A New Look At Atlanta

I have been so hard on Atlanta.

I grew up there.  My family arrived from Florida in 1964 and I didn’t leave permanently until 1990.  That’s about 26 years of history, most of it very pleasant.

I loved Atlanta.  It was certainly a city, but it was small enough to get around.  I could travel from one side to another in 30 minutes or less and knew the network of streets like the back of my hand.  Even after I-285 came along in the late 60’s, the town was human-friendly and easy to navigate and enjoy.

In those days, no matter where you were, you were never very far from the country:  the mountains to the North, lakes to the Northeast, farmland to the South. It was so easy to jump in the car drive an hour in any direction and be in a totally different landscape doing totally different things.

But after I left, Atlanta seemed to grow up . . . and I didn’t care much for the lumbering brute of a city it became.

Not so much ‘White Flight,’ but a desire to escape the grittiness and increasing ethnicity (of all kinds) inside the Perimeter fueled a population explosion north of town.  Places that seemed a day trip away began to flourish:  Flowery Branch, Buford, Cumming, Canton and on and on.  With that came a rubber stamped sprawl of nearly identical two story homes and franchised retail establishments.  I would come back to Atlanta to discover that my business and my friends had all moved an hour or two north of the city and were delighted to be hanging out at Applebees, TGIFridays, P.F.Changs and El Torito.  Traffic was terrible (always) and there was nothing real or genuine about the place.

I started referring to Atlanta as ‘My least favorite city in America.’  That had to do with the stupid suburban sprawl, sure, and with the long commutes to get anywhere.  But mostly my damning judgement had to do with loss.  I had lost a beautiful, place where things were green, where the rain fed lakes and rivers, and where I had roots.

I spent last weekend in Atlanta with my friend Dusty and a few of his friends.  We went to a Braves game (I love Turner Field!  It is so beautiful!  And I can’t believe they are going to tear it down and rebuild in two years.), ate lots of good food and mostly NEVER VENTURED OUTSIDE I-285.  Mostly we stayed in town, in Decatur, Candler Park, Ponce-Highlands, Little Five Points and Oakhurst.

What I learned is that the Atlanta I loved really hadn’t gone anywhere.  When everybody ran out to the boonies to the good life of predictability, all the good stuff stayed behind.

Atlanta is a gorgeous city on so many levels.  The new buildings that have sprouted in the past 25 years are awe-inspiring.  And somehow, in the midst of all of this urban development, they’ve managed to preserve so many mature trees that it still feels like a forest.

The close-in scene is young, hip and vibrant – and yet an old fart like me can feel comfortable.  And the artistic funk of the place?  I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it anywhere south of New York City.

So I’m sorry, Atlanta.  I’ve been too hard on you, and that wasn’t fair.  I was just sad when I thought you went away.  Let’s make up and be friends again, ok?  And if it’s ok with you, I’d love to come back for an even longer visit.


Facebook, Google and Mis-Serving of Information

I saw a rather compelling video this week from a young LA Internet personality named Matthias.  He was about to delete his Facebook account and created the video to explain why and hopefully inspire others to do the same.  His reasons have a lot to do with the company’s constant grabbing at our personal information and turning it into salable product.  Here, give a watch (and don’t hesitate to pause – he says a lot in a small space):

It is concerning that we routinely and without thinking or even knowing grant permission to Facebook to listen in on our lives via the michrophones in our SmartPhones.  Concerning?  Hell, it’s NUTS!  Are you KIDDING ME??

And that all by itself is probably a good reason to shut it down and return to relating to others as human beings, not electronic profiles.  But I find myself at least equally concerned about something else going on, not just with Facebook, but with Google and most other giant Internet portals.  It is the ‘Filter Bubbles’ into which our information providers stuff us.

We’d like to think that the Internet is an open source kinda place, where anybody can find out about any thing at any time.  Unfortunately, that is simply not true!  Facebook, Google and others – the big players that provide access to and serve up our information – track virtually everything we do, everything we click, everything we type, every site we visit and everything we buy.  Their motives are purely Capitalistic:  they just want to serve us a strict diet of things we are most likely to like and buy, and they use the information to determine what we see and what we don’t.

The insidious thing to me is that when I look for something online, or even when I scan through my Facebook Newsfeed, I’m mostly seeing information that reinforces my own point-of-view.  I’m clicking through a Filter Bubble these Net Giants have created for me, personally, that culls from the massive amount of data available, picking and choosing items it thinks I might like and which offer them the greatest possible chance of selling something.

Here:  do a little experiment.  Next time you are sitting with a few friends and everybody has Internet access via computer, tablet or SmartPhone, Google something a little controversial . . . .say . . . ‘Obamacare.’  Then compare your results.  Unless you and your friends think exactly alike and behave in similar fashion when online, you will have different results.  Each person’s search results will be filtered to serve them items they will find ‘tasty;’  in other words, items with which they already agree!

Pardon the scatological stab at humor BUT:  it’s as if we are trapped in an elevator smelling our own farts!

I think this personalized filtering – which is EVERYWHERE on the web – is very polarizing.  It tends to put us into tight little boxes where, instead of trying to understand an opposing viewpoint, we lash out at it because we can’t believe anybody could be so stupid as to believe that!

For example, I’m a pretty middle-of-the road politically progressive kinda guy.  I’m not fan of the Tea Party or the radical right.  My search results and Newsfeed reinforce my leaning to such an extent that I am actually shocked when I run into someone I know who holds those views.  In my bubble, those guys are the lunatic fringe, a small but vocal group not to be taken seriously.  Meanwhile, my Conservative friends are getting a completely different diet in their bubbles, one that reinforces the horrors of any form of liberalism and has them believing that people like me are a misguided minority.

We end up in our own little bubbles, sabers drawn, ready to charge out and do battle with anyone who doesn’t agree with us because (according to our Newsfeeds and search results) almost everyone DOES agree with us.  It’s all just so stupid!  And it’s happening because Facebook, Google, Amazon, Comcast, Verizon and on and on need to find more ways to make Billions (and pay no taxes)!

I’m not as decisive as Matthias.  I will have to sit and stew on this whole Delete Facebook idea.  I’ll probably sit and stew until I forget about it and go back to liking cute videos of dogs.  But I think the day may be coming when a viable alternative rises and takes a big bite out of the giants’ rear ends!

Here’s a great TED Talk about Filter Bubbles: