Who’s Responsible for a Stand Alone Complex?

If you are a citizen of the Internet at the time of this posting, you are probably aware of the ongoing battle between The Oatmeal cartoonist Matthew Inman and FunnyJunk laywer Charles Carreon. The most recent development is that Carreon is threatening litigation against everyone involved in what he calls a “distributed internet reputational attack.” As a proud geek this instantly made me think of one thing: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

What we have here is almost exactly like a stand alone complex. A bunch of people all independently engaged in a similar activity. Their actions accumulated together to create one large effect without formal coordination or organization.

In this particular instance we can largely support the actions of this mass without guilt. Other than some crazies that sent death threats, I’m sure most people involved are only guilty of posting funny things on the Internet. For the sake of discussion, what if they had all done bad things?

For example, pretend that thousands of people each stole one dollar from Carreon’s bank account? You could go after each person individually, but stealing $1 is barely a crime. Also, there are so many people that the cost of getting any individual will be way more than the dollar that was stolen. Yet, their accumulated actions have cause a large amount of damage.

You could go after Inman, as he is the only thing that could be called a leader or instigator, but he is not personally guilty of any wrongdoing. He’s only guilty of posting funny things on the Internet and collecting money for charity. He never told people to commit crimes, so how can he be responsible for the independent actions of others? That would be like holding a sports team responsible for the actions of their supporting hooligans.

If you think it’s tough when the only person who can be called an instigator is innocent, it can get even harder when there is no human instigator. What happens when people act in unison without any coordination or organization, an no single source initiated the action?

What happens when people learn how to instigate complexes while keeping it impossible to prove that they did so? You could say that Inman knew that his perfectly innocent actions would cause his followers to act in such a way, so he could theoretically have intentionally instigated them. Yet, there is still no way to prove that he did because instigation and innocence are identical, unless you have the ability to read minds.

The only example of battling complexes we have to go on is the case of Anonymous. Anonymous is not as stand alone as they pretend to be. They have some sort of organization, digital meeting places, and there are members with higher profiles than others. A true complex doesn’t even have a name or community. Despite Anonymous having some amount of organization, fights against them have still been fruitless. Sure, some people have been caught, but the entity still exists and acts without those members. If they were all truly stand alone, it is likely none of them would have ever been caught.

Our society has no real way to deal with anything remotely resembling a stand alone complex. A victim of a complex, whether deserved or not, has almost no recourse other than to hope for another such complex to spring up and act in their favor. What kind of societal structure can we devise that can repair or prevent harm from complexes that aren’t as agreeable as ones involving jpegs on the Internet? Soon we will see a day when something like this happens that we can’t all agree on being just and wonderful.

On Convenience

Yet again there was a big Internet kerfuffle regarding digital music and piracy. It’s been at least fifteen years now. What needs to be said has been said. There is however, a side issue of convenience that I think is being misunderstood.

I think David and I agree on at least one point, which is that Emily’s suggestion that buying music isn’t convenient doesn’t really make sense. It’s gotten pretty easy over the last few years to pay for the music that you like.

Jonathan Coulton

You can see how both David and Jonathan easily agree that paying for music is convenient. It takes very little effort to legally purchase music on Amazon or iTunes. The process is pretty seamless and the music is properly organized. Most of the time you click once and an entire album of music is ready to play.

What they are missing at is that convenience isn’t just about the process of getting the music, it’s about the size of the catalog. If you buy music legitimately, you will often have to use many different stores to get all the music you want. A large percentage of that music is unlikely to be legally available on any store, especially foreign music. Look how many people have to keep switching between different iTunes countries to get the music they want. There should just be one iTunes store with all the music from all the countries.

If someone goes to iTunes or Amazon and searches for music, and no result shows up, that is inconvenience. Now they have to go to all the other legal music stores to see if it is available there. Or they have to try to find the official web site to see if it is there. If they just go to Pirate Bay, all the music is in one place. Convenience means always getting the search result you want, and not going on a wild goose chase. When I say all the music, I literally mean all music recorded from every label and every country and every artist throughout all of history. Just one important missing track is an excuse to pirate.

