The worst part about fast food: It’s legal

The other day, I was having one of those fruitless discussions about gun control with a very stubborn person who, as a counter argument, raised the question, “If you’re going to make guns illegal because they kill people, why not make fast food illegal too?” My first thought was that it was a ludicrous thing to say. Fast food is food. It’s not designed to hurt people like guns are. But after giving it a moment to marinate, both he and I were surprised to find out that ultimately, I agreed with his proposition; Fast should should be illegal.

Fast food might not have a whole lot in common with guns, but you know what it does share a huge number of qualities with? I’ll give you a couple hints:

  1. Both things make you feel great for a short period of time before making you feel far worse than you did before.
  2. Both are full of chemicals that were never designed to be inside your body
  3. Both are addictive
  4. Both are correlated with socioeconomic class
  5. Both are especially damaging to children
  6. Both create negative feedback loops than can send a person’s life into a downward spiral.
  7. Both wreak havoc on our healthcare system.

If you guessed drugs, you are correct!

 The more you think about it, the harder it is to escape the conclusion: fast food is a drug. And it’s a powerful one at that, considering over 25% of people eat it every day. Sort of reminds me of that Keanu Reeves movie. And yet for some reason, this is a realization that we Americans have yet to come to. Why is fast food, which exists purely to enable its addicts (if you will), still legal? Better yet, why was it ever legal? Why is it not regulated and controlled? It’s like we willingly ignore all the facts that are there under our noses.

The answer comes down to one word: food.

Fast food is still food

Despite a wealth of drawbacks, the fact remains that fast food is still considered food. You’d certainly survive longer on a desert island with a McDonalds hamburger than you would with a pack of cigarettes, and because of this, any suggestion of rethinking our no-holds-barred approval of fast food is met with outcry.

“Fast food is cheap! You can’t get rid of it because it’s what a lot of people depend on to feed themselves and their families!”

Despite the fact that this is completely untrue, isn’t it a pretty sad state of affairs when the go-to food for those least able to support themselves is the one that’s most likely to put them in a position where they have to pay medical bills, which they also can’t afford, and cause them to be even less capable of paying for food?

Furthermore, fast food isn’t just food. It’s food plus chemicals that are terrible for you. How does the fact that the terrible chemicals are paired with food make it okay to serve them to anyone? That’s like saying tobacco is totally cool for children to munch on, so long as its paired with a food, which by the way, doesn’t even need to be a healthy one. Could be french fries for all we care. Go ahead son, eat your tobacco fries. They’ll give you cancer, but it’s cool, as long as they don’t cost me very much.

Please, stop doing this to our kids

At the end of the day, the reality of the situation is pretty clear: Fast food is a choice, and you can be sure that anything that defends the freedom to choose in America is a something that’s here to stay. In most respects, that’s totally fine with me. The fatter and grosser people get as a result of their bad decisions, the prouder it makes me to be a part of the increasingly smaller group of people that can still run a mile and wear a swimsuit. But there’s one huge problem with it being a choice that I simply cannot tolerate, and that is that this is a choice that is being made not just by adults, but by children, too.

Why do we regulate drugs? In the US, you must be 21 years old to have a glass of beer. This is because an adult is far more capable of using facts to make an intelligent decision with respect to himself than is a child, who is more likely to simply copy the behavior he sees going on around him. But when it comes to fast food, there is no regulation, which means that any adult who chooses to accept the consequences of eating fast food in turn forces those decisions on his child. Not only does this cause physical harm to a child who doesn’t know any better–unhealthy diets in children have been linked to ADHD, Asthma, Eczema and more–but it also sets them up for a lifetime of never questioning the horrible diet they were raised on. No one should be allowed to have the choice to harm their health made for them, and even if they’re making the choice for themselves, they certainly shouldn’t be allowed to do so before they’re mentally mature enough to do it intelligently.

We keep drugs away from people because we want them to be healthier and happier. If we thought the decision to not use drugs was one that people could easily make on their own, there would be no need to create and enforce the laws that make them illegal. But the fact is that humans aren’t perfect. People will take part in the things that are provided to them. Fast food is no different. As long as it is legal, people will continue to use it, because legality is society’s way of telling them that it’s okay. This needs to change.

And hey, if we’re capable of making the entire world scorn users of a substance as harmless as marijuana, surely we can do all that and more for people who eat actually harmful fast food? Right?

Right.

