How The Human Gets Lost In The API Shuffle

I find it is easy to lose our focus on humanity when when you work in technology. I’ve been working with databases for over 30 years, and it is easy for me to just see things as records, instead of about the information those records might contain. When you see a new signup come in from your service, the marketing funnel encourages to see this human as a demographic, a lead within a larger corporate sales opportunity, and part of a group of personas that we put into a single bucket. The technology whispers in our ear at every turn, helping distract us from how we lose our humanity little by little each day as we shuffle the technical bits around on the web.

Technology has no respect for humans, which is one reason many of us are attracted to technology. We have something in common. Technology allows us, in theory, to interact, engage, and connect with people at scale, around the world. It is a promise that will have to dehumanize our interactions, engagements, and connections, and reduce them to simpler transactions just so that we can achieve the scale associated with this promise. More is better. I have over 5,000 followers on LinkedIn. I have 1000 “friends” on Facebook. I have 14,000 followers on Twitter. Few of them are humans, they are just transactional versions of friends and followers, minus the human elements that actually make them meaningful.

While technology does a wonderful job of dehumanizing us at every turn, where it really becomes efficient is when we mix it with capitalism, increasing the pace of change, the amount of data points created, and the scale at which thing are supposed to happen. This is where the humanity has to be lost, for those pulling the levers to realize the amount of revenue they need to satisfy the appetite of the venture capitalists, and now enterprise giants pulling the puppet strings. Humanity becomes just a minimal requirement. Only what is required to keep people putting in their credit cards, nothing more. There is always more profits to be realized when we turn human behaviors into transactions, which can be used to introduce a new data point, that can be sold over, and over, and over to the highest bidder.

In this environment, human characteristics do not survive long. Names become more unique identifiers that can be used to identify you. Stories thrive, but not stories that have too much personality, or memorable characteristics. Stories are just transactions. Keep them short, concise, formulaic, and to the point. Authorship is viewed as too human. Locations are longitude and latitude, not where someone is. Turnover is expected. Position everything as a technological trend, even when everyone knows that humans won’t last long around here. Burnout. Greener grass. No loyalty. No getting to know your users, there are just too many of them. Reduce everything to a transaction. Keep the bits and bytes moving around the web, distilling out the humanity as we shuffle them about. It is how we will continue to ensure we all lose our humanity.

Voice Enablement At The Router Level Will Continue To Push Surveillance Into Our Lives

I was reading about the Netgear Orbi Voice, a router and smart speaker combo, and found myself thinking more about what the future will hold when it comes to surveillance using APIs. I predict we will see voice enablement, and smart speaker “listening” creep further into the router layer of our lives. This isn’t just a smart home hub play for Netgear, this will become a play for dominance at the network level, and who has access to our bits and bytes in a post net neutrality world, and who ultimately becomes the gatekeeper for the value that exists at this layer.

We are going to see more voice enablement, and ultimately surveillance pushed to this level of our life in coming years. I predict we’ll see major cable Internet providers move towards offering a version of this router by default. The revenue opportunity of having access to the data generated by an always on, default installation, surveillance device at the network level for every home will be too great to ignore. Not only will you have access to all web traffic for a household, you will have access to any other device connected to that network, and conversational access to everyone who lives or enters a house. When devices can be security cameras, televisions, sensors, other connected objects, as well as smart speaker listening devices, you have access to a 360 view of a household.

After watching the world of Internet of Things roll out over the last five years, it is pretty clear that device and application companies will do anything to get at the data generated at this layer, and consumers have demonstrated they are pretty happily ignorant of the surveillance that is happening as long as they are given some minimal amount of convenience, or at least entertainment. Something that will infect the network layer of our homes and businesses, making voice something that is baked in just like wifi did over several years. Then pushing it to consumers, whether they want it or not. Similar to what we are starting to see in some hotels, where Google or Amazon devices are slowly becoming a fixture on the hospitality landscape. Further exposing us to surveillance technology, and working to normalize it in our world.

Just like with any other Internet connected device in our life, we are going to have to learn to accept, or resist the infection of our physical world with these digitally enable objects. Realizing that 98% of these objects aren’t about convenience, security, or any of the other pretenses in which they are marketed and sold to us, and that they are purely to surveil us and generate data that can be sold to the highest bidder. Something that will will always be abused along the way, taking advantage of the surveillance that is baked into this new dimension of capitalism, and the willingness to look the other way by the device manufacturers and the application developers. We just have to continue to ask ourselves when enough is enough, and when is their too much technology within our very human lives.

This Administration Has Revealed To Me Just How Dependent We Are On Storytelling

I’ve learned a lot about storytelling over the last eight years as the API Evangelist. While still more art than science, I have learned a lot about the types of stories I need to tell to keep traffic flowing to my blog, and how you tell stories that make for real influence and change–two things that don’t always go hand in hand. While learning more about the types of API stories that I can tell across the API sector, I’ve also learned a lot about the storytelling that occurs as part of the startup investment ecosystem, out of the federal government, and a handful of specialized areas. If you want to be influencing the conversation today, you need to be telling stories on and offline.

Having a front row seat to the storytelling going on out of this current administration, by actually working on projects and with people in DC, as well as having direct exposure to this administration’s believers in my personal life, has further shown me how important storytelling is, and across all of these scenarios, how powerful fabulism can be. It has been quite a shock to realize how little facts matter, and just how much the right storytelling can drive a group of people. I don’t think any of this is a revelation, I’m just sharing my own realization around what I’m seeing. We’ve always been under the influence of the stories we are told, I just feel like I’m waking up to the degree in which our realities are shaped by the stories we’ve been told over the years.

Unpacking my own libertarian upbringing, and seeing it for what it is. Then watching people I grew up with foam at the mouth about Trump. Combined with my experiences in the tech sector for the last eight years, has shown me that stories aren’t just important. People depend on stories to prop up and justify their realities. Without them, their world can come crashing down. Which is why many people get so defensive about their technology, their religion, and their president. I’ve always suspected this was the case with people who claim to be religious, but now I just see it as the American dream–a kind of coma that people are in, kept in that state through an ongoing barrage of fabulist storytelling. A state I lived in for many years, and I’m only just beginning to wake up from.

I feel the only antidote for this situation is more storytelling, as well as more general access to education, and (mental) healthcare. I’m not talking about just more social media, blogging, and the web. I’m not saying this won’t be part of the equation, as we have to reach the masses where they are, but I’m talking about in-person storytelling within our communities, access to libraries and schools, as well as through digital media. Corporations and their brands are winning the storytelling game, and a savvy group of politicians and racist sexist shit stirrers have learned how to leverage this fabulist marketing engine to amplify their own platform. We have to outpace all of this with more tangible, meaningful, and educational stories, otherwise we are just going to see things get worse, and things will keep spinning out of control.

The narrative that this administration is using to manipulate people in this country isn’t anything new, it just has the volume turned up very loud because of the Internet. The reason this administration’s followers believe what they are being told, and the reasons why this administration is using this playbook go back to the founding of this country–we are just seeing the digital version of the playbook in action. I think we underestimated the grip people have on reality, and a mistaken perception that the web (and TV) equals knowledge is really beginning to take its toll. We clearly haven’t invested in education and healthcare we need in this country to make sure folks have the base they need, and we’ve done very little to address the racism in which this country was founded on, over the 240+ years of our existence as a nation.

This is why people’s chain can still be yanked about those brown people over there. Stoking fears, and getting them to behave a certain way at the voting booth. This why people can still be told fabulist stories about the moon, mars, and utopian places where white people live the ideal life. This is why science can still be dismissed, questioned, and ignored. This is why people can think that schools put liberal or conservative ideas into your heads, instead of just exposing you to the real world around us. People just don’t always have the education needed to see the bigger picture. Pushing people too hard in ways that question their storytelling bubble simultaneously threatens their reality, and without the proper education, and access to (mental) healthcare, it is just going to freak them the fuck out–we are challenging the only reality they’ve ever known.

I don’t think this is just a poor rural classic Trump support situation either. I think this isn’t just a mainstream left or right condition. This isn’t just about why people would not see the racism and sexism that exists in the current administration, this is why people get so foaming at the mouth about Bitcoin, and other technology. An inability to understand our history, why currency and markets work they do, and poking holes in a very fabricated, fabulist libertarian history our reality depends on. Our blind belief the magically organic nature of markets, and the tragically toxic nature of humans, and our inability to see that our belief in these things are more about us, than they are about markets or other human beings. There is so much overlap between why we have a Trump administration, and why we have social media, the blockchain, and artificial intelligence. We just aren’t equipped, or trained to see through the storytelling that is going on.

When I see someone talk about the potential of APIs within a company, the potential of machine learning and the blockchain, I’m reminded of the Gell-Mann amnesia effect. I’m just too informed, and close to how the sausage is being made, and what tech blogs, journalists, and other storytellers are saying, makes me cringe, rant, and angry in some situations. I find myself getting to a similar place when it comes to what goes on in Washington DC. When I hear someone on Facebook telling a story about how good this administration is for this country, and how he is draining the swamp, stopping regulations, and lowering taxes–I can’t help but think about what I’m seeing occur at the EPA, CFPB, Ed, VA, CMS, HHS, FDIC, Census, Commerce, Interior, and beyond. I get angry that Americans are so willing to just believe the stories, and even when there is evidence to the contrary, refuse to see any other view. So willing to be under the influence of the storytelling that is coming out of this administration, out of the technology sector, and the devices in our pockets.

The real revelation for me isn’t just about how susceptible people are to storytelling, and how the people in power use stories to manipulate them. It really is about how defensive people get when this storytelling bubble gets threatened. People refusing to see the racism and sexism right around them. People refusing to think this administration is hurting them, despite it making the environment more toxic around them, taking away education and healthcare, slowing the Internet, hitting them in the bank account, and beyond. People believing so passionately that the blockchain and artificial intelligence will save our world from the problems we’ve created for ourselves (often with past technology). People believing in the deep state, and not seeing how it is a story that is used to regularly manipulate them. Creating an environment you could put the truth on the table, bring Jesus into the room, and take them to the moon, and they’d still believe the stories to the contrary.

