T-Mobile executives repeatedly stayed at Trump hotel while pushing for merger approval

T-Mobile executives repeatedly stayed at Trump hotel while pushing for merger approval


As T-Mobile pushed for government approval for its merger with Sprint, company executives repeatedly stayed at a Trump hotel, according to a new report from The Washington Post. The stays raise questions about whether companies like T-Mobile are attempting to gain favor with the Trump administration through the president’s private business interests.

According to the Post, one day after announcing its proposed merger with Sprint, nine T-Mobile executives, including CEO John Legere, checked in to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. The Post reported that documents showed 38 nights of stays by company executives over about a dozen days last year, a figure that could be incomplete.

Legere was seen in the lobby of the hotel, which is near the White House, as recently as last week. He told the Post that he was staying for meetings with the Justice Department, which is tasked with deciding whether to approve the merger.

T-Mobile has spent years attempting to merge with other carriers, but it had no success under the Obama administration. The company’s announcement last year that it would try again to merge with Sprint, this time under the Trump administration, was met with criticism in some corners, as some argued it would further consolidate a market that’s already dominated by four companies. If approved, the deal, which also requires approval from the Federal Communications Commission, would create a new behemoth in the industry.

T-Mobile and the Trump Organization did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Legere has sparred with Trump in the past. In 2015, after Trump tweeted that “T-Mobile service is terrible,” Legere apparently checked out of a Trump hotel, saying in a now-deleted tweet he was “so happy to wake up in a hotel where every single item isn’t labeled ‘Trump’ and all the books and TV is about him.”

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via The Verge http://bit.ly/1jLudMg

January 16, 2019 at 11:00AM


Sen. Marco Rubio announces Congress’ first big push to regulate tech this year

Sen. Marco Rubio announces Congress’ first big push to regulate tech this year


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced a new data privacy bill today, marking the first real push from Congress to regulate big tech companies in the new year. The bill, initially reported by Axios, does little to quell Democrats’ regulatory desires, and it would effectively remove individual states’ authorities to write their own, perhaps stricter, rules.

The bill is called the American Data Dissemination Act, and it would direct the Federal Trade Commission to write privacy rule recommendations for Congress, proposing a framework for companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. If Congress does not pass a bill within two years, the FTC would be able to write its own rules for companies, something the agency has been unable to do since the ‘70s. As of right now, the agency is only able to inflict penalties or pursue litigation as a method of enforcing already adopted privacy laws.

But the bill would also require any new rules to preempt stronger state laws, like California’s landmark consumer privacy act that was approved last year and is anticipated to go into effect in 2020. Industry groups have been calling for a preemption clause in any federal legislation, saying that one federal law would be easier for companies to navigate rather than being faced with a “patchwork” of state and federal rules.

“It is critical that we do not create a regulatory environment that entrenches big tech corporations,” Rubio said in a statement to Axios. “Congress must act, but it is even more important that Congress act responsibly to create a transparent, digital environment that maximizes consumer welfare over corporate welfare.”

Democrats have previously said that they would compromise with Republicans and be willing to approve legislation that preempts state laws so long as an overarching federal law covered enough regulatory ground on its own. However, Rubio’s new bill doesn’t give the FTC full rule-making authority, a prominent request from the minority, and it will likely face criticism from Democrats.

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via The Verge http://bit.ly/1jLudMg

January 16, 2019 at 10:39AM

27 Free Alternatives to Adobe’s Expensive App Subscriptions

27 Free Alternatives to Adobe’s Expensive App Subscriptions


Adobe appears to have upset a number of users with another price increase for its app subscriptions. While the hit only appears to be targeting specific countries at this point—you’re spared, North American users—there’s no reason to think that you won’t have to pay more to subscribe to an Adobe app (or its whole suite of creative apps) at some future point. That’s business, folks.

As you can imagine, Adobe’s price increase has set off a flurry of activity on the internet, with many annoyed users jumping onto Twitter threads and blog posts to suggest alternatives to Adobe’s ever-more-expensive subscription apps.

I ran through @burgerdrome’s Twitter thread, as well as an excellent software-recommendations thread started by @TubOfCoolWhip and this handy image of recommendations from “Cullen,” who I would link to if I knew who they were. From there, I created this list of 27 good alternatives to Adobe’s Creative Cloud apps based on what people appeared to be excited about (or recommend in droves).

I haven’t tried out all of these apps myself, nor am I the target audience for them—as I don’t really dabble in 3D animation, alas. While we normally recommend apps we’ve used at Lifehacker, in this case, I’ve included recommendations from the various Twitter users who have suggested them when applicable. (It’s tough, as some apps just got called out by name, which is great for making a list, but not very helpful when describing an app’s features.)

If you don’t like any of these picks, you can always try befriending an educator (or a student) to score that sweet $20/month pricing for Adobe’s full subscription. A word of caution, however: That only works for the first year. After that, you’ll get charged the full, standard rate.

Apps for painting, graphic design, or photo editing

Krita (Windows / Mac)

“I can personally recommend Krita as a viable open illustration program. On the commercial side, I’ve heard good things of Clip Studio Paint and Paint Tool SAI. Krita also has re-editable file layers, filter/effect layers and layer styles.”@AwrySquare

Sketchbook (Windows / Mac)

“I use Sketchbook with my pen display and I can recommend it. It has a decently easy-to-navigate UI and allows you to save in a .psd format for an easy transfer. The only thing it really needs is clipping groups.”@xx_unsung_xx

MediBang Paint (Windows / Mac / Mobile)

“a really good free ipad app for art is Medibang paint. It’s just as simple to use as procreate, and has all the features and more :)!!!”@1lonelyegg

Paint.net (Windows)

“Getpaint.net is a great free Photoshop alternative and @inkscape is a great free Illustrator alternative. Been using those for years, and I have all the Adobe products, but those are still my go to’s. I basically only use my Adobe subscription for Premiere and AE.”@alexcchichester

Pixlr X (Web)

“Pixlr is a personal favorite! I believe they just added a paid option to get rid of ads but there’s still a fully functioning free version”@notjoykeenan

GIMP (Windows / Mac)

“For photo editing,GIMP is pretty much Photoshop but free ! While the UI may be less user-friendly,it can give out nice results !” @FarowlHd

Photoscape X (Windows / Mac)

“Photoscape is free and provides a pretty basic photo editing software! you can do a lot with it like make gifs and batch-edit photos in addition to your basics. been using it for 5+ years and have rarely needed something more” @trisk_philia

FireAlpaca (Windows / Mac)

“well now im glad i stick to sai and firealpaca. at least they arent laggy as shit and confusing to look at” @finnifinite

If you need a little more than that to consider FireAlpaca for your setup, the app comes with plenty of standard and quirky brushes for digitally painting your next great masterpiece (or comic). You can even make your own, if you’re feeling especially creative. For those looking to draw some comics, built-in templates make it easy to create specific layouts for a strip. The app’s “Onion Skin” mode also makes it easy to draw animations, as you’ll be creating new layers, or frames, while viewing the previous frame as a reference point.

Apps for creating storyboards

Storyboarder (Windows / Mac)

“The features on this are pretty good, and you DO NOT have to be able to render/draw well to use this! It can create shot types from key words, which is…. wild. :o” @TubOfCoolWhip

Apps for editing videos or creating video effects

HitFilm Express (Windows / Mac)

“Somone may have already mentioned these two but VSDC Editor and Hitflim are neat free editing softwares.”@NotQueenly

If I’m correct, Hitfilm Express an excellent tool for creating special effects—much more so than your standard video editing app, which might not be quite as fully featured for this kind of work. If you’re just looking to edit and trim videos, and maybe add a simple text overlay, other video apps on this list might be a better fit.

Shotcut (Windows / Mac)

“I found [Shotcut] to be a very good free editor for video editing. It’s worked very well for me and i still use it for smaller things.”@Monkeygameal

If you’re trying to get crazy, like edit 360-degree videos—as PCMag notes—this might not be the app for you. But for basic video editing with a reasonably uncluttered interface, you can’t go wrong with this free app.

