Learning is Change

Car Conversations: The New Kitchen Table

I do a lot of driving. Not because I particularly love it or because any one trip is all that important, but because I have so many point B’s in my life. Point A is our home, as it should be. I start here and branch off into a dozen mundane activities throughout the day. From picking up tampons at Target to taking my children to their numerous activities (Basketball, Gymnastics, Chess Club, Soccer, Volunteer work at the nature center, etc.), these short trips could be an annoyance or a hindrance to me getting things done. And yet, I don’t see them this way.

I don’t get mad about having to take another trip to the store to return things we bought online. I don’t throw up my hands in exasperation when there is yet another “pick up order” for something we couldn’t remember to grab the day prior. These trips are opportunities for conversation. In the best case scenario, I have a child or two in tow. And on these short trips, I will pick the lock that is seemingly always affixed to their minds and intentions. It is on the trip to Kaiser for medication that I will hear about how my oldest really feels about their friends. It is on the trip home from soccer practice that we will get to discuss what my middle child is most looking forward to in attending their chosen high school. It is during the trip to Dairy Queen that I find out why Chess is so fascinating to my youngest.

These car conversations with my children are also combined with the dozen conversations I have with myself whenever I make these voyages alone. It is on these trips that I will figure out what I want to do with my life or what I truly believe about current events. I challenge myself with others’ conversations in the form of Podcasting’s knack for creating para-social relationships, ensuring that my mind does not get stuck in thinking about the same mundane things that are the actual intent of the trip.

Because the destination is, after all, never the best part. Sure, I want to get my kids to their “sportsball” practice. I want to pick up the umpteenth grocery run or household item. I want to make family’s life that much easier because of a simple drive to and from, from A to B.

But, I am a better father because of the conversations that stir the air of our compact Mazda SUV.

Our car rides let me have the kitchen table conversations that would otherwise never occur, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

(Even if I do have to go out for the 7th time a single day, just so we have some milk for cereal the next day.)

What we knew about Despotism and Democracy in 1946, we should know now.

I love public domain footage. It is one of the ways that I can easily look into the past to see what we valued as a society. It is also a way to see how we have grown and changed over the years. And sometimes, looking at this footage is a great way of seeing what we have known and collectively forgotten. For example, we used to understand how dangerous fascism was and we would make films about how to avoid the kind of divisiveness that helps it to grow. These statements weren’t obscured or held within high-minded metaphors as they are in Don’t Look Up. Rather, public domain movies, especially those put out by the US Government or public scientific organizations, had no need for this artifice. Within those short movies, they are able to speak truth in the plainest words that our past has to offer.

There are two such films that I have found to be incredibly helpful in this moment of perceived stalemate regarding voting rights in the US. They are companions to one another: Despotism and Democracy. While both of these films certainly show their age in terms of many social norms (1946 did not seem to acknowledge the vital role of women in democracy, for example), they lean heavily on widely accepted social science and historical precedent for inspiration. They also accomplish their aim of informing the public as to how Democracy flourishes and how it dies. So much so, that I think it is time that we remember the lessons from 1946 about why our democracy is in such grave danger in 2022.

In both of these movies, the central thesis is that all communities (or nations) are on a sliding scale from Democracy to Despotism:

Where your community lands on this spectrum are dependent upon four key attributes, which have scales of their own:

I would like to reframe these scales as a series of questions that have really helped me to think about what kind of society we are currently living within:

  1. Is the respect you have for others restricted to those in “your group” (however you define that), or is that respect widely shared with the whole community?
  2. Is the power (to lead, to work, to learn, to make decisions) in your community shared widely or is it concentrated in the hands of a relative few?
  3. Are all people in your community able to accrue wealth and live in economic prosperity or is that privilege reserved for only those who already have wealth?
  4. Is the content that your community has access to carefully controlled (by algorithms, by gatekeepers, by political parties, etc) and is that information automatically accepted as truth? Or, do you and your community regularly engage in critical evaluation of the content you consume, providing you with “unbiased” access to the truth?

Based upon your answers to those questions, you may see the signs of Democracy:

And when you ask those questions of your community, you may find that the conditions for Democracy are present or absent:

At the moment, I see the sliding scales moving toward despotism. I see respect only being offered to those we agree with. I see power being concentrated in the hands of those who are deemed to be “real Americans.” I see economic prosperity concentrating more and more in the hands of the wealthy. And, I see information being controlled by both algorithms and a strong distrust for anything that doesn’t fit into an already existing world view.

