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

Mike Rowe on Discovery, Realization and Lamb Castration

I saw this video tonight (via @siracusa) and was absolutely blown away. The video is a bit over 20 minutes long, but it blew my mind and I want to share it with you.

I want to be absolutely clear about this: I pay a lot of lip service to respecting farmers. (My father’s father, who lived in Forest City, Iowa, was a farmer his entire life.) I talk about how important factory workers and construction workers and mechanics are.

But when it really comes down to it, I am one of those elitist jerks who thinks that he’s better than a blue collar job. In my mind (and in more subtle behaviors) I degrade manual labor. I just want to confess that and point out that if we, as a society, keep making more and more people like me without making more people like the folks mentioned in this video, we’re in big trouble. I don’t know exactly what or how to change, but I’m very personally interested in the topic.

The Abortion Argument

I would be more than happy to discuss the issues within this post at any length with you over email, but I have preemptively closed the public comments on this entry because I know how volatile the subject is. There is perhaps no more painful wound felt by so many on both sides in all of the world. Please understand I desire to tread lightly here and I desire to be respectful in every possible way. One of the main reasons that I have not broached this subject in the entire history of this blog until now is that I am concerned that voicing my opinions will cause some who don’t agree with me to write me off me entirely, perhaps even permanently. I treasure your friendships and your ideas so much that the thought of losing you kinda petrifies me. But to remain silent on this subject now would be selfish cowardice. I hope you’ll be gracious, and that you’ll choose to give me the benefit of the doubt, even if I make you angry.

Also understand that I begin with the assumption that an unborn, developing fetus ought to have all the rights of a newborn human. To believe otherwise and be wrong is a greater risk than I am willing to accept. If you do not or cannot believe that a fetus has inalienable rights, ask yourself why. Justify it. I’ll try to do the same. What’s the crucial, highly-significant difference between a baby inside the womb and one that has traveled 10 inches to be outside its mother’s body? A newborn still needs someone else to feed it and take care of it or it’ll die. A newborn still has the same potential to live if not mistreated that it had from the moment of conception. I assert that the potential and strong tendency to become fully human after the moment of conception is the key to this entire debate. An egg and sperm, if left alone, tend to die. But put together, they tend to live. Conception is when things change, not at some more arbitrary point afterwards. Therefore, that is when the child’s rights should begin.

I have many good friends whom I love and respect deeply who have told me that while they personally believe abortion is immoral, they can no longer allow the issue to affect their vote. We have lost, they say. Hope is gone, they say. Nothing can be done, they say. If we have any victory on this issue, it will be far smaller, maybe person-by-person, and it will happen outside the voting booth and outside of politics in general.

I encourage those friends to read Albert Mohler’s article, “Is the Abortion Argument Changing?” from beginning to end. The comparison of this struggle to that of the struggle towards the abolition of slavery seems apropos to me. I am not suggesting that we ought to start a war. I am suggesting that we have given up far too soon, far too early considering the horror of the practice we desire to end. Moreover, I am suggesting that the horrific reality of abortion ought to motivate us strongly both politically and personally, and take a backseat to very few issues, if any.

I appreciate any calmness and level-headedness you can muster for me when carefully considering what you’ve read here.

The Hope That We Confess

I’m not a very political person. I lean Republican, but not always very strongly. I tend to be apolitical. If you’ve been reading this blog or known me for very long, you’ll know that’s true.  I mention these things to back up the fact that I’ve never been too bothered by anything Obama has said in the sense that I understand what he’s thinking and why he thinks that, even though I don’t usually agree with it. But tonight I heard something that made me nearly fall out of my chair, or shout, or I don’t know what.

This commercial was released by the Obama campaign recently in which they lift some audio from the end of Obama’s recent speech at the DNC. In case you don’t have time to watch the ad, this is the end of the section of the speech they use in the ad, and to which I’d like to draw your attention (emphasis mine):

At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future.  Let us keep that promise – that American promise – and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

When I heard it, I had to stop and rewind. Here, Obama is quoting Hebrews 10:23. You might like to take a look at the surrounding passage or the whole chapter to get a little context. It’s worth it, go ahead and read. If you’re not really into reading the Bible, try this version.

With that verse in its proper context, the hope is the promise of God to save us from our sin through the sacrifice Jesus made. The hope we have is based on God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises.

I know Obama is a Christian and not a Muslim. But a person who takes his faith and his scripture seriously, no matter what religion he is and what his holy book is, would never leave the ambiguity that Obama did when lifting that reference to Jesus, the single most important character in the Bible, and his God as a Christian, out of scripture and putting it into his speech. Why? Because in the context of his speech, our hope becomes something else altogether. Hmm… what could that hope be in, I wonder?

I suppose we’ll just have to fill in the blanks ourselves.

I would sooner die than distort scripture like this. Dude is not a Muslim. He’s not a Christian either. He’s an opportunist.

