Life, Stories Told

Why I stay on Facebook even though I don’t enjoy it much

I’ve not enjoyed Facebook much for months and months. Especially since the election of our current President, the place has become so polarized and tribalized. Angry screeds and narrowminded memes. Siding up and tossing ad hominems.

It’s not fun. I keep thinking I should quit. And then something like this photograph happens.

Me in 2nd Grade

Me in second grade, 1974 or 1975

A fellow I knew in elementary school, someone with whom I’ve not spoken for nearly 40 years, shared it on my wall. It’s me at my desk in our second-grade classroom. The fellow’s mom brought cupcakes for his birthday and photographed the class. He came upon the photo his his mother’s things, made a quick mobile-phone snap of it, and posted it.

What a joy to see this photo! I’d forgotten what a mop top I was, and I had no memories of what that classroom looked like.

But what happened next was truly special. Because I’m connected on Facebook with so many of my elementary classmates, many of them commented and reminisced. And we discovered together that we all felt like our elementary school was a truly special place where we felt safe and cared for. We shared memories of our teachers, of walking to school together, of after-school snacks at each others’ homes, and even of summer fun on the playground. We experienced community in our neighborhood through our school, and we agreed that it was wonderful.

This wasn’t just sticky-sweet nostalgia. We Monroe School alums had a joyful shared experience thanks to this photograph. We compared our notes to find that we all privately felt the same way about our long-ago experience. It validated that experience, I think, for all of us.

In this way, Facebook is like an abusive relationship. It’s good just often enough that you don’t leave.

This gorgeous school building underwent a thorough renovation in 2010. See interior and exterior photos here.

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Blogosphere, Life, Photography

Chasing fake Internet points

The primary reward I receive for what I publish online is interaction with you.

Some of that interaction is of high quality: namely, when you leave an interesting comment, especially one that teaches me something I didn’t know or helps me see something from a different perspective.

But most of what I get is in the form of likes. Or hearts or upvotes or favorites or claps or whatever it’s called on whichever platform I’m on. It’s a form of acknowledgement that whatever I posted resonated somehow.

One of those platforms is Imgur (here’s my user page), where Imgurians call them “fake Internet points.” Being Imgur, there are memes.


It is fashionable now to pooh-pooh chasing after fake Internet points. Chasing them is, at the end of the day, a waste of time and accomplishes little.


Yet each fake Internet point delivers a small dopamine hit. In moderation, what’s wrong with that?


The primary place I go for fake Internet points is Instagram. I have tried to use it as a way of promoting this blog’s film-photography posts, but it’s not really working. I might get one or two clickthroughs from each Instagram post.

But my followers keep clicking the little heart on my posts, and it feels good to get them.

When you chase fake Internet points you need to consider return on investment and opportunity cost. Do the good feelings you get from likes, favorites, et. al., seem like a reasonable reward for the time you spent posting? And would that time you spent posting have been better spent doing something else?

make time to write in this blog: I get up early and write in it each morning. It’s because the reward I’ve received for doing it seems to be worth it. Your comments have taught me so much. They’ve also affirmed me as a photographer. Also, it’s just smashing fun when one of my posts gets shared around the Internet and gets a lot of visits. But most importantly, I’ve found community through this blog and many other photography blogs.

I post to Instagram opportunistically, that is, when I have some downtime that I couldn’t profitably use in some other way. When you find a new Instagram post from me, you can assume I had five minutes between appointments with little to do but wait. It’s a nice use of my wait time for the return I get in those sweet, sweet fake Internet points.

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Online privacy for children and why you’ve never seen photos of my sons here

It wasn’t some higher motive that has kept me from posting photos of my children online, at least at first. It was their mom, who was afraid of online predators. Overafraid, if you ask me. Sharing photos of my sons playing at the park or blowing out their birthday candles was never going to invite that kind of trouble. But she was pretty direct about it: don’t post anything that identifies our sons or there will be a fight.

It was not the hill I wanted to die on. In the decade since, I’ve never named my sons online, never posted a photo.

My older son is 19 now, an adult in society’s eyes. So after a portrait session with him this summer, I just asked him if I could post a couple of the shots on my blog. “Knock yourself out,” he said. So here, for the first time: my son, Damion.