But it isn’t too late to swing the pendulum back the other way. It isn’t too late to respect others or to create systems that share power and economic prosperity. It isn’t too late to remove the algorithms from your information diet and add sources that you don’t always agree with. But, to do this, we must learn from our past. We must listen urgently to those Americans who had just fought a World War in an attempt to beat back the Despots who sought to control them. We won then, but it may be different this time…

So please, for the sake of the country (and the world), I implore you, listen:

What Nighttime Feels Like

The night used to hold so much promise. It held the potential of my unthought thoughts and ideas unrealized. I remember getting into my first car (mid 90’s Geo Prism) and just driving around in the late night hours over the long brick road in my hometown and wondering openly at the darkness. “The Moon is a Folded Napkin,” I would say as I considered all of the metaphors for what is possible without the sun glaring down and exposing all of blatantly unrealistic ideas I had as a teenager.

But, the night doesn’t do this so much anymore.

The night is about escape now. It is about trying to distract myself from what the day holds. It is about my constant battle between the short-form content that endlessly scrolls upward in a smooth never ending procession of banality and the long-form stories full of weighty ideas that I want to embrace and be a part of. It is about feeling inadequate as a father and husband and son. It is about wanting to quiet all of the loud noises of my life and trying to, for just a moment, feel at peace.

As I try to hold off going to sleep for just a little longer, I fall victim to thinking that this is all that there is. I tell myself, “you are too tired” or “you deserve to rest.” And while I am tired, the transition into night does not make it so. I may deserve to rest, but it isn’t because I worked too hard during the day. I do not lay brick and I do not fix cars. I work and I parent and I try to make meaning for others during the day, but the night has become simply a refuge from all of it.

The night feels like a blanket that suffocates with its safety. It is a procrastination tactic, a way to believe that the days are infinite even as I waste another few hours before trudging up to bed. Most of all, though, the night is solitary. It is about me and my own insecurities for not making enough progress or giving in to my worst instincts of inaction.

The dark expanse of night is what I long for, and also what I dread, most.

And yet, when the day comes, all is forgotten. The opportunity for a great beginning is there, and most of the time, I take it. But, waiting just behind the day’s glow of fulfilled promises and getting stuff done are the night’s moments of sure defeat. I wish it were not so. I wish the night didn’t feel like a cancer on my existence, eating away at what I am capable of.

Maybe this will change. Knowing that the night was not always like this helps a little. For now, I will hold on to the day, and survive the night.

The Music I Used to Make – Personal Digital Graveyard #2

I used a PC laptop in college. It initially ran Windows Millennium Edition (considered by many to be the worst Windows release), but was later upgraded to Windows XP. I typed academic papers on this computer. I read Karl’s Corner (Weezer news) on it too. And even though I am not proud of it now, I downloaded (many) MP3s and Movies on Gnutella. Oh, and I made my own music with a (pirated) copy of Cool Edit Pro.

With a microphone I didn’t really know how to use and almost 0 privacy in my dorm room, I recorded at least two albums worth of music. The first was all of my folk-rock-indie-punk ballads that had lots of harmonies and inscrutable lyrics. The second was my attempt at music for a film, which consisted of playing a single guitar or keyboard track and then layering as many other tracks on top as possible. Sometimes, I even liked how they turned out!

While I could reflect upon how each song came to be and what they are actually about, I believe that (for the most part) music should stand on its own as a testament to the time in which it was made. So, here is the beating heart of my 18-21 year old self:

Waiting for Universal Control: The Future of Work with Screens

224 days ago, during their annual WWDC keynote, Apple announced a feature that almost no one will use. It is called Universal Control, and it will allow you to share the use of the same mouse and keyboard across your Mac and iPad (at the same time). Beyond that, it will also let you “push through” the edge of the display on your Mac and have the cursor show up on the iPad, as if by magic. The reason why no one will use it is two-fold. First, most folks don’t use an iPad alongside a Mac (let alone have access to modern enough versions of both that it is possible). For most purposes, you don’t need an iPad when you are working on a Mac. Second, the sharing the input across multiple devices is already a well established (and extremely niche) category of solutions. The tool, whether in software or hardware, is called a KVM switch. So, most people that want to do this, already have found a solution. I currently use Keypad for just this purpose.

