Where the Internet went Wrong

The Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society had its 25 year reunion this past week. I spent two years with BKC, one as an affiliate and one as a fellow. Between that and being at the Center for Civic Media, I had some of the most stimulating years of my life to date. My understanding of the world and my place in it transformed to something more nuanced but also more powerful. And while I’ve lost touch with some of the folks, many of us still talk.

At the reunion, things were generally framed as past, present, future; with the breakout groups and lunch convenings I loved in my time there. The main thread that came out through most of the conversations, was “what did we get wrong?” Or perhaps in our more gracious moments, “what have we learned?” In that context, there were a few recurring themes in the circles I ran in for the 2 days of the conference:

  • Defending free speech and exclusion of regulating speech didn’t land us where we expected
  • Lack of intersectionality and limiting who has a seat at the table has constrained what we can learn and do
  • Influence in law and regulation not transferring sufficiently to market forces left us with blind spots.
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The expression of anger

One of my characteristics I’m most proud of is how even-keeled I am. It served me well in disaster response, it’s served me well in interpersonal dynamics, it’s served me well at work. But it wasn’t always the case – I was a very angry child, and I’ve had to actively learn to be calm through self-discipline, meditation, and empathy.

I had good examples in this – I have never heard either of my parents so much as raise their voices. The only slammed doors in the house were from my brother or me being angry, and then getting grounded for it. We are good Midwestern quiet people.

However, now, when I get angry, I immediately shift into must-win-at-all-costs-including-being-mean mode. I may be quiet, but I can be a cutting jerk.

I don’t trust a relationship until I’ve been in a disagreement with the person. How people navigate a misunderstanding or difficulty, and whether or not they can fight fair with each other, is vital to me knowing if a relationship is sustainable or not. So when Reed and I had our first disagreement, it was interesting. He is a big dude, and he emotes a LOT. (This is one of the many reasons why I love him – he cannot hide how he is actually doing, so I have no anxiety about anticipating what’s going on with him.) This didn’t scare me, as I can handle myself physically (he would never actually hurt anyone, but it can still be scary to have a big human waving their arms with a raised voice). And when I got mean, he responded with “do you really mean that?” which I didn’t. So we enable the other person to fight fair with us. It works out well.

But as our relationship continued on, I started to judge Reed more for his expression of anger. He would slam doors, yell (not at me or anyone else), and stomp. It seemed like a loss of control to me. Initially, I thought it was just the price of admission and I could deal with it. But when we had a kid, I didn’t want the behavior modeled. In talking about it, Reed also didn’t want the holding in of anger (and just getting mean instead) to be modeled for Locke. So we had to figure something out.

In talking to my therapist, friends, and Reed more, the consensus has been that expressing anger, so long as it isn’t directed at someone, is actually healthy. My Midwestern sensibilities are shook.

So for Reed, we have a ranked list of things that are always ok to do, things that are on me to try to work on being ok with, things that should really be avoided, and things that are never ok. He’s done a good job of adhering to the list, and now instead of responding to him expressing anger with “please stop doing that,” I say something like “thank you for picking from the top of the list.” For me, I’m working on muttering angry things when no one can hear, and writing angry emails but not sending them. We’re both making progress at meeting each other.

It still feels like a loss of control, but also just being quiet jerk when I’m angry isn’t a reasonable reaction, either. Eager to hear more thoughts on this topic if anyone has them.

2022 in review

This will be my eighth year in a row doing these, so you can also read about the years since 2015 if so desired. They are inspired by Tilde, who has taught me that it can be a Good Thing to remember what the last year has been like. Many of the headers in this post are based on my goals for 2021.

The phrase for this year was neighborliness, as I settled into being a home owner, the life of a parent, and simply shifting focus from showing up for people far away to showing up for people nearby.

A donut of data about how Willow spent their time in 2022. 3401 hours on sleep, 4484 at home, 209 on work, 108 on a bicycle, 75 on transport, 40 in a car, 37 on a motorcycle, etc.
Where I spent my time in 2022

I felt pretty boring this year – I can’t talk about work, I like riding bikes for the meditative values and not because of bike minutia, and babies are frankly pretty boring. But I did do a significant amount of work on myself, and feel stable in my life. And hey, I actually met all my goals for the year.

