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Stallman Was Right: Ello, Facebook, and Freedom.

It’s ello time. And now that we’re in day 2 of ello-mania, some smart articles are popping up.

My buddy Cayden has the so-far canonical synthesis of everything written so far, and he’s definitely on the right track in his analysis of ello:

 With Ello positioned as the anti-Facebook, a door closes. Our imaginations are bound to the platform choices we’ve been presented with. We are locked into a politics of scarcity that is very unfamiliar to me on the internet. As I was remarking to a friend yesterday, the thing I’ve always loved about the internet was its anarchistic abundance, its sense of possibility. The thing that disturbs me the most deeply about positioning Ello versus Facebook is the way that abundance is foreclosed on.

This is all, obviously, striking a chord with me. And the whole facebook-exodus-in-a-teapot (I doubt many think this will lead to a real break on anyone’s part) raises the question: “Why not go back to the good old days of actual blogging?”

I sketched out a few ideas in my comment on the site, which I’m reproducing here:

Cayden, I think you’re on the right track on a lot of what you say. I especially like how you tied together the critique on funding (which should get a LOT more attention!), design, and privacy all together.

Your closing thought is also strong — wish you had taken a few more extra steps though! I wonder where you would have ended up.

As I said over at Max’s, this whole set of facts is further confirmation of an evergreen saying: “Stallman was right”.

As organizers, we are trained to think about power. When talking about the economy, when talking about interpersonal relationships, reading the news (“who benefits from this coming to light *now*?”), even when talking about literature or pop culture. That’s the mark of a good organizer — being able to see deeper. Yet when it comes to the ever-increasing part of our lives that is mediated through screens and processors, all too often we are faced with people’s tendency to shut down that part of their brain.

We know what the good solution to facebook would be — owning our own data. Writing comments directly on a blog post instead of on the facebook share linking to it. Placing our lives and content on servers and programs (wordpress, media goblin, rails, jekyll, etc) that we control. Shrinking the sphere of social media to sharing links to value instead of hosting value itself.

At least, that’s part of the solution. And something we can actually do now, without assuming a legion of technical help.

We do have the tools to break free. At least partially. Here’s hoping that Future Me spends more time over here, blogging in the independent democracy of Sahar’s Server, rather than over there, in the Facebook Fiefdom.

What do you say to a man about to lose everything?

(A letter I wrote on September 16, 2013)

And I mean everything.

I said goodbye to a dying man tonight, Anna.

His body – bony. Raspy. Mottled. Hunched.

His voice – surprisingly strong.

His eyes – oh his eyes.

His eyes were so scared, Anna. They were the eyes of a young man about to be forced to storm in a trench in Verdun. The eyes of a sick man in a hospital bed, with no machinery around to even check his pulse.

They looked up. Up because we loomed over his tiny frame on his low hospital bed. Up because that’s where your eyes go when you plead.

Anna this guy was dying and his wife wasn’t even there. Dad’s at her apartment/dorm right now trying to get her to stay with him until he dies.

And he’s going to die tonight. The doctors have stopped doing anything proactive, really.

We stood in this awkward half-circle around his bed and each said hello (but really goodbye). I went first. Then Shelly asked if she could hug him and cried. Then Talie gave him a hug. So I got on the hug train.

I was trying to smile. I think if I were going to die I’d like cheerful energy around me, instead of sadness everywhere. Right?

We went outside. Washed thoroughly. Those hospital sinks are nice. Warm-water luxuries. Then I said out loud “I wish I said I love you too”.

Dad said I could go back but he didn’t seem to enthusiastic about it. “Don’t worry. He knows” Shelly chimes in “it doesn’t matter. He won’t even remember.”

“I want to live a life without regrets”. I said. So I walked back in and told him. Shelly and Talie came in with me too. It was nice. Much less stilted. Then Dad had some alone time with him.

Dad finally fessed up to Joe that he is dying. Did he have any final wishes? No. Okay. Crying.

We left the hospital then and in my heard I just heard the phrase over and over again. That lyrics from the Mountain Goats’ Woke up New: “The world in its cold way started coming alive.”

What a cruel joke.

