I can only speak for myself, and not for others on Twitter, but I told Nitasha that if she apologized, I’d accept it. AND I’VE ACCEPTED IT, FROM HER. I’m publishing our email exchange regarding the apology below, so that we can separate out the issues on the Valley Wag / Gawker “comfort women” topic.
Here are the issues as I see them:
1. There is a Valleywag post with an unfortunate and offensive headline, penned by Nitasha. She apologized, and it’s up to you to accept or not accept the apology. As I wrote above and on Twitter, I’ve accepted her apology.
2. The editorial position at Gawker, per Deputy Editor, Max Read is making jokes about comfort women or Germany’s Joy Division is okay. To quote Max, “We have spent a long time at Gawker making hyperbolic comparisons between the stories we cover and horrible world-historical events; I don’t imagine we’ll stop soon.”
I don’t agree with this editorial position, but I’m not going to waste any more of my time converting Max or Sam Biddle to my point of view. I can only hope that they mature a little bit and see that this kind of rhetoric is offensive and has actual real world damage. I don’t think that this change will happen at Gawker soon, since their policy is to guarantee writers exposure, in exchange for little pay and long hours, and a little piece of their soul each time a headline like the “comfort women” headline is penned.
In the past, I think that Valleywag was done a great job at times exposing the hypocrisy of Sillicon Valley. But I don’t think that they should alienate their readers (and people working at the companies they cover) through mocking the experience / trauma of historical suffering.
3. Is the Gawker comments section the proper place to have a discussion about Gawker’s mistakes?
I think that Twitter, other blogs, and media publications are the right place to have a discussion about this editorial stance. But that’s part of a larger debate.
Email from Nitasha:
Here’s the email I sent Anna earlier, I should have CC’d you as well. I have apologized for the analogy by responding to the commenter you asked me to respond to. Then I apologized again (I had a meeting in between, was offline for a couple hours and just got back.) It was a regrettable decision, which is also why I’ve also promoted the critical comments on the post. You initially said “we’re the nice people on twitter. if you offer an honest apology, we’ll let this go.” It’s your prerogative to not accept my apology, but it was sincere.
Today, I was a little bit incensed about this post from Gawker, comparing a poor dating start-up to Imperial Japan’s war crimes. My position was that the title and first sentence were in very poor taste and insulted the legacy and memory of Chinese and Korean World War II victims (and Filipina and Indonesian victims as well. I apologize for the East Asian-centricness). So, I started tweeting about it, and Nitasha Tiku, the post’s author, asked me to move the conversation to email because Twitter was “an unproductive forum” for this discussion. Similarly, Max Read, an editor at Gawker asked me to reach out to him via email.
I complied and emailed Max and Nitasha and for the purpose of documenting our discussion publicly, I am including our email exchange below. I am happy that Nitasha has apologized, but overall, I’m unhappy with Gawker’s handling of this, and I’ll be more leery of Valleywag in the future (even though I appreciate their posts calling out obnoxious Bay Area behavior). I’ll just allow the emails to speak for themselves.
My initial email:
Okay, Max, you can review our tweets for our take on the post.
So, what is your response? Do you have an apology for the post’s insensitivity?As I already pointed out on Twitter, your own publication calls “satire” a B.S. defense / response, especially when the Internet is upset. Here is a quote from your own Sam Biddle, “‘He calls it “satire.’ The rest of the internet calls it defiantly dumb, insulting garbage.” And for your reference here is the link.
Thank you for emailing. To be clear, I’m not using the “satire defense” here as a Get Out of Jail Free card. I’m saying, we don’t retract satire. I agree that satire doesn’t always land for everyone, as Sam, and Bryan Goldberg, and I, all know. But I don’t think Bryan Goldberg should’ve retracted his Pando Daily story. And I don’t think he needed to apologize.