In addition to the size of the library, the ability to buy in bulk is necessary. Piracy sites don’t just have albums and singles, they have discographies. These discographies go way beyond any boxed set sold by a record company. They even include pirate concert recordings. They sometimes include foreign releases of an album if they had different track listings. I can’t go to the Amazon MP3 store and click one button to get every track that a given artist has every so slightly contributed to.

In the article that sparked this discussion Emily talked about how she ripped 11,000 songs. She did this by sitting there and ripping CDs. That’s not all that convenient. Neither is clicking on every single album and track in an online catalog. If you want to sell me some music, sell discographies. One click to get every Zeppelin track ever for $20. Sold!

There’s also the matter of DRM being inconvenient, but that is mostly gone now for music. When people say it’s still inconvenient it is because the catalogs are severely lacking, and there is no way to buy in bulk. If you want to build something that we will come to, build the music library of Alexandria. The Pirate Bay is already almost such a library. You have to meet or beat that to have any chance at competing.

I just don’t comment anymore

For as long as the web existed, I had been a frequent commenter on many sites. Yet, I was upset that when I post a comment, someone else controls it. I might be moderated out of existence. They can delete or edit your post. They can ban me. The entire site might even shut down. Then that content which was valuable enough for me to spend time typing is lost for eternity.

To solve this problem, I decided that I would stop commenting on other sites. I can just write whatever I have to say on this blog, where I am in control, and then I can just link to the relevant article to provide context. I would have used my existing blog at apreche.net, but I was a frequent commenter. I was worried that a flood of comments would drown out my original content.

Posting comments to other sites exclusively on my own blog had other benefits. I don’t have to worry about being blocked or banned. I don’t need as many logins and accounts on sites just to post comments there. There’s even a miniscule chance I could generate my own audience with a centralized collection of comments.

This plan worked for awhile. I posted quite a few comments here. And because it was on my own blog, I put more effort into them. Instead of comments, I was writing blog responses. That’s good for traffic at least. On sites like reddit or hackernews you often see stories voted up which are responses to other recently upvoted stories. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but it could happen.

Then something unexpected happened. It was so gradual I didn’t even realize it until recently. As the title of this post suggests, I stopped commenting almost entirely. I can think of some possible reasons, but honestly, I’m not completely sure why this has happened.

Is it because I have so much upstream bandwidth for expressive output that I don’t need to comment? Between Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, forums, a podcast, and more, there are so many ways to broadcast content on the web that one person can not fill all the pipes.

Is it because I have been making the same comments repeatedly for years, and got tired of it? If so, why now? Posting the same arguments repeatedly for 10+ years didn’t get old. Did something happen recently that caused me to tire of something I had done enthusiastically for so many years?

Is it because posting comments on a blog like this is much more work than posting normally? I’m not going to put in such extra effort for a throwaway comment. Is it just that there is so rarely something actually worth commenting on?

As I said, I don’t know. I’ve just reached a point in my life where I rarely comment on stores on the web. Maybe because I’m now consciously thinking about my lack of commenting, I will start commenting again.

I do think, though, that this lack of commenting is probably a good thing. How much time was I spending typing comments. How much time did I spend typing this very post? Is there a more valuable use of my time than commenting? There probably is. Because of that, I can say that this separate commenting blog is a success despite the lack of content. The only way it could have failed is if I had continued to post comments scattered across the web.

Thus, I suggest to everyone to do the same. Go right now and setup a separate blog of some kind, even a tumblr. Then whenever you are about to post a comment anywhere, post it in the blog instead. If you stick to this plan, it can only mean good things.

Digital Identity Management

I read this article today, and it made me think of all the people who have false and/or multiple identities on the Internets.

I’m one of the co-founders of Windsoc, and I have several web projects aside from that.  I’ve done quite a bit of consulting in the past, and I still do the odd one today.  I’ve also dabbled in politics, having run for office once and spent many hours on issues that I feel are important, such as youth recreation and city planning.  And I’m a part-time writer of speculative fiction, spending around 0.1 hours a week on it and seeing my literary career advance at the same rate as the snows of Kilimanjaro.  And then there’s that television series I was working on…

So which one of these “hats” do I wear on Twitter?  I worry about annoying followers by talking about the wrong things, so I generally say nothing at all.  My personal blog has always been political, so I don’t feel it makes sense to start talking about startups or technology or programming.  And there are many things I just can’t say on the Windsoc Blog, since I’m not the only one involved in this venture.