Dear property developers: your stucco buildings are ruining my city

When it comes to stucco, there are two types of people: those who understand it, and those who are completely delusional. Here’s the breakdown.

The Ones who get it

I’m not in a position to speak for other cities, but when it comes to Los Angeles, it seems like the people who truly grasp how stucco should fit into our world are, unsurprisingly, the people who end up living and working in or near the buildings that are covered in it. Considering the number of stuccoed buildings in LA, this ends up being the vast majority of people.

The delusionals

The delusionals are exactly the group of people you don’t want them to be: the developers. They have money and business clout, but far too frequently, their ability to recognize beauty and art is pithy, and on top of that, they haven’t a damn clue what the people who are directly affected by their work want. Either that or they’re motivated by nothing but finances, and they don’t care. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what the reason is, because the end result is the same: developers ruin neighborhoods.

I don’t believe there’s anyone out there who truly loves the sprawly, unremarkable stucco buildings that make up Los Angeles. Of course, this isn’t to say that stucco can’t be used tastefully, but the reality is that it almost never is. Even the people who support the tasteful use of stucco often do for horrible reasons. The author of this LA Times article claims that “[Stucco] ties into the mythology of L.A. as an insubstantial place. Its very qualities fit the character of our landscape.” Basically, that means that he thinks LA is already so tacky that building another tacky building isn’t so bad, because at least it matches. Sorry buddy, but you need to GTFO. Someone who is really proud of the city they live in doesn’t settle for mediocrity. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that most people aren’t calling out for more generic garbage. So why in the heck does it keep getting built?

My inspiration for this writing was an article I happened to find on Curbed this morning announcing the progress on handful of new development projects throughout the city. My immediate thought when scrolling through was just how boring and generic and covered in stucco everything was. Was this really the kind of stuff people were looking to see in their neighborhoods? Am I the only one that find it tasteless and boring and cheesy and just plain bad? And then I got to the comments, and what I found was astonishing; Not only were there people who agreed with me, but everyone agreed with me. Everyone.

Here’s the very first comment:

omfg. they’re gonna tear down megatoys and built this ugly shit?

i’m all for more development in the arts district. but can we please enforce some sort of high standard for design? not always this ugly wood framing + stucco crap that looks horrible in 15 years?

the arts district is so popular now in part because of its wonderful architectural heritage. i don’t suggest mimicking that type of historical architecture, but we could at least push for projects that are of an equal caliber of design (though appropriate for the present day.)

man, all of this crap. hikari, sakura crossing, mura, savoy, artisan on 2nd… it’s so so so so freaking ugly. omfg.

 

Or how about this one:

wait… and they want to close garey street between first and 2nd? what the fuck? how did they even get away with that on rose street between artisan and savoy? freaking disgusting. building stuff is great, more urbanization is great, but we need to do it in a way that is intelligent.

 

And my personal favorite:

I’m totally in favor of new projects but none of these designs looks like their even from this millenium. The early 90’s called, it wants its architecture back.

 

Okay, so everyone hates everything. That being the case, why are these projects still moving forward? My guess? It’s the perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances.

  • There’s a high demand for housing in Los Angeles, which gives developers incentive to build.
  • There’s a strong desire to stimulate the economy, which makes the boards that are in charge of approving these projects far more inclined to approve the kind of garbage that a competitive market never would have allowed for. (Wallmart is a prime example)
  • Developers value function over form, and are either financially motivated–which tends to lead to those enormous, generic, multicolored stucco buildings that were debatably cool for a few minutes in 1992–or just completely out of touch with the people they are actually building for
  • Even if they do care, there’s no requirement that a developer have any artistic taste. If he happens to be someone who doesn’t get art, or worse, someone who thinks he gets art, but doesn’t, it’s too bad for the neighbors.

Still, I find it extremely difficult to believe that any developer who cares about his future tenants could see a stream of such unanimously negative comments in response to his project (which, by the way, is not an isolated incident. On the arts district project, for example, there are gobs of brutally negative comments on every single article), and still decide to move forward with it. This is what honestly blows me away. Developers have a rare opportunity that most people will never have: they have the opportunity to drastically alter the landscape of a city in ways that will affect its residents long into the future. How is that not enough to motivate them to do the very best work they can do? Sure they may not be artists themselves, but wouldn’t they at least want to build something that everyone in the neighborhood doesn’t hate?