I can’t and won’t tell Nitasha how she should feel or respond to the writers (in fact, she has apologized here: http://valleywag.gawker.com/i-was-aiming-for-satire-im-very-sorry-that-it-was-offe-1536280603). But I don’t think she has an obligation to do so. We have spent a long time at Gawker making hyperbolic comparisons between the stories we cover and horrible world-historical events; I don’t imagine we’ll stop soon.
Some of those jokes will work and some of them won’t. And to me, the fact that the comment system provides a broad platform for dissent—specifically permanently attached criticism of any length—provides accountability and pushes behavior adjustment in a much greater way than a quick apology and erasure would.
I wasn’t asking for a retraction, but an apology and an acknowledgement that your joke was tasteless and offensive. From perusing the Internet, it appears that Gawker’s policy is to refrain from retracting, unless there is a court order or threat of a law suit.
I do think that your editorial position was wrong to publish this post in this case. I believe had Nitasha’s joke been about Germany’s “Joy Division,” instead of Japan’s “Comfort Women,” you would have nixed the language of her post. I think that you would have been more willing to back down and apologize (and maybe even retract the post) if the Anti-Defamation league had called you out. But instead, Gawker continues to belittle the Chinese and Korean female WWII victims through its “cute joke.”
I have no idea how the editorial process at Gawker works, but I do feel bad for Nitasha. I feel that she made a mistake and has apologized for it to other people on Twitter. At the same time, I feel that Max and Sam Biddle may be preventing her from truly righting her error.
Max’s final (?) response:
My mistake–someone on Twitter was calling for a retraction. I think we’ve reached a point of equilibrium here, and both said our pieces—all I can do is assure you that we would have been just as likely to run a “Joy Division” joke, and probably, honestly, less likely to back down if the ADL had complained. But assurances about hypothetical situations aren’t worth much.
It’s that time of the year again, where I look back and reflect on concerts that I went to over the past year. In 2013, I saw at least 27 bands* perform full sets over the course of 17 shows and 3 music festivals. Since I spent 3 days at my first and last trip to Coachella, I’m going to say that my show attendance was the same, if not more, than 2012.
The year was notable because there were a lot of bands that I saw perform twice in 2013 (Yo La Tengo, Alt-J, Peter Hook, and the Savages). I also got in a fair number of nostalgia acts (Blur, the Postal Service, Peter Hook x 2, Johnny Marr, the Stone Roses, New Order [without Peter Hook], OMD, and Stone Temple Pilots [without Scott Weiland]).
The list format doesn’t work really work any more, so here are my notable shows of 2013:
- The Savages at the Independent – We were supposed to see the Savages full set at Station to Station the night before, but we were running late. We did arrive at S2S in time to catch the last 2 songs and were completely blown away. Before arriving at S2S, we were ambivalent about going to the Independent show the next day, but as soon as we heard them, we decided that we had to go. This show experience was unique in that the band requested absolutely no photography of any kind and for most of the show, the audience complied (no smartphone screens to mar the experience). Their album also ranks in my top 5 of the year.
- Alt-J at Coachella – This band has the bro-iest following ever, but they must be experienced live. Their recorded music doesn’t do their live music justice. This is one of the few Coachella bands that I made a point to see again when they came through the Bay Area.
- The Flaming Lips Halloween Bloodbath at Bill Graham – Wayne Coyne + Carrie + Miley Cyrus + so many beautiful balloons (video link).
- Tame Impala opening for the Flaming Lips on Halloween (and at Coachella) – they were the perfect opener for the Lips and their album from 2012 wins for gradually growing on me over 2013.
- Junip at Bimbo’s – in spite of the drunk concert bros shouting “We love you Jose,” this was my idea of a sonically perfect show, the sound was perfect, the performance was perfect. Even though J did not know who we were going to see, he walked away saying this was probably going to be the best show we saw all year (and I think this was back in June).
Hopefully, I’ll be able to do another write-up next year, but for me, 2014 is the “year of no,” in terms of going out less, so I think my show frequency will fall significantly. Let us hope that the dozen or show shows that I select in 2014 will make for another amazing music year.
