A Digital Expat — and an Answer to Hugh Howey

In Hugh Howey’s Confessions of a Digital Immigrant he asks for other people’s story about their adoption of digital reading. So Hugh, here you go.

If Hugh is a digital immigrant, I am an expatriate. I swore years ago that I would never abandon print books for ereading. And yet, I have. My reading is about ninety five percent digital.

My ereading story begins in 2010. I am transgender and I was preparing to take a trip to Thailand for my final surgery for my transition. I would be there for a month. I read at least two or three books a week normally, but I would be spending a lot of the month recovering from surgery, so I figured I would read more. How could I possibly bring enough books? Could I find English language books in Bangkok, Thailand?

The answer was to purchase my first kindle. I got it about a month before my trip and as soon as I started using it, it was magic. The device fit easily in my purse, dramatically reducing the amount of weight I carried.

My first kindle. Broken now but still loved.

My first kindle. Broken now but still loved.

Before my kindle, I carried a physical book everywhere. I used to joke, “happiness is a small book.” Small books are great for when you are waiting in line, stuck at the doctor’s office, or have a few minutes downtime at work.

There were two problems with this. Big, thick books are happiness, too, but they don’t fit so well in a purse. The second problem was that I often carried more than one book. If I was more than three quarters of a way through a book, I’d become afraid of finishing while I was out somewhere, and not having the next book to read. So I’d figure out what I was going to read next, and then carry that one as well.

With the kindle, those problems went away. It didn’t matter whether the book is long or short, the kindle still weighs the same. The next book is already there, on the same device. I downloaded what I thought would be a month’s worth of reading and headed to Thailand.

Two things occurred while I was in Thailand. I didn’t have all the books I needed. I was stuck there longer than expected and I needed more books. That was okay, I could easily shop and download more. That, too, was magic. To be sitting in a cafe in Bangkok, Thailand and buying books from the United States on Amazon, and then downloading them instantly, was magic.

The other problem was with my computer. To make a long story short, I needed a couple of reference manuals to fix what was wrong. In print they would have been big, expensive and I would have had to mail order them. On the kindle I was able to download them instantly for a fraction of the price.

In Hugh’s blog he claims that its older readers that have adopted ereading the most. That seems counter intuitive, but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. When I came back from Thailand, now in love with my kindle, I started looking around the house. Could I replace some of my print books with ebooks?

Just one of the five bookshelves that used to fill my house.

Just one of the five bookshelves that used to fill my house.

I understand what he says about young people loving their print books. I was like that once upon a time. Now I watch book bloggers on youtube, flashing their copies of their five favorite novels and think, “five? That’s cute.” A life-long reader at age forty five, I could be smothered by a fraction of my favorite books.

Looking around my house at the end of 2010, I had one book shelf in the entryway to the kitchen just for cookbooks. I had another in the main room for books I kept for reference, or because I frequently picked them up and read portions of them. I had a library with three more bookshelves. That’s five full book shelves.

And then there were the flats. I had discovered years ago that paperback books fit well in those plastic underbed storage boxes. That became the most convenient way to store and move most of my books, which were trade paperback science fiction and fantasy. By 2010 I had stacks of them in my basement. Somewhere in my late twenties and early thirties a love of books had crossed the line into hoarding. I had to do something.

My love of books crossed into hoarding. I had stacks of these in my basement for years.

My love of books crossed into hoarding. I had stacks of these in my basement for years.

The kindle became the solution and the excuse to declutter my life. Many of the reference books that I had to have were classics, books of poetry, mythology, etc. I would never know when I needed one for a quote, or to settle some debate.

(What? You’ve never suddenly needed to know what it says in the Bhagavad Gita? Or needed a quote from the finnish epic Kalevala? You haven’t been to my house, then. It happens.) The kindle and the Gutenberg project cut deep into that shelf.

I have a problem letting go of novels. The reason is that I’ve bought many books two or three times. I’ll buy a book, read it and think, “that was good but I’ll probably never read it again.” I give it away or sell to a used bookstore. Five years later I want to read it again and buy another copy. Then I get paranoid about giving up that copy, because who knows? In five years I might want to read it a third time. But the book collection keeps growing and there’s only so much room.

With my kindle I don’t have that problem. If I choose to keep a book, it doesn’t add any weight or take up any space. If I let it go, it’s still in my cloud somewhere if I change my mind later.

What else?

A lot of the same things that others have said about ereaders played a role in my adoption as well. I will admit that being able resize text is a lot easier than admitting that I’m getting older. Cheaply priced ebooks are a godsend to active readers who plow through many books in a month.