And yet, nearly every day since June 7 of 2021, I have checked the beta releases of MacOS for this singular feature. Whenever a new beta drops, I rush to Twitter to see if there is any news on Universal Control being a part of the release. Inevitably, there are folks reporting on it, but sparingly few. There have been a couple of times that I thought it was coming, or was partially enabled by hacking together a few options that Apple accidentally available. But, no version that has shipped thus far has never looked as buttery smooth as the original demo, so I am still waiting with bated breath for its official release.

So, why am I obsessed with this obscure feature that so few will use?

Because I will use it, every day. It is the way that I want to work, always. I also believe it represents a large part of how we all will work in the future.

I imagine a future in which:

  • Wherever you look and whatever whatever you focus upon, your devices/surfaces/objects will understand this attention and will allow you to interact with the given tool without having to choose a corresponding set of input devices or ways of interacting. It will be contextually aware both of you as the user and of all of the other devices/surface/objects around, and you will be able to seamlessly transition to anything you focus upon next without having to think about it.
  • Any device can become an input device. Your phone can be an input for your TV. Your watch can be an input for your phone or computer. And likely, your voice can be an input for all of them.
  • Screens will have different form factors (touch and large, small, pocketable, rugged, etc.) but they will all run enough of the same code to bend to whatever purpose you dream up. You will get to decide what is on those screens and what input methods are most important for them. The file system will be shared, as will your private data (across the devices, not with others). Your clipboard, and your revision history will be shared too.
  • Any screens that you put next to one another will create more real estate for your work and play. There will be no “second screens.” Rather, you will be able to choose your “Screen Suite.” The phone you hold in your hand will know what tv show you are watching and the documents you are working on, and you will be able to pull content between all of them.

In this version of our future, your attention is the only thing that will determine what (and how many) screens will be connected. You will determine how you want to “control” the screens, whether that includes a keyboard and mouse or not. But, for this to become our future, Universal Control needs to become our present.

So, Apple, please release this feature already!

23 Times from Behind the Arc

The three-point-shot has always been my favorite thing about basketball. While some folks go in for the dunk or the “sick moves” of those who dominate under the basket, I can’t get enough of those long shots that have a devastating effect on opponents because there is no way to combat a 3 pointer other than with scoring one of your own. No matter how good you are at driving down the court and dutifully putting 2 points on the scoreboard, you will still fall behind when your opponent pulls up from behind the three-point line and rattles off another 3 points.

Last night, I watched the Denver Nuggets score 69 points off of their 3-point shooting alone. They went down the court 23 times and put on a clinic for how to get it done from Behind the Arc. This was a game against LeBron James and his Lakers. The Nuggets ended up winning the game 133-96.

Why does this matter?

In many ways it doesn’t. It was one game, and it didn’t decide anything important about the standings or the playoffs. Beyond that, it is just a basketball game. The world does not begin or end based upon the 23 times that a player got a ball through a hole from a far distance.

But, there is one reason it matters to me.

It was the only basketball game I have ever attended by myself. I hurried to the game after having gotten dinner for my family, after doing a few errands, and after attending my youngest son’s own basketball game. It was a solitary experience that I enjoyed immensely. As it turns out, walking around an enormous arena without having the responsibility for or worry about the needs of those I love is kinda nice. I just had to watch the game, to eat a slice of pizza and some kettle corn. At one point, I even did a lap, walking further than I needed to because I didn’t have to worry about getting back to the seats or taking someone to the bathroom. Even in the midst a pandemic surge of cases, I felt at ease inside my mask.

This is not how I would want to attend all games, but for this moment, it was what I wanted (maybe needed). Every once in a while, I have to prove to myself that I am enough. That there is enough joy from a moment with myself (and with thousands of strangers) to cover me in a warm blanket of experience. It is not the same as sitting at home and watching Youtube. It is being in the world and knowing that you are a part of it. It is looking out at all that can be created when we all agree on a few things:

  1. To gain entry, we must commit to keeping one another safe. (Being fully vaccinated and proving it to one another.)
  2. We will wait for our turn. (In line, or on the bench.)
  3. We will play by the rules. (A foul is a foul is a foul.)
  4. The three-point line is a cheat code that is available to us all.