*By way of checking my Instagram and Google calender, these were the acts: Arcade Fire, Lorde, Alt-J, Phoenix, Flaming Lips, Tame Impala, Billy Bragg, Savages, Peter Hook, Junip, Stone Temple Pilots (this was not by choice; it was a festival surprise act), Of Monsters and Men, Yo La Tengo, Tamaryn, OMD, Grimes, Bat for Lashes, Janelle Monae, the Postal Service, Johnny Marr, Blur, Stone Roses, Thao Nguyen, Glass Candy, Twin Shadow, Efterklang, and Starfucker.
Today I went to SPUR’s brown bag discussion on “Understanding the Bay Area Housing Market,” featuring presentations from Jon Haveman, Enrico Moretti, and Tim Cornwell. The tl;dr version of the talk is that both the market to rent and the market to buy residential housing are expensive due to: 1. runaway job growth (fueling the demand side) and 2. a regulatory (hello, CEQA!) and permitting process that drives up the price of developing new housing (constricting the supply side).
Professor Moretti of UC Berkeley had some good data points for why prices are rising insanely at the moment. First, even though 20,000 new jobs were created in SF last year, there were only 2,548 new housing permits issued (and this housing hasn’t come on the market yet). The western part of the Bay Area (San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara Counties) are now all above peak employment, so for every new job created, there is new demand for housing. He also explained the multiplier effect of tech jobs, where for every tech job added, 5 additional jobs are created, since they create the demand for local services which employ teachers, nurses, lawyers, taxi drivers, waitress, sales clerk, etc.
Tim Cornwall, who does a lot of real estate modelling, explained where we might be in 5 years. The current 5-year pipeline for Bay Area housing has 70,000 new units to rent (9% of the existing inventory) and 56,000 new units for sale (6% of the existing inventory). He put up a chart of the 5-year forecast of supply and demand, and the SF supply seemed to be just a smidge below the demand line. However, there were huge gaps between available supply 5 years down the road in San Mateo, Santa Clara, and the urbanized East Bay. The gap for San Mateo and Santa Clara counties was particularly striking to me, because in my head that translates to more shuttles between San Francisco and the South Bay, as more people are pushed up to San Francisco. As someone else blogged (I want to give him/her credit, but I can’t remember who), Google, Facebook, and Apple have no choice but to run shuttles up to SF because Mountain View, Palo Alto, Cupertino, and the entire Peninsula have restrictive planning policies that prevent adequately dense housing for their workers down there.
In terms the East Bay, it has lagged in terms of job creation, but the prices are being run up with the housing spillover from San Francisco. Cornwall has looked at the BART station boarding / exiting data and the run up in East Bay rental prices near BART stops correlates with SF job growth. Right now, Berkeley rentals are about the same as the bottom of the SF market.
Finally, on the issue of demand side prognostication, Cornwall pointed to where Gen Y is in their life stage. Between 2006 and 2013, San Francisco has seen its share of Gen Y’ers and Boomers* go up, whereas those around age 35 leave the city. Right now, Gen Y is perfectly happy in their 20’s renting and having mobility, but as they get married and have children in the next decade, housing demand will change.
*The topic of Boomers wasn’t really discussed today, but I’m thinking these are mildly affluent, empty nester boomers, who are trading in their suburban homes for the convenience and cultural attractions of the city.
Don’t be deceived by Chana Jaffe-Walt’s This American Life / Planet Money piece on Federal Disability
Addendum (3/25/13): Since this was posted two days ago, someone at TAL / PM has made changes to the web supplement. An original version of the story that circulated on the TAL website can be found here. Two instances of the changes are pointed out here and here.
This American Life and Planet Money are two very trusted brands on public radio. On a standard Saturday afternoon, you’ll find me nursing a post-dim sum food coma and folding laundry listening to Ira Glass and friends. I looked to Planet Money to break down the subprime crisis for me into easily digestible nuggets. And I’ve opened my wallet for $10 donations to fund the TAL podcast.
