The horror of reality

To Arikia-

Haven’t written a poem in days

months years

In fact never wrote a poem

A poem by its nature is perfect

If perfection is not arrived at,

A poem it wasn’t

Process pulls you in a plethora of

possible ways

Bully ways, bullish ends

Ways and means committees

The song starts like that and not like


Too much coffee consumed,

Yesterday pizza pounding the temples

Of his body,

His recrimination

Against himself

Against interpretation

Who knows how harmonious

This can all get

Can it get wet

Can it stay dry

Is there a choice in the matter

I see there is a lot on your mind,

But is there anything in it?

I can’t imagine.

The horror of reality is

everpresent for those

who have eyes to see with.

-Umbrellicus Ginjericho Bizerko

The polar bear in the zoo

The polar bear in the zoo swims in a monotonous loop. Does the polar bear know what it would be doing if it wasn’t for the shortsighted nature of humans emboldened by power? Their noble attempts to improve the immediate for the few they love the fiercest create ripples of destruction they will never see until the waves go fully around the world and show up back at their doorstep, but even then they will not attribute the cause to themselves. Still the polar bear swims round and round in its artificial glass cube, busying itself with the next moment and nothing beyond. For if it looked into the future, a future of hundreds of thousands of loops of going exactly nowhere, it would perhaps give up and sink to the bottom of its tank.

But oh how grateful the polar bear should be to be alive! Thank your captors, you ungrateful little bastard. They have saved you. You would be nothing without them. Swim swim, and forget your nagging instincts that insist you were meant to be king of the arctic. Don’t be so crazy, polar bear. You live in a zoo so that’s obviously where you were meant to live. It’s nice that you like to dream about the life you might be living if you had more than 20 cubic feet to explore, but maybe it’s better you don’t think about that unobtainable reality. Just swim your little loops and be grateful for the air you are permitted to breathe, for now. If they think you might give up, they’ll do things to make you regret it. Be a good little slave, polar bear. Your existence is not your own.

Two interviews and a podcast

Some people care about my thoughts and opinions. Some even cared enough to ask me about them lately. Here are the results of those lines of inquiry:

Story in a Bottle, a podcast about journalism and tech by Dan Macarone

One of the best things about the world of technology is that you can end up in it having come from any direction. The most successful founders, venture capitalists, designers, etc. have fascinating stories behind their success, and every week Charming Robot‘s Dan Maccarone sits down over our guest’s favorite cocktail, wine or beer to hear where they came from and what they’ve learned along the way.

Arikia Millikan is a journalist and entrepreneur with a resume that boasts digitizing traditionally print-centric brands. It’s a career that’s given her a fair share of behind-the-scenes experiences with the epidemic that’s overtaking the industry – the continued and steepening uphill battle of maintaining the right motivation in the world of news and content. Over Bloody Marys (with a fun twist) at Fools Gold in NYC, she explains how her unique approach in applying engineering principles paired with a “squeaky wheel” reputation help her press forward and innovate within this challenging space.

Topics we discuss include:
*Me being dragged kicking and screaming into learning about journalism business models.
*Why Medium is the worst.
*How I tried to help several print-centric media companies monetize their online content before that was cool and nobody listened to me, even though I was ultimately correct.
*What I’ve been working on since LadyBits.

Safe (Digital) Spaces, an Inclusion.Tech interview with Claire Hsu.

In this issue, we speak with Cyber Communication Specialist Arikia Millikan, about why she started using digital security and privacy tools as a journalist and her recent efforts hosting CryptoParty workshops to teach people how to develop personal risk assessments and how to make use of increasingly broad-based and user-friendly tools to defend themselves.

Cyber-Feminism: Women Take Up Encryption In A Post Trump World, by Tracy Clark-Flory for Vocativ

Last week, journalist Arikia Millikan reached out to women-in-tech listservs with some basic pointers on things like encryption, warning that “now is a good time to get serious about online security.” The response was strong enough that she followed up on Sunday with what’s known as a cryptoparty, where just under a dozen people gathered to learn more about protecting their online privacy. They went over security best practices and swapped “keys” — a phrase that has nothing to do with swinging and everything to do with vouching for the authenticity of each others’ encrypted accounts. The gender ratio was evenly split, which is rare for these kinds of events, she said.

