How to deal with haters

Via Jeff Jarvis, I read a disturbing post on Amanda Palmer’s blog today. A 15 year old girl named Amanda Todd killed herself after years of online and offline bullying and persecution. She made one error in judgment (flashing a guy online who egged her on) and that began a trail of blackmail and harassment that she felt she could never escape.

My first impulse was to try and figure out who to blame. The creeper who convinced a 13 year old girl to flash him on her webcam and kept harassing her for more? The kids at school after school who refused to let her live down a youthful mistake? The kids online who, shielded by not having to say it to her face, said she should just die and get it over with?

And inevitably, being both a thriller writer and someone raised on Batman comics, began thinking about how to protect the victims of cyberbullying by punishing the guilty. Of armies of chubby boys making life miserable for people who said mean things online (spoofing online purchases in their name is a start, drawing the attention of Homeland Security and getting these people disappeared as domestic terrorists is possible).

But really, that’s fantasy. The reality is that human beings are primates. We are hard-wired to lash out against the “other.” Tribalism is in our DNA. And policies of deterrence can only go so far. People do what people do, even if we say it’s not okay.

I don’t think people hate any more now than they ever did. In fact, they probably hate a lot less, in total, in our increasingly multicultural society. But ironically, because we don’t have a socially acceptable Other to demonize anymore, we increasingly turn against ourselves. Kids like Amanda Todd are hounded, ruthlessly and 24/7, for stepping out of line.

I probably wouldn’t be here today if Facebook had existed when I was growing up. As it is, I barely made it out of 1983 (seventh grade, Pershing Middle School, Houston, Texas) breathing. And if I hadn’t been able to go home and get away from my tormenters in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, high school might have killed me just as it did Amanda Todd.

So what can we do?

Instead of punishing the guilty, we can support the victims. We’re never getting rid of the cruelty and hate in the world. But we counteract it with love and acceptance. We can call out bullies when we see them, and make sure their targets know they’re not alone. No one has to feel the hopelessness Amanda Todd felt, that I’ve felt myself.

Because life is never hopeless. And you’re never as alone as you think you are.

The truth about Windows 8

This is the best review I’ve seen of Windows 8. I’ve said before that Windows 8 is a failure, but this explains why it’s a failure. The video is longish, but worth watching. In short, though:

  1. There are no visual cues to tell users what they can click on, what they can’t, and how to get to things that aren’t currently visible. Like DOS, you can only really use Windows 8 if you already know how to use it. It’s not discoverable at all.
  2. The split between the Modern UI and the Desktop gives you a schizophrenic, completely inconsistent user experience. Worse, certain functions are only available in one environment or the other, so you have to learn both.
  3. The Modern UI has absurdly low information density, which is ironic when you consider Microsoft has always been the champion of “glanceable information.”

First impressions with the Kindle Paperwhite

First off, no, I haven’t already blown my “no new crap” resolution. The Paperwhite was ordered last year to replace my badly cracked Kindle 3, and was supposed to arrive on New Year’s Eve. It’s not my fault UPS is worthless.

I got my new WiFi-only Kindle Paperwhite Wednesday night, and I was on the fence about returning it. After all, even though my Kindle 3 is clearly ready to give up the ghost, I still had my iPhone and iPad, right? Was there really a difference between reading on the Paperwhite and reading on crazy sharp retina displays?

Turns out, yeah. There is.

I’ve had my Paperwhite for about 36 hours now, and it is by far my preferred way to read anything long form. There are three reasons for this.

  1. The size really does work. After reading on my Paperwhite, my iPhone 5 feels small and cramped, and my iPad 4 feels like a brick. The size and weight are important. Granted, the iPad mini would probably fulfill this requirement just as well.

  2. The screen makes a difference. Technically, the Paperwhite does emit light through the optic fiber diffusion grid layered over the touch screen. But it’s so diffuse and gentle that it produces no eye strain at all. I used to scoff at people who made the eye strain argument, because I spend probably 12-14 hours a day looking at an LCD. I’m used to it. But the Paperwhite screen really does feel better. It’s kind of like the old gag about how great bashing your head into the wall feels when you stop.

  3. The Kindle Paperwhite has a feature the iOS Kindle app doesn’t have and it’s insidious. In the bottom left corner, you can choose to display your current location in the book, the time left to read the book (based on a sample of your reading speed; it takes a little while for this to show up), or the time left to read the current chapter.

The last one, of course, is the killer. Because each chapter, especially in the thrillers and non-fiction books I read, is relatively short, this is always a small number. So you end up saying, “Well, it’s just another 3 minutes.” Then, “Well, it’s just another 5 minutes.” And before you know it, you’re saying, “Crap, I was supposed to go to work today.”

I’ll post a fuller review once I’ve spent more time with it, but so far, I can see the Paperwhite becoming my constant companion over the coming year. I’m serious about reading more. I’ve got a list in TaskPaper of 100 books I want to read in 2013. I have these books loaded on my Paperwhite, and I’ve already finished 2.

Making do with what I have

2013 looks to be a year when a lot of people are pulling back and reëvaluating what they really need. I’ve seen lots of people resolve to quit Facebook, Instagram and other online services. I’ve seen people resolve to replace their smartphone with a feature phone. I’m sure there are more than a few people ready to follow The Verge’s Paul Miller and disconnect from the Internet entirely.

I’m not doing that.

But I am, as I reflect on 2012 and what I want to be different in 2013, keenly aware of something I want to change. I need to quit chasing the new shiny. And not just devices, though if I manage to keep my current loadout (iPhone 5, iPad 4 with ZAGG keyboard, home and work Windows laptops, old Kindle Keyboard for Kindle Lending Library) I have no plans to buy any new hardware in 2013. (The iPad w/ keyboard and one of the laptops are company property, so if I lose my job I’d need a tablet of my own, maybe.) (Yes, I plan for such things.)

But more importantly, I need to quit buying shit. Even good shit. Frankly, I have too much shit as it is.

I have hundreds of books in my Kindle library that I haven’t yet read. I have dozens of movies and TV shows in my Amazon video watch list that I haven’t seen. My App Store account is full of apps I not only don’t use, but don’t even have installed.

So here’s my resolution. In 2013, I will not buy any new apps, books or movies. I will make do with what I have, and put that money to other, better purposes, like savings, or burritos.

There are a few exceptions, of course. The book (just one) that I’ve already preordered will show up as scheduled. All of my music will be via my exising Rdio account, which I will not cancel. Likewise my Amazon Prime membership, which gives me access to movies and TV. These are sunk costs, money that I’ve not only already committed to spending, but am okay with spending.

But other than that, no new distractions. I’ll read books I already have and use apps I’ve already purchased. Books, apps and movies/TV shows that look irresistible in 2013 will go on a list in Simplenote, and in 2014 I’ll revisit that list and see how many of them I actually still want.