When $1 billion isn’t enough, and one dollar is too much.

Eduardo Saverin

Eduardo Saverin

When Face­book co-founder Eduardo Saverin renounced his U.S. cit­i­zen­ship last year, with the appar­ent goal of sav­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in taxes after the company’s IPO, the Brazil­ian native had no short­age of out­raged critics.

He has made him­self the poster child for the cal­lous class of 1 per­centers who are all too happy to use national resources to enrich them­selves, and then skate, or cry foul, when asked to pay their fair share,” Ilyse Hogue wrote in the Nation, to cite one exam­ple. “The story evokes the image of the maraud­ing aliens from the movie Inde­pen­dence Day, who come to Earth to take what they can get before mov­ing on to another planet.”

But for all the furi­ous accu­sa­tions, Saverin seems to have been on the cut­ting edge of a grow­ing trend. “U.S. cit­i­zens ditch pass­ports in record num­bers” was the head­line on a May 8, 2013 Fortune/CNN piece report­ing that more than 670 U.S. pass­port hold­ers gave up their cit­i­zen­ship (and U.S. tax bills) in the first three months of this year—more than any quar­ter since the IRS began pub­lish­ing fig­ures in 1998 and nearly three-quarters of the total num­ber for all of 2012. The newly ex-patriated include Isabel Getty, daugh­ter of jet-setting socialite Pia Getty and Getty oil heir Christo­pher Getty, and—last year—wealthy songwriter-socialite Denise Rich.

This got me to think­ing. While I totally get the anger at Saverin and his ilk, I’m also intrigued by a larger ques­tion, implicit yet unad­dressed. How much money is suf­fi­cient for any sin­gle per­son? Does some­one like Saverin ever say “Now I have enough!” Or do you keep on push­ing until you have all the money in the world?

As I turn over these ques­tions, I also find myself think­ing about another man—one who could not be more dif­fer­ent from Eduardo Saverin. His name is Daniel Suelo, and in 2000, at the age of 39, he left his life sav­ings ($30) in a phone booth and walked away. For more than a decade since, he has not earned, received, or spent a sin­gle dollar.

Daniel Suelo

Daniel Suelo

Unlike the aver­age American—wallowing in credit-card debt, cling­ing to a mort­gage, ter­ri­fied of the next down­siz­ing at the office—he isn’t wor­ried about the eco­nomic cri­sis. That’s because he fig­ured out that the best way to stay sol­vent is to never be sol­vent in the first place,” is how a piece in Details mag­a­zine summed up Suelo’s finan­cial non-plan.

Born into an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian fam­ily whose beliefs he’s long since dis­carded, Suelo’s per­sonal phi­los­o­phy eludes easy def­i­n­i­tions. He lives in the caves and wilder­ness of Utah.  He for­ages, dump­ster dives, and eats with friends (as well as strangers). He doesn’t pan­han­dle, col­lect food stamps, or accept other gov­ern­ment support—not that he sees any­thing wrong with those who do, he’s quick to say—and he often works, just not for pay. He does make use of pub­lic libraries—borrowing books, check­ing email, and keep­ing his web­site and blog. “He wants to have the small­est eco­log­i­cal foot­print and the largest pos­si­ble impact at improv­ing the world. His life goal since I met him is to take as lit­tle and give as much as pos­si­ble,” his best friend told writer Mark Sun­deen, whose com­pelling book about Suelo is called The Man Who Quit Money (River­head, 2012).

As I think about Saverin and Suelo, a study in oppo­sites, I mar­vel over the vast elas­tic­ity of our con­cept of need. Saverin thinks he needs bil­lions of dol­lars. Suelo needs to have none. Needs are not objec­tive facts. They reflect val­ues and choices.

I hope it goes with­out say­ing that I’m not sug­gest­ing we stop doing all we can to make the world a more just and more equi­table place. What I am sug­gest­ing is that, in the mean­time, we give our­selves a chance to thrive, that we have the courage of our con­vic­tions (which starts with know­ing what they are).

Ken Ilgunas

Ken Ilgu­nas

For me, this per­spec­tive is lib­er­at­ing. Early retire­ment, single-family homes, col­lege edu­ca­tions – these accou­trements of the Amer­i­can Dream are increas­ingly hard to come by. Do we sim­ply redou­ble our efforts to achieve such estab­lished socially sanc­tioned goals? Or do we explore new paths, expand our reper­toire of options? (Another ter­rific exam­ple of some­one doing just that is Ken Ilgu­nas, a Duke grad­u­ate stu­dent who lived in a van to avoid going back into debt and turned his expe­ri­ence into the won­der­ful mem­oir Walden on Wheels (New Har­vest, 2013)

Few of us are likely to fol­low Suelo’s example—I, for one, am not inclined to fill my den­tal cav­i­ties with pine pitch. What I take from his story isn’t the specifics of his jour­ney. Rather it’s his capac­ity to find ful­fill­ment while lack­ing things that most of us reflex­ively assume to be essen­tial. If Suelo doesn’t need any money, I some­times muse, per­haps I don’t really need [fill in the blank].