See? I’m still alive, I’ve just been underground.

A writer’s perspective

Writers’ block is something different these days. It’s not just the fear of putting things on the paper and having them stand there in the physical world, to be dissected or dismantled or ignored by readers at some point in the future. Most blocks today aren’t about writing, but of having to deal with the immediate response of people reading one’s writing online.

I haven’t wanted to blog in almost a year. The web isn’t a safe place for writers anymore. Animosity toward “the media” as a whole has been so amped up by government propaganda that readers are open firing on “the messengers.” The user experience for reading online text is so uncomfortable that readers are even less able to differentiate between individual writers than 10 years ago when blogging was just starting to go mainstream. There is a detachment between the text and the people who created it in the minds of most readers. They hate “the media,” or “the liberal media” or “the conservative media,” so they lash out everywhere they can with their ill-informed opinions, not considering that “the media” is just a group of individuals with wide-ranging qualities. If someone says “I hate Americans,” and you are one, you say hey, that’s not fair. There are shitty members of the media just like there are shitty Americans, ones that damage the image of the group to outsiders. And then there’s everyone else. The ones who have to avoid people who think in binary terms.

Some readers of “the media” latch onto articles like toddlers grabbing a toy a few years too advanced for them, slobbering all over it without understanding what it does, and then throwing it aside, not caring if it breaks. The poor toy. That wasn’t how it was meant to be enjoyed.

One of the first interviews I conducted was with Bill Keller, the then-EIC of the New York Times. He described his role as being “a political chew toy.” I didn’t really understand what he meant back then, but I do now.

What if we could write knowing our content would go only where it’s respected? What if we could publish without having to worry about being objectified, insulted, threatened? We pretend like free speech is something that exists here in the United States, but let’s be real: if you can’t write about a touchy subject without having to worry about someone finding your personal information and burning your house down, are you really free to speak? I haven’t experienced a fraction of the abuse some writers have, but it hasn’t stopped me from developing an aversion to the whole system, a system that is mainly designed by men who crave control of the public consciousness.

Life as a writer has been strange all-around, but over the past few years it’s been downright unbearable. Once I met a guy at a party who was studying journalism at a big journalism university here in NYC. I told him I’m a journalist too. “Oh, what do you have like, a blog or something?” “Yeah.. or something.” Sometimes I don’t even want to engage anymore. When I walked away, and someone clued him in that my portfolio extends beyond a blog, he Googled me and came back full of compliments, wanting to get closer, to know me more. Sorry, but I saw you the first time, and I don’t actually want to know you at all.

If you’re a writer and you don’t guard yourself well, people behave like they are automatically entitled to your time, as if you’re a public utility funded by taxpayer dollars. Maybe we should be, because the alternatives are sure as hell not working, but we’re not, which makes our time ours. Sometimes, unprompted, they immediately dump their saddest story or deepest secret on you. I usually listen with inescapable empathy, while I think to myself, I didn’t ask, and I really don’t want to know. Being the bearer of secrets is a responsibility, a parasite that we’re forced to then carry around until we can find a new host. But it seems the machine that used to accept our burdens is only accepting parasites from corporations now. Freelance journalists are left to try to drown their parasites with trusted others in dimply lit bars, and they usually come back.

Usually when I tell people I’m a writer, they immediately try to exploit me. They want attention, they want “press” for their super cool new company that’s going to change the world because it’s the Uber for ___ (insert whatever bullshit people don’t actually need here). Why do they assume that their desire to know me, a New York writer, trumps my desire to be left alone? I don’t like to lie to people, so I just excuse myself and let them think what they want. It was worse when I was at Wired. That affiliation transformed me from Arikia Millikan into Internet Magazine Editor ID # 1835103. I have 150,000 unread emails in my inbox to prove it. To so many people, writers are a tool, a stepping stone, a weapon. Nobody asks us if we consent.

