It’s been a while since I last wrote a post for this blog. This is nothing new for me. I am a sporadic sharer-of-information when sharing at a distance, even at the best of times. Very quickly, here’s the short version of what the last year or so has looked like for me:
• I was hired at Linfield College as a visiting faculty librarian.
• My wife became a production and stage manager at Artists Repertory Theatre.
• Over the course of the last school year I collaborated with thirteen other faculty members in eleven departments at Linfield to teach information literacy. I taught for a combined total of 41 hours with 245 students. Half of the classes I taught were freshman seminars; the rest were 200 and 300 level classes.
• I took over two big projects at work: training and supervising my library’s team of student reference workers, and analyzing data from the HEDS Student Research Survey that we administered back in 2013/14.
• I took steps to becoming a point-of-contact on our campus for questions related to copyright and intellectual freedom.
• I applied for, and was offered, a tenure-track faculty librarian position at Linfield.
• I wrote one short play, which was produced in concert with several others written by my colleagues in Playwrights West, by Shaking The Tree Theater in Portland.
• I commuted approximately 17,766 miles – 567 hours spent in the car, listening to between 30 and 35 audiobooks and a comparable number of individual podcast episodes.
• I was, effectively, a single father for 18-20 weeks out of the last school year whenever my wife was stage-managing a production.
• I was overjoyed when my son started to develop, in addition to his love of other tabletop games and Pokemon, a passion first for Magic: The Gathering, and then role-playing games.
• Heard my daughter bemoan the fact that she doesn’t get homework anymore this year, and then realized that she loves school more than her genius big brother; and immediately fell in love with that little girl all over again.
• Watched my wife, almost 50 years old, apply herself to finally getting her driver’s license.
As you can see, it’s been a busy year. I trust that, if you read this blog, you’ll forgive me for not writing more. I have a six-week break coming up, though, so I plan to write more.
Here are the first six things I did on the morning of December 30th, 2013:
Went to the bathroom
Shuffled into the kitchen
Shuffled to the computer
Logged into Facebook
After logging into Facebook, I made breakfast, I took a shower, got dressed, did chores, played with the kids… And checked Facebook every fifteen minutes. It was just part of my routine. It didn’t make me any happier, it didn’t make me any smarter or wiser or more informed, and it didn’t add value to anything else that was going on. I did it just to have something to read. Facebook had become my favorite novel, and every minute it was coming out in a new edition. Understand me: it was always the same novel, but every edition used slightly different words. I kept scanning the changes in the language to see if it changed the story, and though the moments changed and different things happened to different people at different time, the overall plot structure was the same.
Okay, I’m sure that’s not objectively true, but that’s how it felt. Think about Hostess Cupcakes for a second: chocolatey, covered with frosting, with that soft creme filling in the center. Now imagine that Hostess Cupcakes is all you want to eat, and it’s all you do eat. All day. Eventually you would come to hate Hostess Cupcakes. Now imagine that you couldn’t stop eating them. That’s what Facebook was to me, after a while. Smart or funny posts made me happy, stupid posts made me angry, and all of it kept me tied to the damn thing because I got to feel things about words without tying them to any living person. It was like all the posts were coming from fictional characters, not my friends and family. And I couldn’t put the ‘Book down.
I’m not sure what it was about December 30th that was different, but I realized that was what I was doing, and I realized it was making me miserable. I realized it was making me miss my life. So I quit. I let people know I was going, I gave them other means to contact me, and at the end of January, I deleted my account.
Immediately, panic set in. Had I made a mistake? What would I do without Facebook? What would Facebook do without me? I’ve calmed down since then. Actually, now that I’ve put a little bit of distance between me and Facebook, there are things that I miss, and things that I don’t.
Five Things I Don’t Miss About Facebook
Getting pissed off by other peoples’ posts. One of the things I despise about Facebook is how people just post things that they don’t fact-check, things that are often biased, or polarizing, or just plain wrong, and those things get sprayed all over the timelines of their friends. Factor in the cute kitten photos, the memes, and whatever George Takei is posting at the time, and it’s crazy-making. Other platforms are the same way. Not having to look at them all the time is a relief.
