Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Women, Confidence & Trying to Father A Daughter

carrying on with the vulnerability theme, I'm going to talk about some of the challenges that I perceive to exist around being a woman, and get into some of my parenting inadequacies. I am not a woman, and I am no doubt coloring outside my lines here, but, I wanted to convey an observation, and vulnerability around being a father to a daughter. I do not purport to truly understand any challenges that women face.

whenever I travel to non-"Westernized" cultures I see beauty in women to a degree that sadly often feels foreign at home in the U.S. (and Europe). when I pause and wonder why that is, I'm reminded of just how powerful media can be. sure it can contort our political views and understanding of information, but it can quite literally transform a gender's understanding of itself. it can literally change what a gender believes is valuable and what is desirable in relationships and society.

this has hit me the hardest on two particular trips. one was to India around a decade ago, and the other is on this trip to Mexico I'm currently on. after several days of being away from Western advertising and media, the brainwash starts to rinse off a bit, and you "see" beauty and sexiness in women that goes against everything we, in the Western world, have been taught to be beautiful and sexy.

as an example, you see "normal," and "plus," sized women behave with an underlying confidence in social settings that you just don't see in the West. and you see men throw themselves at them accordingly. the measures of physical attractiveness are simply different. as an observer, it's neutralizing and refreshing.

while I selfishly enjoy the shift in understanding and perception, an expansion of understanding of what constitutes beautiful, it reminds me of just how particularly brutal it must be to be a woman in the West. of course there are cultures that treat women in downright inhumane and torturous ways; I'm certainly not trying to draw a comparison to those horrible dynamics. however in the West, it seems, from the moment a woman is born, they are held to impossible physical standards (standards that I undoubtedly perpetuate, despite my best efforts to be more enlightened than that). all of this resonates with me on a new level now that I have a daughter though. I catch glimpses here and there of the absolute bullshit she sometimes consumes on YouTube or Instagram. tweens doing makeup tutorials... beauty product evaluations at age ten... Musicly music videos of young girls mimic'ing hardcore sexual acts portrayed by adult models in the actual music videos. it's just so un-fucking-real when you immerse yourself in a non-Western culture for awhile and see how much of the rest of the world works.

as a father I struggle like mad with how to parent my daughter. she is physically beautiful to me, just as my son is handsome. her value in life is independent of her physique, and I tell her that (and get the commensurate eye-roll in response, and then an "I knooooow Daaaaad."). she has an enlightened mother who is unbelievably confident and strong in her Self, and she parents from that position of maternal strength every waking moment (thankfully). I don't make comments about women's looks when I'm around her. I emphasize her mind, her creativity, and her studiousness when I talk to her. yet, I just don't feel like I'm doing enough as a father. I want to "fix this." I'm frankly scared to say "you're beautiful just the way you are" even though I think it, because I fear she will lock onto something in her world that she thinks caused me to say that (say... a new haircut or something), and if that thing becomes un-true (a change in said haircut), she may subconsciously start thinking that she's suddenly not beautiful. and on and on.

doing what I can here, and grateful she has the mother she has to help guide her, and me, through this mess. having a daughter continues to be one of life's greatest joys for me; it is also the scariest thing I've ever had to try to get my head and heart around.

Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) & Vulnerability

I'm reading Brené Brown's "Daring Greatly" book, so... in a vulnerable/sharing mood.

when I think about the experience our children (Logan, 14... Annie, 11) are having in middle-school I am so profoundly grateful. I'm not oblivious to the reality that there are still all kinds of awful things going on "in the halls," but, when I compare the experience they're having to the one I had in the same district thirty years ago, it makes me so happy.

specifically, when it comes to bullying. and, again, I don't think for a minute that bullying is non-existent at our school, but, the district has been able to name it and call attention to it over the past 10-20 years (probably "Columbine"'ish timing) in a way that appears to have had incredible impact. it's as though a light has been shone directly on it, and like a cockroach, it has to scatter and hide. as a result, it doesn't appear to manifest the way it did when I was growing up.

the kids at school can be who they are in ways that weren't accessible in middle-school when I was attending. perhaps it was just me (entirely possible), but, I think it's bigger than that. perhaps nothing has changed and my perception of our kids is that they are just able to be who they are in ways I wasn't able to access personally as an adolescent. so, could just be me, but, I hope not.