It’s with this sense of trust, that I must now turn to Chana Joffe-Walt’s biased take down of SSDI and SSI for This American Life and Planet money. I read it on my commute to work yesterday at a non-profit that focuses on helping very sick adults with HIV and/or mental health issues obtain access to these benefits. This is a very difficult job and my compensation is pocket change compared to my old big firm law gig, but it’s rewarding in other ways. I’m part of a web of social workers, doctors, nurses, and case managers trying to stabilize the most vulnerable members of our community. My clients do not want to be disabled. Many want to work and work up to the point when their symptoms become too severe for them to continue. The SSA is a bureaucracy, and sometimes, analysts there will miss or ignore key medical evidence, and an appeal can delay a client’s benefits for 3 or 4 years, depending on how many levels of appeal are necessary. Helping these clients get onto SSI/SSDI serves a public health purpose because once they are on benefits, they can work on stabilizing their health and gain access to affordable housing programs. Almost any public interest attorney in my area could tell you what I’m saying in this paragraph (and most people who apply for these benefits, if they are lucky enough to have an attorney at all, rely on public interest attorneys, not private firms). Although Ms. Joffe-Walt said that she’s researched this issue for “6 months” there’s not a quote or a data point from a single public interest / legal aid attorney anywhere in her piece.
A have a lot of little nits to pick with Ms. Joffe-Walt’s print story, but one of the things that irks me the most is the deceptive beauty of its design and layout. “It’s just so pretty, it must be true!” is one of the easy takeaways the standard TAL audience can have from scanning through this piece. It’s so convincing in its simplicity, that I’m worried that the parts of TAL – Planet Money audience who work with my clients will be more hesitant to write letters of support for my clients because they will be too worried about the growth of disability programs in the U.S. As Jeff Deeney pointed out on Twitter, “@planetmoney @itschana Getting benefits for severely mentally ill clients who can’t apply themselves is really hard. You aren’t helping us.”
The most infuriating thing is how Ms. Joffe-Walt groups in the entire 14 million people on SSDI/SSI benefits into one giant, tax dollar sucking mass. She gives them an agency that they do not have. As another person (sorry, I forgot who) pointed out, she writes the following:
But going on disability means you will not work, you will not get a raise, you will not get whatever meaning people get from work. Going on disability means, assuming you rely only on those disability payments, you will be poor for the rest of your life. That’s the deal. And it’s a deal 14 million Americans have chosen for themselves. (Emphasis added). [See addendum above this language been subsequently edited by TAL / PM / HJW].
While there are a few bad apples who are gaming the system out there, the vast majority of the 14 million people receiving these benefits are legitimately disabled and cannot work. Some are dying from fast-advancing cancer. My very own younger sister, who is in her 30’s, receives these benefits because her cognitive age is 2-years-old. 2-years-old! There is no way that she can ever work, let alone be left by herself for a single moment of the day. But because of sloppy and biased reporting like Ms. Joffe-Walt’s (and Fox News), there are members of my extended family who look at my sister as a horrible tax burden on society, rather than as a vulnerable person who cannot fend for herself. My sister did not choose to be born with this brain damage. My clients do not choose to be sick. The agency that Ms. Joffe-Walt ascribes to this group further magnifies the extreme stigma people with disabilities already face.
While my practice does not include children who receive SSI, parents of children with disabilities have an incredibly difficult time obtaining these services. Part of my motivation to practice this area of law stemmed from my single mother’s experience. She struggled to raise us, and my sister did not obtain SSI until she was an adult. My sister never received her rightful childhood benefits because no social worker or lawyer ever guided my mother in that direction when my sister was still a minor. My mother did not know these benefits even existed. This story is much more common than the anecdotes fed to us by Ms. Jaffe-Walt. And Media Matters has done an excellent, detailed debunking of the other Child SSI benefit “facts” in Ms. Jaffe-Walt’s piece.
