Pour kettle and let steep the gods of tea. I built NewsBlur and Turn Touch.
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Kottke, on Sabbatical

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Jason Kottke, six weeks ago:

Does what I do here make a difference in other people’s lives? In my life? Is this still scratching the creative itch that it used to? And if not, what needs to change? Where does kottke.org end and Jason begin? Who am I without my work? Is the validation I get from the site healthy? Is having to be active on social media healthy? Is having to read the horrible news every day healthy? What else could I be doing here? What could I be doing somewhere else? What good is a blog without a thriving community of other blogs? I’ve tried thinking about these and many other questions while continuing my work here, but I haven’t made much progress; I need time away to gain perspective.

So. The plan, as it currently stands, is to take 5-6 months away from the site. I will not be posting anything new here. I won’t be publishing the newsletter. There won’t be a guest editor either — if someone else was publishing here, it would still be on my mind and I’m looking for total awayness here.

Six weeks in and I miss his words dearly, but I’m happy for him. They say you should hydrate before you get thirsty. I suspect the same is true for taking sabbaticals — you should take one before you know you need one. That’s hard to figure out, though.

A friend once asked me what’s been the longest stretch between posts on DF since I started. I told him the truth: I don’t know.

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samuel
7 days ago
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I feel it's important to take a step back every now and then, from anything I do, so that I can come back renewed. I periodically do that with NewsBlur and every time I come back I'm filled with a desire to build.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
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‘Plant-Based’ Means Nothing Anymore, Apparently

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It’s no secret fast food chains and other food brands have been clamoring to cash in on the plant-based market, but the desire to promote offerings as plant-based is getting redundant and a bit desperate.

Read more...

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samuel
9 days ago
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Article is claiming it's unnecessary to label a mac-and-cheese product as plant-based, which makes me wonder what the true motivation for this article is.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
kyleniemeyer
9 days ago
The author seems to forget that *everything* in the US has dairy and/or eggs in it, and so it is actually very useful to know when something does not
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My Times: Career Advice From a Career in the Trenches

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Thirty years ago, I arrived at The Times as an intern. This is what I’ve learned.

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samuel
23 days ago
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This is all very good advice.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
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“Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting,” Ten Years On

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John Scalzi

Ten years ago this week I thought I would write a piece to offer a useful metaphor for straight white male privilege without using the word “privilege,” because when you use the word “privilege,” straight white men freak out, like, I said then, “vampires being fed a garlic tart.” Since I play video games, I wrote the piece using them as a metaphor. And thus “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is” was born and posted.

And blew up: First here on Whatever, where it became the most-visited single post in the history of the site (more than 1.2 million visits to date), and then when it was posted on video gaming site Kotaku, where I suspect it was visited a multiple number of times more than it was visited here, because Kotaku has more visitors generally, and because the piece was heavily promoted and linked there. 

The piece received both praise and condemnation, in what felt like almost equal amounts (it wasn’t; it’s just the complainers were very loud, as they often are). To this day the piece is still referred and linked to, taught in schools and universities, and “living on the lowest difficulty setting” is used as a shorthand for the straight white male experience, including by people who don’t know where the phrase had come from.

(I will note here, as I often do when discussing this piece, that my own use of the metaphor was an expansion on a similar metaphor that writer Luke McKinney used in a piece on Cracked.com, when he noted that “straight male” was the lowest difficulty setting in sexuality. Always credit sources and inspirations, folks!)

In the ten years since I’ve written the piece, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, the response to it, and whether the metaphor still applies. And so for this anniversary, here are some further thoughts on the matter.

1. First off: Was the piece successful? In retrospect, I think it largely was. One measure of its success, as noted above, is its persistence; it’s still read and talked about and taught and used. Anecdotally, I have hundreds of emails from people who used it to explain privilege to others and/or had it used to explain privilege to them, and who say that it did what it was meant to do: Get through the already-erected defenses against the word “privilege” and convey the concept in an interesting and novel manner. So: Hooray for that. It is always good to be useful.

