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Chronicle Internet Culture Media Politics

Distraction unto Death

I wasn’t allowed to watch television as a child. My mother has a firm view on the pedagogical benefits of using your full cognition range as a developing child. She simply thought the television did too much work for you which hindered building mental acuity in a child. But she also has a more personal reason. She believes distraction breeds stagnation.

As I’ve mentioned before here, my parents were utopian hippies committed to the manifest destiny of Silicon Valley. A classic book of the radical “information longs to be free” crowd Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves To Death showed distraction as the primary tool of the tyrant. The real tyrant wouldn’t need force. They only need us to be distracted. Bread and circus for the plebeians to keep us complacent. In this sense my mother feared Huxley’s Brave New World more than she did Orwell’s 1984. In her view information need discourse, disagreement, and nuance. Television wasn’t a medium suited to debate. Particularly news programs who digested and provided a narrative and a moral arc. No one could discern facts or testable hypotheses from a story. That was an affront to enlightenment values, science, and frankly even religion (she hates when you drag belief into science). So I didn’t watch television as a child as quite literally it would make me stupid and lazy.

It is with this knowledge that I realize the main weapon the populist right has wielded the last four years was distraction. A constant drum beat of incessant crisis after crisis. Never having a moment of peace after outage after outrage was laundered through mass media insistent on making sure it never became normal. The #Resistance committed to remembering that “this is not normal” wore us down daily.

So in a way I think we have come out from under totalitarian thought. It was impossible to make progress on problems when one could only see the next crisis. The question is now how do we react from having constant distraction finally relieved? Do we realize the mess we are in? Distraction bred stagnation. But can we shake it off and begin to the think for ourselves again.

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Chronicle Politics Preparedness

Day 19 and The Anticipation

I’ve been hit hard by the sudden (lol) realization of the chattering classes that “it can happen here” both with the discourse surrounding the pandemic and America’s democracy crisis. Clearly anyone who deals in nuance has been concerned about our institutional capacity for sometime. But that realization becoming mainstream freaks me out.

I don’t mind being seen as a bit of a Cassandra. I think about doom precisely because I’m naturally optimistic. If I didn’t look at worst case scenarios I would live in a perpetually Pollyanna-ish state where I exude complete confidence that it’s all for the best. So I’d rather my public persona be one of concern and worry as I think it’s tactically more worrisome if I’m perceived as being overly bullish. Bulls never get the best prices. Please continue to think of me as one of your favorite bears.

So because I’m a bull hiding in bear clothing I really loathe when the zeitgeist tips into fear for everyone. I don’t know if that means I need to dial in my personal meter to greed to take advantage of the fear. Because if everyone is fearful then I need to go against that grain and be a bull. Contrarianism pays the bills right up until the second it fails spectacularly. The thing is I don’t actually believe anyone is fearful. We are talking a mile a minute about the threat to democracy and the rising death tolls but the entire upper class is riding the rising prices to greater and greater wealth. In a sign that I don’t have a particularly diverse social class everyone I know has has very good earning years. Everyone is rushing to invest and brag about their good fortunes. While simultaneously belly aching about how unfair it all is but really there is nothing they can do.

So what can I possibly use to temper my own temperament when it’s not at all clear where the zeitgeist lives? Is it fear? Or is it greed? is it possible that we are just petrified fat cats the entire lot of us? That would probably explain the banner year for gun permits. I quite honestly haven’t the slightest idea how the midterm plays out. All I can do is anticipate the second order effects. So I did a grocery order before inauguration and I looked at numbers for the spread of the nee covid variant. Only time will tell.

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Chronic Disease Chronicle

How Much Money Did My Unborn Child Make You?

I’ve never been much of a privacy nut. I figured I came of age too far into surveillance capitalism to ever truly recapture the dignity of my own body. I thought the classic tag joke “Your Privacy Is An Illusion” on Gawker was genuinely funny. What was the worst that could happen to me?

I was an early adopter of quantified self. The industry’s rise dovetailed just well enough with the security Obamacare provided. By outlawing insurance companies from discriminating against preexisting conditions I figure it was safe to use my data to improve my health now. Prior to that I engaged in various bits of dodging having my chronic conditions logged avoiding telling doctors I took even the most banal of medications. After it passed I joyfully logged everything.

In hindsight, this may have slowly shifted my mindset towards my own commodification. Again, an issue never at the forefront of my mind as I worked in aesthetics. My job has often relied on putting metrics on the physical ephemera of bodies. But the inexorable progression of viewing my body as a commodity led me to a terrible choice: I froze my eggs.

At the time my husband and I were busy with careers. We had the disposable income to “buy an insurance policy” that would allow us to treat a life altering decision like having children with the casual mindset of buying an insurance product or making a moderately sized investment decision.

We were referred to the “La Mer” of fertility clinics by a friend who had successfully conceived through their help. Mind you we didn’t know if we had fertility issues, this was purely about optionality. Indeed genetic testing didn’t reveal anything shocking. We did it because we thought “why not, it’s just some money” as we may regret not having saved ourselves the option. God damn we were stupid. We got sucked into the marketing hype.

Freezing my eggs was invasive in a way I simply couldn’t conceive ahead of time. No pun intended. I thought it was some extra time and drugs. At every step of the process our fears and questions were allayed with the utmost professionalism. It felt like we were buying a mutual fund. Sure there were some risks but really we were investing in our future. It’s only now that I realize if I thought it was such a wise investment why were both sides so clearly invested in the transaction closing? Surely at some point someone would have pointed out it’s not without risks. And it’s also not remotely guaranteed. The cohort of women in my social circle were all sold on the benefits of egg freezing with its potential to finally liberate us (from what who knows) only to find it was just another product that had a high price tag physically and emotionally.

You see pregnant women are worth a lot of money to data brokers and advertisers. So of course the people at the start of that arc are going to cash in on that land grab. The clinic was getting upwards of $30,000 from a few months of care from me. Plus a subscription fee to keep them on ice. No wonder the egg freezing game is quickly becoming a status symbol for the upwardly mobile making it just another purchase for well funded venture backed millennial girl bosses.

I’m honestly astonished no one said a fucking thing. Not a peep. Maybe you should talk to a counselor. Here is what could go wrong. Here is how you might feel. Here are some of the outlier cases of how these hormones might impact me. Where were the angry right to life folks when I needed them? Because I wasn’t a picture of health. I’d struggled with some inflammatory conditions as a kid along with a never ending parade of “allergies” and aches and pains I mostly ignored with an Advil. But no one ever brought up that being stimulated to produce eggs for harvesting might set off a chain reaction with my latent autoimmune complaints. Highly unlikely. It’s just not discussed.

And so I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal. Except that it was. After two rounds of retrieval (11 eggs of which a portion are fertilized) life was supposed to go back to normal. Except that it didn’t. Slowly but over time I became quite sick. I developed an autoimmune disorder that leaves me in constant chronic pain. I had to sell my startup and stop working entirely.

It’s still not definitive that the hormone treatments kicked off my illness but the endocrinologist and the rheumatologist tell me it’s the most likely culprit. So what I want to know is who made money off my unborn children? That I may never have as three years later my health has not fully recovered. Who Profited off my poor health. Who thought this was a consumer product. And why oh why was I dumb enough to believe them. My best guess? The business of birth is simply too lucrative for us to treat it any other way. I’m just another outlier. And someone else will use those eggs and unwittingly trap their kids into the next cycle of datafication and commodity childhood.

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Chronic Disease Chronicle

Day 17 and The Break

I’ve been putting my energy into other people for the past few days. Drawing on my reserves to help me and mine solve problems. Mostly emotional issues but all with a professional set of implications. Everyone has working solutions now which has given me the space to realize how tired I am. I see just how much work I put into others in the space of very little time. Quite frankly more than I should have because I have been feeling physically quite well so I thought I had more capacity. The closer I get to good health the more tempted I am to act like energy is an infinite resource.

This makes me feel bad as I often think I should be more generous with my time and energy. I remember being able to give more. I thought saying no made me unlikable. Now I realize boundaries are appreciated. They make us feel safe which lets us open up.

So I have tried to take today to rest. I put my routines on a bit of a pause. And frustratingly it only made me feel worse. The build up from the adrenaline spike wearing off. But it was a reminder that living life with highs and lows may sound fun but ultimately takes more out of you than being diligent about routines and rhythms.

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Chronicle Media

Day 16 and The Yips

I’ve always felt safer knowing more than less. It’s a childish view as the world is filled with unknown unknowns and the quality of information someone like I can get is better than it used to be but also potentially dangerously over saturating. Safety is illusory. Knowledge only gives you so much.

And yet I’d rather be on top of the information wave than slip off the board and have it drown me. Silly a metaphor as surfing the web can be, its helpful. Your ride your information environment you never let it crash over you. But last week I lost my footing on the information and got dragged under the wave. I was drowning in emotions. So I gave myself some time to catch my breath on the proverbial beach. I asked my husband to stop sending me information flow. I bought a bunch of relaxation driven products (because consumption ever solves anything). I promised myself that I would give myself more distance between myself and the yawning sea of media. And I became afraid of getting back on the board and riding the next wave. I got the yips. Every time I tried to navigate a story critically I couldn’t think it through. All my finely tuned skills for being extremely online. Poof! I thought perhaps I’d reached a point where media would only provide me anxiety and not power and knowledge. But after a few days of hikes, conversations with my mother, lots of meditation, and hours of talks with friends I found myself back online today surfing. The yips has passed. I had some good insights. And I was back on the wave again. Confident and without anxiety.

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Chronicle Internet Culture

Day 15 and The Wolf You Feed

A perennially popular “just so” story newly reborn as meme is The Two Wolves Inside. Not to be confused with the also excellent three wolves howling at the moon tee-shirt, this parable has a bit more payoff.

You can find endless “graphic design is my passion” variants of the parable from charming Etsy shop hipster versions to deeply weird mashups of Corinthians and Lanape culture. Thanks Art of The Christian Ninja Pastor dude. I’ll pick the firefighters training blog variant as beefy bros that save us from fires seem as good as any to own up to existential food demon metaphors. It’s not the best of the bunch and missed key elements like the wise grandfather telling the boy a story. But it absolutely captures the spirit of heinous layouts and type treatments meant to inspire you to greater things. Which is probably more core to the meme. As from there it reduces itself to further derp.

Why all this lead up? Why am I showing a badly executed meme that isn’t even the full story. Be patient good reader. Bad to the wolves. Well obviously we want to feed the good wolf. But also starving a part of you that isn’t socially acceptable also seems like a real asshole move. Why would you treat yourself so poorly? Or anyone for that matter. It’s like saying to a date “if you can’t handle the worst of me you don’t deserve the best of me” and then wondering why you get treated like a child. Bitch everyone needs to parent their screaming inner child. Blackmailing a potential partner into doing it for you is called codependency.

But I digress. I recognize the need for my own darker impulses. The tendency to swear (makes me relatable), the yawning almost never ending need for love and attention (makes me good at making things people want) and a litany of other bad wolf behaviors all serve a purpose. So maybe feed both wolves but recognize one of them can also kill you. Nurture it but keep it on a leash. Be the alpha of that pack. Oh god it’s been three wolves all along!

The tricky bit here seems to me where we extend out the metaphor to others. We want to be with friends and colleagues that are not fucking over their own wolves. Eating disorder wolves being starved out of fear. Ignored wolves. Misunderstood wolves. God it’s a parade of the kind of bullshit you have to empathize with daily as we grapple with the intrinsic sin and frailty of mankind. To say it makes the workplace a mess is an understatement.

It’s currently on my mind because I want to spend my time with people who are feeding and training their wolves for the best possible outcome for them. Genuine engagement with your faults and talents is a joy. It makes you better. It makes others around you better. And it’s just more fucking fun. People who refuse or are unable to engage with the sum total of their humanity just aren’t as interesting as those who are committed to becoming the best version of themselves. They also don’t tend to win as often, as limiting yourself out of fear is a finite game with only so many options to be seen as a winner. You either win a definite sum or you don’t. Evolution and bigger games and more interesting problems never arrive. I’ll just wholesale quote Alex Danco here.

First, finite games are played for the purpose of winning. Whenever you’re engaging in an activity that’s definite, bounded, and where the game can be completed by mutual agreement of all the players, then that’s a finite game In contrast, infinite games are played for the purpose of continuing to play. You do not “win” infinite games; these are activities like learning, culture, community, or any exploration with no defined set of rules nor any pre-agreed-upon conditions for completion. The point of playing is to bring new players into the game, so they can play too. You never “win”, the play just gets more and more rewarding. “

So ask yourself are going spending your time with people who are balancing out their wolves in a never ending game of joyful interaction? Or are you spending time with folks trying to kill off parts of themselves in order to win a prize that is simple and understandable. It’s not exactly a value judgement. Winning is good. Harmful behaviors towards others is bad. But I hope that we can all agree that a truly great life is a lot more nuanced than a scoreboard and a morality checklist. And yes this is me encouraging us all to spend time with better people who will support that.

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Chronicle Media Politics

Silicon Valley Isn’t Modern and That’s Why It’s Good

My favorite genre of essay is elites discovering the system is fucked. The latest to catch my eye is ostensibly about a mother for whom the medical system failed her child and who then like Alice in Wonderland has to completely reset her expectations of reality. It’s a spectacular piece of writing in Tablet Mag by Alana Newhouse that weighs in on many topics near to my heart like modernism, Marxism and the aesthetics of the future. It’s helpful to understand the context from which she writes which is conservative Jewish American which is an uneasy set of political priors in our current moment (she hints at biological essentialism and the benefits of religious community order which are to put it mostly just not my jam). But this gives her a firm base for the cultural critique of both socialism and the individualism of which I’m a proponent.

She references back to an excellent piece in The Verge about the flatness of millennial Silicon Valley consumption. It’s a significant and widespread aesthetic of ease and consumption we’ve all experienced. Some of us even like frictionless capitalism as she lays it out.

I also think she’s dead wrong about about both it’s causes and it’s main perpetrators. She blames Silicon Valley for the great flattening. Lays at its feet the horrors of socialism and capitalism alike with a hearty dose of Soviet aesthetics as its anchor.

But that’s just not the historically accurate view of Silicon Valley. I like to think I have some authority on the subject at hand for a multitude of reasons. If anything I am emblematic of her thesis. I’m someone who has fallen through the medical system by being spat out of the ringer of hustle culture. I also chose this fate willingly.

And it was not the aesthetics of Silicon Valley, late stage capitalism or libertarians who set my fate in motion. Or even American Calvinists (again I would know ask me how set theory and Russels paradox made me a born again Calvinist). It was the fucking boomer hippies.

Hear me out. I know this as I was born in Fremont (Palo Alto’s poorer sister) to a family of hippies who immigrated to Silicon Valley because they were devoted to the ethos of the Whole Earth Catalog. Information wants to be free and all that early optimism. They get woo. They were Age of Aquarius believers. They weren’t remotely modernists or Marxists. Hippies may be have pretended to be collectivists but in the end they were all about the pursuit of selfish enlightenment.

So I guess she gets the communitarian roots of it quite right. She simply missed the inherent radicalism of its early adherents. And I suppose it’s easy to forget this as most of the successful adherents became quite wealthy and became the anchor tenants of NIMBY towns like Boulder and Big Fork. They became the things they never wanted.

In other words Silicon Valley hippies became the Boomers their millennial and Gen X children know and hate. I honestly feel terrible saying this as my parents are the light of my life and I owe everything to them. My mother in particular hates being called a Boomer. As it’s come to represent an inversion of their core beliefs. It’s not really fair to be honest. They are better people than the term flattening could ever suggest.

Nevertheless it is true that Stewart Brand’s legacy is a complex one. The network society didn’t at all emerge into the utopia they envisioned. I believe it haunts them. It’s the great shame of their generation that their legacy on the turning of the cultural wheel would do so much to harm the very people they built it for: their children. And it wasn’t at all their intention.

Silicon Valley people are radical. But they actually believe quite a bit in hierarchy. They just believe it is earned. Founders wouldn’t be worshipped as messianic figures if this weren’t our culture. We wouldn’t have significant and elaborate sets of cultural capital signifiers if we believed in communists aesthetics of equality. Just because the outcome appears brutal doesn’t make it brutalist. Bertolt Brecht would be appalled to be compared to the radicalism of Silicon Valley’s meritocracy. It’s probably helpful to remember that Jacobin revolutionaries are not the same as those who exalt in the unique power of individualism.

But it’s a common historical fallacy Americans try to evoke as we become more and more uncomfortable with just how close our worshiping of liberties can overlap with the nationalist strongman of fascists of yore.

But the difference is the network state of Silicon Valley is a philosophy of freedom. It’s deeply retrograde in some aspects. It exalts the possibility of excellence for all that chose the system. That’s why America has been the country of immigrants in modern imagination. Being an American was a choice. So was Silicon Valley. The network is a choice. No one is born jacked in. Eventually you make a choice to be a part of it. The question I have is why do so many of us think we are victims of the choices we made?

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Chronicle Politics

Day 12 and The Shopping Binge

It’s always the after effects that get you. Last Wednesday’s insurrection riots in the capital left me reeling. This of course is a choice. But taking responsibility for the emotional turmoil is taking a few more days than I’d hoped. I let in too much stress and worry over an event that I can do nothing to improve and is miles away.

Which isn’t to say that I shouldn’t be upset only that I know I’ve let more stress into my life this week than I can comfortably handle. And while I’m lucky to have many routines that help reduce unnecessary anxiety like a meditation practice and a daily hike into the mountain foothills, I decided I should greet this crisis with a bit more force.

So ironically an exercise about about creating more is now chronicling what I consumed today. What an American way of handling things. I went on Amazon and binged on through an essential oil diffuser, a salt rock lamp, some paper and pastels, a white sage smudger and a Tibetan singing bowl for more meditation practice. Lets hope some improvements in my environment and a little bit of creative activity can keep me from worrying to much.

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Chronicle Politics Preparedness Reading

Harden Your Personal Supply Chain

Remember think global act local? That wasn’t just a cute 90s slogan to warm us up to globalization. Or at least it probably shouldn’t have been. Having local hookups started to look pretty smart last March during the lockdowns. Local grocery stores held up better during disruptions than the big chains did. That’s just how complexity works. Americans learned that local has advantages.

One of my favorite scenes from the science fiction epic The Expanse is a botanist explaining systems cascades to the muscle.

“It’s a simple complex system. Because it’s simple it’s prone to cascades. And because it’s complex you can’t predict what is going to breakdown next or how

Supply chains are “sort of” simple complex systems (it’s just inputs of goods and outputs of retailers really). Which means cascades are a normal occurrence but genuinely hard to predict. The more we rely on modern inventions like “just in time” ordering and multi-country manufacturing and assembly, the trickier it gets. The money people are already worried about how distributors and consumer end points like groceries and restaurants will cope.

I’m obviously someone who likes to prepare for possible futures. I like finance, disaster preparedness and science fiction. All of which are put options on the future. So I’m beginning to give more consideration to how I can harden the supply lines in my own life. I have no control over logistics companies nor do I have special insight into choke points but I have done enough import work in my time in fashion and cosmetics to have lived through a cascade or two and seen the damage.

If it’s a topic of interest to you too I’d check out resilience and complexity studies (give Joe Normon a gander) and read the classic Lean Logic. You will start to notice the more expert someone is in complexity systems the more interest they have in providing themselves with personal protection against system hiccups or god forbid collapse.

Now I’m a globalist (in both the Hyatt points system sense and being married into a Jewish family) a capitalist, and a fan of trade so I’m pretty invested literally into a planet of free trade and open markets. But I don’t like being unprepared for a problem. Be it short or long term. So in addition to being a dedicated prepper I am giving a lot of thought into how I can harden my personal supply chain.

Some things are national or global in scope (pharmaceuticals notably) and I doubt I can find a local manufacturer of toilet paper, but I can very much get local milk, eggs, and vegetables. So I signed up for a milk coop. I already paid up front for a community supported agricultural share for the spring. And I’m noodling on what else I can find local in the Rocky Mountains. Meat is at the top of the list. I’m guessing some fuels like wood would be easy. Refined fuels might be tougher but Colorado has some options.

But it’s a fascinating exercise right? You realize you probably can’t buy clothing (even if it’s made here chances are the fabric and dyes came from elsewhere). You can’t buy most personal care products but you probably could buy some apothecary products. Most herbal medicines, teas and some cosmetics could be acquired. You notice that if our global supply chains cut off the goods you rely on simply won’t make it to you anymore. But the basics of life like food can very much be acquired and cultivated nearby. So I’m starting to buy what I can locally and build ties with farmers. Because it’s good for my community and it’s just more resilient living.

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Chronic Disease Chronicle

Day 10 and The Migraine

When I committed to writing a long form piece every day I told myself a lie. I told myself It was no big deal to make a daily commitment. I told myself I’d find a way to put fingers to keyboard no matter what.

I told myself this lie knowing full well that willpower was never issue. My addiction to my willpower was the issue.

You see I’m a workaholic. And I made my physical illnesses significantly worse because I tried to exert willpower over them. I tanked my body into a kind of rock bottom that forced me to stop my whole life.

I told myself I physically couldn’t do it anymore. But that was a lie too. Even at my worst physically I had secret. I could still work through it. I could muster up my resources and be “on” for just long enough to get a job done. And then I would crash. Bed ridden. Pain addled. But I could will myself to action. I only began my recovery when I admitted to myself that I wasn’t willing to pay the price anymore. I knew eventually I wouldn’t just crash. I would force myself to perform when weak and I’d kill myself. I knew deep down my sickness was that I had the willpower to kill myself with work. So I decided to turn that willpower towards recovery. I stopped. And I healed.

So I’m a bit sad to see myself caught in the same lies again. That willpower is what matters. That I can always do what needs to be done. That I lied to myself by saying that it was no big deal to write every day. Because some days I won’t feel well. And I’ll be tempted to use my willpower to overcome it in order to keep my promise that I will write every day.

I bring all this up because I have had a migraine for the past 24 hours. It came on as was writing yesterday’s post. I felt it in my forhead building. I crashed out of an important virtual gathering last night crying on the floor as I dumped my dresser drawer searching for an Imitrax. I’ve been struggling with the migraine all day. So the post I had planned to write (media training for normies part 2) has been at the edge of my addled brain all day. It took till 6pm for me to realize I’d relapsed. I was going to use my willpower to power through the lie that that I could do it.

Except I can’t. Noises make me cringe. Bright lights make me shrink back. I’m sick to my stomach. I couldn’t bring myself to go for a hike in the fresh snow today even though I love stomping through undisturbed powder.

So I’m giving myself a pass. I’m admitting the lie to my teller. I won’t write up some advice on media today. Maybe I won’t write it tomorrow either. I’ll do it when I do it. I won’t try to prove to myself what I already know. Willpower isn’t the issue. Willing myself to recognize my limitations is the challenge. One day at a time right?