all posts tagged 'capitalism'

I'm getting rid of my iPhone for a month

originally shared here on

Long time readers of this blog may recall that I've been psyching myself up enough to try switching to the Light Phone.

I’m legit embarrassed to admit just how much I’m addicted to my iPhone.

It happened slowly over the course of the last 15 years. Today, I find myself frequently incapable of putting it down, even when it’s actively making me feel terrible.

The biggest expense of always being virtually connected is never feeling connected to the physical moment happening in front of me.

That wasn’t so much of a problem to me when I was sitting in front of my Compaq desktop in the basement of my parent’s house.

Back in those days, I used to hate being away from my computer. The very first thing I’d do when returning from a family vacation was to jump on the computer and catch up on a week of message board posts.

Here in 2024, though, I don’t subject myself to that experience.

The other day, I was playing a Lego game with my son and while he was explaining an aspect of the game to me, I pulled out my phone and went to turn on music. Mid sentence, he stops and says, “Dad, can you put your phone away? It’s distracting me.”

Oof. That’s not how I want my son to remember me.

I’ve tried all the techniques people say can help limit screen time. Grayscale the screen. Delete apps. Block toxic websites. But because none of those tricks are actually working, it’s time to take more drastic measures.

My plan is to move my phone number onto the Light Phone for a month. Just a month.

I'm going to do this during the month of August. That will give me a couple weeks to prepare for it. I am honestly worried about what I’ll be giving up, and so I'm doing what I can to brace myself for that impact.

I’m mostly excited, really. After more than a decade in the comfortable, walled garden of the Apple ecosystem, I think it will be nice to experiment with new tech tools again.

The Light Phone is designed to be as boring and practical as possible. It can make phone calls, send texts, and give driving directions, among a few other things.

But there are certainly some activities that the Light Phone won’t do very well which I am unwilling to give up. So here are those activities, along with how I'm thinking I'll deal with those activities for the time being:

Taking notes and reminders.

A notepad with a pen. ✅



Sometime in the last couple of decades, I stopped reading books.

I’m not exactly sure why. I used to love reading books when I was a kid. I would go to the library and read every book they had on building websites and computer programs. I’d also read every new edition of Animorphs, Goosebumps, and Harry Potter as soon as my library stocked it.

But beginning in high school, I stopped reading books for fun. Reading felt like a burden, something you were assigned as punishment. I resented reading so much, in fact, that I used to pride myself on not buying books for class in college and finding a way through without them.1

If I read books these days, I almost only read non-fiction, which is fine… but I miss reading for fun.

Earlier this year, I helped my wife proctor some tests at her school. I wasn’t allowed to be on the internet, so I brought a book along that a friend recommended called What You Are Looking For Is In The Library. I burned through it in a day, and it got me interested in reading fiction once again.

I think I wanna try getting into a fiction series. The last series I read was the Left Behind books in high school, so uh, yeah… I’m a bit out of the loop with what’s good out there.

If anyone has recommendations, let me know!

Taking pictures.

I used to be really into cameras when I was really into making clips2. When my oldest was born, we thought it made sense to buy a good SLR, so we picked up a Canon Rebel T6i.

I do still grab it out of storage and bring it along to the occasional soccer game or choir performance, and the shots feel better to me than the ones I get with my iPhone. It helps that I have a decent assortment of lenses, but I think it also speaks to the joy you get from using a tool that was intentionally built to complete a task.

Of course, I can’t realistically carry an SLR with me all the time. I need something more practical.

When I sold cameras at Best Buy3, the camera I recommended the most was the Canon SD800 IS, and it was the camera that documented some of the most fun moments of my life. It was small enough to fit in my pocket alongside my iPod.

Even though it fit, I still didn’t carry it with me every day, which makes the pictures I did take with them feel extra special when I browse through them today.

Maybe having a camera on me all the time is less necessary than I’m worried about. I mean, in a normal day for you, how many situations can you envision where you must take a picture of something and can't flag down someone to take one and send it to you?4

So I’m in the market for a camera that’s small like the SD800 was, but perhaps more professional. I remember seeing someone mention the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III and I thought the silver one looked kinda dope.

It makes me happy to see Canon keeping these devices up to date. The G7 X can shoot 4k video, and it’s got WiFi and USB-C so it’ll be easy to get media off of it. Most importantly, its size means it can stay in the drawer by the door and leap into service at a moment's notice.

But anyway, what about y’all? Anyone else use something besides their phone to take a picture or a video?

Listening to music.

