First Morning

It was the morning after the first night that he had stayed at her place. She awoke to the sound of dishes clanking against something. She was alone in her bed and in her room. She always had anxiety on mornings like this. Is he going to turn out to be a total psycho? Is he out there loading all of her earthly possessions into bags to pawn off somewhere? When she opened the door, would he be brandishing a knife in her direction?

Given the sound of running water, it seemed more likely that he was doing the dishes. But why jump to conclusions?

Sure enough, when she opened the door, he was standing in front of the sink, rinsing off her dishes and putting them into the dishwasher. No knife-brandishing. Yet.

She had expected him to turn to face her at the sound of the door opening, but then she saw that he had a pair of earbuds, on a chord that went down to an iPod nano snapped on the outside of his pants. He was moving a little to the music and hummed pieces of whatever he was listening to. She thought she recognized it, and walked over to confirm.

Hunching over, she looked at the screen. She wrinkled her nose in displeasure. She had the song right—Sweet Dreams—but it was the Marlyn Manson cover. He noticed her there and flinched in surprise at someone’s face staring at his hip.

“Good morning down there,” he said, taking out his earbuds.

“Marlyn Manson?” She asked, leveling him with her most judgmental face. An easy grin spread on his face.

“I flirted with metal when I was in college,” he explained unapologetically, “I didn’t get very deep into it, but I still like the stuff I listened to back then. Is this grounds for kicking me out?”

“It is definitely grounds for kicking you out,” she said in mock-sternness, “but you woke up early and did my dishes for me, so I guess I’ll look the other way this time.”

“What do you like?” he asked, turning off the water and drying his hands.

“Good music.” this got a laugh from him.

“Every genre exists because someone thinks it’s good,” he pointed out, “I’ve never really been as into music as a lot of people I know. I’m the kind of person who starts to get into something when I can see what it is that people I like can see in it. I had a few friends in college that were really into metal.”

“I just don’t really see what anyone could really…see in it,” she replied, “as far as I can tell it’s all screaming, and doesn’t require a whole lot of talent.” He looked pensive for a moment.

“Here, let me play something for you,” he said, messing with his iPod to get the song he had in mind. When he had it, he offered her one of the earbuds, which she peered at with visible skepticism. “I promise you there is zero screaming, it isn’t even loud.”

“OK…I will kick you out if you’re lying,” she threatened, taking the earbud. As he said, it wasn’t loud and there was no screaming. It was even a little pretty, she had to admit, if a little too pop for her taste. When it was over, she said, “OK, that was kind of nice. But not metal. What was it?”

“Through Glass, and the singer is Corey Taylor,” he explained, “also known as the lead singer of Slipknot.”

“What?” She blanched, “Really?”

“Yeah. This isn’t Slipknot though; it’s Stone Sour, the other band he’s in. Just wanted to make the point that a lot of these guys can sing in the way you mean, they just choose to do things the way they’re expected to in a metal band.”

“That’s even weirder. But interesting,” She admitted.

“I don’t know too much about it, just something I noticed,” he said.

“Well I know a lot,” she boasted, “at least, about good music.”

“Why don’t you show me some of this good music of yours?” He challenged her with a smirk.

“Gladly.”

They spent the remainder of their first morning together listening to some of her favorite songs. They talked about them and about the time in her life when she had listened to them, and what he had been doing then. They ribbed each other and laughed about it.

All in all, the best first morning either of them had had.

The Punch

Serena had been beating up on bullies for picking on her kid brother for as long as she could remember. She was always the tomboy and the tough girl; the pretty dresses her mother picked out for her when she was little quickly got muddy and shredded. Though from a more traditional background, her mom eventually began to include pants and t-shirts in her daughter’s wardrobe. If she had to crawl in the dirt, at least she wouldn’t expose herself.

She never had large groups of friends; it was always one or two good guy friends, who usually were somewhat fascinated and more than a little intimidated by her. She was tough. And she knew it.

When she was in fourth grade, some sixth grader boys were hassling her brother. It was the usual playground fare, nothing especially vicious—just walking uncomfortably close, calling him names, giving him little shoves. She had gone up and given the biggest of them a bloody nose. She could still remember the embarrassed tears that ran down his face as his friends stared in shock and then ran away.

There had only been a couple more incidents after that over the years, but she always came out on top. The worst was her sophomore year in high school; some guys who had grown up with them had decided that now was the point in the developmental process where they had the edge over some girl. They jumped her brother and gave him a real beating, not the chest-thumping posturing that the earlier incidents had mostly been comprised of.

She had never been so angry, and this was a girl with a famously short fuse. Mixed in was a great deal of guilt over the knowledge that this had just been to get at her.

