The Great Shift

shipwreck

Virginia and I went on a Saturday night date (to the Mann Music Center to see Ballet X after a dinner out) for the first time in 16 months and then attended an outdoor church music event the next afternoon and it’s starting to feel like we’re increasingly out of the teeth of the pandemic. (I’ll worry about variants on another day.)

I am very, very curious what things are going to look like on the other side of this, if we ever truly get all the way to the other side (see variants), but for now I feel like alI I know is that there has been a Great Shift. I feel it as if we’re on a ship and some enormous load has moved in the hold. The deck isn’t quite level, but nobody has yet been down in the hold to see what happened. Will it re-settle and we’ll come back to level? Will it keep rolling and we’ll capsize? Or are we just gonna float, a little off-kilter and bobbing, till we all learn to walk on this tilted deck as if this is the way it’s always been? I’m an optimist, and yet. There is some anxiety here.

I’ve been trying to comprehend the Great Shift. It seems that the way people understood the world or behaved in it has changed. A year-plus of retreating into our homes and very limited social bubbles if you were privileged/lucky — or braving a deadly pandemic, if you weren’t — has provided some revelatory space. People have changed, I sense, but also that they don’t quite know how. I don’t either, but here are some lessons that, to me, people seem to have learned:

  • The world can bend a lot when it has to. Things that were seemingly immutable (commutes, weddings, ballgames, live music, movie theaters, beers with the guys, book groups, dating, meeting other humans, monetary policy) either disappeared or were replaced by virtual doppelgängers that were more or less unsatisfactory. And those in-person things are coming back with a drip-drip-drippiness that’s much slower than the faucet-slammed-shut immediacy of March 2020.
  • Or not. For a lot of people, the past year has created a distance that they welcome or prefer to the uncertainty of re-emerging. Either way, they’re satisfied with or resigned to the past year’s status quo.
  • They have more say than they originally thought they had on some of these things and, this is important, that as they reconnect, they want things on their terms. Whether it’s no more supermarket trips or work commutes or going to church on Sunday mornings, if people don’t see value in their presence or attendance, they’ll insist on alternatives.
  • The world is not unipolar. Hybrid might be 2021’s Word of the Year. This will be the year of yes/and, not either/or. Or maybe it will be the year of no/and, as in I won’t do that, but I would do this with some of that. One thing that I don’t think many businesses have reckoned with is that the past year was simple. Work went remote. Many employees haven’t seen an office in more than a year. As companies begin to navigate a world where people work at home AND in an office, it’s going to be a) complicated and b) expensive. You’re going to have to equip both workplaces or risk a productivity trough in one of them. Simply saying, if you don’t like it, come to the office, isn’t going to cut it.
  • They can get away with no as an answer. Don’t like the conditions an employer places on a return to the office? Find a new job. Don’t like the idea of returning to work, period? Then don’t. Don’t like your partner? Well, people seem to have decided that can wait. People have embraced the ambiguities and figured out how to hold their breath. It might be a long time before some of them come up for air.

In short, people want what they want, it isn’t what they had before the pandemic, and they think they have the agency to make it happen, one way or another.

I expect this is going to manifest itself in the biggest mixed bag of a recovery we’ve seen in my lifetime. It’s going to lead to a tumultuous economic year, an explosion of cash being thrown around in pursuit of self-actualization and fulfillment of wishes and missions and delusions, and, sadly, an acceleration of some of the trends toward social isolation and bubble building. I think it’s going to be bad for political polarization, because as people rebuild their social graphs they are going to consider their choices through a partisan lens, which could exacerbate the kind of political sorting that has already become too much a factor in who hangs with whom. Emerging from this with political affiliation as a primary lens is one of the saddest fruits of the pandemic season. If a global pandemic, driven by a remorseless virus whose only affiliation is vulnerability isn’t enough to get us all pulling in one direction, I fear for the Commons. And the Commonwealth.

Also in the sad category, I think education is going to remain a mess for the next year, as unvaccinated kids will remain the biggest pool of viral potential for coronavirus variants. I expect schools, kids, parents and teachers will continue to be stressed and whipsawed by that reality all the way into 2022. The degree to which this is true will depend a lot of your zip code. Vaccinated zip codes will suffer less, those with a lot of vaccine holdouts more.

In short, there’s a lot of tonnage moving around in the hold. We could re-settle into a Better Way, a more seaworthy existence. There are promising signs that people realize it’s time to value sustainability. But it could flip us. I’m an optimist, but I’m also a little worried about slipping off this listing ship. Or that the ship we’re on is about to be tossed by Climate Change in a way that could make all this epidemiological and sociological hullaboo seem like small potatoes—think the lords and ladies of Westeros scrambling for power until, in the penultimate episodes, they notice the unsettling, quiet guy with the blue eyes riding an ice dragon at the head of a zombie army in Game of Thrones. But that’s for another day, and another post.

Above all, I’m curious. And curious how you think it’ll sort itself out.

Why I Like My Pixel 3a Better Than the iPhone 11

I purchased an iPhone 11 earlier this summer to replace my Pixel 3a. I am not satisfied. Here’s why would I return to my Pixel 3a:

• The size. The Pixel 3a is smaller and, honestly, just the perfect size for a phone. The iPhone 11, which is the old XR, is just plain large.

• I got a Quadlock for the Pixel 3a case. Quadlock makes the best locking system for phone cases. It’s easy to use on a bike, in the car, etc. The Universal Fit accessory allows one to turn any case into a Quadlock case. The awkwardness of hooking my phone into my car and my bike was honestly my biggest gripe with the Pixel 3a. That’s now solved. I actually find the Pixel 3a and Android more intuitive and helpful than iOS/iPhone, I hate face unlock (especially in a mask-forward pandemic) and Google Assistant is so much better than Siri. Plus, the apps I used to find so useful when I last lived on an iPhone (Halide, Spectre, Darkroom), I just don’t find myself using them. The exception is Dark Sky, the what’s-happening-in-the-next-hour weather app that I love and which Apple recently purchased. Accuweather’s app does something similar, but it’s just not as refined. DS is just about perfect.

I think I’m going to give my iPhone 11 to a family member and return to my Pixel 3a. I don’t think it will have much effect on my life at all, except in a mildly positive way. It’ll force me to not split my attention between Apple and Google ecosystems. It’ll make me use a camera to shoot camera-worthy photos. It’ll cost me Dark Sky, and iMessage, but that’s about it.

The hardest part is figuring out how to backtrack to the Pixel. And how not to end up buying the Pixel 5 or even the 4a, when it’s released. I think I can handle it.

A new job, an old beach haunt, a new supergroup recommendation

First off, an announcement: I’ve changed jobs — again.

I started today at Universal Health Services as Director of Content and Publications. The job is good, plus I get to ditch the Philly wage tax (saving 3.5%) and the hour-and-a-half commute for one that’s less than 30 minutes (and as little as 15 on a good day).

That is all very good, but I am pretty torn about leaving the Philadelphia Business Journal, which I really enjoyed. I liked the team of reporters, I liked the publisher, and I liked the work. It complicated things that the Editor in Chief left as I was negotiating with UHS, and there was a good chance that if I stayed I could have been the EiC there. That was very tempting, because there aren’t a lot of places where you can do good local journalism, and my short stint as managing editor had me convinced that we weren’t far from some major wins. My friend Adam heard that in my voice and got me excited about the opportunity. It almost won me over. In the end, I decided the UHS position was the bigger opportunity with the higher ceiling to have a positive impact, and most likely to provide a “third act” to my career after good runs at the newspapers in Philadelphia and Rodale’s magazines in the Lehigh Valley. We’ll see if I’m right.

In the meantime, the Business Journal has a number of openings:

(The ones that don’t have links will be waiting on the EiC to be hired, so that person has a say in filling the rest of the roles. These are good jobs. If you are interested, let me know and I can provide some guidance and a possible recommendation.)

mascot panel

Mascot madness

While I’m talking Biz Journal, I should mention that one of my last acts there was hosting a panel at the annual Business of Sports event at SugarHouse Casino. I lucked out and got the mascots discussion. As you can see from the photo, several mascots including the Flyers’ Gritty and the Eagles’ Swoop were in attendance, as well as “best friend of the Phanatic,” Tom Burgoyne, who sat in the panel. The funniest bit was when I lauded the Phanatic as the best pro sports mascot ever, and the other mascots, sitting at tables, stood up, offended, and waved me off. The event also included more substantive panels on the state of online sports betting in Pa., the new rules of selling tickets, and retired athletes’ second acts in the business world. The event is one of the things that I think the Business Journal has going for it. Modern journalism outfits need to score points via all channels — print, digital, and events. PBJ has that mix in its DNA.