2. That said, Upton Sinclair once wrote that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” In almost exactly the same manner, it is difficult to get a straight white man to acknowledge his privileges when his self-image depends on him not doing so. Which is to say there is a very large number of straight white men who absolutely do not wish to acknowledge just how thoroughly and deeply their privileges are systemically embedded into day-to-day life. A fair number of this sort of dude read the piece (or more perhaps more accurately, read the headline, since a lot of their specific complaints about the piece were in fact addressed in the piece itself) and refused to entertain the notion there might be something to it. Which is their privilege (heh), but doesn’t make them right.

But, I mean, as a straight white dude, I totally get it! I also work hard and make an effort to get by, and in my life not all the breaks have gone my way. I too have suffered disappointment and failure and exclusion and difficulty. In the context of a life where people who are not straight white men are perhaps not in your day-to-day world view, except as abstractions mediated by television or radio or web sites, one’s own struggles loom large. It’s harder to conceive of, or sympathize with, the idea that one’s own struggles and disappointments are resting atop of a pile of systemic privilege — not in the least because that implicitly seems to suggest that if you can still have troubles even with those many systemic advantages, you might be bad at this game called life.

But here’s the thing about that. One, just because you can’t or won’t see the systemic advantages you have, it doesn’t mean you don’t still have them, relative to others. Two, it’s a reflection of how immensely fucked up the system is that even with all those systemic advantages, lots of straight white men feel like they’re just treading water. Yes! It’s not just you! This game of life is difficult! Like Elden Ring with a laggy wireless mouse and a five-year-old graphics card! And yet, you are indeed still playing life on the lowest difficulty setting! 

Maybe rather than refusing to accept that other people are playing on higher difficulty settings, one should ask who the hell decided to make the game so difficult for everyone right out of the box (hint: they’re largely in the same demographic as straight white men), and how that might be changed. But of course it’s simply just easy to deny that anyone else might a more challenging life experience than you have, systemically speaking. 

3. Speaking of “easy,” one of the problems that the piece had is that when I wrote the phrase “lowest difficulty,” lots of people translated that to “easy.” The two concepts are not the same, and the difference between the two is real and significant. Which is, mind you, why I used the phrase “lowest difficulty” and not “easy.” But if you intentionally or unintentionally equate the two, then clearly there’s an issue to be had with the piece. I do suspect a number of dudes intentionally equated the two, even when it was made clear (by me, and others) they were not the same. I can’t do much for those dudes, then or now.

4. When I wrote the piece, some folks chimed in to say that other factors deserved to be part of a “lowest difficulty setting,” with “wealth” being primary among them. At the time I said I didn’t think wealth should have been; it’s a stat in my formulation — hugely influential, but not an inherent feature of identity like being white, or straight, or male. This got a lot of pushback, in no small part because (and relating to point two above) I think a lot of straight white dudes believed that if wealth was in there, it would somehow swamp the privileges that being white and straight and male provide, and that would mean that everyone else’s difficulty setting was no more difficult than their own.

It’s ten years on now, and I continue to call bullshit on this. I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and I’ve been in the middle, and in all of those economic states I still had and have systemic advantages that came with being white and straight and male. Yes, being wealthy does make life less difficult! But on the other hand being wealthy (and an Oscar winner) didn’t keep Forest Whitaker from being frisked in a bodega for alleged shoplifting, whereas I have never once been asked to empty my pockets at a store, even when (as a kid, and poor as hell) I was actually shoplifting. This is an anecdotal observation! Also, systemically, wealth insulates people who are not straight and white and male less than it does those who are. Which means, to me, I put it in the right place in my formulation.

5. What would I add into the inherent formulation ten years on? I would add “cis” to “straight” and “white” and “male.” One, because I understand the concept better than than I did in 2012 and how it works within the matrix of privilege, and two, in the last decade, more of the people I know and like and love have come out as being outside of standard-issue cis-ness (or were already outside of it when I met them during this period), and I’ve seen directly how the world works on and with them. 

