All month long I've seen a portion of my Facebook friends continue the annual November tradition of posting something they're thankful for each day. It's a decent practice, noting things you're thankful for, but the need to do so all month long simply because Thanksgiving is also in November is odd to me. Shouldn't you be doing this every day? Or on a regular basis? I don't doubt many of them do, but doing it in plain view of everyone else simply due to the calendar seems like a grab for attention. A, "look at how good of a person I am, please validate this for me" move that continues for a full 30 days.
But the practice did get me thinking about my own 30 day challenge. Not one I'll be posting daily about, but one I believe I should record, if only for my own benefit. For the past year or so, I've been mulling over the concept of minimalism. There are a range of interpretations about what truly constitutes a minimalist, but there are some core values each view shares, and those are the characteristics I'm chasing after.
A seed was planted in my mind roughly a year ago when I read a book called Insanely Simple by Ken Segall. While the book focuses specifically on how Apple achieves success by holding simplicity at the core of everything they do, I firmly believed the ideas could be applied to one's personal life. In starting to explore, I stumbled across a website called Becoming Minimalist. Operated by Joshua Becker, the site is devoted to his own experience in becoming a minimalist and inspiring others to do the same. He has written two books since starting the site, both of which I've purchased but not yet read.
What I've gathered over the last year, is that minimalism isn't really about not owning things, or merely having less. It's more about being intentional in the things you own. Owning things for real purpose, and being content with just a little bit less. It's the idea that you don't hold onto possessions, "just in case", or keep boxes of items with "sentimental value" tucked away somewhere. Everything you own should be something you truly enjoy and interact with. And more importantly, that you don't buy into consumerism, which suggests that buying and owning more will make you happy - but it really does the opposite. Instead, experiences and valuable relationships are what lead to happiness, and this is at the core of minimalism or "intentional living".
So, with my new aversion to "stuff", I've stopped asking for things. My family has asked what I want for Christmas, and my answer is that I really want, well, nothing. I don't need more stuff. I have too much stuff. My goal now is to get rid of stuff.
Which brings me back to that 30 day challenge. A couple days ago I started getting rid of stuff. Just one item each day, for 30 days. On December 20th, I will get rid of my 30th item and I will own less stuff. It's not all big possessions. It could be anything from that old sheet of paper I've been too lazy to deal with to the t-shirt I haven't worn in a couple months. I'll be recycling, giving away, selling, or simply trashing 30 items. One day at a time. It's simple now, but I may have some tougher choices 20 items from now.
It's only a start. And making a significant lifestyle change doesn't happen overnight, or even within a month. But I've got to start somewhere. By getting rid of my excess stuff, I'll start making room for the people and activities I truly care about. Don't believe me? There's some data to suggest the average person spends 9.5 hours a day living for stuff, instead of living life. This is certainly worth a try.
Something I've been struggling with for a long time is how to balance connections on social media websites. As a typical high school student, I accepted Facebook friend requests almost like candy on Halloween night. If I had so much as seen the person who wanted to be my "friend", I clicked the little blue accept button. Before long, I accumulated well over 300 "friends". By simple numeric measures I should've been pretty popular, right? In reality, though, I wasn't popular, and a vast majority of these people weren't my friends.
Shortly after I graduated high school, I was that person who delivered a very liberal "fuck you" gesture by abusing the wonderful "unfriend" button. Dropping my friend count from roughly 350 to a mere 89 was an immensely liberating feeling. Fast forward to college, and that friend count started creeping a little higher. But by the end of my first year, I'd only climbed back up to around 150, not too bad. I'd also developed a more serious system to limit access to certain information by placing my friends on lists.
On the flip side, I started using Twitter my freshman year. My Twitter has always been public. Anyone in the world can pull up my account and read every tweet I've ever made (and not deleted). And I'm completely comfortable with that. Twitter is my place to spit out observations, ideas, have the occasional conversation. It's an open book. But it felt really contradictory to my experience on Facebook, and still does.
I'm actually really comfortable with having a completely public profile and sharing myself, though. My expectation of privacy on the Internet is rather low, despite my vehement belief that Internet users have an inherent right to a significant level of privacy. I simply choose to leave certain avenues completely open for sharing about myself. So why, then, do I frown upon people with Facebook friend counts in the many hundreds? Why do I still participate in regular cleanings of my friends list?