Sunny days sweeping the clouds away: finding the real America

This day was my first physically working at the Wikimedia world headquarters. Getting here was quite an adventure.

Like all great journeys, the first step was getting out of bed. Like most days, it was pretty hard. Luckily, I had my friend Mary to drag me off to breakfast. That place, Gailey’s, could serve as a symbol of one of the charms of small-city Missouri living. It’s a former drugstore, and on weekends it spills over into Ophelias, the one wine bar downtown. You get a side of toast with pretty much anything, and if you can’t choose between your roughly seven options, the waitress is happy to surprise you.

There are two coffeeshops, one pizza place, a cupcakery, and maybe two dozen bars and restaurants downtown. Oh, and one surprisingly slick library. You can find all within five minutes walk of the intersection of the two main streets downtown. This intersection doesn’t even have a traffic light. Downtown Springfield is not that kind of place.

(Oddly enough, suburban Springfield is. There are tons of Walmarts, chain stores, strip joints, etc. They all just live in big box buildings on busy streets surrounding the sleepy and walkable downtown. Strange.)

When I entered the airport to leave Springfield, I went straight to check in my baggage and get a boarding pass. The airport is small, but laid out so that the baggage claim and checkin are all in one big room. It’s nice, but also means that finding the right place to go is somewhat confusing. I finally get in line, and who do I see right next but Elizabeth and Esther Exley?

Ever since I learned that “boss” comes from Dutch for “master”, I’ve been trying to avoid using the word. No man is my master. So let’s just say Zack Exley is the guy who brought me into Wikimedia, and who gives me strong suggestions about what I might do that would be helpful. His family is great.

I spent a wonderful day hanging out with Elizabeth and Esther (wife and child) in airplanes headed west. There’s something wonderful about the way a child interacts with the world. A raised platform is actually a stage to act out Little Red Riding Hood. Composing songs is easy singing “Hugs and Kisses \ <kiss kiss kiss> \ I love you” to your mother. An ocean-themed carpet means you can mime swimming instead of just plain walking.

San Francisco is different from what I thought it would be. Less Harvey Milk, more 1%. At least, the area in which my hotel is located. Still, it’s wonderful for exploring. Friday night dinner in (this country’s first!) Chinatown with “auntie Minnie and uncle Goldwyn” featured chicken leg soup and peking duck.

Saturday, I met up with my birthday-friend Ilana. July 26th for the win. Instead of breakfast, we bought carrots and strawberries and delicious breads. Instead of paying for cheese, we bartered some surplus strawberries (we had so many!) for a generous handful of samples from a charming young man. Lunch was a bus ride down to Japantown (yes, that’s a place) and a sushi bar where the plates floated on tiny boats.

Sunday meant a new friend and a journey to the Mission (where apparently all the hipsters live) for the best burrito. It meant eating and sharing even more strawberries. Nighttime was a Ponce-de-lean roam from Chinatown to Wells Fargo in search of an open restaurant. It ended with a turkish immigrant serving me babba ghanoush and lamb kebab at a restaurant owned by his Iranian immigration attorney.

Big cities, eh?

In many ways, the two cities San Fran and Springfield, SF and SF, couldn’t be more different. One is the international headquarters of a huge pentacoastal Christian movement. The other is the national symbol of lgbt everything. Downtown Springfield could fit into just one nook of this canyon of concrete and steel. Yet, they feel similar to my heart. Maybe it’s how both showcase a strong focus on community, albeit in different ways.

In San Francisco, community means bartering strawberries for snacks at the farmers market, and running into a former college professor just strolling through. In Springfield, community means the chef of my favorite restaurant will make me a special meal every time I walk in, and fellow patrons will ask me for advice on raising their children.

In San Francisco, I have walked down a side street and stumbled upon farmers markets, outdoor exhibits, and street festivals. In Springfield, I’ve walked down a street and stumbled upon a man letting you look through his telescope and see the moon. I’ve seen artists painting sidewalks, and yes, desperate men with sandwich boards trying to cajole me from sin.

