aligned with its public statements, its employees know, and they can sense whether they work at a trustworthy organization or not. If the employees know, then almost certainly its partners know, and if partners know, then any hypocrisy or disconnect is rotting away at their credibility every day, whether it's acknowledged or not.

    Closing the gap

    Can You Trust A Company In 2019?
    There must be zero gap between our stated values and our lived values.

    Originally, this slide came from a presentation that was focused on company culture, but it speaks to the moral grounding that underpins being a trusted company. These days, pretty much every company knows the "right" thing to say to the world. And almost none of the major tech companies follow through on those words into changing how they operate.

    This is an especially acute concern for a company like ours, both because we're a tiny company competing with giants, and also because we have a company handbook (see below) where our values are publicly stated for anyone to read and share and remix for their own use.

    The truth is, almost every person of conscience has grave concerns and deep worries about the effect that tech companies are having on civil society and culture overall. They're right to. Add to that the well-justified skepticism and critique about the extractive and abusive practices of most industries, and even a lot of the most well-intentioned companies basically just give up and decide it's not worth trying to fight a battle that (seemingly) can't be won.

    But I've seen some signs that this is still a fight worth engaging, that being worthy of people's trust is still possible. Inside Glitch, our colleagues take a lot of pride in being part of an organization that's still idealistic in this way. In our community, users and partners feel good about getting to work with a company that doesn't leave them feeling dirtied or used by the interaction. And in our industry, people seem delighted by the reminder that there was an optimistic, idealistic view of the future that attracted so many of us to technology in the first place.

    Even despite all the failures, and all the failings, and the countless, heartless betrayals of trust, we're still going to try. Yes, there are great business reasons to do it, and we're seeing the benefits of those business opportunities. But most importantly, there's a satisfaction in proving that a group of people can collectively put in so much care and investment in the old-fashioned idea of simply being worthy of people's trust.

  • feedwordpress 03:53:08 on 2019/05/23 Permalink  

    Putting the Soul in Console 

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    Putting the Soul in Console

    Playdate, the upcoming indie handheld gaming console from venerable software publisher Panic, is really important. But if you don't know the history of where the little company behind this little device comes from, it might be hard to understand why this isn't just another random gadget like you might see on a crowdfunding site.

    An Indie Scene

    About 20 years ago, there was a bit of a reckoning about what the web was going to be. The dot com era of startups were in full bloom (the crash didn't come until 2000, with 9/11 cementing the collapse of the first web bubble) but those of us who loved the internet could sense some of the joy and creativity seeping out of it as the money men took over.

    A little less obvious was the reckoning going on amongst "software people". We were still making programs then, or software — applications wouldn't get shortened to "apps" until the iPhone took off almost a decade later. But there was a culture that almost saw making software as a craft. And a number of new web-savvy companies sprung up at the forefront of that movement, all of them decidedly not interested in just riding the dot com wave that was about to crash. I was a fan of them all, watching from afar as they seemed to set the standards for what was "cool" in tech — and all of them did it from outside of Silicon Valley.

    Basically, in tech there was something akin to an independent music scene that one might see in a mid-sized town. Except it was geographically dispersed rather than being in one city, and it was about creating technology instead of creating songs.

    In Chicago, there was 37 Signals. Brash, bold, opinionated, and trendsetting in design, the company evolved over time into today's Basecamp, still one of the most popular project management tools. (And they spun out lots of interesting tech and tools along the way.) In New York City, we had Fog Creek Software. It, too, had opinionated and charismatic leaders talking pointedly about The Right Way to make software, and it changed immensely over the years, spinning out efforts like Trello and Stack Overflow, before finally evolving into Glitch, where I work now.

    And then, in Portland, there was Panic. They began with the venerable and utilitarian FTP app, Transmit, but released a wide variety of tools for developers, before transforming themselves in recent years into a broader, more ambitious software publisher that put out mainstream hits like Firewatch. But where these other standard-bearer companies were brash and in-your-face, Panic was always a little, well... goofy. Friendly, to be sure. And smart as hell. But there was a sense of exploration and fun and play to everything Panic did.