And finally, I think I'm coming to grips with an answer. It all boils down to the relationship that exists with connections on Facebook versus connections on Twitter (or even Google+).
One word: reciprocity.
The reason connections on Facebook bother me so much is because of the implied reciprocity. "Friend" is not a one-way relationship. In order to be connected to someone on Facebook, both parties have to agree on maintaining that connection. Compare this to Twitter, where the act of two people following each other is actually two mutually exclusive events. If someone wants to follow me on Twitter, I am under no obligation to follow them back. The same cannot be said for Facebook.
Someone asking to be my Facebook friend is immediately implying a two-way relationship where one doesn't necessarily exist. By becoming Facebook friends with someone, I allow increased access to my profile for my new "friend" while simultaneously gaining increased access to theirs whether I want it or not. This also means they appear in News Feed unless I go out of my way to tell News Feed to hide them. Under this model, using Facebook becomes a chore due to the need to constantly manage the content I'm served. That's why it's so much easier to simply unfriend people when their connection becomes virtually irrelevant.
By placing my friends on lists, I kind of improve the situation by categorically limiting their access. It also allows me to assess the worth of being connected to them. As it stands, people are placed under "Close Friends", "Close Acquaintances" or "Acquaintances". The first and last are created automatically by Facebook, and privacy settings have a convenient setting for "Friends except Acquaintances" which made changing privacy en masse really easy. "Close Acquaintances" is a list I use for people I don't want to limit but aren't necessarily people I'm in frequent contact with or have a close relationship with. This still leaves the problem of those connections that are more one-way in nature, though. What to do with them?
For a while I'd thought about creating a list for people that should be more limited and that I can easily ignore in my daily use of Facebook but that for one reason or another deserve some sort of connection. I finally decided to try that paradigm and found that Facebook automatically has a list for such a purpose. The "Restricted" list is meant for those people I had no idea what to do with. They are connected to me, the list can be used in privacy settings, and they are hidden from News Feed.
So, that person I'm only friends with while in class? Restricted. Those people who have really drifted apart? Restricted. Ex-girlfriends? Restricted. Distant relatives of significant others I've never met? Restricted.
This sort of resolves the reciprocity issue of Facebook connections. Restricted friends can see more of my profile than non-friends, but significantly less than acquaintances. New posts (from now on) are hidden from restricted friends (unfortunately the limit past posts feature is not robust enough to retroactively apply settings this advanced), but I can change this on a post-by-post basis as I see fit.
All I've really done is further burden myself with more management, but I'm also allowing myself to relegate connections I feel obligated to have to a more comfortable state. I have no idea if this paradigm will work, but in the process I get to clean up News Feed by pushing a few people away. This alone makes it worth a try.
It's been tossed around a lot in the past year or two: "You should learn to code". In fact, it's been tossed around a little too much. There's article, after article, after article, after... well, you get the idea. It's gotten to the point where many are sick of hearing it.
Jeff Atwood, a well-respected web developer, recently wrote an article titled Please Don't Learn to Code. His arguments are completely valid, but I fundamentally disagree with his conclusion. The problem at hand isn't whether or not people should learn to code. The problem is why people should learn to code.
Almost everything I've seen about learning to code claims that it will somehow help your career. And I guess that's true, if you plan on being a developer, or working closely with developers. But aside from that, there's not a ton of benefit for your job. But I firmly believe there is still value in exposing everyone to programming.
Look at mathematics, for example. Beyond algebra, what value is there for day to day life in learning it? Will knowing anything about parametric and polar equations help me? Or finding the volume of a shape by rotating it on an axis? Fat chance. But the primary goal for most people taking upper level math is the logical skills that come along for the ride. Is programming any different? Arguably, programming can be a more valuable problem-solving tool than absurd levels of calculus because that's literally all programming is. It's problem solving.
During my freshman year of high school, my English teacher brought up the subject about what we (the students) wanted to do with our lives. I proudly proclaimed I wanted to be a "computer programmer" (in retrospect that's an absurdly generic term, but the point remains), to which my teacher responded almost angrily. There seemed to be a perception that wanting to be a computer programmer wasn't aspiring to much. In reality, I think you'd be pretty hard-pressed to find a developer who doesn't find their work mentally stimulating. Programming can be absurdly difficult. Yet somehow, my English teacher seemed to believe otherwise. That striving to be a developer was, somehow, a waste of my talent.
