In case you were wondering why you don’t see me on Facebook very much anymore

I deleted Facebook and Messenger from my phone. They’ve been gone about ten weeks now.

Back in March I wrote this post about how Facebook is occasionally enjoyable, and how that’s been enough for me to keep coming back despite not enjoying it much otherwise. It got me to thinking: why do I spend so much time in something I don’t really enjoy? That’s when I said goodbye to the apps.

Until a few years ago I genuinely liked Facebook. It was great fun to connect with people from all phases of my life. My Facebook friends used to share more from their lives, writing a line or two about something they were doing, or sharing a photo they took. I know they shared only the portion of their lives they wanted others to see and framed it in only positive light. But it was fun anyway.

Now it seems that most people just share memes and articles. And I don’t usually enjoy the subject matter:

Your posts about the second amendment and gun control aren’t going to change my mind on the matter, or anybody else’s, either. We’re only going to alienate each other.

I consider myself to be politically conservative. Now, I weep for how far off the rails the Republican Party has gone. I pray for its restoration to sanity. Still, the basic principles of conservatism resonate with me. It genuinely hurts when you post things that put down my politics. I am not the monster you make out conservatives to be.

And to my conservative friends, I’m equally disappointed and offended when you put down the other side. They aren’t monsters either. Like us, they are people trying to figure out the best way forward.

To both sides, if you call the other side names (e.g., “libtard”), I’ve already unfollowed you.

I’ve been incredulous over how many shared so-called “news” articles in my feed are thinly veiled opinion pieces or have used poor, even deliberately manipulative, forms of argumentation. Do you actually believe this crap? Have you spent any time evaluating these articles’ illogic? Have you sought to understand these matters from other perspectives?

That leaves the cutesey and heartstring-plucking shares. And oh my gosh, are there ever a lot of them now. At least they don’t make me angry. But it’s not enough to keep me coming back.

In case you are one of my Facebook friends and now feel offended because I’m pointing a finger at you, I’m sorry.

I get it: we are all troubled by the times we live in. We wring our hands, we air our fear and anger, and we seek friends of like mind to help us feel better.

But it is hurting, not helping. It is alienating us, not knitting us together. It is making Facebook a wasteland, not a place where we can enjoy each other even if from afar.

View from US 50 in Martin County, Indiana

If I’ve offended you, here’s a placid landscape photo to calm you.

Even though the apps are gone from my phone, I still check Facebook on my computer once or twice a day. My blog posts automatically post to Facebook each day and I want to see if anyone commented on them there. Also, I follow a couple groups there that remain fun.

For the first couple weeks with Facebook gone from my phone, I was at loose ends when I had idle time. I’ve since downloaded the Kindle app and am reading more books. That feels like a giant win.

Film Photography

I’m back on Instagram

My off-again, on-again relationship with Instagram is on again. If you’re on Instagram, I hope you’ll follow me at

It’s still all film photography. But this time I’m skipping the filters. Except for perhaps a little cropping to help bring subjects front and center, these images are unedited.

When I share a photo on Instagram it’s usually related to whatever I’m doing on this blog that day. But I try to show images that don’t appear here, so that if you follow me in both places you get something extra.

But I’ve learned through trial and error that an appealing blog photo doesn’t necessarily translate to Instagram. People interact so casually with Instagram, and the photos are so small. I find that big, obvious subjects and images with lots of contrast grab people as they quickly scroll by. At least as evidenced by which of my images get the most Likes.

Not that I get that many likes, really. It’s remarkable when any of my posts gets more than 50. I’ve never had one clear 100. Which brings up the whole tedious “what’s the point of social media” discussion, which I wish to avoid. Getting Likes is fun. It’s a quick dopamine hit.

What makes Instagram even more fun is the other film photographers I follow there, and how we interact with each others’ work. Old School Photo Lab, the lab I use most often, follows me and sometimes shares my work. (See their Instagram here.) Somehow I attracted the attention of a past president of Pentax, who follows me now; perhaps it’s all the work I’ve shared recently from my Spotmatic and my ME. (See his Instagram here.)

