Alexis Allen

Enthusiast. Bookworm. Supervillain.
We rarely talk about the fact that the Web is a barn we raised together. 
The first generation of Web developers learned the craft from one another. When’s the last time so large a group of people collaborated on developing something so great? 
I’ve been privileged to receive notes like this in my life. I’ve sent dozens of notes just like this to the people who encouraged and taught me how to code formatting in 1994, tables in 1996, CSS in 1999, and ever onwards. Everything we gave was just a fraction of what we got, passed on and on and around and back again, for years and years and years. Everyone won.
So here we are, the designers and developers and product managers, the conference speakers and venture capitalists, professional bloggers and online critics, and more than a spattering of CEOs. How unbelievably lucky we were to fall into a society of sharing that propelled us all into prosperity. It was a hobby that defined our adult lives. Admit it, the Web’s been good to you.
So here we are, cosy in our cottages. Believe me, there’s nothing I want more than to snuggle down in the blankets and congratulate us all on our cleverness, but there are some that are saying that the Web is under attack by the strategic decisions of corporations that benefitted more than any other by the Web’s growth: Apple and Google. And it’s not an argument without merit.

Apple is the arbiter of the software that runs on its devices (completely, in the case of iThings; increasingly, in the case of the AppStorified Mac). This creates unnecessary bottlenecks when it comes to bugfix or security releases. It creates a single point of failure for apps and therefore for devices; if Apple goes under tomorrow (or, more likely, changes their mind completely about whatever they please), how will you continue to update your apps? Worst, it puts Apple in the position of policing for content, which, whether driven by a well-intentioned desire to avoid offensive content or by a malevolent puritanism, is a Bad Thing.
- “Done with Apple”, Boone Gorges, October 12, 2011

Well. What am I to do with that? 
Alright. So the growth we’ve all been enjoying despite this awful economy, the conversion gains and the order value gains, have been fueled by expansion. The user base is still growing. It’s going to continue to grow. And the toys that enable them to buy online continue to diversify, to spread. So I’ve got more people out there, and they’re buying a new pair of shoes on Monday morning at work, and they’re buying a movie later that night to watch with dinner, and they’re buying their book online to read before getting on the plane. It’s all growth, magical beautiful growth based on giving people what they want when they want it so they can live richer lives. I’m down with that. I think most people are down with that.
I understand why the big guys are moving towards a closed circuit. The revenue benefits are significant and… well, no one seems to mind. There’s a convenant you make with your users when you take on that model. Your product has to be easy. It has to be good. Really good. And all three of what I consider the big three - Apple, Amazon, and Google - have honored that covenant. So no one minds. I don’t mind iTunes. The only time I don’t like iTunes is when it doesn’t have what I’m looking for. The only time I mind Google is when it shows me ads that aren’t relevant. And, in fact, I hate having Apple TV AND Netflix AND Hulu, and have to check all three to see who’s carrying Downton Abbey.
It was only a matter of time before the content of a CD was sold just as the CD was before it. I think we all saw that it was going to happen, no matter how loudly people complained about Pirate Bay. But I didn’t see that commercial content might actually move aggressively against non-commercial content for the simple reason that the two are now in competition. 
I think right now, the existence of YouTube feeds the value of the device by being “already available” and free when the device is first bought. So the YouTube mobile client comes pre-installed. That content is consumed and enjoyed, causing the user to go into the app store to see what else is there, hello paid content. The same is true of all social media tools. The big ones are easy to find on any device. But is this the culmination of the Web that Wired built? Facebook is a nightmare on every level. No, they must be considered commercial content. It’s just that it’s the contributors who pay for the social networking services with their personal information, rather than the consumer. But let’s be honest. It’s paid for. It’s just that no one seems to mind.
I have to tell you, I’m excited about all this. I think it’s fascinating and the work coming out of all these market undulations is gorgeous. I love the race to the living room. I love the texting teenagers. I love the kids playing Nintendo. I love the fucked up way it is messing with all our brains on a deeply physiological level. Whew! A girl’s got to fan herself. What a wonderful world. What a wonderful industry.
But the concern is interesting, maybe even legit. There are many, many ways in which I can’t communicate with my friend because she’s on an Android and I’m on my iPad. And I realized recently that our workarounds are just utilizing social networking sites, which are no less proprietary and controlled.
I mean, this is just the maturation of the medium, right? It’s not like… like… It’s just the maturation of the medium, right. I mean, what could we possibly be losing? 
I think. I think maybe it’s not a bad idea to think about that.