The ability to shop at home was another huge factor. I love going to the bookstore, I do. Going to the library is another treat for me. But let’s face it, life gets busy and sometimes it’s a pain. Just getting there isn’t the only problem. Buying books once or twice a month at the bookstore means knowing what I am going to want to read after I finish my current book. Sometimes I finish a book and find myself in the mood for something similar, sometimes I want something different. Pulling the next book out I would discover that I got it right, some of the time, and I would get it wrong some of the time. Now I choose what I want to read next when I am ready for it.

A note on Indie authors and pricing

As an ereader I’ve become far more price sensitive. There are three reasons. The most obvious is that I read a lot. The choice between one book at 9.99 and three books at 2.99 is an easy one for me, especially if I am just looking for something to read.

The second reason I am more price sensitive now is because there is one real downside to digital reading. Its not nearly as easy to share a digital book. With print it’s easy to hand the book off to a friend and say, “here, read this. You’ll love it.” When you are trying to tell someone they should lay down money to read something because you think they’ll like it, it’s a different ball game. With a cheap book, 2-3 dollars, I have no problem expecting friends to fork over for their own copy. But when publishers price their ebooks over ten dollars it creates a lot of frustration for me. Knowing I can’t share the book and feeling like I can’t recommend it, takes a lot of pleasure out of reading for me.

The third reason I am so price sensitive has to do with being an indie author myself. I have, or feel like I have, a good notion of how much work and cost goes into an ebook. I understand how the market works.

I track my expenses on each book and I know how much I have to make for each to break even. I hire a professional editor and professional cover artist. Once those set costs are paid, the cost of keeping an ebook on the market is marginal. I sell most of my books for less than five dollars. At the 70% I make from Amazon, it will take a few hundred sales on average for a book to break even and start making money.

So when big publishers tell us that they need to price the latest Patterson book at twelve dollars to make money, I don’t believe them. He has hundreds of thousands of fans. His books will start turning a profit almost as soon as they are out.

My point is that when major publishers push higher ebook prices, I assume they are just fleecing consumers, using ebook sales to prop up less profitable portions of their corporate structure. Maybe that’s just me, but it’s an important reason why I read so few big names these days, and so many indie authors.

My writing shelf went digital as well, for many of the same reasons. Here are the hard copies from before I started relying on cloud backups.

My writing shelf went digital as well, for many of the same reasons. Here are the hard copies from before I started relying on cloud backups.

Do I buy any print books?

Yes, I do still buy print books. There are three reasons I still buy print.

When I meet a fellow author at an event or signing, I buy copies. I have a growing collection of signed copies from authors I know personally. I am very proud of that collection and I look forward to adding to it. That said I often come home, put the book on the shelf and then download the ebook to my kindle to actually read the book.

I recently decided to read a couple of books that are pretty popular. Unfortunately, the ebooks were more expensive than I usually care to pay. So I went to the local half price book store and found one of them for less than the ebook. That might be seen as a win for the “high ebook price to help conserve print sales” theory, except it was a second hand book and didn’t help the publisher.

There are a few books that aren’t available for the kindle. It’s getting rare in these days, but it happens. Current authors are almost all available in digital forms. Books old enough to be public domain have probably been uploaded by someone. In between, books old enough to have been published before the digital revolution but not so old as to be public domain, may only exist in print.

So there you have it, the confessions of digital expat.

 

How to Kick an Internet Troll, right in the Freedom of Speech

From Gamergate to homophobia to this piece of crap, trolls are everywhere on the internet. When challenged about their behavior their first fallback position is almost invariably freedom of speech. “You are violating my freedom of speech. I have a right to my opinions.”

In making this argument they are taking the moral high road. The argument ceases to be about their behavior and becomes about some higher principles.

It’s also pure bullshit. Yes, freedom of speech is an important right. However it’s not as gray as trolls would like you to believe, nor is it applicable to their behavior.

Here are three simple ways that the freedom of speech argument fails and how to shut down trolls when they try to use it on you.

1. You have freedom of speech, too.

When you speak out on an issue you feel strongly about, that’s freedom of speech. When a troll responds in the comments, or in person, trying to shout at you to shut you up, that’s not freedom of speech. That’s the exact opposite. When Gamergate “activist” attack feminist who critique gamer culture, they aren’t expressing their opinion, they are attempting to silence their opponent, and then trying to claim that is freedom of speech.