I took my own “three pointer” last night. I did not do the expected thing, the layup of going on an outing with others. I did not drive down the lane, and dunk the ball with my children or a friend. Not because I don’t enjoy that, but because I needed this. I needed to stop just past the half-court line and throw up a low-percentage shot, and as it sailed through the air, everything slowed down. It slowed down long enough for me to look around and enjoy the moment. And then it went through the hoop, and it felt like I had won, like I had done something worthwhile. For myself.

And then I saw the Nuggets pull the same incredible feat: 23 times.

The Writing Club – Personal Digital Graveyard #1

Every other Wednesday for two years, I called together a group of disaffected youth to write and talk and think together. We would move desks into a little huddle, allowing the kid who could solve Rubix cubes with one hand to perform when she wasn’t writing. We would share poems and short stories and art of all different kinds. And sometimes the kids would just talk. They mostly didn’t come because they wanted to write new words or to be inspired by a teacher who was clearly trying to get a new generation of punk kids to like him. They would come because they had something to say about their existence, something that many other kids and adults in their lives were not interested in (or perhaps capable of) hearing.

And, we would listen.

We listened so hard that we started to hear the resonant song of self-expression. We heard it throughout not only the kids who were brave enough to join Writing Club, but also those who wished they were. We started seeking out those voices and trying to amplify them to the whole school. So much so that we made a Zine: Cracking Voices.

This is how I announced it over the PA (caution: the cringe is strong with this one) –

“Hello. You know that moment that you want to say something. You start to say it and then your voice does a little hiccup. Whether you are talking to your new hottie or just speaking in class, odds are that your voice has cracked or broken or fallen completely to pieces just at the moment that you need it most. Well, as the writing club sponsor, I would like to put those moments on a pedestal. Declare that they are the most beautiful of all. And in the spirit of bringing the most incidental moments of your adolescent lives to the forefront, I would like to introduce a new literary zine for Cresthill this year: Cracking Voices.

Cracking Voices is a place to publish all of your thoughtful and Cresthill students. So, if you write stories or poems, submit them. If you take photographs or draw pictures, submit them. And if you have random bits of twine, you can give us those too. I’m not saying that they will get in Cracking Voices, but we will take them in to consideration. This week and next, Cracking Voices representatives (aka The Writing Club) will be coming in to your Language Arts classes and talking to you more about this cool opportunity to get your voice heard. They will also be placing discreetly decorated boxes in your Language Arts rooms for you to submit from. In keeping with the tradition of not wanting to be remembered for each crack in your voice, all submissions should be anonymous. We will judge your works based upon merit and not who submitted them. The zine will be published in the last few weeks of school, and anyone who wants one will be able to pick one up. I hope to see your words and images in print this year. Submit to Cracking Voices.”

This invitation was met with the typical mix of excitement and apathy that middle schoolers are perfectly calibrated to produce. One participant said this of our little group, “The people in writing club are understanding. Nothing is too weird, no imagination too big to not find a home in the writing club.”

So, for those two years, we made some deeply important work (and relationships). Not important because it was particularly good. Rather, it was important because it made meaning for those dozen or so students who needed it most.

In an effort to try and make some kind of meaning for a new cadre of would-be writers and thinkers, here are the best prompts from the Writing Club at Cresthill Middle School circa 2005-2006:

  • Blowing it way out of proportion. – A short writing exercise that asks you to take a small issue and make a big deal out of it.
  • Brutal Honesty – Write to tell someone off or get something off of your chest.
  • Character-driven writing – 5 mini-prompts to help develop characters in interesting ways. My favorite was writing a story with an inanimate object as the main character.
  • Fully Flippant – I was trying to bring back “Flippant” as a concept to folks who had likely never heard the word. The prompt is to create a scenario for a character (or themselves) to be Flippant.
  • Strange Half-Thoughts for Writing – 5 different prompts that really were just to get ideas flowing. My favorite was the “reverse pathetic fallacy” in which you had to write a story with the character’s mood and the weather being entirely out of sync.
  • Hope is Useless – This prompt asks folks to consider what can be learned from a disparaging outlook. This is super good for those kids who do not naturally have a positive disposition.
  • Idea-based Writing – This is the alternative to the character-driven writing prompts. This one is all about writing to an idea; no characters necessary.
  • Location writing – This was an effort help folks understand setting on a deeper level. The prompt is to simply list all of the settings that a story could take place in. Sometimes making a list is a lot easier than writing a story.
  • In Cups of Coffee – This writing exercise is about choosing new ways of measuring your life (a la the musical “Rent”). The goal is to determine what kind of character would measure their life in “dishwasher cycles” or “speeding tickets.”
  • Quote Re-writing – The goal of this exercise is to rewrite famous quotes to better fit your perspective.
  • Splayed Out on a Table – Feeling vulnerable in your writing is really difficult. This exercise is about getting better at it by, “Splaying yourself or something in your writing means showing it completely in the objective light of the operating room.”
  • Stand in the Place where you live – An exercise to explore your daily haunts through writing.
  • The Three Minute Interview – This was a really fun prompt that asks you to interview someone with some extensive restrictions on what you are able to ask about. You then have to write story about the person you interviewed, but only about the things you couldn’t ask.
  • Writing Braille – This one is all about descriptive writing. The goal is to write with such beautiful imagery that anyone (including those who cannot see) can visualize your story.
  • Chain Reaction – In this writing exercise, you are tasked with connecting two seemingly different events with a single plot/story.
  • Dialogue: The Stuff of Champions – This prompt focuses on your ability to write dialogue for a given situation and character traits. It is meant to be used as a challenge to get outside of the characters that you would normally write about.
  • Driving Themselves to Distraction – This one is all about planting details that can “distract” your reader and get them thinking.
  • The Point of Performance – This was a series of prompts that focused upon getting your writing to the point where someone else could read it. It was about writing confidently and allowing your written words to speak for you.
  • Rescuing an Idea – Rescue is a powerful concept for understanding vulnerability and interdependence. This prompt asks you to consider yourself as the rescuer or the one being rescued in your writing.
  • I’ve Got Rhythm – This exercise is about the rhythm of the words that you write. In it, you are challenged to write in a specific cadence.
  • The Discarded Travel Guide – This prompt asks you to write the story of a discarded item that you have found by the side of the road.
  • The Toughest Thing to Talk About – There are some topics that are incredibly difficult to write about. This writing exercise asks to tackle at least one of them.
  • Use it wisely – You are given a set of objects (like, a dead rat or glue stick) and you must write about how those objects were used to do something incredible (like, scaling a 40-story building or winning the Nobel peace prize).
  • Writing Crutches – In this very “meta” exercise, you are asked to consider the genres, words/phrases, themes, and images that you rely upon too heavily, forming your “writing crutches.” This one is all about how you can avoid those in your writing in order to expand your writing repertoire.

It is my sincerest hope that some of these writing ideas from 15 years ago can help to inspire those who are in need of inspiration. Or, at the very least that they come in handy for a future teacher out there who is looking for a quick lesson plan idea.

My Own Personal Digital Graveyard

A huge amount of my life has been spent in the effort to create digital files of one sort or another. There are absolutely images, videos, and text files. But far more numerous are the inscrutable file formats of the web. There are xml files that can be rendered in thousands of ways. There are php and css files that determine what content on the web looks like. A quick look through my Google Drive(s) or my Dropbox or even my external hard drives that have my high school essays will show the thousands of cycles of excitement, creation, and abandonment that I have embarked on throughout my 38 years.

And yet, whenever I look back, I get overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of what has been created. All of it is my “digital footprint,” and yet I can barely make out the shoe size.

Yesterday, I read through lesson plans that were the most important thing in the world as I was creating them. I also dug into the abandoned archive of old student WordPress installations. They were so valuable for a few short moments, and now they form a graveyard of files that serve no purpose.

I always imagined that at some point, I would have time to reflect upon all of my contributions and finally come to a conclusion, a verdict for what it all meant. I would take a look at the word documents and low-res videos and the truth of it would be apparent. I would learn the lessons of being a teacher, a husband, a father, and a human being living in a digital age.

Rather, I look upon the sheer ton of created works that I have amassed, terabytes of them scattered across the world on servers that quietly hum away in some remote city, and I only see obituaries to former selves that never panned out. I see the things that might have been far more than what sill might be. These files represent the doors that are no longer open to me.

And perhaps it is only fitting that I create a final resting place for these ideas, these former selves. Just as we malign (or, perhaps celebrate) every time that Google shuts down one of their products (245 at last count), it might be worthwhile to become my own archivist and perform an autopsy on the projects in my own life that didn’t quite make it. Learning from these files by officially burying them in my Digital Graveyard may be the only way to fully know what they meant and why they had value in the first place.

