2016 Year in Review

With another year gone by, I'm again sharing a few reflections on how 2016 went. (Previously: 2015, 2014, 2011.)

New house, staying in Indiana

Sky TrainWith a big shift in my wife's professional life and an intentional wrapping up of most of my local commitments that required regular attendance at in-person meetings, this year found me as physically untethered to the city of Richmond, Indiana as I've been since I first came here in 1995. We spent much of the year asking whether we should stay, or take the opportunity to explore living in new places outside of the U.S. midwest. (Someone even started a rumor that we'd already moved away.) I reflected a lot on why I've stayed in Richmond this long, what we'd be giving up if we did go, and what we'd gain by living somewhere else.

There are changes happening locally and regionally that concern us, and there are times we want our daughter to have more diverse experiences than we can find in Richmond, so we know we'll keep considering these questions. But we decided that our wonderful community of friends and family, the difference we feel like we can make locally, and the opportunities we still have to see and live in other parts of the world all added up to staying in Richmond right now.

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Beyond Tweetstorming

It seems "tweetstorming" - using a series of tweets on Twitter to share commentary that requires more space than a single tweet can hold - has become a thing.

For those of us who have been using various web tools to publish online for many years now without any notable space constraints, it's a puzzling trend to say the least. Why would you put your thoughts in a format and on a platform that was not at all designed for longer form writing, makes it hard for others to link and respond, and risks a loss of ownership or availability of that content later on (for starters)? I've expanded on these concerns in posts like Owning our digital homes, and made light of them in my own tweets.

But we know that the most elegant and flexible practices don't always win out over ones that are popular or compelling in other ways. So I'm trying to resist the temptation to be entirely dismissive of tweetstorming, especially as I see people call out why they prefer it over blogging: they're more likely to follow up on a conversation on Twitter than they are to check back on an individual blog's comment thread, they like the immediacy and wide distribution of Twitter, they like being able to respond to single thoughts one tweet at a time, and so on.

That said, I still see tweetstorming as a disconcerting trend for the realm of publishing and discussion online. In a time where we need more clarity of thinking, constructive dialog and interactions that don't shy away from details, nuance and truth-seeking, tweetstorms seem like a move in the wrong direction.

So what to do about it?

Continue reading Beyond Tweetstorming

Tired of Cancer

My friend Carol Hunter died this past Sunday morning at the age of 68, of cancer.

I wrote to her recently about how much her teaching and life have meant to me:

I think the third term of Humanities during my first year at Earlham was the most time we ever spent together, gathering in the Meetinghouse Library four days a week to talk about the works of Willa Cather, Anzia Yezierska, Amílcar Cabral, Basil Davidson, Ayi Kwei Armah and others. I remember the gentle but persistent way you encouraged us to think, to organize our thoughts, and to share them in mature and helpful ways. I remember your way of talking of really hard things about the nature of the world - historical and modern alike - with a tone that was serious but encouraging. And I remember your overall kindness as a professor...I want to thank you for the life that you have lived, the challenges to heart and mind that you laid down for your students, and the ways you have shaped the rest of us through your time in this community and the way you have been as a family. I am grateful to you and for you.

My friend Roland Kreager died on May 28 of this year at the age of 65, of cancer. His obituary only begins to paint a picture of what a kind, active, generous, loving soul he was. He worked hard to create a world that was more just and equitable. Roland surprised me often with his ability to find good and hope within complex situations, even horrible ones. Even within his experience of cancer.

I can only hope to have a small piece of both Carol's and Roland's tremendous perspective on life as I grieve their deaths and feel anger and sadness at how quickly and profoundly a world can be turned upside down by illness.

Unfortunately this particular kind of anger and sadness is not new to me, or to many other people.

And it feels like cancer is everywhere.

Continue reading Tired of Cancer

Hope in the dark

The election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence is horrifying in so many ways, and it will take days, weeks, years to process and understand the implications for our country, and for my own life and community. I have renewed fear for the health and safety of the many people who Trump has attacked, denigrated and vilified in his life and campaign, especially women. I am deeply concerned about the damage that could be done in the years ahead.

But we also know that this outcome is not an accident. It is the very predictable result of living in a world where consideration of the facts and what is true has become inessential to public life. It is the expected product of a political system that exists to feed the beast of insecurity, consumption, fear and disempowerment. It is what happens when we fight our way through crucial conversations instead of listening to each other, when we focus on what we are against instead of what we are for. It is a natural -- if significant and very unwelcome -- stop-over on a path that we have been on for a very long time.

Where do we go from here? Where do I go from here?

  • Grieve.
  • Locally, work to protect the people and communities who are at risk of further harm from a Trump presidency.
  • Regionally and nationally, work to minimize the damage that can be done.
  • Replace "clicktivism" with real movements and real strategies.
  • Get clear on where our personal tipping points are for taking real action.

As someone who has long held the belief that words of truth have the power to facilitate the changing of minds in significant ways, I personally also need to wrestle more with what this election outcome means for the relevance of language in shaping national events.

Continue reading Hope in the dark

For/Against

The people who I see making the most progress in community building (at any level) are the ones who can effectively articulate the things that they are working toward, what they're for, and then get other people excited about different ways to make that happen.

The people who I see doing the most damage to community building efforts are the ones who only seem able to talk about the things they are against.

Maybe you recognize these different profiles?

For...

  • Is usually dreaming about ways to make something better
  • Celebrates existing strengths and accomplishments as a foundation to build on
  • Understands possibilities for the future, describes them well
  • Lets their ideas evolve as they get feedback
  • Connects with stakeholders and figures out how to help
  • Engages through questions, observation and collaboration

Against...

Continue reading For/Against

Mini book reviews

It's been a good year of reading so far. Here are some mini-reviews of what I've been taking in. As always I’ve linked to an online purchase option (with a small referral fee coming to me if you actually buy), but please consider buying from your locally-owned bookseller or visiting your local library first.

Purity: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen

I hadn't read any of Franzen's work before picking this up, but I'm planning to now. Purity's storyline takes on several generations of culture, world events and political-technological evolution while remaining a very personal and rich study of a few particular relationships. I enjoyed the way journalism, social media and other tools of the digital age were woven into the plot without becoming perfunctory. Some parts of the book felt a bit rambling or under-developed, but overall I found the writing to be really compelling and the book as a whole a moving and rewarding read.

Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Startup Bubble by Dan Lyons

I have to pace myself when it comes to reading "insider looks at life in Silicon Valley" books. Partly because I spend my professional life working in tech and I don't always want to read about the tech industry for fun, and partly because it seems like too many of those books are thrown together to create a quick payday and/or ego boost for the author, without a lot of substance to make them worthwhile.

When I saw Dan Lyons` book I thought the concept sounded interesting and fun: "old media" journalist tries to join in the "new media" tech world, hilarity ensues. I also thought it would be interesting to learn more about HubSpot; I've been hearing about the company years now but I could never quite understand why what they did was of any value. So I dived in.

Continue reading Mini book reviews