Publish Then Filter

It’s killing me. It really is. Every week I show up for my class, “Narratives and Networks,” and one of our course instructors, Hanson Hosein, says to us, “Publish then filter.”

By this he means, don’t worry about getting everything perfect. Get it out there. Hit submit. It’s an iterative process, and the nature of web publishing is that you refine as you go. Audiences (not editors) filter what they like and don’t like.

Hanson, who is also the director of the Master of Communications in Digital Media program at the UW, is fond of saying, “It’s all beta” meaning it’s all subject to change, testing and improving as we go. The master’s program? Beta. Our course syllabus? Permanently beta.

This unnerves me. Not the program or the syllabus being flexible. It’s the beta nature of publishing and writing these days that feels like “ready, fire, aim.” By personality and training, I want to polish then publish. (And I like the alliteration of “polish” with “publish” better than “filter” even if it changes the meaning.)

I’m old-school. Journalism courses emphasized copy editing and fact-checking and getting it right. Errors and corrections cost money. Years ago, when I was editor of World Vision’s magazines, we received bluelines, photographic proofs of our magazine pages, before they went to press. If we caught a mistake at that stage of the game, we incurred additional expenses to make a change.

It’s hard to tell myself, We’ll make the necessary changes along the way.  What I need to grasp is that life itself is “permanently beta.” It’s ever-changing and shifting. Down days give way to glorious ones. Sweet teenagers swerve into moody moments. We fall and we fail, and then we get up and keep going.

There’s no use trying to get it perfect. I’ve been tinkering with this website wanting to figure out the photos and links and the design before I open it up to everyone. It’s time to just go live and work it out as I go.

This week I read a piece by Christian author Don Miller. (I have a massive writer’s crush on him. See this. And this.) I read his post, and I could swear he was writing to me. Don wrote, “I’ve heard the desire to control is the root of sin. I know it’s just a saying, but I think there’s truth in it. There’s truth and a lack of faith, too…Afraid of writing a blog? Admit it in the first sentence.”

Well, I didn’t say it in the first sentence, but I’m afraid. I fear what people will think of me if I put my words and thoughts out there. I’m wrapped up in my image and ego. I’m worried there will be typos and awkward sentences and a hundred ways my blog (and I) will look unprofessional.

I hold back from a lot of things, big and small, because I don’t want to risk looking foolish. I sing to myself in the shower because, well the acoustics are pretty good in there, but also because I’m pretty sure I don’t have a great singing voice. I dance in my kitchen with my dog, Whistler, as my only witness.

My friend Devin breaks into song every now and then when we’re hanging out together. It takes me by surprise, and then I think, That’s so cool that he sings when a song comes into his head. It helps that he has a good voice, too.

When my kids were little, they laughed and danced and sang with abandon. Self-consciousness is settling over them now. I look at them and see their growing fears of looking foolish, and I hope I can pass on to them what I’m learning: “Publish then filter.”

I’m hitting “Publish Post” now.

The View From Up Here

We have reached our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, and the flight attendant has announced that we can now turn on our laptops, our pda’s, our iPods, our personal electronics, our Sonicare toothbrushes, our electric shavers, and our stun guns. But our cell phones must remain off. No texting.

Texting on our cell phones in the air, I’ve been told, makes the plane turn right. It also wrecks havoc on international stock markets and affects the democratic election process in Iran. Oh, and it affects American Idol votes too.

So while I have four books (but no Kindle yet—my birthday’s in September if anyone’s wondering) to keep me occupied, I’m instead firing up my laptop to share my deep thoughts about air travel today.

Frankly, it’s hard to know whether I’m in an airplane or a food court. Passenger 6A is eating chicken teriyaki for lunch. 7D has a lime salsa burrito. Apparently all of us read the notice on our itineraries stating that “food will be available for purchase” on our flight. But we grew up watching Gillian’s Island, so we know a 3-hour tour might be a lifetime aboard an aircraft where food will be available for purchase. We aren’t taking any chances so we boarded with food and our 84” carry-on suitcases to avoid extra baggage fees.

Physical baggage. Emotional baggage. Traveling evokes all the possibilities out there. Enroute to Amsterdam, I was once asked out for dinner by a Greek guy who taught me how to make moussaka and explained the process of creating extra, extra virgin olive oil. On another trip, a guy in Dam Station asked if he could photograph me. Most prison mug shots look better than my best photos so I said no. I also suspected that the photo might turn up in prison or on the internet in a different form, so no thanks.

Then there was the dude on a previous flight to D.C. (half Dutch…what’s with the Netherlands connection?) with whom I had lunch with the next afternoon. So I was kinda thinking that in the plane seat lottery today, I might get seated next to some hot CIA agent who might want to whisper government secrets in my ear en route to our nation’s capitol. Alaska Airlines did me one better and placed me next to the one empty seat on our full flight. No date lined up for tomorrow, but I did have lots of elbow room.

When I’m traveling with my kids, they eagerly pull out the laminated safety cards illustrating what happens in the event of a water landing. “If we crash, will we get to slide down those big inflatable slides?”