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Hosting Aleks and Viktoriia

It all came down to this: they needed space, and we had space.

The longer version is this: I had always wanted to host either refugees or LGBTQI+ displaced youth. But I had been traveling too much, and/or living in community housing with only a small space to call my own. When Reed and I got together, I thought it would be off the table indefinitely – Reed has many great characteristics, but flexibility is not one of them. Having other humans in our home would have been too difficult. Getting on the same page about cast iron is a network effects problem, after all.

But then something about the Russian/Ukrainian war broke his heart open, and he said to me one day “we have space, and they need space. We should host a family.” We have a large house – Reed and I both have bedrooms and our own offices, generally a necessity for two extreme introverts to be successful in the long run. We agreed he would move into my bedroom, and we would offer up his to whoever moved in with us. We knew it would be hard on us (doing this with an infant, while we juggle childcare and my return to office, for instance), but we agreed it was the right thing to do.

So Reed started investigating. There was a program the US Government was offering where you could expedite Ukrainian entry to the US by agreeing to sponsor them for 2 years – a place to live, cover their financial needs, etc – but it assumed you already knew them and were paired with them. The issue was too new for many organizations to be offering to pair folks up, and those that existed hadn’t been vetted yet. We finally found Nova Ukraine and registered with them to host a family. We were open to up to two adults and two children, so long as they would be ok in the single (quite large) room. We thought that’s what we could manage financially and chaos-wise. Instead we got paired up with a young couple, Aleks and Viktoriia, and a few days later they moved in with us. They had only been in America for a few days at that point, and wanted to try out being in California.

The difficulties we had with them were all good problems. After a few days, they made it clear they wanted to help with the house – something I was initially vehemently against as their staying with us was not contingent on them doing labor for us, but they made it clear it was about autonomy and contributing as equals. We also agued in a friendly way about our paying them for taking care of Locke or the cats – it is labor, and also they love them and like spending time with them.

Frankly, we don’t know if it’s possible to have been happier with who we were paired up with. We shared many meals together, we found a good balance of taking care of the house together, we all doted on the cats, and we were all quiet folks who were willing to take care of cast iron pans the same way.

The hardest part was perhaps that Reed and I don’t have a car, and there were many things Aleks and Viktoriia wanted to go see or experience, including ESL adult learning classes that were far away. We first loaned them our Bromptons as they’re easily adapted to various heights. Eventually, we went to Rivendell to test ride some bikes to show them what actual bicycles are like, and they loved it! So Reed sourced some bicycle frames and parts from the community, and I paid for anything that needed to be bought, and he built them up two bicycles for their own use. And then they took to it immediately – going for rides regularly, and even being game to ride to San Ramon for ice cream (a relatively serious ride it took me months of riding to get into condition for).

But their true dream was to live in LA, not some suburb in the Bay Area. So after their working papers came in (something I helped expedite by navigating bureaucracy), they found a new set of folks to stay with down there while they find employment and then move into their own place. We’re excited to visit them once they’re all settled. We miss them regularly, and we’re also happy to be back to our normal routines and space. I can pee with the door open again!

If you have the space, please consider sharing. It’s both a huge thing, and not a thing at all.

2021 in Review

This will be my seventh year in a row doing these, so you can also read about the years since 2015 if so desired. They are inspired by Tilde, who has taught me that it can be a Good Thing to remember what the last year has been like. Many of the headers in this post are based on my goals for 2021.

The phrase for this year was restabilize, as I needed to ground myself after 2020. Also, I never really came to terms with switching life course from a jet setting consultant of crisis response into a more stable life 4 years ago. I think I did a swimming job of finally accepting this new life this year.

2021 according to Life Cycle

This is by all means the year I “settled down,” which people used to tell me I would want to do at some point, and I would consistently tell them to fuck right off. I don’t think everyone who moves fast will inevitably slow down, but I sure did.

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2020 in Review

This will be my sixth year in a row doing these, so you can also read about 201520162017, 2018, or 2019 if so desired. They are inspired by Tilde, who has taught me that it can be a Good Thing to remember what the last year has been like. Many of the headers in this post are based on my goals for 2020.