    And today, we got to see one of the most exciting announcements in the two-decade history of the company: Playdate. You can read up on all the details elsewhere, but suffice to say, this little game machine looks like one of the most fun and joyful new efforts that any company has done recently, and that a tiny indie software company in Oregon has the ambition to even attempt such a thing makes it only more endearing.

    Perhaps the best way of explaining why Panic is so important to so many of us is to watch Panic co-founder Cabel Sasser's wonderful, heartfelt talk at the XOXO Festival back in 2013. (It even teases the existence of Firewatch, long before it became a smash hit!)

    Cabel Sasser, Panic

    Cabel's closing exhortation to "don't waste this, keep everyone guessing, and make me proud" hit me hard in the room at that moment, and stuck with me to this day. Because Panic has done exactly that.

    Date of Arrival

    I'd been given a hint a while ago that something like this was coming, but the final execution is even more delightful than I'd imagined it might be. (That crank!) More importantly, it's captured the imagination of so many, and seems like the kind of thing that could inspire a new generation of creative people to think, "Hey, maybe good tech is something we can make ourselves." I've seen it happen on Glitch, and now I see it happening around Playdate after just a few hours.

    That idea, that maybe things like our gaming devices or the websites we visit should be created by people we know and like, instead of giant faceless companies, seems more essential than ever. We would never settle for replacing all of our made-with-love, locally-grown, mom's recipe home cooking with factory-farmed fast food, even if sometimes convenience demands we consume the latter. And we shouldn't compromise any less on making sure that some of the time we spend playing games with each other, and delighting in the promise of technology, comes from people who've been diligently working for years to make well-sourced, organically grown, made-with-love technology.

    I don't know if Playdate will succeed in the market. I don't know what kind of risk it represents for Panic as a company. But I know that people see this cute little device, and are reminded that they used to get excited when they saw cool new technology, instead of wondering how it would warp their reality, or steal their information. Here's hoping for a return to tech that's fun, that's thoughtful, and that's created with a little bit of soul.

    Putting the Soul in Console

  • feedwordpress 04:55:26 on 2019/01/21 Permalink  

    I Should Have Written a JOMO Book. 

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    I Should Have Written a JOMO Book.

    About seven years ago, inspired by Caterina Fake's seminal essay about fear of missing out, I wrote a bit about the Joy of Missing Out, and for a little while, JOMO became a thing.

    It showed up in those "100 trends to watch this year" roundups that come out at the start of every new year, percolated through think pieces over the next year or two, and eventually ended up a staple of the lifestyle influencers who talk about wellness. I think a few of them even wrote books about it, though they leaned a little more toward the script-font-and-mason-jar side of things, where I'm not very credible.

    For me, the most delightful outcome was Jenna Wortham's 2012 essay in the New York Times, talking about FOMO and JOMO, but also mentioning my son and his proclivity for dancing; given that his birth was what had prompted me to reflect on JOMO in the first place, it seemed eminently appropriate.

    I don't actively keep track of "JOMO", but even a quick glance shows it's a concept that is, if anything, even more popular now than when the conversation first started. At the start of a new year, the Financial Times writes that you should "allow yourself to embrace 'Jomo'. In the middle of the year, the New York Times writes about the "summer of missing out". Anytime's a good time for missing out!


    Presently, the social web is abuzz with people revisiting the ill-fated Fyre Festival. Two different documentaries have come out offering a perspective on the magnificent scams that surrounded the festival, and conversation focuses on that grift as well as the various ethical compromises and lapses of the documentary filmmakers.

    But I'm struck by how one primary reason a fiasco like Fyre Festival could happen, or indeed how many of the worst aspects of influencer culture can happen, is because of the very real emotional effect of the Fear of Missing Out. It's especially true because FOMO is a designed, intentional result of using most modern social media apps.

