My Cuckoo Nightmares about Sonny

I want to tell you about a recurring nightmare I had when I was a kid, and the honestly kinda disturbing way I responded to these nightmares. This is a 100% true story.

For years, I had recurring nightmares about Sonny, the chaotic, mentally-disturbed, manic Cocoa Puffs shill.

I had these dreams from the early to the late 1980s. I was probably three or four when they started.

Here’s the thing. When I was a kid, I hated being tickled. Especially when I wasn’t expecting it. People would tickle me now and then, as they do all kids. Ribs were the worst.

In my dreams, instead of being the homicidal maniac of a more traditional nightmare, Sonny was a relentless tickling maniac. He would find me, he would chase me, he would capture me, and he was cuckoo for tickling me.

I would actually feel it, and I couldn’t wake up.

Don’t misunderstand me: I readily admit this nightmare is hilarious. Besides my hatred of being tickled, I don’t know where in my conscious mind it could’ve come from.

I really don’t understand the connection to Sonny, or cereal at all. He just had a malevolent energy, I guess?

I had this dream dozens of times. Every month or two, for about 7 years. It would happen in different locations. It would start differently, every time. Sometimes I wouldn’t know when it was “one of those”, and then suddenly, Sonny was there, he was laughing, and I was running.

Let me tell you, young Josh got really tired of it. I tried to train myself to fly away in my dreams (ironically, Sonny could never fly?) and I would occasionally escape him that way. Sometimes I could outrun him, but not usually.

Then, when I was 8 or 9 years of age, I awoke from what must have been a particularly severe session with my cuckoo nemesis, and I decided enough was enough. I had been backed into a corner. I had no choice. I was going to end this once and for all.

I was going to murder Sonny.

I figured that since “my” Sonny was a dream creature, he could only be affected by dream logic and dream things. I couldn’t kill him in the real world. I had to go where he lived, in my head. I would only be able to kill him while sleeping, with a weapon I chose while awake.

That evening, as I went to bed, I intentionally thought about Sonny. I focused my little kid mind on him, and I laid in my bed, on my stomach. I put my hand under my pillow, and I imagined a large knife forming, handle in my palm. My weapon of choice. My ticket out.

The handle of the blade gained weight as I focused on it, and I knew Sonny couldn’t see it because it was under my pillow. I knew he would arrive soon.

Then, I felt his presence. He sat on my back. He was more controlled, more serious this time. He knew something was different.

Before he had a chance to make the first move, I rolled over and swung the knife at his torso with all my kid strength!

In the real world, I literally physically fell out of bed and onto the floor, and woke up.

I never dreamed of Sonny again.

True story.

Priorities, Anxiety, and The News

Today, a loved one and I were discussing a political news site over email. He has gotten a lot of joy and a lot of insight from this particular website, and he encouraged me to read it. When I said I did read it occasionally, he encouraged me further to read it every day, as he did.

As I found myself responding, I was surprised at all the places in my life that my response touched on, so I thought I’d share it here. More of the same from me, perhaps, but I suppose that’s part of what makes it important. This stuff is really important to me. In the end, he supported my decision.

I’ll be candid in the hopes that it’s illuminating and helpful.

My lifestyle and personal needs and tolerances right now won’t allow me to read political news regularly, for several reasons. I’ll explain why. I know this matters to you.

1 – I am so busy that I have not yet had a single week in which I have been completely faithful to God, my family’s needs, my clients’ needs, and my own needs. And I haven’t even listed friendships or “societal duties” in there! I am always letting at least one of those things down significantly. I’m not OK with that. I need to use my very limited time and will power to improve that situation before I add more daily habits into the mix, which would once again make it more challenging to be faithful to all of the above.

2 – I am predisposed to severe anxiety and some depression, too. The news not only doesn’t help that situation, but it actually makes it far worse. On rare occasions it has been severe enough that I couldn’t function day-to-day. That’s not OK, because it hurts #1 above. But, I have found a massive improvement in personal peace and clarity since 2008 when I stopped watching live TV and stopped regularly reading the news. It has improved further since leaving Facebook. I am literally never upset about politics outside of election day, and random days on which I give in and start paying close attention to the news. (Then I often get upset again, while never having any way to take action and improve the situation outside voting.)

In short, I find through experience that I can’t handle the news. I’m convinced it’s psychologically unhealthy for me to read news regularly and get into the “daily churn” of ceaseless noise and politically-motivated grousing. Especially if I’m under the impression I can or should do something about it. Others can and should. At least during this decade, I cannot and should not. My wife and my kids and the other things listed above are my priority, and they take everything I have to give.

