March 05, 2017

Here's the difference between censorship and civility

Hello you chilled fruit infusion,

People get censorship and civility mixed up a lot.

Censorship is about content (you can't say this or that). Civility is about tone (you can't say this like that).

Attribution bias virtually guarantees that we are sure our tone is appropriate for all circumstances. If we use vulgar language or overly fatalistic language, it's because we are on the right and just side of a cause. If someone with whom we disagree does this, they are proving just why they something short of civil.

There is a rough guiding principle for dealing with this, one that has been a major part of the American ideal from the beginning. And that is to be exceedingly limited with speech and far more controlled with tone. That is, say what you will but be careful about how you say it. Of course we know these norms are in an era of rapid change. The rhetoric is so hot (a generation of written digital and distant communication has brought us to boil with an opportunistic leader ready to use that to his advantage) that now just about all of us are doing it.

We'll say just about anything and we'll say anyway we can.

So for the exact same reason that you and your middle school best friend got into some stupid spat over instant messenger (you thought she was being more passive aggressive than she actually was), we are furious at each other. With a mix of tone and out-of-control attribution bias (what a dear friend counters with 'no the other side is not dumb), we're getting into a dangerous situation.

We all need to do something about that. So let me focus your energies, if I might, on tone. Look to be more civil, especially in the face of uncivil acts. We must be the change we seek.

And now the links.


Why did the 20th century produce such great journalism? Profit. Because of effective monopolies, for profits experimented and competed with attention grabbing journalism. I wrote about that here, because I'm a believer in market-supported media.

Related: Learn a lil' bit about my company's finances. From the beginning we have tried to be just about the most transparent company around. It freaks people out. It's hard. It's uncomfortable but I think it pushes us to fulfill our mission. In 2016, Technically Media did $1.67 million in revenue, continued meaningful growth but do so on very lean margins. That needs to change to thrive. 

Subscribe to Story Shuffle. Yup, I'm keeping up this weekly storytelling podcast that I'm hosting. To refresh: it's a sixth-month project built on six years of storytelling recordings I've done, the culmination of a major project of mine. Subscribe or listen on If you subscribe, give us a good review, it helps! You can listen to an episode that has a story of mine in it here. It's a story I'm proud of because it is honest, really honest. Let me know what you think, I told that in 2014 and have worked hard to develop since then as a storyteller.

Gloat about stuff you do. I finished a five-year run on the board of governors of the country's oldest journalist club, the Pen and Pencil Club. So I shared here what I was proud of accomplishing.

Go to a writer's residency in Tufo, Italy. I am thrilled to say my beloved buddy, homelessness advocate and developing fiction writer Patrick BIG TIMBS McNeil has launched a pilot of a dream of his: a writer's residency in Tufo, Italy. Get the details here and APPLY TO GO.

There is no next level. Read this piece from Mark Manson, who also has an interesting collection of pieces on healthy relationships. You need to think seriously: is there any place you're trying to reach or, in truth, ought you just calm down, breathe, smile and enjoy the journey? 

Tax the robots that will takeaway jobs. That was the provocative thought from Bill Gates with a surprising goal: to slowdown the speed of automation. It smashes into two different basics of economics: tax what you want less of (slow the rapid pace innovation!) and create the most efficient means of production (increase the rapid pace of innovation!). This isn't easy but interesting conversation.

Think a lot about joint finances. I have put a whole lot of effort into thinking about joint finances since getting married. It's a source of stress for couples around the world. Read some lessons I shared here.

Read about gender budgeting. I had never heard of it before this Economist piece that explained there are established practices for extrapolating how budget changes (decreased health spending or increased workforce development) impact genders differently.

Yup, facts don't change our minds. This is becoming a common perspective here but this New Yorker piece on new research updates the thread. 

Think about stories having shapes. You may have seen Kurt Vonnegut give a version of a talk based on his famously-rejected University of Chicago thesis but I found this infographic visual another helpful way to think about story development.

Be mindful of burnout. 'Burnout' is a psychological condition that never made it into official psychological academic literature. The concept was explored by a researcher who had worked with drug addicts who called themselves burnouts but found the similar physical and emotional conditions in over-worked office workers. (This is a cool podcast episode on him). 

Praise incrementalism. I loved this episode of Freakonomics that discussed how many big movements started with small, under-remembered, on-the-ground efforts. Inspired by NAACP coalition building, the first gay rights organizers strategically focused on sodomy laws before ever approaching gay marriage. By then, perceptions were changing and they could take on "the most explosive." Is it another sign of, as Dr. King wrote, white moderates choosing the timetable for freedom? Surely, but there's an effectiveness to developing a longterm strategy for a social movement. This episode was part of a fun little series on the difference between 'moonshots' and 'incrementalism' in social causes.

Think about India as something in between the United States and the European Union. I never understood diverse and dense India as well as reading this discussion comparing the country's social cohesion as contrasted between American and European identity. 

Time zones are weird right? China, the big giant sprawling country, has only one time zone because of a central government edict. It causes problems.

Geek out on next generation companies. Curious about what non-Silicon Valley tech startup communities look like? We at published lists of our favorite startups in the communities we report on, including Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Delaware, Baltimore and DC.

Understand true randomness. I love discussions of the mathematical understanding randomness like in this podcast episode which uses the chance of flipping a coin as an effective explainer. Go flip a quarter right now, although you have essentially a 50-50 chance of getting heads or tails on any one flip, that does not mean you should likely get a true split if you toss a coin 10 times. To think that, you would be misunderstanding that each individual toss has independent randomness. That is, if you throw three heads in a row, you are no more likely to land on tails.


Each newsletter I have shouted out one person I love. Well, I'm switching it up this month because more than 20 people contributed to a fundraising campaign I did for a homeless street newspaper that I support and I want to thank publicly those who weren't anonymous. Including some in-person donation, we collectively raised nearly $700 for this program for people experiencing homelessness. Thanks friends, including these wonderful souls:
  • Kevin Brosky (writer, guitarist)
  • Luke Butler (Curalate) 
  • Owen Camuso (social services executive)
  • David Curtis (civic)
  • Maggie Deptola (Coded by Kids staffer)
  • Michelle Freeman (Witty Gritty cofounder)
  • Jean Friedman-Rudovsky (Vice contributing editor)
  • Lynne Hernandez (nonprofit executive)
  • Kevin Lee (technologist)
  • Karl Martino (technologist)
  • Katey Metzroth (technologist)
  • Patrick Morgan (nonprofit executive)
  • Mjumbe Poe (technologist)
  • Michele McKeone (social entrepreneur) 
  • Andrew Thompson (freelance writer)
  • Shannon Wink (Billy Penn managing editor, oh and my wife)
  • Maureen Wink (engineer, oh and my sister)
  • George Wink (oh my dad)
  • Julie Zeglen ( editor and my coworker)

Thanks for the support in all ways.