Sammus – XOXO

“Balancing a full-time hip-hop career while pursuing her PhD in Science and Technology Studies at Cornell, Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo’s been producing beats and rapping under the moniker Sammus since 2009, a powerful voice at the intersection of music and technology, covering subjects as diverse as video games and cartoons to social justice and mental health.”

Oof. Sammus’ talk was really strong, and then she started performing and all the feels came out. Watching this again, on YouTube, at my computer, still gives me chills.

 

Reflections on XOXO

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I want to take what remaining energy I have after an amazing week to put some thoughts on paper – to talk about how the gathering of new friends has put some recent events in my life into perspective. This isn’t a review of the talks, how great the food was, and what new thing I learned about. Maybe that will come later. For now, I want to reflect the honesty I saw on display with a few things that have been happening in my life as of late that I have not talked about.

I was impressed by how many presentations challenged the status quo. Speakers asked us to not just think and talk more about these hard things (working independently, relying on others, racism, sexism) but to actually do something about it – making an effort in hiring, getting involved in what is happening locally, calling out assholes, and whatever else gets your ass out of a chair.

At XOXO I was able to see people I admire stand in front of a huge group of people – total strangers – and tell the most honest and open truth there is: one full of vulnerability and openness that is both overwhelming and welcome.jsj

I wanted to do something to echo the outpouring of humanity I saw at XOXO. So, here are a few things that are on my mind at the moment. This is the first time I’ve written about any of this. I see my time at XOXO, the sharing of information, the connections being made between people, and the bravery in talking about how things really are – even when it’s not glamorous – to be a call-to-action.

Instead of ignoring injustices and being comfortable we need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and stand up for what we believe in. To keep moving forward. Writing this is extremely uncomfortable. I freely admit it is not a giant leap, but a small step. Writing this down and sharing it holds me to figuring these things out, to taking action.

Enjoy, or whatever the appropriate reaction to this is.

The Reflection

Earlier this year I had a small blush with Gamergate. Nothing personally threatening, but rather quite sad. It’s not resolved in my mind. I’m still not sure what to do.

I was reading Twitter one day when an author I admire made a reference to some GG’ers surprisingly making a positive comment about him in one of their forums. Out of curiosity I went to the forum to see what was being said. I was immediately struck with the headline of a thread. There would be a presentation on Gamergate hosted by an active GG’er at a local convention near my home.

I was like, “What the hell!? Who is actually giving someone in this group a literal stage to talk about their shitty tribe?” So I did what any normal human would do: I Googled the crap out of this person to learn as much as I can about them. Totally not creepy, right?

What I found was a local young dude with a similar background as I, but 10 years apart: same neighborhoods, same school, same college, male, white, young and lonely. I found an old Twitter account, where he gushed about his girlfriend at the time, family life, and his emotions and feelings. It was beautiful and all too familiar.

I thought, “Here’s a local young man with a similar background who was suckered into the fold of GG and their ideology. Why didn’t I? What could I say to him? How could I reach out to him?” 1

I created an account in the forum, and reached out to him. I asked if we could meet to talk before his presentation, if I could better understand where he was coming from, and what he was trying to do.

We met in person and chatted for an hour or so. He genuinely seem concerned with video game journalism and “censorship” of imported games. I asked him why use the Gamergate banner? Why identify with a group that has a terrible reputation? His response was that it wouldn’t matter. That the Gamergate he was part of was not the harassing part.

He was very dismissive of any arguments I brought up. It was frustrating. I kept my patience. I paid the fee to go to the conference and see his presentation. It was focused on the history of Gamergate (smoothing over all the false accusations and harassment) and restated the same rhetoric about bias, censorship, and journalism. No citations, no research, just more of the same Gamergate rhetoric.

All I heard was a scared lonely young man who found a sliver of power and self-worth in a group.

I reached out. I tried to understand. I am still thinking about this young person. I don’t have a clue what to do, if anything. I want him to be successful and happy. I worry that he won’t be.

The Parents

My in-laws recently bought a handgun. My wife and I are against guns. 2 My wife and I expressed this to her parents months ago. We did not want a gun around our children when they visited or stayed the night. They assured us they would not get a gun.