So much of Los Angeles has been ruined by this type of development. When was the last time anyone you knew took a trip to LA to visit the valley? And no, visiting family doesn’t count. And Hollywood? Well, I think if it weren’t for the movie stars, tourism would plummet to pretty damn close to zero. And I can’t in good faith say that this is entirely due to crappy stucco development, but one thing is for sure: it isn’t helping.

The Arts District in Downtown is one of my favorite places in the city, because as an area that was, up until recently, a god-forsaken wasteland of empty warehouses and homeless people, developers have avoided the area like the plague. But now it’s becoming trendy, and quite a bit cooler. Over the last couple of years, this has led to some really great things; old historical factories are being converted into lofts, warehouses into shops and grocery stores. The place has genuine character to it. It’s unique, and it is therefor a destination. Now that it’s a destination, the developers are moving in with their stucco and trying to capitalize on what is currently unique by turning it into a whole lot more of the same: enormous housing structures that take up entire city blocks with repetitive nothingness which doesn’t even attempt to fit in with the present charm of the neighborhood. Ironically, the buildings they’re putting in actually work to eliminate the neighborhood itself by making it generally unremarkable, just like so many other parts of this city. And who knows, they probably mean well. I don’t think anyone is opposed to adding high density housing in the arts district. But just because we want it doesn’t mean we’re okay with it ruining the neighborhood.

History has shown us over and over again that the key to a distinguished and interesting destination is to think smaller, and to think unique. And yet developers refuse to learn from their mistakes. They would rather build mass-produced junk near something that everyone loves rather than make the minor adjustments required to become something that everyone loves. And frankly, it’s just plain sad.

5 bad assumptions new tech entrepreneurs tend to make

I would know: I’ve made them all.

1.  If I build it, they will come.

If this were true, we’d all be using that social network for disabled dogs that your friend thought was such a good idea. But we’re not, because we don’t care.

With the way the media paints the startup industry, it’s hard not to get sucked into what we’d all like to believe is reality: a world where anyone with a computer can teach themselves how to write a little code, come up with an idea for an app that lets people share some form of media with some group of people in a slightly different way, code it up at the kitchen table (while attractive women in their underwear take bong hits in your living room like it’s no big thing), and put it online so that millions of people can go, “Thank god this finally exists. I don’t know how I ever lived without it.” But unfortunately, it pretty much never works this way. Yes, it’s true that almost anyone can (and should) learn to code. And yes, it’s also true that sometimes, sometimes, people come up with ideas that solve such universal problems that they explode of their own accord. But in the majority of cases, even a fully functional, well-thought-out app will struggle to tread water without a brilliant strategy.

Instagram, for example, is an app for sharing photos with friends. In a nut shell, it’s Twitter for photos. But if the Instagram team had literally gone ahead and built just that, chances are it would have been dead on arrival. After all, TwitPic has been around for years, and serves essentially the same purpose. So what did Instagram do to afford them such success? Filters.

There were already apps on the market for sharing photos, and others to add cool filters to them, but none did both, and it’s the combination of the two that makes Instagram so deadly. Think it about it, what do you do when you take a photo? Your natural instinct is to make it look as awesome as possible, so you throw some filters on it, and now that you have an amazing looking photo, you feel compelled to share it–which you can do right there in the app. Boom. Package deal. And it works in reverse too, because if you want to send your friend a photo of something in particular, like the Grand Canyon, you obviously want the photo you send to be your best composure, so you reach for a filter to spruce it up a little bit before you send. Conveniently, it’s there at your fingertips.

Basically, the fact that Instagram built a photo sharing app is only secondary. What matters is that they figured out a way to harness people’s natural instincts to work to their benefit, and they channeled the results of those instincts into their product. That is why it worked.

So before you build, ask yourself not why you would use your product, by why someone else, someone who doesn’t know or care about you, would want to use it. Often times this is the hardest part.

2.  People will understand my idea when they see it.

As I mentioned earlier, there are seldom products that are so desperately desired by the community that they simply take off, without any explanation needed. Chances are that whatever you decide to build, regardless of how revolutionary it may be, it’s going to come off as foreign to people at first. And that’s not a bad thing! A revolutionary idea by definition alters the status quo, and encourages its users to do something in a way they’ve never done it before. Once you’ve convinced them to make the switch you’re golden, but that’s no small task! People are stubborn in their ways, and are reluctant to learn new things, so unless you make it painfully obvious what you want from them and what they can get from you, you’re gonna have a bad time.