2. freedom of speech does not equal freedom from consequence

Remember in high school when you had to debate that ludicrous situation where someone yells “fire!” in a crowded movie house. That always drove me nuts because the solution seems so obvious. Having the freedom to do what you want or feel is right doesn’t mean you are free from all the consequences of your behavior.

The right to bear arms doesn’t make murder legal. You might have the right to yell “fire!” in a crowded movie house, but if people die in the stampede to escape and it turns out you just thought it would be funny to see people run, you can still be charged with manslaughter.

Yes, trolls have the right to their opinion. But when they phrase those opinions as insults or threats, they may face consequences. That’s life.

3. Speech may be a right but publishing is a privilege.

You have the right to free speech but no one owes you a platform. I have the right to write whatever story I want, but I can’t force HarperCollins to publish my thousand page rant on how mice don’t really like cheese. HarperCollins gets to choose what it publishes.

What we often forget is that anything posted on the internet is actually being published. Most of the websites we use don’t belong to us and the owners have a choice of what to publish and what not to.

If I am running my own personal blog, I don’t have to publish any comments. I can, and most bloggers do, because it builds a sense of community around a blog and brings readers back. However if I feel a comment is from a troll, or has no value to the discussion, I can choose not to display it. If you disagree, you are welcome to start your own blog and respond there.

Most public websites have clear terms of service. They vary in details but most clearly forbid certain behaviors. It is Facebook, Google plus or Twitter’s prerogative to decide what these are and to decide what is acceptable on their website.

The users are faced with the choice of playing by the rules or not using the site. Sometimes that means they allow posts that we personally find offensive. Sometimes that means they remove our posts because someone else found them offensive.

 

Trolls may be a fact of life in the internet age, but the damage they do, and the number in your life, can be controlled. It starts by realizing that insults and attacks in comments aren’t free speech, they are an attempt to silence the original poster’s free speech. It’s possible to respectfully disagree with someone without being a troll.

Second we need to recognize that online behavior does have consequences. If someone violates the rules of a given website by posting threatening or derogatory language, flag them. If they want to cry that their freedom of speech has been violated, they can do so somewhere else. Believable verbal threats, doxxing someone and adding rape threats, for example, might also violate the law. Contact your local police to see what sort of evidence they need and how to gather it.

Finally, all of us are webmasters, even if all we have is a Facebook page. You control, to a large extent, what lands on your webpage. If you are a journalist or a blogger, you are also an editor. It’s up to you to make sure that each comment on a post adds to, rather than detracts from the discussion. You have the right to delete or unapprove comments. On social media you have tools to delete, block or untag people and photos. Use your power wisely, to strip internet trolls of the one thing they were never guaranteed in the first place, an audience.

 

An Outsider’s View of #Gamergate

Even if you’re not a hardcore gamer, you’ve probably seen the hashtag #gamergate on social media lately. It’s the scandal/movement/troll bait that doesn’t seem to want to die.

What is Gamergate?

I am only a casual gamer and a late comer to this. I do have a tendency to call it like I see it, and here is what I’ve discovered researching Gamergate on Twitter and in the Blogosphere. Gamergate is a many-headed hydra, an elder black pudding ooze if you’ve played D & D. There is no simplified what is gamergate paragraph to be written because it’s something different to everyone involved.

A rough construction of Gamergate is that it either started with a bunch of guys harassing a female game developer or a spontaneous protest of corrupt journalism in the gaming field. Gamergate has spawned a number of other hashtags, the two most important being #notyourshield and #stopgamergate2014.

Version one is that Zoe Quinn released a game about depression and some gamers didn’t like it. They showed their dislike by a sustained campaign of harassment. Her harassment led to a long needed discussion about women in gaming, sexism and misogyny in the gamer community. A few gamer fought back under the hashtag #Gamergate and it slowly coalesced into a movement of sorts.

In the other version, Zoe Quinn’s boyfriend accused her, in a public blog post, of sleeping with Kotaku journalist Nathan Grayson. The gaming community saw her relationship with Grayson as a conflict of interest. This lead to a discussion of nepotism and cronyism in the gaming world. The horrible vitriol, death threats and misogyny found on Twitter, Reddit, 4chan, 8chan and elsewhere under the hashtag is simply trolls trying to stir the pot.

The biggest challenge with this second version has to do with the #gamergate timeline. It appears that Zoe Quinn was experiencing harassment before anyone knew of her affair. She hadn’t even met Grayson yet when he reviewed her game. Several of the other women who have been taking heat in this debate have experienced a great deal of harassment before this whole thing erupted. Women like Anita Sarkeesian have been talking about sexism in gaming for sometime and are not directly connected to the original scandal in any way I can tell.

