Dec 19

Image courtesy Dries Buytaert. License.


  1. I am ditching social media because I believe the benefits no longer outweigh the costs.
  2. It comes down to two main issues: data privacy and psychological well being.
  3. Great Hack and Social Dilemma are two great documentaries on Netflix that explore these two issues respectively.

The deeper dive

This is a move I’ve contemplated for awhile now and I wanted to lay out my rationale for anyone else interested in tracing my thought process through the decision to pull away from social media.

Like anything there are pro’s and con’s with social media. On the positive side I’ve met and kept in touch with hundreds of incredible people over the course of my travels that took me across 4 continents and 40 countries the past few years. When you arrive at a point though where it feels like social media no longer serves you and instead you feel slave to it, it’s time to make changes.

I had seen this interview a few years back with Chamath Palihapitiya, one of the early people at Facebook, talking about the destructiveness of Facebook on our mental health and basically admitting to having helped create a monster:

Around the same time the former president of Facebook, Sean Parker came out with this interview in which he admitted the service was engineered deliberately to hack our attention and drive us to addiction.

The messages from both interviews concerned me but Facebook and Instagram were essential tools for the traveling location-independent worker. It was how we maintained ties with everyone we met, how we organized and found social events, logged into apps, coordinated masterminds, researched travel destinations and got first-hand info from fellow nomads about visas and other concerns for travel. It seemed inconceivable that one could simply cease using it and continue life as normal, which was exactly the entrenched position these companies wanted.

Fast forward to October this year when at a friend’s suggestion I watched two movies that would revive this urge to leave social media. “The Great Hack” and “The Social Dilemma” in that order hammered home two points: 1) when you don’t pay for a product you are the product and your data can and will be abused 2) aside from data privacy implications, a more troubling one was emerging related to mental health with our attention constantly under attack in an unwinable battle against servers, neuroscientists, algorithms and AI’s to hack our attention. I recalled this tweet from Naval:

I had seen a Guardian interview with Jeroen Lanier on his book 10 arguments for deleting your social media right now and he subsequently appeared in the Social Dilemma movie.

The confluence of all those inputs led me to re-evaluate the pro’s con’s of social media and I realized in doing that math that the scales had finally tipped and it was no longer advantageous to remain active on these platforms. This scene from the end of the classic movie Wargames came to mind:

I deleted FB and IG from my phone. I decided to keep Twitter & LinkedIn because for whatever reason I feel they’re less nefarious/addictive and yield valuable discoveries and professional networking. I would not at this point be ready to outright delete my accounts as I still get messages on each. I compromised knowing that problem #1, the data privacy issue, is still a concern but at least I would attack problem #2 removing the detrimental mental effects.

There were a handful of struggles for me to reconcile. I’ll explain them below:

The hurdles

  • App authentication: FB and Google have become incredibly embedded as I have tended to use them as the method by which I create logins in apps. I’ve stopped doing that using email exclusively on apps that permit it and gutting FB will require a slow audit of all accounts I still use that are hanging on FB authentication.
  • Organizing and finding events, buying stuff via marketplace, finding roommates: FB is how I’ve found the current roommates for my apartment, purchased the electric guitar I recently bought, and it’s the common fabric used to organize dinners and social events with multiple people.
  • Loose ties with people from travels: There are over 100 people I’m connected to in various parts of the world now where the only link we have is a friend link on FB. Tracking down each of those people and getting alternate contact info represents a non-trivial undertaking.
  • Feeling of connection to old friends: Similarly FB news updates provide this tenuous connection to my old friends back home in the States who I haven’t seen in ages. It gives you this loose feeling like they’re still in your life as you monitor major life events for them and exchange short pleasantries in comments. Would they fade in importance to me if I wasn’t periodically seeing them post stuff? Would I to them?
  • Necessary for running ads for business: I’m involved in a couple projects which require having a FB account to manage the digital ads on their platforms. There’s no denying that FB ads can be highly effective for generating leads and making sales and given my work with Grid7, it simply is not an option to operate without access to the FB and IG platforms for advertising.

For all the above reasons I couldn’t just outright cut the cord immediately and commit Facebook Sepukku nuking my accounts on these platforms. So here’s what I did instead:

What I’ve done:

  • Removed apps from phone: FB and IG- both gone. Buh-bye.
  • installed Newsfeed eradicator extension on desktop: this glorious chrome extension will hide your newsfeed on FB/Twitter/IG and allow you to use all like tools at your service without being a classically-conditioned subject fiending on the dopamine hits of the algorithmic manipulation from the newsfeed.
  • Started switching accounts over to email for auth: this will be a slow house cleaning project to go back, find any accounts I still have that were initiated using FB for authentication and convert them over to use email as the login mechanism.
  • Moving photo sharing to iCloud friends & family: I’ve used Instagram as a way to syndicate photos from travel to friends and family but I’ll be moving photos over to a private Apple iCloud feed shared amongst a few people.