We rarely talk about the fact that the Web is a barn we raised together. 

The first generation of Web developers learned the craft from one another. When’s the last time so large a group of people collaborated on developing something so great? 

I’ve been privileged to receive notes like this in my life. I’ve sent dozens of notes just like this to the people who encouraged and taught me how to code formatting in 1994, tables in 1996, CSS in 1999, and ever onwards. Everything we gave was just a fraction of what we got, passed on and on and around and back again, for years and years and years. Everyone won.

So here we are, the designers and developers and product managers, the conference speakers and venture capitalists, professional bloggers and online critics, and more than a spattering of CEOs. How unbelievably lucky we were to fall into a society of sharing that propelled us all into prosperity. It was a hobby that defined our adult lives. Admit it, the Web’s been good to you.

So here we are, cosy in our cottages. Believe me, there’s nothing I want more than to snuggle down in the blankets and congratulate us all on our cleverness, but there are some that are saying that the Web is under attack by the strategic decisions of corporations that benefitted more than any other by the Web’s growth: Apple and Google. And it’s not an argument without merit.

Apple is the arbiter of the software that runs on its devices (completely, in the case of iThings; increasingly, in the case of the AppStorified Mac). This creates unnecessary bottlenecks when it comes to bugfix or security releases. It creates a single point of failure for apps and therefore for devices; if Apple goes under tomorrow (or, more likely, changes their mind completely about whatever they please), how will you continue to update your apps? Worst, it puts Apple in the position of policing for content, which, whether driven by a well-intentioned desire to avoid offensive content or by a malevolent puritanism, is a Bad Thing.

- “Done with Apple”, Boone Gorges, October 12, 2011

Well. What am I to do with that? 

Alright. So the growth we’ve all been enjoying despite this awful economy, the conversion gains and the order value gains, have been fueled by expansion. The user base is still growing. It’s going to continue to grow. And the toys that enable them to buy online continue to diversify, to spread. So I’ve got more people out there, and they’re buying a new pair of shoes on Monday morning at work, and they’re buying a movie later that night to watch with dinner, and they’re buying their book online to read before getting on the plane. It’s all growth, magical beautiful growth based on giving people what they want when they want it so they can live richer lives. I’m down with that. I think most people are down with that.

I understand why the big guys are moving towards a closed circuit. The revenue benefits are significant and… well, no one seems to mind. There’s a convenant you make with your users when you take on that model. Your product has to be easy. It has to be good. Really good. And all three of what I consider the big three - Apple, Amazon, and Google - have honored that covenant. So no one minds. I don’t mind iTunes. The only time I don’t like iTunes is when it doesn’t have what I’m looking for. The only time I mind Google is when it shows me ads that aren’t relevant. And, in fact, I hate having Apple TV AND Netflix AND Hulu, and have to check all three to see who’s carrying Downton Abbey.

It was only a matter of time before the content of a CD was sold just as the CD was before it. I think we all saw that it was going to happen, no matter how loudly people complained about Pirate Bay. But I didn’t see that commercial content might actually move aggressively against non-commercial content for the simple reason that the two are now in competition. 

