The Thankfulness Trap

We’re frequently exhorted to be thankful for what we have. “You have a roof over your head, a refrigerator full of food, and a gaggle of gadgets and streaming services, what more could you want?” Our guilt over our discontent soon becomes a new source of discontent, spawning a new set of desires: maybe what we need is community or a sense of purpose or Enlightenment. Of course our inability to be happy no matter how much material comfort we have has been remarked upon throughout history.

An open letter to Senator Ron Wyden

Dear Senator Wyden, We spoke several times when I was a reporter for Wired magazine about net neutrality and technology policy topics. But today I’m writing to you in my capacity as a citizen of the world. I have rarely reached out to your office outside my role as a journalist because you are usually on the right side of history. But this Veteran’s Day, I’m writing to ask you to support a more substantial and sustained humanitarian pause in Gaza and expanded humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Empathy, Relief, Fear, Guilt

Note: I originally sent this to my newsletter February 2, 2019. I sent it again in May, 2020 following 36,000 news media employees, including me, losing their jobs amidst the pandemic. I sent it once again in May, 2023 with the following preamble: Newsroom layoffs have been in the news again. Buzzfeed announced they will layoff 15% of their staff and shutter the entire Buzzfeed News division (though some news employees might be hired to work at HuffPo, which Buzzfeed acquired last year), while Insider laid off 10%.

Warped Edge

Warped Edge is a graphic novella that I created with artist Ben Armstrong. You can read the first 13 pages of the script: in LibreOffice format or PDF.

On Writing Process

Some journalists have a strict writing process. I don’t. I just start writing wherever I can. Many journalists like to start with what’s called the “lede,” which is an intentional misspelling of “lead” and basically means “introduction.” Others like to start with the “nut graf,” which is the paragraph that explains the point of a story in a nutshell. (“Graf” is another intentional misspelling. Journalists use a lot of these.)

A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History

I read A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by Manuel DeLanda earlier this year. I’d worried that it might not hold up 20 years after its initial publication. The idea of applying systems theory to social science is no longer novel, and I’ve read DeLanda’s markets and antimarkets essays, so I wondered whether it was worth reading or if I’d be better served plodding through Fernand Braudel’s _Civilization and Capitalism_ (one of DeLanda’s primary sources).

Trust Fragments

I’ve been thinking about Ethan Zuckerman’s paper on the roots of the crisis in trust in journalism. Zuckerman connects the bottoming out of trust in the media with the loss in faith in institutions in general, including the government, labor unions, schools, and big business. It asks more questions than it answers, which is fine. Figuring out the right questions is the first step. But he only hints at one of the biggest questions of all, which is: what happens if we can’t restore faith in the instituions that our civilization is built upon?

How to Be a Mindful Cyborg

This is the talk I prepared for the Sunday Assembly in Portland, Oregon last February. The actual talk diverged quite a bit from this, but since it wasn’t recorded, this is the closest approximation to what went down that exists.

I’m supposed to talk to you about coping with 21st century technology without losing your mind. But you may notice that I’m all nervous and fidgety. That’s not just stage freight. It’s the way I am. I’m not some serene zen master. I’m not here because I’m a master of calm usage of technology. I’m here because I started experimenting with this stuff because I desperately strategies for coping with tech myself.

These days I’m feel pretty worn down by being online all the time. I’ve been on the Internet since 1995, when I was 13 years old. I got my first smartphone in 2002, the day I turned 21 years old. So it’s not that I haven’t grown up with these technologies. I’m basically a digital native. I’m just really tired.

I’m a tech journalist. I work online. I don’t really have the option to stop using the Internet, or give up my smartphone, or to stop using social media, because they’re not only part of what I report on, but part of how I do my job. Giving up having a cell phone or the Internet is, for many of us, a choice between being employed or being unemployed. Giving up social media is a choice between staying in touch with friends and family and barely ever hearing from them at all. For a lot of us, unplugging isn’t really an option, so we have to learn to live with this stuff.

So that was part of why I co-founded the podcast Mindful Cyborgs, though I don’t host it anymore, perhaps I can share some of what I’ve learned. But I’m not a guru. I don’t have anything to sell you. My goal is not to fix your life, but to talk about the ways I try to manage my own, in hopes that some of my experiences will be useful to you. I’m just here to give you things to contemplate.

So with that in mind, let’s dig in. I’m sure many of you are wondering what a “mindful cyborg” is since I’ve promised to talk about how to be one. But first I want to clarify what I’m NOT talking about.

I’m not talking about John Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness based stress relief work. I’m not talking about UCLA’s school of mindfulness. I’m not talking about cognitive behavior therapy or any branch of Buddhism. I kind of wish we’d called the podcast something different, because the word “mindful” is such a loaded term. In fact, I’m not sure I’m talking about “mindfulNESS” at all. I might just be talking about being mindful, without the “ness” part. The Oxford dictionary defines mindful as, simply, “Conscious or aware of something.” This is the sense in which I use the word. Not merely being aware of your breath, or whatever, but of being aware of many different things.

Again, I’m not great at this. Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a tendency to zone out and day dream. I get distracted easily. I fidget. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but there are times I want to focus, things I want to be more aware of, and things I want to ignore.

As for the cyborg part, I’m obviously not talking about brain implants or robotic arms. I’m using the term in the sense that Donna Haraway used it in the Cyborg Manifesto, to talk about beings who have a symbiotic relationship with technology. In this sense, we’re all cyborgs, and we always have been. So we’re all already mindful cyborgs, because we’re all cyborgs and none of us completely mindless. So what we want is to become MORE mindful cyborgs.

Archaic Systems Revival

Blackmoor: First Dungeon Crawl Rules to the Game of Dungeon

Rules to the Game of Dungeon Actual Play Report

Rules to the Game of Dungeon Actual Play Report Before he co-created Dungeon and Dragons, Dave Arneson spent years playing fantasy role playing games with his friends in the Minneapolis area in the early 1970s. Over time, the idea of playing simple a simple dungeon-themed role playing games spread to other Minneapolis geeks. In 1974, 14 year old Craig VanGrasstek, who had never actually played with Arneson and his group and didn’t know D&D existed, published his house rules for the “Game of Dungeon” that he and his friends played (this game has also been referred to as “Minneapolis Dungeon” and “Castle Keep”).