3.  People aren’t using my product because it doesn’t have enough functionality.

The words “minimum viable product” don’t exist for no reason. I’ve discovered (the hard way) time and time again that if a product can’t be launched with a minimal set of features, adding more features to find the user’s attention isn’t going to help. It will, however, waste a huge chunk of your time.

If your product is truly something that people want or need, they’ll use it regardless of whether or not you’re building the extraneous niceties. And if they aren’t, more than likely, it’s a problem with the core theory of the service, not a lack of functionality. In fact, I’ve seen more than one case where an overabundance of functionality is precisely what made a product just confusing enough that users didn’t want to spend the time figuring out what the product did, and so they just lost interest and moved on.

A good rule of thumb: ask yourself why you’re building a feature before you build it. If the answer starts out with “we’ll need this when __________”, it’s not worth your time. Build what you need now, and only what you need now.

4.  People are as passionate about my idea as I am.

Your own eyes are a cloudy lens to be looking through when coming up with ideas, because your passions are shaped by your own personal experiences. Furthermore, your enthusiasm is in abundance, because you’re the one who came up with the idea. Pride tends to discourage entrepreneurs from considering the possibility that their idea might not be as useful for everyone else as it is for them.

Next time you go to pitch an idea, instead of telling people how awesome it is, try asking them how awesome it is. And for obvious reasons, ask people who aren’t your friends! Yes, you then risk the possibility of a less than enthusiastic response, but at least you’ll figure out which parts of your theory need work. If you can’t convince someone face to face that your idea is great, how on earth are you going to do it through a website when you’re not there to walk them through it?

5.  I can make anything go viral.

This is a peeve of mine, because too many people these days come up with ideas for which the core strategy is to gain traction through viral growth, as if growing virally is just one of many options that you can select in a dropdown box.

No matter what anyone tells you, no one chooses to go viral. Yes, you can take steps to increase the likelihood that your product goes viral, but whether or not it actually does is a function of luck, mostly of the “right place right time” variety. This does well to explain why there are some cat videos on the internet with many millions of views, and other, nearly identical videos with next to none. So if virality is your core strategy for growing your  app, I wish you the best of luck. But just in case it doesn’t work out, you had better have a backup plan.

I built an urban development tracker for Los Angeles

A website for tracking urban development in LA

I’ve recently uncovered a hidden passion in my life, largely as a result of a random book recommendation a friend of mine made. That book was Walkable City by Jeff Speck, which is all about how the concept of downtown, and the associated density, productivity, and resourcefulness, is what will save not only our society, but our planet as well. His ideas really resonated with me; I finished the book in three days, which I suppose is normal for some people, but was freakish for me considering it takes a lot these days to pull me away from computer-related projects. Since then, I’ve become obsessed with all the new transit-oriented development taking place in Los Angeles.

I’ve always been a huge fan of cities like Chicago and New York because of the lifestyle that walkability promotes. Friendships are not only stronger due to the ability of a neighbor to simply “drop in and say hello”, but they’re also easier to come by. People get Sunday brunch andgo for bike rides. People hang out in the park. We don’t get a lot of that in LA, and it’s really bummed me out for a long time. I’ve thought about leaving before, but with such an enormous part of my family in the Los Angeles area, I couldn’t leave. So I figured I’d just have to deal with the less than ideal living situation.

After reading this book, though, I decided to do a little more research on LA’s long-term plans, and what I found was astonishing. It seems like all of a sudden, everyone finally gets it. They understand that we don’t want less traffic on the 405: we want an alternative. They understand that zoning laws are ridiculous, and that we all want to be able to walk from our apartments to coffee shops and brunch places that make other cities so vibrant. They’re finally making it happen. The development projects are coming in spades. The more I dug, the more I uncovered, and from the new Sci Arc campus in the Downtown Arts District to the expo line to Santa Monica, they’re looking good.

In order to help contribute to this momentum, felt compelled to document it. So last weekend I put together CityGrows, a site that enables anyone who’s interested to learn about, post about, and discuss all of the new projects that are showing up every day. I’m hoping it’ll get all the other Angelenos as excited about the future as I am!

Want to find out about progress on LA’s newest/highest sky scraper? Check it out!