Google will be a tougher platform to extricate from. I’ve already switched to the Brave Browser and DuckDuckGo and installed this Chrome/Brave extension which hides YouTube recommended videos. Google’s services are so dang compelling: free, really-well-designed and with network effects such that ditching their platform is super hard. With YouTube recommendations hidden, Google IMO suffers only from issue #1 so there’s less urgency but it’s still a massive personal data hoard I intend to distance from. For whatever reason I still trust Apple at this point with data more than FB & Google. But even Apple is running amok privacy-wise with their latest OS updates. I believe any public company will face inexorable pressure for delivering shareholder returns that surpass market expectations all which culminates in them being compelled to over-collect and abuse data. It is an inevitable end result of being a public company facing market pressures.


The purpose of this post is to share my thought process here and finally put a bow on this departure which actually happened back in October. Some people are already thinking about this stuff and for some it may be completely off their radar. I hope by laying out my rationale you can parse through my thoughts and apply any of the thinking that’s helpful for your own situation. As with anything we all must weigh the pro’s and con’s for our personal circumstances and come to a decision that best serves us. My goal in sharing this is to at least raise awareness for anyone who has not gone through the thought exercise and seen some of the above resources I mentioned.

If you’re reading this and we’re friends, I would love to catch up sometime via FaceTime or Zoom. I still receive FB messenger messages but I only check Instagram once per month now so don’t message me there. I intend to slowly work through a list of all the people I’ve lost contact with and hopefully have catch up calls with as many who would entertain a chat. If you’re up for a catch up session sometime, get in touch.

Happy Holidays and cheers to coming through the pandemic and Trump situations to be stronger than before in 2021.


Oct 04

Ok here’s a plea for any developer who knows how to write browser extensions to write one that lets me do basic spreadsheet operations right in the web page. I would pay $20 for this add-on in its most basic buggy incarnation and up to $50-75 for a pro edition depending on how well it worked. Here’s the issue:

It’s too cumbersome to ask simple questions and do basic data wrangling of tabular numbered data in web pages.

I play with data probably five times a day via various web sites (sometimes our own, sometimes ones in the wild). Here’s a practical example from right now- we’re running some email campaigns for and I get this report:

Which is just a set of numbers and has no meaning until you can see relative %’s and how campaigns compare across iterations. I would like to be able to quickly calculate the open rate, CTR and bounce rates of each of these five campaigns. And then get average totaled across all mailings.

Now sometimes you luck out and can copy/paste the table into Excel or Numbers and do basic summing / averaging / math ops there. But it’s a crapshoot – half the time it pastes the entire table into a single column which makes it useless. You wind up w/ this:

(sorry if you haven’t seen this Spinal Tap scene that bread reference will make no sense at all).

Pasting to a desktop app makes you leave the browser and adds just enough friction to the process to where you might not ask a question of the data that you would have otherwise. Google Docs is getting us closer and their copy/paste tends to work better, but that too is still an extra step and cumbersome & flakey. The other alternative on small datasets like this is to Command-Space to open Spotlight and manually run some calculations there typing in the numbers. But alas that sucks as well.

What would be truly spectacular is a FF or Chrome extension that gave me this right in the context of the web page:

aaaand… boom:

Select. Click. Done. Two motions to get immediate insight into tabular data on web pages. Like I said, I’d pay $20 no question for the basic version and if you start adding spiffy extra spreadsheet functionality, that number goes up to $50 and beyond very quickly. This is a valuable/painful enough situation where it would be pretty easy to make me happy even with a crappy extension.

So my question is “would you pay for such an extension?” Heck, I’ll setup a Pledgebank and hire a programmer to create this if enough people want it. I think it could do miracles for startup founders in terms of wiping out the friction associated with casually asking questions of data in web pages. My hunch is some developer could give away the very most basic version and charge a grip for the professional edition similar to how iMacros has done it. Leave a comment or a tweetback if this is something you’d use.

Nov 12

Anyone who responds to a bunch of customer emails will be repeatedly typing the same blocks of text. You get to a point where you wish phrases and entire paragraphs of text could be treated as a single word. Well I discovered an app for Mac that lets you do just that and it’s wonderful.

Previously I had a page in our Trac instance with a bunch of boilerplate text blocks as responses to common questions. I would cut/paste those into email and adapt them as necessary based on the situation. This was a shortcut over typing the entire message from scratch. But I’ve been using an app called Typinator for the past few weeks and this allows me alias sequences of keystrokes that auto-expand into blocks of text. So for instance, rather than end each email by typing “Let me know if you have any other questions” I can just type “lmk” and it turns into that sentence. This works for any amount of text and can even do rich text and embedded images.

While it may only shave seconds off the old method, the culmination of many reputations adds up. But more than anything this is just one of those small tools that helps you conquer tediousness and feel more efficient. And you can’t underestimate the gratification of that. These guys are a small Austrian company and they make other productivity products. Check ’em out.

Mar 14

I wrote a little while ago about this concept of “if you’ve highlighted everything…” and why it’s good to keep your main list of current assaults lean. I wanted to explain the concept of urgency vs. importance that I mentioned in that post and then propose a simple addition to the 4 mechanisms for managing scattered todo’s that I use.

