The first big thing I took away from this trip is that it’s time to give up and quit trying to wish a better social media realm into existence. It’s not going to happen, and I can mostly get by with what I have carved out, which is mostly as follows:
1) Twitter, locked and limited to people I actually know, with controls on who can retweet stuff into my feed, and only accessed through Tweetbot so that I get a chronological feed with no ads. (And then a secondary account to follow the sports teams and brands and entities I want, with no expectation of being particularly interactive.)
2) Instagram, but only via the website and only via the iPad. That doesn’t work perfectly, but it does spare me the ads and the endless scroll of stuff I didn’t want to see, and having to get at it through the iPad limits the amount you can perseverate somewhat especially if you aren’t posting at vacation volume.
3) Signal, the only cross platform messaging tool worth mentioning. We got a couple more friends onto it this trip, and it remains my best way of messaging the people who are otherwise on no social media at all to share our happenings. If Signal would implement something like Stories, I might be done altogether, but nobody on WhatsApp ever looked at them and I was not sorry to dump WhatsApp altogether. It also occurs to me that if Signal would let you send to multiple group chats at once, that would be useful (and get a lot of the old Venn functionality, even though the notifications would be batshit after a while) but I suspect the encryption requirements would make that untenable.
4) Slack, where a small knot of daily-chat internet friends carries on as we always used to in the MUSH in days gone by.
And that’s pretty much it. There are a couple of other group chats that are redundant subgroups of the above, but by and large, that’s it and that’s all. No Meta apps on my phone, no means for posts I didn’t ask for to be injected into my flow. Everything I want to see, and for the most part, nothing I don’t. And almost entirely self-contained in the phone, at that. It’s not much, but it’s enough to make me feel like I mostly have other people I can interact with in a world that has conspired to put most of them in other counties or other states or sometimes other countries.
Four apps. Which is a shame. Flickr, the ur-app for phone and photo, isn’t a viable alternative. The rash of Path-like apps like Peach or Cocoon never got traction. micro.blog, though standards-based and interesting, was ultimately more public than you want from social networking. HelloApp, which is basically non-Meta WhatsApp with a feed, is dead on the launchpad. Even attempts to do something with iCloud Photo Sharing never got traction with more than a couple of people. The above four apps are basically all there is for me, because they’re the minimum necessary to circle up all the people I want to communicate things to in a casual manner on vacation, with varying degrees of success. Until Apple finally deploys the mythical PalAbout or something like it, and everyone adopts it, we’re kind of stuck.
Whatever. Sorted. (Well, that and that my phone battery is a tragedy, but more on that eventually.) So next up: pub life. The first problem, and one there is no evading, is that I have moved to a place that does not believe in transit. Hauling out the old reliable Citymapper app, it would be almost as quick for me to walk to the pubs of my former frequency on Murphy Street than to try to take transit there. Which means the pubs I hoped would be my regular stop are now going to be a drive, as are the pubs of downtown San Jose.
If everything is a drive, then that changes things. For one, the proximity of the closest downtown is not appreciably different from the next-closest downtown, and that means I can be driven to and from one as easily as another. More to the point, it means that a certain pub that was never on the radar before is suddenly as drivable as anywhere else, and has the not-inconsequential advantage of being an actual English pub that was built in Sussex, disassembled and shipped to Cupertino in 1983. In my latter days at Apple, I was prone to walk over at lunchtime for potato skins and a pint of Guinness, so it’s not like I don’t have a past there, and it is also open from 4 PM to 10 PM every day – making it available on Sunday evenings in a way that my previous best pub no longer is.
Problem is, I’m ultimately going to need something like Lyft. (Uber is right out, though Lyft is hardly better especially after their Prop 22 bullshit.) There’s an app called Alto that looks like it’s trying to be a more posh version of either, but I’m not interested in ponying up for a membership and to use it on on one-off basis looks unreliable and pricey. Ultimately, having three pints on a Sunday evening is going to involve troubling someone to pick me up (and drive me there in the first place, most likely). Which means the pub may still have to be something that happens mostly at home, with maybe a monthly indulgence in travel and whatnot. But being upstairs in a reasonably posh public house and mostly having the place to myself of an evening – well, it was a dream come true on a day when I desperately needed it.
Something was different this time. I know I was looking at a lot of pubs in 2016, but nothing like this. I’m more conscious of where things are, partly because of Citymapper for three weeks but also because Watched Walker is reinforcing it. And I’ve dreamed of London every night since we landed back in the states, which is something that’s never happened on any trip. Brick and stone and cobbled streets and narrow alleys and Tube line routes, all the things of my imagination. There’s nothing like it out here, largely because anything with that much brick either crumbled or burned in 1906 – maybe in Boston, or in Manhattan south of Houston, or Old Town Alexandria. All the more reason to consider domestic travel again.
OK, what else? Well, one thing that struck me repeatedly in a number of places is how much money Disney spends to try to create the kind of vibe those spots had built themselves over a century or more. And that immersive Disneyland feel is something I want more of in my life – whether it means the new tiki bar in San Jose, or the old speakeasy in San Francisco, or just the pub experience of the Duke of Edinburgh, I need that place-feel to help escape every bit as much as in Black Spire Outpost. So up next on the list is “where else can make me feel like I’m genuinely Somewhere Else?” And I have a small but growing list, part of which includes downtown Santa Cruz – but I also have car exploration on the radar again. Just as we were able to explore from the front of the top of the bus, it occurs to me that our shiny new electric crossover is the perfect instrument for going out and seeing other parts of the South Bay in safety and comfort without exerting myself too much on the scouting trips. Sure, the old practice of riding around for Washington games is basically dead, but before it turned into a coastal drive every time, it involved driving just wherever. No reason I couldn’t put on an appropriate stream or playlist in the ID.4 and just try to cruise it out a little.
In the end, the big revelation of this trip is that there is a wider world to venture into and explore from the other side of the last two years. Is it over? Nope. Is it “back to normal”? Can’t be. But it is whatever it is now, and it’s time to figure out what that looks like. And if I can stay in travel spirit here, maybe I feel better here, and maybe things start looking up.