You can’t argue, debate, or reason with this reality. We just have to tell more truthful stories. More honest, mind expanding fictional stories–where we are transparent with our intentions. We have to invest in elementary, middle, and high schools. We have to make sure EVERYONE has the opportunity to go to community college or University. Every community should have a well-funded library. Ensure everyone has access to the physical and mental healthcare they need. And everyone should have the opportunity to travel to other cities, countries, and be exposed to other cultures at some point in their life. Only then will storytelling in this country find a balance, allowing us to provide our children with the future they deserve.

My World Changed Once I Realized The Scope Of Things In This Country

I am a white male autodidact with significant amount of ego and confidence. Coming out of Oregon in my early 20s, lightly educated, and confident as fuck, made me pretty invincible. I could accomplish anything. I could understand anything. Point me in the direction of a new industry I had no training or experience in, and after a week I could help deliver a website, mobile application, or other system to help solve all the problems that sector faced. I knew my shit. I was confident that I could tackle almost any problem, and come out of the other side successful.

It wasn’t until I went to Washington DC, and began tackling bigger problems, that I realized the scope of what happens in this country on a daily basis, and I began to change my tune. As I worked to map out the benefits systems for veterans, the national park system, the student financial aid process, how the census worked, and other common functions of our government, my mind was expanded, and my eyes were opened. Leaving me with the realization that most of my confidence came from inexperience, ignorance, and privilege. I felt that I could accomplish anything because I hadn’t really accomplished much, and problems seem solvable because I really didn’t understand the scope of the problem. Most importantly, I really didn’t have the exposure to different types of people to realize the scope of the problems that government works to solve on a daily basis.

It is really easy to sit back in our armchairs across this country and speculate on what the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of the Interior, Department of Education, or the Census Bureau does, and dream up problems they create. It takes a lot more energy to actually understand what each of these federal government agencies do, and actually get involved in someway, so that you can actually get a taste for the scope of these challenges, and how much is involved with governing a country. What it takes to actually keep the world moving forward, allowing us to live the existence that we enjoy today. Which affords us the ability to have a home, education, healthcare, automobile, cell phone, television, food, energy, and carve out the free time to have our opinions about what government is or isn’t.

While I still have moments of confidence, and suffer from privilege syndrome on a regular basis, I’m much more humbled, and cautious in how I approach my stance on government, businesses, and any other layer of our society. I’m much more respectful and understanding of what people in government service face. While I still scrutinize the motivations of any politician, government agency, employee, or contractor, I am much more aware that there is a lot going on that I may not be aware of. Learning so much in the last five years of working with government, is making me more confident in the fact that there is so much that I do not know, or understand, and that I need to always be much more cautious in how I form my opinions, and talk about how change in our world can happen.

Being So Anti-Government Just Makes You A Tool

Being anti-government is an easy bandwagon to jump on for many American citizens, no matter what end of the political spectrum you operate on. It is easy to hate on the government, and also very easy for people to stoke that hatred of government amongst the people. It is an interesting cloud layer over our society to penetrate, as you elevate yourself out of the rural, localized discussions, and begin to engage with businesses and individuals at a higher level. Small businesses in smaller towns, and isolated to single regions, tend to hate government, but if you are big business, government is always see as an opportunity.

Big companies are anti-regulation that hurt them. They aren’t anti-regulation that hurts their competition, or provides subsides for the industry they operate in. There is a lot of money to be made if government policy looks favorable on your business, and the industry you operate in–it is often used to keep small businesses (competition) down and out of the way. It is often used to give specific businesses an advantage, and subsidize what would otherwise be an un-profitable endeavor. Big business, and the people profiting from this reality are not anti-government, but they do have a motivation in stoking the fears of average voters to help keep government weak enough, so that it can’t resist what big business wants.

As an individual, on the left or the right of the spectrum, if you are anti-government in general, and as a base rule, you are just a tool in big businesses toolbox. I’m all for being anti specific government laws, policies, and programs. Hell yeah, go after the injustice that exists in the system, but if you are throwing out general anti-government sentiment, and parroting what is said on the campaign trail, you are a tool. You are just working for big business, helping them weaken government just enough, so that they can get what they want. You are helping do the work of large corporations when it comes to shaping where tax payer money flows, and weakening the teeth of the government when it comes to leveling the playing field in any industry, and protecting consumers from any damage inflicted by big business.

You can see this in action at the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), which was setup to protect consumers when it comes to financial matters, but is now being used to protect banks when it comes any collective harm they might face for predatory practices. Or maybe over at the FCC, where Net Neutrality was abandoned, allowing for the prioritization of Internet traffic, and reduce investment in broadband for unserved communities. Also over at the Department of Education, where for profit universities are running the show, dictating what they can get away with when it comes to generating profits off student loan subsidized business. You also see money being given out to agriculture, mining, energy, and other sectors, something that goes against almost every principle you hear spoken at the local levels when it comes to big government, socialism, and other anti-government rhetoric that making the rounds each election cycle.

Seeing my friends and family at the local levels of this country blindly be so anti-government, when it is the only thing standing in the way of big business completely fucking them over on a daily basis (instead of only partly). Seeing them all be in such denial about the benefits that government brings to their life with education, healthcare, roads, telecommunications, Internet and on and on. All makes me so sad, and so aware of the anti-government tool I had been for so much of my adult life. I drank the Kool-Aid, and repeated all the choreographed steps I was handed. It was until I began seeing how big business engages with the federal government, and seeing the puppet strings above the fog that covers much of the United States, that I began to understand what a tool I was. Revealing just another way in which the rich and powerful keep people down, maintain a grip on power, keeping government small enough to control, and out of the way of profits for shareholders at all cost.

The Both Political Parties Are Corrupt Theater Performance I See On Facebook Around Elections

It is interesting to watch people perform the both sides (Republicans & Democrats) are corrupt act leading up to this mid term election. I think about how I used to perform this act, and thinking I was doing the right thing, when I was just playing into the hands of the powers that be. The most important tool in the toolbox of the people in power is to get you to stay home on election day. If you are a conservative and you stay home, you are giving power to liberals, and if you are a liberal staying home, you are giving power to the conservatives. When you don’t identify in either camp, you are giving away power to whoever happens to be dominating in this latest cycle.

The belief that you have to identify and agree with everything a candidate or party has to say and do before you’ll vote for them, makes you an easy target for manipulation during any election cycle. You are the type of person that politicians will pander to, tell stories and try to convince you to be on their team, only to then shift course once in office, and stick with the party line. If your party has elements that you do not agree with, then get out and begin working on changing this. Sure, many of us would like to have more than two parties, with better representation, but we have the system we have, and until we get up and start being the change we want to see, nothing will ever change. We’ll just be a tool in the toolbox of those who do get out, and who are actively working to make the change they believe in.

Yes, there is corruption within both the Democrat and Republican parties. Yes, there are many aspects of government that does not work for the people. But, how does sitting at home and not voting do anything about this? How does rejecting both parties make any change at all? By taking this stance you are allowing yourself to become a disenfranchised voter, and ceding any power you have as an individual to those who are already in power, or poised to take power. I thought for many years that I was in control, I was retaining my power, by not supporting either Democrats or Republicans, because neither entirely reflected my values. I thought I was resisting corruption, by holding back my vote, when in reality I had been ceding my power to the Republicans. I realized this in the 2000 election, after my conservative step-father asked to mail in my ballot for me (illegal), but was still satisfied with me choosing not to mail at all–I was giving his party my vote by allowing myself to be disenfranchised, which is what conservatives thrive upon.

18 years later I am still finding my voice. Voting is never enough for me. I actively work to shine a light on corruption in both parties, and provide data intelligence for election workers and journalists at all levels. I rarely agree with the capital D Democratic party, but in response I’ve chosen to spend at least 20% of my career pushing back on their bullshit policies in DC. I’ve also chose to continue this while the Republicans are in party, holding my nose while traveling to DC to support the good people still there doing the hard work of running this country. I’m regularly working to retain and exercise my individual power, while working to expand it beyond just voting every two or four years. I will never again give up my voice, cede my power, and do the little choreographed jig about both sides are corrupt, and just stay home. Whenever I see my friends do this little dance on Facebook, it makes me very sad to think they are so willingly giving up their power as an American citizen.

Leading This Country For Everyone Or Leading This Country For Yourself

One thing that troubles me about the current (maybe its always been) state of conservatism, is their self-centered nature. Leading this country only for their vision, and their way of life, and not at all willing to lead this country for other people. I’m not delusional in thinking democrats lead for EVERYONE, or that it is even possible to lead for EVERYONE, but at least democrats try to ensure we all have healthcare, education, and everyone is given a certain amount of dignity as a US citizen.

The current administration and crop of conservatives aren’t even pretending that they care about all US citizens equally. They are actively calling out, targeting, and isolating certain groups, making it clear that whoever has power gets to dictate the vision for this country, and everyone else gets left behind. Defining the conservative vision of what government does in their eyes, ensuring it does not serve all the people equally, that it gets out of the way of business, even when it is steamrolling over people, hurting the environment, and generally making our country a harder place to make ends meet.

I feel like the current tone of things is a historical version conservatism being augmented with technologically amplified libertarianism. It is very scared, racist, homophobic, sexist, and self-centered view of the world, where you get what is yours, and fuck everyone else. Where you distract everyone by saying all those brown people are coming for your stuff and your jobs, when you are just looking to get yours the way white people have always got theirs, by suppressing and taking from others. This is the only way white people can stay so advantaged, and well-off, is by keeping others down, while you take more than you deserve in this fabricated market environment you and your followers have subscribed to, and built up as a religion.

Can you imagine looking out across America and thinking the people who look and act like you are the only true Americans? Can you imagine thinking that the police should look out for you, and it is ok for them to go after those people over there? Can you imagine thinking that it is OK for government to only serve and take care your needs, and the people who think and act like you? Then imagine how scare someone feels when people that don’t look like them are in power. This is how terrified people were when Barack Obama was president. They felt they were being treated just like they have historically treated people. Being left behind. Not being listened to. They were a minority. Worse, those other people over there were getting equal treatment, which means taking more than their fair share in the self-centered speak of an entitle, privileged, white American.