My Identity Crisis: Why can’t I be more than one thing on the web?

Like every person, this guy has multiple aspects of his life that are mostly separate. At the very least most people separate family, friends, and work. Many people have even more separate lives. Perhaps they have multiple jobs, multiple separate friend groups, even multiple families. On top of that we now have different lives as members of various communities that have been able to form thanks to the Internet.

People, myself included, tend to act as different people within these different realms. Conversation topics, manners of speech, or even entire personalities can be completely different when someone is with their family as opposed to when they are at work or out with friends. This is both conscious and subconscious. Even if you are most comfortable acting as a drunken clown, you do not want to do that at your job. Yet, you don’t have to think about it. The environment of the workplace changes your behavior such that you act in a certain manner.

On the web, it’s a bit different. You haven’t actually changed your surrounding physical environment, or the physical people that are surrounding you. It’s the same you in the same place with the same Internet connected device. Thus, even when you interact with different groups, you don’t automatically change who you are.

Sometimes you might be interacting through web forums, which is like changing environments. It’s relatively easy to be a different person on Fark than you are on Reddit. It’s much more difficult to be a different person on Twitter, since it all has to be conscious. You have to actively decide how to act based on what user you are logged in as.

There are things you can do to help that subconscious switch. Maybe use a different Twitter client for each different account. That way you can associate the different aspects of yourself with different visual environments. Use the twitter website for your family twitter account and use Tweetdeck for your business tweets.

Even then, I have a better idea. Stop being multiple people. I really don’t like this aspect of human culture that we change who we are. I suffer from it as well as anyone else, but I try to do what I can to notice it and reduce it. Whether it’s family, friends, or work I try to break down the barriers between them.

It might be trying to get my family members to come to a geeky convention, or telling my coworkers about My Little Pony fandom. I want to be my most comfortable and true self all the time. I don’t want to change who I am because of where I am or who is nearby. I want to have one “true” identity that is always on. I want to always be the same person all the time.

And that is why I have just one account in each place. I’ll tweet about New York food trucks, technology, and games all in the same hour. I’ll connect to co-workers, family, and friends all from the same LinkedIn account. I’ll friend my mom on Facebook and also people who listen to my podcast.

If I happen to share something online from one aspect of my life that other people don’t understand, I see that as an opportunity. There’s nothing about myself that I need to hide from anyone I know. If someone judges me based on what they see in other aspects of my life that were previously hidden from them, fuck ‘em. There are enough other people who will see those other aspects and bridge the gap.

Thanks to the Internet we have been able to bring people so far apart so much closer together. That is the miracle that has caused this situation in the first place. Why then would we put up barriers at the last line of defense to keep people apart?

Tolkien estate censors badge that contains the word “Tolkien”

BoingBoing is reporting that that someone selling buttons with the word “Tolkien” on them was shut down by the Tolkien estate.

Not content to censor a book that combines literary criticism and fiction by including JRR Tolkien as a character, the Tolkien estate has shut down a guy who makes and gives away buttons that have the word Tolkien on them:

Tolkien estate censors badge that contains the word “Tolkien”

The Tolkien estate isn’t the only ones. Martin Luther King Junior’s estate is also notorious for being a copyright troll. Try posting his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on YouTube, or even quoting a few words from it somewhere publicly visible. You’ll hear from them soon enough.

In the gigantic copyright war that has dominated the Internet for the past ten to fifteen years, this particular aspect is often overlooked, since most of the attention is on digital distribution. If there’s a way we can make some slow progress in copyright reform, I think a good place to start is changing the expiring time at least a little bit.

The stated purpose of copyright, int he constitution, is to promote the progress of science and useful arts. In what way does granting a creator’s descendants intellectual property rights over their ancestors creation promote any progress of science or useful arts? These people aren’t creating anything, they are just milking the work of their ancestors.