For the past two summers, I've been teaching for iD Tech Camps. I've had the immense pleasure of teaching children how to program in Java. What they quickly learn is that coding is rarely the challenge. Writing code is pretty straight forward. The issue they face is never with code, but problem solving; figuring out what they need to write. It's an entirely different learning experience than they get from their schools because most of them don't have an opportunity to take a programming class. That said, that's not the biggest reason I believe everyone should learn to code.
There was one week this summer where a kid in my class wasn't that interested in Java. Sports were more his thing, but his parents wanted him to spend a week at computer camp to be exposed to something new. It was a challenging week for him. Staying motivated was tough. In the end, however, he walked away with something very important. Even the kids who were really into learning it, I wanted them to walk away with the same thing: a renewed appreciation for the software they use. Until they learned to write a program themselves, they didn't have a grasp of the amount of work real software takes.
At the end of the week, they're really impressed by their simple hangman game. "300 lines of code!" they say excitedly. Then the real lesson comes. I tell them about Google's transition from Webkit to Blink, followed by the amount of code they removed right off the bat: 8.8 million lines. It's not meant to belittle their own achievements, but to demonstrate the sheer size and scope of modern software so they walk away understanding how much work it takes. And that kid who wasn't too thrilled to learn Java? At the end of the week, he gave me one of the most sincere thank-you's I received all summer. "It's a lot more work than I imagined," he said. That's why everyone should learn to code.
Most of us dissect things in high school biology, but do we go out and dissect things every day? A vast majority of us don't, but we learned it anyway. If computers are the way of the world now, is programming any different? I do not for one second believe that teaching everyone basic coding skills will result in a lot more bad code in the world, as Jeff Atwood does. What will happen is more young people will be exposed to possible careers, and more people will have an appreciation for the work developers put into software. The issue isn't whether or not you should learn to code. The issue is saying that it's definitely good for your career. The real reason you should learn to code is a personal one. Everything else is bullshit propaganda.
Back in middle school, I "dated" a handful of girls. Six or seven, if I recall correctly, including a ridiculous off and on "relationship" with a girl who grew up to learn she's a lesbian. Fortunately for me, you can't really turn someone gay, but that didn't stop the jokes from being made. But let's be honest, middle school relationships basically amount to two close friends who freak out because, "oh my god, we hugged!"
Fast forward a few years to the end of high school, and things look a bit more serious. I was your stereotypical, desperately alone nerd who couldn't help but come across as creepy to most girls. Hardly an ideal dating scenario. I did, however, date a girl my senior year of high school, marking my first real relationship. It was a valuable one, even if it did come to end. It was a victim of timing more so than anything else: with me heading off to college and she staying in high school, a long distance relationship didn't seem to be in the cards. So I called things off.
Shortly after arriving to college, I met a girl who became my friend very quickly. Within a couple months, our friendship took a turn to the romantic side. It was then I learned that dating in college is dramatically different from dating in high school. The lifestyles are practically opposites. It's the difference between "do we have permission to do this?" and "do we want to do this?". And when summer came this time around, I stuck with it. And for the most part, it all worked out. Coming back into the relationship in the fall felt a little weird after spending nearly three full months apart, though. But high school me was a very different person. I'm not so awkward anymore (at least, not in the same way), and I was talking to her about it. Hell yeah it was hard, but I respected this girl enough to be honest.
Ultimately, I ended the 9 month relationship. Whether it was due to the strangeness I felt upon returning, or because of an interest in another girl, I'm still not entirely sure. I think the combination of the two factors is what really brought me to call things off when I did.
And it's there at the start of my second year of college that I met the first girl I feel I genuinely loved. Our relationship kinda just... happened. She caught my attention by trying to not be noticed at all, and I somehow fell in love with her in a matter of weeks. But we were very different people. I'd like to think we challenged each other in the best of ways and could help each other grow as people, but after 7 months of being together and spending 3 months apart, she begged to differ.