DaVinci Resolve (Windows / Mac)

“Because of Davinci resolve I only have the photoshop/ light room bundle. Once I can find a better alternative to photoshop and light room. Im going to ditch that too.” @Breonnick_5

Kdenlive (Windows / Mac—sort-of)

Although this multi-track video editor is mainly for Linux users, you’ll still find some slightly older Windows and Mac builds to experiment with. Since the app uses FFmpeg libraries, you can import any video or audio file you want—pretty much. You also get a healthy number of transformations and effects to play with, which you can keyframe for greater precision.

Apps for 3D modeling, animation, or vector graphics

Blender (Windows / Mac)

“I hate Maya for similar reasons and stick to blender whenever I can.”@IRBlayne

Blender is the big-guns 3D modeling tool that you dabble with when you don’t want to pay for something like 3DS or Maya. The learning curb is steep, but it’s worth mastering if you’re serious about exploring the space. Once you get good, you can do a lot of amazing things with this free app:

Lumion (Windows, free for students)

“If you are a student, the student version of Lumion is FREE. It is an architecture program that renders reeaal fast and does all kinds of neat stuff such as automatic sites, insertable animations of people doing stuff, you can set things on fire, weather settings, and more.”@samanthagiford8

Synfig (Windows / Mac)

“Synfig for animation! it’s vector-based and works similar to Flash, it can’t do interactive stuff but Flash games are kind of dying anyway”@ljamesart

Anything that’s similar to Adobe Flash, but isn’t Adobe Flash, is a win in our book.

SketchUp (Web)

You’ll find this recommendation on the aforementioned “Cullen” list, which indicates it’s a great program for basic 3D modeling. Since it’s (now) completely web-based, you can use it right in your favorite browser on Windows or Mac—or on a Chromebook, I suppose. And, yes, everything you do automatically saves to the cloud, don’t worry.

MagicaVoxel (Windows / Mac)

Here’s another entry on the “Cullen” list—this time, their recommendation for a voxel/brick 3D modeling program. I’m not much of an artist, nor am I a Minecraft wizard (but I do love amazing pixel art), so I’ll instead leave you with a comment from this inspiring 2015 blog post: “I started with [MagicaVoxel]5 months ago and feel like I have really mastered the tool. I saw a Tweet of voxel art image made on Magica Voxel from Ephtracy. That was when I just finished Monument Valley, which I loved. I had to try that tool and fell in love with it right away.”

MakeHuman (Windows / Mac) 

The mysterious “Cullen” also recommends MakeHuman if you want to fiddle around with creating digital characters in three dimensions. If I’m correct, you can import your creations into another app on our list—Blender—to animate them, which is as close as you’ll get to full-featured rendering software like 3DS or Maya without plunking down a ton of change.

Inkscape (Windows / Mac)

“The vector program Inkscape is a wonderful free alternative to Adobe Illustrator”@GrimdorkDesign

I consistently see Inkscape mentioned as an alternative to Adobe Illustrator around the web. I don’t use Illustrator myself, but if I did, this would be the first app I installed to escape Adobe’s subscription fees.

Apps for editing audio and creating music

LMMS (Windows / Mac)

“If we’re including music/audio editing software, LMMS and Cakewalk by BandLab are both good free DAWs!”@MystSaphyr

“DAWs,” for those not in the know, is short for “Digital Audio Workstations.” If you’re making music, go with LMMS (or Cakewalk, below.) If you need to cut audio or convert something to an MP3, you’ll want an app like Audacity.

Cakewalk (Windows)

(See previous recommendation. Thanks, @MystSaphyr!)

ocenaudio (Windows / Mac)

“I’d like to add Ocean Audio [sic] as a simple audio editor as well as REAPER as an inexpensive & extremely powerful DAW (with infinite trial period)“ @fuzzblob

Audacity (Windows / Mac)

I almost shouldn’t need to say anything about Audacity at this point, as it’s been one of the best free audio editors around for years. It’s my go-to app whenever I need to cut and rearrange audio super-quick.

