I love blogging, but i also like writing email. It's a different medium. I have a Tiny Letter, a little newsletter-ish thing that's closer to my talking voice than my blogging one. I won't abuse your time or sell your name or any of that.
In a country in which you can be fired solely on the basis of your sexual orientation and on a planet in which some nations will imprison, beat, or kill you for it, Tim Cook publicly writing about being gay is a powerful thing. And it has nothing to do with Apple as a firm; rather, it's that he's the chief executive of one of the largest and most profitable companies on the planet, one that does business in almost every country. He didn't just say in public what he says was known more privately; he wrote that he was proud to be gay, "among the greatest gifts God has given me."
I was in tears reading his essay, not for myself, because I have a lot of checkboxes ticked off in my life that let me sit above the routine harassment, discrimination, and abuse that many people experience every day, and that deny them partners, security, housing, jobs, and happiness. I thought about the high rate of suicide that afflicts people who identify in the LBGTQ continuum, and of Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign designed to give them hope and find mentors and peers and support. I thought about friends that have come out over the years, and the issues they faced in their families and among peers.
Tim Cook is saving lives by taking something that wasn't secret (as he describes it), but wasn't public, and letting the world in. He may not change a single mind about the acceptability of his orientation; i don't think that's what it's about. What it does is give hope and inspiration for people to be themselves, with no top on their aspirations. Barack Obama in the White House didn't solve anything to do with racism; in fact, some people are more deeply entrenched in their bigotry because we have a black president. But the fact that it happened, that it's no longer off limits — that's what unbounds the future.
By having someone powerful to point to, the powerless can identify and take heart, and that shakes the power structures in which shame and oppression harm all of us. There is so much more work to do; so much more injustice to fight and fairness to persist in insisting upon. But it's nice to have such a big line marked in the sand, and stride across it.
I read two wonderful, personal stories in the tech press about Cook's public announcement. One is by Casey Newton at The Verge:
It is one thing for the media to whisper to one another, or to post on their blogs, that the CEO of America’s most valuable company is a gay man. And it is a quite another for the man himself to step up to the microphone, with confidence and grace, and tell us himself. We knew Cook was gay; what we didn’t know is how he felt about it. Or, at a time when being gay is still very much a political act, what he planned to do with it.
Now we know.
Kara Swisher, arguably one of the most influential technology journalists in this country, and the co-founder with Walt Mossberg of re/code, has been public about her orientation for some time, and wrote about her complicated feelings over the years about how to discuss her expectation that Tim Cook was gay. She considered in 2013 asking him at the D conference, "What’s it like to be the most powerful gay executive in the world?" She opted against it:
I thought: Would this just be a sandbagging grab for attention? Why exactly did I care? Did it matter to his job if he were public about his sexual preference? And, while it is always a good thing to have another iconic gay person be public, wasn’t it his choice as to when that would happen?
It's a really beautiful essay, and she relates her own experience thusly:
It’s hard to explain to someone who has not had to come out what prompts that feeling, after living in the closet for a lifetime. While everyone searched yesterday for some kind of dramatic reason for the Cook declaration, it’s a fairly simple equation, even if you are out to friends, co-workers and family, as Cook apparently has been:
You get tired of lying. You get tired of hiding. You get tired of not saying.
I hope this makes a difference in the lives of people today — that it makes those who fear their own identities more confident to express them, and that people who could be their allies stand firmer in their support. I hope, but don't know, that Cook's essay is a watershed moment; history will tell us that. The spread of marriage equality at this point in time was something I never anticipated.
The best part, perhaps, was trying to explain to my children, ages 7 and 10, why I was sobbing over Cook's words. They understand some of what it's about, but with them growing up in Seattle in a polyamorous household and with friends who have two moms or two dads (or divorced parents with same-sex or more complicated partnership arrangements), they don't understand why it's a big deal. They're inside our privilege bubble, but also (at these ages, and I hope forever) don't differentiate other people by personal characteristics.
To them, Tim Cook is fine whatever part of himself he's shared with he world. "That's great," they said, and then asked about new iPads.