Yashica-12, Kodak E100G, 2016

He was in a reflective mood on this overcast day. I thought Crown Hill Cemetery might provide some fitting backdrops.


Yashica-12, Kodak E100G, 2016

It feels great to finally show you my son! If you’re a parent, you understand: this young man is my heart.

It’s been frustrating for years to speak of Damion only indirectly and never to show his photograph. I’ve felt jealousy over the years as my friends and family shared photos of their kids on their blogs and on Facebook.

But sometimes they’d post awkward situations and unflattering poses that I thought must embarrass their kids. I wondered how those kids would feel about those photos when they were adults. It’s led me to change my views on how parents should manage their kids’ privacy online.

As an old-school parent I think children aren’t responsible enough to manage their rights on their own. It’s our job as parents to manage our kids’ rights for them, allowing them to make more and more decisions on their own as they mature.

I don’t think routine family photos that cast a kid in a reasonably positive light are any violation of the kid’s privacy. I don’t think sharing a kid’s name makes him or her any more susceptible to online predators. So if it were not for my ex’s strong words years ago, I would have been sharing my sons here and on Facebook all along.

But you can’t predict how your kid is going to feel about privacy as they grow up. By every stereotype, my millennial son should be Snapchatting and YouTubing every moment of his life. But he doesn’t. Damion grew to be a deeply private young man. You’ll be hard pressed to find him online. A year or two ago he canceled his seldom-used Facebook account because his mom and others kept tagging him in photos they shared there. (Yes, I know she was doing what she didn’t want me to do.) He wants to tightly limit how and when any information about him is shared. I was surprised that he gave me permission to share these photos.

Now I’m glad I haven’t been sharing about Damion all these years, that my externally driven moratorium ended up serving him well.

So before you write about your kids or post photos of them, consider how might they feel about it when they’re adults. You can’t predict how they’ll turn out and what they will care about. Just as I could never have guessed Damion would become so deeply private.



Favorite quotes

It used to be much more prominent, the list of favorite quotes that is still in everybody’s Facebook profile. If you look hard into my profile, you’ll find mine. For a long time I used to add to it every time I heard a quote that I liked.

But the more Facebook buried the Favorite Quotes section, the less and less I updated the list. It’s a good list. So here they are, copied and pasted directly from my page there.

If you do what you always did, you get what you always got. – Folks in recovery

We either make ourselves happy or miserable. The amount of work is the same. – Carlos Castaneda

If you’re going through hell, keep going. – Winston Churchill

Religion is for people who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is for people like me who have been there. – Dave Mustaine

Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. – Mark Twain

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. – Emerson

I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
– Edward Everett Hale

I made some studies, and reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it. I can take it in small doses, but as a lifestyle I found it too confining. – Jane Wagner

It is God’s universe and He does things His way. You may have a better way of doing it, but you don’t have a universe. – J. Vernon McGee

Be what you are. This is the first step toward becoming better than you are. – Julius Charles Hare

There are more things…that frighten us than injure us, and we suffer more in imagination than in reality. – Seneca

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it. – Anne Lamott

There is no finish line, there is no gold prize. There is only living with yourself, day after day. So each day needs to be a small triumph so you can pat yourself on the back before you go to sleep. – Penelope Trunk

A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera. – Dorothea Lange

If my hands are fully occupied in holding on to something, I can neither give nor receive. – Dorothee Solle

Be grateful for the chance to be lost – it means you’re living your own life, because no one can make choices in the exact same way you can, whether they are right or wrong. – Penelope Trunk

He is a sane man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head. – G. K. Chesterton

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. – Calvin Coolidge

A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later. – George S. Patton

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift. – Mary Oliver

I don’t know what it is about Hoosiers. But wherever you go, there’s a Hoosier doing something very important there. – Kurt Vonnegut

We’re all just dorks, with varying degrees of public mastery over our dorkishness. – Carolyn Hax

What are your favorite quotes?


Flickr has smartly repositioned itself to remain vital in photo sharing

FlickrCameraRollWhen I started this blog, I found a great use for my languishing Flickr account: hosting most of the photos I share here. Flickr has been a great tool for sharing my photography everywhere on the Internet.