They got a gun. Months later we found out.

Two of the most compassionate, helpful, and loving people have been driven by fear to carrying a gun for “protection.” Since their retirement they rarely leave the house, they do not meet new people, they do not explore. Instead they watch 24/7 news that has led them to believe that ISIL is going to attack our small town, and that the terrorists are among us.

My father-in-law has taken to wearing camouflage now. In the past 15 years he has never talked about his experiences in the military, now he is “prepared.” He is now talking about ‘them’ coming to get ‘us.’ He’s supporting Trump. He carries a gun to the grocery store: a Dierbergs that’s literally across the street from where they raised two daughters and their grandchildren.

He says he has a gun in case someone breaks in or he needs to act. It’s in a locked safe, unloaded, and he, frankly, has terrible vision. He’s more likely to shoot himself or a loved one accidentally than be the good guy with a gun.

They lied to us. Their actions are worrying us. They have not seen their grandchildren since that day months ago.

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WTF does this have to do with XOXO?

I don’t know how to fix these things. My heart wants to make things right. Whatever that means in each. Maybe I can’t. Maybe I shouldn’t. I just can’t fucking figure it out. It’s wearing on me.

I have not lost as much as others. I have not struggled for as long. I’m aware of my fortune and privilege.

When I was young we were on food stamps. I was embarrassed at where I grew up. 3 My poor grades. Old, unglamorous jobs.

Then I get the chance to go to this amazing and scary event. Where I’ll be meeting people who I find to be inspiring. I thought maybe they’d have it figured out.

The individuals creating and sharing  in this space – each with a new sense of honesty, intimacy and connectedness. They all came together and I was fortunate enough to be among them: my heroes.

Being at XOXO was cathartic. It made me feel like I was not the only one struggling with these types of issues. Hearing from other people – the humans of the Internet – working to make things better. That we’ve collectively figured that much out.

XOXO, the people and their stories give me hope. We are not alone. The world is getting better. We are in this together. We are doing good. It is making a difference. It is important. It is hard.

The world is getting more inclusive. It happens frustratingly slowly, but it is happening. We are on the right side of history – I have no doubt now.

We will be ok.

 

More reflections from XOXO:

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  1. At the time I was also worried about revealing too much about myself as Gamergate folks don’t have the most rational reaction to folks inviting criticism.

  2. Generally. I grew up in rural Missouri and was raised around guns. I am proficient in firearms thanks to my experiences as a youth and as a member of the Boy Scouts of America. I have an understanding of their practical operation and use. I do not see the need in the context of my life. [anyone else in suburban America.] I don’t hunt, live in the wilderness, or subscribe to the terrible excuse of a ‘bad neighborhood’.

  3. Still am. Which is why when folks ask me where I live I say St. Louis. I actually live in Fenton, a small town 20 minutes outside of St. Louis City known for nothing.

Outrage and Therapy

Keeping internet communities healthy is the job of the leaders and citizens of those communities.

Without conscious leadership these communities decay and destroy themselves and leach out into the real world where they harm actual individuals and our culture.

Hank Green on communities. I agree with him very much. In the Wikimedia Movement we are getting better at this.

Related, I enjoyed this rather long and nuanced approach to understanding how Wikipedia 1 and mental illness intersect.

To the hardcore editor who becomes enmeshed in the thicket of talk pages, admin noticeboard debates and never-ending arguments about every bit of minutiae ever conceived, it can reveal some of the worst aspects of human behavior, including abuse, harassment, and threats of physical violence. It can be difficult to separate the anonymous keyboard warriors simply amusing themselves by pushing buttons from those who intend to act on threats to harm others, or themselves.

Note: The subtext to the title of this post is an opinion of mine. That some people who lash out and express outrage online often are dealing with issues in their personal lives and their interactions online can complicate that. Success, or lack thereof, in life can make the distance of the Internet a place to take out your anger, reach out to help others, or seek solace among comrades – depending on your health and access.

If you are not feeling well and think you need someone to talk to, please find a mental health professional. It is the best thing you can do – it can literally save your life.