Also, the disabled in America are one of the most stepped upon groups in our society, and do not make up a nefarious “disability-industrial complex.” There isn’t a strong lobby for parents of disabled children. Every year, there are budgetary fights over cuts to essential programs that help keep disabled people in their homes, instead of ending up in institutions. And the real travesty of SSI is that the resource cap to receive SSI has been set at $2000 for an individual since 1989, and has not been raised or adjusted for inflation since that time. That means that someone on SSI must live a perilous existence, without even the ability to have an emergency fund or to save up enough money for an apartment deposit. They are forced to live check-to-check due to these extremely low resource limits.
Finally, I work in direct services, not public policy in this area, so I will point you to the policy-oriented discussion on this story taking shape on Rebecca Vallas’s Twitter stream. I realize that Twitter is ephemeral, so here are a few tweets to archive on this topic.
This annual round up is just about the only remaining item of consistency on this blog. Over the past few years, the formula for my show-going frequency has followed a pattern of n-3, where n= the number of shows I went to the previous year (i.e. 28 shows in 2010, 25 shows in 2011, and 22 shows in 2012), so my best of list is getting shorter. This post is an amalgam of best shows and interesting things that I saw at shows (through the hazy filter of Instagram, of course).
I started out the concert year in Seoul, where I was very entertained by the innovative coat check at the city’s electronic music festival, and my friend’s friend’s Korean Justice banner. I also made it a point to see a few favorites again (Radiohead, Washed Out), but surprisingly, these shows did not make much of an impression on me. I can’t fault Radiohead; I think that even with floor tickets, the HP Pavilion is not the ideal place to see them. For the first time, I saw a few acts on my “must see” list, the Flaming Lips at the Bridge School Benefit, and Fiona Apple on her Idler Wheel tour, but similarly these do not demand more than a footnote. As J’s sidekick, I also saw a few of his favorite bands, Spiritualized, Animal Collective, and Metallica (where ash and soot from the pyrotechnics had me blowing out black snot from my nose the next day).
Here are the 6 “top,” aka notable shows, of 2012 (from very good to best):
6. M83 at NSSN – I saw M83 twice this year, but I have very little memory of the first time that I saw them at the Fillmore. While a Live 105 show is not my ideal concert experience, they were excellent at NSSN (the true headliner), and like other French electronic bands, they were more of a “jam band,” when performing live.
5. Cat Power at the Fox Theatre – This was the election night party in Oakland. I was pretty surprised by this show because Chan Marshall came out with a cropped, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo cut, instead of her trademark straight across bangs and long-hair. Cat Power’s music was angrier than I expected and matched her look (and perhaps her health and financial woes). Cat Power is crazy; and for her music, this is a good thing.
4. Tamaryn at the Independent – The band’s music is strong and their new album was on heavy rotation in my playlist this year. Live, Tamaryn has the whole moody blond-hair covering her face, midriff bearing aesthetic rocker look down.
3. The Weeknd at the Warfield – I was hooked on the Weeknd the first time that I heard a Flunk sample in one of his songs. Seeing him live, I am convinced that he’s the next Michael, the next Prince, and that this was the last chance to see him in a non-arena sized venue. J commented that R&B shows were weird because the audience was a sea of smartphone video screens for the duration of the show. His opener, Nosaj Thing, was the best opener of the year, and someone that I look forward to seeing again.
2. Philip Glass, Tim Fain, and Joanna Newsom at the Warfield (benefit show for the Henry Miller Library) – The most civilized show of the year; a seated show at the Warfield. My favorite part was Glass’s performance of this work, featuring Allen Ginsberg:
1. Pulp at the Warfield – Back when I saw them in April, I knew that this would be number 1, since it is easily one of my top 5 concerts ever. So, I did a full write-up to memorialize the experience back then.
Overall, I’m a bit surprised that the top 3 slots were very different acts at the same venue, the Warfield. Then again, the Warfield’s similarity in terms of layout, age, and beauty to the Fox Theatre in Oakland, highlights how atrociously bad the sound system is at the Fox. Every year, I vow to not see shows at the Fox, since they manage to make great bands sound terrible, but I find myself back at the Fox for a show or two. My concert-going wish for 2013 is that the Fox puts some money into upgrading / fixing their sound.
