thoughts

Thoughts from John Karahalis. Powered by thoughts, a "quieter, slower, more personal" alternative to social media.


Nov 09, 2022 - 2:35PM

Michael Pollan might put it like this:

Use the web. Not too much. Mostly learn from experts.

Nov 08, 2022 - 1:28AM

The foundational medical advice of the future may sound something like this: eat well, stay physically active, don't smoke, and avoid social media.

Nov 07, 2022 - 8:02PM

I don't want this micro-blog to come off as holier-than-thou. I am guilty or have been guilty of many of the things I criticize, especially when it comes to social media. I also know that I have blind spots. I just hope that my blind spots are different than the blind spots of others. I want to share my perspective and learn from the perspectives of others.

Nov 07, 2022 - 7:29PM

I'm frequently disappointed that, in general, people don't independently analyze claims. Rather, people join teams and allow those teams to decide for them what is true.

Oct 20, 2022 - 8:39PM

Social media is a confirmation bias machine. Facebook, for instance, is a great place to hear what we already believe. It's a terrible place to learn from the other and confront the weaknesses of our own arguments.

Is it any surprise, then, that political extremism, conspiracy theories, and pseudoscience are flourishing?

Oct 18, 2022 - 5:54PM

I find it strange that we rarely hear the term "publicity stunt" anymore when they seem more common than ever.

Oct 12, 2022 - 11:19PM

I support Signal's decision to drop support for SMS and MMS. Software maintenance can be incredibly challenging and time-consuming. This decision will likely free up time for more important work.

John Carmack is rumored to have said, "Focus is a matter of deciding what things you're not going to do." I'm not sure if the attribution is correct, but it doesn't matter. It's a good point.

Contrary to the opinions shared on Hacker News, the world is not going to end. (Hacker News readers often forget that they are not the target market.) If anything, it might be easier to convince others to use Signal now. "Use this app to have private conversations with other people who use the app. It doesn't change how anything else on your phone works." In a world that remembers rouge software crashing computers, that fact is more important than it might seem.

Besides, abbreviations rarely correlate with usability. Signal needs to reach normal people. Let's keep it simple.

Oct 12, 2022 - 11:08PM

BeReal is interesting. A newly-popular social network, it allows users to photograph and share one moment per day during a randomly-determined, two-minute window. The thinking is that this will discourage curation. Users will see their friends as they really are, not as they pretend to be.

I'm not convinced. BeReal might limit fakery, but I think pretension will evolve rather than perish in this new environment.

Regardless, BeReal doesn't address the vast majority of problems with social media. I predict that users will still suffer from confirmation bias, addiction, misinformation, targeted advertising, privacy degradation, and the myriad other harms caused by social media.

Oct 07, 2022 - 11:38PM

I know many people who maintain "read-only" social media accounts. They have no intention of posting anything, but they want to see what other people are up to.

Years ago, it occurred to me that social media platforms discourage this. Almost all social media accounts include the ability to post content, whether or not the user actually intends to do so. Even my Twitch account, which I created to comment on video game streams, allows me to create my own stream. I have no interest in becoming a streamer.

It's easy to see why platforms do this: tempting users in this way is good for business. Among the millions of people who create read-only accounts, some percentage of them end up posting content anyway simply because it's easy to do so. Something similar happened to me when I created a Facebook account many years ago. I promised myself that I wouldn't like, comment, or post. That promise didn't last very long.

I find this to be so peculiar. There's no law of nature requiring that social media platforms give megaphones to people who would otherwise be passive readers, and yet this design choice is so ubiquitous that we don't even notice it. Would it be going too far to call this a dark pattern?

Perhaps this is another topic for Congress. We know that social media incentivizes outrageous and polarizing content. Why are we making it easier for people to yell at each other?

Oct 07, 2022 - 6:48PM

Artificial intelligence may soon be able to produce original music. It can already write and perform fairly convincing comedy routines. Are you ready to listen to 50 new Beatles albums, courtesy of our superintelligent machines? They may be coming sooner than you think.

I'm even more excited about live shows. Imagine watching this deadmau5 performance, except that his cuboid supercomputer is functioning autonomously. Having been trained by the artist, it taps into its otherworldly intelligence and creativity to perform unique scores in real time. It responds to audience sentiment, speeding up and slowing down with the energy of the crowd. Fans delight as they hear songs that have never been heard before and will never be heard again. It would be almost spiritual.

Oct 05, 2022 - 8:15PM

Before leaving Facebook, I ran a little social experiment. I wanted to determine how many people were actually paying attention.

My posts began triumphantly. "I'm so proud to have finally made a dream come true." The last sentence would likewise contain subtle gloating. Only the sentences in the middle gave it away. "There is no dream. Nothing came true. I just want to know who's reading this." I included a photo of myself smiling, surrounded by friends, for good measure.

I received a surprising number of likes. Some people congratulated me. Another dirty little secret of social media: many people aren't actually paying attention.

We change what we write based on what garners likes. We change who we are based on what garners likes. What are those likes really worth? Not much, apparently.

Oct 05, 2022 - 6:28PM

I'm interested in how social media relates to embarrassment. How far back does one need to travel through their feed before finding content that is embarrassing in hindsight? On Facebook, it's sometimes years. Only then does one unearth photos of funny hairstyles and bizarre fashion statements. I hope they can laugh about it. We all have those photos.