So, yes: Were I writing that piece for the first time in 2022, I would have written “Cis Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” 

6. Ten years of time has not mitigated the observation about who is on the Lowest Difficulty Setting, especially here in the United States. Indeed, if anything, 2022 in the US has been about (mostly) straight white men nerfing the fuck out of everyone else in the land in order to maintain their own systemic advantages. Oh, you’re not white? Let’s pass laws to make sure an accurate picture of your historical treatment is punted out of schools and libraries, and the excuse we’ll give is that learning these things would be mean to white kids. You’re LGBTQ+? Let’s pass laws so that a teacher even mentioning you exist could get them fired. Trans? Let’s take away your rights for gender-affirming medical treatment. Have functional ovaries? We’re planning to let your rapist have more say in what happens to your body than you! Have a blessed day!

And of course hashtag not all straight white men, but on the other hand let’s not pretend we don’t know who is largely responsible for this bullshit. The Republican party of the United States is overwhelmingly straight, overwhelmingly white, and substantially male, and here in 2022 it is also an unabashedly white supremacist political party, an authoritarian party and a patriarchal party: mainstream GOP politicians talk openly about the unspeakably racist and anti-Semitic “Great Replacement Theory,” and about sending people who have abortions to prison, and are actively making it more difficult for minorities to vote. It’s largely assumed that once the conservative supermajority of the Supreme Court (very likely as of this writing) throws out Roe v. Wade, it’ll go after Obergefell (same-sex marriage) as soon as a challenge gets to them, and then possibly Griswold (contraception) and Loving (mixed-race marriage) after that. Because, after all, why stop at Roe when you can roll civil rights back to the 1950s at least?

What makes this especially and terribly ironic is that when game designers nerf characters, they’re usually doing it to bring balance to the game — to put all the characters on something closer to an even playing field. What’s happening here in 2022 isn’t about evening up the playing field. It’s to keep the playing field as uneven as possible, for as long as possible, for the benefit of a particular group of people who already has most of the advantages. 2022 is straight white men employing code injection to change the rules of the game, while it’s in process, to make it more difficult for everyone else. 

So yes, ten years on, the Lowest Difficulty Setting still applies. It’s as relevant as ever. And I’m sure, even now, a bunch of straight white men will still maintain it’s still not accurate. As they would have been in 2012, they’re entirely wrong about that. 

And what a privilege that is: To be completely wrong, and yet suffer no consequences for it. 

— JS

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samuel
42 days ago
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Both this essay and the one it’s referencing should be required reading. I use this metaphor a whole lot.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
popular
39 days ago
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Hawley Proposes Bill to Strip Disney of Copyright Protections

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‘The age of Republican handouts to Big Business is over,’ Hawley said.
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samuel
50 days ago
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First time I agree with Hawley
Cambridge, Massachusetts
codesujal
48 days ago
do you really, though? :) he's not making a case about copyright or handouts. Otherwise he'd propose more.
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Announcement: I’m Going to Miss You, But I Am Taking a Sabbatical

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Hello, everyone. I’m going to be taking an extended break from kottke.org, starting today. I’ve been writing here for more than 24 years, nearly half my life — I need a breather. This is something I have been thinking about and planning for years1 and I’d like to share why I’m doing it, how it’s going to work, what I hope to accomplish, and how you can help.

This is a long post and was a hard one to write — I hope you’ll give it your thoughtful attention. But first, let me introduce you to my plant.

(This is going somewhere. Trust me.)

Eight years ago when I still lived in NYC, I bought a fiddle leaf fig tree from a store in the Flower District. Here it is a couple of years ago, thriving next to my desk here in Vermont:

overhead view of my home office with a fiddle leaf fig tree

I’d recently moved into my own apartment after separating from my wife and figured a large plant in my new place would add some liveliness to a new beginning that was feeling overwhelming, lonely, and sad. For the first couple of months, I didn’t know if my tree and I were going to make it. I’d never really had a plant before and struggled getting a handle on the watering schedule and other plant care routines. It started losing leaves. Like, an alarming number of leaves.