My kids are still at the age where they strictly heed all safety guidelines and rules. They know, for instance, that they won’t be able to light up their cigarettes while the no smoking sign is illuminated. Katie wet her pants on our last flight. When I asked her why she didn’t get up to use the bathroom, she pointed to the seatbelt sign and told me she wasn’t allowed to take her seatbelt off.

“In the event that oxygen masks should drop down from the overhead compartment, please place your own mask on your face before assisting children.”

“Why do they want you to put your mask on first?” my kids asked.

“Because the other passengers are hoping that in the event of an emergency, you’ll all pass out and be very quiet,” I replied.

“Place the oxygen mask over your nose and mouth and breathe normally. The first minute of oxygen will cost you 45 cents and every minute thereafter will be charged at 10 cents a minute…”

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things

I’d write more but the books are a callin’ and I’m watching my elbows from those heavy carts wheeling down the center aisle. For all my vacationing friends hurtling through the somewhat friendly skies, traveling mercies!

The Faces of Facebook

We’ve all heard the stories: college admission staff looking up students’ Facebook pages; potential employers (think Obama’s campaign) checking out applicants via social networks; and what better way to get the scoop on a potential date (or keep tabs on someone) than by looking up personal postings via online profiles?

It used to be fairly simple to compartmentalize one’s social spheres before things like Facebook created a convergence of networks. So what’s a person to do if Mom and Dad, bosses and co-workers, high school and college pals, former romantic interests and current ones are all converging, mingling and posting on your one, very public wall?

One solution is to de-friend the outer circle and keep only close friends in the inner-sanctum of Facebook. Say your top 225 friends. (You could have even earned a burger for your efforts if Burger King hadn’t pulled their recent de-friend-a-friend campaign.)

Or you could follow Sarah Perez’s directions on how to set up categories of people on Facebook, thereby specifically managing who has access to your wall, your photos, your comments and your Facebook life. You can even block specific people from accessing or finding you on Facebook.

Privacy settings and controlled access certainly have their place. I’m wary of exposure of my kids’ activities and photographs to any ol’ anybody. But safety issues aside, I think there’s something else going on amid the angst I often hear from people worried about public wall postings, photo tags of them at parties and such.

It’s the fact that we have gotten used to managing our manners depending on the company we’re keeping. We have a certain code of conduct in our professional worlds. We have neighbors, church friends, civic acquaintances, and relatives–all with different knowledge and histories of us.

Yet, instead of working to cordon off segments of our lives, I think it’s time to think about who we are in our entirety. Are we the same or different depending on who we’re talking to and who we’re with? Are we letting people fully into our lives to see us with our strengths and vulnerabilities? Or do we have areas of our lives that we’d like to keep under wraps from others? Are we authentic? Genuine? Truthful in all of our communications?

When I was little, teachers at church would remind us, “Jesus is the invisible person who sees and hears everything that you do.” It sounded an awful lot like, “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake!”

I resist behavior modification by fear. I prefer when some catalyst comes along that requires a self-examination of some aspect of my life. Colliding worlds on Facebook has been a bit of that kind of catalyst.

When I look at my community of friends on Facebook, I find myself asking the questions: Am I the same person to my church friends as I am to my college friends as I am to my work colleagues as I am to my children? If I say something/write something, am I comfortable with people from all areas of my life reading it?

A decade ago, I was editor of World Vision’s magazine when the Kosovo refugee crisis erupted. Our corporate Gifts-in-Kind department copied me on an email detailing all the items being sent to the refugees: blankets, water purification tablets, diapers, and, because World Vision thinks of everything, Kotex feminine hygiene products.

I don’t know what about that caught my attention. I guess I had never thought through the details of what you might require if you had to abandon your home and flee across borders. And here was World Vision, planning down to the last detail for those in need!

I wrote a quick and jokey email to my magazine staff saying that we ought to create a whole fundraising campaign on the magazine’s business reply envelope titled, “Kotex for Kosovo.” It had great alliteration.

Unfortunately, I hit “reply all” instead of “forward,” and my tongue-in-cheek email went back to the entire corporate GIK team. Ah, the embarrassment. But the problem is not the technology, those darn reply alls that trip us up. The problem is that we trip ourselves up when we have things in our private world that we wouldn’t want made public. Think Clinton. Spitzer. Blagoyavich. And I’m not just picking on the men.

I happen to believe that we live in a culture that has lost a certain amount of community as well as accountability. We crave connections. We want to be known. How else do you explain the huge phenomenon of Facebook’s 150 million users? Or the gazillion 25 random list postings. But oddly enough, even as we write our status feeds, comment on friends’ notes, postings, videos and pictures, we also work diligently to show them only what we want them to see. And only to certain people.

We’ve all become spinmeisters, managing our profile pages to ensure that we’re witty and hip; popular and cool. Beautiful families. Great vacations. Clever links. And it’s cool to count on the fact that our friends can, well, literally count our friends!

Facebook is rapidly responding to the desire for ever-more customized views. I wonder if we would be better served by an application that filters the spin and helps us communicate with more candor and greater consistency across all our circles of friends.

[Written Feb. 2009]