Quitting Twitter

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[I’m quitting Twitter but I’m launching a newsletter in its place. Subscribe above! I’ll plan to cross-post my emails to this blog when it makes sense, which it does for the one below]

Why we’re here

Twitter’s problems with harassment go way back, but in the past few weeks, it’s made some decisions that have forced me to reconsider my relationship with the platform. First, this cryptic message from Seth Rogen about Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey:

While outsiders may perceive Twitter’s verification system as impartial, it’s not. Twitter only verifies people who have reached a specific notoriety level or who hold specific jobs (e.g. journalist, actor, etc.). Verified users get features that unverified users don’t. While Twitter claims verification isn’t an endorsement, in the past, it has removed verification as a means of punishing bad actors.

The fact that Dorsey did not seem to care about verifying white supremacists, even when one of the most popular users of his platform was chiding him about it, was a red flag to me.

Then, the Info Wars wars.

If you don’t know, Info Wars is a despicable media organization whose main claim to fame these days is that they propagated a conspiracy theory about how the Sandy Hook massacre was staged. This has brought untold misery upon the already-suffering families of this senseless tragedy.

Last Monday, every major tech platform took steps to remove Info Wars content. Every platform, that is, except Twitter. In a series of tweets, Dorsey defended his decisionmaking:

The next day, Dorsey appeared on Hannity to further explain why Alex Jones hadn’t been banned. Dorsey’s justifications were soon revealed to be complete nonsense and hypocrisy.

I don’t know why this was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, but maybe it solidified the notion for me that Dorsey just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get the extremely basic notion that banning Jones would be far more effective than relying on journalists to rebut his remarks. He doesn’t get that it’s a reasonable position to want your platform to be free of toxicity, and to take steps to make that happen. He doesn’t get that sometimes you need to make a moral choice.

To me, Twitter’s inability to ban Alex Jones was a litmus test. Aja Romano puts it really well in her article at Vox discussing it:

Jones represents what is perhaps the clearest opportunity to draw a moral line that Twitter will ever have. Forget the Nazis for a second; Alex Jones is a man who has seen his followers harass the parents of dead 6-year-olds and continued to egg them on, using the completely fabricated claim that these parents’ grief is just an act. There is nothing redeemable here; there’s no useful idea, no political concept worth debating — there’s only a lie told purely in order to spread harm, confusion, disorder, and pain. Jones is sound and fury, signifying nothing. Twitter’s choice to defend his place on its site, however, signifies everything about what Twitter is choosing to be.

I couldn’t get these words out of my head after I read them: “There is nothing redeemable here; there’s no useful idea, no political concept worth debating.” If Twitter can’t draw the line at Alex Jones, it has no line.

Why quit?

When writer Lindy West quit Twitter, she wrote a piece for The Guardian explaining why. The whole thing is worth reading, but two points stuck out to me. The first is that by using Twitter, we are essentially helping it to generate value and revenue:

Twitter, for the past five years, has been a machine where I put in unpaid work and tension headaches come out. I write jokes there for free. I post political commentary for free. I answer questions for free. I teach feminism 101 for free. Off Twitter, these are all things by which I make my living – in fact, they comprise the totality of my income. But on Twitter, I do them pro bono and, in return, I am micromanaged in real time by strangers; neo-Nazis mine my personal life for vulnerabilities to exploit; and men enjoy unfettered, direct access to my brain so they can inform me, for the thousandth time, that they would gladly rape me if I weren’t so fat.

The second is that we wouldn’t be willing to accept this behavior from any other organization. Why should we do so with Twitter?

I’m pretty sure “ushered in kleptocracy” would be a dealbreaker for any other company that wanted my business. If my gynecologist regularly hosted neo-Nazi rallies in the exam room, I would find someone else to swab my cervix. If I found out my favourite coffee shop was even remotely complicit in the third world war, I would – bare minimum – switch coffee shops; I might give up coffee altogether.

Twitter has added so much to my life. It’s allowed me to have a career. It’s introduced me to tons of amazing people, many of whom have become my collaborators. I used to love the platform and enjoy using it. But until its leaders demonstrate the willingness to make incredibly basic moral choices like banning Alex Jones, you won’t find my work on there.

I realize it’s a privilege to not “need” to use Twitter, so I don’t begrudge anyone whatever decisions they make. Everyone has a different place to draw their own line, and people often do so in different ways with different social platforms. I don’t judge anyone on this matter. Just want to explain my position on it.

And hey, it’s possible Twitter could reverse course tomorrow and I’ll be back on there. But until that happens, you’ll find me on Facebook, on Instagram, on TinyLetter, on YouTube, and here on my blog. Just not on Twitter.

