Facebook Forever

For the last several years, I’ve been mostly absent from Facebook. I posted very rarely and checked it almost never. This wasn’t because of any particular choice so much as a lack of desire. The folks I wanted to check in with, I already text with. Twitter provides me with instant information and plenty of lulz. Facebook’s news feed algorithm is awful, the content it served up was crap, and it’s a scummy company to boot. So I deleted the Facebook app from my phone and did not miss it for a second.

But recently, I’ve begun to slowly re-engage on the platform. A couple of factors have driven this. Penny is a big one – the grandparents love those baby (now, toddler) pics. She’s what kept me on the platform at all. But a bigger driver has been my increasing community involvement. Here’s something I’ve learned in the stage of life I’m in: when you get involved in coordinating communications and activities with a non-trivial number of people, you need some kind of common coordination platform. More often than not, Facebook is that platform now.

Just a few examples of what I mean:

  • Local-level organizing relies on Facebook. I’m involved with a bunch of organizing efforts: our local Democratic Party organization, HOA board elections and a group of folks in anti-racism activism. We’ve got email lists, monthly meetings and more, but what people really engage with is a social space to chat, share news and easily find information. Standing up a whole website for this kind of thing is overkill, but a Facebook Page & Group is perfect.
  • Our local parents group has almost 700 members, and it’s entirely run through a closed FB group. There are more than a dozen posts every day – it’s very popular. School and PTA info, clothing swaps, playdates, questions about everything kid-related – you name it. If you don’t have kids, you might not know this yet, but versions of these groups exist everywhere. “Moms groups” in particular are basically a ubiquitous feature of modern parenthood, and every single one I know is on Facebook (some are on WhatsApp too, though that seems less useful?).
  • A few months ago, I became an Admin for the Elizabeth Warren campaign Facebook group for North Carolina (“NC for Warren”). Like any political campaign, sharing tasks, events, information and news is critical, and our Facebook group really hits the mark for that. There’s no substitute even close to this. The group is doubling in size every month.

I’ve been thinking about this reversal of mine in terms of Facebook’s evolving place in our society, and what limits make sense to place on it. I think it’s time for us to acknowledge that Facebook is becoming – or, probably, has become – a permanent fixture of how our society works. It is just never going away. It is not going to die on the vine like Friendster. Conceivably, Facebook’s many platforms could be eclipsed by competitors (though that would require competition, which Facebook ably prevents), but the nature of social networking it provides itself is here to stay. It’s how information circulates in our society and how we organize our communities.

The end results have positives and negatives, but debating them is sort of beside the point. This is the world now, and the genie isn’t going back in the bottle. As such, it makes sense that our society should have a renegotiation, as my friend Hassan said, of its power over our society. Facebook isn’t sovereign. The people are. And if Big Tech digs in its heels, maybe we should have a renegotiation over them, too.

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Don’t skip leg day

Almost every late Saturday morning, after the baby goes down for a nap, I head out to my garage, open up the door, and do five sets of squats.

Lemme tell you something: I hate squats. I love weightlifting, but hate squats. They’re hard, even when what I’m lifting is well within my ability. One reason, I think, is that squats have a uniquely psychological aspect. You’ve got a few hundred pounds resting on your shoulders, and it feels really, really heavy. The first step in squatting is to get focused mentally; you must first believe that you can lift this weight. You visualize it, and pump yourself up for the lift, especially once you start going heavier. And once you finish a set, you feel the aftereffects deep in your bones.

The reason squats feel like such a big effort is because, physiologically, they are. Squats work your largest muscle groups, the whole posterior chain in combination, and are probably the single best example of a functional compound exercise. This is partly why squats the cornerstone of any good strength conditioning program. They improve your balance, strengthen your knees and hips, and work your thighs. Squats work your whole body like few other lifts, and in so doing, make your body stronger.

Years of weightlifting, and especially squats, has changed my thinking about my relationship to my body and my perspective on everything else. In short, regularly challenging myself to lift heavy pieces of metal is a direct reminder that I’m mostly hamburger and bones. All the other ways I think about myself are, at best, ephemeral, and at worst, imaginary, existing wholly in my head and not in “the world.” This aligns increasingly with the lens through which I evaluate how I feel, and how other people behave. Namely: we are the products of biological processes. And when you draw this thread out to its logical conclusions, it makes a big difference in how you see the world.

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The Browser Monopoly

There is really only one Big Tech monopoly that I actively worry about. It’s not Amazon, Facebook or Apple, though they are all extremely dominant in their respective fields and do act in anti-competitive ways that merit regulatory remedy. Rather, the tech monopoly that I wonder about is arguably one of the more mundane parts of the modern internet experience: your web browser, and its most likely source – Google.

Google Chrome has been the world’s top web browser since roughly late 2012, and has only grown in popularity since:


But crucially, Google’s grip on the browser market extends far beyond Chrome. Google is also the owner and developer of the free, open-source web browser Chromium, which is now the underlying code behind not only the Opera browser, but Edge, Microsoft’s successor to the much-maligned Internet Explorer. (As well as two dozen other browsers you probably don’t care about.)

In short, Google – the world’s largest advertiser and keeper of personal data – now also enjoys substantial control over the vast majority of the world’s portal to the internet. I don’t think that’s a good thing.

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I spent the better part of last week hiking through the Grand Tetons backcountry with my friend Brian. Upon emerging from the mountains and getting back to Jackson, we soon learned that there had been another mass shooting. In between showering for the first time in days and treating sunburns, we learned some of the early details: young white man, white supremacist, legal gun, channer, rambly manifesto. The story, by now, is painfully familiar. And then, before we each flew out back home early the next morning… it happened again.