The whole reason I wanted to make this post is because I wanted to brag about my restoration project with my old fifth generation iPod.

But because of course this is what happens when I brag, I’ve been stuck for a few days trying to debug a hardware failure that is proving exceptionally frustrating to resolve. Chef’s kiss.

So instead of bragging about that, I’ll instead confess that I’m one of those sickos who maintains their own library of MP3s.

I’ve always looked at streaming services with squinty eyes. Maybe it’s because I’m still mad at what they did to our beloved Napster. Maybe it’s because I think it’s important to not give complete control of my cultural history to massive corporations5. Maybe it’s because buying an MP3 version of an album from an artist will give them vastly more money than my combined streams would ever account for. Maybe it’s because I am an aging boomer.

Either way, transitioning away from Apple Music will not be too excruciating for me. I’ll still use it because I have HomePods all over my house, but when I’m not home, I want need a way to bring my music with me.

The Light Phone does have some storage and an MP3 player option, but because of the intentional design, you’re limited to a single playlist and 1gb of tunes. That doesn’t work for me, brother.

I’ll keep y’all posted with my progress on the restoration process. I want to get Rockbox installed on it so I can experience what the home brew community is doing with this old hardware.

In the meantime, if anyone knows how to address issues with an iFlash Solo syncing with an M1 Mac mini, holler at your boy.

I’d like to take this opportunity to express how pathetic I feel that I need to take these extreme steps to reclaim some part of me that I feel like I’ve lost ever since going whole ham on the mobile revolution.

I talk at length about the joy that comes with technology, but I should also recognize the negative impact that tech can make.

We went through an era of unfettered growth from Silicon Valley-powered firms who had nearly no supervision and did everything they could to exploit our political and economic systems for their own gain.

And to be clear, their growth did bestow some incredible tools onto us.

But as much as our society derides subgroups like the Luddites and the Amish for their apparent aversion to technology, there is clearly some merit to how they approach technology. You should adopt technology because it’ll help you, not because everyone else is using it.

Every night around 10:30pm, I find myself lying in bed, entering the casino that is my iPhone. Every app is a different section of the game room floor.

My email app is a slot machine, where I hope I’ll hit the big bucks and get an email saying “yay you’re hired!”, but the odds are better that I’ll see an email saying “lol you owe me money still.”

LinkedIn and Reddit are craps tables, where I sometimes roll an 11 and see a post from a friend who had a successful day at work or a post on /r/AskHistorians that teaches me something interesting (like Did President Andrew Garfield ever eat lasagna?). But more often than not, I roll snake eyes and see something which makes me feel like a failure or living in a dumpster fire of a society.

Even my beloved RSS reader app, filled with feeds that I explicitly opted into, can feel like a game of blackjack. Yeah, I often walk away with at least some money, but I still sometimes leave the table feeling unsure why I’m passionate about anything anymore.

I let this happen to myself. And every time I pull my phone out of my pocket during a family dinner, I rob myself of what makes life worth living in the first place.

Like our Silicon Valley overlords like to say, you can’t stop the march of progress. Technology is rapidly improving, and major advances in our collective understanding of the universe are unveiled at an overwhelming pace.

There’s gotta be a way where we can harness the good parts of technology without entirely succumbing to all of its detriments. The first step, I suppose, is defining what I want to get out of life.

And really, it’s pretty simple:

  • Play Legos with my son
  • Sing karaoke with my wife
  • Watch Rocko’s Modern Life with my daughter
  • Make music, work out, and learn new things
  • Be able to visit the doctor when I’m not feeling well without going bankrupt
  • Build something useful for people
  • Not make other people’s existences any worse than they already are

If those are the things that are important to me, then why would I burn precious energy spending time on a device which gives me anxiety attacks on a daily basis?

So yeah, come August, I’m signing off from my iPhone for a bit. It’ll feel good to step out of the casino and focus on building legos, taking walks, shredding on the guitar, singing karaoke, hanging out with friends, and listening to music.

  1. At the time, I was extremely anti-book because the book publishing market is an extreme racket, issuing frequent updates to textbooks with minimal tweaks while commanding insane prices. Today, part of me wishes I read the assigned works for most of my liberal arts classes. Maybe I would’ve picked up more useful facts about the Australopithecus or found useful anecdotes from Cold War geopolitical conflicts. 

  2. This is what we used to call videos before YouTube. We'd record a bunch of segments of a video on someone's dad's camcorder, then use a capture cable to play back the video onto a computer, and then edit it in something like Pinnacle Studio. Wild times, indeed. 