    It's been largely overlooked that FOMO was coined by Caterina Fake, a cofounder of Flickr — one of the very first people who ever helped create a large-scale social network for photo sharing. Her comments on FOMO came less than 6 months after Instagram launched. Though of course both services seemed superficially similar because they were social networks built around photos, Instagram's social design was almost always with the opposite intent of Flickr's social goals. It was almost as if Instagram was designed to optimize for FOMO. But check out what Caterina said in 2011:

    Many people have studied the game mechanics that keep people collecting things (points, trophies, check-ins, mayorships, kudos). Others have  studied how the neurochemistry that keeps us checking Facebook every  five minutes is similar to the neurochemistry fueling addiction. Social  media has made us even more aware of the things we are missing out on.  You’re home alone, but watching your friends status updates tell of a  great party happening somewhere. You are aware of more parties than ever  before. [S]ocial software both creates and cures FOMO.

    [There's a quaint habit that some of us old-timers still have where we call the technology behind social networks "social software".]

    In Joy

    Years have passed, and now FOMO (and to a lesser extent, JOMO) are just part of culture. I was walking through the Union Square subway stop not too long ago, and saw this Spotify ad, huge and unmissable.

    And the broader principles of intentionality around consumption are an even bigger phenomenon. Marie Kondo is quickly graduating from being the author of a book that became a phenomenon into being a full-fledged global media tycoon. It's only a matter of time until she has a deal with a retailer to sell branded Konmari boxes for you to store your things in. (Maybe one of them will be a lead box that you can put your phone in so you don't look at it?) But interestingly, the fundamental framing of her entire approach to improving your life is to start with what brings you joy. That make a hell of a lot of sense.

    The stakes are so much higher now then back when we just worried that social media would make us feel bad about missing a party. Yes, that's still a cause of stress, but far worse is social media enabling grifters to profiteer off of innocent people's credulity. How can we fret about missing our friends when the emotional manipulation of social apps has warped every institution in our entire culture?

    Ultimately, though, this began as a conversation centered around joy. Isn't that a rare, and special, and fragile thing? How often do we talk about joy, let alone actively pursuing it or protecting it? I think pursuing joy, protecting peaceful moments, seeing our friends' happiness as a cause for celebration and not envy, and engaging with our lives on our own terms are quietly radical acts.

    It is a brave and meaningful thing to talk earnestly about joy at a time when so many aspire to, and delight in, destroying it.

    But yeah, obviously, I should have written a book about JOMO and become the "guru of JOMO". I'd probably be able to have my own private island with a music festival by now.

  • feedwordpress 15:29:05 on 2019/01/03 Permalink  

    After the Rhythm Nation 

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    After the Rhythm Nation

    With Janet Jackson's (woefully belated) acceptance into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it's well past time for a broader reckoning with her place in popular culture, and especially the way she's challenged narratives in pop music. To me, her evolution, and unique place in culture, can be summed up with just one verse.

    There's a brief, melancholy moment on Janet's 2015 album Unbreakable that shocked me when I first heard it, and has haunted me ever since for its accuracy and prescience. It comes in "Shoulda Known Better", a dance song that's a standout on Unbreakable, with fairly conventional pop production paired with a very unusual structure that alternates between a pulsing, even euphoric chorus and subdued, nearly heartbroken verses. It's not the loud-soft that every Pixies-referencing rock band trots out, but rather a striking grafting of two completely different moods into a single pop song. The overall sentiment of the song is conveyed by the jarring juxtaposition of cataloguing social ills (the kind that Janet has been discussing since Rhythm Nation) against an insistence that directly reckoning with such injustices can still help to fix them.

    What Janet said made me rethink how pop music talks about narratives of race, and how it deploys hope and optimism or falls back to resignation or despair.

    I had this great epiphany
    And rhythm nation was the dream
    I guess next time I'll know better

    Janet's Unbreakable album has been unfairly overlooked, perhaps because she couldn't do a full-on promotional push at the time of its launch as she was going through a complicated pregnancy and a lot of change in her personal life. But as an album, it stands tall amongst the other formidable standouts in her catalog, and is perhaps her best complete album since 1998's Velvet Rope. "Shoulda Known Better" shows exactly why it's her strongest release in years.

    A Vision of Blindness

    The pop music tradition, especially the global superstar tier of pop music where Janet resides, has had a fairly consistent narrative for a few decades now. Just as the rhythms and arrangements of contemporary pop music can often find its roots in the funk and disco of the 70s, the lyrical grounding of most "issue oriented" pop music was defined in the simple, sometimes reductive, utopianism of the 60s.