Having to be funny all the time. One of the cardinal rules of social media appears to be to create value for the people following you. For me, that involved making people laugh every time I posted. That’s not the only way I made value for others on Facebook; per point #1 above, posting reasonably informed things is also value-making. But being “on” all the time is exhausting. And I was on Facebook all the time.
Being glued to my phone. Seriously, I was pulling that thing out of my pocket all the time and checking it. The peril of having a portable computer. Out to dinner? Check the phone. Free moment? Check the phone. Waiting for water to boil? Check the phone. Sitting on the can? Check the phone. I feel like one of the tethers that reinforced that behavior is now gone, and it feels good.
Chronicling every emotion, thought, or moment. I’m starting to believe that without privacy, there is no self. The self is that which is distinct from everything else. That’s not to say that by sharing what I feel, what I think, and what I do, that I’m denying my self. I don’t think that. Done in conscious ways it affirms the self. But there is such a thing as giving yourself away, and by sharing compulsively, that’s what I was doing.
Vaguebooking. This one really got to me, because I don’t think people can actually share anything really personal via Facebook. Maybe some people can, but I know that for me, I didn’t want to be accused of oversharing. Facebook is like a giant party, and everybody’s at it. If I was pissed at somebody, if I was sad about something, I had to be very careful how I worded things for fear that someone might misinterpret my words, or second-guess whether I “should” feel what I was feeling, or send me a dreaded barrage of comments that say, merely,
Five Things That Make Me Wish I’d Never Left
Twitter. Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot that I love about Twitter. The ability to communicate with other people across the country, to receive channels of information from people in the library field… But if Facebook was my heroin, then Twitter is quickly becoming my methadone. They say never to drink coffee while quitting cigarettes… Monitoring my Twitter-time is difficult, and limiting it is uncomfortable.
Community S.O.S.’s. During this recent snowstorm, my family and I got caught on a steep, icy hill in our car. We couldn’t go up because of the ice, and we couldn’t go back because of traffic coming up the hill. My wife sent out a distress signal on FB. I could do nothing, because I had already deleted my account. We made it off of the hill, but it would have been nice to have the extra communication channel.
Contact. Facebook was my one way of getting in touch with a lot of people. Now that it’s gone, my world has gotten that much smaller. One of the communication channels I gave up when leaving was with the other hosts of Let’s All Really Geek Out, a podcast I collaborate on. Another one is with my cohort from grad school.
Fun videos. Because let’s face it: if Buzzfeed is evil, then it’s evil covered in butterscotch icing with maraschino cherries on top. Facebook really is better than cable TV sometimes.
Getting pissed off by other peoples’ posts. Outrage really is like a can of Pringles. Once you pop, you can’t stop. Righteous anger is intoxicating, and as bad as it is for me, I still miss the opportunity to engage in it whenever I want.
So that’s me right now, without Facebook. I’m trying to spend more time in real life. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I don’t. I hope that as I learn to use social media more consciously and healthily that I’ll become a happier and more balanced person. I can already feel it starting, bit by bit. In the meantime, however, I’m trying to do better.
This is the first installment of what I hope will be a recurring segment on this blog: Dad-Splaining. “Dad-Splaining,” in this case, is not like Mansplaining. It’s an attempt for me to figure out how to explain things in an accurate and succinct way, on a number of subjects, to my dad. Dad is one of the most intelligent people I know, and he is regularly able to find the gaps in an argument, or your thinking or knowledge, or an explanation and cut to the heart of things. And I typically have a lot of gaps in my argument. At least when I’m talking to him. Because dads and sons, y’all.
“If I buy a book, it’s mine,” Dad said. “Why should an ebook be any different?” He has a fair point. Telling somebody that they can’t buy a book, they can only license it, is not just counter-intuitive. It feels plain wrong.