the kids at our school produce a weekly "TV" series (published on YouTube), and the very existence of it speaks volumes to how kids today are willing to be vulnerable in ways my generation couldn't imagine. in a million years my middle school experience couldn't have produced something like this. only a tiny subset of the students would have had the vulnerability to put themselves out there like this, and then they would've been subject to ridicule. very few people back then could be so vulnerable and brave at the same time. when I try and explore the reasons for this new level of vulnerability on a deeper level, I think it comes down to acceptance, empathy, and tolerance of each other as humans. even more specifically, there's an acknowledgment and understanding of how detrimental bullying/shaming is, and so it is actively managed against, and, sexual orientation/preferences, gender identification, are more readily accepted and the various forms are better accepted.

this all means that the mechanics for being who you want to be as a kid today are in better condition (the "adults" have put formal frameworks in place to better support kids and their identities), and masculine and feminine energies have more room to collide, intertwine, co-exist, explore each other, etc, than they did when I was growing up. "faggot" is not ok as a word or a concept. Being a "pussy," has different connotation now.

if your child is having a different experience and is in bullying dynamics, I'm sorry. if I'm simply in the dark as a parent, and you know of either/both of my kids on the contrary, are involved in bullying dynamics (on either side), I beg you to reach out to me and let me know. I played both roles growing up. I'm ashamed of the times I was bullied, and I'm disgusted with the moments in which I was the aggressor.

it is with all of this said that one of the reasons I'm most sad about the 45th President is that it is a major setback. we have in our highest office, a bully. this thing we've held on-high as a culture, the Presidency, has finally been reduced to this thing we've spent so much energy abolishing, and that gives license to a new wave of bullying and shaming. sad.

I hope that our school district can maintain, and grow, the energy and programs it has put in place to make school a safe place (as safe as possible... these are kids after all).

grateful.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Independent Web; Pocket, Highly & Mozilla?

At a recent dinner I sat next to an exec from a large adtech company. I tend to avoid adtech discussions, but this one was fascinating. He described his, successful, platform as increasingly fighting a silo'd/walled-garden web where advertisers were hunkering down with specific platforms (e.g. Facebook, Twitter), and were considering spending less on the "independent web." I had never heard someone call what I just thought was "the web" as the "independent web." I part of me died inside. Sure enough, while I hadn't heard this term before, it's a thing. Publishers are driving us this direction more and more, because, that's how advertisers want to spend. AOL showed us how limiting a Publisher centric view of the web can be; let's not do that again.

As time has moved on, a few use patterns have become increasingly important to the "independent web:" "read later," and "highlight."

Read Later

The other day, the most prolific "read later" platform, Pocket, was acquired by Mozilla. This was Mozilla's first acquisition believe it or not. The marriage speaks to the significance of "read later" and the necessity of it being independent and functional across Publishers. While Mozilla will always be a part of me, I do have concerns about their ultimate browser market share. Pocket as part of a cross-platform client dedicated to the "independent web" only makes sense though. If Mozilla wants to fully carry this torch, they need to get in bed with another company though; Highly.

Highlight

Just as we need a platform to collect and share content (URLs) in a cross platform, cross publisher, manner, we need the ability to highlight content in the same manner. Highly has done a great job building this.

We're already being spoon fed by a shrinking number of Publishers (read... advertisers), we need to be careful not to fall into the proprietary technology stack trap in the process. AOL did this, and while it took us awhile, we realized it was a problem. Let's not let history repeat itself on this one.

What You Can Do

Use products that support an independent web model. Chrome (though at risk of, or arguably already there, not actually being independent, but, it's at least not Safari), Brave, Mozilla, Pocket, and Highly. You can also let your Publisher silos know you don't like it when they lock-you-in. Facebook, as the new AOL, is most famous for this by regularly stripping our ability to share content outside of Facebook at all.

If you're an independent publisher (e.g. a "blogger") host your own stuff, and use the "Publishers" as distribution platforms, not as publishing platforms; confusing the two is dangerous.

Friday, January 20, 2017

My Americanism

I'm a citizen of the United States of America by birth.

I've noticed some things shift as I've grown up here in the States (I'm 43 years old now). I don't fully understand how they've impacted me/us (my fellow citizens), but, I've found them notable over the years.

The Draft

Conscription has seen many changes over our short history, but when I think about "the draft" my parent's generation grew up with, compared with the "voluntary armed forces" system I grew up under, I realize that I've aged through a system with my generational peers that has a less connected sense of community. My parents grew up in a world where it was theoretically possible to be in a fox-hole with a fellow American that they'd never met before, pointing their guns at "the enemy" and risking their lives together. Living with this possibility would undoubtedly create some notion of common bond on a primal level. My generation, and forward at the moment, jettisoned this notion, and I think that caused a subtle fracture in our national community. Theoretically, the wealthy of my parent's generation could be fighting for their lives side-by-side with the poor, so, both extremes had to manage some level of civility in day-to-day life.