Still its almost impossible to pin gamergate down because it means something different to everyone involved. Everyone has an opinion about what gamergate is, and everyone’s opinion manages to discount the worst behavior on their side and emphasize that same behavior on the other side.

Why Should I Care About Gamergate?

I’ve already indicated that I am only a casual gamer myself. Why should I care? Let the gaming community have it’s little drama, right?

There are two problems. The first is that gamergate has spread well beyond the confines of the gaming community. Anyone who attempts to discuss the issues of women in tech gets sucked in. Anyone who attempts to discuss how women are treated online, gets sucked in.

Gamergate has ripped open and ugly can of worms. Women field threats online every day. Often it’s simply the price of being a woman online. Gamergate has taken those threats to a new level. One gamergater threatened “the worst school shooting in history” if Anita Sarkeesian spoke on the issue at Utah State.

Gamergate has become a feminist issue, because some women aren’t allowed to have an opinion about it without being threatened. This is not right.

Everything wrong with Gamergate in one paragraph

I came across this article in Techcrunch. Sadly it’s been heralded by some as the most “balanced view” of what gamergate is about. Here is the paragraph that stopped me in my tracks.

“Have they raised money for a mental health charity? Don’t report that! Did they kickstart a project to help young women get ahead in game development? Definitely don’t report that! Did one of them send someone a death threat? Stop the presses, we need to get the story out now!”

Yes, stop the fucking presses now. Death threats are kind of a big deal. Especially since these aren’t your average random troll comment sort of death threats that women frequently field; anonymous comments that are impossible to track. Brianna Wu had her address posted online along with many threats. She alerted the police and left home.

My day job is a night job on an acute mental health unit. Over the course of fifteen years I’ve dealt with hundreds anti-social personalities (AKA sociopaths). I’ve had my share of death threats. I have a simple rule, when the threats start, we are done talking. I will talk about your anger at the doctor, judge or family member that committed you to my facility, but only after you take two steps back, sit down and stop threatening me. If you can’t do that, we can talk through the tiny window in a seclusion room.

When the women at the center of this controversy started getting believable death threats, we crossed that line. Anything, and I do mean anything, that you have to say about ethics in game journalism can wait. First we need to discuss this.

Gamergate and Misogyny

Gamergaters are insistent that the movement is not sexist or misogynistic. Their argument seems to be that the content of their message (that game journalism is corrupt) is not sexist therefore they aren’t either. They fail to realize that if the message is delivered in a sexist way, it doesn’t matter what the content is. Pretending otherwise is like using racial or homophobic slurs and then trying to say “I didn’t mean it like that.” It just doesn’t work.

What do I mean by sexist delivery? If a female game developer gave sexual favors to a journalist for a positive review, that would be an ethics violation. If you attack her “slutty” behavior while ignoring the journalist’s part, that’s sexism. If you respond by threatening the female with rape, that’s misogyny. If you try to silence any woman who disagrees with you by harassing them, belittling them or threatening them, that’s sexism.

Why Gamergate matters to all of us

Some people will no doubt say that since I am not a gamer I shouldn’t have an opinion on Gamergate. Gamergate is a feminist issue, because the tactics that gamergate activist are using are familiar to all feminist. They belittle women’s opinions. Just wanting to discuss how women are treated in games is tantamount to taking away their freedom, their freedom to enjoy those portrayal without thinking about them. When that doesn’t work they resort to anonymous threats, threats of rape and violence.

Suffragettes faced the same barrage of threats over a hundred years ago when they tried to argue for a woman’s right to vote. Equal rights activists have faced the same violence again and again.

This is why, regardless of what is going on in game journalism, gamergate has become a feminist issue. You can respectfully disagree with what people like Anita Sarkeesian has to say. But if you think that respectfully disagreeing includes the right to make rape threats, you and I have a problem. I will stand beside her right to speak out on this issue.

But it’s just a few bad apples, right?

The gamergate issue might rise above the vitriol of a few misogynist trolls and become a respectful and much needed debate about gaming journalism. I might win the lottery tomorrow, too, even though I don’t play. The two seem about as likely.

Right now the gamergate movement is awash in bad apples. Despite the regular protest of gamergate activist that the threats and harassment is only a few bad apples, the movement has failed to condemn these actions, instead many have taken the stance that such harassment is, or should be, protected as free speech. Using threats to silence opinions is the antithesis of free speech in my books, and using the free speech argument to defend your threats hypocrisy.

The really short version of #gamergate:

There are two sides to this issue, but one side is using harassment and threats to silence the other.