A few days ago, our neighborhood mailing list lit up with a report of a violent crime. The location was in a park near our house on a paved road that is no longer open to cars, and on which I walk nearly every day to and from my co-working office. The first account was from a neighbor, who forwarded a note from "a friend" who had happened upon the police response to the crime. A woman was choked by a black assailant, tumbled down a slope, and fell unconscious.
This struck me as initially dubious. We were already at a thirdhand-ish account (neighbor's friend relating conversation with victim after assault) which involved a black man in a hoodie in a relatively well-trafficked area in the middle of the day. Perhaps in the Ferguson era, where details are scant except a black man (who hasn't been found) in a very white city, I'm sensitized to this sort of report.
I asked a contact at the Seattle Police Department's public affairs office if they had more information (as a citizen, not a reporter). They filed a police blotter account the next day.
The facts as the police represent them:
- No sexual assault.
- Nothing stolen.
- No suspects found.
The blotter account is very carefully written. It attributes everything to the reported victim, except that her "skin and clothes" were soiled with dirt.
The Capitol Hill Seattle Blog offered a more expansive account, which reads as more authoritative, though appears to be relying entirely on the victim's account. It also published redacted excerpts from the preliminary police report. This includes that when the victim came to, she told police that she spotted two black men nearby, one walking briskly away, the other "staring" at her from across the road. She ran to a cross street, stopped someone (presumably not black), and was able to use that person's cell phone to call for help. The police reported no visible signs of an altercation on the ground nor of injury on the victim.
A neighbor (?) posted this sign on a kiosk at the park's entrance (via KOMO News). This sign is part of a telephone game. The victim's account is that she was choked by an unknown party and saw two men nearby when she regained her wits. She wasn't accosted; she was attacked from behind, says the police report of her statement.
Could this be a fabricated report? It has so many hallmarks of urban mythology that I did some digging to see if I could find an identical story elsewhere on the Internet and could not. The police were called, as was a medic unit, so there was an actual person who did make law-enforcement contact.
The woman can't identify her assailant, as she was attacked from behind. The two men she described to police were nearby when she recovered, but one was moving away and the other stood and stared, by her report. She did not ask the nearby black man for help, but ran to find someone else.
I recommend never reading the comments, but the remarks on all the local stories (Capitol Hill News Blog, Seattle P-I, Seattle Times, KOMO-TV News) show how readily commenters make racially biased statements about crime and culture.
The odds of someone filing a detailed fabricated police report seem slim. The notion that this woman slid down a slope and then ran out of the park, stopped someone, called 911, and went through this charade would require a high degree of mental instability or — something.
While the bits and pieces don't feel like they add up, it is most likely that this was a real attack gone bad and the victim is fortunate that she wasn't robbed or sexually assaulted. It's almost certain that unless either or both of the men the victim saw were assailants and commit further crimes, we will never get enough information for this to feel complete.
I love Kevin Kelly's work and life, and had a great talk with him months ago for my podcast, The New Disruptors. But during his talk at the 2014 XOXO festival a week ago, I felt a distinct chill when, in describing his book Cool Tools, he said it was the work of two people over a few months, and then went on to note their use of Elance and other distributed work tools.
Tim Maly felt the same chill, and wrote a very interesting essay riffing on that and related issue: independent creators are dependent on the work of so many others, most of whom aren't afforded the same opportunities at advancement and independence. Tim followed the thread of labor down to the Chinese workers referenced in another talk by the creators of the NeoLucida; the two guys behind that project traveled to China and spent two weeks in the factory that was making their gear.
I know that Kevin didn't mean to disparage or denigrate the work of the hundreds of people who put in minutes or hours through various freelance/contract aggregation services. In fact, in our podcast, he spoke specifically about these folks (full transcript):
In the end, I probably redesigned at least 90 percent of the pages, but they were delivered at such a stage that it was possible for me to refine them. We were generating I forget how many pages a day from all the freelancers. They were first class. They were really great.
He also noted:
What it is doing is arbitrage. It’s matching the needs of one person with the abilities of the other in a very low friction way. I think that’s what really comes forward. Sometimes you don’t need necessarily the design power. You want something a bit more modest, and this is a way to kind of connect with that person very directly, very quickly within a matter of hours. I think that’s really the beauty of this system.