I do not agree with many of the views of conservatives in this country, but I do strongly believe they should be taken care of, just like the rest of us. They should have healthcare, education, and be able to make ends meet. While I’m really angry with many conservatives at the moment, I do not wish to hurt them, take away their rights, target, or punish them. They are my fellow Americans. I see this country as a mix of personalities, ethnicities, and belief systems. I don’t think there is one that is uniquely American. I do not see America as white and christian. I strongly believe whoever is in power at the municipal, county, state, and federal levels should be leading for everyone, not just leading for your own personal beliefs, or of those who look just like you. The fuck you, I got mine mentality of the current conservatives needs to go away, otherwise we will never realize our full potential as a country again.

Y'all Are About To Lose The Most Important Resource You Have In Ed-Tech

I fully get that I’m biased here, but I also have a unique view into the world of ed-tech. I’ve watched my partner in crime Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) dedicate herself to understanding the world of education technology over the last eight years. You can read her work on Hack Education, but it really is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her research, and the valuable information she produces each year for the ed-tech space.

Her weekly round-ups pull together all of the most relevant signals that occur each week, pulling all the links together into a weekly roundup, and resulting email newsletter. Her research goes back to June 2010, and is something she has faithfully tackled each week, with over 250 email newsletters in the inbox. Audrey does all of this unpaid, and out of her passion for understanding what is going on, and providing the community with an understanding of the landscape.

Her regular research is all available on Github, with a variety of projects ranging from watching the conversation around robots, all the way to detailed funding information that is driving ed-tech investment. All available on Github, in lightweight web standards, and machine readable formats whenever possible, allowing her work to be forked, downloaded and reused in other projects. Again, the majority of her research has been unfunded, and fueled only by her passion for understanding the positive and negative impact technology is having on our children.

What really blows my mind when it comes to her work, is the amount of energy she puts into her year end roundups, where she takes everything she has curated, written, and talked about over the year, and then publishes robust narratives regarding what has happened. Repeated every year since 2010:

  • 2017: The stories that were told this year included “fake news,” “the innovation gospel,” and “robots are coming for your jobs.”
  • 2016: Trends include for-profit higher education, personalization, and discrimination by design
  • 2015: Trends include online education, privacy, for-profit education, and activism via social media
  • 2014: Trends include outsourcing, social justice, data, and privacy
  • 2013: Trends include MOOCs, the Common Core State Standards, data, and privacy
  • 2012: Trends include MOOCs, learning-to-code, and the flipped classroom
  • 2011: Trends include Khan Academy, the iPad, and social media
  • 2010: Trends include the resurgence of ed-tech startups and ed-tech investment

Take a look at a couple of those years to get an idea for the scope involved. She spends the entire months of November and December working on these. I’m not talking 8 hour days, I’m talking non-stop, wake up until she goes to bed work, with breaks for eating. Again, all of this is unpaid. She does all of this because she cares about what is happening.

I watch all this work occur behind the scenes. I talk through a lot of this work with her over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I see her work so hard, seven days a week. This is one of the reasons I’m always so pissed off when the lazy, ignorant waves of entrepreneurs come along each year and accuse her of just hating technology. They don’t see the scope of work, talk with her about what is happening, and then label her as a luddite bitch who is just in there way. These people bother me, but I get their motivations, and what they are looking to do. They are interested in making as much money off education as they can, and she is in their way.

While those people bother me, what really grinds my gears is all of the people who benefit from her work, and tend to also care about the ed-tech space, but do not support her work. There are many people who donate to what she does. Thank you. However, there are many, many, many people who have pools of money for some pretty meaningless things, benefit from what she does, yet do not support her work. There is nobody doing what Audrey does in the space. She produces an enormous amount of useful work each week, and each year, all without their help or investment. She has spent thousands of unpaid hours, while other folks in the ed-tech space enjoy fat six figure salaries, and take her work for granted.

I’ll let you in on a secret. She’s burning out. Each year end round up gets harder and harder, the bullshit gets thicker, the trolls keep trolling, and I’m guessing she has maybe one, maybe two more years left in her. Ideally, someone should be paying her 100K for her year end roundup work to continue. Someone should fund it entirely, or a handful of people and organizations should come together and make sure it is properly funded, or it is going to go away. The lack of funding for her work really reflects the ed-tech space in my opinion, where only a handful of people truly care about the space, while the majority are either just looking to sell things to the space, and have convinced themselves they care, with the rest are just mindlessly repeating the marketing bullshit that gets passed around by those in control. Honestly, I’m looking forward to post Hack Education days, but I actually get what the space will be losing when all of this ends. It makes me sad. It makes me mad. That y’all would just let this happen.

Storytelling And The Technological Nothing

I love thinking about the power of storytelling on the world around us. Stories are how our realities are constructed, managed, and if you are fortunate, evolved. Stories are how we craft the future, maintain the present, and reshape the past to be what we want. Stories are how markets are made, torn down, and remade again. Stories have always been essential to how business gets done, but in a virtualized web based landscape, stories are how we allocate space, visualize what is happening, and capture the attention of the masses.

Storytelling is how technologists shape our vision of what is possible on the web. Releasing a sustained barrage of stories around how blockchain will transform every industry, artificial intelligence will shape our lives, and how the future will be completely automated. Storytelling is how technologists allocate memory space, until technology catches up to our visions of what the future will hold–real or perceived. We are constantly allocating space that may never become reality, and ever actually put to use, taking advantage of the short term, random access memory of the tech fanboys, and mainstream technophile. Repeatedly capturing their attention with what might be, could be, and occasionally what will be.

When I was growing up, a movie called the Neverending Story captured my imagination. In this movie the great evil was called the nothing, which was consuming everything, killing our imagination. I see market based, technological storytelling as the nothing most days. Capturing our imaginations with fictional stories that are delivered as truths, and when they allocate memory and begin burrowing, they begin digitizing our memories–reducing our attention span, encouraging memory reallocation, reprogramming, until everything is new, everything is wonderful, even though very little is ever fully realized. A technological nothing virus spread with the help fictional stories, sold to us as reality via marketing and advertising engines.

Storytelling isn’t bad. Believing in fantasies isn’t bad. It is when storytelling becomes digitized in the service of markets, and we can’t tell truth from fiction, that we begin to lose our way. It isn’t that artificial intelligence is bad, it is the lies, half truths, and fantasies that get told to us so that we can be sold AI voodoo, is when it becomes bad. Blockchain isn’t bad, it is the scams, smoke and mirrors, and hiding of our dark untrustworthy beliefs rooted in our financial system, that are dangerous. Automation isn’t bad, it is using automation to scare, hurt, and manipulate the masses when it comes to labor, surveillance, and digital exploitation, that it becomes so damaging. AI, Blockchain, automation, and other technological spectacles are being used to capture your attention, program your future, distract your present, and erase your past, through malicious storytelling.

90% of what you are being told about AI, Blockchain, and automation right now isn’t truthful. It is only meant allocate space in your imagination, so that at the right time you can be sold something, and distracted while your data, privacy, and security can be exploited, or straight up swindled out from under you. Many people who are pushing forward the technological nothing truly believe that AI, Blockchain, and automation can do what they are promising, and just want to allocate mindshare until reality catches up with their storytelling–with no accountability regarding if it is every truly delivered, because we’ll already have moved on to the next story, and the next allocation of memory for the the next nothing. A perpetual technological nothing, programming, and reprogramming itself in your imagination through storytelling. Getting more dreamlike with each cycle, eliminating our ability for critical thinking, to remember the past, and define your own future.

Writing My Alternative Stories In A Fake News Landscape

I haven’t written much on my alternate reality blog since the 2016 election. It just seemed wrong to me to write fictional stories that might be seen as real in this dystopian landscape we find ourselves in. Even though I clearly label my stories as being fictional, I just couldn’t find the energy to invest in this type of writing in these times. Part of it was the way they might be seen on the current storytelling landscape, but mostly it was about me struggling with a fake news infestation in my personal life–with some family and friends embracing a non-factual, anti-science faith to cope with our world.

I’ve come to terms in the last year that I can’t go home and discuss politics, or even the work I do as the API Evangelist. My disconnect with folks who I grew up with, and their lack of awareness of the mental illness that is pervasive in their rurally isolated environments, has allowed move on. Removing myself from the madness has helped me address some of my own mental health issues, and understand the importance of storytelling in all of our lives. As I explore the world around me I need to be able to tell stories about what I’m seeing, and work to make sense of it all. I see the importance of both fictional, and non-fictional storytelling in my life. However, for me, the difference between these worlds is just as important as the fictional, and non-fictional accounts–others lack of awareness of what is real, and what is not, shouldn’t hold me back from working through the world on my terms.

My alternate storytelling was designed to counteract the blind belief in technology I am seeing around the world. Seemingly well adjusted people believing in the hype and marketing around what the Internet does or doesn’t do, and what newer trends like artificial intelligence, and blockchain are capable of. How much difference is there between people in the city believing that artificial intelligence will transform their life, or blockchain is inevitable, than there is with people in rural areas not believing the moon is real, or that the deep state controls all of our fate. In the end, for me, it is all about the power of storytelling. We just need more storytellers who are honest, not bought and paid for, out there telling meaningful stories that matter to everyday people. Helping people realize that the world might seem scary, but the best path forward involves education, addressing our mental health issues, and won’t always be about technology saving the day.

The world is only as scary as we make it, and reflect the stories we tell. If we believe the world is out to get us, and that it could end at every moment, this becomes the truth. It becomes the truth for us, and our children. However, if we tell stories that help us make sense of the scary things out there, and help craft stories that are rooted in facts, and are derived from real world experiences, we can help ground people in their lives. Stories have historically helped us through hard times, the challenge right now is that there are people who are heavily invested in telling untrue stories, and spreading misinformation to further their ideology, or simply to generate ad impressions. We don’t need less storytellers, we need more. We need more truth tellers, but also more fictional storytellers who aren’t trying to control you or scare the shit out of you. Politics, technology, and the world around us can be very complicated, and scary at times, and stories help us make sense of it all.

