The era of the performer: As need-based communication becomes increasingly mediated and impersonal, civility plummets and partisanship rises

Life used to be so inconvenient prior to the internet. There were no one-button presses to satisfy every want, no Google to find every answer, no screen through which to mediate every bit of communication.

You had to talk to people in all their glory, ugliness, prejudice and promise. And if you wanted to get anywhere — if you wanted your problem solved or your question answered — you had to be somewhat nice. They had something you needed. So you talked. Civilly.

There was no screen between you and the information (have we forgotten that information comes from people, not computers?). People were actively involved in the transmission of the data you needed in the very moment you engaged it. It was not packaged for later consumption. It was not edited and filtered and search-optimized and nipped and tucked for a rectangular interface that would serve up anyone, anywhere, anytime. It was messy. Slow. Uncomfortable. It was risky — all that effort could produce nothing, and your seconds of life might be considered wasted. But it was worth it. It was more important than we realized. Because it came with a little-appreciated side effect: social cohesion.

It is hard to hate someone you know in three dimensions. Three dimensions? I mean the person you’re talking with is, in real-time, constructing your perception of them, rather than you independently modeling their personality based upon missives that person released at a previous point in time for a screen.

It felt human.

Now I find that a large percentage of my communication is mediated. It operates on a time delay, it goes through a screen and it is designed rather than spontaneous. I am now crafting a picture of people from their carefully crafted presentations of themselves; yes, I am distinguishing between the subconscious crafting of a persona that happens in regular conversations and the one that happens when someone, for example, assembles a selfie after dozens of takes.

We are all becoming performers. We are never off the stage — stages. Facebook, Twitter, personal websites (like this one), LinkedIn, Instagram, Snap, Mastodon, this site and that site and on and on and on. Everywhere is a show now, and those who survive are those who dance the best the longest.

The problem is that a performance is not a person. Hugh Jackman is not Wolverine. Brian Cranston is not Walter White. Those are characters meant to entertain within a specific context of communication need: distract me, engage me, lie to me. Performance is about story, not truth.

Human lives are never as neat as stories. Never. To expect them to be — to treat each other like performers because our modern means of communication seems to demand it — will feed a destructive cycle of increasing inability to recognize the imperfections inherent to all of us. That will leave us disappointed and that will spur resentment.

It doesn’t have to, does it? We can turn off our many stages (stop meandering through Facebook and its ilk). We can use the internet the same way we might use prescription drugs — as a medicine that needs to be monitored and controlled; we take a dosage to address a specific issue and then abandon it until it is needed again.

Maybe it’s simpler. Next time you’re bored, don’t reach for your phone. Look up instead. Notice the person next to you. Notice where you are. Look at people’s faces. How are they feeling? How are you? Stop being in between this performance and that performance. Start being where you are. You’ll find others there. It’s a lot less lonely. You might like it.

I made a copy of the EPA climate change page Trump wants to delete. Can any developers automate this?

The Trump administration ordered the EPA to take down its climate change page, according to Reuters. No, you don’t. Climate change is the most important issue facing the world today. It threatens the survival and well-being of everyone. Without the knowledge to understand it, we are helpless before the threats it poses.

View my copy of the EPA climate change page here.

The Earth doesn’t care about our project called civilization. We must maintain and change our cities and minds and technology and hopes — or watch nature bat them aside. Evolution cannot occur without information, and progress begins with awareness. Ignorance kills, and I for one want to live.

It’s true that the internet does not need the EPA page to keep the facts flowing. But I believe it is important that my government knows that this issue cannot be buried or distorted for the sake of petty politics. Such oppressive decisions threaten all of us and our futures, and undermine the people, intellect and passion that have made this nation amazing. America, as flawed as it is, already is great, Trump, because it is a country that wants to solve its many problems, not pretend that they don’t exist for the sake of an ideological agenda. I’m saving this copy of the EPA page to counter the despondency I feel when I witness how the current top employee of America’s citizenry is using his immense, borrowed power.

If you tell me you don’t believe in climate change, I’ll remind you that facts are not a matter of faith. Republican or Democrat, climate change believes in you. What are you going to do about it?