  3. Which seems to be my point of reference for where to look for all of these problems... I worked at Best Buy from 2005 to 2010, so basically, what were the tech solutions we had for these problems before the iPhone came out? And is there anything from the past 15 years that has improved on that tech? 

  4. Maybe this is a hypothesis born out of privilege, but let’s call a spade a spade: this entire article and premise is only possible for someone who is drowning in technology and choosing to reduce his consumption. 

  5. Brennan Lee Mulligan recently had an excellent monologue about this topic, but I don’t have a direct link to it. Just look at Paramount’s recent decision to remove all of MTV and Comedy Central’s backlogs of content as all the proof you need that you should back up what you care about. 

 The Internet Is About to Get Weird Again

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

There’s not going to be some new killer app that displaces Google or Facebook or Twitter with a love-powered alternative. But that’s because there shouldn’t be. There should be lots of different, human-scale alternative experiences on the internet that offer up home-cooked, locally-grown, ethically-sourced, code-to-table alternatives to the factory-farmed junk food of the internet. And they should be weird.

If you missed this one when it was making the rounds seven months ago, Anil Dash did not disappoint with this think piece about the weird internet.

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Music Journalism Can't Afford A Hollowed-Out Pitchfork

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

It is hard not to see this development as a true indicator that we're nearing the endpoint of robust, meaningful music criticism as a concept. The idea that music journalism has no value is one of the most pervasive thoughts circulating among the suits who control the industry. What those people continue to deprive us of is smart, varied music coverage produced by actual journalists, most of whom now find themselves being squeezed out of an industry that only rewards slavish devotion to the biggest pop stars, or a constant courting of drama, gossip, and violence that is only tangentially related to music.

If there's a better future for music journalism to come, it will perhaps spring from the re-emergence of small-batch music blogs and more localized coverage. But what we're left with now is a corporatized wasteland, and fewer publications than ever equipped to write about music with all the rigor and passion it deserves.

I’m glad Iz mentioned the optimistic part of the situation at the end.

I’m, of course, sad and frustrated by what mega corporations are doing to journalism as a whole (not just music journalism).

But what keeps my hope alive is continuing to support smaller writers who cover their beats with an infectious passion.

I don’t see a future where journalism suddenly becomes a six-figure kind of job, because capitalism is not a system where art (and nuanced, considered discussions of art) is valued enough to justify that sort of business investment.

I suppose that could be seen as bleak, but take it from someone who is currently grappling with the costs associated with doing the thing I love in exchange for a salary: it’s great for the pocket book, but damn near lethal for my soul.

And I suppose by trading my passions in for money, I can use that money to support artists who are out there making stuff that makes me happy.

On a similar note: how do y’all discover new music these days? Are there any good writers or blogs I should be following?

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Is Your Phone the Reason You Feel Broke?

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

I won’t argue that smartphones are significantly responsible for America’s sense of economic malaise. What they are is unusually helpful for understanding and interpreting this malaise in common terms. They’re a heightened, sped-up microcosm of the weird, sour vibrancy of the economic moment, little worlds in which participants are both increasingly active and increasingly worried. By most measures, the smartphone economy is booming, and yet it also feels like shit in a way that everyone can feel for themselves, together, no matter what soda they drink.

That’s the thing with creating these cool slot machines that live in our pocket: they’re really fun at first, but once you’re addicted to them, you keep going back even when it’s painful.

That pain hasn’t manifested for me much by way of exorbitant pricing, although I have noticed my subscriptions for things like iCloud storing are increasing.

The way this manifests for me is when my kids look at me and say, “can you snuggle and watch this episode with me without being on your phone?”

I know it’ll hurt, but I gotta make the switch to my Light Phone soon. I’m sick of feeling hopelessly addicted to this dumb piece of glass I’m currently typing on while my kids are playing in the water park in front of me.

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What are you getting paid in?

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

A long time ago, a manager friend of mine wrote a book to collect his years of wisdom. He never published it, which is a shame because it was full of interesting insights. One that I think a lot about today was the question: “How are you paying your team?”

With this question, my manager friend wanted to point out that you can pay people in lots of currencies. Among other things, you can pay them in quality of life, prestige, status, impact, influence, mentorship, power, autonomy, meaning, great teammates, stability and fun. And in fact most people don’t just want to be paid in money — they want to be paid some mixture of these things.

When I was in college, the phrase “it’s all about the perks” became something I ironically said often when people described their jobs.

I’m realizing as I get older just how true that axiom is.