Rehoboth was great

Virginia and I went to Rehoboth Beach last week after my final day at ACBJ.  We hadn’t been down there in a several years, and it was surprisingly nostalgic as we drove over the canal that separated Northern and “Slower” Delaware on the way to the beach. In Rehoboth, a lot of memories rushed back, reminding us that we had been there A LOT over the years. Still my favorite beach town. We also met a couple from DC. The husband runs a company, funded by pharma, that helps patients lobby insurers to pay for expensive treatments. He mentioned that his company hires young people — like recent graduate Kelly. We’ve been in regular correspondence since then.

25 years

Our friends Sue and Chris McKeone celebrated their 25th anniversary by renewing their vows and asked me to serve as officiant. A quick Google search turned up that in the week preceding their marriage, Jeff Bezos founded Amazon, Forrest Gump opened with a rare midweek release and a preliminary trial set the stage for the O.J. Simpson trial. I also read through Sue and Chris’ original vows, which ended with a promise to share their burdens and successes. I closed with this:

Spoiler alert: Sue and Chris have not made a lot of changes, but one word that is gone is success. And I’d suggest this: success is a young person’s word. As we grow older, and sometimes a little wiser, we might come to realize that the most important thing we can hope for in this world is to be seen, and understood, and because of that — and at times despite it — to know that we are loved. This does not require a partner, there are many people in our lives who can provide this crucial ingredient, but it is a great balm when you find a partner who provides it. That is what has always struck me about you two — the great affection and understanding between you. This is your great success. I am overjoyed to be here with you to celebrate it.

It was also a great party, at the Ledges Hotel in Hawley, Pa. Here we are with our good friends Sue and Chris (left) as well as the Harts and DeGeorges.

Other stuff

  • Even with a rash of training camp injuries, the Eagles look poised to have a great season. The offense looks as if it will be close to unstoppable. My prediction is 13-3 and the divisional title. I’ll wait and see how the season ends before I make postseason predictions.
  • The Phillies ended up being pretty top-heavy in a sport whose 162-game grind selects for teams with 25 productive big-leaguers all pitching in. I was OK with the Phils overpaying for Bryce Harper, but, as is painfully obvious, he’s merely an expensive piece and not an answer all by himself.
  • Virginia and I are 4 episodes into Stranger Things and enjoying it thoroughly. No spoilers, please. The show reminds me of how helicopter parent-less my childhood was.
  • A week after their debut at the Newport Folk Festival, I encourage everybody to give the country/Americana supergroup The Highwomen a listen. The group includes Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby (with guitar help from Shires’ husband, Jason Isbell). I like Hemby’s contribution Crowded Table as well as their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s The ChainAccording to Rolling Stone, the album, out Sept. 6, will have songs written by Isbell and Ray Lamontangue as well as covering topics from motherhood to ambition to a country-flavored gay love song. I will be at Shoalsfest (Isbell, Sheryl Crow, Mavis Staples, others) with Virginia and our friends Majid and Mary Alsayegh in early October, Shires will be there and I’m hoping against hope that the rest of the Highwomen will make it there, too.

That’s it for now. Hoping all is well with you and yours. Enjoy this last month of summer!

– 30 –

A Premature Grandpahood

(Editor’s note: My second newsletter, send on Feb. 2, 2019.)

Welcome back! Hoping wherever you are, that you are safe and warm.

What I’m Reading

As a high school senior, my younger son Kelly started to suffer increasingly violent migraine headaches, first in conjunction with the ulcerative colitis that was diagnosed a decade ago, then scarily calving off to become their own awful thing, some stretching to 4 and 5 days’ duration. Their intensity was frightening. Kelly and I had a 1-to-10 pain ranking to help us understand what he was experiencing, and he often reporting being at 7 and above for entire days.

It absolutely decimated his senior year of high school ― he missed more than 60 days of school, sometimes entire weeks at a time, and it never relented for more than 2 weeks between episodes. My wife Virginia and I are convinced the only reason he graduated was because the school administration didn’t want to deal with us again. (Despite all the disruption, he persevered and was accepted into several colleges.)

We searched for help, and found surprisingly little that was effective. Eventually the headaches eased, due to some combination of diet (dropping a lot of sugar and dairy), medication and his physical maturation. He still gets some, but the occurrence is monthly, not weekly, and they no longer land with the oppressive violence of those high school ones.

Which is a long way of saying that we’ve always thought that what goes on in the gut gets expressed and has consequences elsewhere in the body. And a recent New York Times story backs that up. One paragraph sums up the emerging work:

Research continues to turn up remarkable links between the microbiome and the brain. Scientists are finding evidence that microbiome may play a role not just in Alzheimer’s disease, but Parkinson’s disease, depression, schizophrenia, autism and other conditions.

There’s a lot of research aimed at how to resolve the damage caused by this raging microbiome. Some studies points to the efficacy of fecal transplants as a way to introduce “better” bacteria to the gut. It sounds gross, but apparently it’s effective. 

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“There’s so much so in sorrow.”

Those were among the last words of 77-year-old Felix Mort, and the introduction to The Atlantic’s fascinating piece on how people communicate as they die. (I know I promised a lighter Volume 2, but hang with me here.)

The stories and images are fascinating. Among the insights: Experts say that dying people speak in metaphor ― which is scary for those of us who lean pretty heavily on metaphor currently (or maybe I’ve been aware that I’m dying for a very long time).

Also, they share that exhausted people near death are likely to communicate without words or in very short word groups toward the end. And that, as their energy wanes, the last sense that remains is hearing, which rings true, and remains a lesson, for me.

I had an aunt who slipped into a coma after surgery to remove a brain tumor. We’d gather around her in the hospital and talk. Sometimes there were conversations about what would happen if she didn’t recover. 

When she did awake from the coma, she told us that even when she couldn’t act or react, she could hear, and she didn’t appreciate everything she heard.

Gulp. 

None of us from that room will ever make that mistake again.

This also reminds me of a 2013 book, The Top 5 Regrets of the Dyingby Australian palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware. The most common regrets, Ware says, are:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Regarding the first one, she writes:

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

The ministers at my church spoke about these five regrets in a message series back in 2013. Here’s the first one, from Rev. Ken Beldon. They’re all great.

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I’m far from the only person losing faith in Facebook’s interest in treating individual’s privacy with respect. Rather, the evidence of the last few years is that the company will do what it can to leverage access to people’s phones to collect as much information as is physically possible, even if it means disguising the depth of the collection and its own role in it.

The latest case in point, from Techcrunch, explains Project Atlas. Facebook, acting through three proxies to hide its involvement, offered a monthly fee (up to $20, in the form of an egift card) to people between the ages of 13 and 35 to install software on their phones to report activity from their phones, ostensibly as social media research. Those who downloaded the app essentially handed over everything they did on their phones. As a security analyst who looked over the code said:

“The fairly technical sounding ‘install our Root Certificate’ step is appalling. This hands Facebook continuous access to the most sensitive data about you, and most users are going to be unable to reasonably consent to this regardless of any agreement they sign, because there is no good way to articulate just how much power is handed to Facebook when you do this.”

The day after the story broke, Facebook pulled the app while Apple said FB had misused a developer program to skirt Apple’s App Store guidelines and actually pulled Facebook’s ability to work around the App Store. Good for Apple, which had its own problem when a coding mistake allowed people to spy on others using Facetime on Macs, iPhones and iPads. Good grief! And in Forbes, a story about Facebook’s efforts to enable kids to spend their parents’ money without consent. This bullet point in a Facebook training memo sums it up well: “Friendly Fraud – what it is, why it’s challenging, and why you shouldn’t try to block it.” (Editor’s note: bold emphasis is mine.)

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Some bulleted sports points for those interested.

Super Bowl:

  • A prediction: Patriots over Rams, 34-28. 
  • How: Bill Belichick neutralizes Larry Donald and the rest of the Rams defense can’t take advantage. 
  • How 2: Tom Brady sits in the pocket late in the game and does that Tom Brady thing. 
  • Impact: Eagles fans appreciate just how pivotal the Brandon Graham strip sack was, as seemingly nobody ever puts Brady on the ground late in the game.
  • If you’re only interested in the commercials, you’ll apparently see a lot more women, says Ad Age. OK, maybe not “a lot,” but definitely “more.”