Well... not so much anymore. Not that the wealthy and the poor broke bread too often anyway, but if you are in one of those camps and you found yourself asking for help from the other in time of war, you'd want to have had things been civil between each other prior. Today, if the odds are near zero that the two camps would have to fight together, there's little survival connective tissue at play, and hence an adverse impact on "community" unfolds. Weave income disparity into the picture, and things get pretty rough.

Income Disparity

Over the course of my lifetime, the gap between the rich and the poor has become a canyon. Rather than spew the same stats we already constantly hear, reference http://inequality.org/income-inequality/ for some wild data. The point is, that income/wealth disparity fuels communal disconnect and discontent.

Mortgage Crisis

Home ownership was the "American Dream" for a few generations, and it turned into a nightmare in 2008 on my generation's watch. The Emperor wound up not having any clothes on for my generation, as mortgage debt markets collapsed onto themselves. The best characterization of the crisis came in the form of The Big Short (the book is best, but the movie is really good too). The primary economic motivator/engine for a few generations was manipulated on a scale that scarred my generation. The math has turned around for the most part, but that's no help to the majority of an entire generation. Importantly, nothing has taken the place of home-ownership for my generation; many people aren't pursuing "the dream" anymore. This has a profoundly confusing impact on our macro economic models.

Transportation Infrastructure Projects

Bridges, roads, rail, airports are falling apart in the United States. These are, or could be, the things that comprise the literal backbone of a society. They're crumbling here.

K-12 Education Spending/Infrastructure

Like our transportation infrastructure, the public school infrastructure is a dilapidated embarrassment. Our generations to come are educated by teachers often living near the poverty line, and in most cases even on the high-end of the salary spectrum, aren't being paid nearly what they should be. Our children go to school in buildings that are literally falling apart. You get what you pay for.

Higher Education Costs

Today, one can legitimately ask the question "is it 'worth it' to spend a small fortune to send my child[ren] to college?" This was a preposterous question for my parents to ask. Of course your kids went to college! For many today, getting through college without significant debt is not even feasible, and whether or not the economics come out on-balance in the end is in question.

Drones

We now have the infrastructure to lay waste to villages of people without ever seeing them face to face, or even having troops on the ground. It's a remote controlled killing machine, that we use for our needs, and that we let our friends, and enemies in some instances, borrow. Think about that for a moment.

Healthcare

The insurance infrastructure has injected a layer between the consumer, and the service provider, that is not rooted in any sort of reality of actual costs of goods sold. Instead, the prices we pay are a function of insurance models and abstractions of what insurance company costs are, not what pharmaceuticals or medical device manufacturers spend to create their products. Huh?!? How did we get here?

On The Bright Side

We finally regulated against credit card companies marketing to vulnerable college students, and credit card debt is at new lows. While I understand this can have adverse impact on macro economic money supplies like M1/M2/M3, I'll take that punishment over generations of people trying to claw their way out of revolving credit lines.

We might start to see some infrastructure spending. I just hope it's the right blend of private/public spend. I consider myself a capitalist, but here are some projects that simply should not turn profit... sorry.

Private industry may spark some innovation at scales that could cause significant shifts in how we operate as a country/world. Hyper-loop-like ground transportation projects, and the privatization of space transportation come to mind.

Blockchain backed currencies (e.g. Bitcoin). Theoretically, free flowing currency could yield market efficiencies that produce some good "trickle down" as money moves without fee burdens. Obvious downside here is money used for evil things, and tax dodging, moves unencumbered.

While I am saddened by the fact that we have such a vulgar, dishonest, childish, unintelligent, hurtful, hateful person holding our Presidential office at the moment, I myself sometimes employ the bull-in-a-china-shop approach to try and change thinking and old policies and ways of doing. I think there can be some accidental good that comes out of policy shifts in the future as a result of this Presidency. I'm just saddened we have the person in that role that we do, and I hope he, and the associated Congress, don't lay waste to what little we're hanging onto in the process.

There are moments in our lives in which we have to band together as peers and as a community, with disregard for our "leaders." I believe this is one of those moments in our history. _We_ must, peacefully, do what's right for our country and our people and our friends and peers and fellow citizens. What we've done by letting this person hold the position they now do, has cast a spotlight on the deep ineptitude of a broad swath of people we have, in many cases, asked to lead us in the form of our government. We have to do what we know is right, not what our politicians model for us.