When we both came back to campus a few days ago, everything seemed fine. By the end of our first day back, she revealed that she felt very awkward around me. The next day, she told me that she felt we have nothing in common; that we sit in a room and don't talk, and that we're heading different directions. Rather than put some work into an obviously committed relationship, she chose to walk away. And while I could have made comments about how communication is a two way street and she's not the most talkative person herself, I (shockingly) chose to bite my tongue. And that's how I know I really loved her. My tendency is to strike back when I'm hurt, but I stopped myself. I chose to let her decide on her own. I let her do what she felt like she needed to. And that was a huge moment of growth for me.
We walked away with few words, but I was certainly in a state of shock. I was upset. Deeply upset. But no matter what I did, I couldn't bring myself to cry over it. I was so overwhelmingly sad, I couldn't express anything at all. I just felt dead. And the first couple days thereafter were rough. I relied so heavily on the distraction provided by my job as an Orientation Assistant, and the support of my wonderful new friends to get through the long days. And only now do I get it.
For the first time, my relationship ended on terms that were not my own. For once, I was on the other side of the fence. And it sucked. In my previous breakups, moving on was so much easier because it was all on my terms. I was always sad, but not wounded the way I was this time around. But after a couple days of living with hurt, I simply stopped hurting.
It sounds ridiculous, I know. To go from being hurt to feeling okay and optimistic in such a short time sounds impossible, but it happened. I simply decided that instead of being sad, I could be awesome. I owed it to the new students I was about to mentor to not be sad, but to be genuinely able and willing to help them start the next big chapter of their lives. And perhaps most importantly, I owed it to myself start the next big chapter of mine.
The beautiful thing about working for a college Orientation is that every year is like another fresh start. Why not take the opportunity to start something new yet again? I mean, Orientation had already done it for me twice, why not a third time? The only thing that was stopping me from doing so was a conscious decision to remain hurt instead of seeing the new opportunities before me. So I changed my mind.
It didn't make losing the first young woman I've genuinely loved any easier. The initial loss was still awful. But by merely shifting my perspective on the situation, I quickly came to terms with what happened. She chose what she needed for her. She decided that she could walk away from the one real, healthy relationship she's ever had and move on with her life. Likewise, I decided to walk towards the next portion of my life with nothing but lessons learned, and a newfound sense of adventure.
I can't label this change as a full recovery - that will still take time. But I can mark it as a giant leap forward. With one simple, conscious decision to not be sad and to instead be awesome, I've put myself into a far better place than I imagined I would be a few days ago. And that, at least, is something I can be thankful for.
Admittedly, I just sort of fell into this job. I had never heard of this company before, nor had I stopped to think that this sort of thing was even popular. Things like iD Tech Camps simply don't exist in Maine, or at least very few people have heard of such camps. I'd never put much thought into teaching, and children have a habit of driving me nuts. But at the recommendation of a friend I applied anyway.
I mean, the alternative was going back to being a cashier at Walmart so I figured anything was better than that. Not that I really hated my old job at Walmart, I just felt ready for something more valuable.
The first phone interview of my life was for this job, and I was nervous. I felt like I blew every other question, I stumbled through quite a few answers, and felt that I didn't have all the skills I'd need to actually teach kids something. Add the pressure of making my friend look bad by recommending me, and you have an idea of how I felt for the first 45 minutes of that phone call. But to my surprise, I was offered the job right then and there. Somehow, I'd done something right.
A few months later, camp started. I'd met all of the excellent people I'd be working with, decorated my classroom to the fullest extent (16 corgi pictures included), and thought I was ready for the kids. And then they arrived.
It's funny now, but I was a bit of a wreck my first week. I had issues with the software, questions I wasn't ready for, and I had somehow overestimated the focus and mental capacity of the average 9 year old. Every other problem caused a new bout of panic. I stayed up extra late every night planning and re-planning, and by Thursday morning I was far more exhausted than I imagined I would be. On Friday, I experienced my first family showcase - a time for parents to see what their kids created all week and get a look at what they paid for. I stumbled through it, but managed to make it through my first week with nothing but positive feedback.
As the weeks blurred by, I became more and more comfortable. I had a solid routine for my classes, but grew increasingly tired. Children still frustrated me and tested my patience to its limit, but I made it without seriously upsetting any of them. After 8 weeks, camp was over. I left camp land, slept a lot and then continued life as normal. It was an incredible summer, despite how awful I just made it sound.