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Effective obfuscation

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

Some have fallen into the trap of framing the so-called "AI debate" as a face-off between the effective altruists and the effective accelerationists. Despite the incredibly powerful and wealthy people who are either self-professed members of either camp, or whose ideologies align quite closely, it's important to remember that there are far more than two sides to this story.

Rather than embrace either of these regressive philosophies — both of which are better suited to indulging the wealthy in retroactively justifying their choices than to influencing any important decisionmaking — it would be better to look to the present and the realistic future, and the expertise of those who have been working to improve technology for the better of all rather than just for themselves and the few just like them.

That’s it, I’ll admit it: I’m a Molly White stan.

Effective altruism always felt wrong to me, but leave it to Molly to explain those abstract feelings in such clear and well considered terms.

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What If Money Expired?

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For most of us today, money is assurance. We live in a culture in which the pursuit of security is paramount. Save money, we are told — for a health crisis, for our kids to go to college, for retirement. But is it possible to have any guarantee, through money or anything else, of our safety in life?

This article explores the idea of money automatically losing value unless you continue to pay tax on it.

For example, let’s say you earn a hundred dollar bill. Every week, you’re required to buy a stamp from the government which lets that bill maintain its full value. Otherwise, come next week, your $100 becomes a $99.90 bill.

This encourages you to spend your money rather than hoard it. It incentivizes earning money through work rather than loaning your money out and earning it through collecting interest.

This feels like a weird concept until you sit back and reflect on what money means to you right now. Money makes me feel more anxious than any other abstract concept because the threats associated without having it feel so dire.

In her new book “The Age of Insecurity,” the activist Astra Taylor writes: “Today, many of the ways we try to make ourselves and our societies more secure — money, property, possessions, police, the military — have paradoxical effects, undermining the very security we seek and accelerating the harm done to the economy, the climate and people’s lives, including our own.”

Astra Taylor, it turns out, is married to Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel.

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We can have a different web

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

Okay, I guess this blog is just turning into a bunch of links about why the internet sucks these days.

But I should stop framing these links as a “here’s why what we have right now sucks” because truthfully… it doesn’t.

Or rather, it doesn’t have to.

I really enjoyed Molly White’s metaphor about gardens1. I’ve been tending to my own garden on this site for more than a decade, and I’ve kept up patches of turf on the web since the mid 90s.

I just like being here. I like having a place where friends and other folks can see what I’m all about and choose to interact with me or not.

A part of this article that stuck out to me was Molly’s observation that the internet started becoming less fun when we all came here to work. I couldn’t agree more.2

Somewhat related here: this past weekend, I decided to finally do something about my IRL piece of land. You see, most of my backyard is now just dirt. My front yard is patches of grass but primarily dominated by weeds.

My back patio is in literal shambles, chunks of broken patio paver strewn around the yard.

The screens on my windows are either broken, bent, or missing altogether.

The cool Govee lights no longer stick to my overhang, so they dangle like a complete eyesore.

It’s frustrating.

This past weekend, I went to the hardware store and spent way too much money on grass seed. It felt incredibly rewarding to do the hard work of ripping up the old junk and trying to build something new.

It felt like a sign for me to log off a bit more often and tend to reality.

But that’s not to say this garden is going away anytime soon. I’ll keep sharing articles like these here because I think it fits nicely with the thesis under which I am about to launch a newsletter: technology is so cool, and we could all use a reminder of that sometimes.

We also could use a friend to help us figure out how to use it right.

Much like I could use a friend to help me figure out how to replace my busted up patio.

  1. As an avid anecdotalist, I’m bummed I haven’t been using this metaphor the whole time. I mean, we even use the term “walled garden” to refer to massive platforms like Facebook or TikTok. Get your head in the game, Tim! 

  2. And as someone who nearly swore off programming altogether during my senior year of high school because building Simpsons websites wasn’t as much fun anymore, I find myself once again disappointed that I didn’t see this one coming. 0-for-2, Tim, you’re slipping! 

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Happy 20th Anniversary, Gmail. I’m Sorry I’m Leaving You.

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

I am grateful — genuinely — for what Google and Apple and others did to make digital life easy over the past two decades. But too much ease carries a cost. I was lulled into the belief that I didn’t have to make decisions. Now my digital life is a series of monuments to the cost of combining maximal storage with minimal intention.

I have thousands of photos of my children but few that I’ve set aside to revisit. I have records of virtually every text I’ve sent since I was in college but no idea how to find the ones that meant something. I spent years blasting my thoughts to millions of people on X and Facebook even as I fell behind on correspondence with dear friends. I have stored everything and saved nothing.