Twitter and the Debate

Tonight’s presidential debate between McCain and Obama began about 50 minutes ago. Steph and I don’t have cable TV, and our reception is pretty bad out here, so I haven’t been watching the actual debate itself on TV. (If you’re curious, we get all our TV from various reputable locations the Net.) I have, however, been watching the comments going by on Twitter’s Election 2008 site.

If you go there outside the debate, you’ll of course see all the random things people are saying about the candidates, the election, and other buzzwords surrounding their campaigns. But visiting the site during the debate itself is an interesting and unique experience. Being able to watch people’s reactions live (or nearly-live, perhaps delayed by a minute or two) is a fascinating, unfiltered look into what Americans are thinking as the event happens moment by moment. All the funny lines, all the stutters, and a lot of overflowing love and disagreement are tangled up in the stream as you watch it go past. It’s beautiful.

It felt like a pretty important moment at the intersection of politics, technology, and public discourse, so I recorded a movie of it scrolling by on my screen about 20 minutes after the debates started, just to give a sense of what it was like. It’s just under four minutes long. Note that the language and emotions are unfiltered, as I have already said, and with that in mind, check it out.

Outsourcing Reality

Steph and I have been thinking and conversing a lot lately about how we, as a society, are losing touch with the day-to-day reality of survival. In some ways this can be seen as progress, and in others it’s a dangerous trend. The difficult part is distinguishing which side each outsourced piece of life falls into.

The following list should show you what I mean. I admit, it’s subjective and made off the top of my head, but it consists of the things I believe are the building blocks of society and human growth. These are all necessary things. In other words, if these things went away or were constricted in some way, it would cause serious problems with the development and survival of the human race.

  • Having something to eat
  • Having necessary household goods
  • Having a building in which to live and work
  • Having a way to get from place to place
  • Making babies
  • Giving birth
  • Caring for and educating the young
  • Caring for the elderly
  • Protecting your possessions and your loved ones

These are things we need as humans. There are exceptions, of course. Perhaps not every single person needs to be involved in making babies, but if everybody stops making babies, we’ve got a big problem. If we don’t educate the young and educate ourselves, we’ve got a big problem. If we can’t protect the stuff we’ve worked to gain and maintain, we’ve got a big problem. You get the idea.

Now, let’s look at how these things were done a few hundred years ago. You probably already know where I’m going with this. If not, see if you spot a trend. (If you see something wrong in my history here, feel free to correct it with citations in the comments.)

  • Having something to eat: People grew crops or knew a guy down the road that grew them. They owned weapons and hunted for themselves.
  • Having necessary household goods: People carved or crafted the things they needed (toys, utensils, working tools) and occasionally ordered the complex stuff from a catalogue.
  • Having a building in which to live and work: People built their own houses using wood from their own nearby forests, and helped their neighbors and nearby towns to do the same.
  • Having a way to get from place to place: People walked or rode the horses that their family or nearby friends raised. Sometimes they got on boats and rowed or sailed, but it was rare.
  • Making babies: Duh. (This one’s hard to “improve”, huh?)
  • Giving birth: Often done in a person’s own home, perhaps with the help of a local doctor or a neighbor.
  • Caring for and educating the young: Very long ago, done almost entirely by a child’s family and close friends. Education of children and teens began to move into the school in the 18th century.
  • Caring for the elderly: When and if they survived to an age at which they needed care, they were taken care of in their children’s own homes. When they died, their family and friends embalmed and buried them.
  • Protecting your possessions and your loved ones: This one varies widely based on exactly which part of the world you’re in. In the Western world, until around the 17th century, most civilizations expected their people to protect their own personal possessions except in cases of invading foreign armies. There were governing bodies to resolve disputes, of course, but people owned weapons and used them according to the laws of their land.

The trend, of course, is that people tended to have a deep involvement in the necessary elements for their and their loved ones’ own lives. If you were hungry, you generally had to go out and kill or harvest your own food. You taught your own kids, and cared for your own parents. As a side note, its an interesting trend that the rich were less involved in each of these elements, choosing instead to pay someone else to take care of them in their stead.

Now let’s compare the old ways of doing these things with some of the newest developments in each field. Some of these are not the most popular way in which these things are done, but they are new developments which are rising in popularity. (“Rising” is a relative term, and I am not at all suggesting these will be the only way these tasks are done in the future.) Note that when I say “we” below, I’m not talking about individual people, but rather most of the people in a given society that does these things.

