Recentering and Refocusing
Taking time to take stock of how I spend my time
A few friendly warnings as you read this week’s newsletter:
I’m not analyzing one of the many tech stories this week and instead of giving you what is top of mind for me at this moment about where I spend my time. Feel free to just skip down to the what I’m reading section if you want a sense of what stories caught my eye this week and you aren’t interested in that.
As you read you’re going to think I might be making some grand announcement. I’m not. More just sharing some of my thought processes as I figure out this new career life I’m trying to build.
It’s been an utterly exhausting week - and frankly - three months for me. I added my work at the International Republican Institute, as well as the National Conference on Citizenship as the interim CEO all the while still doing work for the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Integrity Institute, Atlantic Council, and Duco experts. The New York Times ran my op-ed about the 2024 election, the Wall Street Journal ran a profile of me and I was given the honor to give a solo speech at SXSW not once, but twice. While I definitely like to stay busy - to say I’m overextended is obvious.
It’s why I was grateful to have the chance to take a pause these last two days as part of the Brewer Fellowship to Unite America. The Brewer Fellowship is an offshoot of an org I became a part of five years ago called Cultivate the Karass. That organization was created by Lori Brewer Collins. Her son Jake Brewer was a huge part of the tech and democracy world but was tragically killed in a bike accident in 2015. Lori wanted to keep Jake’s memory alive by creating an influential body of Loyal Antagonists: those you can trust to deeply challenge as well as deeply support you, throughout your life.
Yesterday the topic of conferences came up and memories of the Personal Democracy Forum popped into my head. For those of you who aren’t familiar with PDF, it was started by Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej in 2004 as one of the first conferences looking at how the Internet was impacting democracy. Over the years it became a must-attend conference. It was an opportunity for the tech and democracy community across the right and left to come together, discuss these issues, make connections and make plans.
As soon as PDF popped into my head I had two immediate follow-up thoughts. The first was how much I miss that gathering and the community. Even when the discussions were super difficult like those after 2016 about the role of Facebook I knew if there was any group of people who were going to help fix the problem it was the people at PDF.
The second was Jim Gilliam’s speech at PDF in 2011 called “The Internet is my Religion.” I’ve been to a ton of conferences and this is the only time I can remember a keynote address captivating an entire audience as that one did. It was truly magical and I showed it to the other Brewer Fellows today. Even eleven years later it still moved me to tears. As I watched it through my 2022 lens I was thinking about how when this was delivered in 2011 we still had such optimism for the promise of the internet for democracy. In fact, this was probably the peak of that optimism. Today we are in such a different spot, and while Jim’s message about having faith that people connected can create a new world certainly happened - it’s just not the world we intended to create.
That said, if we want a different world it’s still going to take people working together to create that future and I want to be a part of that building.
So this brings me to thinking about being overextended and where I want to spend my time because this work is really important to me and I don’t want to half-ass a bunch of things rather than doing a few well. I learned many things from my time at Facebook but one of my favorites is about not just ruthlessly prioritizing my time but also having non-goals. Boz reminded me of that in one of his recent newsletters. He is right in that it is a pretty exciting time - he says for technologists but I think for a lot of fields - and that there is no shortage of good ideas to go work on. But working on too many can spread one too thin and not be as effective.
Today, I wrote a letter to myself about what I was going to hold myself accountable for over the next three months. In addition to some promises, I made as follow-ups to the Fellowship I also made a few others. They included:
Making more room for writing. Since even before I left Facebook I was feeling a strong desire to get my thoughts out to the world. It’s almost as if I will burst if I don’t get it all out. I at first was worried that just writing about things wasn’t as good as building things, but making and producing stories truly is a form of building too.
Getting some help. I’m thankfully hiring an assistant and am also starting to use Upwork for some research and other things that I would normally do myself. I might think about bringing someone on part-time, but I’m not sure yet.
Ruthlessly prioritizing. I’m going to go through all of the projects I’m working on and figure out where I need to ask for help and where I truly need to be spending my time. I hope to make some non-goals too so I’m just as clear about what I won’t be working on versus what I will.
I’m sorry this was such a personal post instead of talking about any one of the many news stories this week such as the whole Facebook/TikTok controversy, the Facebook newsfeed bug, the Hunter Biden laptop, the slap at the Oscars, the challenges the companies are having in executing their ever-changing policies around Ukraine, the French election, the referendum in Mexico or The Reporters’ Collective’s look into political ads in India during the 2019 election (I have a lot of thoughts on this one.)
So maybe if I have time next week I’ll do a double newsletter and try to get to some of those. Regardless, as always thank you for reading and I hope you take some time as we move into a new quarter to take a moment to breathe and recenter yourself. Also, maybe watch Season 2 of the Home Edit and what is promising to be a historic Duke/UNC Final Four game.
What I’m Reading
Politico Pro EU: Parliament plans July vote for Digital Markets Act
New York Times: Pro-Russia Sentiment on Indian Twitter Draws Scrutiny
Evelyn Douek: Content Moderation as Administration
Toda Peace Institute: Comparing Guidance for Tech Companies in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Situations
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Government Internet Shutdowns Are Changing. How Should Citizens and Democracies Respond?
Tech Company Announcements
Meta Journalism Project: Broadcast Giants Telemundo and TelevisaUnivision Launch Fact-Checking Services on WhatsApp
April 10 - Mexico Referendum
September 28-30: Athens Democracy Forum
Topics to keep an eye on that have a general timeframe of the first half of the year:
EU Passage of DSA and DMA
Facebook 2020 election research
Oversight Board opinion on cross-check
Senate & House hearings, markups, and potential votes
April: The Gambia elections
April 3 - Hungary, Serbia, Belgrade City Assembly elections
April 10 and 24 - France elections
April 10 - Mexico Referendum
April 24 - 27 - Public Affairs Council’s Advocacy Conference in Austin, TX
May 3 - Ohio Primary (Open Senate race)
May 9 - Philippines elections
May 17 - North Carolina and Pennsylvania Primaries (Open Senate races)
May 21 (On or before) - Australia elections
May 23 (tentative): World Economic Forum, Davos
May 24 - Alabama and Georgia Primaries (AL open Senate race, GA Warnock defending seat)
May 29 - Colombia elections
June 6 (week of): Summit of the Americas, Los Angeles, CA
June 6-10: RightsCon, Online
June 6 - 7: Atlantic Council 360/Open Summit
June 9 - 10: Copenhagen Democracy Summit, Copenhagen, Denmark
June 25 - July 1: Aspen Ideas Festival, Aspen, Colorado
June 14 - Nevada Primary (Cortez Masto defending Senate seat)
August: Angola elections
August 2 - Arizona and Missouri Primaries (AZ Kelly defending Senate seat, MO open Senate race)
August 9 - Wisconsin Primary (Ron Johnson defending Senate seat)
August 9 - Kenya elections
September 11 - Sweden elections
September 13 - New Hampshire Primary (Hassan defending Senate seat)
September 28 - 30: Athens Democracy Forum
October 2 and 30 - Brazil
November 8 - United States Midterms