PS — Do any developers know how to automate a way to make thorough and fully functional copies of any pages that are removed from government websites? It would be a great public service. Here is how to contact me. My emphasis is more on the implications of communication decisions and design, whereas the excellent Climate Mirror Project is taking on the task of copying climate change data.

News companies, start building your virtual reality templates and tools for user-generated VR journalism

Fully immersive virtual reality environments are the next media space that will produce another generation of winners and losers in the race to provide the best, quickest and most engaging information. Which news organizations will win?

Their past performance is worrisome; the internet and its democratic system of links gutted well-funded newspapers. In the internet’s early days, news firms struggled or outright failed to bend the tools of capitalism toward financial survival in an information environment which, in an ongoing challenge and opportunity, defeats the concept of scarcity and destroys economically constructed distribution monopolies.

How will media companies fare in these new virtual worlds? Before it’s too late, news organizations should at the very least follow Visionary VR’s lead with its Mindshow product.

Mindshow provides simple tools to construct VR experiences. It would be amazing to see a suite of VR templates for the provision of news, from environments to props to avatars, that begin to build our shared cultural vocabulary around digitally constructed realities. Starting now is imperative — I suspect wearing goggles (or flicking on some embedded biological switch far in the future) will quickly become the norm over flesh-and-blood reality.

Believe me, here are 11 of the bigliest tremendous signs from women’s marches against Trump

So many awwwwwws and guffaws were to be had when scrolling the internets for images of yesterday’s remarkable protests. I found 11, arranged below in no particular order, that were memorable and demanded to be shared:

(Also, will our new government vote to leave the United Nations?)

I have the best signs

Excellent sign work today.

A photo posted by Alexis (@macaronic) on

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Politics revealed by the technical legality of murder in a slice of Yellowstone

It’s interesting enough that a section of Yellowstone National Park provides an area in which to murder someone without breaking the law due to a lack of proper jurisdiction, but I ended up being equally fascinated by a professor’s pithy analysis of U.S. government and the motivations of politicians. See how he explains their inaction:

The game: “But nothing happens in Washington just because it’s a good idea.”

The priorities: “If Congress really wanted to fix this, it wouldn’t take long at all. The problem isn’t that it’s complicated; it’s that they’re not interested in it.”

Power: “They don’t deal with hypothetical threats. They deal with concerns that are currently affecting influential constituents.”

The reporter gave space for a reply to the professor’s judgment:

Congress doesn’t seem to agree. Wyoming senator Michael Enzi’s press secretary told me in an emailed statement that “Senator Enzi has studied the ‘zone of death’ issue in Yellowstone National Park, and there does not seem to be a simple legislative fix.” Idaho senator Jim Risch told me the argument is “science fiction” and insists the state of Idaho would have jurisdiction over a crime there. “This is all very romantic and a great fictional thing,” he said, “but I’m telling you, the states have jurisdiction.” (This statute, however, clearly places Yellowstone under the “sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States.”)

Trends in the journalism business and content creation: movies and the art of clickbait headlines

Movies and the art of clickbait headlines

“We found something out here” is the first line you hear (at the 0:21 point) in the trailer for the next Independence Day film. Sound familiar? Here are some recent headlines from the news(ish) world: This Is What Happens When Two BuzzFeed Employees Explode A Watermelon | What I Learned From Tickling Apes

As the news business increasingly faces declining revenues and no clear answers on how to monetize itself, it’s turning to the tricks of the entertainment world, which seems much better suited to thrive in the Internet age with its emphasis on aesthetics, blockbusters and appeals to emotion over intellect.

One result we enjoy/despise is headlines that withhold information and game the psychological dynamics governing people’s attention. Overall, my guess is that this will erode trust and damage attempts by journalism organizations to be taken seriously.

I realize I am making an assumption that a neat divide exists between news and entertainment, now and in some notion of its past. Not so. But there is a big difference between trying to compete for people’s “entertainment-type attention” and their “truth-about-the-world-please attention.”

Okay, I’m also assuming things around the concept of “truth” and “attention,” but the point feels valid: At what point on people’s entire information experience spectrum are you trying to reach them? If you pretend to be one, but really want to be another, I suggest you end up creating distrust, which erodes your value over the long haul.