As a nice bonus, the stories that matter come to me eventually through organic means, and I read about them and discuss them then. 95% of it does not matter and never will. It’s shocking how much of what’s reported never comes to pass and never matters. The news media attempt to keep my attention for their own benefit, not for my benefit. So I take my attention back into my own hands, and spend it on #1 above, where it should be.

That’s how I see this whole issue, and why I distance myself from it as much as possible. It’s my hope that given the positive personal changes I’m going through, I might actually be able to add more to my plate in a few years. But it won’t be soon.

Josh

I hope you’ll all consider doing the same, leaving the news mostly behind and spending more of your time on the things that actually matter, where you can have a real effect in people’s lives.

I know that some people can and should have a positive, even huge influence in politics, but I become more convinced as time goes on that most of us can’t, and yet most of us are also out there shouting at each other online or in person, getting mad, discussing everything ad nauseam. Must we? I don’t think so. I think it accomplishes more harm than good these days, in this culture, in this context.

Building Empathy Systematically

This talk by Megan Phelps-Roper is one of the most powerful and important TED Talks I’ve ever heard. These lessons are badly needed by me, by anyone who discusses politics or religion, by our president, probably by nearly everyone.

I continue to want to build some kind of system in which people could learn this way of thinking and practice with others with whom they would normally disagree. How could it be done? What protections would need to be in place?

I’m imagining technology at the moment (something that matches you up with non-anonymous people with whom you disagree about any political or religious issue, to have a friendly, civil conversation) but I’ve also imagined analogue methods of achieving the same thing.

I think each user would have to have “reputation” so the haters / trolls could be quickly weeded out (or steered towards those with proven experience dealing well with such attitudes).

If the system saw things were getting heated (A.I. detection?) it could prompt the users to shift gears / topics, pause the chat for 30 seconds. Or put up reminders about how to handle the uncomfortableness in a healthy way.

The key to the whole thing is that whatever happened, whether via technology or not, we maximize the parts of the experience that leave the other thinking, “that was a decent human being that I like, and with whom I happen to disagree sometimes.”

I’ve wondered if an analogue version of this would just use technology to match people up in certain geographic areas to meet in pre-selected, well lit, calm places (staffed with trained security) to converse over a table. Walk in, shake hands, talk for 30 minutes, and leave.

One hunch I have is that people who were new to these “empathy chats”, whether they were digital or in person, would be joined by a third person who was experienced. They would moderate and help steer and encourage, and set the tone when the two others were less certain.

I know this whole concept is pretty far out and more than a little harebrained. Likely very naïve or at least overly optimistic. But if you’ve read this far, I want to hear what you think. What are the strong points / weak points? What would prevent you from participating?

I originally posted this as a Twitter thread, but decided I wanted to also have it here on my blog.

Facebook Asked Me to Interview

Someone from Technical Recruiting at Facebook contacted me a few weeks ago saying that they have lots of roles at Facebook that line up well with my experience, and that she would like to set up an initial interview to see if we might be a fit.

I considered just accepting and having a phone call, but I thought better of it and decided that I should at least be up front with her.

Hey [REDACTED]!

I appreciate the offer of a conversation. I’d be open to a chat, but I have to put out a big warning that I’m probably not an ideal Facebook candidate for a couple reasons.

First, I’ve lived in the Valley before (I worked for Apple for six years) but I live in Minnesota now, and I intend on staying. So even if I were to get a job with Facebook, I’d want to spend 95% of my time in Minnesota.

Second, I deleted my Facebook account about six weeks ago. I have serious concerns about Facebook’s role in society at large. In the interest of transparency, I’ll give examples:

  • Facebook can negatively change our perception of each other, our culture and our country
  • Facebook can manipulate how I see myself and my own value (or lack thereof) to my friends and family
  • Facebook’s work to increase user engagement has been so incredibly successful now that it feels to many to be unthinkable to live without it, in spite of the fact that they admit having serious fears and misgivings about what Facebook might do with their information
  • Facebook can in some cases even damage relationships that could have otherwise remained healthy, if distant
  • Facebook’s business model seems to be directly at odds with a person’s need for privacy and control of their own information, and for that reason Facebook may be forced to favor commerce over a person’s emotional needs, or risk going out of business

I think even if everything else worked out, having opinions like that would be painting a huge bullseye on my chest, you know? So I want to be up front about all of it as much as I can be.

I would be really excited to help Facebook to overcome these issues, as incredibly challenging as they are. I think it will require changes to the priorities we carry with us into the engineering process that before now have never been heard of or considered. As you know from my LinkedIn profile, I myself helped to get a niche social network off the ground and bring it to a peak of over 125,000 users at one point, so I certainly believe in the good that social media can do in our lives and the world in general.