I can’t let the scared, isolated, fearful storytellers win. I can let myself retreat into isolation, and stop making sense of the world around me. I need to keep telling real world API stories on API Evangelist, and Kin Lane. I also need to push the alternative narrative on my platform to help point out the bullshit that is going on, and show that fictional stories can help us make sense of scary things that are occurring. If nothing else, my fictional stories help me blow off steam, and allow me to do more of the mundane API and technology blah blah blah that pays my bills. I try to keep my technology storytelling rooted in reality, and provide meaningful value to my readers, but sometimes the repetition, and technical details get to me, and writing fictional pieces helps me balance it all out. I’m finding balance in my life through storytelling, and with some distance from my rural upbringing, and spending more time talking to people around the world, I’m finding strength in my voice, and stability in my world view. Alternative storytelling is a significant part of this, and I don’t want to give it up, because people I know prefer to live their lives telling lies.

Using Your Lack Of Trust To Take Advantage Of You

One of the things I find most fascinating about the blockchain, is how it is built upon people’s lack of trust. Something that makes it very appealing to libertarians, and white men, who are the tip of the anti-institution, and can’t trust anyone spear. What people in these modes of reality fail to see from the inside is how their lack of trust makes them more easily manipulated when it comes to politics, markets, and other daily events. When you trust no one, you become more susceptible to stories, myths, and tales, and more resistant to seeing the position your in when someone points it out.

With the blockchain, people will accept a significant amount of technical complexity, over a much more simplified way of doing things, because blockchain equals trust, or so we are told. In a trust vacuum, while being convinced math equals truth, and decentralization equals safety, we are opening up ourselves to any number of magic tricks, and slight of hand. All because we do not trust anyone. We let our insecurities get the best of us, and those who control the message are given a huge amount of control over our lives, emotions, and belief systems. With all of it invisible to us, because of the shadows that are cast by our lack of trust in all institutions.

Don’t trust the media? Put it on the block chain! Don’t trust banks? Put it on the block chain! Don’t trust universities? Put it on the block chain! Don’t trust healthcare? Put it on the blockchain! 90% of the blockchain believers do not understand what the blockchain actually is. The other 10% understand what it is, but are so willing to overlook ideological undercurrents, and current realities, making it all a very manipulative game to participate in. Reflecting existing markets, but lacking many of the checks and balances, regulations, and other mechanisms that keep things somewhat grounded. Establishing whole new set of markets based upon not trusting, which creates mass blind spots the believers are unable to see, and unwilling to acknowledge even once they are pointed out.

I don’t doubt the blockchain, as a technology will have a role to play in some industries. However, much like the Internet’s inability to shake its military origins and use as a surveillance apparatus, I think the blockchain will never be able to shake its roots in a zero trust environment. Which requires a massive amount of faith in mathematics (not humans), and belief in the distributed nature of the web (which isn’t real). Removing any trust in institutions and the physical word, and putting it completely within the real of magic, out of reach of most average users, and into the control of a few wizards. Making it even more dangerous of an environment to operate in than current markets, and the real world of fiat driven markets. Something I don’t think we’ve even begun to see the potential for exploitation, and damage to the stability of our society.

You Raised Me On A Steady Diet Of Fear Of Everything Russian, And Now You Expect Me To Think They Are Good?

You raised me on a steady diet which included a fear of everything Soviet, communist, and Russian. In the classroom, on the television, and conversations around the dinner table. I went to bed at night planning for an invasion that was inevitable. When I gathered with my friends at the river on the weekends, we’d train for the coming attack. The fear of the Russians consumed me, and became part of my DNA, setting me on the same perpetual doomsday reality you’ve embraced, and see as normal.

Now you expect me to be as blind as you. Ignore the racism, homophobia, propaganda, and hatred your fear and doomsday reality allows you to overlook. There is no pure race living in the woods in a natural state, there is only racist propaganda that allows you to be controlled. The Russian people are good, but those in power, spreading propaganda that speaks to the left as well as the right in this country only want to hurt us. You find this on the web, and you feel it speaks truth, without any understanding of how the web works, or ever seeing the puppet strings in play.

The shift from fearing Russians to trusting them amongst conservatives in this country has only revealed the fear and racism for me. It demonstrates how much fear there was when I was growing up, and how controlled the people were around me. Something that continues to this day, keeping people isolated, controlled, and believing in some apocalypse that is right around the corner, that will ultimately save us all (except the brown people). Without ever having been to Russia, spoken to any Russian citizens or exiles, you’ll stare into a bright propaganda painting and believe it is the future. Never questioning the damage that is being done right around you in the real world as you gaze wide eyed into this hateful landscape.

You keep believing your fantasies. You keep living in fear. Your belief in a pure people are nothing new. These fantasies go back to the beginning of time, and are used to control weak and fearful people. Eventually, the world will close in around you. Your gardens of isolation cannot protect you from reality, and at some point you will have to realize the damage your apocalyptic visions have inflicted in your own community. Maybe someday you will see that the brown people right around you aren’t a threat, and that those white people far away aren’t your friends. Maybe someday you’ll see the puppet strings the rich people use to keep you isolated, controlled, and out of their way.

For me, as an adult, I live on a new diet. I don’t fear the world around me. I know that most people are good, and work to expose those who wish to hurt us. I see the Russian propaganda machine for what it is. I see the web as a tool born of military origins, and being used to deliver misinformation. I question every fearful tale that I’m told, then venture out into the world to gather facts, learn from opposing perspectives, and push myself to learn each day. I wont stay isolated again, allowing my reality to be crafted by the fearful people around me. I’m in charge of crafting my own reality, and encouraging our children to do the same. I’m not letting their reality be dictated by people they grew up with–including me. Everyone should venture out into the world, and craft their own reality. One rooted in reality, and not just fear.

The Talk About Working To Meet Conservatives Half Way And Learn Their Perspective

I’ve talked several times this last year about my difficulty in reaching out to friends and family with conservative views, and how I can’t get over their use of alternative facts and reality. I’ve had several more conversations with folks lately about reaching across party lines, and taking another look at why I have trouble connecting with the Trump supporters in my life. Even saying that maybe I should find some conservatives who aren’t my family or friends that maybe I’m not so emotionally attached to, and allow myself to have a conversation where I do not get so angry.

Over the last two weeks I’ve put a lot more thought into it, and I’ve come back around to the “fuck no” position. I refuse to feel like I have to meet these people half way, on issues that are so important, and that I have to discuss things that aren’t real, made up, and rooted purely in racism and hatred. The reason I’m getting emotional isn’t because I’m talking to friends and family, I’m getting emotional because I care about these issues, and I care about reality. I care about facts, science, and other human beings. I’m not going to give the other side the legitimacy in their believes by meeting them half way. I’m sorry, I’m just not–they can fuck off.

What I will do, is spend more time reaching out to people of color, different religions, and from other countries. I will spend time sitting down with marginalized people who are impacted by the negative policies of the current administration and their supporters. I will spend time listening to people who do not look and think like me, who are not currently part of the white supremacy nationalism that is taking hold in America. I will not be meeting this damaging nationalist movement halfway. I don’t care what economic agenda they say is more important. I’m going to focus purely on a human agenda, which is much more important than the whispers of capitalism and the 1% who are benefitting today. The economy and tax breaks do not get priority over treating people like their are human beings–it doesn’t work this way in my world.

I do not feel like the path forward involves finding compromise between the Democratic and Republican parties, especially when the current crop of Republicans have demonstrated that they will give up so much just so they can have their racist agenda. This desire for compromise amongst the ruling parties has gotten us into the bad situation we find ourselves in. I will not be reaching across the aisle, I will be working to reach out and listen to the people negatively impacted by our white male dominated reality. I will stop taking leadership positions, and support women and people of color taking the lead. I will not meet hatred halfway. I will not meet racism halfway. I will not support capitalism halfway. I’m tired of meeting halfway, only to see so many other people get left behind. The call to meet the other side halfway is a distraction, a siren call from the machine that benefits me, and keeps other people down.

The demands to work with the other side are about finding compromise to maintain the current white supremacy machine. I’m done. It doesn’t matter if “they” refuse to see the racism this represents, and are in support of. It doesn’t make it go away. I don’t care if I’m called uncivil and unfriendly. I’m just being uncivil to a group of people who’ve embraced hatred, and refuse to acknowledge that other humans who do not look like them are equal. I’d rather reach out to the people they are so willing to leave behind, and refuse to see. I feel like conversations around reaching out between the white people in control are about maintaining the status quo. I’d rather reach out to those who are under-represented, and support people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to speak up. Us white men need to step back, and support a new generation of leaders. It is clear that we can’t govern without just maintaining the same awfulness we have since the beginning of time.

I’m done with the ignorance. I’m done with the fear. I’m done with the lies and made up history. It sounds damaging to shun “the other side”, but until we bring everyone to the table and give them a voice, I think it is what has to occur. I trust my heart, and I’m tired of having my emotions intentionally stirred by conservatives who enjoy taunting liberals, and hating on people of color. I won’t be accused of gaslighting when I’m only talking about the damage their fear of world, racism, anti-semitism, and doomsday lies have inflicted. I feel it will take a generation or two of healing before the right in this country will be taken seriously again. For me, I’m not sure I will ever fully be able to heal and forgive after this election, until I see people of color truly given a voice–which I only hope will happen in my lifetime.

How Will The Hyperloop Address The Politics Of Transportation?

As technologists we love being captivated by the potential of the technology we peddle. Whether we are influenced by money, or just purely our love of technology, we enjoy believing in the power of technology to make change so much that we are willing to ignore so many other factors. This reality, coupled with the dominance of white men in the tech sector, make for a pretty potent form of delusion around what technology will be able to do. Something you can see evident in the world of transportation, ranging from Uber to the Hyperloop–we want to believe, while also being willing to ignore so much damage that is occurring across the landscape.