He can speak for himself, but from a similar position, I know what he meant: it only required a couple of dedicated people, not working exclusively on the project, to coordinate and bring it into being; something that not long ago would have required a team of several and a year and maybe an order of magnitude or factors above that in cost. He was the motive force; without his interest, energy, and money, the book would never have come to pass.
When I created The Magazine: The Book (Year One) earlier this year, it was my idea. I came up with it, coordinated it, raised the funds, hired people, and handled nearly all the details. But, of course, dozens of people were involved in it directly, tens of thousands at one remove, and millions at another.
The book required the expertise of a graphic design and production team of three and my contract editorial team of two (managing editor and proofreader); a few dozen writers, artists, and photographers; paper and ink, printing presses, postal and shipping services. You can crank the aperture wide or small about how many people were involved depending on what level of detail you want to discuss. Someone had to mine ore, smelt it, refine it, and stamp out machine parts for the equipment that embossed the covers of the hardback edition.
We are ourselves often cogs in someone else's machine. The lower level the task, the less likelihood we have to control our own destiny. I don't think Kevin has lost sight of that at all — he began his life's work by traveling the world to find disappearing societies and met people forgotten by everyone else. But our independence is always positional, relying on the constraints of others to make the raw stuff on which we depend.
Update! The auction is over. One fine person bid $150, and Matt Bors offered to donate the artwork. That $150 is now in Sloane-Kettering's hands, and I matched that with $150 of my own money.
You can still and always donate in many places to help fund cancer research. I'm donating to Sloan-Kettering right now through Lisa Adams fundraising page as a mark of respect to her.
This last week, Emma and Bill Keller separately wrote horrible Op-Ed essays in the Guardian and New York Times, respectively, shaming cancer patient Lisa Adams about her openness in documenting her progress and about her medical decisions. The pieces were also riddled with factual errors, and the Guardian has retracted Emma Keller's article. I'm not even going to link to them.
To make delicious cancer-research fund lemonade out of these two lemons, I have purchased the original artwork from Matt Bors of his editorial cartoon about Bill Keller, shown below. I am auctioning off a set of the original, signed black-and-white ink artwork (8 1/2 by 11 on Bristol board) and a color print also signed by Matt, and 100% of the auction price will be donated to Sloan-Kettering, where Lisa is receiving care, through her fundraising page for the institution. (You can either donate directly and send me the receipt, or you can pay me directly, and I will donate and send you the receipt.)
We'll use the hashtag on Twitter #cancerlemons for the auction. You can bid just by stating an amount, and I will follow up with the winner. The auction will run 24 hours, ending at noon Pacific January 14th. If you don't use Twitter, you can still search on its site for the hashtag and email me or post a bid here, and I'll count it.
Last year, inspired by Joe Kissell, I wrote a summary of the enormity of what 2012 had encompassed. It was freaking huge. Joe enumerated for years all the words, books, articles, and such like he worked on. This year, I'm inspired again by Joe: he decided to stop the extensive documentation of his year, having felt he'd proven his productivity. I'm somewhere in between: less documentation than last year, but still quite a bit to share.
In June, I bought The Magazine from Marco Arment. It's been one of the greatest things I've worked on in my life, and it's a constant joy of collaboration with contributors both before and after the purchase. We just put out Issue #33 — we produced 26 issues during 2013, and now have some subscribers who are paid up though the end of 2015. We'd better deliver.
I launched the weekly podcast The New Disruptors in December 2012. With the help first of Mule Radio, and then my brother in law, Michael, we put out 51 episodes in 2013. (We skipped a New Year's episode last year, but had one for 2014, so we'll probably hit 52.)
I've been writing for the Economist since 2005, but 2013 was probably one of my biggest years as a contributor:
- I crossed 300 blog posts for Economist.com, most of them, but not all, for the Babbage blog.
- I had my first cover story (cover of the American edition, and the inside Technology Quarterly section) about the sharing economy.