I’d brought this glorious living thing into my house only to kill it! Not cool. With the stress of the separation, my new living situation, and not seeing my kids every day, I felt a little like I was dying too.

One day, I decided I was not going to let my fiddle leaf fig tree die…and if I could do that, I wasn’t going to fall apart either. It’s a little corny, but my mantra became “if my tree is ok, I am ok”. I learned how to water & feed it and figured out the best place to put it for the right amount of light. It stopped shedding leaves.

The fig tree was a happy plant for several years after that. And I was ok because my plant was ok — I found new routines and rhythms in my altered life, made new traditions with my kids, got divorced, met new people, moved to a new state (w/ my family and tree), rediscovered who I was as a person, and, wonderfully and unexpectedly, forged a supportive and rewarding parenting partnership and friendship with my ex. We made it through that tough time together, that plant and me.

Recently however, my fiddle leaf fig has been struggling again. It’s been losing leaves and has become lopsided — some branches are going gangbusters while others are almost bare and the plant is listing so badly to one side that the whole thing tips over without the weight of water in the pot. This is what it’s looking like these days:

a majestic fiddle leaf fig tree leans precariously to one side in a bedroom

My plant is not ok. And neither am I — I feel as off-balance as my tree looks. I’m burrrrned out. I have been for a few years now. I’ve been trying to power through it, but if you’ve read anything about burnout, you know that approach doesn’t work.

I appreciate so much what I’ve built here at kottke.org — I get to read and learn about all sorts of new things every day, create new ideas and connections for people, and think in public — and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to set my own schedule, be my own boss, and provide for my family. But if you were to go back into the archive for the past several months and read the site closely, you’d see that I’ve been struggling.

Does what I do here make a difference in other people’s lives? In my life? Is this still scratching the creative itch that it used to? And if not, what needs to change? Where does kottke.org end and Jason begin? Who am I without my work? Is the validation I get from the site healthy? Is having to be active on social media healthy? Is having to read the horrible news every day healthy? What else could I be doing here? What could I be doing somewhere else? What good is a blog without a thriving community of other blogs? I’ve tried thinking about these and many other questions while continuing my work here, but I haven’t made much progress; I need time away to gain perspective.

· · ·

So. The plan, as it currently stands, is to take 5-6 months away from the site. I will not be posting anything new here. I won’t be publishing the newsletter. There won’t be a guest editor either — if someone else was publishing here, it would still be on my mind and I’m looking for total awayness here. I’m planning on setting up a system to republish some timeless posts from the archive while I’m away, but that’s not fully in place yet. If you send me email (please do!), it might take me awhile to read it and even longer to reply — I plan to ignore my inbox as much as I can get away with. I probably won’t be on Twitter but will be more active on Instagram if you want to follow me there.

The goal of my time away from the site is resting, resetting, recharging, and figuring out what to do going forward. In this NY Times feature, Alexandra Bell said this about how art is made: “I need some space to think and live and have generative conversations and do things, and then I’ll make something, but I can’t tell you what it is just yet.” That’s the sort of energy I need to tap into for a few months.

Here’s the way I’ve been thinking about it: there’s a passenger ferry that goes from Cape Cod to Nantucket and there’s a stretch of time in the middle of the journey where you can’t see the mainland behind you and can’t yet see the island ahead — you’re just out in the open water. That’s what I need, to be in that middle part — to forget about what I’ve been doing here for so many years without having to think about where I’m going in the future. I need open water and 5-6 months feels like the right amount of time to find it.