For fun, let’s try rewriting the BuzzFeed headline in different styles that don’t reflect an attempt to meta-describe the event in terms of its place in the media ecosystem, but rather just try to get at what is happening:

  • BuzzFeed’s original headline: This Is What Happens When Two BuzzFeed Employees Explode A Watermelon
  • NYT: With rubber bands and a watermelon, performers discover the limits of fruit
  • AP: Performers wrap watermelon in rubber bands until the fruit explodes
  • The Atlantic: Fruit and rubber bands in the age of simple wonders
  • Hacker News: It takes at least 642 rubber bands to optimize the explosion of a watermelon
  • Reddit: So I made this watermelon explode with rubber bands
  • Upworthy: These amazing people wrapped rubber bands around a watermelon. What happened next will make you cry.

As print readership falls, 51 major metro newspapers’ websites are losing or failing to pull in readers, and young people engage more with print products than digital ones

Source: medialife magazine

I suspect these dynamics are unique to the nature of the markets theoretically served by these publications; given the nature of the online ad business and the overwhelming dominance of network builders/communication-tool-providers (Facebook, Google) to provide the reach into local people’s lives, it is very hard to be a player on the Internet unless you are trying to reach the entire world. Yet it’s surprising on the surface to think that the path to the future may lie in the past.

Online audiences are as big as they’re going to get. Without growth, investors don’t want to invest in them.

Source: Digiday

At Business Insider, for example, traffic increased 10 percent to 40 million monthly uniques over the past year, following an 80 percent increase the year prior. BuzzFeed’s growth was flat this year, at 75.3 million uniques in November, after a year in which it grew 42 percent. (All figures are U.S. cross-platform figures, from comScore.) Mashable’s traffic, on the other hand, grew at a faster rate from November 2013 to November 2014 compared to a year later: 18 percent vs. 32 percent. Gawker Media, which spent most of last year in turmoil, has seen a 16 percent year-over-year decline in unique visitors.

“There’s that sense that not all of these digital news startups will see continuing hockey stick-like growth,” said Ken Doctor, principal analyst at Outsell. “Fall behind in growth, and the current value of these companies may plummet; it’s a momentum game, win or lose.”

‘Call it the Internet, but it’s really this: The end of the Mass Media Era and the dawn of the Infinite Media Era’

Source: inma

At the heart of it, it’s an audience problem. In the old, information-starved days, we could guarantee market-dominant audiences just by doing news (or, for the broadcast media, entertainment). Today, news won’t get us enough audience to be competitive, and our audiences are too small for digital dimes to make up for the print dollars we’re losing.

Apps and websites will all blend together and talk to each other, because that is simpler and better for your audience

Source: Donny Reynolds on Medium

Rather than needing to download an app to access an experience, we’ll simply find the experience we want through whatever means and Google or Apple will “stream” that app to us as needed. No more interruptions between individual story of interest and a person’s desire. No more trying to catch people inside yet another walled garden.

But didn’t you hear that apps are dead? It’s all about the bots now.

Source: gupshup

I’ve not used this service yet, but I like its simple timeline describing the evolution of info/digital experiences:

  • Mid-1980s: desktop computers
  • Mid-1990s: browsers and websites
  • Mid-2000s: smartphones and apps
  • Mid-2010s: messaging and bots

Related: Luka, “a messenger for bots and humans”

Facebook Live is another pillar of its attempt to become the defacto “Internet”

Source: The New Yorker

No need to rewrite; here are a few grafs from the article:

I wrote several years ago that Facebook’s dream is not to be your favorite destination on the Internet; its desire is to be the Internet. It would prefer that when you connect in the digital realm—an increasingly all-encompassing expanse—you do it within Facebook, which now includes Instagram, Whatsapp, and Oculus VR (in addition to its robust news feed, its Messenger chat app, its Moments photo-sharing platform, its video-player platform . . . well, you get the idea). This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon; for years technology companies have waged platform battles, hoping to lock in users with hardware, software, or services that only function inside a proprietary venue. Closed systems make your patronage simpler and more consistent, and it is through a closed system that a company can most readily own and control your data, which is then converted to revenue.