Sixers:

  • If you can trade Ben Simmons for Anthony Davis, you do it. But that’s really unlikely. And Ben seems to be turning a corner around consistent effort and asserting his will.
  • I was really concerned the Sixers would end up in a first-round playoff matchup with Boston as the 4-5 playoff seeds. With Indiana looking fatally wounded by Victor Oladipo’s injury, that’s looking much less likely. Sigh.
  • I started a skeptic, but Landry Shamet is a legit rotation guy in the NBA. Brett Brown is figuring out how to use him. To me, Shamet should be the reserve combo guard, taking on point duties when Simmons leaves the games and getting the rest of his minutes as backup to J.J. Redick. T.J. McConnell should return to what he needs to be on a good team, an 8- to 10-minute change-of-pace/adrenaline shot when the team is in the doldrums. And you must avoid T.J.-Ben lineups; the team is a disaster offensively with those two on the court at the same time.
  • Truth is this is a four-player team, and the crazy thing is 36-year-old J.J. Redick is one of them. Even crazier, he may not be the least-important. His ability to draw defenders is about the only thing creating any space for this team in the halfcourt (Shamet’s hot streak has created a bit of this on the second team).
  • I want to see Zhaire Smith and Markelle Fultz back on the court before the team makes any decisions about trading them. They both conceivably could help with on-ball defense against wings, which is where the team is most glaringly thin (it’s Jimmy Butler and … well, Butler).
  • If the Pelicans trade Davis and go into tank mode, E’twaun Moore is an interesting guy to consider pursuing. I’m not up to move heaven and earth to add Jrue Holiday.
  • Thursday night’s win over the Warriors was a bit flukey, but a great directional signal for where the team is headed. 

Phillies:

  • If Bryce Harper is really coming, announce it already.
  • If the over/under on total money is $290 million, I’ll take the under.
  • It’s a good signing whatever it costs. The outfield is a mess.
  • Who bats before whom between Harper and Rhys Hoskins? I’d try Harper-Hoskins first.
  • I recently have heard Harper called a five-tool guy. Other than the big bat, what are these other tools? A razor? He was an uninterested outfielder this past season, has stolen six or fewer bases in three of the past five seasons, and has finished two of the past three batting under .250. He’s an impactful bat hopefully heading into his prime, which is worth a lot of money, but he’s not Mike Trout.

Thanks for reading and to those who reached out with feedback, thoughts and invitations. I’m happy to pick up the conversation and available at 484-751-7795 and kevdonahue@gmail.com, and on Twitter as @kevdonahue. Let me know which parts you liked and which parts you didn’t.

Till next week, stay warm and safe!

Movie Talk, Ghana and Haiti, Good Reads and a Light IPA

(Editor’s note: this is the text from my first newsletter, sent on Jan. 28, 2019.)

Thanks for signing up to receive this newsletter. As I’ve become more uncomfortable about Facebook, and more guarded about whose stories I share and where I share them, I’ve thought about how to communicate with others without feeding the algorithmic beast. I’ll aim to send this weekly, with the expectation that it will be a collection of the things that interest me ― smart and moving stories, friends’ doings, some thoughts on the arts, media, journalism and anything else that speaks to me. And I expect it could shift a lot as I get down to the actual doing. Sound good? Let’s get started.

Roma

My Favorite Movies of 2018

Go to my blog for fuller reactions to each film, but with 2018 behind us, I ranked the films released last year that I saw, from least- to best-liked. Go to the blog and leave your lists, please (even if your “list” is simply your favorite film; I’m curious). This isn’t an Oscars ranking, just how much enjoyment or thought the movie brought forth from me. 13. Mary Poppins Returns
12. Vice
11. Isle of Dogs
10. The Notorious RBG
9. Mary, Queen of Scots
8. BlacKkKlansman
7. First Man
6. The Favourite
5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
4. Roma
3. Free Solo
2. Black Panther
1. First Reformed


A little more about First Reformed ― and despair:

Yeah, I know, this is nobody’s favorite movie, though it got an original screenplay nod (for Paul Schrader, who also directed it) from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. This bleak film about a pastor (Ethan Hawke) who falls into despair over the state of the world is very, very good, and the wild, miraculous ending will leave you debating what happened with yourself and others who see it. But what I like best is that the movie served as the topic for one of my favorite church messages of the year, by Frank Zinni, who unblinkingly looked at despair with subtlety and courage. As someone who has had a very vulnerable-feeling year, it was a true gift. The line that stays with me, that Frank credits to the poet David Whyte: “Despair … is a season.” Here’s more  from his book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words:

Despair is strangely, the last bastion of hope; the wish being, that if we cannot be found in the old way we cannot ever be touched or hurt in that way again. Despair is the sweet but illusory abstraction of leaving the body while still inhabiting it, so we can stop the body from feeling anymore. Despair is the place we go when we no longer want to make a home in the world and where we feel, with a beautifully cruel form of satisfaction, that we may never have deserved that home in the first place. Despair, strangely, has its own sense of achievement, and despair, even more strangely, needs despair to keep it alive …

We take the first steps out of despair by taking on its full weight and coming fully to ground in our wish not to be here. We let our bodies and we let our world breathe again. In that place, strangely, despair cannot do anything but change into something else, into some other season, as it was meant to do, from the beginning. Despair is a difficult, beautiful necessary, a binding understanding between human beings caught in a fierce and difficult world where half of our experience is mediated by loss, but it is a season, a wave form passing through the body, not a prison surrounding us. A season left to itself will always move, however slowly, under its own patience, power and volition.

Refusing to despair about despair itself, we can let despair have its own natural life and take a first step onto the foundational ground of human compassion, the ability to see and understand and touch and even speak, the heartfelt grief of another.

In my house, 2018 was a hard one. We dealt with job loss and other unsettling events that re-juggled our expectations and living arrangements. And to play along with Whyte’s description of despair as a season, it lasts longer than a day or a week. You have to give it time to move along. First Reformed, which confronted despair so straightforwardly and equivocally,  helped me to allow this drear season and to move beyond it. And, finally, to realize that it will likely return on this life’s calendar.

Next newsletter: Oscar guesses (and less despair).

What I’ve Been Reading

My friend Donna and her husband Ben are on a service trip in Ghana. Ben is a retired engineer and, as you might guess, retired engineers can provide really useful service in this world. Donna is sending dispatches each day sometimes more than one-a-day, and I am enjoying following along, as I know almost nothing about West Africa.Donna’s writing reminded me of two trips I took to Haiti in January three and five years ago, respectively, both with my younger son and folks from local Unitarian Universalist churches. I collected all the things I wrote about it here, including one of my better poems ever. It starts like this:

Seventeen pilgrims on the road from Port-au-Prince to the Central Plateau.
Haiti is life lived on the road, in full view.
It is a hot, dusty iceberg. The mystery resides in the heat and the dirt.
The water is there, but ― did I mention? ― don’t drink it.
Haiti is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a plantain husk.
It is a mosquito buzz at midnight.
It is the fear your net is tattered.
Haiti is a heart pumping in the hot sun.
It is families separated.
It is drums in the night.
Haiti is the roosters who practice dawn all night long …

You don’t hear much about Haiti, ever, but the country is in the midst of a lot of unrest. I appreciate journalist Michael Diebert’s Twitter account as a way to know what’s going on there and across the region ― especially Venezuela these days.

// 

Tommy Tomlinson’s piece in The Atlantic on being a 400-pound-plus guy in America (excerpted from his book The Elephant in the Room) was smart, brave, and absolutely ruthless in its self-dissection.

Early in the piece, he discusses seeing his body in a mirror:

Some days, when I see that disaster staring back, I get so mad that I pound my gut with my fists, as if I could beat the fat out of me. Other times, the sight sinks me into a blue fog that can ruin an hour or a morning or a day. But most of the time what I feel is sadness over how much life I’ve wasted. When I was a kid, I never climbed a tree or learned to swim. When I was in my 20s, I never took a girl home from a bar. Now I’m 50, and I’ve never hiked a mountain or ridden a skateboard or done a cartwheel. I’ve missed out on so many adventures, so many good times, because I was too fat to try. Sometimes, when I could’ve tried anyway, I didn’t have the courage. I’ve done a lot of things I’m proud of. But I’ve never believed I could do anything truly great, because I’ve failed so many times at the one crucial challenge in my life.


It’s not ALL as hard as that and it’s often wry and funny. I encourage you to read it. And listen to Brian Koppelman’s interview with Tomlinson. Koppelman pushes Tomlinson about his relationship to food (which is just as complicated as you’d suspect) and I was unexpectedly moved by their exchange. And not to keep harping on poems, but I wrote something about intentions and aging called I Want to Be a Little Old Man

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If sobriety and recovery are of even the least interest to you, then you need to read GQ’s interview with multiple musicians who’ve embraced it. It has its share of crazy anecdotes, like Joe Walsh talking about bringing a chain saw to his hotel room, but also the most graceful, precious stuff, like this from one of my faves, Jason Isbell: 

“I think part of the process for me of sobering up, and I don’t know that I’ve ever put it this way before or really thought about it this way before, was using my work to connect with the world that I had always felt so isolated from. And I think probably my survival instinct kicked in and said, ‘Well, what you do is you use these songs to connect with people in a way that you’ve not connected with them before.’ And after that, I sort of felt like I belonged in the world.”

You’ll laugh, you might cry and you’ll definitely recognize something in your human experience that resonates. Or, you know, you’ll have some stories to share with friends about the crazy days of the Eagles and Aerosmith.

