Thinking about Eric Meyer

Recorded on June 12th, 2014

I’m thinking about Eric Meyer and his family today. Their daughter Rebecca was diagnosed with cancer last year and she passed away last Saturday.

Eric’s posts to his blog over the past year are devastating and beautiful. More than he realizes, by writing about the family’s research, their questions, their impossible choices, and their love for each other, he helped a lot of people who are going through similar health crises with their loved ones. All of it is a lesson in how to live.

If I were going through anything like that, I would shut down entirely, closing off all but the closest friends and family, with no energy left for writing or documenting. Eric opened up to the world and his tribe answered by buoying his family with love.

Jeffrey Zeldman encourages everyone to show their support on Twitter today with the #663399Becca hashtag, inspired by Rebecca’s favorite color: purple.

Eric and Kat, we’re with you.

Surprise Tape

Recorded on June 8th, 2014

photo of Phil with headphones Before I became a jaded music fan, I spent a lot of time with 8-tracks and FM radio. This was back when what we now know as “classic rock” was just “rock”, which would make me 3–7 years old. My parents gave me an Electra Radio Corporation AM/FM/8-track stereo for the Christmas of 1974, after I hassled them endlessly for something better than a pack-and-play phonograph. All the time I spent in my bedroom was also time with the stereo on. Occasionally, Mr. Rogers or Winnie the Pooh records would play through that system, but the vast majority of time the receiver was set to 96 Rock FM in Atlanta. Before my future loves R.E.M and The Fall and The Smiths and Joy Division even existed, I would get my foundation in the form of Peter Frampton, Led Zeppelin, Boston, Fleetwood Mac, Heart, the Allman Brothers, and Gary Wright. I knew none of these artists by name, but I knew the songs cold.

Second to FM, in terms of hours spent, was the 8-track tape player. Dad got an 8-track recorder for his stereo and we got busy making copies of “Jesus Christ Superstar”, Peter, Paul & Mary, Cat Stevens, The Beatles, and The Eagles. A stack of home-recorded 8-tracks piled up on my Dad-built, wooden, blue-painted stereo shelf. Those tapes and 96 Rock were the soundtrack to me making Lite Brite art, drawing other stereos, and testing the conductivity of metal scissors in the wall outlet. (Metal scissors conduct electricity well.)

Of course I wanted to share this musical bounty with the world, “the world” being any neighbors within earshot of our backyard. Maybe Misha, my playmate next door, Shane, the boy behind us whose ownership of a BB gun scared me, or Beverly and Jeff, the couple on the other side of our yard. On a warm day, I would open my bedroom window, put one or both of the stereo speakers in it facing outward, turn up the volume, and yell to no-one, “SURPRISE TAPE!!!”, as if that would awaken a community of latent music lovers and soon-to-be Philip-worshippers out of their doldrums. Why wouldn’t people come running when they heard that I had a Surprise Tape ready to play?

The same thing happened every time. I shoved in an 8-track, it started to play, and nobody came. Nobody said, “Thank you so much—this is brilliant!” It was just a loud stereo and me, looking out the window, amazed at what people were missing.

A Couple of Weeks Without Facebook

Recorded on May 9th, 2014

I’m having one of those “I’ve been doing it wrong” moments.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife floated the idea of deactivating her Facebook account for a while, as an experiment. When I looked into it, I found that deactivating is the less nuclear alternative to outright deleting your account, and it’s easy. Just a couple of clicks in the account settings menu and you’re out. No one can see your profile, post to your wall, send you messages, or tag you.

Since I had been on Facebook since 2008, I thought going without it for a while would be an interesting thing to try, so I deactivated, too. Boom. I immediately felt a weight lifted off of me.

I had tried Spending Less Time On Facebook before, but this proved to be different. No more messages to check, no News Feed, no Likes, no strings of strangers’ comments on statuses I had commented on, no irrelevant event invitations, no friend requests, and no birthday greetings to give or receive. The majority of those kinds of things I got were well-intentioned, but when you stacked them all up, they got heavy. And now I had just removed a giant heap of perpetual input.

What lead me to this was realizing how my brain had slowly changed for the worse when I was on Facebook. Even though I didn’t post a ton, I found myself habitually refreshing it to see who had “liked” it when I did post. It was like a morphine drip that I was compelled to take hits off of. I got a lot of nice comments on photos I posted, and that was super-addictive. But if only a few people liked something I posted, I was disappointed. And if too many liked something that didn’t actually merit such attention (especially if the likes were from people I barely knew), I felt lonely, which was weird. It’s not that way for everyone, and it’s up to each person to use it in a way that doesn’t drive them crazy of make them an addict. I just wasn’t good at moderation. Cutting back would have been as productive as cutting back on heroin.

So I turned it off, and almost no-one noticed, which is great and should be no surprise. Facebook doesn’t revolve around me, or around anyone. A small handful of friends asked me about my absence, but it doesn’t matter. There is no gaping hole left by the half-funny comments or status updates I’m not putting out there.

The spookiest part was that deactivating never occurred to me as an option before. I just accepted it as something everyone did, something you had to do to stay in touch and keep up with what was going on. It became this thing that was everywhere, all-knowing, all-encompassing.

I’ll miss out on some events, but I have no shortage of feeds and publications to find out what’s going on nearby. And I just read that Upcoming.org is coming back, so that will be a ray of sunshine.

I will never miss Facebook messages. I way prefer regular old email, and I found that I wasn’t writing any kinds of quality messages to my favorite people over Facebook anyway, because it encourages such short bursts of writing. Plus, I was always afraid I’d hit the Return key too soon and send off an unfinished message.

I still use email, and I still have Twitter and Instagram for posting and reading a certain amount of calorie-free information, but those platforms feel more pure—less needy and shouty. They’re good at one thing each.

I have not used the same saved to write the next great novel or feed the homeless. But I’ve written better emails to people, and I’m more aware of missing people I care about. Now, when we see friends in person, I appreciate being around them more. I don’t already know everything that’s going on with them, and we get to surprise each other with our news. If they show me a recent photo of their kid or pet, I get to oooh and ahhh right there in person with them. They get an instant, in-person Like.

Facebook’s biggest lie (or my lie to myself) was in making me feel like I was “caught up” with my favorite people when in fact I hadn’t made the effort to even talk on the phone with them in months or years. And friends who weren’t on Facebook at all were therefore sort of invisible to me, so I really never bothered with them, which sucked.

I will probably never fully delete my account because I’m an information hoarder. For now, deactivating serves the same purpose. Maybe I’m only succumbing to my contrarian tendencies and I’ll be back on it someday, and I’ll look back on this sabbatical as quaint. But for now it’s fun to re-wire my brain and see where it goes.