The other week, before another mass shooting claimed another media cycle, there was a brief debate about the slowing pace of Progress in our society. What causes Progress, they asked? How can we get more of Progress? The authors, somewhat disingenuously, threw up their hands, flummoxed, and suggested that this question was unanswered and must be studied. (Meanwhile, historians and economists fumed, because these questions are, in fact, anything but under-studied.)

There’s a lesson to be gleaned in the timing of these events. Namely: what do we mean by Progress?

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FAQs on Remote Product Management

One of my basic beliefs is that virtually every job function in knowledge-based industries can be done effectively regardless of geographic location. Living in New York obviously does not magically make one a better stock analyst any more than San Francisco makes one a better software developer. “Clustering” effects and the legacy of pre-internet geographical concentration of knowledge-based industries are real, but their grip over the distribution of modern companies is demonstrably weakening every year. “Distributed” working is a fundamentally disruptive organizational technology that is going to eat – indeed, is eating – “the office.”

Most discussions of “remote” working* in tech have thus far centered on software engineering – mostly due to recruiting pressure. But that’s really just the beginning. The same reasons why recruiting “remote” contributors and managers is good for engineering teams apply equally to marketing, sales, operations and finance roles – as well as to Product Management.

I’ve held Product Management roles where I’ve lived and worked “remotely,” as have many or most members of my teams. Guess what? It works. In this blog, I’m going to talk a little about my experiences, what works and what doesn’t, as well as answer some FAQs I’ve fielded about what “remote product management” looks like.

* – I don’t like the connotation of this term, but given its broad adoption, I feel like fighting it is sort of futile. For what it’s worth, this thing on why “remote” is the wrong way to think about distributed working is my most-read post ever.

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On Professional Distance and Courage

Something that I’ve thought a lot about over the years, but never quite formed an opinion about, was work cultures and the relationships forged through them: what makes for a good work culture? How can you identify (and remediate) bad ones? How do we as individuals, and independent of the environments we happen to be in, create positive and productive cultures around us?

I finished a book recently that really helped me crystallize and put into words my ideas about this: The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. It’s a terrific, and quick, book. While it doesn’t address work culture specifically, its ideas are directly applicable, and they run directly counter to many popular myths about good “company cultures” in a way that finally made sense to me. Specifically:

  • Healthy work culture isn’t about everyone making friends or meeting others’ personal expectations
  • Instilling and fostering courage on the part of your employees is necessary for them to collaborate
  • The basis of a strong company is community, whose empowered members want to contribute to it

I want to talk a little bit about what this means in practice.

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AI is not coming for you

A current joke that has been circulating around the tech world for a while now is that the way to get VCs to eat out of your hand is to slap the words AI, “machine learning” and/or “blockchain” on your pitch deck.

As they say, the best jokes are indistinguishable from reality.

I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the exuberance about artificial intelligence is founded on sand. I’ve gotten there both from a closer look at what amounts to “artificial intelligence” today, as well as a good understanding of both how software itself works and, importantly, how it is developed within a corporate setting.

A very large majority of the AI hype out there today is pure attention-seeking nonsense. Generously, one might see it as just yet another example of a certain genre of tech hucksterism (see: self-driving cars, internet-beaming drones, 3D printing). Less generously, however, it isn’t hard to see the lavish marketing machine around AI as a strategy to depict deliberate choices by dominant software platforms as technical inevitabilities.

“AI” is not something anyone needs to be worried about. A world mediated by unaccountable corporate software platforms is.

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What you need to know about retirement planning

Chances are, if you’re a twenty- or thirty-something, and especially if you’re a dude, you’ve given some thought as to what you’d do in the event of a zombie apocalypse. What you’d do, where you’d go, what you’d stockpile, and what kind of ranged weapon you’d specialize in (obviously, melee arms are not the way to go). Don’t be embarrassed. I have a plan too. We all do.

You ask these same people what their plans are for retirement, and most freeze. Many/most have not done any real planning at all. Of those who have, their planning is hazy at best. If they have retirement accounts at all, they’re not sure what those accounts are invested in, what those are, or how they work.

Many, if not most, of my peers and younger have given a lot more thought to the first scenario than the second. This is a well-researched phenomenon that basically boils down to a human aversion to planning for stuff that feels distant, scary and kind of unresolveable. Who knows what the future will look like in 30 or 40 years, after all? Why bother?

I’ve written before about how disastrously unprepared the Boomers are for retirement, and how their penury will likely cause major economic strain for our generation. But here’s my gist for this post: you should plan for retirement. At its most basic level, understanding this stuff is easy. I’m not selling you anything. But unless you have plans to die young, you’re probably going to need this stuff. So do future-you a favor and give this a little thought.

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Taking control of your internet

A while back, I finished Matthew Crawford’s latest book, The World Beyond Your Head, whose subtitle is, unusually, a pretty good summary of his topic: “on becoming an individual in an age of distraction.” (I tweeted some thoughts at the time.) There are an awful lot of books out there on “focus” or eliminating distractions that approach the topic from a sort of techie-hustler Tim Ferriss sort of angle, and this is not one of them. Crawford is both a philosopher and motorcycle mechanic by profession. (Not in a sort of precious way, either – he actually owns and operates a motorcycle repair shop.) I’ve been thinking a lot about this book ever since. In particular, it touches on how I’m working to better master my own attentional resources by taking control of my experience of the internet.

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