Facebook has been particularly focussed on three areas lately: publishers’ content (that is, all the stuff that makes Facebook worth reading), video (the thing every creator on the Internet must do right now), and the youth market (all the people Facebook will need tomorrow). In all three places, the company has been playing a haphazard game of catch-up, trying to concoct a mixture of services, partnerships, acquisitions, and outright steamrolling that will insure ownership and control of these three crucial axes.

On Wednesday it launched a service called Facebook Live, which simultaneously takes aim at the trifecta.

Branded content is going to flood every communication channel, and there will be a backlash against it.

Source: Facebook’s guide to its branded content policy

People have told us that they find some types of branded content to be less engaging than others, and this was typically when the content was more promotional. Based on this feedback, our branded content guidelines prohibit overly promotional features, such as persistent watermarks and pre-roll advertisements. Additionally, cover photos and profile pictures must not feature third party products, brands, or sponsors. Branded content integrations that are allowed to be posted on Facebook include content like product placement, endcards, and marketer’s logos.

It will be harder to find “pure” information, if such a thing exists, and ever more difficult to understand the behind-the-scene motivations and restraints on the quality and character of the information you’re consuming. This, overall, is not good. We need institutions in our society with power and influence that have something besides profit as their motivation. Verizon, for example, will never produce news that damages its interests, which may not serve humanity overall in very beneficial ways.

Slack should become a publishing company. This makes sense. All ideas begin with conversations.

Source: Slack’s Trello board asking for customer ideas via Jeff Jarvis on Facebook

I’m still looking for the magic tool that combines robust calendars (that feed into other services), collaborative document editing with track changes, IMing, project management, video conferencing and phone calls, a CMS, social media integrations for publish-once-be-everywhere simplicity, ability to add/remove collaborators so to work with freelancers, curation tools, communication cleverness that allows all conversations on all mediums/tools to be organized by project effortlessly and quickly and on the fly… the list just keeps going. Right now I accomplish this using a ridiculous array of services. The only premise I’ve discovered is that all information turns into other information for different times, places and people, so I need to tools to handle the stresses of time, complex information-source networks and numerous publication/communication channels.

Companies that build the tools to communicate are the new publishers

Source: Poynter

Medium amps up its efforts to become the publishing powerhouse of thoughtful media. So give up your sovereignty in exchange for a network purporting to somewhat reflect the audience you want? Let them handle revenue and tech infrastructure so you can focus on writing, shooting photos and interviewing smart people doing great things? Well, your business becomes tied to theirs. And as more organizations flood the network, it becomes less differentiated. What about when lawyers and foreign governments show up telling Medium to take down certain posts?

Neil deGrasse Tyson talks online journalism with Arianna Huffington and Jeff Jarvis

Source: StarTalk

Trends in the journalism business and content creation: Centralized digital power and our virtual world (news roundup for March 26, 2016)

1. The Internet isn\’t distributing media power, it is concentrating it

From Joshua Benton on NiemanLab: The game of concentration: The Internet is pushing the American news business to New York and the coasts

“The Internet doesn’t spread things apart — it pushes them together,” Richard Florida, an urban studies theorist. “You’re seeing more of these winner-take-all effects.”

Modern digital publications in the United States (and, I\’d suggest, around the globe) will be based in huge cities to facilitate access to funding and talent. This is bringing a uniformity to the political leanings of the ecosystem of media powerhouses because they\’re staffed by liberal, urban residents. Those values don\’t play well with everyone in the United States (and other smaller population centers in other countries), and we\’ll see stronger reactions from the groups of people who fail to see their story reflected in the narratives being embraced by professionals immersed in a different culture. Does this explain the rise of Donald Trump?

I don\’t fully agree that the worry is that the concentration of media power results in stories being told about the locations in which they\’re located; the business and editorial models of leading digital publications based in places like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco rely upon covering everything. Vice Media, BuzzFeed, Business Insider, Gawker Media, Mashable, Vox Media and others want global audiences because that\’s where the numbers are. The stories reflect that. The worry, and I think this is what Joshua meant, is about the narrowing lens — one reflecting the concerns and values of megalopolis residents — through which we view stories.

I wonder if there are parallels in the business world; look at the structure of a corporation — an abstract entity with owners all over the place united only by their investment in shares — vs. a locally owned business. A corporation (wait, some corporations) views the world, crudely speaking, as a resource to exploit to generate money for its owners. It is not necssarily working to represent the values of a local community, even if its headquarters are based in one, because it serves its distributed owners, not locals.