Apps for desktop publishing

Scribus (Windows / Mac)

In response to a question about InDesign alternatives: “Affinity has one coming/out already. But yeah, only other thing I’ve found is Scribus.” @dukiswa

Canva (Web)

“Pixlr was a really great place to start as an alternative to Photoshop and Canva works well as an alternative to InDesign !!”@lexgts

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January 16, 2019 at 10:39AM

How to choose a photo storage service

How to choose a photo storage service


Unhappy with Flickr’s new policies? If you’ve decided you’re done with Flickr, and have downloaded all of your photos, you now have a decision to make: where do you put them now? You can, of course, simply keep them on a hard drive, but that isn’t ideal, especially if you want to be able to share your work with family and friends, or exhibit it for sale or reuse. You can also back them up to one of the popular cloud storage services, but again, most of those aren’t ideal for exhibiting your photos.

You’re not without choices. What follows is a quick list of some of the top cloud services for photographers to store, show, and even sell their work — starting with Flickr itself.


Flickr page

Flickr isn’t going away, by any means — its merger with SmugMug has ensured that. What has everyone so upset is that Flickr limited its free plan to 1,000 photos; if you’ve got more than that and don’t switch to a paid plan by February 4th, you may lose any photos that violate that 1,000 count (starting with, according to Flickr, the older ones).

The problem for committed Flickr users is that, while they can download their images and the data that goes with them, images and associated data are downloaded separately and could be difficult to reassociate. So if you’ve got a lot of information and comments associated with your photos, it might be easier for you to stay with the service and simply pay for the privilege. If, of course, you feel you can afford it.

On its annual plan, Flickr is now charging $50.24 yearly for unlimited storage without ads, and adding advanced statistics and discounts from a number of companies, including Adobe and (of course) SmugMug. You can get the same deal (except for the discounts) via its monthly plan for $5.99 a month.

Google Photos

Google Photos interface

A lot of consumers are looking to Google Photos as an alternative to Flickr — and it’s not a bad one, especially if you’ve got a lot of family photos and you don’t mind not storing the originals.

This is how it works: Under its “High quality” plan, Google will store an unlimited number of photos for free as long as you allow them to be compressed to 16 megapixels (according to Google, photos that size can be printed without issue up to 24 x 16 inches). Videos will be kept to a maximum of 1080p (data such as closed captions could be eliminated to save space).

If that doesn’t suit you, you can store photos in “Original quality” — up to a point. Google currently provides each of its accounts with 15GB of free storage, which includes everything stored in Google Drive, Google Photos (not counting the photos stored as “High quality”), and Gmail. There are ways to add to this limit outside of a paid plan — for example, purchasing a Chromebook will often give you additional storage space for a couple of years.

Not buying a Chromebook? Google provides a wide range of plans you can choose from, but be careful where you go to upgrade.

Last summer, Google introduced a new storage plan called Google One, which offers cheaper prices than some of its previous offerings. It starts at 100GB of storage for $1.99 a month ($19.99 a year), and then proceeds to 200GB for $2.99 a month ($29.99 a year), 2TB for $9.99 a month ($99.99 a year), 10TB for $99.99 a month, 20TB for $199.99 a month, and 30TB for $299.99 a month.

If you’re planning to go for the 2TB plan, just make sure that you’re upgrading to Google One rather than accidentally going to the older Google Drive upgrade (which is still online) — you may find yourself paying twice as much for that same 2TB.

(And if you do decide to go with Google Photos, we have a few tips and tricks that can help you get up to speed.)


500px interface

Canadian company 500px is actually more for professional photographers than your average snap-and-save picture taker — it offers pros a place to store, exhibit, and license their work. Last year 500px announced a partnership with well-known distribution house Getty Images, allowing contributors to sell their work through Getty. (On the other hand, some more idealistic photographers may be discouraged by the way 500px has stopped allowing photos to be licensed under Creative Commons.)

So if you have ambitions to start peddling your photos, 500px may be a place to check out.

The Basic (free) plan is limited to the point where it’s really a test account rather than anything useful: you’re allowed seven uploads within a seven-day period. So it’s really more of a trial account than anything else.