Eat Drink Tell

In a week when it seemed every journalistic enterprise in America was laying off its staff, Jill Lepore of The New Yorker did a good job of putting this crisis moment in some perspective, both historical and current ― alas, without much in the way of comfort or answers.

Yeah, this is a bit of a strange segue to the sobriety piece, but I’m always looking for a low-calorie beer that tastes good and delivers less of an alcohol wallop, and I’m hopeful about this one ― Dogfish Head’s Slightly Mighty IPA, arriving on store shelves in April. Men’s Health editor Matt Allyn got a preview and he likes it.


Thanks for Reading This Far & An Invitation


If you want to reach me, I’m happy to pick up the conversation and available at 484-751-7795 and kevdonahue@gmail.com and on Twitter as @kevdonahue. Let me know which parts you liked and which parts you didn’t. As I said earlier, I expect to post weekly, most likely on Fridays.

The next one will be lighter. Promise.

Be well!

Kevin

P.S. A thank-you to Michael Easter, who started a more useful version of this idea a few weeks back. I loved his and it spurred me to follow up on my own plans, which had been napping in the corner for some time. Michael’s motivations are different than mine, but we do read some of the same things, both are suckers for music with some twang, and he is an excellent health journalist. You can subscribe to his newsletter here. No problem if you like his better. I do. 

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Losing Faith in Facebook

I’ve been equivocal about Facebook for a while now, and the news of the last week has me re-considering even my reduced activity on the world’s largest social network.

What’s surprising to me is that a lot of other people apparently are too.

Social networks are notoriously fragile—remember MySpace? Friendster?—but Facebook was thought to be beyond such vulnerabilities. Indeed, it had grown into one of the two digital behemoths looming over Internet advertising (beside Google), with more than $40 billion in revenue in 2017 alone.

But maybe it IS vulnerable if enough people lose faith in it.

And maybe that’s happening, because this is the biggest story on The Verge right now.

And Brian Acton, who sold WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 (for $19 billion) Tweeted this today.

And my various news feeds are mighty skeptical about Facebook. Many folks I knew were already exhausted by the political proselytizing and in-fighting that have become a persistent feature for the past two years, but this is something different: a feeling of vulnerability among users regarding the platform itself, rather than the people who populate it, as an unsafe space.

I’m not convinced that what Cambridge Analytica did actually moved the election. There’s a good story from Wired that explains how difficult a trick that would be. Given how small the margin between victory and defeat were, though, it’s possible.

My overarching concern is that this case highlights just how little Facebook values the personal in personal data. And while I am not alarmed about my personal data per se, a platform that can take mine and aggregate it with billions of other people’s data concerns me in that there is a possibility to create tremendous vulnerability at a societal level. I worry that another outfit will soon (or might already be able to) pull together the data with a more-perfect model. (There are plenty of other players in this space, and not all may be as reckless as CA, for good or bad, and might cover their tracks more effectively.)

Most importantly, Facebook in its actions appears largely indifferent to what happens to and with all this data after someone pays for it. Their lack of response so far to the crisis, and the upcoming departure of security chief Alex Stamos reportedly after clashes over how to share information from their internal investigations, are all bad signs. It’s also annoying to hear Zuckerberg and Co. deny the efficacy of Facebook ads to impact behavior when that’s the entire premise of the business, which has been phenomenally lucrative over the past decade.

In the short term, I am interrogating my Facebook presence. I went through Facebook’s settings (Buzzfeed has a good article on where to find them) and saw that I had allowed more than 130 apps to see my Facebook data. I removed a lot of those, and more will go when I find some additional time. Also, I was allowing friends’ accounts to access my data. Done—and sorry, friends, for exposing your data this past decade.

###

So let’s take the creative leap that billions migrate away from Facebook, maybe not wholly, but enough that they need another channel for their online-digital activity. Where do they go next? I don’t think it exists yet.

I don’t think it’s Vero, this year’s creatives’ social network du jour.

I enjoy Twitter, but everyone isn’t there and it’s best use is for commenting on the events of the day, not for dropping a CONGRATS under the photo from my friend’s kid’s graduation party.

Snapchat and Instagram, too, trade in something different—media-heavy platforms for sharing events more than thoughts, and confusing enough that people don’t know how to connect there as easily as on Facebook. They can handle the graduation party, perhaps, maybe even better than Facebook, but I’m not so sure about them for more thoughtful sharing.

I loved Path, but it’s mobile-only and never quite grew up all the way. WeChat, WhatsApp, Telegram, even Apple iMessage … all healthy messaging and social platforms, but it’s hard to see any of them replacing the big blue F.

My thought as of 9:33 pm Tuesday, March 20, is that I’ll leverage my blog, or TinyLetter, and use that to share thoughts, both long and shorter form, then turn to Twitter for the quick hits.

 

Regardless, I am committed to further limiting my Facebook exposure until I feel I must—either for work (I have worked in digital media for the past two decades) or because something fundamental changes with the platform. I wouldn’t hold my breath. (As of 9:08 a.m. Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg has avoided speaking on the situation.)

###

If you’re looking for a read to understand what Cambridge Analytica was trying to do, you could do worse than this from Wired.com. It’s written by Antonio Garcia Martinez, a former member of Facebook’s monetization team. If you don’t want to, know that he’s skeptical about the effectiveness of the campaign, and explains why in a clear-eyed way.

Among his observations:

One of the real macro stories about this election and Facebook’s involvement is how many of the direct-response advertising techniques (such as online retargeting) that are commonplace in commercial advertising are now making their way into political advertising. It seems the same products that can sell you soap and shoes can also sell you on a political candidate.

###

Also here’s the story that started it all this weekend, via the NYTimes.

And the latest, from Politico, on the Trump campaign efforts to distance itself from this garbage fire:

###

Before you get too nostalgic about Facebook’s demise,  Marketwatch points out that this is likely a great opportunity for stock buyers.

###

Where’s Facebook’s leadership? I like this from Tech Crunch.

###

Wired, which had a great deep read on Facebook in last month’s issue, offers a lot of insight into what’s been going on behind the scenes as the company maintains a public silence—including how to handle the fact that a psychologist who helped found CA now works at Facebook!

No More Chasing Facebook? As a Journalist, ‘Hooray!’

The announcement that Facebook would be turning its back on news organizations made me a bit nostalgic. I remembered, as managing editor for MensHealth.com, being the person who set up our Facebook page. We didn’t have social media editors then. We barely had “social media.”

I haven’t looked back to what year exactly it was, but I know that initially, it didn’t add up to a lot of traffic. Even at that point our audience arrived from a pie chart with five pretty-equally-sized slices:

  • Newsletters
  • Search
  • Direct (people typing menshealth.com in their browser or arriving in ways that we didn’t understand how the hell they arrived)
  • Syndication partners (think Yahoo, AOL and MSN)
  • Referrers (anyone who wasn’t Y!/AOL/MSN, including small potatoes audiences from Twitter and Facebook).

screenshot_2_1_18__10_45_am.png

Fast-forward to today, and it looks more like this:

Screenshot_2_1_18__10_42_AM

Over those years, we joined thousands of other publishers, big and small, in doing as Facebook instructed in pursuit of additional access to audience, or “reach”.

When Facebook said, “We’ll give you better reach if you post more,” we went from 10 and 20 daily posts to 50.

When Facebook said, “We’ll give you better reach if you use a proprietary format that in effect moves your content to our environment,” we put developers on the task even as it separated our content from ad inventory that we could sell easily.

When Facebook said, “We’ll increase your audience if you create more video that can be watched with the sound off,” we upended staffs, priorities, and process and did that.

And each time, the dynamic was the same—a short-term boost to reach, followed by a seeming loss of attention by Facebook and a subsequent fall-off in audience.

From a year ago: Why Social Media Isn’t Up to the Present Challenges

All that energy and attention spent on Facebook came with costs—decisions to forgo syndication relationships, new newsletter formats and Web site development, as they all seemed an awful lot of work for not a lot of audience.

And today we sit in a world where Google reliably delivers a large proportion of most publishers’ audience and Facebook … well, we’re not sure what the heck Facebook will be doing, except it won’t be reliable.

So I, for one, am glad we’ve finally reached this point, and I know I’m not alone.

Because Facebook was, for traditional publishers, always about chasing clicks. And because Facebook offered scant ways for brands to differentiate themselves from each other on the platform, premium brands found themselves competing for clicks with outfits that had far less to lose by being provocative and pandering. This led where you might expect it to lead—to weekly audience development reports at many big publishing brands that included excerpts like this:

“Our top article on Facebook last week was about the cat torture story. We should keep our eyes open for more animal-in-distress stories. Even better, if we could aggregate and turn it into a weekly animal-in-distress franchise. Can we do that?”

The answer should have been an emphatic no, but, you know, traffic. And how else are editorial teams going to meet their numbers? By posting a steady stream of articles about diabetes risks to people’s social media feeds when the other outfits breathlessly obsessed over the Kardashians? (One request for Facebook, by the way—if you’re removing the “news,” please refrain from calling the aggregated information “the Newsfeed”. Thanks!)