Whenever I talk critically about the hyperloop, I get a number of people who want to tell me I’m wrong, and that the hyperloop represents true innovation, and Elon Musk and other technologists are heroes. One thing I ask when I get this type of push back is about how hyperloop will help address the politics that surrounds the planning, operation, and pricing of public and private transportation. Let’s say that hyperloop gets up and running in LA, Chicago, or the other places we’ve heard that it is coming. How does hyperloop address the politics around real estate involved with station stops? Or around the cost of safety and maintenance? Or around the pricing and availability of trains? How does hyperloop resist all the other illnesses that creep in around the operation of transportation systems?

Hyperloop doesn’t posses any unique characteristics beyond existing technologies. Other transit systems have underground tunnels. Other transit systems travel at high speeds. Other transit systems don’t use traditional metal rails for moving trains along. What makes hyperloop so special so that it is immune from the effects of government bureaucracy or privatization? Except the fact that it is so new, unproven, and still just part of our imagination. There is nothing being proposed that will prevent hyperloop from being delayed, or cost more than current solutions. There will be nothing that prevents ticket prices from skyrocketing as they do with Amtrak, or other solutions. There will be nothing that prevents unionization of hyperloop workers, as well as the good and the bad that unions can bring to the table. It is easy to be excited by hyperloop when you only look at the technology, and ignore the business and politics of the transportation industry.

As I write this I’m riding a high speed train from Paris to Grenoble, on a day in between the strike by France’s powerful unions. As I travel 288 km/h, something you don’t see in the United States, I’m reminded of what could be in the US if we focused on not just the technology, but also the business and politics of transportation. Somehow we’ve allowed our individually-centered mentality get the best of us and think that our isolated, traffic-jammed realities in our personally owned automobiles, or exploitative on-demand reality with Uber and Lyft is better than investing in public transportation. As we cut the budgets of transit operators, suffocate Amtrak, and exploit the on-demand economy’s drivers, the rest of the world is passing us by through finding a balance between the technology, business, and politics of transportation. I realize there is no perfect solution, or utopian vision of transportation, but if we invest in reality, I feel we can collectively move the transportation conversation forward.

I Learned To Talk Openly About My Past From You

I desperately needed to write this week, but this is not the subject I wanted to be writing about. I’m crushed that Anthony Bourdain took his life. I have too much experience with suicide. So much, it has changed my opinion on it, from confusion to understanding. I don’t see suicide as a viable way out, but I understand why people choose to do it. For me, the combination of the tricks that my head plays on me when in overdrive, the low lows of deep depression, and life in general, can make suicide seem logical. Suicide isn’t in the cards for me, and I’ve never ever have considered taking my own life, but as my friend Manny, another soldier chose to do, I know you can always seek the assistance of a police officer to help you out–I have entertained this route once or twice in the 1990s.

I’ve never entertained such thoughts since my daughter was born in 2000. Its just not in the cards, no matter what madness and depression comes my way. I’ve fought through hell before, and I’ll continue to do it. However, I get why people choose to check out. I breaks my heart. Crushes me, and continues to take people I care about away, but I get it. You never can really ever know how much pain someone is in, or what their minds and bodies are doing to them. One thing I didn’t realize from the age of 14-28, is the impact my drug use would have on my mind later in life. There are days I just can’t make my brain work, slow it down, or steer it in any direction that I’d like it to go. I can tell that all the expansion of my mind I did early on in my youth is going to continue to come back and haunt me in some devastating ways, and that it will continue to be something I won’t have much control over.

I can’t help but think this is some of what contributed to Anthony’s state of mind. He openly talked about his drug use in his youth. It was something that taught me that I could do the same. It was only after watching his shows did I entertain the idea of talking publicly about my addiction when we embarked on our summer of Drone Recovery. I had NEVER talked about my earlier drug use, criminal history, and mental illness before that moment. Anthony Bourdain openly talking about his own struggles on his show taught me that I could still be successful, even if I was open about my past. I’m thankful to him for this. It freed me. It might not save me in the end, as it didn’t seem to be enough to save him, but I feel like it will help me in my journey. Hopefully it is something that might also help someone else along the way as well.

I hope you’ve found some peace Anthony. Thank you for everything gave us. I never met you, but I feel like I know you. I don’t question you leaving us. I get it. You wrote. You made art. You spoke your mind. You made a difference. I am forever thankful for the impact you made on me, and the world. Something that I will always think about, and use as I travel the world drinking, eating, and writing. Thank you!

Fighting The Yeast Beast With Probiotics

My health isn’t something I normally blog about here on my personal blog. I did talk briefly about my alcohol consumption when I hit a wall a couple years back, but I just made another discovery that I think is worth writing in my journal. I have always had a sour, upset, and sensitive stomach. I feel like about 25% of it is my body, with 75% of it being the abuse I’ve inflicted on myself by what I eat and drink. Most days my stomach feel pretty bad, and is something I have usually referred to as the yeast beast in stomach–a beast I’ve fed a steady diet of beer, bread, and meat over the last 25 years.

I’ve heard stories about probiotics on the radio and in the news, but a couple weeks back my daughter shared a story with me of someone she had talked to who had drank beer for years, had stomach problems, and had found relief by taking probiotics–telling me it reminded her of me. After a week of thinking on it I found myself standing in front of the yogurt aisle, looking at the probiotic kefir drinks. I bought a small sampler of one of the honey flavored drinkable yogurts, which is a little weird to choke down at first. However, immediately after drinking the first one, my stomach felt better. I would describe it like a fire extinguisher coating my stomach with foam, suffocating the fire.

Now, after five days of drinking probiotics I continue to notice a significant difference in how my stomach feels. It isn’t some miracle cure, as I think the damage I’ve done will take years to heal, but I feel like I’m able to push back the yeast beast a little each day, and give my stomach a break. Honestly, I can tell the beast is under assault because tries to fight back, but with regular shots of probiotics I am able to maintain the upper hand, where historically I feel like I have been regularly losing the battle. Giving me hope that I can begin to change how my stomach feels, and with some additional changes to my diet, begin to put myself on a more sensible, and healthier track.

I’m definitely not someone to ever feel like I have the fix that others need to adopt. I’m just sharing as part of my own narrative, but if someone else struggles with the same thing, it might be something to consider. I’m not a fan of drinking yogurt. I do not like drinking milk. However, the benefits here are seriously outweighing the downside. We’ll see how things go after a couple of weeks, or months. If things continue as they are I feel like I might win this war against this beast that lives in my belly. Something I’ve fed and was letting grow into something that could easily become life threatening at some point in my life. I never would have thought something as simple as live yogurt would be the fix–sometimes I really am my own worst enemy.

Choosing Not To Seize The Day

I work very hard to be in the moment, and enjoy each day to its fullest. The things that usually get in my way are money and work. If I let these things own me, I have a difficult time settling in each day, and ending up thinking purely about what the future holds, and wasting this amazing moment I’ve been given each day. As I struggle to seize each day, I also find myself continuing my work to free myself of my legacy programming from people I know who spend their days completely obsessed about the possible futures, and choosing to not seize the day, opening up the opportunity for it to be seized by others.

These folks I know are obsessed with the coming financial collapse around the corner of each day, week, or month. The inevitable collapse of society that is imminent, and invasion from our government that has been a constant their entire lives. Strapping a gun to their hip, or making decisions about where they can’t or won’t go because they need to have a gun on them, in case some “event” or “incident” occurs. Shaping their days based upon any number of possible futures dreamed up as the result of obsessing over their deepest fears and anxieties–never once stopping to think about the gift of moment in time in which they have been given.

As I look out the window through the ivy leaves, why would I want to give up my day worrying about possible futures. Why let the day be seized by a possible future event, or be defined and shaped by what you fear? Seizing the day isn’t just about you taking control over this moment, it is seizing it from all of the possible futures, and seizing it from the fears you have been programmed with in your past. These ivy leaves in the window sill aren’t living today worried about winter. They aren’t obsessing over when this building will some day be torn down, or something built to block it’s growth. The ivy is living for today, this moment, absorbing any light that it can. While it may be putting down roots for the future, and built upon the past, it is living in it’s moment in the sunshine today.

Why would I waste my day writing about all of this? Well, for one, I’m seizing the day to write about what is on my mind while working to unwind my past. Two, I hope that people I know will read this, and realize that they are letting the world control them, and they are missing opportunities to spend days with those that they love, and love them. All because of stories they’ve told themselves, been told by others, and fears they cling to. You won’t be shot by bad people when you venture out into the world. The world will not collapse next week, just like the 100+ times it hasn’t done before, despite you spending your days obsessing over it. I know you feel you’ve seized control, but you’ve let your guns, racism, sexism, and world views carve out a very narrow definition of what your day could be–then seizing within that limited, closet sized view of what your day will be.

Each day I am able to seize the widest possible definition of my day that I can. Across multiple cities, states, or countries if I so choose. I do this without being shot. I do this without the financial system crumbling around me, or the government invading my home. I do this without any brown person hurting me or taking my job. I do this without dying of cancer received from being scanned at the airport. Why is it that I’m able to move around so freely? What makes it so that I can seize the day without a gun on my side, or within arms reach? It is because I’ve chosen to seize the day from the fears I’ve been programmed with in the past, and from the possible futures these fears can dream up. I’ve seized the day for me. Not for what might be. It is my day. I get to decide. I get to enjoy it to its fullest, without any concern for tomorrow.

Bending Reality To Fit Your View Of The World

A post in the Washington Post getting at the root of Trump’s definition of fake news caused me to pause and think a bit. His Twitter ranting reveals a lot about how he truly sees the world, pulling back the curtain on what he actually means when he says fake news. Here is his recent Tweet:

“The Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?”

The portion that is revealing in all of this is the “91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake)” portion. Demonstrating that he feels anything negative about him, or anything that challenges his view of the world is fake. Showcasing an important tool in the toolbox of his supporters, and the conservatives who share his view of the world. Folks who feel the world is passing them by, and refuse to change or understand the world, are increasingly choosing to bend reality to fit their view of the world, and using it to dismiss anything they don’t agree with.