The site offers three paid plans. The first, modestly named Awesome, offers unlimited uploads, priority support, no ads, a history of “liked” photos, gallery slideshows, and a profile badge for $47.88 a year or $6.49 monthly. The Pro plan adds a way to display your services and organization tools for $71.88 a year or $12.99 monthly. Finally, you can add a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud Photography to the Pro plan for $155.88 a year (there’s no monthly plan for that one).


Photobucket interface

Back in 2017, Photobucket, which had been hosting thousands of user photos for free, caused quite a bit of agitation when it suddenly decided to charge its members $400 a year to insert their photos on another website using direct image links. These days, the service’s plans are more accessible.

Like the other services listed here, there is still a free plan. Photobucket lets you upload as many photos as you want to a maximum of 2.5GB, but they’ll be shown with ads (a lot of ads!) and the site will watermark the photos with its own logo (don’t worry, the originals won’t be touched). If you’ve decided to stick with Photobucket and want more space (along with ad- and watermark-free photos), you can start with the Beginner plan at $4.48 per month, which gives you 25GB of storage. For $6.48 per month, the Intermediate plan provides 250GB and an unlimited number of photo albums. Finally, for $11.48 per month, the Expert plan offers 1TB of storage and no image compression. All of the paid plans can be had with a 10 percent discount if you pay for a full year.


deviantart interface

DeviantArt calls itself “the movement for the liberation of creative expression” as well as a social network for artist and enthusiasts. It offers visitors a wide range of artist galleries to view, divided into categories such as traditional, animation, and illustrations. DeviantArt (or DA for short) even has its own publishing platform it calls Sta.sh — emphasizing the fact that this site, like 500px, is less for simple storage and more for showing (and selling) your art.

A free membership in DeviantArt gives you up to 2GB of storage space and access to DA’s community of artists and art lovers. If you contribute $15 every three months or $50 a year, you get to join the Core Members, which gives you access to 20GB of storage and a host of other benefits, such as Google Analytics, more ways to personalize your site, and a 20 percent discount when purchasing other artists’ work. But if you’ve got a large portfolio, you’re going to bump up against that 20GB limit — you’re probably better off using a different service for storage, even if you choose to market through DA.

So what should I do?

As with most online services, which is most useful can be a very individual choice and greatly depends on whether you are taking vacation shots, trying for some really great scenic vistas, or are a professional and / or expert photographer.

If cost is an issue (and when isn’t it?) you can do a simple price comparison — or as simple as possible, considering the differences in the way the services work. Let’s say you need about 1TB of storage for your many photos of family, friends, and pet lizards. You’d rather not compress them if possible, and for that privilege, you are willing to pay an annual fee (which most services offer at a discount over their monthly fees). The difference in price for a year would be:

  • Flickr: $50.24 (for unlimited storage)
  • Google One: $99.99 (for 2TB storage)
  • 500px: $47.88 (for unlimited storage)
  • Photobucket: $123.98 (for 1TB)
  • DeviantArt: $50 (for 20GB)

Going by price alone, then both Flickr and 500px are your most price-smart options, because they offer unlimited storage for approximately the same fee. Google One is next in line — unless you’re willing to let Google compress your photos (and don’t have any other storage needs), in which case its 15GB free plan is the best deal, since compressed photos don’t count toward its storage limit.

However, if you want a place to market your photos (and / or a community of artists to consult and chat with), then 500px or DeviantArt may be a better place to go — just make sure they have the resources you need.

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via The Verge http://bit.ly/1jLudMg

January 16, 2019 at 10:32AM

Schedule Your Medical Appointments Right Now 

Schedule Your Medical Appointments Right Now 


Image: Pixabay

Have you scheduled your annual check-ups for 2019? One consideration: Front load all of your regular medical appointments, screenings and check ins at the beginning of the year.

The case for doing so is two-fold. For one, you’ll catch any illnesses or problems now, before they get worse.


And, as Liz Weston, a personal finance columnist writes, it can also help if you incur medical expenses at the end of the year. You have an out-of-pocket maximum, as you likely know, that limits how much you’ll pay in deductibles, co-pays, etc., for the year.

“Once you hit your plan’s limit, your insurance typically starts picking up the entire bill for medical care for the rest of the year,” writes Weston. If you think you might hit it, it makes sense to do it as soon as possible so that if you need additional care, you’re not paying out of pocket for it.