Look around the web, trade out “animal-in-distress” for “hot chicks” or “embarrassing-failures” or “poorly-dressed-people-in-public” and you’ll see how this slippery slope has left so many traditional publishers looking up to where they started.

Even worse, because programmatic ad-buying and -selling has relentlessly lowered advertising rates, this high-volume, low-quality traffic could not sustain even this high-volume, low-quality business, forget the more thoughtful (and more expensive) version that it shouldered aside.

So what comes next?

The world rarely turns back and re-traces its steps, but I’m hoping for a renaissance or re-tracing, of sorts. A movement toward quality and authority (the good kind, not the authoritarian version) and a movement away from a clickbait economy. There are encouraging signs. Subscription models are slowly re-asserting themselves on the Web, especially for top-tier news organizations like the New York Times and Washington Post. (The Wall Street Journal was able to leverage its unique financial coverage to make this model work earlier than everyone else.)

I don’t know if subscriptions (even aggregated subscriptions, like Scroll) are the answer for everyone, but local news organizations and magazines are going to need to find sustainable models, too. The key is going to be authenticity and benefit—what do I get when I pony up as a fan or member? It’s going to require high-quality writing and curation, that seems a given, but likely it will need to include more value, too. More chances at special access. More ways to leverage the brands’ expertise and integrate it in ways that allow real people to accomplish real things in the real world. Speaking of the real world, I think brands are missing a huge opportunity if they don’t create real-world ways for their biggest fans to gather around their passions.

And more creative, engrossing ways to tell amazing, important stories.

It’s going to require more of a lot of things—among those things, money invested by publishers. (Michael Silberman, the chief digital architect of New York Media, does a better job of laying out the essential skills digital media businesses will need to thrive in this new world.)

Here’s the good part, for those brave enough to spend into this uncertainty. Even Facebook expects that it’s stepping back from “news” means that space is going to open up in the digital canopy, that people are not going to use the time they scrolled through their newsfeed for frothing takedowns of Trump and Hilary to instead play frisbee in the park. People will still be head-down on their phones.

Something completely different: The Time I Was a Couple Weeks from a Fatal Heart Attack

So when they swipe out of Facebook, where will they go?

My first guess is that aggregators will see a boost. Apple News and Twitter, Flipboard, too. Each will get a bigger bit of the pie. But again, this will be the low-quality end of the pool.

My second guess is that this is going to open space for publishers to find (or more accurately, re-find) higher-quality audience. I think publishers are out of their minds if they don’t spend aggressively in the next two years to re-connect with these high-quality audiences. Among things to do:

  • Enhance the digital offerings you control. Maybe we’re not in a post-website world after all. Your mobile site needs to sing. And load in a flash.
  • Create a raft of highly satisfying email products. Some can connect to the home base, but others should be satisfyingly self-contained.
  • Re-think your app. If it’s been gathering dust for the past several years, put work into it.
  • Try a variety of subscription models, including some with that mix digital and real-word expressions (events, workshops, meet-and-greets, podcasts, AMAs with thought leaders, etc.).
  • Try it! Whatever it is. Podcasts, pop-up events, Reddit AMAs, announced group walks, public Slack channels, animated GIF templates of your video anchors with an open field to write in anything. Stopping the bad ideas is easy. Building on the good ones is fun. So try!

The last seven years have suggested strongly that social media can accomplish a lot of things—from exhilarating communal moments to hideous acts of bullying and abuse. As a primary or exclusive online experience it is both addicting and exhausting, compelling and cheapening. For publishers, it’s proven to be mostly a dead end.

Now is a time for those brands to “lean out” of social and create a different, and hopefully better, way (or, more likely, ways) for their audiences, themselves, and their businesses.

If my career continues in journalism, I hope to be part of finding these other ways. And I suspect it will require both a large investment in time and money, but an even larger one in deep thinking and re-connection with people who value reality, connection, and authority.

I am optimistic that this future exists and I am jazzed to see what form it takes and how it impacts the world.

What’s On My iPhone’s Home Screen

I’m always curious how others use their phones and what they value enough to have it available on the home screen. With that in mind, I’ll show you mine, along with some brief explanation. I’m curious to see yours.

I have an iPhone 7 Plus. The top row is about 3 miles from the bottom of the phone. So I use the top row to hold a TON of apps that I use every once in a while, organized by two differing criteria: a) app authors (Google and Apple) and b) purpose (news, money). It ends up creating a lot of space for me below.

Next row is all listening apps. I place them high because I interact with them mostly when driving and I’m usually pecking with my index finger toward the windshield. Hoopla is the most-recent arrival on this row. It’s basically Audible integrated to your local library. You enter your library credentials and can “check out” audiobooks. Nice! I’m currently listening to The Reformation: A History, by Diarmaid Macculloch.

(The Hoopla spot used to belong to Anchor. The app is pretty amazing, and I want to create a podcast someday, but that’s the problem, too—almost everything on there sounds like it’s been created by a curious newbie.)

Next row. The Camera app used to sit in the tray on the bottom, but I realized that I didn’t use it that often and when I did, it didn’t matter if it was in the tray. Fitbit makes it out here when I am in a Quantified Living phase, which I am right now. Waze has been my navigation app of choice; I think it has the best interface while driving, though I get frustrated with its compunction to make me take three left turns and drive through a neighbor’s back yard (or bedroom) to arrive 2 minutes later than a route with a single right-hand turn.

Linked In is a late arrival, mostly because I am looking for a job and paying more attention to this business networking app than I ever have before. It’s a weird place, but there are a lot of people there, I’ll admit. Sleep Cycle I love because I’m too far gone on this Quantified Self crap to NOT rate my sleep. The nutty thing is Fitbit also gives me a report on what happened when I wasn’t awake. I look at both of them each morning. Why do I do that? I don’t know. They usually tell very similar stories. I should drop Sleep Cycle—except I’ve used it enough that it has 423 nights’ worth of data (average sleep time: 7 hours, 26 minutes) and I get smug every time my sleep crawls above an 80% rating.

Next row, I’ve recently dropped Facebook for Instagram. Will it stay that way? I doubt it. I will keep Twitter. Too much of a news junkie and I love the pithy comments around sports and other big events. I use Buffer to schedule a fair portion of my social posts, as it gives me plausible deniability about not looking at Twitter in the middle of the workday. Dark Sky is the best weather app, period, and I have evangelized it to many friends and colleagues.

The bottom row is work space, with one exception. I use Evernote to gather up so many of my work and non-work loose ends. Todoist is my latest to-do favorite, though I I think Asana is really good too. Slack is a work staple.  Last on the row is YouTube TV. We dropped Fios as our TV provider and so far, YTV has been more than adequate as a replacement, and saved us nearly $100 a month to boot. It also made clear that we don’t need to pay HBO and Showtime every month of the year. In fact, with “Games of Thrones” scheduled to return in 2019, neither premium channel might see a penny from us this year. The one hole in YTV: No Turner TV stations. I don’t need CNN, but TNT and the other stations are crucial for March Madness and the NBA playoffs, which are essentials. Hulu haas those stations, and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but the interface is crap.

The persistent placements at the bottom of the screen (does this placement have an actual name? I call it “The Tray”) has been given an Artificial Intelligence-refresh recently: Google Assistant is on a trial run, as we have three Google Home devices in the house now, they have slowly become integrated in how we behave there, and I am intrigued to see how I will use it on my phone if I have easy access to it. Astro is an AI-powered email app that recently added calendaring, which led me to bump my old email/calendaring favorite, Outlook. Messages and Phone are there because, yeah, texting and phone calls.

FacebookMessengerRunkeeperMedium and WordPress all might work their way back to Page 1 as the Winter turns to Spring. Or sooner. We’ll see.

That’s it. Feel free to drop a screen grab of your homescreen and explain your own choices below.

The Next Next Thing

A lot of people I knew were aware that Rodale was being acquired by Hearst and were curious how I’d be impacted.

Short version, I’ll be departing, with an end date of March 10. I wasn’t alone—more than one-third of the company’s employees received similar news, and that had the effect of muting a lot of the internal talk in my own head about what I could or couldn’t have done.

It also spurred a certain esprit de corps that I hadn’t expected. The mood was down, definitely, but people also looked after each other and held each other up. It made me think that whoever coined the term “misery loves company” doesn’t know much about good company.

Also, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a much more intentional mentor, and I was touched by how many colleagues, current and former, reached out to check on me with their kindness and attention. I’ll tell you what I told them:

Please save the notes of condolence for people suffering more deeply in this world. I had 10 fulfilling years with a company whose mission I really valued. I was treated more than fairly. I had some great bosses. I did work of consequence. I even managed to turn my own heart troubles into a story for Men’s Health that led several men to write me later that it alerted them to address unknown issues.