I fit Instagram in when I can, meaning that I share images when I have time and don’t worry about it when I don’t. I make time most days to scroll through and see what the people I follow are up to, though.

Will you be one of them? I hope you’ll follow me: If you share your interesting work on Instagram, I’ll follow you back!

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To the New York Times: You’re too expensive

I get most of my news on my phone. Over the years it’s edged out the more traditional news sources I used to rely on. I gave up on my local paper almost a decade ago. I never watch cable news and almost never watch network or local TV news. I catch an occasional NPR newscast during my commute. Other than that, it’s my phone all the way.

nytI started to rely on The New York Times back when I had my Palm Pre. It’s easy to say that theirs was the best Pre news app; there were few apps for that forlorn platform. When The Times erected its paywall in 2010, they never got around to updating their Pre app to require paid login. At last, an advantage to being on an abandoned mobile operating system! For two years I had free run of The Times while everybody else could read only so many free articles before the paywall insisted they pony up.

In those years I came to really value The Times’ reporting. I felt better informed than I had with any of the sources I followed before – achieved just by scanning the headlines and reading maybe five articles each day.

About a year ago The Times finally got wise to us freeloading Pre users and killed the app. I went through withdrawal! Shortly afterward I upgraded to a shiny new iPhone 5, and the first thing I did was download The Times app. I could read only stories among the day’s top headlines – limited access, to be sure, but it was surprisingly satisfying. I could only have wished for greater access to their business and technology coverage. But they changed the rules a few weeks ago. Now I can read articles from any section, not just the day’s top headlines – but I’m limited to just three articles a day. I found this to be crippling. Every day I burned through my three articles in no time and was left hungry for more.

The New York Times’ reporting has value and deserves customers who pay. I’d be happy to pay in line with the value I think I get from The Times. But given how few articles I read each day, their entry-level digital subscription is too expensive at $195 each year. If they offered a limited-access subscription for $50 or $75 a year, I’d bite. I would probably even bite at $100 a year, though I’d grumble a little.

reutersIn frustration, I deleted The Times’ app from my phone last week and downloaded the Thomson Reuters app, which gives free access to a huge number of articles. The app is slick and easy to use; it’s better designed than The Times’ app. Reuters brings good coverage of national and world stories, and their technology and business beats are pretty good. Content is updated continuously, often while I’m in the app, so there’s always something new to read.

But I miss The Times’ voice, and keep hoping they’ll offer a less-expensive entry-level subscription. I’d come right back.



Film on Instagram

IMG_0430I feel like such an Internet curmudgeon. In my day, sonny, we used Netscape 1.0 to surf static HTML Web pages that were coded in Notepad, and we liked it!

I try all the new Internet gewgaws and gimcracks but don’t like most of them. Twitter? What’s the point? Pinterest? Wow, what a colossal waste of time! Instagram? Crappy lo-fi photography? Bah! Bah to the whole lot.

Except that I’ve been posting photos to Instagram more and more lately. Film photos, taken with old cameras from my collection. It feels so subversive! And it’s so easy now that the iPhone Flickr app lets you save your photos to your phone. I choose a film photo from my Flickr stream, save it to my phone, bring it into Instagram, crop it, apply a filter, et voilá.

And thanks to iCloud, these photos automatically show up in a folder on my PC. It was super easy to upload them from there to WordPress, where with a couple clicks I made this slideshow out of them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hm, I’m enjoying a lot of modern Internet technology there. Maybe I’m not as curmudgeonly as I thought.


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.

Stories Told

Aging Netizen

It occurred to me today that I’ve been using e-mail for almost a quarter century. That’s more than half my life.

The lowly VT100

The lowly VT100

I first e-mailed at Rose-Hulman in 1985 on a VAX, using a VT100 terminal. My first e-mail was probably a request to an operator (what we now call a system administrator), but soon my friends and I all figured out that we could efficiently contact each other this way, seeing as all of us passed through the Computing Center several times a day. Yes, we had to go to a central location to read and write our e-mails. And there was no e-mail to computers other than the VAX; it wasn’t networked with anything. The very idea!