The phrase for this year was welcoming others, as I wanted to return to helping others feel welcomed. I did that to some degree, but even more so — I survived this dumpster fire of a year. You did, too! Internet high five!

Let’s pause for a moment, because wow, wtf, 2020

Before getting into the rest of this, I want to pause and just say: WTF, 2020. Having infrastructural social support systemically undermined under Trump since 2016 culminated in this horror show. So many people are suffering. Un- and underemployment, evictions, police shootings, and an eroding safety net were all true before this year, but way to come to a fucking head.

Thinking about goals for this year, let alone trying to devise goals for next year, is a habit I’d like to keep up with. It’s in no way to say “look at what can be done in a pandemic!” or anything of the like. I’m incredibly privileged, and routine is part of my coping. With that in mind, let’s proceed.

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Distributed playbook

While I was at Truss, I helped move us from a dozen people in the Bay Area to nearly a hundred across 20 states. Through monthly meetings to run experiments in improving our practices, we came up with the Distributed Playbook. It’s since changed format enough that I missed the original version, so I’ve ported it over from Github to a page on this blog. It, along with the onboarding guide, are two of the things of which I’m most proud from my time at Truss. Hope they can help you out, too!

Polyam Interviews : Noah

I’ve been navigating coming out as poly to my nuclear family and to my workplace for the past few years. I think we’re in a moment similar to the LGBT coming out, and I wanted a snapshot of how people are experiencing coming out as poly to different people in their lives. I think this is important to build solidarity and visibility. It’s not to tell anyone how to do anything, but I hope you find it useful in your journeys.

This is an interview with Noah, roughly transcribed and then lightly edited (so maintains the first person voice). It is posted here with his permission.

Tell me a little about yourself

About to turn 47. Straight white cis dude. Spent the first 25 and change years in Portland, the next 20 or so in Seattle. Married for 6.5 years in a house with my wife, some housemates, and cats. I’ve been with my girlfriend, who is married with 2 kids, for 13.5 years. I have another girlfriend of 7.5 years, she’s married with one kid and recently gave birth to a surrogate baby.

What drives you?

I like other people to have good experiences. Informed my career as a user experience designer. Realized in my early 20s I spent most of my life critiquing designs and systems thinking “why did they make that hard?” spend a lot of time thinking about how things can be better or more easily used to make people happier.

What is your relationship style?

I have less distaste for the term “polyamory” than I did 10 years ago. Representatives of polyamory 18 years ago were a lot more prostheletizey and nerdy. I refer to myself as “open” or “nonmonogamous,” but no longer correct people. The first edition of The Ethical Slut turned a lot of people off because it was so proscriptive and holier than thou. At its core, most of it was about understanding your own needs and communicating them.

My wife and I have romantic and physical relationships with more people than each other. From friends we snuggle with, to party makeouts (although no one goes to parties or makes out with strangers anymore). Boyfriends and girlfriends we have relationships with.

Who have you come out to?

Have a friend group with lots of nonmonogamous people in it, I’ve been out with friends for a long time. I formally claimed the lable in the early 2000s, maybe 2003, although I had shrug-why-not tendencies before that. Not really jealous or possessive in my life before that.

Came out to my parents in a formal way in about 2010. Rest of family formally on our engagement announcement. Came out online, on the Twitter I use professionally in 2012. That counts as everybody, right?

Anyone you want to come out to but haven’t yet?

Marginally less cavalier in professional environments. Will tell coworkers, though not everyone all at once. For instance, if someone is asking why I was in Iceland, I’ll tell them I was there with my girlfriend, that it’s ok that you know, ok that you tell others. Telling one or two rather than broadcast. Tell them how long I’ve been out.

No one I’m specifically not telling. There are folk who may have not yet heard. But been with my girlfriend 13 years, so…

In short, there are some coworkers who haven’t heard yet.

Anything from this relationship style that applies to the rest of life?

Mostly try to be an intentional communicator, which I now only screw up sometimes. In my increasing age and awareness, becoming even more aware of consent and power dynamics in all things. Trying to remain cognizant and intentional about those issues.

Anything else you want to talk about?

Repeat an observation that many people have had: conversations nonmonogamous people have had about consent and risks of spending time with people have come in handy this year. What is my risk profile and risk profile of those around me? Seems like an unexpected benefit right now.