The problem lies in what we think we’re buying when we buy a book. Let’s say I want to pick up the latest novel by, say, Joe Hill. I go to Powell’s Books, or Barnes & Noble, or another bookstore, I grab the book off of the shelf, I take it to the cashier, give them my gigantic wad of disposable cash modest spending money for the week, and it’s mine to take home. But what am I actually buying? I’m not buying the story. The story is an idea. It has no physical substance. If it doesn’t have physical substance, then it can’t be bought or sold. The idea, however, is embodied by words in a work of authorship. Once that idea is cemented in an authored work, that work becomes the property of the author. This applies as soon as the words are set down by a writer. This concept is codified in U. S. Copyright Law.
So are we buying the words, or the work? Clearly not. That belongs to the author: in this case Joe Hill, or any other author whose novel we care to buy. When a person plagiarizes, what they’re really doing is committing an act of theft. They are taking the words that belong to someone else and using and presenting them as their own for profit, monetary or otherwise. One might then ask, “Well if that’s so, then how can a publisher print so many books with words that aren’t theirs?” They can do it, because the author grants them a license to do it in a contract that typically includes an up-front price for the license, royalties from future sales, and an advance on those royalties. The ownership of the work resides with the author, and the author grants permission to the publisher to reproduce the work in a partnership that hopefully benefits both parties. This is how authors can make a living doing what they do.
This is obviously a big generalization about how things like this work. The point of it is that when you buy a book, you’re not buying the content inside of it. Text is different from content. You can, and do, buy tracts of text all the time. Content is not so easily bought or sold, and as this new age of access has taught us, information is slippery. Once it’s free in the world, it goes wherever there are people to consume it. What you’re buying is the package: the cover, the pages, the printed text, and that nice dust cover with the pretty illustrations on it.
Making sure authors get paid for their work demands that the law create a set of rules that recognize rights of authorship. It is precisely these rules that protect content rights-holders, whether they be authors or the companies they might sell their rights over to (yes, you can do that), as well as the slippery nature of content and information, that make ebooks so tricky to deal with for everybody. If, when you buy a book, what you’re buying is the package, then what happens when the package is itself a piece of writing?
That’s right: the package that holds an ebook is not physical. It’s not your Kindle, or your Kobe, or your Nook or even your iPad; it’s the programming code that holds the content together as a coherent piece. And code has to be authored by somebody. Therefore, when you pay for an ebook, you still pay for an information package, but that package is, itself, an authored work, and in order to use it, you can’t buy it. You have to license it.
This places the control of how you use it in the hands of the rights-holders of the information package, which is, in the case of ebooks, a company. Companies and corporations are not people, but they do act like living things in certain ways. One of those ways is in their purpose: to survive, to thrive, and to make sure they continue to do so. One major way companies do this is through the movement of money. When a company asserts its digital rights by restricting and curtailing access to ebooks, whether to individual consumers or to larger entities like libraries, what they’re doing is protecting their vital interests, and their main interest is money, because that’s how companies maintain their survival and grow. And that isn’t going to change anytime soon. And, fortunately or unfortunately, they have a right to protect their interests, because their interests are those of the people who run them and, hopefully, also of the people work for them; though in certain cases, that second claim is doubtful.
None of which makes it right for companies to restrict access to information. All it means is that they are protected by law, and that their reasons for doing what they do are understandable, regardless of whether they stifle innovation and prevent people from accessing information in the formats they need and want. This makes the whole issue, in a word, thorny.
My dad didn’t quite see the complexity of it, because I wasn’t so great at explaining it to him. His response is to say, “They should just make it so that if you buy a book, you buy it. That would simplify everything for everybody.” And he’s right. It would. One might argue that by simplifying matters, you could still assure a profit for companies and give people what they want – though I’m not confident enough to argue that point. But under current U. S. law, that can’t happen, because as far as I can tell, there’s nothing differentiating a coded software application from a novel in terms of authorship and rights-holding. And in my opinion, as long as that’s the case, we can’t even begin to untangle this mess.
So, how did I do Dad-Splaining this issue? Did I get it right? Wrong? Did I miss anything? Please leave a comment below and let me know.