Why Pinterest-style infinite-scroll layouts are worthless for everyone except Pinterest

I’ll admit, when I first saw Pinterest and its never-ending flow of gridlocked photos, I was impressed. It was a fresh approach to content delivery that overwhelms the senses and really lets you give yourself up to the beauty of photography. Unfortunately, apparently everyone else felt the same way about it.

In the months that followed, I noticed more and more sites that opted to copy the Pinterest layout. First it was Etsy, then it was every bay area startup ever (see Pinchit), and most recently, it’s been the corporate world, with Fortune 500 companies like Ebay taking it on. Frankly, I can’t believe it’s gotten this bad.

I wouldn’t call myself a UI/UX master, but the way I’m seeing things, the Pinterest layout is a giant leap backward for the field, and a total slap in the face to all the UI guys who worked so hard to bring us out of the dark days of the web. Every other major trend on the web that I can think of has been such because it made things easier to navigate. Shadows on boxes and gradients on buttons, simplified layouts, organized flow, and even infinite scroll all made it easier to find the content you’re looking for / interested in without getting caught up in the layout of the site. But the Pinterest layout doesn’t contribute to the cause. Instead, it makes it damn near impossible to find anything at all.

If there’s anything that the last couple years of web have taught us, it’s that less is definitely more. Despite this, the main thing that the Pinterest layout accomplishes is cramming as much content as possible onto a single page, which has presumably been justified by a statement like, “the more we show them, the more likely they are to find something they like.” For some reason, our first instinct is to accept that this makes perfect sense. But when has it ever made sense in practice? Almost never.

Which computer store does better, the Best Buy with 800 different available models to choose from, or the Apple store with 3? Or how about when you go to a restaurant. Which menu would you rather order off of, the one that has so many things on it that you can’t even wrap your head around what’s on it before your server is hounding you for an order, or the one with just 10 great options?

No one wants to be overwhelmed with content. True, the more someone has seen, the more likely they are to find something interesting, but that should in no way imply that the best way to deliver that content is all at once. Too much content promotes apathy. How can I possibly focus on just one thing when there are so many other things there? How can I decide to buy one product knowing there are a thousand other options I may have missed? I’d rather buy nothing at all. How about instead of trying to put every product you have in front of my face, get rid of 90% of it, and just be a little bit smarter about predicting content I actually want to see?

But that’s not the worst part. The reason I hate these layouts most of all is that in the case where I’m actually trying to find something specific, it’s impossible. The photos are staggered, and thrown on the page in a seemingly random fashion. There’s no flow to it at all. The same product could appear a hundred times on the page and I still might not even notice it. When I land on a page like this, my eye can’t figure out where to go, so it just sort of drifts from left to right to down and back to left again, seeing everything but remembering nothing. Basically, there’s so much content that there may as well not be any at all.

So why then, does it work for Pinterest?

The layout works for Pinterest purely because no one goes there looking for something particular, and because it’s not crucial to Pinterest’s success that the user see any one photo. Pinterest is an art site. If something catches the user’s eye, that’s great! It means the art stands out, which is probably a testament to the artist. But even if it doesn’t, it still contributes to the ambiance of the page, which is more than enough. I can look at the page as a whole, with its bright coors and beautiful aesthetics, and get just as much value out of it as I might have out of a single photo. It doesn’t matter to me, and it doesn’t matter to Pinterest. We’re happy either way. But as soon as you attempt to use that layout to sell a product or promote some kind of interaction, and when that interaction forms the core of a company’s business model, it immediately becomes a terrible choice.

I’ve heard appreciation for this sentiment from designers and engineers alike, which has brought to wonder… with all the resources they have available to them, who the heck are these companies finding to do their UI design?

Why I don’t care about Lance Armstrong

As far as I know, there has never been a point in history where mass media didn’t thrive on sensationalism. News broadcasts have always been filled with crime, murder, and trivial nonsense. We all know and poke fun at the junk that Fox and friends try to pass off as current events. Up until this point, I dismissed it all as uninteresting and irrelevant. It’s what Karl Marx called opium for the people, opium for the masses. It didn’t much bother me, because as someone who is proud of his goals and accomplishments, I figured it didn’t affect me, and I was happy to go on letting crappy news be crappy news. Then this whole Lance Armstrong business happened.