If you have a Flexible Spending Account or Health Savings Account and you incur expenses that exceed the amount of money currently in your account (because money is added each pay period, not all at once at the beginning of the year), you can reimburse yourself later when your funds are replenished, “even in a future year,” John W. Seltzer, CEO of J. Seltzer Associates, an employee benefits advisory firm, told CreditCards.com.


“You are permitted to reimburse yourself for qualified medical expenses from an HSA account as long as the expenses were incurred after the HSA account was established,” Seltzer said. “There is no time limit on when you can reimburse yourself for these expenses.”

The same goes for FSAs, Weston writes. You can submit your claim any time and be reimbursed, up to the annual contribution limit (which is $2,700 this year for FSAs and $3,500 for an individual’s HSA).

“If you lose your job or quit, you don’t have to pay back the difference between what you’ve contributed and what you’ve spent,” she writes.


You’ll want to keep any receipts and records, of course, in case of an audit. Make sure everything is dated, and you should be able to get reimbursed with no problems.

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via Lifehacker https://lifehacker.com

January 16, 2019 at 10:26AM

Muslim Americans Explain What ‘Jihad’ Really Means

Muslim Americans Explain What ‘Jihad’ Really Means


Gizmodo Media Group is teaming up with Smartypants Productions to premiere the second season of The Secret Life of Muslims — a video series with a view on modern Islam you’re not getting on cable news.

If you go by what you hear on TV news, you’ve probably only heard the term “jihad” as a scare tactic of a looming Muslim holy war headed straight for you. But that’s wrong.

In the video above, a bunch of American Muslims explain the term and its daily repercussions—mostly in terms of how it relates to dessert.


Check out new episodes every Wednesday, and follow along with the series on Facebook.

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January 16, 2019 at 10:26AM

Leigh Alexander on finding joy and connection online

Leigh Alexander on finding joy and connection online


In “Online Reunion,” author Leigh Alexander imagines a world in which a young journalist is struggling with a compulsive “time sickness,” so she sets out to write a tearjerker about a widow reconnecting with her dead husband’s e-pet — but she finds something very different waiting for her in the internet ether. A self-described “recovering journalist” with a decade of experience writing about video games and technology, Alexander has since branched out into fiction, including an official Netrunner book, Monitor, and narrative design work for games like Reigns: Her Majesty and Reigns: Game of Thrones.

The Verge spoke with Alexander about finding joy and connection online, preserving digital history, and seeing the mystical in the technological.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

What makes e-pets interesting to you, particularly in a story about a better world? Or as Sarrapere puts it: “Pets? Why do I give a rat?”

I came of age during a time when being on the internet felt like wandering through relatively undiscovered territory, getting attached to whatever you came across. It feels to me like all of these clunky, free, webtoon paper doll sites, pink online worlds, and inscrutable animal-raising shareware games were part of an early computing vocabulary for young women, in particular.

When I felt around in my feelings about the future for something that felt “better,” it was the idea that there might be some way of returning to that feeling of being excited by technology, by internet strangers, by all of these little toys and games, and finding it a safe and connecting place: “When all of my friends are online at once,” as artist Gene McHugh put it back in 2013. Virtual pets, in particular, felt appropriate to focus on here because they really express how weird it is when care and labor become entangled with technology products, and that’s something I seem to return to a lot in my fiction.

Video games and interactive experiences like e-pets are particularly vulnerable to obsolescence due to the ways platforms and communities often move on with no way to carry them forward. What do we lose when those experiences and histories become inaccessible, and how important is it to preserve them?

I’m glad you mentioned this. It really freaks me out that our digital spaces are increasingly owned by only a few corporations whose algorithms study you and reflect back a biased version of the world at you. Meanwhile, it falls to basically volunteers and hobbyists to archive actual digital histories. Old computer games are these wonderfully weird and broken tactile things that are full of innocent spaces and quirks.

I’ll often go back to some crude parser game from 1984 that is like 200 kilobytes in size and find that, in fewer words, early developers grappled with the same questions about the medium and the same hopes as the creators and critics of today, who believe ourselves to be significantly advanced. Or I’ll find the astonishing gleam of moonlight on a fantastical lake, rendered only in a few elegant suggestions of violet, green, and white lines against a black screen.