Otherwise, they are just the detritus of my digital existence, ready to be deleted and forgotten. I would much rather pay my respects to those former ideas, creations, and selves.

The Student Becomes the Teacher

On a field trip in 2007. My former student is among these boys. They are all older than 25 now.

Last week, a former student reached out to me via an Instagram DM. To be clear, this is a student that I taught in 2007. He is a first year teacher in New York City, and was hoping to get some advice (and to catch up too!). It is incredible to me that after all of these years, he would reach out to me, his 8th grade Language Arts teacher. While I found it incredibly flattering, I also found it concerning that he might not have encountered any other teachers in high school that resonated with him or had as much concern for him as a human.

It has always been my contention that the vast majority of teachers care deeply for their students. And yet, for some kids, the experience of learning from (and with) a passionate and adept teacher is rare. And upon speaking to this former student on a video call last night, I could tell that he was looking to connect with his students and be that “rare” person in the lives of those he serves within his AP US History classes.

So, as we talked, he asked for advice and recommendations for how to engage students while ensuring the rigor of the AP coursework was maintained. Having not been in the classroom for over a decade, I was not sure what authority I should still have for making pedagogical suggestions. I have not taught during a pandemic. I have not taught high school (unless you count the few months I spent at East High School as a student teacher). And yet, I told him that I would try to pull together a reading list.

Here is what I came up with:

However, this former student of mine asked what the modern version of “wikispaces” was (which we had used extensively when I taught his class in 2007). After thinking about it for a few minutes, I thought that the most innovative work I had seen done with modern tools were efforts to create active learning opportunities using Slack, Discord, Instagram, and TikTok. So, after our call, I started looking to see if that was true. And it is. All of the examples below are from searching for 20 minutes on TikTok. Innovative teaching and learning has continued throughout the pandemic. And (some of) it looks like this:

While I don’t claim to have all of the answers for his teaching needs, it was a wonderful experience to get to know this version of my former student. He is an incredible adult and is doing wonderful things for children. I could not be more proud that he decided to teach.

In an effort to continue to provide support for him (and any of my other former students who became educators), please drop me a line if you think there are better books (or better modern tools) to support his growth in the field.

Mobile Safari Extensions That Changed My Life

It is no exaggeration to say that the web is my home away from home. It is the place where all of my work gets done (Google Drive, Slack, and Email are just the starting point). It is also where the majority of my entertainment and commerce is served up (YouTube, ShopGoodwill, and Twitter). And yet, the web mostly didn’t feel mine on my phone or iPad.

On a “desktop-class browser,” you have always been able to change the way in which the web looks and works. For years, I have used Chrome Extensions, Greasemonkey scripts for Firefox, or Safari Extensions that work in my preferred browser, Safari Technology Preview. These “add-ons” to the browser have helped me to build far better workflows on the Mac without any of the headaches of Ads, Tracking, or other user-hostile actions that companies try to build into their websites.

And yet, on more mobile devices (phones and tablets) this option has mostly been absent (short of jailbreaking your device or moving to an alternative operating system, like ChromeOS). That was until iOS 15 and the launch of a unified Safari Extensions system in which the same code can be used across phone, tablet, and computer. This means that the same workflows I build on my Mac can be used on my phone and vice versa.

And this event has been an absolute game changer, it has just taken me six months to fully understand their true power. It also took me this long to realize just how much my life has changed as a result of these tools being available on the devices I use the most. So, I wanted to take an opportunity to share the Safari Extensions that have made my time on the web more joyful, more productive, and far less annoying!