- While I often have one or two TQ articles a year in the print edition, this year I not only had the three-page sharing economy article in first quarter, but a long piece on keeping probes and landers working throughout the solar system and beyond (co-written with my long-time editor and friend Tom Standage), and then a two-page look at Bitcoin's technological pressures in the fourth quarter.
I wrote fewer articles in 2013 for other publications between my devotion to The Magazine and my gig at the Economist's blogs, but I did write a few long items for Boing Boing, my home away from home:
Who Owns Omni? (a look at Omni magazine's confusing ownership history since its demise)
As has been true for a few years, one of the most fun things I do during the year is be a panelist on The Incomparable, a geeky radio show developed by friend Jason Snell. This year, I wasn't able to be on as many episodes, but I did make sure to be part of two very special ones. Friend of the podcast (and now regular panelist) and playwright David Loehr wrote radio plays we performed—two of them—as The Incomparable Radio Theater of the Air! The first aired April 1 and the second over the December holidays. (Then we spent almost two hours talking about how we made the Christmas spectacular!)
David combined a true love and deep knowledge of old-timey radio theater and serials (shared by many of us in our 20s, 30s, and 40s, surprisingly, on the podcast!) with mild parody and great writing. Jason did most of the editing, with an assist from David in the latest production. Serenity Caldwell, who studied radio-play directing in college (!!), did a fabulous job directing us mostly amateur actors. I played Tesla in a sort of Doctor Who tribute/parody in both shows, and did a plummy New England stuffed shirt as a minor character in the first one. (What's that?)
After years of not traveling much, I was on the road quite a bit for both personal and professional reasons in 2013. I went to Los Angeles in January to visit Jet Propulsion Lab for the Economist story and several Babbage posts, and dropped in to watch a taping of Jeopardy's Tournament of Champions in which two contestants were people I had met during my stint on the show in 2012.
In February, I flew to D.C. to help a friend move to New York, and we wound up driving a moving truck into the biggest blizzard of the year. It was very entertaining, the roads were fine, and we had quite a story to tell. I met up with three of my oldest friends there, too, for a mini-reunion, our second. In March, I was back in New York for a quick visit with a dear friend and some meetings.
I stayed home a bit, then our family, my brother-in-law's family, and my father- and mother-in-law all went to Kauai for nearly a week! Which was great, except I was feeling a bit crummy during the trip. We came back, I saw my doctor, he ordered some tests, and I wound up getting a stent put into one of my main arteries. Turns out the radiation therapy I had had in 1998 to help cure me of Hodgkin's Disease caused some early onset of cloggage. The stent took, I feel terrific, and my heart is in great shape.
I went to the XOXO festival in September, which was another wonderful meeting of so many creative people: finding old friends and online acquaintances, and making piles of new friends. November, I flew back to New York again to record a podcast live at a conference, and then to San Francisco and Los Angeles in December for meetings, meetups, and renewals of friendship.
The year ended with a bang. I had long planned to stage a Kickstarter campaign to underwrite production of a book drawn from The Magazine's first full year in publication (October 2012 to October 2013), and we raised over $56,000 in 29 days, with over 1,000 hardcover books and even more electronic versions that we'll be shipping off in the next two months.
I finally got a Fitbit in 2013, and have been quantifying myself. I started using a treadmill that fits under my standing desk in earnest, and spend about 3 hours a day walking and the rest standing. Fitbit's stats tell me that from May to December 2013, I walked 1,025 miles (2.4 million steps), and climbed the equivalent of 2,424 stairs. I lost about 25 pounds after my heart stent was put in place, and while I've gained a few back over the holidays, I'll be pushing for 50 more off in 2014 and into 2015 to reach a goal weight my doctors are happy with.
I made a lot of new friends in 2013. Because of the travel many "Twitter buddies" became real buddies. (I may have tweeted 50,000 times in 2013. Sorry.) I turned some people from acquaintances into some of my closest friends, and encountered and gave a lot of love, which is what it's all about. I'm hoping for a little bit less of a hectic pace in 2014, but more fulfilling work, collaboration, love, and happiness, which I wish for you all as well.