You might argue that if someone who is currently alive will have an incentive to create something with the knowledge that it may provide for their children. That may be true, but it’s not necessary to grant the children the intellectual property rights for this to happen. If something is successful in the creator’s lifetime, they will presumably earn a great deal of money from it. That money can be passed on in the form of inheritance, and that should be enough of an incentive. If the children want continued revenues beyond the inheritance, they should create something of their own.

Personally I would prefer copyrights, if any, to be much shorter than they are now, and for them to expire very quickly. Even if you are far less extreme on copyright issues than I am, you have to concede that any copyright should immediately expire and disappear the moment the original creator passes away. Even if you are one of those people who believes that copyright infringement is stealing, you must admit that you can’t steal from the dead.

As soon as someone passes away, all of their intellectual property that was not a work for hire, should immediately enter the public domain. To deny the world access and use of such great works, or even individual words, for the sake of bringing profits to people who were just lucky enough to be children of great artists, is heinous. You can’t tell me that a pile of money in Tolkien’s children’s pockets is of greater value to the world than the greatness of his books spreading far and wide for free.

Where Have the Good Men Gone?

For the past few years there have been intermittent editorials in various media publications, mostly from women, lamenting the cultural phenomenon of so-called “man-children.” The basic idea is that guys in their 20’s and 30’s are playing video games instead of turning into their fathers. The Wall Street Journal just published one more for the pile.

Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This “pre-adulthood” has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it’s time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn’t bring out the best in men.

Where Have the Good Men Gone?

I have no doubt in my mind that many of these man-children exist, and in quite a large number. Being 28 and living in NYC, I can absolutely confirm the existence of trust fund kids, hipsters, college dropouts, and former frat boys who don’t have serious jobs. They live irresponsible, often drunken, lives. I’ve seen everything from the typical guy in a band to guys who play online poker to make rent. I know some females in this pre-adult category as well, but men are the majority, anecdotally speaking.

Do I think this is a problem? Yes, I do think so. Without serious careers, spouses, or children, these people are going to have some serious problems in the coming years. They’ll have no retirement savings, and nobody to take care of them. Even if the economy recovers, they’ll have no marketable skills to get good jobs. The newer college graduates will leap over them. It’s definitely a crisis our society is not structured to deal with. Since our government only cares about the short term, this won’t be fixed. The consequences won’t appear for a few more decades yet.

Despite that, I do think that these journalists are clearly missing out on one particular group of people, and that is people like me. For every man-child I know who wastes away playing MMORPGs all day, I know someone like myself. We have quality careers. We cook, clean, handle finances, and live as responsible adults. We are not the same as these immature people avoiding adulthood. We are successful professionals, but we are lumped in with the man-children.

Why don’t we get any recognition? Because it’s the year 2011, and our hobbies now include such things as video games, comics, and cartoons. There is a quite significant group of people who still look down on geeks and their hobbies as not being adult. What makes a guy who plays golf and fixes cars more of an adult that someone who enjoys playing tabletop role playing games? They both have jobs, they both pay the bills, they both get the job done. Hobbies are not related to maturity level in any way.

Kay S. Hymoitz, and others like her, continue to falsely associate the popular hobbies of the modern geek with immaturity. It stems mostly from the same source as Roger Ebert’s disrespect of the video game as an artistic medium, but has an additional layer of sexism on top of it. You don’t see anyone calling out geeky women as immature girls. Instead, they are cool and hip. If they are interested in science or technology, that’s even better. But a man who is a computer nerd is an immature little boy. Double standards much?

You don’t have to go much further than the surface of the Internet to find the enormous army of responsible, successful, adult geeks, like my friends and I. Do you think Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins of penny-arcade.com are children in men’s bodies? How about Steve Wozniak, Jonathan Coulton, John Hodgman, Jeff Atwood, Kevin Rose, Mark Zuckerberg, or any of the other successful nerds out there? Are they so-called man-children? I didn’t think so.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Demographic Data

In the year 2011, men watch My Little Pony

If someone truly refuses to grow up, has no job, no skills, and is going nowhere in life, then feel free to call them out on it. Just don’t judge someone’s maturity level by their chosen hobbies. The world we live in now is one in which the same guy who responsibly contributes to his 401k also spends evenings watching My Little Pony.