‘Til next year, EC
Even though I concur that Starbucks coffee tastes burnt, I’ve never been as down on Starbucks as other coffee snobs are wont to do. But my jaw drop 15 minutes ago when I learned that Starbucks is about to purchase the local La Boulange empire for $100 million. Part of me worries that Starbucks will mess with it, the same way it shuttered Torrefazione Italia, which used to make a pretty good latte. But the huge thing that jumped out at me was what this means for Starbucks’ real estate holdings in SF.
The La Boulange web is everywhere in the City, from the Crocker Galleria Farmer’s Market to the original location on Pine St. Starbucks will now own all of these. For some locations, such as Pac Heights, or the FiDi, or Laurel Village, this won’t matter much, because Starbucks already has a presence in the neighborhood. But there are bunch of locations, including Hayes Valley, Cole Valley, and the Lower Haight, that have fought a little bit harder to preserve their neighborhood character and to keep Starbucks out. In one stroke, Starbucks now has a toe-hold in these ‘hoods. I must admit that this is a huge coup for Starbucks, but it’s akin to Amazon buying out Amoeba records.
Addendum: Business people used to always cite La Boulange / Bay Bread as an example of a local business hurt by San Francisco’s anti-chain ordinance. This purchase shows how attractive a local chain can be to a major national corporation, looking to make their way into SF. There’s nothing stopping McDonald’s from purchasing the SF Soup Company.
Addendum 2: I completely forgot to list North Beach on the list above of anti-Starbucks neighborhoods, but a comment on this InsideScoop piece reminded me of this notable omission.
Normally, I save my concert reviews for year-end one-sentence summaries. But by the time December comes around, my memory grows hazy, and it’s hard to reconstruct my feelings about a show based on a single Flickr upload. I’m breaking from routine, and giving Pulp a full review now because I’m pretty sure that last night’s show will garner the top spot on my 2012 Best Show list.
Last fall, when Portishead played the Greek, I was pretty ready to retire from show going because I thought there was nothing left. Essentially, if I got to see Radiohead live every two years or so, I thought that I’d be happy. Well, I was wrong. For my birthday, J got me general admission Radiohead tickets for last week’s show at HP Pavilion, and for a few weeks, I was happy. Then, I missed the Pulp ticket sale by an hour, and walked away empty handed when I acted on a rumor and tried the Warfield box office that night.
I checked Stubhub and Craiglist religiously and one of my friends added me to a “Help everyone get to see PULP at the Warfield!” group on Facebook, and in the end, everything worked out. J’s roommate ended up having a pair of extra tickets, and I let out a squeal of delight when she nonchalantly offered them to me without knowing of my quest.
Thus, even before yesterday’s show, I was pretty psyched. I spent an entire hour clockwatching while sitting through a lecture on Biophilic cities right before the show. And for once, the show, ended up exceeding my keyed up expectations.
Jarvis Cocker, at age 48, may be the best showman that I’ve EVER seen. He likely arranged the opening green laser messages that added up to the build up of the band coming on stage. He read out facts about Isak Dineson, whose birthday was yesterday. He threw out to the audience a book of poetry that he bought at City Lights that afternoon. He handed a beer to someone in the front audience, and told them to share it. He did this again with a couple of glasses of wine (Greg, who patiently waited hours to secure a front spot, deservedly got one of these glasses). But most of all, in playing Pulp’s hits, he alternated from a writhing dorky-sexy rockstar to a guide who gently coaxed me to re-live my awkward adolescence in verse. He owned the entire audience.
Yesterday’s show also answered the mystery of why I hadn’t seen Pulp live before. The last time they played in San Francisco was at Bimbo’s when I was in high school. I wasn’t even old enough back then to make it through ID check.