This analysis doesn\’t account for the important role that local freelancers (and foreign correspondents) play in bringing authentic (or at least more authentic) stories from locations outside of the corporate headquarters. The command and control centers may be in New York, for example, but the soldiers are everywhere — but is this structure financially robust enough to support the story-supply system? And to repeat the points above, if the editors are in New York, they\’re filtering work from abroad through their own viewpoints.

Overall, what I see is the emergence of a global urban citizen; my guess is we\’ll see this population of people develop more formalized community bonds and values as the Internet further develops to make virtual/mediated reality even more the norm.

But ultimately, we are beings inside bodies, and those bodies need food, shelter and other bodies to be around. We are tied to our places, at least until we go full Matrix.

2. Computers will do more and better writing

Feed your plotlines and character descriptions into the machine, and out comes a story? Why not: A Computer Wrote A Novel — And Nearly Won A Literary Prize For It

And Narrative Science has been underway for quite a while, and I assume will only get better: 30 Clients Using Computer-Generated Stories Instead of Writers

And computers will do our repackaging for us — sorting information streams to conform to specific knowledge-gathering goals. It\’s happening in bits and pieces; asking Google Maps for directions is one basic example. How far away can it be to ask a machine to give you a comprehensive analysis of Clinton\’s foreign policy statements as revealed in thousands of articles across the information ecosystem?

Sometimes things don\’t go so well: Tay: Microsoft issues apology over racist chatbot fiasco

3. The Internet is moving toward becoming a real-time, always-on virtual reality

Google’s placing its own bet on mobile livestreaming with YouTube Connect

Wouldn\’t it be odd to discover that all of our traditions of storytelling and media production are actually technologies that could also be replaced by machines that emphasize one sort of communication over another?

What if a story was just our old version of a hard drive? What if it was just a convenient way to storye information? And given the limits of the mind, we had to design those stories in certain ways. But machines lack the same limits, and so we design stories differently?

Is talking face-to-face the ultimate technology?

How do you survive and thrive in virtual world, and how does it operate in conjunction with a real world?

But like I said above: We are bodies, tied to the limits and needs of our biological machine — until we give ourselves over to the Matrix. That is the ultimate baseline for power, values and decisions.

4. Information distributors ultimately own the content, but they are nothing without the creators

Forgetting the homepage means forgetting control: NowThis

But what does \”control\” mean in a digital, virtual world?

Digital info distributors need info to create their value, but they don\’t want to pay to produce it — that is expensive, risky, slow, complex and unpredictable. So they need the people filling the pipes. Who has more power?

But you can bet that whatever community you\’re trying to serve, Facebook already offers all the sophisticated tools and conversation they need: Facebook is the new Excel

Yet isn\’t it tempting to just let Facebook take care of all that difficult audience building and monetizing for you? Facebook’s Instant Articles Advertising Fixes Win Over Publishers

5. Bots, messaging, texting, yep

Is your Facebook Messenger app ready? Facebook’s Messenger Bot Store could be the most important launch since the App Store

Maybe Chatfuel can help.

Trends in the journalism business and content creation: Targeting texting and choice cuts (news roundup for March 6, 2016)

1. Your messaging apps are about to be invaded by the news ==>

Purple ==>

Quartz jumped on this train ==>

And eventually bots analyzing data streams will provide your conversation partner ==>

2. Editorial strategy of reducing choice as a way to stand out ==> ==>

Why does the number of choices matter? The Economist explains ==>

3. Businesses are sorting, improving and redistributing floods of information from social media outlets into better packages ==>

Nuzzel ==>

But where do the limits of our ability pay attention and design intersect? Research on that can be viewed in this PDF ==>

4. Paywalls will give you a nice chunk of change to start, but then old revenue problems come to the fore:

Making more palatable paywalls through micropayments and bundled subscriptions ==> and

5. Text (presumably original content that is hard to create) \”is perfect for growth but terrible for monetization\” so use it to point to related, revenue-generating, high-end podcasts and video shows ==>

As quality departs, so does your audience ==> \”The primary concern for people who gave up on an outlet seems to be quality. When asked which they noticed more, fewer stories or less complete stories, far more people said the latter (24% to 61%).\” ==>

We spend 40 hours a year in traffic. Self-driving cars might fix that. Read all about it on my new blog, Robot Car Report.

