Svalbard, marathons and another reminder of how terrible Facebook is

• ~1,000 words • 5 minute read

This started as another diatribe complaining about how actively hostile Facebook is to the web (and I will get there) but… I decided to start this off on a more fun, personal note.

Greetings from Norway! I’m getting ready to travel to Svalbard to compete in the Spitsbergen Marathon. Hopefully. I do not have a great track record of finishing marathons sans, unintentionally, cheating—please see my story about accidentally cheating at the marathon in North Korea which… I’m suddenly, shockingly realizing I may never have written about on here? Hm. I should write about that, perhaps.

I registered for this race all the way back in late 2019 (!!) with eager anticipating for running it in celebration of my birthday in 2020.

COVID changeD these plans (among others) and a lot has happened since that initial registration. In some semblance of order: I broke my ankle, spent time in New York attending the Recurse Center which overlapped with COVID arriving there big-time that spring, put a pause on 15+ years of independent software engineering to joined Axios and became an engineering manager for a wonderful team overseeing their SaaS product Axios HQ,

Somehow, though all of that, my registration for this marathon has persevered. I not not in nearly as good of shape as I was in 2019 (pre ankle injury) and I have my expectations set appropriately low headed into it in a couple days… but I’m looking forward to it all the same. I think there will be something cathartic about doing my best to see this all the way through.

All of my non-marathon plans on the 78th parallel have been a bit slap-dash and last-minute. Between not being in marathon shape, new COVID variants and budding war inEurope I had this annerving feelings this event might get canceled for a third time… but by the end of April/early May I decided to just go for it and start booking things, for real.

Side note: if you need to figure out how to budget a trip to Svalbard at the last minute in a moderately budget-conscious way—if such a thing is even possible here—I’m your guy!

Planning has included lots of Googling, sporadic email updates from organizers, writing to random Norwegians in Longyearben, and checking the official marathon Facebook page as my main sources for knowing what to expect, Over the past, uh, two weeks (!!) I’ve figured out how to navigate the time and space between things like running absurd distances and delightfully named activities like “Walrus Safari” and “Catch of the Day” to try and see walruses, blue whales and polar bears. Or maybe just a lot of icebergs. I’ll take some icebergs.

Now, less than 24 hours from taking off, I’m figuring out things like what will I… eat. There is a actually a lot more tourist infrastructure out there than you might think. Or maybe there’s exactly as much as you might think. It is one of the endearing, hilarious and eye-rolling aspects of humanity that no portion of this world where feet have settled can be immune from the trading of trinkets or selling of wares.

Listen, I’ve been to the DMZ. You can look at the photos and read all about what a serious place it is, how it’s one of the more dangerous place you can go in the world. What you may not hear about though is that it feels like a straight-up tourist trap right before you go out there. T-shirts? Candy? Maps? Books? I promise you, it’s all there, on the North Korea side at least. Even at the DMZ one must exit through the gift shop.

So I wasn’t terribly surprised to find that a restaurant in one of the hotels in Longyearben is promoting a “Carbs Evening” for the marathon runners and that reservations are encouraged. Because everything up there seems to be some combination of Facebook and email driven, the post simply said to email the owners and reserve your time.

Warning: we are not entering the Facebook diatribe as promised at the beginning.

I was reading an email about this “Card Evening” on my phone, with the instructions suggesting to go to the Facebook page for more information. So I did what I always do when visiting Facebook and other hazardous materials—I turned on my VPN, turned on “private” browsing mode and navigated to the page with the hopes of copy/pasting the email.

The plan started well enough. I found the page and the information I wanted was right toward the top. Eureka! Now it was just a matter of copying the email address and return to the safety of my mail client.

Except… it wouldn’t let me select the text. Ah, my old nemesis `user-select none`. Ugh.

Note: I actually kind of like this property, when used correctly, Certain UI elements, like a menu for example, don’t really need to be selectable. It can give a web app a more “app-like” feel if, when I hit Cmd-A to select the content, it’s smart enough to ignore the menu and other chrome around the primary content. This, obviously, is not that.

So what did I do? What any reasonable person would. I took a screenshot of the webpage on my phone, saved it as a PDF (Not a thing I realized iOS let me do, which was kind of neat) and selected the text from there.

Selecting an email address from a screenshot of a webpage because Facebook hates the internet

Facebook’s desperation to get everyone on their platform comes at the cost of what makes the internet great—sharing and propagating information. It’s frustrating.

It is slowly dying though, I think. For better and worse. Will the Metaverse be the thing that saves it from irrelevance? Will the Metaverse let me copy and paste an email address?

I realize I have another Metaverse diatribe inside of me waiting to come out, but I don’t think I need to risk being on the front page of Hacker News again. I think I can summarize my thoughts and feelings on it pretty succinctly:

  • I’m not sure I’ve ever wished or hoped so hard to see a company or product fail as this one. I know there’s plenty of fascinating technological accomplishment created by very smart, lovely people in there. I know these things are always more complicated than “Facebook bad, blah.” But… I stand by this. Whatever this is, I promise we can do better and better leaders can lead us there.
  • If every depiction of the Metaverse I’ve seen is what it becomes, if it somehow owns the future and becomes the paradigm on which so much social interaction happens… I’ve never been so happy to know that one day I will be dead and leave this all behind.

On that note… I have to go pack! I’ve got some actual glaciers, walruses, polar bears and who knows what else to go see.