Taking a break

For the past five years, I’ve been recording one second of video every single day, then assembling them to create a video representing that year of my life. I typically put these videos together after each birthday but I was a bit late this year. When I finally got around to it recently (see above), I made a startling realization: I’d been sick five times in 2017. I’ve written before about my recent illnesses but it wasn’t until watching the 1Second video that I realized how bad things had gotten.

I got a physical and a blood test and it doesn’t appear as though I have any serious diseases. But I’ve really run myself ragged this year and I need some time to step back and re-assess my priorities in life.

Thus, I’m going to be taking a two month break from the Slashfilmcast. For the first time in my life in over a decade, I won’t be running any podcasts. Instead, I’ll be focusing on my full-time job, my relationships, and my family.

I’m also planning on unplugging more — in some senses, at least. Starting later this month, I’ve committed to deleting Twitter from my phone for awhile and spending more time writing/blogging and reading. (That said, I will probably still auto-post some blog posts and Periscopes on there.) I realize I’m incredibly blessed and privileged to even have the option of doing any of this, and I am grateful to those in my life who have supported these decisions and made them possible.

I hope to return and join the podcast again for our Last Jedi review in December. At that point, I’ll know a lot more about the shape of things. In the meantime, we have a huge list of awesome Slashfilmcast guest co-hosts that listeners have been suggesting to us via email. I look forward to hearing new, exciting voices on the podcast. I look forward to learning how to relax a little bit more. And I look forward to slowing down the pace of things, for just a little while.

The summer my body almost shut down

A post shared by David Chen (@davechensky) on

“How do you have enough time to do everything?”

More than any other question, this is the one people have asked me the most over the past decade or so. When I was a younger man in my twenties, I overflowed with energy. I’d jog, bike, work, stay up till late at night using Lynda.com tutorials to teach myself how to use editing programs and take classes to learn the principles of photography. Even recently, I managed to direct The Primary Instinct while holding down a full time job.

Now I’m a bit older, and I find I don’t have quite the same amount of energy for getting things done. Nevertheless, life is for living! This summer, I still felt i could pack my days full of work and movie screenings and podcasts and still come out the other side better for it.

That principle was put to the test when my body almost shut down as a result of a series of illnesses. To be fair, this has been a stressful summer. I started a new, exciting full-time job at a large company. I hosted three podcasts simultaneously, two of which had pretty significant audience (i.e. over 100K listeners). I moved out of my apartment that I’d been living in for five years. I was going at life at a non-stop rate — at least, as non-stop as someone in my line of work can get.

Typically, I get sick once a year or so. I often come down with the flu during winter. It’s usually pretty debilitating, and it takes me out of commission for a few days, but its impact is quite limited and I move on with my life.

I was stunned when in mid-July, during the dead heat of summer, I seemingly contracted the flu again after getting it just a few months prior. After a brutal week of recovery, I felt things were better. I was lucid and felt good enough to go into work, even as I still coughed violently and felt generally miserable. The fact that Seattle was inundated by smog from wildfires significantly aggravated my condition and further slowed my recovery.

Roughly three weeks afterwards in early August, I was at work and waiting for my ride home one afternoon when suddenly I felt dizzy and cold. I barely made it out of the car and into bed. The flu-like symptoms returned with a vengeance, incapacitating me for several more days. It was time to see a doctor.

My primary care provider told me that he thought I contracted a sinus infection while I had the flu, and just never beat it. He prescribed me steroids, antibiotics, decongestants, and a few other things to get me back on my feet. Within two weeks, things were back to normal, even though I did get temporarily worried that the sinus infection had not been extinguished.

I thought that was the end of it, but three weeks after that in September, I went into work one morning and started feeling chills and aches and pains all over. It was like the flu, but much worse — a sort of illness I had rarely experienced in my life. A couple of hours later, I could barely move. My co-workers told me I was pale. I was confined to bed once more.

I went into see the doctor the next day, who told me that I likely had viral gastroenteritis (i.e. a stomach virus). One thing he said that will stick with me: “Sometimes, something like stress is all it takes to breach the immune system. Once that happens, the results can be all-encompassing.” There was no prescription for viral gastroenteritis, other than getting rest, drinking lots of fluids, and taking it easy on the stomach in terms of foods.

It’s now late September and I feel a lot better. I hope I’m out of the woods now, but I’m not going to count on that quite yet.

I realize that everyone has their own health struggles, and that overall, I’ve been pretty lucky for most of my life to not have to struggle with chronic conditions that are debilitating or life-altering. That said, 2017 has been the worst health “year” of my life. I’ve never had so many illnesses in such a short period of time, nor have they felt quite so agonizing.