Those years, for me, encompassed a second act in my professional life. I made some great friends, got to feed my inner do-gooder by working for a company explicitly dedicated to human thriving (and abs), and continued to learn about—and at times be mystified by—modern media.

I imagine myself turning toward a third act professionally and I am excited and curious where it will take me. I don’t know exactly what that is, especially if it will continue to be in journalism and digital media. I am open to it … AND I have a nagging sense that there are possibilities beyond my previous definitions.

This fall I received an out-of-the-blue inquiry from a non-media company that made me assess what do I know, what am I good at, and what are my gifts beyond my talents and my knowledge. (It also made me clean up my LinkedIn profile.)

I realized that my best assets are I keep my head up and value respect and accountability between people and service to them. I am curious and I pay attention. I care. And I am nowhere near done.

If you know me and are reading this, I hope that sounds right to you. And I’d ask that if you know of a job that you think might be a good match for me, let me know. If it seems a little out there, even better. Tell me about it.

This week was an ending, but certainly not the ending–even though all endings carry some of that feeling in them. I look forward to the next beginning. And maybe even getting smaller.

Sincerely,

Kevin

Renegotiating Facebook

A friend’s request on Facebook that others unfriend him was what brought it into focus for me — the idea that we’ve crashed into the limitations of social media, that Facebook as a platform and a tool is inadequate for what it’s attempting to provide, what it can’t provide.

Last Saturday, as everyone in North America’s feed blew up with updates related to the Women’s March, he wrote:

“I love and respect each of you but I am terribly fatigued by rhetoric, anger and politics.”

At first, this struck me badly, as a response to the specifics of that day. I had been at the march and was exhilarated by the event. I thought I knew how my friend had voted in the last election, and that we had voted differently (turns out I was incorrect, but not in the way I thought). And yet …

I knew the feeling. I too am terribly fatigued.

When I stopped delivery of my daily newspaper, I started to scan Facebook and Twitter instead. I am thinking about re-starting my daily subscription—or creating an RSS feed to scan over breakfast.

It’s not just fake news or discourse coming from the other side. I’m exhausted by the volume, tone, and velocity of social media, Facebook especially.

My exhaustion is, in important ways, a function of Facebook’s phenomenal success. What was once a modest way to connect with distant friends has grown into a way to broadcast all manners of things to large numbers of people, near and far.

I value people sharing an opinion, a milestone, a struggle, a recommendation, a call for help. I appreciate people celebrating their joys and sharing their challenges (really, this is not a call for people to stop trying to connect).

But when many, many people share at once, as happens in the current political situation, the volume of personal broadcasting is overwhelming and much of it is strident. I liken it to going to the supermarket and running into everyone I know in town—three times a day, every day—and half of them are angry.

And that’s only the beginning of the overwhelm.

Beyond personal sharing, Facebook has become entertainment. It’s become celebrity watching. It’s become a primary source of news. It’s become commerce. It’s become the soap box, the confessional, the debate club, the healing circle, the corner bar, the octagon. It’s become the commons, where it performs the audible miracle of allowing me to hear the roaring street AND the individual voice at the same time.

The secret for Facebook was taking all these experiences and concentrating them into one experience. It took many of the informational, conversational and emotional inputs of one’s life and put them into a single feed–like a master chef who takes many disparate elements and, through the use of a pot and some heat, creates the most delicious, seductive reduction. You could check in on almost all aspects of your life—excepting money—at the same time.

Which was exhilarating. Until it became less exhilarating. Then annoying. Then concerning. And now, many times, tiresome and distracting.

I’d been feeling an allergic reaction to Facebook beginning before the election season. It manifested itself in the usual complaints: oversharing, humblebragging, etc. And let me beat you to an obvious point: I’m as guilty as anyone. I’ve mined my life for likes. Shared a photo of a son in a hospital bed without asking his permission. Shared a family death before I was sure every person who shouldn’t find out on Facebook had been told, then looked at someone who was offended as if THAT person was some sort of social Luddite.

And when I review my behavior, I think, the problem was not sharing. The problem was sharing with everyone I’m in relationship with on Facebook at the same time.

Looked at plainly, I did it for several reasons:

  1. It was, and is, the easiest way to use the platform. Put the cursor on “What’s on your mind …” and type. You can create circles of relationship, but really, who is going to do that? That was the promise of Google+, right? A promise that died an unattended death. Anybody used Google+ recently?
  2. I desired maximum response. It validated the post and, by extension, me.
  3. I didn’t think a whole lot about who I was talking to.

To that last point, I’ve been thinking about who I want to talk to. And I’m realizing that I need to be far more intentional about Facebook, because this marvelous tool, and its ubiquitous feed, has changed my relational taste buds. Because what you say on Facebook, you say once, to everyone you know on the platform, in a single way.

I suspect that, in this particular season and maybe in every season, this is not for the better.

Because that’s not how it is in most of my life. There, I talk to specific people and groups about singular parts of my life, in many different ways. Based on what we know about each other. Based on what we don’t know, or maybe don’t want to know, about each other. With some people, I joke. With some, I’m earnest. With others, I press. I’m curt. With some, I do most of the talking. With some, I simply listen. With all, the relationship is bent by the complexities of experience, viewpoint, and a thousand other things.

With Facebook, something is lost in the equation. I can respond on the platform — I do, every day. I like, I “react”, I comment. But “liking,” “reacting” and listening are not the same thing. And on the posting end, to post on Facebook and not receive a sufficient number of “likes” (you know your number) feels like one has been ignored. And being ignored on Facebook doesn’t feel good.

I don’t imagine I will delete the app and step away from Facebook. That doesn’t solve the larger issue, because even if you skip on the amazing sauce they serve at Zuckerberg’s Diner, you still need to eat. And I want to eat. I yearn to connect. I yearn to share my truth. But for me, connection and truth-telling do not translate well as wholesale transactions. (There are people who very ably integrate Facebook with what seems to be their whole lives. I would love to understand how they do it. I plan to talk to them about it.)

I am thinking now about what is the best way to be in relationship with people, rather than the easiest. And in that spirit, how should I approach Facebook?

I’m thinking that I’ll use Facebook to share “thought” things — when I write things like this AND, importantly, when I want to offer emotional or personal support to people and values that matter to me. I think such things benefit from airing in the Commons. Oh, and you’ll get the occasional personal/familial milestone. (Note: My 25th anniversary is just two months away.) Twitter (@kevdonahue) is likely to be more spontaneous, but again, it’s a singular broadcast to a varied audience. I don’t expect it to resolve this tension for me.

I don’t know if anything is going to “solve” this, actually. FACEBOOK IS SO DAMN EASY. Especially for guys, who often aren’t skillful at or don’t want to put in the time to cultivate practices of intimacy and connection.

So back to my friend, who suggested that one way to solve this Facebook issue was to unfriend. I offered this:

“We are not going to re-engineer [Facebook] into something else. My intention in 2017 is to develop or return to tools that do what I want. Three thoughts: 1. want to set up a scheduled phone call? Things that aren’t scheduled rarely survive these days. Maybe we include others. 2. Scheduled email. Or maybe mail it. There’s something about words put down physically that makes me think about them more. 3. I use an app called Path for family stuff that I don’t want to put on Facebook. You are family, and I’d be happy to include you in my family there.”

So that’s my “broadcast” plan. My “listening” plan is to restrain my checking of Facebook and Instagram to twice daily. Twitter is going to be harder. No promises. If you need me to see something, email or text. Yup, old school. I’m going to try this through February. I expect it isn’t The Solution, but an opening position as I renegotiate social media. Because in this time and these circumstances, this no longer works for me.

If you are feeling similarly overwhelmed and want to not count on Facebook to connect us, you’ll be able to find my longer thoughts at Medium (www.playful.li) or WordPress (www.kevdonahue.com). And friend me on the app Path (available on iOS and Android, my gmail is kevdonahue). For me, Path is old Facebook — no brands, no sharing news (real or fake), all photos and drop-ins and experiences and favorite songs and words. I don’t promise it won’t be political at times — today I posted a checkin from the protest to the Trump Administration’s Executive Order on Immigration — but the post before was a four-plus-decades-old photo of my wife as a young girl. You want to know how my mom is looking and doing? For the foreseeable future, that’s Path. (And, by the way, she is feeling and looking great!)

If you love Facebook, please, keep loving it. If it informs, connects, frustrates, and delights you, continue to be informed, connected, frustrated, and delighted. I’d be interested in hearing how others skillfully “receive” Facebook in their lives.

And if any piece of this affirms a thought or a feeling you’re having, sit with it and do your own discernment. Think creatively about what is best for you — and pursue that.