If women are interested, they are going to have to cast away their prejudices of old. I know many geek couples, married and not, who are in wonderful relationships. Some even have children. Anecdotally speaking, I don’t see the non-geek couples of my generation getting along nearly as well. Instead, I see a husband sneaking to play video games when the wife isn’t home. That’s a divorce in the making if I’ve ever seen one.

Women, throw away your prejudices against geek hobbies. If you’re looking for a man, don’t ignore the nerds. They might scare you by talking about comic books, but if you wait a minute you’ll see they have real jobs, are incredibly smart, and live very responsibly. Maybe if you even listen, you’ll find you enjoy these hobbies, and your impression of what they were about was all wrong. If you reject every guy with an XBox, you will be quite lonely, and have nobody to blame but yourself.

Do Cheap Tactics Ruin Online Multiplayer?

Kotaku’s Mike Fahey has made a post addressing the age old issue of people using cheap tactics and how it frustrates gamers who are victimized by them.

I never try to speak ill of my fellow players, but when someone uses a cheap tactic to come out on top I feel like I’ve been robbed of my fun time. Being repeatedly hit by grenade launchers in any Call of Duty can really make you feel like all the skill in the room just left the lobby. Same thing in Red Dead Redemption when – whoops – who needs another weapon when the high powered pistol can be spammed? And let’s not forget the cheap hunting skills of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood when using a hidden gun, getting only 100 points for a kill instead of, say, 400 if you went up close for a stealthy kill.

Do Cheap Tactics Ruin Online Multiplayer?

To begin to address this issue I must first define the meaning of cheap when it comes to gaming. Cheap tactics are those which require relatively low amounts of skill to execute, but are highly effective. Often they take the form of simple actions repeated over and over that are extremely difficult to defeat.

My favorite example of a so-called cheap tactic that ruins games is snaking in Mario Kart DS. By shaking the DS back and forth very rapidly a player can get blue sparks far more often than was every intended by the game designers. It’s very easy to do, but it might hurt the hands/fingers of the player doing it. If one player uses the technique, then all other players must use it to maintain any chance of winning.

Why do cheap tactics ruin the fun in a game? Think of a fighting game like Street Fighter 2. The fun of Street Fighter 2 is the complex attack and defense. There are so many moves and characters to choose from, and so many different options. That is what gives fighting games such extensive replay value.

Now imagine if in Street Fighter 2, Ryu’s Hadoken were unblockable and unavoidable. Suddenly every single player would always play Ryu and do nothing but throw fireballs. Winning and losing would simply depend on who could throw the fireballs faster. All other strategies are guaranteed losing strategies. A game that was so huge and complex is actually dead simple. At first glance, the game appeared as complex as Go, but in reality is simpler than tic-tac-toe.

My main problem with the Mike’s posting is that he seems to think that the correct solution is for players to not use these cheap tactics. I strongly disagree. If you are playing a competitive game, you play to win by any means necessary without cheating.

You play to win the game. The solution to tic-tac-toe is well known, as illustrated so well by xkcd. If you play tic-tac-toe, and you don’t follow that winning strategy, then you either don’t know it, or you aren’t playing to win. If you know the solution to tic-tac-toe, why are you playing it in the first place? Playing a solved game is pointless. The point of playing a game to win is because you are trying to solve it. Once it’s solved, game over.

When a game has a cheap tactic, then that game is solved or broken. Do not blame a player for being cheap. You can’t blame someone for playing to win. Blame the game for being shitty. Also, if someone is being cheap, and you are not, you should ask yourself “why aren’t I playing to win?” On the same token, players who have solved a game should ask themselves “why am I playing this game that I’ve solved?”

Don’t blame the player, blame the game. The only time you blame the player, is if they are not playing to win.

No, You Need A Technical Co-Founder

I just read this article suggesting that entrepreneurs should learn to code and start technology-based businesses without technical co-founders.

I went to a Y Combinator Q&A last night and started getting frustrated when the audience almost completely shifted the talk to the problem of finding technical co-founders and how extremely difficult that is. Yes, it is difficult. More difficult, I think, than learning some of that tech yourself, which it sounded like most of these intelligent people weren’t trying to do at all.