I’m grateful to everyone who has done things to take care of me and express concern for me during this challenging time. These events have really made me re-asses my life goals and my capacity to accomplish them. If I’m to take any lessons from this summer, they’d be the following:

  • If you keep pushing the limits of your body and mind from a stress perspective, there may come a time when it can no longer take it.
  • Online connections and friendships are wonderful but when you get sick, it’s only the people who you know “in real life” who will be able to help you.
  • Whatever enjoyment you get out of the productive activities in your life, it’s not worth it if there there are significant negative health implications as a result.
  • People aren’t grateful enough for the ability to eat and pass food normally.

Take care of yourselves, folks.

I got sick again

A few weeks ago, I got sick. Updates for the blog stopped, as I tried to balance my other life responsibilities with getting better. I thought I’d kicked it, but this past week it returned with a vengeance. Aches and pains. Chills. Endless, endless coughing that disrupted my sleep every night of the week.

I went to see a doctor (finally) and turns out I likely contracted a sinus infection that simply never went away. I’m on drugs now to help beat this thing but between this ongoing illness and this smoke in Seattle that hasn’t gone away in weeks, it’s been one of my most miserable summers in quite some time.

In any case, I’m hopeful the blog updates shall resume with full force soon.

Happy birthday, Stephen

A big happy birthday to Stephen Tobolowsky today.

At this point, I’ve spent hundreds of hours of my life trying to bring Stephen’s stories into the wider world. The reason is obvious: When you see impact of Stephen’s stories in front of a live audience, you feel like you have to do everything you can to share what you just saw. Sometimes, we are called to just carry the fire, to just keep an idea alive, even if our resources aren’t that vast.

In return, Stephen has been game to work on most of my crazy ideas, like starting a podcast that would span 80+ episodes full of stories about his adventures, or making a movie based off the podcast. Or, more recently, doing a live show in Los Angeles this past weekend on three weeks notice, which we filmed and are planning to put out into the world.

I took this photo of him backstage at the Whitefire Theatre, preparing to go on. He killed it, btw.

Happy birthday, Stephen. Here’s to many more awesome years and stories.

R.I.P. Gen Pop

This month, Gen Pop — my pop culture podcast with Joanna Robinson — will come to an end.

Sometimes I’ll create a podcast that lasts 10 years (and counting). Other times, a show will last 6 months. Unfortunately, Gen Pop was one of the latter.

Out of all my podcasts, Gen Pop was probably the show that I worked the hardest on and stretched myself the most on. And while it didn’t have the largest audience, it had a really impassioned fan base. I’m so grateful to people who donated to the show and who supported us every step of the way.

The folks at Nerdophiles wrote up this lovely retrospective on the podcast, and it’s awesome:

I’m sad to see Gen Pop go, but happy for the other opportunities to catch Joanna and David still podcasting. Gen Pop truly was one of my favorite podcasts that really had its finger on the pulse of pop culture. It delivered a weekly interesting conversation that was topical and well-informed, often times giving me new insight and perspective.

I’m glad that people got something out of the show. It makes me feel like all the work we put into it was not ill-spent.

You can listen to the entire back catalog of Gen Pop here.

I’m joining Amazon

I am exceptionally excited to announce that I will be joining Amazon in June.

Amazon is one of the few companies that is shaping how humans interact with technology and the world, and it’s full of ridiculously smart people that I’m looking forward to learning from.

The path to this next step in my professional career has been a long one. I’m so grateful for all the Seattle folks who helped me to make it to this point. I couldn’t have done it without them. 

Welcome to the new davechen.net!

After many months of languishing on an old Blogger account, the new davechen.net is finally here! I’m once again hoping this blog will once again become a permanent, online repository for my writings, as well as links that I find interesting.

In the age of Medium, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter, it is so easy to spend all of our time building our online profiles elsewhere. Doing so confers many benefits, but there are also some important downsides. Personally, I like to own and control all my content, in order to ensure its longevity. Hence, this new WordPress install to replace the old blog.

WordPress is a fully-featured blogging platform that offers numerous benefits over Blogger:

  1. It’s open source and maintained by a distributed community, meaning it’s likely to not only last for awhile, but will continue being updated (Unlike Blogger, which seems to have been completely forgotten)
  2. I can finally implement some modern-day SEO for the site! Blogger gives you very little control over this.
  3. TONS of plug-ins can be integrated into your site, such as Disqus.
  4. Should I ever want to leave, many OTHER platforms support WordPress migration. Not so with Blogger.

From this point on, my plan is to try to post on here as frequently as I post to my Twitter and Facebook accounts. That means a lot more updates, some of which will be pretty short (maybe even a sentence long). I won’t always succeed with this rate of updates, but I’m going to try my hardest and it’ll be better than nothing.

Big thanks go to my brother, Michael, for his help with setting this up. And thanks in advance to you, the reader, for checking this site out. I hope you find it interesting.