That flight, loading my tablet with child-friendly games to amuse a precocious 3-years-and-11-months old child (she insists she’s not four yet), I had a thought. “Here I am, barreling through the air at hundreds of miles per hour, and even so it will take me hours to cover even a large fraction of the width of this country. How could it possibly all be the same thing, the same nation?”

And yet. I’ve whistled the theme to Sesame Street while strolling through both. And meant it.

“Come and play
Everything’s A-OK
Friendly neighbors there
That’s where we meet”

Local man relocates to new locales

Springfield, MO — Sahar Massachi is undergoing a change of identity and home base. Having left the startup he co-founded, he moved to Rochester, NY to figure out his next steps. That process led to him joining the Wikimedia foundation and moving temporarily to Springfield, MO. The effect these changes have had on his psyche are yet undetermined and still ongoing.

Springfield residents are mostly as-of-yet unconcerned and befuddled by this newcomer to their midst. “Sahara? Zoharee?” a bemused, bespectacled, bearded man was overheard muttering in a local cafe, only to have Massachi patiently repeat his refrain: “It’s like Sarah, except you switch the ‘R’ and the ‘H'”. So far he’s been seen huddled with Christian pastors, entrepreneurs, and indigenous hipsters. We’ve even spotted him with that rare species: “Missouri Jew“. What is he planning? No one seems to know.

Massachi is here, so he says, to learn and work with area enigma Zack Exley. When we asked him what that work entailed, we were treated to some undecipherable verbiage about “graphs” and “big data” and “millions of dollars”. Further enquiries resulted in the stubborn refrain of “more soon. Gotta figure out this Dutch problem first”. Clearly, he’s up to something.

Pressed about his feelings about the town that is his new temporary home, Massachi said the following:

Well, I’ve been here a bit more than two weeks. So I don’t know. People here say that Springfield is like a small town that happens to have a lot of people in it. Which I sort of see. And that’s really cool! I miss living on a campus and downtown is sort of that feeling. Except so far I don’t know most people I pass on the sidewalk. Maybe soon, though.

The people here are really interesting. I’ve met Christian Anarchists, Evangelicals, and just plain people who loooove Jesus. Trying to get to know them and see what their life is like. I’ve also met a bunch of people who don’t identify as Christian, but have had to live in this bible-belty culture. And their reaction to it is interesting too. I’m trying this new thing where I just ask everyone I meet questions. It’s cool. And random people I meet end up knowing each other, which could be cool or scary. I’m not sure yet. And I really enjoy the fact that there’s a place in town where you can play 80’s arcade games all night for a flat $5. Not because I go there often – I’m just glad something that quirky can exist. Oh man, I’m rambling, aren’t I?

This is all off the record, right?

In fact, it wasn’t.

More on this story as it develops.

One Reason Occupy Mattered

Occupy Wall Street forced everyone in the professional left to take a moment and think: “Where do I belong?”

For me, the answer went something like this:

“For a long time, I thought that issue policy / electoral politics / advocacy was the key to making progressive change. But the 2008 election didn’t stop domestic spying, it didn’t make a dent in poverty, and it only enhanced the power of the power elite.  (I guess we’re calling them the 1% now. That’s cool.) Obama said he’d make Net Neutrality happen, then he put incompetents or fools in charge of the FCC. This isn’t working. The 2010 election wiped out 4 years of my emotional, physical, and financial investment in all sorts of candidates.

For a long time I’ve known that of course radicals are right about how awful the world situation is. Ever since I learned that the FBI murdered Fred Hampton (without a warrant! As if a warrant would make that okay). But I thought that their tactics for making change were silly and doomed to failure. But the professional left could simply not have created Occupy Wall Street. Maybe radicals have had some smart things to say about strategy and tactics after all.

I belong in the streets! Shit is fucked up and bullshit. Reforms are nice. Reforms make real improvements in people’s lives. Small reforms aren’t the final goal. The police really are brutal. The state really does break the law to suppress dissent. The game really is rigged, and the French Revolution meant something, goddamn it. I can use the tactics of center-left incrementalism because they work. But let’s not confuse tactics for strategy, or goals. The goal is always human freedom.”

Or something like that. Does that make sense?