There were three boys involved; three was the bare minimum a group of boys needed to be for them to become cumulatively stupider and bigger assholes than they were individually. They were sure that, being boys, being bigger than her, and outnumbering her, she wouldn’t stand a chance. But they had no real experience at fighting, and they hadn’t expected her to march up to them so confidently and cold-clock one of them. When the other two grabbed her, she elbowed the one on her right in the face, dislocating her jaw. The rest of the encounter did not go much better for them.

The extent of their injuries was so great that she was suspended, and the only thing that saved her from expulsion was the cruelty the boys had displayed in the initial incident. After that, her parents thought it might be a good idea to homeschool for the rest of her high school years. This had allowed them to take the trip to Paraguay for her father’s research.

A choice that had led them to their predicament.

You can understand, then, why she would react the way that she did. Even though the opponent was not a teenage boy or a boy at all; even though he was a professional with combat experience and physical strength she couldn’t imagine approaching. When she saw Sabueso fall helplessly to the ground, her instincts as a lifelong older sister kicked in, and she threw the punch before her brain had time to reconsider.

Having seen the two of them going at it, she could tell, for the first time, how clumsy her punch was. She was sure that he would dodge it easily and then tear her in half. Instead, he stayed right where he was. And it was so much worse.

When her fist met his face, it felt like a thousand burning needles rushed up her arm at lightning speed. She cried out immediately. She had never been in so much pain in her entire life. She knew, right away, that she had broken her hand, and probably her wrist. Would she ever be able to use it properly again?

But…but to her utter astonishment, she knocked Jack flat on his back. The look on his face mirrored the shock she felt; there is no way a good punch from her should have been strong enough to accomplish this feat, much less a punch so sloppy that it had broken her hand!

“One of us…how?” He stammered, but he had wasted far too much time already. Sabueso had grown up in an environment where hesitation almost always meant either injury or having to go hungry. He was already up before Jack had hit the ground, and his prey’s fate was already sealed the moment he had let down his guard.

On Bets and Bullshit

Speaking of conversations, the economics blogosphere has recently erupted with a discussion that has been ongoing, at a much slower pace, for years. The subject is the effect of making a bet upon the kinds of claims one is likely to make. One side finds it inherently desirable to wager on your beliefs because it makes you put your money where your mouth is, discourages vagueness, and so on. The other side thinks the impact of this bet is overstated and perhaps even negative.

For my own purposes I’d like to collect the pieces of the conversation that I have managed to witness in one place.

Here we go:

What I love about this is how wonderful an illustration it is of the nature of conversations like these, which have existed long before blogs and the Internet and computers. None of the participants treat the subject as though it is occurring in a vacuum; all make reference to the larger conversation, making it easier for new spectators and participants to join in when encountering just one piece of it.

Finding the Right Conversations with the Right Information Diet

Rethinking my information diet has been an ongoing process for me since I read the book last year. A few months ago the approach I had arrived at was to completely chop off the head of the tail from my RSS feeds. This was much more of a relief than I had expected it to be, and I found that with the extra time and head-space, I could dig even deeper into the long tail.

But there were still things I liked about reading sites like The Verge. So I thought I could just check them a couple of times a day; the very thing that made them terrible to subscribe to—the fact that they would update dozens of times a day—meant I was unlikely to waste time going to a site that hadn’t updated since the last time I had been there.

This didn’t quite work for me either, though. A couple of things happened to get me to my current routine, which I’m pretty happy with.

First, I’ve been consciously controlling the amount of time I spend navigating the web and consuming short form content. I think it’s better to focus on something for long periods—whether it’s reading a book or essays, or writing, or even playing a video game—and then take in the web in controlled bursts.

The second thing that happened is that I started searching for a job back in April (and found one). A job search in the digital ad industry is very different in Manhattan than it was in DC. I talked to many different sorts of places, from publishers to data management platforms to ad networks. I learned a lot about the industry during the process, and realized that a lot more was going on than I had been aware of.

So when I started at Tapad, I decided to keep up with industry news.

Now, I don’t think that industry news is different from any other kind of news. But it keeps track of conversations that people in the industry are having about where things are headed. This does not mean that it provides any special insight into such matters. But it gives me a window into what people are talking about, right now, and helps me participate in that conversation.

A great deal of finding satisfaction in our relationship with the web and with technology is finding conversations that interest us, and people we enjoy having those conversations with. I’ve come to realize that an information diet is not just about what you consume but what conversations you want to pay attention to and participate in.

like being a part of the conversations we’re having now about the role of technology in our lives, among many others. As such, I’ve brought the head of the tail content like The Verge, TechCrunch, and Boing Boing back into my information diet along with industry focused publications like AdExchanger, Ad Age, and AdWeek. However, I approach them in a much more controlled way than my long tail content.

I’ve found that Flipboard is a great way to accomplish this. There’s no unread count to stress out about. The UI is very pleasant and well designed. Each week day, before I leave for work, I spend about half an hour going through the latest from these publications. And that’s it. I don’t look at it again for the rest of the day. If someone on Twitter links to something from them that looks particularly interesting, I might click through. Often, I’ll just wait until the next day’s flipping.