I hate to say this, but on TikTok, the most recent videos are sometimes the most humiliating. What is it about TikTok that inspires users to humiliate themselves? Is it a desire for fame? Recognition? Fitting in?

I'm not being very delicate here. I wish I could find it in my heart to be kinder, but the effect is real. Unfortunately, I think some TikTok creators would really benefit from some honest feedback about this.

Perhaps this happens because social media obscures honest feedback. As Jaron Lanier has observed, people who post on social media either get upvotes from fans or angry comments from assholes. Everyone else—the silent, uncomfortable majority—stays out of it. The content might make them cringe, but they don't care enough to write a comment saying so.

As others have suggested, we may need a digital equivalent to the awkward pause.

Oct 04, 2022 - 9:45PM

Recently, I learned that the Edge web browser references a different database of known phishing sites than Chrome, Firefox, and Safari do. A phishing link was texted to me, made to look like the Wells Fargo website. About one hour after I reported it to Google, it was banned in all of the latter browsers, but when I last checked, it was still accessible in Edge, allowing additional people to be scammed.

We should fix that. Perhaps Congress can do something; a rare bi-partisan issue. I would think it would be possible for these vendors to share lists of known phishing sites in a privacy-respecting manner.

Oct 04, 2022 - 12:12AM

I once considered adopting a rule that I would not discuss politics with anyone who uses social media.

Consider why we don't discuss politics during holiday meals. We understand that, over the course of a single dinner, we cannot possibly compete with the thousands of hours that our family members have spent watching cable news that year. In the same way, I know that my perspective, my opinions, and my questions cannot possibly make sense to most people who are subjected to hours of misinformation, half-truths, and confirmation from social media each day.

I immediately realized that my rule was unworkable. Likewise, it would have been impossible to completely avoid second-hand smoke several decades ago. Still, I think it's a good rule in theory. I hope for a future when more people recognize its appropriateness.

Oct 04, 2022 - 12:11AM

For whatever it's worth, I'm not the John Karahalis who occasionally writes short opinions in the New York Daily News.

To be clear, I'm not taking a position on those opinions. I just don't like talking about religion or politics in public, for the most part. I don't find it to be productive.

Oct 03, 2022 - 12:40AM

The other day, I was listening to an interview with John Carmack wherein he described his use of the Finger protocol early in his career. The Finger protocol, which predates modern blogging, enables the publication of status updates, simple maxims, and even longer essays. There are no likes, no comments, and no news feeds. Readers need to seek out content that interests them.

It strikes me that thoughts is very similar. I appreciate that it doesn't offer "modern" social networking features. I don't learn much from hot takes; I'm not sure anyone does. If you disagree with something I write and are genuinely interested in the subject, let's have a real conversation about it. I also welcome thoughtful written rebuttals. Comment sections don't foster these things.

Better is not always better. Ancient wisdom.

Oct 01, 2022 - 10:50AM

I don't know anyone who has genuinely changed their mind as a result of being scolded and judged.

Sep 30, 2022 - 11:57PM

As a contrarian minimalist, pack rat tendencies interest me. In particular, I've been thinking about how much time some people spend parting with their possessions.

Getting rid of things is not hard. I could throw all of my belongings in garbage bags or call a company to clear out my apartment. However, it is challenging to decide which material things to keep. It's hard to figure out which items spark joy.

Getting rid of things is not hard. Keeping things is.

Sep 30, 2022 - 11:24PM

Being right is not the same as being effective.

Sep 30, 2022 - 11:21PM

I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. Although it's often painful, I appreciate when evidence proves me wrong. The alternative is worse; running away from uncomfortable truths brings neither comfort nor growth.

Sep 30, 2022 - 10:47PM

This micro-blog won't focus exclusively on social media. However, given that the service that powers it, thoughts.page, offers a compelling alternative to the enchanting digital battlegrounds of Twitter and Facebook, it only seemed appropriate to share those thoughts first.

Sep 30, 2022 - 10:42PM

Incidentally, my biggest surprise in leaving social media has been just how little I miss it. Perhaps that's one of the lies it tells us, that we need it. We don't.

Sep 30, 2022 - 10:40PM

On social media, communication is not about learning. It's not about listening. It's certainly not about changing our minds. Instead, communication serves to score points, to show others how smart and how moral we are, to perform. It's no wonder we can't get along when we use it.

Sep 30, 2022 - 10:39PM

A keynote speaker once made an interesting observation that I hadn't previously considered. "The dirty little secret of social media," she said, "is that people mainly use it to brag about themselves and only incidentally see what others are up to."

I think she's right.

Sep 30, 2022 - 10:37PM

I believe that social media is making us profoundly antisocial, profoundly unhappy, and profoundly stupid. By using it, we are becoming ineffective, misinformed, and narrow-minded. I believe that we would be better off without social media or with a radically different form of it.

Sep 30, 2022 - 10:35PM

For whatever it's worth, I tweeted that sentiment in 2019, before it was cool to compare social media to cigarettes. Of course, I later deleted my account.

Sep 30, 2022 - 10:34PM

I believe that social media is the cigarette smoke of our time. Some day, our grandchildren will demand answers.

"You knew it was bad for you. Why did you keep doing it?"