The Internet Teaches you Ruby-on-Rails

Now, a lot of the advice in this article is actually quite good. The Internet is the single best resource for learning technology, especially programming. Someone founding a technology business absolutely needs to have a strong technical understanding to avoid complete disaster, even if they won’t write any code at all. And even if people do not have formal educations in technology, I strongly encourage everyone to learn as much as possible on their own. I mostly, though not completely, agree with Rushkoff when he says Program or be Programmed.

That being said, learning to program on your own, especially with a framework like Ruby on Rails, can be incredibly deceptive. Just by reading and following instructions a complete novice can be up and running with a web site in just a few minutes. This is a truly wonderful thing, but it is sort of a lie.

You see, this is wonderful if you just want to create a blog or another normal personal site. If you are creating a business, something which people’s livelihoods will depend upon, then you can’t just have a novice whip it up based on learning from the Internet. That’s beyond excellent for a prototype, but you absolutely can not go live with something like that. Even making the simplest web site there are hundreds of advanced and tricky technological issues to address in the realms of security, stability, performance, etc.

If your business idea is something that you can do using WordPress or Drupal, then surely you do not need a technical co-founder. You can go with off the shelf software that is written by experts. It’s only if you actually have to do some programming yourself that you should make sure that a professional does it. Otherwise, you could be opening up yourself to a world of hurt. Then again, if you don’t mind having an application that will crash and be hacked instantly and brutally, do it yourself.

You have the problem of not being able to find a technical co-founder. Your solution was to do it yourself, and I’ve shot that solution down. What do you do? Well, I’m going to tell you that finding a technical co-founder is really easy, and I will tell you exactly how to get one.

First, realize that your technical co-founder is already employed. There is much more demand for these people than there is supply, so they are always employed. You need to get them away from their jobs. Don’t look at resumes of the unemployed. Look at blogs, StackOverflow accounts, Facebook accounts, Github accounts, etc. Find an employed person and lure them away.

Here’s some advice on luring them away. Don’t be mistaken for a recruiter, that will get you ignored. You must begin a legitimate conversation with the person to keep them from ignoring you. If you are incapable of doing that, just give up.

Secondly, realize that this person has a job right now. They are not going to quit that job and work for you for nothing. They need to be paid. That doesn’t mean stock. That doesn’t mean promises of possible future money. That means money today, and lots of it. That means a salary that is at least what they were making before. If you can’t afford it, don’t even bother. Why would someone risk their livelihood for someone else’s idea? Technical people have their own ideas. If they are going to take such a risk, what do they need you for? They can quit, go home, and build something without your help at any time. The best help you can provide is to pay the rent and put food on the table.

Lastly, make sure your idea isn’t completely moronic. If you lack technical knowledge, it’s very likely that something is wrong with the basic premise of your business idea. If you are a complete technological dolt, good tech people will not work with you. If your idea is fundamentally flawed, technological people will just laugh at you.

Here are some common problems with ideas. One is that the idea is technologically impossible. You want to make a free energy machine? Good luck with that. Another is that your idea is much easier said than done. Oh, you want to make a search engine to compete directly with Google? Good luck with that as well. Another common problem is that your idea may be shady in some way. Technological people typically have very strong sense of right and wrong. If your business idea is in any way close to being illegitimate, most nerds will not touch you with a ten foot pole.

Everyone should learn as much as possible about computers and programming. It is very easy to do with the resources of the Internet at your disposal. However, if you plan on starting a serious business based on technology, you absolutely need someone with experience who will know all the bases that need to be covered. The most you can build yourself in a relatively short time is a house of cards.

The Luddites are not actually the power brokers

I just read this article that gives many examples of people who have given up carrying a cellular phone. It claims that by doing so, these people end up in a position of power because others are forced to work on their time.

Everyone has a cell phone now. There are more than 280 million mobile subscribers in America, according to the Federal Communications Commission. According to a 2005 international study by Advertising Age, 15 percent of Americans have interrupted sex to answer their phones. Even people who are videotaping themselves having sex, like Paris Hilton, stop to answer a call. The call of the wildGoogle, Verizon would exclude mobile Web from rulesT-Mobile looks to lag in offering 4G.