In case you weren’t aware, Lance is currently in the middle of so much heat over the issue of doping that he’s been given his own, two-part interview piece with Oprah, the great “Mmm hmmm, mhmmm…”-er of our time. This interview is part of a predictable cycle for famous people. It falls in between the “fall from grace” and the “comeback” phases. Theoretically, the famous person is supposed to go in and apologize for the horrible things they have done that have offended the public so deeply that we’re literally unable to go about our daily business without cursing the their name. Damn you Lance Armstrong! I wasted three dollars on this stupid bracelet that didn’t even get me laid for being a “sensitive guy.” Even if I did lose the thing a couple months after it stopped being cool–in like… September 2004–I still feel ripped off because I trusted you!

But even outside of the fact that the celebrity apology thing is worthless and should never have become a thing, I still don’t care about Lance Armstrong’s doping shenanigans. Lance took drugs during a time where every single rider in the Tour de France was also taking the very same drugs. Stop asking him why he did it. You know exactly why he did it: Because if he didn’t, he couldn’t compete. Not doping would have been the equivalent of him opting to ride a penny-farthing while everyone else cruised past him on their chain-driven Treks.

I’m not saying I’m stoked that everyone was taking drugs. All I’m saying is that the playing field was essentially level. Everyone took their drugs, and Lance still won. As far as I’m concerned, he earned it. It’s not like he was slacking off while everyone else was devoting their entire lives to training. He worked just as hard, and probably even harder than everyone else. And even if he didn’t, who cares?

This is sensationalism. And like I said above, it never used to bother me. But while thinking about it this time around, my mind started to wander. Lance Armstrong wasn’t the only one who did something amazing while on drugs. Mark McGwire broke the home run record. Then we found out he took performance enhancers. Why didn’t he get an Oprah interview? And then it went even deeper than that. Why does this have to pertain to drugs at all? Why aren’t we giving the Wallstreet Bankers that caused worldwide suffering and hardship for the last 6 years an interview? Why don’t they have to “come clean” and talk about how they’re trying to do better? Why don’t corporations like British Petroleum get interviews to talk about how their thriftiness caused insurmountable damage to our planet?

Why the fuck is Monsanto not in the spotlight?

We found out about all these horrible things long before we ever found out about Lance Armstrong, and yet they passed us by let they were nothing. Oprah, why aren’t you reaching out to these people? Why aren’t you reaching out to interview the people that actually matter? Is it because OWN has crap ratings?

Yes, Lance Armstrong is an inspiration, and it’s a disappointment that he lied to us, but at the end of the day, his drug taking didn’t affect anyone but himself and the other riders in that race. And what’s more: it’s a damn bicycle race. It doesn’t even matter. And that’s coming from a guy who loves to watch The Tour. Companies patenting foods in an effort to make it so that I’m not legally allowed to plant the seeds that my vegetables produce? That matters. That affects me. That pisses me off. I want to see those people forced to publicly apologize. You wanna change the world Oprah? Then stop reaching out to the leaders of the sensationalist garbage movement, and start talking to the people who’s actions are damaging the human race’s chance at a fruitful future.

So yeah, sensationalism didn’t used to bother me. But now it does, because it takes up the space and uses the resources for better programming that could actually make a difference. THAT is news.

I hate answering my phone, and it’s Facebook’s fault

This is a blog post that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. It touches on what I believe to be an emerging trend, and I’m interested to hear others’ thoughts on the subject, but since I’m afraid that writing about it may cause me to never be invited to anything ever again, it’s taken me a while to get started.

When I was growing up, my entire life revolved around the telephone. My family had a computer as did most of my friends’ families, but the chances of me being signed into AOL at the same time as someone I actually wanted to talk to we’re so small that it wasn’t anywhere close to a reliable means of communication. The phone, on the other hand, was how I conducted my life. My phone was home base, and everyone I knew counted on the fact that if they called my house and I was around, I would surely answer. If I didn’t answer, it meant I was already busy and out doing something. In retrospect, the simplicity was beautiful. I miss it horribly.

Since then technology has come a long way. The phone is no longer a tool that’s tied to a specific physical place, and as a result, phone calls have become almost insulting to me. The phone beeps and rings at all hours of the day with no regard to where you are or what you’re doing. It’s no longer a simple means a getting a hold of someone. It’s now a leaky pipe that dribbles out useless tidbits of incomplete and largely inconsequential information, and yet every time the damn thing makes a noise, it consumes me, because that’s how I stay up to date on what my friends are doing. And not just generally what they’re doing, but what they’re doing right this very second, who they’re doing it with, and exactly how fun it is.