  • Having something to eat: Go to the grocery store and buy what we need from a farmer (or farming corporation) we never met who uses methods we’re unfamiliar with.
  • Having necessary household goods: Go to Target or Wal-mart and buy whatever we need for amazingly low prices, having no idea how these things are made, what is in them, or how to fix or improve them.
  • Having a building in which to live and work: We hire architects to build our homes and places of work for us. We hire other people to fix and upgrade them because the inner workings of the structures are sometimes so advanced that we don’t know how to fix and upgrade them ourselves. (Especially in the case of plumbing and electrical work.)
  • Having a way to get from place to place: We buy cars (which we can’t build) for long journeys, Segways for shorter ones. We’re more mobile with airplanes (which again, we couldn’t make ourselves) and we only go on boats for fun.
  • Making babies: There are new ways to do this too, though they’re not as popular for obvious reasons. We’ve got surrogate pregnancies, test tube babies, in vitro fertilization, and soon enough, cloning.
  • Giving birth: Usually done in hospitals with professional doctors and nurses, lots of bright lights, IVs, and monitors we can’t read.
  • Caring for and educating the young: Done by government-hired professionals with degrees in things we haven’t studied, even for kids as young as two or three, all the way through one’s twenties and up.
  • Caring for the elderly: Nursing homes with professional nurses and help staff help our elderly. We keep them generally out of sight and out of mind once they can no longer care for themselves. When they die, a professional embalms them, a professional does their funeral, and someone else digs the hole and buries them. Someone else even tends to the graveyard.
  • Protecting your possessions and your loved ones: In some places, like America, a person is still allowed to own guns and protect their stuff. But in other places, like Australia, gun ownership is illegal. (When Steph and I asked an Australian friend of ours who visited us recently what people there did if there was real trouble, she just said, “Call the police.”)

Before you jump all over me for that list, let me point out that I’m not saying these developments are all bad. What if we don’t all need to know how to grow our own food? In these more modern times, we have the freedom to spend time doing something besides going to “corn class.” I’ll be the first person here to cheer for the doctors and nurses that helped deliver Caleb. After Steph’s pre-eclampsia had gotten under control and Caleb was born, I asked one of our nurses, “What would have happened a hundred years ago in this situation?” She was blunt: “Your wife would be dead.” Hooray doctors!!

Still, that modern list reveals some problems, too. Depending on your leanings, different things will appear to be a problem to different people. Some think Australia has gone astray and are cheering the US Supreme Court’s recent decision. Some think a committed, hard-working parent would give their own child an education far, far better than any public school could provide. Some think the outsourcing of our food supply has led to less healthy food, obesity, and more inhumane treatment of animals. Some feel that the outsourcing of general consumer goods has lead to more industrial waste, toxic landfills, and higher carbon emissions. Even Pixar’s new movie Wall-E cautions its viewers about outsourcing reality and going on “automatic mode” for general societal functions. When you concentrate your necessary functions at one point (educators, police, industrial farmers, gasoline) it creates one big point of failure. Any engineer knows that’s a bad idea.

My question, then, is obvious. The older way of doing things isn’t always the best. The newer way of doing things also isn’t always the best. So what is? At what point are the freedoms given by modern technology and professionals in every field simply not worth the ignorance those freedoms leave in their wake? I don’t buy the argument that the answer to that question is completely different for each person. It seems logical to me that we, as a society, need to pick a few things that are the most important building blocks of our society, and be very careful to teach those things to all our kids as they grow. Not that we would enforce this as law somehow, but that it would be a general cultural understanding that every person should know how to do X, Y, and Z before they’re an adult. Don’t even bother arguing that’s currently in place. It isn’t.

I’d like to hear your opinions on this topic. I’m still mulling it over. We need rules to define what is important for every person to know and what isn’t. And we need to know whether it is possible to push forward as a society if we’re spending all our time re-learning what the last generation had only just perfected before they died.

Update (6/28/08 8:36pm): Steph recommended that I clarify a couple things. When I said it was a bad idea to “concentrate your necessary functions at one point”, I was talking about the dangers of putting some centralized authority in charge of a basic function like the ones in my list. For example, saying that only the police may have guns means that any criminal who has one can go wild as long as the police aren’t around. If the police can somehow be stopped or significantly delayed, which is much more likely than stopping all citizens, the criminal goes unchecked. If citizens have guns, and thus the power is decentralized, this scenario is much less likely.

Likewise, if we were ever at a point as a society where one mega-corporation produced all our food and no one else farmed, and that corporation were to change the food (presumably accidentally) in such a way that it harmed the population, who could do anything about it? It would be very difficult. Redundant farmers with separated processes and crops keep these kinds of dangers isolated and limited in scope, and keep the power of food decentralized.

Steph also argued that “every person should know how to do X, Y, and Z before they’re an adult” is currently in place although I said it wasn’t. She believes X, Y, and Z are reading, writing, and arithmetic. My point is really that the X, Y, and Z should be a larger number of things on my list. Those three things only fit under the “education” bullet in the list. It seems I’m recommending that our schools broaden their mandatory curriculum into areas like farming and other basic survival skills. I’m as surprised to hear that coming out of my mouth as anyone could be.