Usually, I write about people namelessly, as anecdotes to make whatever point I’m making, or just to stretch the blogging muscles. Sometimes they see a post and assume that it’s about them. Usually it’s not, but sometimes they’re right. Either way, someone is out there feeling entitled to qualify my literary perspective. They say: I can’t believe you made me sound so dumb, or so mean. They try to argue with my perspective, if it didn’t align with theirs. They attack me like it’s my fault for observing them acting a certain way. I want to tell them: have you instead considered not acting like that, if you don’t want to be seen as someone who acts like that? But usually I just wind up feeling censored. Inspiring a transformation in one person is never the goal with my writing, unless it’s a personal email addressed to them. If you want to play muse in a writer’s work, whatever, but don’t then go to her with hurt feelings because she saw something in you that you wouldn’t include in your conference biography.

People are so used to having Instagram filters, they forget what reality looks like.

Usually I’m mined but other times, when I meet someone randomly and they inevitably ask what I do, and tell them I’m a writer, they immediately go on the defensive. Like I’m a paparazzi who has somehow telepathically magnetized them over to me at a bar just so I can pry into their life. I then have to explain: I don’t do that kind of writing, I’m at a bar, I’m not working right now, I would never care enough to write about your Wall Street dealings to write about you even if I was paid. In fact, I would quit my job if I was forced to write about you. People are my favorite subject to write about, but I have no desire to write about most people on anyone else’s terms.

Increasingly, that’s what journalists are being asked to do in the professional world. The publishers sold out, the editorial walls have crumbled, or were never built in the first place online, the way they once were with print media. Advertisers feel entitled to demand journalists attention and coverage in ways they define with demands. I may think the more interesting angle is about how your company is destroying the rainforest, but my editor may tell me the obvious angle is to write about what a philanthropist the founder is. Why does anyone wonder why journalism is declining?

Most people don’t know the difference between PR and journalism. Even less people will be able to define in 10 years, as the new generation enters the arena. One time I was at a party for a big, trendy media company, and I went up to the VIP lounge to escape the crowd. I wound up talking to a woman who was about my age when I started off interning in the NYC media world. She was telling me about her job, how she reads the press releases and then she writes them up in fun language. I asked her where she finds stories outside of press releases, and she looked at me with bewilderment. It had never occurred to her that story ideas came from places outside of press releases. I think that was the moment I really lost faith in the industry.

So that’s it. That’s where I am right now, and I don’t care what anyone thinks about it. This is my dismal perspective, sponsored by no one. And I am entitled to it.

New Year

I’m lying alone in bed listening to the rain on the roof of this old hotel in Palm Springs, and I am content. 

I don’t regret 2016; I am happy it made visible a need for change. I am not afraid of the future. I work hard to craft a more peaceful one every day. 

I’m not sad anymore because I am different. I love the person I’ve grown to be, and the friends I’ve met all over the world who helped me get here. I don’t need anyone to complete me; I am whole.
I will continue to do what I do: to orbit around this pale blue rock connecting dots and documenting all aspects of humanity, and to write. I have been in an underground phase of writing and plotting this year, assembling a large body of work I will someday publish, and a project I will someday launch. I’m not in a rush.

I am ready for 2017. This year, my only resolution is just to do me.

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope you do you this year too.