    Motown struggled famously with reacting to the political moment it found itself in toward the late 60s and early 70s, with Berry Gordy fighting against Marvin Gaye's cultural commentary in What's Going On, only begrudgingly agreeing to release the now-classic record. But despite the success of Gaye's efforts (and even more pointed songs like some of Stevie Wonder's work later in the 70s), the template for much of pop music was set: talking about racial problems in America was still supposed to finish with a call for color-blind idealism. And it's important to remember that Motown wasn't some abstract representation of excellence in black music to the Jackson family; Motown was the mentors who came around the house as the Jackson kids were growing up. Especially for Janet, as the youngest of the family and the one most rooted in California instead of Indiana or Detroit, the example set by someone like Diana Ross would have been omnipresent.

    This expectation of pop music's conversation about race persisted for decades. By the end of the 80s, Janet was pushing forward the boundaries of pop music with Rhythm Nation 1814, with many of its songs explicitly articulating a vision of color-blindness. Even its title track, an all-time classic, opens with a spoken incantation:

    We are a nation with no geographic boundaries
    Bound together through our beliefs
    We are like-minded individuals
    Sharing a common vision
    Pushing toward a world rid of color lines

    Within two years after the release of Rhythm Nation, Michael Jackson would release his single "Black or White", whose chorus repeatedly insists that it doesn't matter if you're black or white. The same year, Prince would release his album Diamonds and Pearls, whose bridge enthusiastically promises, "u will be colorblind". The biggest stars of the MTV era had weighed in, and they had found consensus in their lyrics.

    Telling the Truth

    But lets's fast-forward to just over a decade after the peak of the MTV era. Janet had been sidelined by the predator Les Moonves for her Super Bowl performance. Prince had abandoned his name, written "slave" on his face, returned to his name, and re-emerged outside the conventional record label system. Michael Jackson had gone to war against his record label, calling his label head "the devil". None of their work would ever blindly champion ignorance of race again; all of them would reckon directly with the fact that even their extraordinary talent and success didn't shield them from the structural injustices of the industry they had mastered.

    But it took Janet explicitly revisiting her past work to really drive this home. Unlike almost any other major pop artist, Janet revisited her signature song, in a world of #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, and declared her past vision obsolete. In its place was an updated, more complicated vision.

    Janet's vision of a post-Rhythm nation isn't a pessimistic one, though. Instead, it's a hard-earned lesson, an unpopular but necessary truth that takes courage to share. We can't solve problems that we can't talk about, and Janet had the wisdom to tell the truth of the problem, even if it meant challenging one of her best-known narratives.

    Still, the first time I heard those lyrics in "Shoulda Known Better", it hit me like a gut punch. Part of it was the difference between hearing an idealistic message as a teen and hearing a tough, painful lesson as an adult. But more fundamentally, it was about recognizing the shortcomings and dangers of the colorblindness that we'd all been taught when I was young. Great art is supposed to challenge us, but it takes a truly great artist to give us permission to let go of our past. And Janet pushed us there.

    I stil love the song "Rhythm Nation"; I always will. But I believe in Janet today. And just as with her Hall of Fame induction, the music industry may always lag behind, but it can never deny Janet's vision.

  • feedwordpress 07:47:55 on 2018/11/28 Permalink  

    Every Single Video Prince Ever Made 

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    Every Single Video Prince Ever Made

    Prince was an astoundingly prolific artist, releasing nearly 40 albums under his own name(s), and thousands of songs for himself and others. His concerts were legendary, spellbinding from arenas to intimate clubs, flooring audiences around the world.

    But videos? Prince was a lot more ambivalent about videos. He made dozens of them, some great, some... well, some were barely more than home videos he threw together with his friends or bandmates around Paisley Park.

    It's in his videos, though that we see Prince's relationship with his music as a commercial artist. A few times, Prince really told a story or expanded on the narrative of a song using a video. In his performance-oriented videos, he was often mesmerizing, capturing much of what made Prince the best live pop musician of his era.

