Civic Diary 4/7/2016

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

So remember my post on Citizenship? Where I’d post monthly or so on my experiments in being more civicly engaged? Taking it in a slightly different direction.

Welcome to the Civic Diary.

I figure as opposed to a monthly roundup, I’d share my experiments sort of whenever. That way I can get feedback and ideas and it may inspire others to do likewise on their attempts to be more engaged citizens.

(I also figure it adds structure to the whole endeavor).

I should note this is not an attempt to show off – nor should it be for anyone. This is more chronicling a journey to see if it helps anyone – but it is a journey, since I’m not there yet.

So what did I learn since last time:

  • If your town/city or whatever has a Twitter, Facebook, newsletter, or RSS feed get it. A lot happens locally that can affect our life and the lives of others, and there’s often many chances to get involved. It also keeps you aware of issues from the bottom-up. Here in Silicon Valley just one week into following my town I already feel more educated.
  • A lot of citizenship seems to be about the power of weak links (just like networking) – many small, not really strong connections that you leverage when needed or that add up. In the case of citizenship that combination of friends, RSS feeds, retweets adds up. No one little bit of citizenship-connection is going to be The One that makes you some epic civic wonder – its having many options and inputs.
  • Libraries – if there’s a local library get their newsletter, check their page, etc. Libraries provide a lot of social services – you can find a class, keep up on community news, or even do presentations or each.
  • Keeping up on news is invaluable to citizenship – on all levels. That seems obvious, but when you’re thinking “how do I be a better citizen” regularly (say, in making an effort like this) you see how valuable the news is.
  • Everyone has their own “news rhythm” that keeps them informed. Maybe you check once a day, maybe regularly, whatever. Just develop one.

Finally, I also find keeping a civic diary like this helps me think about how to be a better citizen. So hey, why not try your own.

– Steve

Make A Diference In A Life

After watching people slog through the Great Recession and the not-quite recovery, and being a bit concerned about 2017, I’d like to share some important advice about helping people survive and prosper. Or at least survive.

It’s something I can some up simply: Make A Difference In A Life

Right now you’ve got people you know that just need a bit of help. Right now you’ve got people who need a break just to make it. Some people you know just need one hand up to get their life not only in order, but to be a success. Others may just need help getting along in life until things settle down and stabilize.

Find these people and, when you can, be the one that Makes The Difference. One helping hand, one outreach, one loan is what they need – so go do it. Life is tough enough as it is, the world economy has problems, many governments don’t need the needs of the people, so make a difference.

Repeat – make a difference. Think about what you’re doing and how it will be making a serious difference in a life.

Not sure what to do? Well here’s a list to try:

GIVE A “LOAN”: A lot of your friends and family probably just need some money to make rent before a new job starts, get some training, etc. Send them the money – but make sure it’s money you can afford to loose. Removing that pressure is important – because money can ruin a friendship.

CRASH SPACE: If you’re in an area with great economic opportunities, let someone you know move in with you and look for work – and don’t charge them rent. A good job search can usually pay off in 1-3 months, and then they either move out, you get a bigger place, or they start paying rent. Everyone wins.

TOUR SPACE: Similar to Crash Space, if someone is thinking about moving to your area, let them stay with you for awhile to scope it out.

SEND A GIFT: There’s lots of ways to give people a boost in life with just the right book, piece of software, etc. So, send it to them – do it on Christmas or on a Birthday if you’re worried they’ll feel guilty.

USE THAT DISCOUNT: Related to sending a gift, chances are that your company, professional association, etc. gives you breaks on certain purchases. Use that to make a difference – some even encourage it.

MAKE INTRODUCTIONS: I harp on this constantly, and it’s not stopping – introduce people to each other to Make A Difference. That writer needs an editor – so introduce them to your friend the editor. Someone at your job needs a tech writer, so send them the resumes of a friend. Always look for this opportunity.

HANDOFF: You’ve probably got books, computers, training manuals, software that you don’t need – so give it to somehow who will get use out of it. Everyone wins.

SKILLS WITHOUT BILLS: You can probably help someone out by giving them some free time with whatever you’re good at. Maybe you do their accounting to help resolve a shortfall, help with their resume, etc. The right bit of help at the right time can make a huge difference.

GIVE THEM A BREAK: Everyone needs a little cheering up. A gift, dropping by, etc. could be what they need to snap out of a funk – THEN you can introduce one of the other ides above.

A suggestion – try and do at least one of these in the next year.  Find at least one life to change in whatever way you can.

Then try again.

I wish things were easier.  Yes, we should all be voting, calling our representatives, donating to the right causes, and more – we need more from our governments and our societies.  But while you do that – work on Making A Difference in one life as well.

  • Steve

Technology, Humanity: Values And What We Value

OK let me wade into the Paul Graham clusterbumble.  For those who haven’t kept up, Graham made a rather bizarre post about economic inequality that pretty much got him roasted like nuts by various people.  Though I think he sort of meant well, it was a bizarre case of self-aggrandizement, ignoring actual inequality issues, and defending some wealth inequality in a way that amplified the other problems of his “position”.  It was, to be charitable, a piece by someone wanting to sound smart and informed and revealing the opposite.

One of the place where his walnuts got toasted was over at Medium, where “Holly Wood” noted his defense’s problems, and this quote stood out, as noted by my good friend Serdar.  In a nutshell it caught everything wrong with the elitist ideas in Silicon Valley (not I don’t say “of” Silicon Valley since it’s a lot more diverse here than people realize).:

You end up going to absurd lengths to rationalize mediocre ideas because they happen to make tons of money instead of questioning the legitimacy of a system that confers so much value on to stupid things. To stay consistent, you have to defend the logic that the creepy women who founded Peeple contribute more value to society than literally thousands of 4th grade teachers.


Serdar rightly notes that this leads us to the uncomfortable position of having to evaluate our values.  Some of our values may not just be bad ideas, they may be actively harmful.

Ultimately our values dictate what we value.  What we think is important affects what we seek out, do, and create.

And, right now, too much tech – too much of society – is based around the idea of the almighty dollar as the arbiter of value over all else.  It doesn’t take much effort to realize that if you ultimately value ‘someone making a ton of money, hopefully me’ it says that your values . . . really aren’t that valuable.  It’s just numbers and pieces of paper being pushed around and biggest pile wins.  It’s trite, meaningless, and damned dangerous when we have other issues to solve and more important things to pursue.

It’s time for technologists – including myself – to ask what our values are and take action to keep, expand, and enhance what is truly of value.

Know what?  The whole pile-of-money-is-best idea is a bad idea.  All it leads to is less  and less people with more and more money, stabbing each other in the back to get to the top of the mountain while everything buns.  You can pretty it up anyway you want, but that’s what money-is-all – an all-to-common value held by people – leads to.  A deathmatch where nothing is left.

Not particularly valuable is it?

As Anil Dash notes in his own essay, it’s time to make our technologies, companies, and what we do with them more humane.  He’s damned right on this.  If technology is only about the biggest pile of money, then it’s worthless, valueless.  It’s just a way station among meltdowns and moneygrabs.

And you know the whole idea that Silicon Valley is a bunch of bloodsucking neo-libertarian asses?  Not true.  Not even some of the people we think are that way.  All of us here are people, and a lot of us are trying.

But I think we need to consider our values. And that should be humanity first, because we’re all human, and it’s better to be human together than inhuman rushing to be last man standing on the then-worthless pile of benjamins.

– Steve