The other day, I uploaded my 10,000th photo to Flickr. That’s a lot of photos! It’s so many that finding one particular photo on my computer is nigh onto impossible. From the beginning, I should have used the photo organizer that came with my copy of Photoshop Elements. But I’ve let too much water pass under the bridge: years and years of photos remain unindexed in folders on my hard drive. It would be a big, unpleasant job to organize them now.

It turns out that the easiest way for me to find one of my photographs is to search for it on Flickr. I’ve left enough bread crumbs in the titles, descriptions, and tags that with a few words in Flickr’s search box I can find anything I’ve uploaded.

It also turns out that I was inadvertently leading the way. Flickr recently made some changes to the site that makes it easier than ever to store all of your photos and find any of them in an instant. I think these smart improvements reposition Flickr well in the new world of photo storage and sharing, and give it a solid chance at remaining relevant and vital.

And it’s not a moment too soon. Flickr had been geared toward people interested in photography who wanted to share and talk about their work. Many users appeared to carefully curate their photostreams, sharing only their best photos. It remained wonderful for this purpose. But in the meantime not only have digital cameras almost entirely supplanted film cameras, but camera phones have also largely supplanted dedicated digital cameras. People were taking pictures on their phones just so they could share them on Facebook and Instagram — and Flickr was getting none of that action. It was falling behind.

Flickr finally awoke from its slumber in 2013 with a new, more modern user interface, plus one terabyte of free storage — upwards of a half million photos — for anyone, for free. Flickr’s mission had shifted: please do dump all of your photos here. And then last month Flickr rolled out yet another new user interface, and has added several powerful new features meant to make the site the only photo storage and sharing site you’ll ever need:

Automatic photo uploading. Flickr can now automatically upload every photo from your computer and your phone — every past photo and every new photo you take. Flickr marks them all as private, so only you can see them, until you choose to make them public. To enable this, you have to download the new Flickr app to your phone and download a new “Uploadr” application for your computer. But after you do, you may never again lose a photograph to a crashed hard drive or to a lost or stolen phone. And if you do have such a mishap, Flickr now lets you download any or all of your photos en masse.

TagsImage recognition and automatic tagging. Flickr now uses image-recognition technology to guess what’s in each of your photos, and adds descriptive tags to them. You’ve always been able to tag your photos manually; those tags appear with a gray background. Flickr’s automatic tags have a white background. These tags make photos easier to find in search. It’s not perfect — a photo I took of a construction site was mistakenly tagged with “seaside” and “shore.” But it works remarkably well overall, and Flickr promises that they will keep improving the technology.

Camera roll and Magic View. Flickr has introduced an iOS-style camera roll as the main way you interact with your own photos now. Flickr is criticized for stealing this concept from Apple. But they’ve gone Apple one better by adding Magic View, which organizes photos by their tags — including the automatically generated ones. It gives you astonishing views into your photos, grouping them smartly. Finally, all of my bridge photos are in one place, and I didn’t have to lift a finger!


Flickr found 105 photos of bridges in my photostream.

Improved searchability. All these new tags makes Flickr even more searchable. You can find any of your photos in seconds on Flickr.

All of this makes Flickr a compelling place to store all of your photographs, and be able to easily find them. They’re stored on Yahoo! servers and are always backed up. With a couple clicks or taps, you can share them from there to most of the popular social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram (but only on your phone), and Twitter.

The best thing: You can still use Flickr for everything you could before. You can share your best photographs and have conversations about them. You can explore the beautiful photographs others have taken. You can geotag your photos and save them to albums and groups. And if you want nothing to do with Flickr’s new features, you can just ignore them.

I’m astonished by how well Flickr has shifted to its new mission without leaving legacy users behind. As someone who has made software for more than a quarter century, I can tell you: it is enormously difficult to do this.

Still, many of Flickr’s longtime users feel alienated. They’re expressing far less paint-peeling rage than they did after the 2013 changes, thank goodness, but they’re still quite upset. The leading complaint: there’s no way to opt out of automatic tagging, and no way to delete at once all the tags already generated. Longtime users who have carefully chosen their tags find Flickr’s automatic tags to be an unwelcome intrusion.

Flickr should probably address that. But first, they should congratulate themselves. They’ve done journeyman work.

A slightly revised version of this is cross-posted to my software blog, Stories from the Software Salt Mines.

Stories Told

The shrunken Internet

I published my first Web site in 1995, which makes me kind of an Internet longtimer. I coded the HTML by hand in Notepad and used an FTP client to upload the pages to the Web space that came with my dial-up Internet service. How quaint.

Typical of the time, I had published a little personal site, and one of its pages gave my family’s names and the city in which we lived. My wife wasn’t comfortable placing that information on the Internet where the whole world could find it, and asked me to take that page down. I didn’t understand her worry. I argued that it was like standing on any Manhattan street corner and saying those things out loud – passersby could hear, but none of them would care! My wife’s counter-argument was that if nobody would care, then why have a Web page in the first place? Her argument was lost on me at the time, but I took the offending page down just the same.

I didn’t worry about my privacy on the Internet. I seldom encountered anybody I knew. And while my name was well recognized in a few little corners of the Net, nobody in those places knew the real-life me. I felt inconspicuous, almost anonymous, in a vast ocean of voices. I felt pretty free to be open about myself, and I really enjoyed that freedom. I’ve even benefited from it as I worked through some tough times in my life, having laid a lot bare in some support forums from which I got some very helpful feedback. With a little determination, someone could find what I wrote. I’m very easy to find on the Internet, and with a little Googling it’s easy to link my real name to my usual forum username. But I shrugged it off, thinking that anyone that determined to find dirt on me probably needed professional help.

Down the Road, v. 1.0

My attitude started to change when I started this blog three years ago. I was recently divorced and still working through the fallout. I felt considerable temptation to vent anger and pain, but I didn’t want to use this blog to wallow in self-pity. I purposed to write about good things in my life. Sure, I’ve told some stories here about challenges I’ve faced. But attaching my name to this blog (see it up there in the URL?) drove me to think and write about how I grew through the adversity. It’s not that I didn’t have pain to process, but that I chose to process it in private with friends and family who know me well. Here, I want to present the results of that processing. Not only does it affirm for me the lessons I had learned, but it resolves a worry: What if my mom found my blog? A co-worker? My ex?

But then came Facebook, and it has changed everything. Truly, it has shrunk the Internet. Thanks to Facebook, I now feel very conspicuous online.

I had tried other social networking sites but didn’t enjoy them and didn’t stick around. I joined Friendster when it was new (2003!), but gave up when few of my friends would try it. I signed up for MySpace next, but I never liked its gaudy look and low-rent feel. I also got bloody tired of the come-ons from women I’d never met. I liked Facebook from the first because it was clean and simple, and because most of my closest friends were there. I enjoyed this new way of keeping up with them, one status update at a time.

While my friend list was so limited, my status updates were pretty frank. But then people I’ve known at every phase of my life started to find me and wanted to connect. On the one hand, it’s been great. I have reconnected with people I never thought I’d talk to again, including childhood friends I haven’t seen in 35 years. And I’ve searched out and found a few dear friends with whom I’d lost contact, missed terribly, and feared I might never hear from again. Today, my friend list includes people from every time and place in my life. But my expanded friend list has made me reconsider how open I was being. Do I want an old classmate I knew only well enough to greet in passing to know that my ex and I just had a disagreement over the visitation schedule? Do I want co-workers to know that I came in late today because insomnia kept me up until 3 a.m. and I decided to sleep in? Do I want to comment on politics, knowing that my conservative-leaning remarks will incite my passionately liberal friends? Do I want to say that I went out for a beer with my brother tonight when I know that some at my church find drinking incompatible with a life of faith?

I’m not standing on a random Manhattan street corner anymore. Rather, I’m now in a very small town, with practically everyone I’ve ever known potentially within earshot. And so now I use the same restraint online that I use in real life. I still have the desire to “be real” and connect with others, but increasingly I’m doing it the old-fashioned way, in face-to-face relationships. Online tools such as e-mail, my blog, and Facebook are just means to that end now. It feels like that’s how it should always have been.