Like any crazy person, I chose to subject myself to it again. I came back to camp for another season. And though our old lab space has been torn down and we don't have all of the same great staff as before, it's still camp. A lot of the people who made last year so great are back and there's some good new staff as well. It's a very different camp than before, but it still works. And though I haven't enjoyed the software I've had to teach and kids can still be challenging to deal with, I love this job.
This past week, I had a few particularly unfocused students. They would often distract the others, required me to repeat simple directions far too many times before they would react, and either lacked the ability or the desire to think on their own. It made for a very challenging week which couldn't end soon enough. But when Friday and family showcase did come, I was fully reminded why I do this.
The youngest student in my class was also one of the best. He was genuinely interested in learning to program and he was very easy to teach. He often needed extra help, but it was easy to help him rather than do for him. Being able to talk with his dad about how well he learned and that he should continue with programming was nice. Being told that this kid is unusually picky about who he works with and that he loved me was incredible. I don't know exactly what I did to earn this 9 year old's seal of approval, but having earned that trust matters.
I can't impact all kids that way. Most of them usually won't let that happen. But once in a while there's a kid who sincerely looks up to you as an instructor and believes you matter. Those are the kids who really want to learn something and walk away with more than just a project at the end of the week. They have an experience that changes their perspective, piques a new interest, or sets them on a new path of life. Sure, it's just a summer camp full of computer courses, but students who take it seriously form career and life skills here.
No matter how hard I try, I can't make every kid see it that way. But having a positive impact on just one kid all summer makes this job worthwhile. It's the reason I came back to camp and it's the reason most of us come back. It's what gets me through each exhausting day. There are days where I still don't think I'm cut out to do this, but I keep going. I simply keep waiting for those kids who are few and far between.
The day Facebook announced the new news feed design, I brought it to attention in my UI Design and Development course (which was, sadly, not nearly as great as the title suggests), hoping we could have some meaningful conversation about it. Unfortunately, my professor's first statement was a nonchalant, "what about it?". Not exactly words to start a conversation.
In the brief talk that did follow, my professor pointed out that with photos being larger, content is pushed further down the page than in the old design. In the world of web design, having content "above the fold" is a bit of a rule. The idea is that users shouldn't have to scroll to start seeing the content they came for. Scrolling, albeit a simple thing, is a barrier of entry to getting users to the delicious content that awaits them further down the page. You want them to be hooked as early as possible so they have a reason to scroll. But does this really apply to "news feed" environments?
While it's true that fewer status updates and stories are visible at a time, they look better and are easier to consume. Does it matter if they're further down the page? I tried to raise this point to my professor, but he simply repeated the "above the fold" adage as defense. But by nature of being a feed, and as a user who understands what that is, haven't I already established a reason to scroll?
A feed is meant to be consumed in order. Whether that be in time, relevance, popularity, or some other order, each entry is its own entity competing for my attention. If that much is true, shouldn't each entry be given ample space to capture my attention? Cramming more and more entries "above the fold" in a feed environment just leads to noise.
Take Pinterest for example. Its feed is dense. A bunch of columns crammed into the space with semi-standard alignments. I think my professor would argue the Pinterest feed is of a superior design because there's more content above the fold. Ignore the fact that I can't discern the order of the entries, there's more there and that's clearly better.
That's not to say Pinterest's feed is terrible, it's just different. The point I'm trying to make is: do the old web design adages apply to modern website use? When the "above the fold" rule first came around, websites were primarily text, and screen resolutions were low. Today, content varies dramatically and screen resolution varies across an ever-increasing slew of devices. What is considered "above the fold" anymore? Most importantly: does that matter at all?
My belief is that it depends on the content, first and foremost. If you're writing articles about something, you absolutely need some piece of that article visible when the user first visits. If you have a "news feed" of content, I'd argue that the amount of content above the folder doesn't matter. All that matters is that you establish a context for your content. The user should be able to decide whether or not they want to consume the content and be able to make that decision quickly.
With any luck, my future professors will take a more modern look at these old "rules", or at least consider what my fellow classmates and I have to say about them. Otherwise, I'll have a host of arguments ahead of me.© 2013 Find me on Google, Facebook and Twitter.