The concert gods have blessed the Bay Area this week. Pulp matched Radiohead’s two-plus-hour set with double encores, with their own two-hour set with double encores, albeit shorter double encores. By the end, Jarvis sweated through his dress shirt a la Morrissey and looked a bit misshapen as he performed Misshapes. But everyone left smiling as they sweetly ended with Pulp’s earliest song.
This movie made me cry.
This movie made my friend Angela turn to me and say, “This is the saddest movie of all time.”
This movie made me respond with, “This movie is sadder than the film that J picked the night before.”
This movie made me relive all of the time that I spent with my grandmother at her assisted living facility, and later, hospice.
But in many ways, this movie wasn’t sad. You know from the outset that if a old woman has a stroke and goes into a nursing home, she’s not going to last to the end of the movie, so death doesn’t come as a shock. Instead, this was a movie about respecting one’s elders. A movie a about human dignity. In so many ways, this movie was the opposite of The Help. After the family maid, Ah Tao, becomes ill and has to retire, she’s not forgotten. Instead, her longtime employer, Roger, who she raised from birth, becomes her god son and visits her at her nursing home and makes her his red carpet date to a film premier. Both Roger and Ah Tao are two of the humblest characters ever. Roger is played by Andy Lau, who is Hong Kong’s equivalent to George Clooney, and his character is a film producer, but he dresses so casually that he’s mistaken for an air conditioning repairman. Likewise, Ah Tao winds up in the nursing home not because Roger wants to put her there, but because she wants to go there, as to not burden him.
This wasn’t a spectacular film (even though it swept Hong Kong’s Film Awards this week), but it was an honest film.* I don’t think that a similar project could get green lighted in the States, since American audiences don’t like to dwell on one’s possible decline from limping about to being strapped into a wheelchair. But for anyone who doesn’t flinch from aging or caring for aging parents or grandparents, I’d recommend this film.
*”Honest” deserves some qualification here. Angela did remark that this movie made its main characters too saintly, too perfect.
Last week, I went to see Professors Zittain and Lessig in conversation about the Dilemmas of Open Knowledge at the Harvard 375 roadshow in San Francisco. In response to a question about data and consumer privacy, Zittrain added on to the old maxim that if you were getting something for free online, you were paying for it with your data. Now, he said, even if you were paying for a service, a company was likely making money with your data too.
I’ve been thinking about Zittrain’s words all day following the Insta-Facebook announcement. One of the reasons that I like Instagram is that I hate giving my data to Facebook. I recognize the utility of Facebook as my de facto digital address book and as an event notifier, but I feel powerless when it comes to my data on Facebook. Even though I wiped out bands and movies that I like from Facebook years ago (I’m thinking it has been at least 4 years since I “deleted” this info), I still get Facebook ads related to this old data. And I hate that even though I disabled publishing of location and status tags on Facebook, my friends and family report additional data about me to Facebook. Even if it’s “private,” Facebook still knows it. Even if I hit ignore, Facebook still knows it.
Thus, I embrace Facebook alternatives, and I’m saddened when Facebook acquires these alternatives. With Beluga, I was sad because it was highly functional, and Facebook shut it down to force me to use Facebook messaging instead (I resisted). With Friendfeed, I nuked my own account. And now, as the Atlantic has posed, the billion dollar question is, “Will Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram cause an exodus?“
For now, I’m not nuking my Instagram account / app from my phone, because there simply isn’t a good alternative that I can think of off the the top of my head. Harking back to Zittrain’s words at the beginning of this post, one of the very few web services that I pay for is Flickr Pro, but given all of the churn at both Flickr and Yahoo lately, I have no idea what’s going with my data over there. Now, I mainly view Flickr as my backup for old family photos should an earthquake destroy all of our albums.* I swore off Picasa years ago because Google creeps me out as much as Facebook. So, I now feel that when it comes to posting photos online, I’m homeless. The only photo houses available are rigged with CCTV cams inside, so what am I to do?
*My backup method does not feel foolproof to me given Yahoo’s recent woes. I constantly worry about Yahoo sunsetting Flickr.