We are coming to some sort of decision point about technology and relationship. I don’t know where it takes us individually or collectively. Frankly, the “collectively” part scares the heck out of me right now. It seems the viral nature of social platforms and the self-confirming tendencies of human nature lead to unreality bubbles. But it’s not for me to decide how everyone will use these tools that have wound themselves so sinuously into our lives. I can only do that for myself. And my intention is to pay attention in a way that doesn’t eat me alive or send me chasing my own anxieties and preoccupations.

Which brings me to a quote I read in a really good post (Distraction is ruining the country, on BackChannel), from somebody named Herb Simon, in 1971:

“In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Wishing you riches of attention,

Kevin

 

Where Should I Put My Stuff?

I’ve been circling Medium for about a year now. The self-proclaimed platform for thinkers and thoughtful discussion has a formidable back-end—it’s the best WYSIWYG editor I’ve seen, and it has the smartest commenting system I’ve seen.

And there is plenty of content there, including posts from Hillary Clinton, Politico, Jeff Jarvis, and many others.

But …

But it has a real Silicon Valley/lifehack bias that I find stultifying. I could care less about VCs and 80 posts a day about the social implications of Slack. Please.

Beyond that, it seems as if it’s very difficult for non-tech content to surface on the platform—stories about people who don’t live near San Jose and the Bay Area, about non-Silicon Valley ideas, about “8 Competitors for Slack” or “13 Thoughts about the Latest Java Update.”

I’m not saying those aren’t valid topics—only that they don’t interest me and, I suspect, most people who live outside the tech-verse, which, admittedly, is a highly engaged and growing universe. Just not mine.

I have a WordPress blog, hosted at WordPress.com. It’s simple, I like it. It receives very modest traffic. Nobody comments on the articles at all. All the conversation happens on Facebook and Twitter, which is fine. That makes me think I should post to Medium—except I don’t like giving up ownership of the things I think and write, especially to a platform that is at best indifferent and perhaps even hostile to my being discovered there. But Kevin, I tell myself, NO PLATFORM cares about you.

That, alas, is most likely true.

But WordPress is part of the open web, which I think is important, even in a world dominated by walled gardens and platforms like Facebook and Medium.

So I think I will sit tight, for now. Come visit me here again.

This Windows (Phone) Is Sorta Broken—By Its Apps

I tried out a Microsoft Lumia 830, which came out last year, with a FitBit Flex activity tracker.

It’s a mixed bag. I like the Flex, though not as much as the Jawbone UP24 I had last year. The Jawbone was easier to get on and off, and it was simpler to integrate it with our activity tracking software (like Runkeeper and Map My Fitness). It had a really good app. The Jawbone also lasted 2 weeks on a charge; the Fitbit barely makes it 3 days.

The larger disappointment is the Windows Phone. I actually like the Windows Phone OS. I think I could learn to use it as readily as I do my iPhone. The big screen (5 inches) was bright enough, and I’m not bothered by the plastic-ness—heck, I wrapped the plastic in a rubber case to make it easier to handle.

No, the problems were:

  • The camera is very pedestrian, which is a problem when the iPhones and Galaxys all sport darn-near-amazing ones.
  • The apps are not even second rate. This weekend I attended a concert then traveled for a family function, so I put on the apps I would normally use to keep me functioning and in the know: Waze, Fitbit, Twitter, Facebook, ESPN, Instagram, Spotify, Ruzzle, Evernote, Audible. Three of them—Waze, Instagram, ESPN—had serious bugs. Waze required me to leave the app and return after setting a destination to remove a constant “calculating route” message that covered the functioning directions. ESPN and Instagram could not access scores and photos, respectively. Ruzzle worked, sorta, but was missing the popular 1-minute tournament mode and often didn’t display prompts to play a next round or start a new game.

I pulled my SIM chip this morning and put it back in my iPhone. I just can’t handicap myself that badly by using a platform where 3 of the primary apps I needed were essentially unusable. I was willing to entertain an app environment that’s limited but usable; I wasn’t counting on limited and often non-functional.

Maybe the new Lumias are better. Hope springs eternal. I like how Microsoft is bringing phones and PCs together in different ways than Apple. But the environment needs to mature in a hurry. Or maybe, it’s on to the Surface Phone.

8 Things I Learned about Mongolia (from People Who Live There)

One of the great things about my job is the completely out-of-leftfield meetings we have with international franchisees.

Last month, I met two people (a female publisher and male editor) for the Mongolian edition of Men’s Health, which launches early in 2015. I learned a bunch of things—much of it related to the country’s digital footprint:

  • Half of Mongolia’s population lives in a single city, Ulan Bator (that’s a photo of it above, on a -22 degrees C day).
  • “Everybody” has a smartphone and government-subsidized computers.
  • You pay for Internet, but it’s subsidized and low-cost. Facebook traffic is not charged for.
  • The city is young and urban and geeky.
  • Mongolians travel a lot to Beijing. When they want to go someplace warm, it’s Thailand.
  • Mongolia is feeling the effects of the western diet, and obesity is a rising problem. When a KFC opened, the line wrapped around the building.
  • Mongolians’ traditional diet is protein-heavy. The nutritional motto: “Meat is for men, grass [all plants, including vegetables] are for goats.”
  • Mongolia has the usual social media players, but a different take on who is where. Facebook is for young people, Twitter is more general, and Instagram is upscale. The publisher said: “Facebook is where you post if you want to look pretty. Twitter is where you post if you want something to be seen. Instagram is where you post if you want to seem rich.”CAM02326Bolor (publisher), me, Monk (editor), and Men’s Health (U.S.) editor Peter Moore

Digital ‘Renters’ vs. ‘Owners’

After 15 years working on the Web end of journalism, I’m starting to get the game.

Google, Apple, and Facebook are committed to a campaign to position themselves between you and your customer (and to soak up all the genius engineers who could possibly enable you to outmaneuver them). The more you let that happen, the more you place a ceiling on your ambitions. The more you establish a direct connection with your customers, the greater your ability to engage them, delight them, heal rifts with them, and ultimately profit from them.

On the web, there are three paths to that kind of direct connection: email, website, and mobile app. If your brand doesn’t have these, it doesn’t have a standalone digital business. You don’t “own” your customers; you “rent” them from the Big 3—or anyone else who manages to insert themselves in this space.

So beyond building one of these gigantic platforms through which so many people conduct the business of their digital lives, how do you move from “renter” to “owner”? Simply, I think, you must delight your customers. You must make them fans. You must provide value every time they call upon you. You need to give them a reason to remember you—fondly—so you can occupy some mindshare in their lives.

Do that, and you can overcome the gravity of these enormous platforms and the “whatever’s in front of me right now” mindset that drives so much Web engagement. You can develop your own gravity, and exert a sphere of influence.

Don’t do that, and you will be left staring at Chartbeat, speculating upon the vagaries of algorithms, cursing the platforms’ whims.

 

Hey NFL, Do This

I was driving to my office last Monday when I had one of those weird ideas I couldn’t quite shake, so I called a sports business prof from Penn’s Wharton School and, when he didn’t laugh me off the line, wrote it up.

In short, it says the NFL has a lot of problems, between player violence, concussions, and difficulty globalizing:

Each of the problems can be addressed. But taken together, it’s not unthinkable that the league’s popularity is at what the petroleum industry calls “peak oil”—the high point of production. If stadiums don’t sell out, if the best young athletes stop playing football and move to basketball, soccer, or baseball because their parents won’t let them, if the NFL’s ability to attract a live TV audience diminishes even a little bit due to new viewing patterns … well then, the NFL could use a hedge to secure its ever-growing ambitions.

Luckily, there’s one right under their noses: Major League Soccer.

I think it’s worth a read, or I wouldn’t have written it, obviously.

Stay-at-Home Adulthood

We were at a nephew’s college graduation party this weekend. He finished up classes in the winter and has been working most of 2014.

It’s great to see these Once Little Ones becoming Big Ones, and even Self-Sufficient Big Ones. Still, it’s a sign of the times, I think, that my nephew is still living at home—as are so many other SSBOs.

Sometimes I wonder whether that’s a function of a lack of money to actually get out of the house, or whether young people today are smart enough to realize they aren’t going to live in a place as nice as their parents’ home again for a very long time. Why would you leave? It’s the same question I ask about Santa Claus: why stop believing? I wish I could re-believe in Santa Claus (and the idea of consequence-free desires).

I don’t know if young people feel this, but I certainly do—I fear that few of them will enjoy the comfort and opportunity that their parents have in their professional careers. I look at the salaries commanded today by young people, the competition they’ll face, and I ask myself: how are these smart, ambitious people going to support a family in the same way I have, and my parents did?

Now maybe I’m seeing this completely wrong. After all, the Baby Boomers are going to retire  someday, and when they do, there will be management and leadership jobs for all comers. (There was a pretty awesome 2008 piece on 60 Minutes, with Methuselah himself, Morley Safer, doing the reporting, that made this point.)