This allows isolated people who are terrified of the world to rationalize their views, and dismiss anything that challenges or opposes their position. Giving them license, as they see it to craft a world in their view and dismiss everyone else’s views as fake, a conspiracy, or anything else that helps advance their cause. It is almost a defense mechanism in a very scary world of people who are all out to get you, and something that rationalizes your isolation, and position the world–allowing you not to change.

You don’t have to travel, because airplane scanners are poisoning you. Cities are toxic. You don’t have to read, because it is all lies, conspiracy and fake news. The government is only out to get you, take things from you, and prevent you from being free. Doctors all want to kill you. Judges are all trying to lock you up. Your guns are the only thing standing in between you and the world getting you. Anything that challenges this reality is fake. Is a conspiracy. Allowing your isolated narrative to flourish and take root, and everything else becomes fake.

It is easier to bend reality to fit your view of the world than to have to go out in the world, and change to fit in. Or at the least, be able to relate to people who aren’t like you. It is much easier to stay with your kind, believe the tales that get told in your circles, and dismiss everything else as untrue. Ultimately, I think that folks who live like this have been telling themselves lies for so long, they do not know any other way. Not that they can’t find their way out, but they’ve barricaded themselves into this reality and are aware of the bubble they live in, but are too afraid to ever come out and face reality, and the world around them.

Can You Imagine Spending Your Life Focusing On The World Ending?

I’ve been coming to grips with the apocalyptic upbringing I’ve had growing up in a small town in Oregon. From an early age I’ve been fed a steady diet of apocalyptic rhetoric ranging from nuclear holocaust to financial collapse induced chaos, and everything in between. Growing up I ate it up, and baked it all into my world view. It is something that I can now look back and understand how it caused me to spin out of control as a young man. It is something that in my 40s I’m finally beginning to understand, and gain perspective after putting many years in between me and my youth, as well as some distance between my current life and my rural upbringing.

In Oregon, focusing on the world as we know it ending is “normal”. Most people I grew up with spend a significant portion of their days contemplating it, and it preoccupies many folks so that they end up investing most of their life, money, and energy toward preparing for the world ending in some form or another. Once I’ve gotten some distance from it, while also continuing to watch it play out through my Facebook connections, I’ve come to realize what a disease this mindset is. One that afflicts mostly white, poor, rural folks, but is something that can spread to other communities, and groups of people depending on their level of fear of the world around them.

From my vantage point I can see this perspective for what it is now–fear, poverty, isolation. When you are in it, it is difficult to see if for what it is. It becomes almost comforting. You have something to keep you busy. It keeps you distracted from the condition that is your existence. While I still bothered by talk of the apocalypse, financial collapse, and general dangers of the world, I feel like I’m finally finding enough success and distance where it is something that makes me more sad, than angry. I feel bad for folks who dwell here. The idea of being given a life, only to spend it worrying about things taking a turn for the worst is troubling. You have a life, within a fairly stable society, but you look forward to things going wrong every day of your life. You want it to happen. You desire and dream about it.

Waiting for the government to come for you. The financial system to collapse. Society to break down. All seem to be symptoms of a larger illness. Something I want to understand more. For the first time in 45 years I feel like I’ve moved beyond this illness, but now I’m determined to understand the condition better. I don’t think I will ever be cured of this disease. It has impacted my life too significantly. Even with the ability to look at it in the rear view mirror, and on social media channels, I can still drift back in my 19 year old head where I thought it was real. I can still see the year 2000 which I never thought I’d live to see. Even with these images in my head, I no longer stress over nuclear war, or what tomorrow brings. I prefer to live now. I could have the knowledge of some calamity right around the corner, and I’d still just live today.

I think often about the people I know who fret over things breaking down daily. Completely sure that just over the horizon things are going to fall apart. Perpetually believing it will happen despite it not happening over and over again. A broken record of calamity and doom, but you can’t hear each skip, or the song repeating. I don’t know how to help them out of their rut. I don’t know how to show them how bright the future can be. I don’t know how to help them see the world is only as scary as they’ve been told and continue to believe. I wish I could walk them through the world as I see it, and help them know that there is more to all of this. That this is no way to live, and that it only allows you to be controlled by others.

Can you imagine spending your life thinking the world is going to end? To be given the gift of life, but to set it aside to live in a bubble of fear and misinformation? I’m so thankful for each day. To be able to do what I do. Know the people I know. To have the experiences I have had, and will continue to have. Each day is special. Why would I want to throw it away thinking something bad will happen? I just can’t do that anymore. I do not expect to live forever, which makes each day precious. It makes it something I have to work hard to showcase, discuss, and talk about. Who knows, maybe I can help one more person see this condition, and find a way to move beyond it. Be able to see the world for what it is, and not what we fear it being.

Moving Forward In A World That Does Not Want To Forgive

I just received notification I was denied a role on a project for a federal agency because I couldn’t produce enough documentation regarding my troubled past – specifically criminal charges (not convictions) involving my drug use 20 years ago, and my divorce / bankruptcy a decade ago. It comes at a time where I’m also hearing about projections around my partners kid regarding his more recent troubled past, in which he has worked incredibly hard to put behind him. Emphasizing for me (once again) how you have to keep moving forward in a world that does not want to ever forgive you for the mistakes you’ve made. No matter how out of your control they might have been, or how long ago they’ve might have occurred. Once you fuck up, the world will almost always continue to see you as a fuck up. I’ve just learned it is more about them, than it ever is about me.

As part of the Drone Recovery work with the kid, I dished out my own amount of judgement on the poor guy. In my defense, I was dealing with him first hand, and as a former junkie myself, I know the headspace you are in at the moment. I also know that my judgement would be much softer and forgiving than what he’d encounter in the real world. With that said, I have to give it to him. He has pulled his shit together, and continues to move forward in a world that doesn’t want to forgive him. He’s going to have to roll with that judgement now, and for the rest of his life. He seems to be doing that. More power to him. Keep pushing back, and doing your thing, in your way. Don’t let anyone fucking change you. I just hope that when you hit your 20+ year mark, and you encounter your former self–you show compassion. Not too much, but just enough. The right balance will be hard to find.

I’ve worked really hard to get where I’m at. I’m mostly unfazed by the notice I got from this federal agency yesterday. However, I did want to pause and take note of how unforgiving the world is. It expects you to not make mistakes, and if you do, you have are expected to keep documentation around explaining what happened. I was expected to have documentation explaining what happened in 1994-1997 in my life. I was asked the first and last date I did drugs. Really? I was a junkie! There is no way I can tell you the first date, but the last court date was approximately the last time I did anything. The irony of it all is that I actually was asked to pay almost $20K (CASH) to the officers and lawyer(s) involved in the case in Effingham, Illinois, and they said that the felonies would never be on my record (HA!). Which also included a signed nude photo of Pamela Anderson in exchange for recording the whole incident (another felony they said). I’m guessing none of these officers will never have to account for their bad behavior, as this isn’t how the machine works.

Anyways, I’m also thankful for the failed marriage I had after this, because she pushed me to stay clean, develop my career, and I have an amazing daughter whom I love with all my heart. However, apparently a divorce and bankruptcy is unacceptable as well, especially if you can’t get the dysfunctional county to produce documentation within the required seven day deadline. I have no regrets, and I sure as hell didn’t keep any of that paperwork around beyond five years–having dumped it in the recycling bin years ago. Who the hell keeps that kind of stuff around in a filing cabinet? In order to move on I shed EVERYTHING from these times in my life, allowing myself to move forward without the cords attached to me by others during these times. It was part of my healing process, and I find it ridiculous that a federal agency would require me to produce documentation around these past life events within a seven day window–especially when they know first hand the speed at which government moves. I’m guessing they assume everyone has a filing cabinet of every life event? IDK.

Well, I just needed to vent on this. I’m heading into an all day workshop in Paris, and I need to be present, and wearing my complete API Evangelist costume. I don’t need people projecting their shit on me, and making me feel like I’m a fuck up because I don’t meet their standards. Fuck them. You either sit down and get to know me, and understand what I bring to the table, or move along. I don’t have time to play your bullshit games. I’ve worked way to hard to get where I am. I’m fully accountable for my actions as a young man, but I’m also accountable for my actions as an adult–which should override my previous life. Like the kid, I picked myself up, pulled my shit together, and rarely looked in the rear view mirror. I’ve just kept pushing forward, doing what matters to me, and never compromising who I am. 20 years later I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing. I have an amazing kid of my own. I have an amazing partner in crime. I make a good living, and I’m making a positive impact on the world. If you don’t trust me, feel comfortable being around me, or want to work with me–no problem. Move right along. I’ve got things to do. You are the one missing out, not me. If you change your mind, I’m easy to find. Drop me a line anytime.

I am proud of who I am. I’m not ashamed of the mistakes I’ve made. I’ll just keep moving forward in a world that does not want to forgive. It does make you wonder who is to blame for there being so many junkies–the world, or the individuals? Ponder that one…

My White Male Spreadsheet

I’ve been in search of analogy to help me work through and articulate some of self-reflection I’ve been doing since the election, and I’ve arrived at a spreadsheet analogy that is pretty dumb as fuck, but honestly I think that is one of the things that makes it work for me, and represents my condition fairly well. The spreadsheet represents my world view. What I see in the world, and reflects all the information I have access to, the calculations I need to make on a regular basis, and the visualizations I have available to me.

This white male spreadsheet represents my default mode of operation, kind of like the trusty spreadsheet used to operate a small business, but this one operates my reality. This is my spreadsheet, but for this analogy to work everyone must have a spreadsheet which they operate from. Everyone would have different columns, and information available to them, with different calculations they have to make on a regular basis. Other white men will actually operate from almost the exact same spreadsheet, with women, people of color, and different nationalities have their own variations, or entirely different versions of a spreadsheet to work from. Now, I hesitate defining other people’s world as a spreadsheet, but for western white people, I think it actually works pretty well.