    And importantly, it is in his videos that we see Prince exploring the edges of his identity and public persona. There are hints and clues of what Prince wanted to do next at almost every phase of his career. Frustratingly, though most of Prince's videos, including some of his very best, remained obscure, getting almost no airplay back when there were music video channels, or being distributed through one-off VHS video collections, CD-ROMs or uneven and short-lived video streams on Prince's websites. As a result, it's been almost impossible to evaluate Prince's videos as a whole body of work.

    Until now. With the Prince estate's release of his entire video collection, in high resolution, some easily accessible for the first time ever, we get a different glimpse at Prince. While Prince's recorded albums seldom featured his absurd humor, his videos often gave free reign to Prince's sillier side. While many of his songs were solo productions where Prince (as his album credits so often proclaimed) produced, arranged, composed and performed the entire song, in his videos, he would often cast his bandmates, friends and proteges in roles where they would mime his work and represent facets of Prince himself. We even get to see Prince directing (or ghost-directing) a number of works, as he grew in ability and confidence as a director over the course of his career.

    Now, the truth is, most of Prince's videos just aren't that great. Especially when considered in comparison to the sheer mind-boggling breadth of Prince's genius, or the groundbreaking video innovation of his pop contemporaries like Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson and Madonna, the fact that Prince has fewer truly extraordinary music videos is a stark contrast. But as with all things Prince, when he was doing his best, there was absolutely nobody better.

    Here, then, is a look at all of Prince's music videos, in chronological order. Most of these writeups began as an ongoing Twitter thread that I've been updating as the estate released new videos (Questlove said it was worthy of his NYU class!) but here I've updated and expanded all the information on each video.



    I Wanna Be Your Lover

    Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad



    Dirty Mind






    Little Red Corvette



    Let's Pretend We're Married


    When Doves Cry

    (You can check out the short edit, too, but why would you want to?!)

    Let's Go Crazy

    Purple Rain

    Amazingly, this one is not online!

    I Would Die 4 U

    Baby I'm A Star


    Take Me With U

    4 The Tears In Your Eyes

    Raspberry Beret

    Paisley Park





    Girls & Boys



    Sign O' The Times

    U Got The Look

    I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man


    Alphabet St.

    Glam Slam

    I Wish U Heaven




    (There's a short version of the Partyman video, too.)



    Thieves In The Temple

    (The much more common short version of the video is available, of course.)

    New Power Generation

    The Question Of U


    Gett Off

    Gett Off (Houstyle)

    Violet The Organ Grinder

    Gangster Glam


    (This is one of those videos that has a short edit, omitting all the introductory drama.)

    Diamonds And Pearls


    Money Don't Matter 2 Night (Spike Lee version)

    Money Don't Matter 2 Night (performance version)


    Willing And Able

    Call The Law

    Live 4 Love

    Sexy M.F.

    My Name Is Prince

    Love 2 The 9's

    The Morning Papers

    The Max

    Blue Light

    Sweet Baby

    Damn U




    Hmm! I wonder why this one isn't online yet.

    Pink Cashmere

    Nothing Compares 2 U

    Though there is a video of the live version of the song released in 1993, the estate hasn't yet released the footage.



    The Most Beautiful Girl In The World


    Love Sign



    Purple Medley

    Eye Hate U


    Rock 'N Roll Is Alive! (And It Lives In Minneapolis)


    Dinner With Delores

    The Same December

    I Like It There

    Betcha By Golly Wow!


    Somebody's Somebody

    The Holy River

    Face Down


    The Greatest Romance Ever Sold


    One Song

    Hot With U (Nasty Girl Remix)


    U Make My Sun Shine

    When Eye Lay My Hands On U

    The Daisy Chain



    Call My Name

    Cinnamon Girl


    Te Amo Corazon

    Black Sweat



    The Song Of The Heart


    (There's a totally different version that's a Verizon ad, too.)

    Chelsea Rodgers


    Somewhere Here On Earth

    The One U Wanna C


    Crimson and Clover

    Chocolate Box


    Rock And Roll Love Affair



    Breakfast Can Wait




    Nothing Compares 2 U

    Mary Don't You Weep

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