I think right now, the existence of YouTube feeds the value of the device by being “already available” and free when the device is first bought. So the YouTube mobile client comes pre-installed. That content is consumed and enjoyed, causing the user to go into the app store to see what else is there, hello paid content. The same is true of all social media tools. The big ones are easy to find on any device. But is this the culmination of the Web that Wired built? Facebook is a nightmare on every level. No, they must be considered commercial content. It’s just that it’s the contributors who pay for the social networking services with their personal information, rather than the consumer. But let’s be honest. It’s paid for. It’s just that no one seems to mind.

I have to tell you, I’m excited about all this. I think it’s fascinating and the work coming out of all these market undulations is gorgeous. I love the race to the living room. I love the texting teenagers. I love the kids playing Nintendo. I love the fucked up way it is messing with all our brains on a deeply physiological level. Whew! A girl’s got to fan herself. What a wonderful world. What a wonderful industry.

But the concern is interesting, maybe even legit. There are many, many ways in which I can’t communicate with my friend because she’s on an Android and I’m on my iPad. And I realized recently that our workarounds are just utilizing social networking sites, which are no less proprietary and controlled.

I mean, this is just the maturation of the medium, right? It’s not like… like… It’s just the maturation of the medium, right. I mean, what could we possibly be losing? 

I think. I think maybe it’s not a bad idea to think about that.

And what I find jarring about this formulation is the same thing that bothers me about the alarming trend of weddings in which the photographers and videographers have free reign, even during the ceremony, in order to get the best, most cinematic record of the event, at the expense of the event itself and everyone participating. It’s a conflation of the record of the event with the event itself, or even a privileging of the record over what gives the record its meaning and power.

Intimacy and Performance on Facebook” by Joe Moon, September 2011


A short but eventful vacation is certainly more memorable than a long but uneventful one. That’s because people don’t recall a pleasant experience as more pleasurable just because it lasts longer. We are more affected by the intensity of a sensation, whether pleasant or painful, than by how long it lasts.

Indeed, the length of an experience barely influences our memory of it; what we remember is a combination of the intensity of the best moment and the worst moment, as well as how we felt at the end. Scientists call this the peak-end rule, and we’ll discuss what it means for designing your vacations in Step 9.

10 Vacation Rules to Save Your Life, Wendy Perrin, Director of Consumer News & Digital Community at Conde Nast Traveler

“Anytime we think the problem is ‘out there,’ ” Covey writes, “that thought is the problem.” Don’t concern yourself with external conditions… Concern yourself with how you think about external conditions. It is a technique for auto-hypnosis, a guidebook for remaking ourselves in a manner more analogous to the “human consciousness” that Covey has somehow divined. And so from our desire for self-improvement comes a form of meekness, comes submersion in the team.

“Required Reading” by Thomas Frank, Harpers Magazine, June 2011


Listen to the question, to the meaning behind the words. Can the crude mind become sensitive? If I say my mind is crude and I try to become sensitive, the very effort to become sensitive is crudity. Please see this. Don’t be intrigued, but watch it. Whereas, if I recognize that I am crude without trying to become sensitive, if I begin to understand what crudeness is, observe it in my life from day to day — the greedy way I eat, the roughness with which I treat people, the pride, the arrogance, the coarseness of my habits and thoughts — then that very observation transforms what is.

The Book of Life, by Jiddu Krishnamurti, 1995

…the scientists found that fetuses [of twins] begin reaching toward their neighbors by the 14th week of gestation. Over the following weeks they reduced the number of movements toward themselves and instead reached more frequently toward their counterparts. By the 18th week they spent more time contacting their partners than themselves or the walls of the uterus. Almost 30 percent of their movements were directed toward their prenatal companions.

These movements, such as stroking the head or back, lasted longer and were more accurate than self-directed actions, such as touching their own eyes or mouth. The results suggest that twin fetuses are aware of their counterparts in the womb, that they prefer to interact with them, and that they respond to them in special ways.

"Social Before Birth" by Janelle Weaver, Scientific American, January/February 2011, page 13.


Edward W. Large, a music scientist at Florida Atlantic University, scanned the brains of people with and without experience playing music as they listened to two versions of a Chopin étude: one recorded by a pianist, the other stripped down to a literal version of what Chopin wrote, without human-induced variations in timing and dynamics.

During the original performance, brain areas linked to emotion activated much more than with the uninflected version, showing bursts of activity with each deviation in timing or volume.

Regions involved in motor activity, everything from knitting to sprinting, also lighted up with changes in timing and volume. “We got the best-sounding music from the velocity curve of natural human gestures, compared to other curves of tempos not found in nature,” Dr. Friberg said. “These were quite subtle differences, and listeners were clearly distinguishing between them. And these were not expert listeners.”

"To Tug the Heart, Music Must First Tickle the Neurons" by Pam Belluck, New York Times, April 18, 2011

Recently it has been argued that restrained emotion displays are suggestive of mastery of one’s life and of competence in general (Warner & Shields, 2007)—conversely, relaxedness, as far as this is reflected in one’s voice, is associated with high status and dominance (Hall & Friedman, 1999). Similarly, showing any emotional reaction to an event may at times be seen as a sign of weakness (Kopelman, Rosette, & Thompson, 2006). Taken together, this may suggest that reacting nonemotionally to a given event or situation by showing a neutral expression is likely to lead to an impression of an ability to handle the situation, which is generally associated in people’s minds with social power and dominance (Tiedens, 2001).

Emotional Versus Neutral Expressions and Perceptions of Social
Dominance and Submissiveness
" by Shlomo Hareli, Noga Shomrat, and Ursula Hess


Results of a now classic study led by psychologist Fritz Strack show that the simple act of making a facial expression affects both how we feel and how we interpret emotional information.

"Body of Thought" by Siri Carpenter, Scientific American MIND, January/February 2011

[Addicts] completing a program for opiate addiction often report experiencing a secondary set of related symptoms including depressive-like symptoms that can include problems with concentrating, low energy levels and problems with sleep quality. This group of vague symptoms is often called “protracted abstinence syndrome” and can last for several weeks or even months after abstaining from an opiate.

Serotonin System May Contribute to Relapse" Treatment Centers, February 24, 2011


Though most people recover from a bad breakup within a year, a few never fully recover. They learn to live with the memories and the pain. Like people in chronic pain, they learn to manage the pain, think less and less about it, distract themselves. So, while it is likely that you will recover from your breakup, you may never fully recover. There is no guarantee. This is something “love gurus” out there won’t tell you.

Q & A: How do I get over my break-up?" answered by Dr. Brit Brogaard, as published on Lovesicklove.com, January 11, 2011


Marazziti compared the lovers’ serotonin levels with those of a group of people suffering from OCD and another group who were free from both passion and mental illness. Levels of serotonin in both the obsessives’ blood and the lovers’ blood were 40 percent lower than those in her normal subjects. Translation: Love and obsessive-compulsive disorder could have a similar chemical profile. Translation: Love and mental illness may be difficult to tell apart. Translation: Don’t be a fool. Stay away.

True Love" by Lauren Slater, published in National Geographic Magazine, February 2006

"I’m a strong believer in the free market," said Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., the bill’s sponsor. "I’d like to see NPR rework its business model and begin to compete for all of its income."

U.S. House Votes to Cut NPR Funding" by Terence Burlij, as reported on PBS NewsHour, March 17, 2011


The mission of NPR is to work in partnership with member stations to create a more informed public - one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures. To accomplish our mission, we produce, acquire, and distribute programming that meets the highest standards of public service in journalism and cultural expression; we represent our members in matters of their mutual interest; and we provide satellite interconnection for the entire public radio system.

Mission Statement, NPR


We are in the business of helping our customers grow their businesses. We do this effectively with our wide variety of media and entertainment products. We believe in maximizing our customer’s satisfaction, we will deserve and will earn their continued loyalty. Our goal is to have long term, mutually profitable relationships.

Creed of Clear Channel, the largest commercial radio station group owner in the United States, both by number of stations and by revenue.