There are all of these things the tech industry achieved and disregarded or didn’t learn from, thanks to the priorities of capitalism. The industry thrives on the fantasy of “what’s coming next,” but I see the anxieties caused by the internet age where the need for a digital identity increases at an inverse proportion to our control over our digital identities, and I wonder if we will regret rushing.

Also, I’ve now been on the internet long enough to have complicated feelings about my history in the space — like, maybe I want my teenage AOL role-play logs to survive somewhere. But do I really want that to mean that anybody anywhere can theoretically dredge them up and mail them to my future employers if I were to I alienate the wrong group on social media? What to preserve, who’s preserving it, who decides what I can access, and who can access things about me? It feels to me like these issues are key to any speculation about humans in the future, unless something drastically changes soon.

The Verge has brought together some of the most exciting names in science fiction writing to imagine Better Worlds.

I’m curious to know more about the time sickness that afflicts Jean in the story. It felt a little like the sort of compulsion and time distortion that some people experience around extreme internet usage. Is there something inherently pathological in spending too much time logged in, something that distances us from others rather than connecting us?

Your interpretation is pretty right on. I’ve been working on this “time sickness” idea in a couple other stories, too. I think the social media environment creates a compulsion to be connected, and I think it is gradually training some of us to expect more stimulation, more interaction, and more “reward” than we once would have been comfortable with in a similar period of time. It often feels like I’m frying circuits or something by going through so many things, with so many people. I learned late in life that I likely am a pretty classic case of a woman who has learned to mask attention deficit disorder (ADD). And, for me, symptoms recognized as being part of ADD are inextricably tied to the way I use the internet. I developed both at the same young age.

Recently, though, it feels like I’ve begun to depart radically from even the ways I processed events and connected to people in my teens as a result of my social media habits and their effect on me. On one hand, I’m glad to know the things I didn’t know before, to regularly experience the desire for justice in ways I might have been cushioned from in the past. But you know when someone on Twitter is like, “Can you believe [x event] was only a year ago?” And whatever hot topic it was actually feels like it was ages away? Like, how long has Donald Trump been president? I have literally lost my ability to judge time because I process feelings and moments in these hyperconnected, real-time ways, sometimes with hundreds of people.

It feels like it affects my real life, and it feels like it’s been somewhat recent. I can’t imagine it won’t have implications for more people. I think media people and others who “have to” be extremely online are particularly vulnerable to this, which is why I made Jean a sort of “journalist.” In my dramatic moments, I envision some neuroscientist announcing that our brains are actually changing, that if I lie awake scrolling and scrolling in feedback loops while pregnant, it could affect my child, or something like that. I know this sounds incredibly paranoid, but this is what happens to me now when I try to think about the future. I can’t even say “science fiction” right now. The compelling, fascinating, beautiful, terrifying car crash of humanity and technology is right here.

We typically think about metadata in very invasive ways when it comes to personal privacy. But here, it acted not as a violation but as a form of healing. Do you see a potential benevolence in the possibilities of metadata, at least when it’s self-applied? To what degree are the e-pets here entities or relationships separate from the owners, and to what degree are they an extension of themselves?

Well, that would be the dream, I guess, if it somehow “all turned out to be for something.” If there was this sort of unintended beauty and humanity emerging over time from these rampaging designs. It comforts me to think about technology in the same way I think about magic in nature: everything is given power by an intention, and just because we have established systems and patterns for things doesn’t mean we fully understand a mystery or that we can control it. I hear people using almost mystical terminologies to talk about data or artificial intelligence, and most technology innovations get funded by appealing to our literal sense of awe.

I kind of like that. I would rather think about the tech world as a form of human magic, as capable of invoking awe and mystery, because that would mean it had its own laws, its own ecosystems, beyond us. And it would mean that even in a world where, let’s say, a corporation owns all of my data, my data itself, as a part of me, might be able to act on my behalf. Like instead of internet germs we leave behind like DNA, they’re more like spiritual echoes that allow us to be “known” through data by someone even more powerful than the corporation.