Not having a cell phone is a way of getting the world to run on your time. A lot of powerful people are already on to this. Warren Buffett doesn’t use one. Nor does Mikhail Prokhorov, the 45-year-old Russian billionaire who owns the New Jersey Nets. Tavis Smiley doesn’t own one, either.
The Luddites may actually be power brokers

First of all, almost every example in this article is someone who is already a power broker. People need them more than they need other people. If they carry a phone, of course people are going to be calling them constantly. Even the small town dentist has a position of power over his patients. They aren’t going to switch dentists because he doesn’t have a cellular phone. The premise of the article gets the causation wrong. It’s not luddites that are power brokers, it’s power brokers that are luddites.

Even if you are a power broker, should you really get rid of your cellphone? It’s quite a stupid idea if you ask me. Sure, as head of a business you will be able to control when your customers may call you. But what about your family? If there’s an emergency, and you’re unable to be contacts because you are a luddite? That sure will make you think twice. The simple answer is that you should have a phone on you at all times, at least for emergency purposes. If you don’t want to get calls off the hook from customers and such, simply don’t give out the number. It’s that easy.

For those of us who are not already power brokers, refusing to carry a phone will only get people to work on your time as far as their politeness will stretch. It also only works so far as your friends and family are not very spontaneous. If there are things happening, and you are, or could be involved, you will get left out if you can not be contacted. You’ll be relying on the politeness of others to go out of their way to accommodate your phone refusal.

Personally, I have completely stopped accommodating this. My friends all have phones, but they often don’t answer promptly. Other times, they let the battery run out. If I’m about to go out to eat dinner, and I call someone with an invite, a non-answer is a no answer. If they complain later, it’s their fault for not dealing with their phone properly. If I’m waiting for someone, they’re late, and they don’t respond to calls or SMS, I’ll just leave. When they complain later, I can tell them I waited and called, and they didn’t pick up their phone.

There really is no excuse to not carrying a cellular phone if you can afford it. It should be charged, and within close proximity at all times. You don’t have to always pick it up, but at least look at the caller ID. You might say you would never pick it up during sex, but what if it’s your mom calling at 3AM? That’s almost certainly going to be an emergency situation. You will regret not answering. There’s always something more important.

There’s also the situation where people are depending on you. Take for example the superintendent of my building. Yes, I’m paying him indirectly, but he definitely has a position of power over me. If he didn’t carry a cellphone, and I needed him, I would have to work on his time. However, one time the lady who lives across from me locked herself out of her apartment, and it was almost time for her to take her pills, which were inside. My super does carry and answer his phone, but imagine if he didn’t. By being a luddite you become a great burden to the people around you. You need to already be in a powerful social position in order for people to be willing to accept your burden. The boss of the company can get away with it, but only because his assistant does not.

Carry a phone. Keep it on whenever possible (not theaters and such). Keep it charged. Only give the number to people who you want to be able to contact you at any time. You don’t need to answer every call, but check the ID to make sure you want to hang up before you actually hang up. If you follow these rules you can get the best of both worlds. You won’t have a beeping phone ruining your life with interruptions. You won’t be a burden to those people who really need you. And most of all, you won’t risk being out of touch at those critical moments you will regret missing.

How Fast Should We Play Games?

Lisa Foiles has written a piece for Kotaku suggesting that games should be played slowly. That gamers should experience most or all of what a game has to offer, and burning through a game as quickly as possible is somehow not as good.

It also took me three years to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy – not because I lack the mental competence to read quickly, but because I refused to miss any details and frequently paused to imagine myself in the middle of the action. Tolkien gave me a masterpiece. I wanted to make it last.

I do the same with many video games, spending weeks, even months playing through story and character-driven titles. Hey, I paid good money for these games and the developers spent a lot of time creating these worlds for my enjoyment. I want to get the full experience.

How Fast Should We Play Games?

Obviously, this is a case of different strokes for different folks. If someone likes to play games slowly, then that’s their prerogative. However, I would suggest that almost everybody, except children, should be playing single player games very quickly.

