Category Archives: Highlights

Ring! Ring! Who’s There? *handcuffs*

Cnet has a report on how police departments are being inundated with false alarms from Amazon Ring alerts because people have freaked out over the camera footage of innocent activities. In one case someone called to report footage of themselves walking into the door!

I’m reminded of a case that happened nearby just a month ago. In Manhattan Beach (near Los Angeles), police from five cities — and an LA Sheriff’s helicopter — descended on a neighborhood because someone panicked over Ring footage of a food delivery sent to the wrong address. It took them an hour and a half to confirm that there was no crime in progress.

The story basically filled a bingo card:

  • IoT doorbell camera (and of course it was Ring)
  • Gig/app delivery service
  • Upscale neighborhood
  • Paranoid reaction to, you know, people
  • NextDoor posts quoted in article (because of course they are)
  • Massive police over-response
  • SMS alerts sent to neighboring cities

It was absurd. Fortunately no one was hurt or arrested, so it remains an absurdity, but between the waste of resources, the increase in fear, and the risk that something could have gone wrong, it fits right in with these other cautionary tales. As Fight for the Future puts it:

Ubiquitous, privately owned surveillance camera networks are NOT going to make our neighborhoods safer. They just make us all paranoid. Soon we’ll be snitching on our neighbors Red Scare style. Enough

Art or Eyesore?

A few miles from Hearst Castle, a trash collector spent fifty years cobbling together his house out of junk and found objects. As Cambria became more trendy in the 1970s, neighbors wanted him to tear down the multi-level “eyesore,” while others saw “Nitt Witt Ridge” as a folk art monument. It’s still there, and still a controversy within the city and its historical society.

This seems like the kind of roadside construction that would fit in with American Gods’ cosmology. More like The House on the Rock than Hearst Castle, despite the proximity.

And it turns out that the first of Wyland’s 100+ whale murals, on the wall of a Laguna Beach hotel, was later painted over as an “eyesore.” (C’mon, really?) But since then, a friend of his bought the building, and he’s recreating the original mural. On canvas this time, so he can move it if anything happens to the wall!

My Rule of Thumb for Preventing Notification Overload

To keep myself from getting distracted by too many notifications on my phone, I ask myself the following questions whenever a new category pops up:

  • Will I need to act on it? (Likes/favorites are nice, but I don’t need to respond.)
  • How time-sensitive is it? (“Your ride is here” is more time sensitive than planning a get together for next weekend.)
  • How important? (“Server down” is more important than a project update. A conversation is more important than a newsletter.)
  • Is it actually for me, or is it an ad for the app service?

Then I turn off what I don’t need, turn off sound on the less urgent ones, and customize sounds for the most important ones.

So I hear when a text or instant message comes in, but not email or social media. When I pick up my phone I see emails, mentions & replies, but not favorites or boosts, etc.

It helps me a lot with alert overload. YMMV.

Shouting Into the Less Exploitative Void

Sometimes you choose which social app to open based on

  • who you want to talk to
  • who you want to hear
  • what you want to talk about

Sometimes you’re just shouting into the void. At those times, I figure I’ll choose the void that feels less exploitative.

That’s part of why I still have a blog. And why I post more on Mastodon, while Twitter is mostly auto-shares from my other networks, retweets, and occasional cross-posts.

(And politics, because I’d rather keep that on Twitter, where it’s sort of the main topic anyway, than on the network that’s still fun. Not that Mastodon is apolitical. Far from it! But it’s a lot more varied than the overwhelming focus on US partisan politics I see on Twitter. And the culture and structure make the discussions at least somewhat less train-wrecky. Most of the time.)

The Smartphone Paradox: Social Media vs. Actually Using the Damn Thing

This post I rescued from my Google+ archive in August 2011 really speaks to how quickly expectations for mobile computing were derailed by the social media feedback loop.

Years ago, I wanted a smartphone so I could write down all the blog posts I compose in my head when I’m away from a computer. Now that I have one, I end up reading Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus instead, and I compose blog posts in my head when I’m away from both my computer AND my phone. Maybe I just need a pencil and notepad.

That’s just me, and just one niche that I wanted to fill with a mobile computer. I also wanted SSH access, control panels, the ability to look up information easily, and photo uploads. But those things weren’t pushed out of the way like actual creative output was when I installed a bunch of dopamine generators on the device.

OK, blogging was fading anyway, and typing on a phone was tiresome. But neither of those made as much of a difference as the fact that it’s so, so easy to check Twitter for “just a minute” and find yourself still scrolling twenty minutes later.

It didn’t slow down photography. That was something that the social media cycle could latch onto. (Follow me on Flickr, Instagram, Photog.Social and Pixelfed!) And when I used a better camera, well, most cameras don’t have Facebook on them.

I think my use of social media is healthier now than it used to be. I still find myself staring at the train wreck of Twitter longer than intended, but I confine most of my activity to one session a day (or less) except for Mastodon, and that’s just different enough that it’s less likely to trigger a vortex to begin with. I do miss out on a lot with friends and family on Facebook by only checking once every couple of weeks, but I’m also happier the less time I spend there.

Still, I haven’t returned to the volume of long-form writing I used to do. And I know there’s so much more I could be doing with an always-connected computer in my pocket.