· · ·

This is probably a good time to admit that I’m a little terrified about taking this time off. There’s no real roadmap for this, no blueprint for independent creators taking sabbaticals to recharge. The US doesn’t have the social safety net necessary to enable extended breaks from work (or much of anything else, including health care) for people with Weird Internet Careers. I support a lot of individual writers, artists, YouTubers, and bloggers through Substack, Patreon, and other channels, and over the years I’ve seen some of them produce content at a furious pace to keep up their momentum, only to burn out and quit doing the projects that I, and loads of other people, loved. With so many more people pursuing independent work funded directly by readers & viewers these days, this is something all of us, creators and supporters alike, are going to have to think about.

I’ve said this many times over the past 5 years: kottke.org would not be possible today without the incredible membership support I have gotten from the people who read this site. Members have enabled this site to be free for everyone to read, enriching the open web and bucking the trend towards paywalling information online. I hope you will continue to support me in taking this necessary time off.

If, for whatever reason, you would like to pause/suspend your membership until I return, email me and I would be happy to do that for you. You’re also free of course to raise or lower your membership support here if you’d like. Regardless of what you choose to do, I hope I will see you back here in the fall.

· · ·

If you’re curious about what’s on my agenda for the next few months, so am I! I’m leaving on a long-planned family trip soon, but other than that, I do not have any set plans. Suggestions and advice are welcome! I’d like to spend some unrushed time with my kids, who too often see me when I’m stressed out about work. I want to read more books. Watch more good movies. Take more photos. Go on pointless adventures. I want to exercise a little more regularly and figure out how to eat a bit better. Maybe travel some, visit friends or the ocean or both. Bike more. Stare at the walls. I hope to get a little bored. I need to tend to my fiddle leaf fig tree — if my tree is ok, I will be too.

I’m going to miss this — and all of you — more than I probably realize right now, but I’m ready for a break. I’ll see you in a few months.

*deep breath*

Here I go!

*jumps*

· · ·

P.S. The best way to keep tabs on when the site starts up again is to subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow @kottke on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed, or follow me on Instagram so you don’t miss anything.

P.P.S. Big big thanks to the many people I’ve talked to about this over the past few months and years, especially Anil, Alaina, David, Adriana, Tim, Caroline, Matt, Joanna, Meg, Aaron, Edith, Kara, Megan, Anna, Jackson, and Michelle. (Forgive me if I’ve forgotten anyone.) I value your wise counsel and your pointing me, hopefully, in the right direction.

P.P.P.S. A quick blogroll if you’re looking for sites and newsletters to keep you busy while I’m gone. In no particular order, a non-exhaustive list: The Kid Should See This, The Morning News, Waxy, Colossal, Curious About Everything, Open Culture, Drawing Links, Clive Thompson @ Medium, Cup of Jo, swissmiss, Storythings, things magazine, Present & Correct, Spoon & Tamago, Dense Discovery, Austin Kleon, NextDraft, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Poetry Is Not a Luxury, A Thing or Two, The Honest Broker, Interconnected, The Whippet, Craig Mod, Why is this interesting?, Sidebar, The Prepared, Life Is So Beautiful, Fave 5, Sentiers, The Fox Is Black, and Scrapbook Chronicles. Happy hunting!

  1. The original plan was to do this in late spring 2020 but….you know.

Tags: Jason Kottke   kottke.org   working
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samuel
51 days ago
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Jason will be missed but it's always good to refocus, because if he comes back, he'll have a more lasting motivation.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
deezil
51 days ago
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Why did I get weepy reading this? Is it that I want it for myself, or is it that I'll miss someone who enriches the internet so much and has for as long as I've really been on the internet? I put Kottke in Google Reader the first day I used it, and it has never left.
Louisville, Kentucky
ManBehindThePlan
51 days ago
Another refugee from GR here too - and hanging on to kottke just about as long. I too will feel the loss...
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1 public comment
ScottInPDX
46 days ago
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I'll miss Jason's perspective and writing, and mostly just want him to live a good life. He's done his part to make my world better, and he owes me nothing. I'll be thrilled if he comes back, and I'll be watching for that day.
Portland, Oregon, USA, Earth
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