Screw you, Facebook. You created this. Ten years ago if a friend called me and invited me over, I would have been excited to have something to do. I would have gotten up, put my shoes on, been out the door, and that was the end of that. But it doesn’t work that way anymore, because now that I’m able to see exactly what all of my friends are doing, how can I possibly commit to one particular thing. What if something else comes up at the last minute that looks better? I won’t be able to go.

Even worse, how can I commit to something in advance? The only way to decide whether anything is worth going to is if I know it’s going to be fun, and I can only tell it’s fun once it has already begun, when the Facebook posts and Instagram photos start rolling in. If I tell a friend that I’ll be at his birthday party in advance, then I won’t be able to go to any of the nine other events I’ve been invited to on Facebook, even if they turn out to be way cooler. And it’s not like I can ignore the fact that there’s something cooler going on, because not only does social media ensure that I know about it, but its clever algorithms are designed to rub in your face just how much god damned fun you’re not having. As such, I’m literally compelled to wait until the very last minute before ever committing to anything.

So here it is, the bitter, dirty truth. I hate answering my phone, because any time it rings, I know there’s someone on the other end of the line who wants something from me. Most of the time that something is totally benign. People asking for information or favors or to remind me about appointments–that’s all totally cool. But every now and again, someone calls me to ask if I want to do something, and since my personality renders me completely unable to tolerate the the disappointment in people’s voices when I turn down their invitations, I invariably say yes. And then even if something better comes up, I’m stuck doing the first thing. Point being, often times I would rather not answer my phone than risk the possibility that I might end up prematurely committing myself to whatever the person is calling about.

I’ve seen the same effect from a reverse perspective as well. Facebook was created to help make bringing people together easier, but it’s had the exact opposite effect. Gone are the days of making plans in advance. I’ve literally called people to ask if they’d like to see a movie on Thursday, and their response will be, “I don’t know what I’m doing that day yet.” Let’s think about that one for a second… If you don’t know what you’re doing that day, doesn’t that mean you aren’t doing anything!? But no. As it turns out, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” is 21st century slang for “I’m not sure if there’s going to be anything better than what you just invited me to. If it gets to a few hours before and I still haven’t found anything more interesting, sure I’ll go.”

Why would anyone make plans if all they’re going to get in exchange is to be thrown into an auction where they have to bid for their friends’ time? What happened to calendars and schedules and commitments? Facebook happened, that’s what. It gave us too many options, and I’m beginning to learn that available options and willingness to commit form an inverse relationship. Facebook and social media have become a strain on the very friendships they set out to strengthen.

So if you’re reading this, I’d love to know: Am I the only one that feels this way? Am I the only one that would rather send a caller to voicemail so that I can listen to their message and call them back without being forced into premature commitments? Or is Facebook really bringing human interaction down in flames?

I thought I was different

“For me, it’s different” is a phrase everyone has said at some point in their life, but some people… some people mean it on a whole different level.

For those people, when their friends scoff and brush them off, they become determined and say things like, “I know most people think that for them it’s different.  They’re totally wrong.  But I can see past that.  I get it.  I understand the reasons they think they’re different, and I know that they really do believe it, but I see exactly why they’re wrong.  They’re not different.  For me–trust–it really is different.  For me, it’s a whole other thing.”

These are the people that so believe that they’re different that they’re even willing to pick on the other people who think they’re the ones that are different.  And you know what the strange part is?  They’re not wrong.  They are different.  Now…

I was one of those people.

I was the one exception to the rule, and I was god damn right.

And so was everyone else who ever said it.  Because when they said it, it was true.  The problem is, none of the things we believe in life are worth shit if the people we base those beliefs on are subject to change, which they are.  No one is immune to change.

When people tell you things, they mean them.  People tell you things when they’re just as lost in the “I’m different” world as you are.  And if the world were to end right after they told you those things, all would be right, because they would be the truth.  But people’s ideas change as they live their lives, and the things they once told you start to seem foreign, because they’re not so true anymore.  And all the things you believed that were based on those outdated truths begin to fall apart.

I can’t place blame on anyone because I’m not immune to change myself.

In fact, my own changes likely had a lot to do with the reason that I am now having to come to terms with the fact that my situation is not so “different” after all.  It was at one point, but now it’s not.  That’s hard for me to deal with.  It doesn’t hurt any less.  But at least now that I know I’m no different from everyone else who ever thought they were, I know I’m not the first person to feel as relentlessly shitty as I do right now.