My Summer Without Facebook

I deactivated Facebook on June 24—the first time I have been without it in my adult life. After going almost three months without seeing the sickly blue logo or having a red notification alert invade my online workspace—and consciousness, I can definitively say that disabling Facebook was the best thing I could have done for myself this summer.
I was an “early adopter,” and once sang the praises of a technology that had the potential to connect strangers who should be friends. After all, technology pulled me out of depression at a time when I was almost completely isolated from my peers. I owed a lot to the concept of its ability to connect humanity, distracting us from the inevitable conclusion to life which is dying alone. But the way Facebook has been developed to abuse and manipulate the public over the past decade has stirred such a deep disgust in me that I can’t ethically continue to use it, regardless of how large my “audience” is there (a term marketers use to describe the people they can force their product in front of).
On a more personal level, I recognized that Facebook was contributing to the distressing form of sensory overload that I regularly face when returning to the US from long journeys abroad. It is a form of PTSD, and quitting Facebook did more to ease its negative symptoms than any pharmaceutical intervention could have done. Simply put, being connected to Facebook made me feel like a tea bag, being steeped in America’s myopic bullshit, over and over again.
Several people have told me that my travel posts were something they continually looked forward to viewing on Facebook, and it did feel a bit as though I was punishing my readers by disconnecting in this way. But I think I did us all a favor in the long run, because I am a better writer and thinker, a better me, without Facebook in my life.
Though I will post this link on Facebook today (my account was reactivated without my direct consent when I updated my credit card information on Spotify, a service that uses Facebook’s API for login purposes), I won’t contribute my writing to this corporate silo the way that I have in the past. You’re going to have to click that extra click, or even search from scratch to find my words on the internet. Publishing on Facebook is the equivalent of unpaid labor, and often the people who are the loudest on there are the ones no one would pay for their writing otherwise. So I will be quiet on there, but loud on platforms that appreciate my professionalism and experience as a writer, and invite my contributions to the public sphere.
From an ethical standpoint, Facebook is among the worst of the worst of tech companies manufacturing technological addictions. It incepts into thinking that the only way to live without it is to suffer alone, out of the loop, out of the immediate reach of friends and loved ones. They make it seem like to leave Facebook is the equivalent of death. One Facebook employee even taunted me on Twitter when I expressed how nice it was to be without:
You don’t need it. Even their employees know it’s the worst, as many have personally told me they are only there for the paycheck and will leave as soon as they have the opportunity to do so. After all, they are making millions off your free labor, giving away the details of your lives for them to package and sell to anyone they want without you even knowing about it. The benefits of Facebook have long ceased to outweigh the costs, but we keep working for our dopamine drip of likes. Why? Your neurons aren’t so tainted that they can’t go back to finding release in the simple pleasure of the natural world again. The anecdote is simply deactivation, and redirection of your online attention to more worthy resources.
Life wasn’t hard for me without Facebook—the people who wanted to contact me chose one of several other pathways to do so. The danger is that if we continue to choose Facebook over alternatives, life will be impossible without it. They are already lobbying in Africa to make sure it is the only “internet” available to people who can’t afford cellular data plans, creating a dependency in a way most Americans can’t fathom. Right now, it’s merely inconvenient to not have access to Facebook, but if they have it their way in the future, quitting could very well kill you, perhaps by cutting off your primary income streams.
The exodus has begun. Right now, it may not seem like we have much choice about what social network to use, as the other options haven’t reached critical mass or have been deliberately squashed by Facebook and other tech giants. But soon choice will emerge once again, and you’d be wise to choose the option that prioritizes you as a user. There are thousands of people in the world working to build alternative mechanisms for people to communicate via the internet. I am one of them. By opting to use other platforms to carry out your technological tasks, you will pull your social currency away from Facebook to those other places and decrease the power of Facebook to act unilaterally and with impunity regarding your online experience.
So here is my challenge to you: Every time you have the impulse or feel a necessity to post something on Facebook, post it somewhere else first. Link to it on Facebook if you must, but let that content live somewhere outside the confines of a corrupt organization that has absolutely no obligation to preserve or maintain your content or privacy. Start to initiate the process of removing yourself from its death grip, because soon, there will be a viable alternative to the connectivity we crave, and it will be pure and unadulterated.
I still believe that the internet can set us free, but nobody in power has ever just given up that power because it was the ethical thing to do, and you’d better not expect Facebook to do that now. Just like all revolutions of the past, we will have to carve our technological freedom out for ourselves.