Water? What is that? / Benson Kua/flickr

The 40 hours of collective traffic congestion Americans experience annually also costs the country about $121 billion.

That and other stories can be found on Robot Car Report, a blog covering self-driving vehicles that I launched in June 2015.

I created it because I needed to do something about missing writing and reporting. Composing quirky JavaScript tools for myself and my job will continue to be fun, but there is something deeply satisfying about freezing the runny sauce of raw ideas into a sharp sculpture of words.

The site is young. It’s marching through the find and remix stage as I learn the subject and develop the beat.

(Thank you, Medill, for the excellent training; and thank you, Albuquerque Tribune, for the years you gave me covering the Duke City; and thank you, New York Times, for the crushing pleasure of jamming out articles about who knows what under deadlines so intense they killed my tears before they even had a chance to slip out of my eyes.)

I’ll grow the blog, but that takes a special kind of fertilizer that slips away the more you want it: time.

We don’t get much of that. Just a few hours a day. Seems like even less nowadays, when so many thoroughly enjoyable media tools pull your attention this way and that.

But hundreds of those days pass and you call it a year. You wonder if things are better or worse, but you can’t know because you’re in it, you’re inside the tank and you’re trying to understand water when water is your world.

Still, if a few decades have given me anything, it is this: there is no ruler worth putting your faith in. The size of the increments change according to who’s holding the stick over you (including you). Even if you get a nice collection of large numbers to drop as bullet points after your name, the end is never reached.

So you’re left with the hunt for a ritual. You go ranging for a daily dance that transforms time — no longer something pulling the life out of you, but a foundation for a thing that lives beyond the sliver you call yours.

Your fingers walk across the keyboard. Music starts, and they start to move differently.

Graffy bookmarklet gets to the point of The New York Times article

Opinion pieces in The New York Times prefer to tuck their main point toward the bottom. I spent many scroll-years traveling to them and reading backwards, from bottom to top.

I’m not sure when this habit developed, but I did it because I want to know what someone is trying to prove before I spend the time jamming a bunch of facts and observations into my head.

Perhaps it reflects a general impatience born of reading online. Perhaps it’s because it makes me feel more mentally active. Don’t know, but now I have a tool I’ve named “Graffy” to instantly reverse the order of the paragraphs in an NYT article, and then display them in a new window. You can also get them back into the editor’s preferred order. Or, heck, randomize them—turning the neat sculpture of an op-ed into a chaotic blizzard of facts and observations gets me dancing around the info in joyful and educational ways.

To use Graffy:

  • Make a bookmark with this text as the URL: javascript:(function(){document.body.appendChild(document.createElement('script')).src='';})();
  • Go to an NYT opinion article, such as “Why Isn’t Trump a Real Populist?” Though I think Graffy works throughout the site, it makes the most sense, to me, working with the opinion content.
  • Make sure your web browser allows pop-ups for
  • Click on the bookmark you created.
  • On the new page that pops up, you can click the “Rereverse” button at the top to flip the order as you like. Or get rando with it.
  • Note that this will be more fussy on Firefox than Chrome.

Next steps for Graffy:

  • Make it work across more sites. The challenge here is figuring out the best way to identify the actual paragraphs making up the body of the text. All right, on July 11, I started an experiment of making an array to contain different ways sites might label paragraphs and headlines. The JavaScript goes through the array; if a match occurs, it proceeds.
  • Find a way to identify and highglight the paragraph that best represents a conclusion or main argument.
  • Provide a way to randomly arrange all the paragraphs in an article.All done.
  • Make a game testing your arrangement of the paragraphs in the article against the order chosen by the editors.
  • Find a way to pull out a paragraph from an article to a “reading position,” then dismiss it when done; in short, a way to break apart the article paragraph by paragraph. And maybe save the paragraphs, or send them back to main content?

The JavaScript files for this tool are graffy.js and graffyRereverse.js.

Perhaps I should have used Graffy on this article.