EG: The Greeks would call it the Muse. The Romans called it the ingenium, the genius, which was an interesting idea because it’s not the way we use “genius” today, right? Today, we say a person is a genius but, back then, they would have said a person had one. And, again, it’s this… separation so that… the creative person has this externalized collaborator…

RK: So this is a Tinkerbell-y kind of a thing? It sprinkles you? It has… little wings? And flies away?

EG: I think it depends on the process. I mean, it’s got a lot of names because it takes a lot of forms, right? And we’re talking about all this as though these are… I actually kind of believe in this. (laugh) Because I don’t actually think it would work, otherwise. But I kind of do believe that the world is being constantly circled as though by Gulf Stream forces: ideas and creativity that want to be made manifest and they’re looking for portals to come through in people.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, interviewed by Robert Krulwich on RadioLab’s “Help!


This book, which I have called The Thousand and One Nights, abounds also with splendid biographies that teach the reader to detect deception and to protect himself from it, as well as delight and divert him whenever he is burdened with the cares of life and the ills of the world. It is the Supreme God who is the True Guide.

Forward to The Arabian Nights, translated by Hussein Haddawy

Individuals who [statistically] behaved honestly showed no sign of engaging additional controlled cognitive processes when choosing to behave honestly. These individuals exhibited no additional neural activity of any kind when they chose to forgo opportunities for dishonest gain.

Dishonest behavior was associated with neural activity in brain regions associated with cognitive control… this activity may reflect the process of actively deciding whether to lie, independent of the choice made. This may be the most parsimonious explanation, given that control network activity was observed in decisions to lie as well as decisions to refrain from lying in dishonest individuals.

Patterns of neural activity associated with honest and dishonest moral decisions, by J. D. Greene (who is amazing; read this, especially) and J. M. Paxton. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Vol. 106, No. 30, 12506-12511 (PDF)


It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table. Now if we are agreed about that, I go on to my next point, which is this. None of us are really keeping the Law of Nature.

Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis

…when rats were shifted from a training program in which they received a reward after every response to one in which they were only rewarded after making several responses, researchers found increased dopamine activity in the prefrontal cortex. This may indicate that the increased opportunities for anticipating the reward, as opposed to actually consuming the treat, represent a healthy exercise for our brains.

Lifting Depression: A Neuroscientist’s Hands-On Approach to Activating Your Brain’s Healing Power by Kelly Lambert


Take a few seconds and think of your personal biggest goal, okay? Imagine deciding right now that you’re going to do it. Imagine telling someone that you meet today what you’re going to do. Imagine their congratulations and their high image of you…. Well bad news: you should have kept your mouth shut, because that good feeling, now will make you less likely to do it… when you tell someone your goal, and they acknowledge it, psychologists have found, what’s called a social reality. The mind is tricked into feeling that it’s already done.

Derek Sivers, speaking at TEDGlobal in July 2010 (video)

Perhaps Generation Facebook have built their virtual mansions in good faith, in order to house the People 2.0 they genuinely are, and if I feel uncomfortable within them it is because I am stuck at Person 1.0. Then again, the more time I spend with the tail end of Generation Facebook (in the shape of my students) the more convinced I become that some of the software currently shaping their generation is unworthy of them. They are more interesting than it is. They deserve better.

Generation Why?”, a review of The Social Network by Zadie Smith for the New York Review of Books


…I consider that the matter of defining what is real—that is a serious topic, even a vital topic… Because the bombardment of pseudo-realities begins to produce inauthentic humans very quickly, spurious humans—as fake as the data pressing at them from all sides. Fake realities will create fake humans. Or, fake humans will generate fake realities and then sell them to other humans, turning them, eventually, into forgeries of themselves. So we wind up with fake humans inventing fake realities and then peddling them to other fake humans. It is just a very large version of Disneyland. You can have the Pirate Ride or the Lincoln Simulacrum or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride—you can have all of them, but none is true.

How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later" an essay by Philip K. Dick in 1978 (courtesy wnstn)