In 1989, a friend introduced me to Terre Haute’s computer bulletin board scene. A BBS was a computer that had software on it that served up e-mail, message forums, file shares, games, and chat rooms. You dialed into it with your modem; if somebody else was online, you got a busy signal and had to wait. There were many different BBS software platforms available, but most of the BBSes in Terre Haute used WWIV, which ran on DOS.

WWIV's main menu

WWIV's main menu

Terre Haute’s BBS community was large and active, and we had a lot of fun together online. We even started meeting in person. At first our gatherings were tentative and informal, but as we gelled we started having parties, summertime cookouts, and even a couple late-fall hog roasts. Those of us old enough to imbibe began meeting at a different local bar each week for a few brews. We called ourselves the Tuesday Night Drinking Society, and we had one rule: We never met on Tuesday.

At about the same time, the software company I worked for got connected to the Internet backbone (via a token-ring local network; remember those?). I’ve had more e-mail addresses than I can remember, but I’ll never forget my first one: (I worked for Applied Computing Devices, Inc., hence acd4 was our mail server’s name.) The first Internet e-mail I sent was to a friend who worked out in Silicon Valley, 2,000 miles away. I was amazed that I could write him a note and he could respond in seconds! We got no work done that afternoon as we e-mailed back and forth. It seems so commonplace today, but outside elite academic and scientific circles (which had had the Internet since the 1970s) this was as groundbreaking at the time as it was for a 1920s farmer to receive his first long-distance telephone call.

Emacs logo

Emacs logo

But the Internet was still all text-based. I had figured out how to make my beloved Emacs text editor handle e-mail and USENET feeds; I’m pretty sure I used gnus. USENET is a worldwide forum on any topic you can imagine. Oh my goodness, the time I sunk into discussions on USENET. You can still find many of those discussions thanks to Google Groups’ archive. Here’s the oldest one of my posts that I can find, from 1992, plus a 1994 post from a brief trip along US 40 in Ohio (from before my inner roadgeek was awakened). Anyway, Emacs and gnus are still around, but I haven’t used UNIX in 15 years; I have long since come to the dark side of Windows.

NCSA Mosaic logo

NCSA Mosaic logo

That happened in 1994 when I moved to Indianapolis and became an editor for the company that used to publish the …For Dummies books. That’s where I became aware of the World Wide Web, which had been born in about 1990 but didn’t really get anywhere until about 1993 when the NCSA Mosaic browser was born. I downloaded version 0.9 to my computers at work and at home and spent happy hours surfing the nascent Web. It’s hard to imagine now how small the Web was then – it was possible in 1994 to visit every page added to the Web each day. It’s also hard to imagine now a Web that was primarily static text with an occasional GIF or JPEG image thrown in.

This was the Web in 1994, kiddies

This was the Web in 1994, kiddies

In the Web’s early days, you wrote your HTML by hand in a text editor. One of my fellow editors fought for about a year, but finally convinced the higher-ups that we needed to publish a how-to guide that demystified writing Web pages. When it came off the press in 1995, I got a copy and started building my first personal Web page. My dialup Internet account came with modest Web hosting, so I published it there.

That page evolved into my current Web presence at I no longer code my HTML by hand; I use Microsoft FrontPage. As the Internet has become a fixture in modern life, the amount of geekery I’ve been willing to employ in using it has dropped to almost zero, limited entirely to occasional HTML tweaking of my blog or personal site. I’ve grown lazy! I can’t imagine firing up Emacs to check my messages, using its arcane keyboard commands to get around, reading everything in monospaced text. I was willing to do that when the Internet was interesting as a technical toy. But today, what the Internet delivers is interesting and valuable, and I want the easiest and fastest way to access it. I hardly watch TV anymore, but I spend lots of time on YouTube and Hulu. At Christmastime, I set up Pandora to play endless holiday songs for my family. I keep up with my sons’ progress in school via an ANGEL Learning implementation (which, by the way, several of my colleagues helped build). When I need to know pretty much anything, I ask Google. And, of course, I still have discussions in forums and compulsively check my e-mail. The oldest applications of all this technology remain, I think, the best.

ReadMoreRead about how taking a speech class in high school launched me on my geek-ridden career.