Growing up, my spreadsheet was pretty basic, with a limited number of columns, and information available. As I grew older and gained more experience new columns would appear, but my spreadsheet was very much crafted by my family and the world around me. I didn’t have any notion of the hidden columns, just that as I grew up, new columns would magically appear, and soon I learned if I traveled and expanded my reality other new columns would sometimes appear. However, if I stayed in my white world, and operate within my male reality, columns pretty much stayed as they were. My spreadsheet was mostly known knowns, with a handful of known unknowns appearing from time to time. My spreadsheet was pretty dialed in. Comfortable. Allowing me to operate in the world. It almost seems that if I stayed around other people with the similar spreadsheet configuration things were ok. Nothing seemed out of place. Everything was normal.

Nobody ever told me there were hidden columns in the spreadsheet. Once I begun spending more time outside of my comfort zone, beyond where all spreadsheets were the same, and started looking over the shoulder of my partners spreadsheet, and other friends, I started noticing they had different columns, or entirely different spreadsheets. I had never noticed the male harassment column until I started watching my partners spreadsheet on a regular basis. I never really considered the calculations she had to make walking home from the bar after a conference, or how she would receive entirely different responses for exact same criticism about technology. I could say something and nobody would feel the need to tell me I was wrong, but if she said the same thing, 20 dudes would come out of the woodwork to let her know how out of line she was. She had a bunch of columns in her spreadsheet that I had never seen before.

I got curious. What else is going on? What are columns, calculations, and visualizations existed? Then I began learning about other columns, like the red line column for my black friends, which dictated where they could buy a house. The whole other set of calculations they had to make when it came to what they could or couldn’t do in public. Governing how they could behave in stores, the workplace, and on the streets. My spreadsheet had very little in common with my black friend’s spreadsheet, no matter how nice of a person I thought I was, and how completely NOT racist I might consider myself. I was able to operate by a completely different set of rules, and was privileged enough to have access to a whole bunch of columns and information that weren’t available to my friends. Many of the columns in my spreadsheet seemed linked together with other people in my white people network, giving me access to things I had always taken for granted, and just assumed everyone else had access to.

Once I noticed things were different, I got freaked out. However, this quickly turned into curiosity regarding what other differences existed out there. I began inquiring about my latino friend’s spreadsheet, and those of my LGBTQ friends. Wait, white gay men have different spreadsheets than other transgender folks? Not all black people have the same spreadsheets? All of sudden I realize there are all these blind spots in my spreadsheet–hidden columns that were right beneath the surface. I realized nobody had ever showed me this feature. I seemed to have higher levels of privelege when it comes to access to unhide columns in my spreadsheet, over what some of my other friends have access to. There seemed to be some higher level platform level control, that dictates who gets access to what, and what information is available in our spreadsheets.

When I tried explaining that there are hidden columns to some friends and family I’m made to feel like I’m crazy. There are no hidden columns! Quit gaslighting us! I know that we exist and operate in this spreadsheet with a limited set of columns, and known calculations, but THERE IS NO HIDDEN COLUMNS!!! There is no convincing folks that there is more to all this. They almost seem afraid and scared to have the conversation. The possibility of having to possibility acknowledge this and live in a reality where there might be more columns, the ability to hide and unhide columns, and that some other force might be controlling and limiting who gets access to what is just not possible, and I should just shut the hell up. We’ve operated using this spreadsheet for years just fine! Why change anything now? Don’t mess with the formulas we have in place. Don’t add any outside information. Don’t disrupt any of the visualizations that have been built. We don’t care if the spreadsheet is being controlled, surveilled, and orchestrated from up on high. Just don’t mess with it.

I’ve been thinking about this analogy for about six months now, and I haven’t been able to shake it. It seems silly to use a spreadsheet as an analogy for something so serious, but honestly it is stiff, corporate, and white enough to just work. It is analogy that many of the people I’m secretly targeting with this story will understand. Not that they’ll possess enough self-reflection to understand what I’m talking about, but I still think it might have some effect. If nothing else, it is helping me think through all of this, and allowing me to think about how I can keep unhiding columns in my spreadsheet. As I walk through Harlem each day, and today as I leave Baltimore, I am using it to think through my reality, and what information I have available to me, and the calculations I have to make as a white man each day. This analogy, and this storytelling is helping me think about who I am, where I come from, and who I want to be. Who I want to have in my life, and the change I want to see in the world.

Demonstrating How Your Guns Are About Keeping You Isolated And Are Not About Keeping You (Us) Safe.

I’m seeing a regular meme on my Facebook from my rural friends the last couple of weeks. The meme is all about defending their second amendment beliefs, and showcasing that their right to freely assemble militias and staying armed is what keeps the government at a distance, and from intruding on their rights. The meme includes the drone shot of the Bundy stand-off in Nevada being used as the image, showcasing the usual lack of ability by these folks to look at the bigger picture–firmly believing that having guns is the only thing that is keeping the government back, and protecting their rights.

If that was all black, Mexican, or muslim group, would those guns would have kept the U.S. government from responding with force? You don’t think there might actually be other things going on here that are keeping the feds from bombing the hell out of this group? Maybe race? Maybe shared ideology? IDK, several other things beyond just those guns. I’m pretty sure if it was a bunch of armed muslims, the guns wouldn’t be doing very much. Demonstrating once again, how guns are used to isolated, divide, and restrict freedoms, more than they are actually about protecting our freedoms. The only reason y’all haven’t thought about why this a white thing, it is because you don’t have any friends of color to tell you your way of life doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I don’t have ANY friends of color on Facebook saying that militias are a good idea–not one. Only my poor white friends, in rural areas are posting these memes.

In that picture, those guns are keeping these people isolated, divided from how policy gets made. Did guns stop them from shutting down the Bundy situation in Oregon? No. It all comes down to calculating the aftermath of these situations and after Waco, and Ruby Ridge, which has left the FBI is a little more calculating about use of force. The primary reason the federal government didn’t squash the uprising in Nevada was that the backlash of bombing the shit out of a bunch of white conservatives would have been too great. Period. The overfunded military that these conservatives blindly continue to pay taxes to support, while simultaneously taking up arms against, won’t hesitate for one moment sending in a drone, bomb, or other measure to get the job done.

You go ahead and keep waving your guns. Remaining in isolation and thinking you are free. Your guns and militias are more about keeping you isolated and able to get riled up regarding a handful of hot button issues, than they will ever be about defending your rights against the government. Meanwhile, the rest of us will actually be working to change policy, influencing popular opinion, and investing in programs that help feed people, protect workers rights that keep us employed with a living wage, and trying to give health care to people. But yes, yes, you are free, your guns are what is making your life better, and without it you’d be killed instantly by the brown people over that want your stuff, or the government who is just looking to take everything you have around each corner.

The only thing protecting you at this point is your race, and shared ideology. Once you lose this, your guns aren’t going to do much for you. You flashing a photo of the Bundy situation isn’t meant to scare away the federal government–I guarantee they aren’t scared of you. It is meant to send a signal to all the brown people, helping reenforce your position within the system, and defend the racial lines that keep you safe from prosecution, and the government just using a drone to lob a bomb into your militia. Guns don’t stop the U.S. government from invading other countries, or putting down uprising in this country, when it thinks it can get away with it publicly afterwards. Consider the MOVE bombing in 1985 in Philadelphia:

Impressive standoff photo eh? Oh, and why is it that we have gun laws in California? Because a bunch of liberals live there? No it is because a bunch of black folk decide it would be good to have a militia, when there was a republican governor.

You just keep showcasing your ability to miss the big picture, and convince yourself that your guns are what is keeping you safe. It truly is all you got. You’ve allowed yourself to become so isolated, so information starved and ineffective in how policy and laws get made in this country, you’ve given the green light for all your freedoms being taken away. You’ve traded freedom for your 2nd amendment, and have made yourself a data point to rile up every two and four years when you are conveniently needed to shift votes. Nice work! #Murica

On The Obama Did The EXACT Same Thing Argument

I wasn’t going to write about this topic, as I see it as an obstructionist argument, and not one that focuses on solving the problem we face with social media. However, I was directly targeted with the argument by someone I know, and after thinking on it for several days, I couldn’t shake it–so I need to write about it. Otherwise I won’t be able to move on.

The argument is that people who didn’t question Obama’s election team for usage of social media, and are now solely questioning it because their team lost, are untrustworthy–making the argument that Obama did the exact same things as Trump, and this is purely a choosing sides discussion around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. With an emphasis on Obama having done the EXACT same thing as Trump, which is the element of this that has stuck with me, and I am unable to shake.

I guess we start with the fundamentals. The Trump team hired a 3rd party data team, outside of the normal RNC data operations, to target and influence voters. This team acquired data on some 50 million voters from a university researcher who had developed a social survey application which 270 users downloaded, but then was able to acquire the remaining data from friends of those users through the Facebook API. This researcher then violated the Facebook, terms of service in giving Cambridge Analytica the data, in which they used for micro-targeting of users with the Trump administrations message, in an effort to help them win the election.

Ok, so did Obama do the EXACT same thing in the 2012 election? Did they acquire social data to micro-target users, in hopes of influencing the election? Yes. Did they illegally acquire the data? No evidence points to the situation. Did they go outside of the RNC data operations? No evidence says so. Did they send comparable messages, use similar targeting tactics as the Trump campaign’s representatives? Fuck no. So yes, if you are willing to ignore many details, you can stick with your claim that the Obama administration did the EXACT same thing as the Trump administration by using social media to micro-target users during a campaign. This willful ignorance of how different of a situation we ourselves in right now, is particularly what I find so unacceptable about this argument, and the time we live in.

You see, fundamentally, 2012 and 2016 are not EXACTLY the same. Even if you did the exact same behavior, they are two different time periods. With so many data breaches in between, and with the stakes being much higher now. When we look at the targeting tactics and messaging of Obama v Trump campaigns, and how they used their social data–you will find very little being EXACTLY the same. That is, unless you are willing to ignore so much–which is the root of our illness. This is what makes this argument so dangerous, is that not only is it obstructionist, and prevents us from addressing the problem, it willfully ignores clear differences that many on “the other side” are so willing to pretend aren’t happening. Things that do not make these situations anywhere close to be similar, let alone EXACTLY the same.