Urgency and importance are completely independent of one another. Once you understand that, doing triage on a todo list becomes way easier. The best way to understand this concept is through a simple graph of tasks:


I’ve found once you are able to visualize your todo list in this 2-d fashion it helps in a couple respects:

  1. You’re able to tease apart those items which truly have the ability to advance your cause from the ones that are just stressing you out because they’re yelling for your immediate attention. It’s an important distinction and critical to being effective.
  2. If you keep your items stored visually in this fashion it lets you quickly handle items in the right quadrant depending on the situation. You should obviously try to work on the right-most items as much as possible while giving attention to the upper right quadrant first. During the day, forget that the left quadrants even exist. When you’re decompressing, go to the lower-left. When you’re catching up on errands, upper-left. The point is you always know what you should be doing.
  3. This leads to what David Allen calls the “mind like water” feeling of being at peace even in the face of massive amounts of todo items. Even when there’s a kajillion things going on, there’s something about having an accurate picture of the field and knowing that your items are stored in a trusted system and you’re knocking out the priorities first.

Where I disagree with the orthodox GTD cultish philosophy that Allen espouses is in the idea that you should try to cram everything into a single trusted system. I wrote about the 4 mechanisms I used to do what I call “Scattered Todo Management” and having tried orthodox GTD, I found this to be more suited to the way I work. Anytime you find yourself uncomfortable contorting your processes to match the latest and greatest productivity religion, I think that’s bad. Ultimately you should learn the fundamentals of various different productivity religions and pick and choose the elements that work for you and make your own.

So this is the 5th System for Scattered Todo Management that I’ve been using and want to share. It’s a simple way of easily deferring and categorizing tasks while still making immediate steps toward the solution and preventing build-up of crap in your inbox:

  1. Mentally superimpose the above graph on your desktop (or if you really want, draw it as your background).
  2. Drag the resources (URL locations, documents, graphics, audio files, forms, whatever you’re working with) to the appropriate quadrants on your desktop. URLs are the exact pages on a site with which you need to do whatever task it is. You can chunk a bunch of related items for a discreet task in a folder.
  3. Now rename the filenames to “verb-noun” (ie. “handle tax returns” URL item links to the online filing page on the site)

That’s the essence of it and simple as it seems, it’s a way to have a big picture view of the tasks on your plate and to defer the low-priority items while still “teeing them up” so you don’t have to weed through a daunting inbox of emails to figure out what each task involves. This is my desktop right now:


As you can see items are roughly thrown into the spots that correlate with the position on the urgency vs. priority graph above. I’ve found this technique helpful along with the other 4 systems to manage the things I’m doing every day. If you have a homegrown productivity technique that works well for you, I would love to hear about it.

Feb 13


Given the interest around applications you use to hide distractions from yourself and reward yourself for spending time productively, here is simple technique you can use that’s already available in gmail:

Create labels and apply filters to non-urgent emails from discussion lists and automated alerts and newsletters. Use the “skip inbox” option to route these communications away from your inbox keeping it reserved for unanticipated communications. Nothing new here – if you use Gmail this is probably how you do it already. The secret: collapse the labels tab so you don’t see these messages pile up while you work.



We are insatiably-curious creatures. We pick at scabs and buy scratch ‘n win lotto tickets because we have to see what’s underneath. But the reverse is also true – out of sight, out of mind.

I was looking for a greasemonkey script for firefox that would cover up the labels section in gmail so I could reduce distraction throughout the day and I discovered that the labels tab is collapsible. Use this technique to put non-urgent communications in their place and handle them on your terms instead of reactively answering non-priority email and getting pulled off course.

Feb 04

Thank you Spanning Sync!


You’ve finally done what no other app has been able to do until now: keep a Treo, Mac and Google calendar in sync. I’ve had the left half of this equation now for a few months using an app called Missing Sync. Spanning sync just re-opened their public beta this morning and makes the right half of the equation now possible. You need to check out their screencast to understand why this is so huge.

This gives us the capability to overlay our calendars in the office and book events for each other. There has always been the webdav server option which we considered for viewing each other’s calendars but that solution only gives you a one-way export to broadcast iCal to a server. Spanning sync means I can add a meeting via Google, iCal or Treo and it will appear in the other locations. And then I can selectively expose and consume other calendars. They’re bridged silently through the Google Calendar interface but I never have to use the Google interface – I can continue to interact via iCal or my Treo.

This should be good as well for working with external vendors as it lets you expose your calendar at varying degrees with anyone else who has a gmail account. For instance, I can consume a calendar shared with an agent booking engagements on my behalf and have those dates propagate all the way into my Treo. 10min is the shortest interval to sync so unless you’re booking at an insane frequency, there should be little danger of conflicts. This is major as evidenced by the traffic spike that temporarily closed the spanning sync beta this past week. Kudos SpanningSync on wonderful piece of software.

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