Wait, why not children? Children have nothing better to do. Even if they go to school, they have tons more free time than adults, and no responsibilities. They also have no money. Most children are lucky to have few, if any, video games at all. Pokemon is popular because kids actually have the time to catch them all, as they well should.

Why not multiplayer games? Multi-player games, at least good ones, are basically sports. Unlike a single player game which is a sea of authored content to be unlocked and enjoyed, multi-player games are about competition with other people, not enjoying the scenery. You can play Counter-Strike over and over again with no end, just like you can play Baseball over and over again.

For you adults, why is it good to rush through a single player game as quickly as you can? Why is taking your time and enjoying the scenery not such a good idea?

First of all, the scenery in most games is shit. Take Borderlands for example. The plot missions have all the interesting stuff going on with interesting environments and bad guys. The side missions are boring as all hell. Kill ten skags. Ok, kill these different colored skags. Yeah, they’re all in the same boring desert area where everything is brown. What’s the point? You’re just wasting your time. Just forget your compulsive need to get 100% completion, and only do the good parts of the game.

Someone recently told me a story about how they played Half-Life 2 for the first time,and they found the part with the boat to be interminably boring. I totally understood where they were coming from. The first time I played HL2, I stopped to smell the roses. When I was in that boat I moved very slowly. I killed every bad guy, and tried to find every stash of loot. I did the same then during the driving part. I stopped at every house looking for ammo and health.

Later, when I replayed HL2, I learned my lesson. I didn’t stop. I just put the pedal to the metal, and hauled ass through the vehicle sections as quickly as possible. There is no doubt in my mind that that is how the designers intended for those sections to be played. I mean, you’re trying to save your friends and the world, you better be gunning it! Not only that, but as soon as you start to go fast, the whole area turns into an insanely awesome action movie chase with explosions and jumps galore. If you’ve already played HL2, I suggest loading up the boat section and flooring it to see what I’m talking about. Faster is better.

Lastly, I don’t know about other people, but I don’t have much free time. The vast majority of my time is spend at work, sleeping, and socializing. What little time is left is further reduced by cleaning, running errands, cooking, eating, and generally taking care of life. Oh, and then I spent time on productive side projects like a podcast an such. There’s really not much time for video games in there.

If I were to play a game that took 40 hours to beat, that would eat up all of my video gaming time for months. You might say that’s a really good deal. Sure, if you’re short on cash, then having one game that is fun for a very long time with lots of replay value is good for you. Civilization 5 is coming, that’s the perfect game for you.

The thing is, I have money. I have so many unbeaten, or even unplayed, video games on my plate I can’t even remember them all. That doesn’t even include the insane number of free or cheap indie games that are available on the PC, or old classic games I’ve bought on Steam, or multiplayer games I still need to practice more often. I’ve still got unbeaten and unplayed Wii games, and I can’t even remember the last time I turned on my Wii.

Someone in my situation, and I suspect many gamers are, probably shouldn’t devote all their time to one really long game. If there is a long game you want to play, just burn through to the end as quickly as you can. You’ll experience the best parts of the game and skip by the parts that are not as good or necessary. The benefit is that you’ll be able to play a lot more games.

Yeah, I guess there’s something to be said for slowly reading Tolkien over the course of three years. But seriously, If I don’t want to miss anything, I can re-read it. It’s not going anywhere. I could probably read any Tolkien book in a week. At that rate, I could re-read the entire trilogy probably over 30 times in three years. I think re-reading it 30 times will allow me to remember and experience every detail a lot more than reading it once over the course of three years.

But of course, I wouldn’t re-read the same books 30 times. I would read different books. If someone asks what books you have read, and you’ve only read three in the past three years, that’s pretty sad. If you want to be well read, you need to read many books. Variety is the spice of life.

What’s better, experiencing every single insignificant detail and side quest of some incredibly long JRPG, or experiencing the best parts of maybe twenty games you could have beaten in that same amount of time?

Life is short. There are zillions of video games at this point, not to even count movies, books, comics, shows, plays, and other entertainment media. You only have so much time to enjoy any of them. Make sure when you invest your time into something, that it’s a good one. If it’s not good, just stop. Your time is more important. If it has good and bad parts, just skip the bad parts. Think about what your time is worth to you before you accept that fetch quest.