Despite “the right” feeling like the brown man was coming for their guns, Christmas, and shove healthcare down their throats, the Obama election targeting message wasn’t threatening anyone, it was pushing for progress. Trump’s message to these Facebook users was all about targeting on race, gender, class, and all the hot button issues. Obama, targeted on the same data points, you say? Yes, I’m sure they did. There is that willful omission of reality again, he wasn’t inciting people to hurt you, exclude you, deport you, and isolate you based upon those data points. Obama was looking to deliver a nuance message around those data points, and Trump was looking to dive, incite, and separate on those data points–hardly, EXACTLY the same message. You don’t agree, well them I guess you don’t have any friends of color, or meaningful queer folk in your life–a lonely, isolated existence.

You know how I know the messages are different? In 2012, I was speaking to my family. While the topics around big government, 2nd amendment, healthcare, and other topics were uncomfortable, we were speaking. In 2016, the conversations were around Mexicans coming for their jobs and infiltrating with gangs, the Muslim people coming to kills us, the community college mass shooting down the street being false flag, queers and drug dealers should die, and how the jews running the deep state had rigged the election. We aren’t speaking anymore. I’d say the messaging this round deviated from being EXACTLY the same. I guess, unless none of these issues impact you, or anyone you care about in your circle. To me, nothing feels EXACTLY the same.

While I was speaking out against the usage of social media data in 2012, I know that my view of this practice is MUCH different in 2018, than it was in 2012. After being involved in the OPM, and Equifax breaches, I see data differently. After having my friends of color tell me how terrified they are, my latino friends all but disappear, and my queer friends worry their adoptions and marriages won’t be recognized, and someone I care about deeply begin to identify as queer face hatred–2018, feels anything but EXACTLY the same than 2012. Even if we were doing the EXACTLY same things in 2012 (which we weren’t), the stakes are higher, and more people are waking up. Sure, there is a lot of my teaming going on, but I’m guessing this is part of the game, and I’d point out that one of the team’s tactics have significantly shifted recently, throwing away most of their values for one last chance to be in power, and again, willfully being blind to the damage that is being done to other humans, and their friends.

After 2012, I was concerned for the state of things. After 2016, I will never be the same again. One thing I’m sure of, is that things are not EXACTLY the same between these events. My world has changed, and how the web, and social media plays a role, looks NOTHING like it did in 2012.

Your Guns Keep You Properly Controlled

As friends of mine mobilize in NYC, DC, and other cities as part of March For Our Lives, I sit at home working on a variety of public data policy projects, contemplating the roles each of play in how change occurs around us. As some of my friends mobilize, others are doubling down with their rhetoric around the 2nd amendment, and demonstrating how controlled they are by not just their guns, but the people who control policy by leveraging the gun debate. Demonstrating that their guns are more about control, than they’ll ever be about freedom.

While letting pass numerous opportunities to participate in shaping how government and our society works, gun believers cling to a possibility that they will need their guns to respond to an overreaching government. Despite never having had the need to rise up in their lifetimes, or their grandparents, they still hold true to this belief. Even with the knowledge that when government does come knocking at the door, that they most likely won’t come out with guns a blazing, they still hold true to this belief. Despite endlessly funding a military with weapons that out “gun” their weapons, and a demanding respect for this military, they still hold to true to their belief that they’ll need their guns to defend them against said military–never acknowledging this contradiction.

Gun ownership will keep folks from ever leaving their hometown, flying on airplanes, and participating in a meaningful way in marches, debates, and public service. Despite evidence of change being made generation after generation by marching, and crafting public policy in government, they still believe that having a gun is the most meaningful action they can make. Never seeing how their dedication to the guns, and this way of life actually prevents them from getting out in the world and participating. They’d rather remain an armchair activist and pundits, telling people in a world they never visit how they should live, and that their way of taking action will never result in any change–despite having no event(s) to point to in their life where their guns has resulted in meaningful change in how the world works.

The gun debate is all about control. It is all about keeping people believing it is the only power they have within their reach. When it is really about keeping them out of the way of how actual policy is made, and actual change occurs in the world, and having a gun be “the only” power they have within their reach. Name the last meaningful thing that changed at the hand of gun? Now name the last meaningful thing that changed because of marching, protesting, and influencing public policy and laws? If it comes to the point where we have to actually take up arms against our government, we have to acknowledge that they have planes, drones, bombs, and other things we do not. Then we have to also acknowledge that we have NEVER had to do this, all while numerous opportunities to vote, march, protest, and submit ourselves to public service have gone by. Once you recognize this, you’ll see that your guns are more about keeping you under control, than they are ever about truly being in the service of freedom. Keep on staying out of the fight, oiling your gun, because you are never going to need it–you’ve let all your freedoms go, just to own your gun.

Helping Folks Make Sense Of The Algorithmic Distortions All Around Us

I know that few people understand what it is that I do as the API Evangelist, or see the Internet-connected world as I do. While I’m not trying to influence people to see things as I do, I do want to help them see some of the algorithmic automation, distortion, and noise that is all around us. I do this through my storytelling, my photography, and any other possible means. Its tough to get people’s attention over the noise, especially when you sound like the parents in Charlie Brown, wah wahing on about the technology they depend on each day, but makes almost no sense to them when it comes to seeing the profound effect it is having on their lives.

I’m always looking for analogies that help people understand how pervasive algorithms are, and how they are shaping everything in our daily lives. This is why I distort the photos I use in my storytelling with machine learning. I’m always working to find movie references like Neo poking at the Matrix around him with his finger, or maybe like glacial run-off in a meadow, or the undertow at the beach. Algorithms are right under our feet, at our fingertips, profiling us, assessing us, routing, directing, and influencing us at every turn. So much so, we don’t notice, and when people talk about the influence platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and others have on us, we just do not see it.

Algorithms are being used to understand everything we do, so that the platforms and applications we have on our computers and mobile phone can sell advertising that targets us. These mechanisms have been hijacked by a select few of savvy actors, to manipulate folks beyond just commercial objectives, but because they are in alignment with these platforms business models, they have been embraced. Savvy technologist have learned they can manipulate people into buying their products, shifting markets, influence elections, and much more. Through the algorithmic assault and manipulation of individuals online, and specifically people who are pretty unaware that any of this manipulation is occurring. Completely unaware of the degree they are being profiled, influenced, and manipulated–invisible, algorithmic puppet strings.

First Amendment Distortions Let’s take a regularly recurring conversation I see on my Facebook, regarding the Facebook algorithms, APIs, and the first amendment. I see many folks chiming in regarding Facebook’s move to censor, or lack of moves to censor, fake news and extremism on the platform. That this would be a slippery slope when it comes to the 1st amendment. No, no it wouldn’t. As a business, Facebook isn’t beholden to the first amendment, but it exemplifies the dangerous place we find ourselves in with algorithmic influence and manipulation. Taken from Wikipedia:

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents Congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion, prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, or to petition for a governmental redress of grievances.

The first amendment does focus on restricting companies like Facebook when it comes to free speech. However, this doesn’t stop the conversation from occurring on Facebook, and being framed like it is an actual debate. Making it a very rich, and fertile ground for algorithmic, API driven distortion.

Algorithmic Profiling First, if you are participating in this conversation you’ve been profiled, and targeted. You have shared and commented on conversations related to 1st amendment, and most likely because of where you live, your levels of education, and working status, you been identified for manipulation on this subject. Identifying that you probably have long forgotten your 7th grade social studies class, and haven’t refreshed your knowledge of the constitution or the amendments in many years. An opportunity to further manipulate, shift your opinion on this subject, and many others.

Algorithmic Automation Now that you are targeted as having specific beliefs, and fit a certain demographic, you will be targeted with advertising, articles, trends, and comments that reinforce your beliefs. The articles you see are automatically written, published, and syndicated by “bots” or scripts that bring them to life. They are trending because of automated networks of “bots” or fake accounts that only purpose are to vote up, spread, and syndicate content. Trends are only trends in your view because of algorithmic targeting and automation. Throw in a flurry of comments that either support your views, or harass you because of your dissent, and you are easily nudged and kept in line. I mean, so many other “people” feel this way, it must be the truth.

Repeat & Repeat & Repeat After you see enough articles on your timeline, and conversations that your friends are having about this first amendment overreach by Facebook with their algorithmic changes–it becomes truth. It becomes “many different perspectives” on the first amendment. These many perspectives drown out any reasonable thoughts you might have had on the subject. The facts of your 7th grade class become distant memories, while the immediate algorithmic distortion becomes the truth. Hell yeah, Facebook is stomping on our first amendment rights! Hell yeah, this is a slippery slope! Next they are going to go after our 2nd amendment rights! Filter out real stories and facts about gun ownership, and other truths.

This becomes the normal view in our Facebook bubbles, and then gets reinforced when we head over to Youtube, or Google anything via search. When we check our Twitter accounts, the stories there back up this reality too! Often with zero awareness regarding the ad network, and behavioral targeting game that is happening. How the videos, images, articles, and trends I’m seeing are all gamed, and target my belief system. Working to keep us on an isolated journey, while simultaneously thinking we have done the hard work to find the truth. Despite everything we see being algorithmic profiled, filtered, and automated to manipulate me. If we don’t see the algorithms or ad networks, we will never see what is happening. If we don’t know what an API is, we will never see how scripted my world has become. It is just reality.

Take the topic of the first amendment, and apply to net neutrality. Tax reform. Stock markets. Banking regulations. Apply it to the list of topics you either care about, or feel you have a grasp on. That the videos, audio, images, and articles you’ve tuned into are all tailored to influence you. Not everyone wants to influence you as part of some deep state plot. Most just want to get you to buy their product, service, and ideology. It just happens though that a very dangerous minority have seen how exploitable you are. They’ve targeted you, and have figured out how to pull the puppet strings. This isn’t just a left or right thing. This is a digital and market driven thing. This is about keeping you in your bubble. This is amount artificially amplifying the things that scare you, frustrate you, and keep you from leaving your bubble. This is to keep you ignorant of the bigger picture. Resist. Get offline. Read Books. Talk to people. Don’t trust anyone online.