Blogging has been an important way that I participate in the conversations that interest me for almost nine years now. That’s what the blogosphere is, really–a series of conversations overlapping to greater or lesser extent. It is part of a far more enormous digital conversation space which includes Twitter, Facebook and various other social media, chat clients, forums, and email.

It’s possible to have a healthy relationship with information. It starts with the question: what conversations do you want to be a part of?

A Second Chance

Her parents’ townhouse felt much smaller practically the first time she had visited after going away to college. So when Sarah got home from her internship every afternoon that summer, she would sit in the park across the street and read until dinner time. The park was the best thing about the old neighborhood; a small playground and field surrounded by townhouses on all four sides. It had been a wonderful place to grow up.

Someone was already in the bench she always sat in. As she approached, she realized with trepidation that it was Mark. She had heard that he had returned a few weeks ago, but this was the first time she’d seen him. She stood there, awkwardly for a moment, unsure of what she wanted to do.

He had been staring in front of him; whether at the kids playing in the playground or simply into space, she couldn’t say. He glanced at her and recognition was in his eyes, and then guilt. He looked back away. “Hey Sarah,” he said quietly, his voice hoarse. He glanced at the book in her hand. “Want me to leave so you can read?”

She looked him over as she considered this offer. He was unshaven and uncharacteristically pale. She had no desire to talk to him, after the way he had treated her and his family. But she had heard bits and pieces of what had happened to him, and part of her did feel sorry for the guy.

“No…you can stay, don’t worry about it,” she sighed. She sat across the bench from him, and began to read. Or tried to. They sat there in silence for what felt like an eternity but was probably no more than ten minutes before Sarah decided it was pointless to keep trying to read the same page over and over. “How are you?” she asked tentatively. He seemed mildly surprised that she had spoken.

“I’m OK,” He replied in a valiant but failed attempt to seem sincerely fine.

“Needed a little air?” she prodded.

“I needed to get out,” he conceded.

“It must be tough being back with you parents after so long,” she said. It must be hard living with people who know how badly you screwed up, is what she thought, but she hoped it didn’t come across. She wasn’t sure what she thought of him any more, but she didn’t really have any desire to antagonize him.

“No, they’ve been great,” he said, and this time his words had the ring of actual sincerity, “it’s more like…I need to start getting back out. I can’t hide behind them for the rest of my life.” Now she felt guilty. The guy was going through something. It was true that it was a situation of his own making, but he seemed to be really facing it.

“I get that,” she said, feeling herself relax a bit, “I’ve been coming out after work because these houses just don’t seem as big as they were when we were kids.” She smirked a bit, and was pleased to get a polite chuckle from him.

They sat in silence again for a few minutes, though a more comfortable one than the last.

“I’m sorry,” he said at last, his raspy voice barely above a whisper. She didn’t say anything to that, so he continued, “I’m sorry for the way I was to you.”

“What do you want me to say to that?” She asked coldly, suddenly remembering that he had been an asshole and he did make the stupid decisions that brought him to his present pitiful state.

“You don’t have to say anything,” he said, “I just want you to know that I know what I did, and I know it was shitty. And that I’m sorry. I’ve known you my whole life, and I treated you like a nuisance when you were trying to look out for me. I blew you off like you were nothing, when you’re the only good friend I’ve ever had. I’m not asking for anything, I just want you to know, I haven’t forgotten that I treated you like shit.”

She let out a long sigh, not looking at him.

“You fucked up,” she agreed.

“I fucked up a lot of things,” he said seriously.

“How did you think it was going to end?” she found herself asking in spite of herself, “How long did you think you could keep living like that?”

“I didn’t think,” he answered honestly, without missing a beat, “I ignored things like the future entirely. When I couldn’t ignore them, I drank until I could. But I was drunk most of the time, so it usually wasn’t a problem.”

“Oh Mark,” she said, sounding more sympathetic than she had meant to.

“You and my parents have always had your heads on your shoulders,” he went on, “mine was always somewhere up my ass. You know that!” she smiled in spite of herself.

“Now I feel like I’ve woken up and everything everyone else was seeing is so damn obvious,” he said miserably, “it’s like I’ve opened up a set of eyes that I didn’t even realized were closed, only it’s too late because we already crashed the…” he choked on his words and stopped.

“I keep crying,” he told her, looking away and blinking back tears, “even at the stupidest, most random moments. My sponsor said that that’s pretty common, at moments like these.”

She put her hand on his. He looked at her, surprised. She wanted to say that he had fucked up, but she was still his friend and she still cared. But she couldn’t quite find the words.

Fortunately, she didn’t have to.

“Thank you,” he said quietly, and meant it.