Or not. Who says the Baby Boomers have to retire when people have retired previously? Why would America’s most self-enamored generation give up the spotlight so freely? Maybe they will cling jealously to their spot atop the pecking order, till they approach 90. Or 100. That sounds crazy. But so did fluoridated water once.

Anyway, as someone with two boys, one 20 and one 17, these things can preoccupy me, until I remember that this is their problem, not mine.

But I won’t plan to turn their bedrooms into a library anytime soon.

 

My (In)Activity Tracker Epiphany

I wrote for Men’s Health recently about my 100 days (and nights) wearing a Jawbone UP24 activity tracker. If you want to save 5-6 minutes, I’ll give away the surprise: I learned more about what happens when I was asleep than when I was awake, and what I learned is that even a little alcohol affected my sleep quality. Put the saved time to good use.

The Unexpected Thing I Learned from My Activity Tracker (April 6, 2014)

Loss and Found

This has been a week about loss.

Went to Phillies game last Wednesday night with friends and it had the feeling of a hangover, of waking up to find the girl you found so fascinating the night before isn’t how you remembered, that the window has shut on the Good Times. Less than 20,000 unenthusiastic fans. The ballpark felt like a flat tire. The team, about the same. Spent.

Also, Chuck Stone died, in an assisted care facility in North Carolina. Chuck was my first mentor, the professor I respected (heck, it was closer to awe) who convinced me that I could write and that I could master the art of asking questions (though being married to the best interviewer I know often makes me feel pretty junior varsity when it comes to asking questions‚ and I’m a guy who actually ASKS QUESTIONS.). Chuck had this look—like the Grinch’s upbeat brother. He always wore a bow tie, a Brooks Brother suit, and a perpetual gleam in his eye. When I was editor of the student paper at the University of Delaware, I had a weekly Friday lunch with Chuck. He told me how to make stories better, he told me stories about his time in the company of Martin Luther King, his time as chief of staff to Rep. Adam Clayton Powell of New York (oh my!), and asked me about my life. What a gift.

Chuck, at a news conference in 1981 after he negotiated the end to a prison riot at Graterford Penitentiary, outside Philadelphia.
Chuck, at a news conference in 1981 after he negotiated the end to a prison riot at Graterford Penitentiary, outside Philadelphia. Who else looks this dapper in a hostage negotiation?

Chuck loved smart and irreverent. And I loved Chuck. His wit and wisdom resides with me still, though I haven’t seen him in decades, and realizing I won’t ever see him again is weighing on me this week.

Thankfully, those memories—and those from 2008-10—all reside in me. I can access them. And I can be awake to the possibility of new good times, new wisdom, new revelation. Maybe it’s not about loss after all.

The World Needs More Heroes (Thankfully, They Exist)

I’ve been thinking a lot about heroes lately.

This summer, my colleague Andrew Daniels pitched an idea to tell a story a day for a month. I liked the idea, and we tried to come up with a subject: what would be complex enough, evocative enough, and interesting enough to keep people engaged for 30-odd days.

Thus was born Every Day Heroes.

And a slight obsession with all things heroic.

It started with the negative: Andrew pitching possible heroes and me shooting many of them down. It was completely a gut thing, which made me feel rotten. I don’t like giving people invisible targets and, frankly, it wastes a lot of time.

So I began to pull together an Equation of Heroism. I went to Audible and found a recent, relevant and interesting book, What Makes a Hero: The Surprising Science of Selflessness, by Elizabeth Svoboda. On my Nexus tablet, I read what I thought was an unrelated book, Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection.

What was surprising was Svoboda’s dissection of heroism started with compassion, and the Buddhist loving-kindness meditation. One who can’t see the humanity in others, and its reflection in one’s self, isn’t about to reach for the heroic. And Brown’s book made the point that true authenticity in our lives requires that we face up to it all—the joyful and the heart-breaking—and in that facing we can find our compassion for others, and ourselves.

I began to articulate a definition of heroism. There were discrete elements: being of use to others, level of risk to the others, level of risk to yourself, how many people would benefit from the act, creativity in your “solution.” It led in time to an Equation for Heroism.

So here goes. My equation runs like this …

[Level of jeopardy] x [number of people at jeopardy]/2 (if more than 2) + [jeopardy to hero] x [ease or difficulty of heroic act] = heroic score

I’d score the items on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being of little or no effect to 5 being the greatest possible. If you leaped into a pool full of crocodiles to save a baby, you got a “5” for “jeopardy to hero.” If you walked across your family room and took a lollipop out of a baby’s mouth, that’s a “1.”

That helped. Andrew pitched a guy who had suffered grievous injuries in Iraq, losing a leg. He had recently separated from his wife, quit his job, and opened a CrossFit gym. Gutsy? Sure. Heroic? I didn’t think so. The equation told me he was acting to find himself, and while my heart was with him in his search, it’s not exactly heroic. I called candidates like him “eventual heroes.”

The equation also helped me decide what kind of stories we should do and how many of certain categories: the guys who overcome a medical issue and raise money for a cause are heroes, but we don’t need too many of those stories. The obese guy who loses 150 pounds as a role model for and a gift to his kids? Sure, but again, a few of these in the course of a month go a long way.

In working out a 31 heroes in 31 days conceit, I found the most compelling item in the equation was creativity, the person who imagines a fresh way of bringing the heroic impulse to bear. Ricky Smith, for example, who traveled the country doing random acts of kindness (#RAKE). The video we shot with him on a rainy day in New York City showed just how out of the norm a little kindness can be in the Big Apple—and how much our world needs some playfulnesss. (My favorite moment is when he offers an umbrella to a soaked young lady, who at first refuses it. “You can have it,” he says. “That’s why I bought it. It’s called niceness.”)

Or Pittsburgh bikemaker Michael Brown, who agreed to do what others wouldn’t for fear of liability: make bikes for people missing limbs.

Or car salesman Mark Rolands (talk about playing against type), who gave a kidney to a co-worker.

And so it went for 31 days. People doing the right thing. Like Cleveland postman James Jones, who noticed a 92-year-old on his route wasn’t collecting his mail, and bugged the police till they checked and found him nearly dead in his home. He survived.

“We’re the eyes and ears of our community,” Jones says, speaking for himself and his fellow mail carriers. “Every morning when we clock in, we gather around and discuss the importance of being safe and taking care of our customers. It’s our responsibility to look out for them.”

But it’s not just the mail carriers. It’s all of us. We’re all heroes. And it gets to the heart of heroism—that we’re accountable to each other. That what we do matters. And that we can improve the lives of each other.

So do it. And if you’re parent, make it part of your day to encourage the kids in your life to be heroes. If you want resources, there’s an amazing organization—the Heroic Imagination Project—that can help you to inspire the children in your life to be the heroes inside them.

And while Men’s Health is done publishing a hero story a day, we’re not done with heroes. We’ll tell a couple of these stories each week. Coming soon: the Lancaster, Pa., teen who responded to an Amber Alert by tracking down and unnerving a potential pedophile until he released a 5-year-old girl. Talking with the young man made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Being in the presence of heroes will do that to you.

It also makes the world seem simpler. Back to Rolands, who gave a kidney. Big decision. Must have involved a lot of sleepless nights.

Uh, no.

“I knew it was not only the right thing to do—but in this case, the only thing,” he says. “It’s such a great feeling to be able to help out a friend.”

It’s simple. We all know folks who do it. We know we can do it as well. If only we’d start.

So start. Perform an act of heroism today. You’ll feel better. Equally importantly, someone else will as well.

A Hero Every Day

Contrary to what a cynical world tells you, we live in an age of heroes.

They’re all around.

Really. No bull—-.

Sometimes it’s just an act of kindness, a guy who buys umbrellas and hands them out to rain-soaked New Yorkers. Sometimes it’s as serious as the teen who follows a suspicious car until the passenger door pops open, and the 5-year-old subject of an Amber Alert jumps out and runs over to him. Or something else. The fella who ran 110 miles to raise money for cancer research. The rumpled guy with one empty pants leg who came home from far-away to teach kids who need someone who cares.

We’re swimming in heroes.

It doesn’t always seem that way. Listen to the news and you’ll hear about athletes, politicians, and celebrities who aren’t within shouting distance of the struggles of you and me.

But be quiet and listen for the sound of heroes in your midst. People who put others first. They’re whisper-close.

That’s the premise of Every Day Heroes, a feature launched last week on MensHealth.com. Every day this month, we’ll profile a guy who helps others without an eye open for a camera or a pat on the back (though, please, pat away). We hope you find the profiles enlightening, empowering, inspiring. And that you walk away feeling like you can be a hero too. Because we’re convinced you can.

P.S. And when you do, share. Tell our editor, Andrew Daniels (Andrew.Daniels@Rodale.com). Or go to social media and use the hashtag #everydayheroes. We’re less interested in counting the number of times the hashtag gets used and more wanting to see how far these ripples of connection can move beyond these individual stories.