Thanks for the email.

Josh
651-[REDACTED]

I never heard back. I didn’t really expect to, but it’s an interesting sort of confirmation nonetheless.

Memories of Writing BASIC on the Commodore 64

My family had a Commodore 64 from maybe 1983 – 1992 or so. My friend Nathan and I would type in BASIC code we found in books he’d bring home from the library, just like this guy is doing, because we wanted to see what it would do. It was like having access to magic spells. How does it work? Who knows? It doesn’t matter. It’s magic! Let’s try it!

We’d take turns line by line, typing in one character at a time, reading them to each other.

Half the time, we made a typo somewhere 20 lines up and couldn’t find it, and certainly didn’t have the knowledge necessary to debug it, so we’d just move on. I was surprised when I saw how easy it is to edit code and add new code in this demo. I had no idea that was possible! Whoops. Though I guess I should give myself a break because I was 9 years old at the time, and no one was teaching me how to do any of this.

Brings back fond memories. Technology seems less magical now, and I don’t think that’s only because of my experience. Maybe the ubiquity of it has demystified it somehow.

I’m Leaving Facebook Permanently

I posted this to Facebook too, of course, but for posterity I’m keeping it here as well. I expect I will be posting a lot more here now that my Facebook account will be gone.


I’m leaving Facebook forever on April 1st. No, this isn’t a joke. You should leave too. Read on.

I read more and more stories like this every day. People with inside knowledge and real expertise and deep, powerful connections in the tech industry, encouraging people to get rid of their Facebook accounts.

It’s not limited to the WhatsApp guy. It includes Facebook’s first president Sean Parker and a former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya. The article I linked to says they “both expressed serious misgivings about Facebook and how it messes with people’s psychological and social structures.”

And I’m seeing it myself too. I honestly think the rising anger in this country, the building political polarization, the rise in all kinds of dangerous psychological trends… I know the human condition is deeply broken. But Facebook is making it worse.

And the thing is, since I’m here, I’m part of the problem. And so are you.

I think it’s time to go. Not “time to go until they promise with sugar and a cherry on top they’ll never do it again”. Just time to go, and not come back. Ever.

Let another network rise that respects me and my privacy, respects my personal agency and personal opinions, and isn’t from the outset so fundamentally incapable of making the right choices socially. We cannot reward that behavior any longer by remaining present. I refuse to.

Here’s what I’m going to do, and I encourage you to do the same.

I’m going to keep my Facebook account active (so friends have a chance to read this message!) for the next few days. On April 1st, I’m deleting it permanently, not just deactivating it. And I’m not coming back. Let April Fools’ day be a reminder that Facebook has fooled us all, and we won’t play the fool any longer.

For practical purpose, if you leave Facebook, and you should, you should also make sure friends know how to get ahold of you without it. I’m still going to be on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/joshlewis And my blog, as long as I’m alive and probably for a little while after I’m not, is here: https://blog.joshlewis.org/

Share this message if you agree. But more importantly, on April Fools’ day, stop playing the Fool. Click the big blue button: https://www.facebook.com/help/delete_account

Apple & the Sensational Press

In the last day or so you may have started seeing even more sensationalistic news about Apple than usual. This time, it’s about the claim that Apple is slowing down older iPhones in order to sell new iPhones.

This article at TechCrunch by Matthew Panzarino has the real story. I strongly recommend reading this one to be best informed.

I want to talk about another issue too. It’s related.

I’m so deeply disappointed in some members of the press for the way that they sensationalize stories. It’s nothing new, I know. The fact that I often only notice their sensationalistic tendencies when they’re talking about a subject I actually understand hints that they might be doing this all the time, and I just don’t know it.

On this particular story, I’ve seen absolutely terrible articles by CNET and Business Insider already. Business Insider even went so far as to make it sound like Apple had confirmed, hat in hand, that they were throttling old iPhones in order to sell newer iPhones. They’ve done no such thing.

How can we hold the journalists responsible for these kinds of things accountable? I understand that I could just stop reading stories from those publications, but I imagine that sometimes the writer who publishes the story isn’t the only one responsible for this problem. They may have even been compelled to write something they didn’t personally agree with, or even understand properly, by someone higher up who is motivated to bring in more clicks and more ad revenue.

How are we to know who is to blame for gross misrepresentation of the truth? Is there nothing we can do? Do we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater? It’s terribly ironic that these things are coming from the very organizations we patronize for the sole purpose of bringing us the truth in a timely manner. What a terrible abdication of duty!