  • ActiveTab – While I added this extension to my workflow when Apple was testing out a new version of Tabs that made it harder to determine which tab was “active,” I have kept it as an essential part of my workflow because I find the visual cue of a subtle highlight color at the top of my active tab to be an essential bit of information for quick navigation.
  • Convusic – My music streaming app of choice is Apple Music, but many folks use Spotify to share their music with me. While I love using tools like Odesli to share universal links with others, not everyone goes to that length to ensure that everyone can take advantage of their preferred music service. So, Convusic does the work for me. Whenever I am sent a Spotify link, it will automatically search Apple Music for the same song/album and open it within my app. It is a magic experience to never worry about converting from one platform to another.
  • Dark Reader or Noir – I go back and forth on which of these two “dark mode for the web” extensions I like better. At the moment, I’m using Noir because the auto-detection and matching of dark colors for websites that don’t natively support dark mode is a little better. But, the way that Dark Reader handles images is more sophisticated (i.e., they don’t get inverted Google Docs in an effort to make them darker on the screen). Regardless, I love not going blind when I use the web at night. Dark mode is beautiful.
  • Mapper for Safari – Google has the most effective search engine, but I have become far less interested in Google knowing where I am at all times. To avoid this level of tracking, I have to stop proactively giving them my geolocation. This means using Apple Maps instead of Google Maps. So, while I still search for locations using the excellent Google Maps search functions on the web, whenever I get directions, this extension will automatically convert the request to Apple Maps and allow me to skip the copy-and-paste dance that I was doing in order to have a privacy-focused turn-by-turn experience.
  • Raindrop.io – Bookmarks are not entirely dead. While I most often just search for what I need or use the “recently viewed” auto-complete that is built in to Safari, there are many times a day that I need a specific resource that is hard to access without being saved and categorized ahead of time. I use Raindrop for all of my bookmarking needs, and it is wonderful! I love the way that it can capture notes, tags, and even custom icons without any issues. It is a full-featured app that just lives in my mobile browser now.
  • StopTheMadness Mobile – Many web developers, particularly for those who make their money through advertising or data collection, are not good stewards of the open web. They will “hijack” your browser, putting banners all over the place or even disallowing you from copying text on their pages. These are all user-hostile actions that can be fixed simply by disabling the code that tracks and limits your web browsing. With this extension for example, I can navigate anywhere without worrying that the webpage knows I am looking at it (the Page Visibility API is disabled). This is a huge quality-of-life improvement, and I don’t think I would ever use the web again without it.
  • Tweaks for Twitter – I no longer see Ads or Promoted Posts on Twitter. I no longer see trending topics. I do not see “who to follow.” In fact, whenever I use Twitter, I only see tweets from those who I have explicitly followed. It has radically changed how I feel about the service. Whereas, I used to get bogged down in the deluge of current events that the “what’s trending” told me were important. I now only go to Twitter to see what my little corner of the internet is up to. It is glorious.
  • Vidimote for Safari – I have always watched videos at 1.5x speed or higher. This is the best way to not only control the speed of your web videos, but also to allow for better Picture-in-Picture and video playback settings. It takes the best elements of the YouTube App and provides them within the browser.
  • Vinegar – Tube Cleaner – This is a pretty basic extension, but it is one that I use daily. It essentially replaces any custom video player (like the one on YouTube.com) with a vanilla HTML video experience (the native player that your device already has built-in). By doing this, it also removes ads, provides great picture-in-picture support and allows for better background playing as well.
  • GoodLinks – I often cannot read all of the articles that I want to within the course of a given day, so I sometimes need to save them for later. Goodlinks is my absolutely favorite way to do this. It has the cleanest interface for reading, the best options for tagging and categorizing articles, and the most elegant syncing across all devices (including the reading progress for each article). This extension allows you to save articles from anywhere in Safari (and other apps too!).
  • Wipr – This is the only ad-blocking extension I have used that actually works on the vast majority of websites that I use. It works for the news sites that I want to read as well as the random storefront that wants to sell me ever more of their wares. It also gets rid of GDPR notices and other bits of tracking and web annoyances. It is like the web got a fresh coat of paint.
  • Unobstruct – I often find myself looking at a Medium article or looking at a link from Reddit and getting annoyed that an overlay of “open in app” or “sign up” shows in front of the text. It can destroy my ability to read the article entirely when I am on my phone and there are multiple competing overlays that are impossible to navigate past. Unobstruct gets rid of these overlays on all of these sites, and if you find one that it doesn’t natively support, then you “Unobstruct the page” from the share sheet and it will remove them from that site too!

Your mileage may vary with these extensions, but I have found them to be an essential part of my working and waking life. I also believe that these extensions represent only the beginning of what is possible on the mobile web. I see this as a return to what made the web so important in the early 2000s. We are once again in control of what it looks like to us and we do not have to take “the app experience” as all that we are allowed to have. The fact that I no longer see ads in the vast majority of circumstances means a less cluttered brain, and that in itself has changed my life.