This is an example of what AI, in its most optimistic state, could help us with.

We already see companies doing this. In the Apple ecosystem, the Photos widget is perhaps the best piece of software they’ve produced in years.

Every single day, I am presented with a slideshow of a friend who is celebrating their birthday, a photo of my kids from this day in history, or a memory that fits with an upcoming event.

All of that is powered by rudimentary1 AI.

Imagine what could be done when you unleash a tuned large language model on our text histories. On our photos. On our app usage.

AI is only as good as the data it is provided. We’ve been trusting our devices with our most intimidate and vulnerable parts of ourselves for two decades.

This is supposed to be the payoff for the last twenty years of surveillance capitalism, I think?

All those secrets we share, all of those activities we’ve done online for the last twenty years, this will be used to somehow make our lives better?

The optimistic take is that we’ll receive better auto suggestions for text responses to messages that sound more like us. We’ll receive tailored traffic suggestions based on the way we drive. We’ll receive a “long lost” photo of our kid from a random trip to the museum.

The pessimistic take is that we’ll give companies the exact words which will cause us to take action. Our own words will be warped to get us to buy something we’ve convinced ourselves we need.

My hunch is that both takes will be true. We need to be smart enough to know how to use these tools to help ourselves and when to put them down.

I haven’t used Gmail as my primary email for years now2, but this article is giving me more motivation to finally pull the plug and shrink my digital footprint.

This is not something the corporations did to me. This is something I did to myself. But I am looking now for software that insists I make choices rather than whispers that none are needed. I don’t want my digital life to be one shame closet after another. A new metaphor has taken hold for me: I want it to be a garden I tend, snipping back the weeds and nourishing the plants.

My wife and I spent the last week cleaning out our garage. It reached the point where the clutter accumulated so much that you could only park one car in it, strategically aligned so you could squeeze through a narrow pathway and open a door.

As of this morning, we donated ten boxes of items and are able to comfortably move around the space. While there is more to be done, the garage now feels more livable, useful, and enjoyable to be inside.

I was able to clear off my work bench and mount a pendant above it. The pendant is autographed by the entire starting defensive line of the 1998 Minnesota Vikings.

Every time I walk through my garage, I see it hanging there and it makes me so happy.

Our digital lives should be the same way.

My shame closet is a 4 terabyte hard drive containing every school assignment since sixth grade, every personal webpage I’ve ever built, multiple sporadic backups of various websites I am no longer in charge of, and scans of documents that ostensibly may mean something to me some day.

Scrolling through my drive, I’m presented with a completely chaotic list that is too overwhelming to sort through.

Just like how I cleaned out my garage, I aught to do the same to this junk drawer.

I’ll revert to Ezra’s garden metaphor here: keep a small, curated garden that contains the truly important and meaningful digital items to you. Prune the rest.

(Shout out to my friend Dana for sharing this with me. I think she figured out my brand.)

  1. By today’s standards. 

  2. I use Fastmail. You should give it a try (that link is an affiliate link)! 

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Tech doesn’t make our lives easier. It makes them faster.

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

Because we’re social animals we tend to go along with the trend, and because we live under capitalist acceleration the trend is always one way, because our system only has one gear. We also have the ability to edit our memories, so can find ways to convince ourselves that this was all our own choice. That very same adaptability, though, prevents us from using the new tech to save time, because – under a system with a growth fetish – we’ll be expected to adapt to a new normal in which we have to do more stuff and get more stuff in the same amount of time.

The dark irony then, is that it is the introduction of the new tech that inspires the subsequent irritation at its absence. Twenty years ago nobody fidgeted in agitation if they had to wait ten minutes for a taxi. Now you’ll check your phone incessantly if the Uber is running three minutes later than you expected. And god forbid the driver cancels, because you’ve probably algorithmically planned everything down to the last minute. We increasingly live a ‘just in time’ life because, at a systemic level, there’s pressure to pack in as much stuff as possible at both a consumption and production level. We’re just as dissatisfied, only busier.

The more I dig into the reasons behind my anxiety and depression, I keep coming back to some form of “it’s the system, maaaan.”

And that thought often leads me down two paths:

The first path is wallowing in anger around our horrible healthcare system, our completely corrupt political system, and our inability to have a rational conversation around solutions to all these problems (often with people whom I actually deeply care about).

The second path is spinning around solutions for these problems. How can I tone down the heat in conversations with my loved ones? How can I push back against a culture hellbent on incessant and mindless consumption?

How do we all just slow down?

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