The idea that your virtual pets might still be alive, wanting to find you and provide care for you, was so sweet to me. It was a simple way of expressing that magical hope.

One thing I found interesting about “Online Reunion” is that I — like Jean and her editor — initially perceived it as something between a ghost story and a love story. But ultimately, it felt more like a story about different sorts of relationships, about reconnection with old friends and with yourself. What made that a more interesting story, in the end — for you, for your readers, and for Jean’s?

We learned over the election cycle that these systems we now depend on to get our news about the world and one another can be rigged to advance a particular narrative. We had the dangerous belief that technology was inherently neutral, that any procedure involving data was inherently neutral, and now we have a world where lots of what we see is crafted to suit our preferences. We all get these incredibly specific reflections from the digital environment. (I get advertised mugs that are not even that far off from “Don’t mess with a LIBRA from HOUSE LANNISTER who SMOKES WEED!”)

Content creators, whether they’re on YouTube or writing articles or on Twitch or whatever, are constantly contorting to keep up with the latest trends to keep their subscriber numbers from plummeting. (Who cares what you really do? This week, you need to have DIY SLIME INVOLVED!) So we already live in a world in which content creation is led by the need to satisfy specific appetites and where hitting previously anticipated “key beats” to gain views or whatever is probably going to become more of a priority than the truth.

Obviously, this is nothing new in itself. I just know I’m soliciting multiple 20-paragraph emails from guys wanting to tell me about Marshall McLuhan and stuff like that. But when you factor in the questions and concerns we have about preservation and neutrality, I often think about whether “the truth” of our times will be readable in the future, or if centuries from now, people won’t be able to tell whether these two Instagram stars with 6 million followers each were really in a couple, or if they just conspired to post elaborate dating, breakup, and makeup posts and stories for the ‘gram narrative.

I think Jean’s insistence on seeing a heteronormative tragedy here says a lot about Jean. She’s a not-so-recovering addict who seems to have been isolated recently, and she resents her partner’s desire for social attention because she sees it as a threat. Jean’s unwillingness to see the truth about Mrs. Marchenstamp is similar to her denial about herself, that she is the one in the tragic situation. And I always think stories of nuanced women’s friendships, broad ranges of intimacy and interconnection are more interesting than tragic romances, especially when I’m aiming to have even a little queerness in my stories.

Although you have many years of experience as a journalist in the video game and tech spheres, I know you’ve been moving more toward prose fiction and narrative design work in video games recently, particularly on Reigns: Her Majesty and Reigns: Game of Thrones. What excites you about telling stories right now, and what kind of stories do you want to tell?

I really like writing and doing narrative design for video games, and I’m learning so much about using systems to tell stories. I’m going to sound tedious because, of course, people say something like this every five years, and it never comes true, but I actually believe audiences are ready for small, independent games that help extend their experiences around their favorite universes. Like little fan-fic generators, or side doors into the world of a series or a particular character.

Getting to work on Reigns: Game of Thrones was so cool, but what was amazing was that the team was so small. The success it’s had so far bodes really well for small teams that are just the right fit, to do these kinds of extensions to quality with a lot of creative control, versus the usual mode of “I guess we’ll make an interactive movie of this property.” There is so much people can do in this space, and I would love to be a part of it.

Trying to do more fiction has been part of that plan, I feel like. I recently had a piece in RESIST, Gary Whitta, Hugh Howey, and Christine Yant’s sci-fi anthology to benefit the ACLU, and there are a couple of other stories on my website that represent some of the themes I’m really longing to work with in fiction, narrative design, and perhaps even screenwriting. I have a new story about a cyborg mermaid who washes up in the Thames that I’m hoping to publish somewhere cool, and I need to bite the bullet and get an agent soon, so I’d love to hear from anyone who wants to work together on these kinds of themes.

I think it’s such an exciting time to be telling stories about the future. I really believe in the power of fiction to change outcomes… but then again, the tech industry looked at the inequality, desperation, and malaise of cyberpunk and went, “Cool, I want that.” They’re still going, “Cool, I want that.”

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January 16, 2019 at 10:10AM