  1. Particularly English

Be Informed

You have a computer that can access all of human knowledge within seconds. Please don’t remain ignorant. Do a little research, read opposing views, learn more about something you’re not familiar with.

“Now, we are caught in a series of confusing battles between opposing forces: between truth and falsehood, fact and rumour, kindness and cruelty; between the few and the many, the connected and the alienated; between the open platform of the web as its architects envisioned it and the gated enclosures of Facebook and other social networks; between an informed public and a misguided mob.

What is common to these struggles – and what makes their resolution an urgent matter – is that they all involve the diminishing status of truth. This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means, as this year has made very clear, that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.”

How technology disrupted the truth – The Guardian

How to Write a Successful Craigslist Ad

My wife and I use Craigslist frequently. Not to only purchase items, but to sell our unused electronics and household items for a little bit of pocket-money. We like to see these things get another life with new people. Over the years I’ve sold quite a few items with pretty good success. Here’s a few tips for others trying to use Craigslist. 1

Take nice photos

You can use your phone camera and still take nice photos of the item you have for sale. There’s a few things to be sure you do when you’re setting up your shot. This doesn’t require 45 minutes and tons of effort.

Make sure you have lots of light. 90% of photography is letting as much light into the camera as you can. Taking a photo of something large, like a bed frame, indoors? Open any nearby windows and turn on the lights in the room. If you have a window open (or a big light in the room) make sure that light is behind you when you take the photo, not in the photo itself. Otherwise your item will be a silhouette against the bright light.

Keep your item in sharp focus by holding still and taking your time to line up your shot. A blurry photo is more frustrating than no photo! If there are details of the items folks need to know about (like labels or model numbers) get in close and take an extra photo. Make sure there’s nothing distracting in the background. It removes the attention to your item. Depending on how organized you are, a mess of whatever can also make you appear less trustworthy and could reveal more about your private life than you intended. Make sure folks can’t figure our your address or other personal details to protect your privacy.

Whatever you do, don’t use a stock photo. People know what the heck an iPad looks like. They what to know what the one they’re buying looks like. Also, stock images (or images taken from elsewhere on the web are often a violation of copyright and just look spammy.

Use Gud English

Please, whatever you do, put a little effort into the language of your post. One sentence is not enough. Five sentences with poor grammar and “U Wot m8?” are not really selling me on the idea of doing business with you. Also, the search on Craigslist takes into account the text of the post, not just the headline. Being descriptive helps potential buyers find your ad.

If you’re selling a manufactured good, like computers, personal electronics, cameras, home appliances – include the official description (e.g. Samsung Galaxy Tab Zero 56) and a link to the manufacture’s website for the item. There’s no need to provide a super-detailed list of every specification if you can point to an official source.

For electronics, a link to the tech specs can be helpful for those who want to geek out.

If your item has multiple spellings (Game boy and Gameboy) include the most common in the title of the post and the other somewhere in the description. 2 This way folks searching for either spelling will see your post.

Where are you?

Make sure you are clear that you’re not going to drive across the state to sell a $30 item. Offer to meet half-way. When you do eventually meet, do so in public, during the day. Coffee shops are a good place to meet for most folks and they are seemingly everywhere. If the weather is fair many have outdoor seating so you don’t have to carry your authentic leg lamp inside. 🙂

Clear Contact Methods

Let potential buyers know the best way to get in touch. By default it will be email (CL even allows buyers to email without revealing their personal address). Realize that some folks don’t want to give out their cell number or don’t use text messaging 3

Follow up!

Reply to polite messages and offers. If someone is too low for your taste, a simple, “I’m asking a fair price and am not interested in going lower than $X. Thank you.” often works. Once your item is sold, take your listing down. You’ll only frustrate people who think the item is still for sale – and yourself by dealing with dead-end requests. 🙂

Photo by In 30 Minutes guides – Licensed under Creative Commons


  1. And a sort of reminder for me next time I go to post something.

  2. How do you know which is more common? Search on Craigslist for both and see which shows more relevant results. Use that one.

  3. This may be hard to believe, but these people do really exist. You’re leaving them out if you demand texting.