There are those who attack Suelo for fail­ing to con­tribute to some larger social good. (One exas­per­ated fan finally got his detrac­tors to shut up when she told them that she pays taxes, doesn’t use the library, and is donat­ing her share to Suelo.)  But to my mind, his provoca­tive life is con­tri­bu­tion enough. His choices push us to think harder about the nature of our own. His life expands our sense of pos­si­bil­ity. And that, to me, is priceless.

Everything’s a (funny) story

Stand­off with bad dog and cheese

Well, not every­thing. But this is: Back in Cam­bridge for a quick overnight visit, I’m head­ing down Mass Ave towards Har­vard Square. As it hap­pens, my trip coin­cided with Har­vard grad­u­a­tion, and throngs of well-dressed cel­e­brants are head­ing off to par­ties and din­ners. But I have a dif­fer­ent agenda: I’m on my way to a toney lit­tle gro­cery in hopes that some Boar’s Head turkey and Swiss will entice my friend Betsy’s bad dog to let me back in the house.

Wubby growls when I return. I toss her a slice of (fancy, expen­sive) cheese. She growls again. I back off. She gob­bles up the cheese. We repeat this futile exer­cise another two times. Well futile for me, not for her. I beat a hasty retreat to my car to con­tem­plate next steps.

Betsy’s at a meet­ing at a Boston law firm and won’t be home for another few hours. Her hus­band is out of town. I need to get back home to west­ern Mass, but first I need to col­lect my stuff from the third-floor guest room.

I call our friend Jan, whose Eddie is the dog behind Cam­bridge Canine.

Betsy’s dog won’t let me in the house,” I say. I explain the situation.

I’d be scared too,” she says. “I wouldn’t try again.”

Not the answer I was hop­ing to hear. I try to look on the bright side. “Maybe I can get a blog post out of it,” I say reflec­tively. “Though I can’t really get any writ­ing done. My com­puter is in the house.”

That’s good for the blog post,” observes prag­matic Jan. She’s a blog­ger too.

So here’s the thing, the point behind this story: Even as I schlepped down Mass Ave, even as I bran­dished cold cuts to an inex­plic­a­bly hos­tile dog—usually Wubby loves me!—I found myself fram­ing the events as an amus­ing story. First as a Face­book sta­tus update, then as a lit­tle essay. And, as I see it, this is a very good thing.

In the pre-social media world, this would not have been my default mode. I would have been seething and stress­ing, not tak­ing men­tal notes with an eye to writ­ing a blog post. I would have been focused on the fact that I needed to get home and this shouldn’t be hap­pen­ing. There would have been no upside. There would have been lots of down.

In the wake of Facebook’s IPO, the debate over life online—pro and con—shows no sign of abat­ing. The cover story in this month’s AtlanticIs Face­book Mak­ing Us Lonely?—has 18,000 Face­book rec­om­mends as of this writ­ing. I, how­ever, just don’t buy it. Take my trip to Cam­bridge: I was able to meet my California-based friend Mar­cia for cof­fee only because I knew—through Facebook!—that our vis­its would coincide.That Jan and I enjoyed a fan­tas­tic south­ern feast at Tupelo can be traced to the fact that my friend Jen’s hus­band is the chef there. I first met Jen (I know, it’s con­fus­ing Jan and Jen: two dif­fer­ent peo­ple) on Twit­ter and often con­nect with her now via Face­book. And come to think of it, I actu­ally first “met” Jan online as well—the strength of our real-life friend­ship is such that I can eas­ily for­get that.

As I once wrote on Huff­in­g­ton Post, there is no mono­lithic Face­book. Face­book is what we make it. One of the major cri­tiques often levied at the social media giant is that it encour­ages a focus on self-presentation at the expense of authen­tic­ity. But I see it very dif­fer­ently. Is the funny story about me attempt­ing to pla­cate Wubby less real, less true to my expe­ri­ence than a nar­ra­tive that would have had me frus­trated, anx­ious, and on-edge? Absolutely not—because as I cre­ated the funny story, it became my expe­ri­ence. And, I would add, I am far the hap­pier for that.

As for my story’s coda, I did finally get into the house. Betsy raced home to cor­ral Wubby. I grabbed my stuff and got on the road. The whole episode delayed my trav­els for maybe 90 min­utes. And now I have writ­ten this. And you are read­ing it.

Why the Internet is like snow

It’s not a Mac. It’s a Lesnowvo ThinkPad.

Sat­ur­day was really busy though I got almost noth­ing done. I did, how­ever, spend a lot of time lost in cyber­space.  If the day passed in a blur, my take-away was clear: The time has come for me to reclaim my so-called (online) life.

But how to go about it?

In the social media cul­ture wars—Face­book, force for good or evil?—I come down unabashedly on the pos­i­tive side. Thanks to the Inter­net, I’ve recon­nected with child­hood friends and made many new ones. I’ve found jobs, kept up with the news, learned where to get my bike repaired, and heard about new nov­els.  Sim­ply put, I can’t imag­ine my time in Plan B Nation with­out the sup­port, good cheer, and humor that I’ve found online.

That being said, there are lim­its. I hit mine last week­end and went look­ing for strategies.

I started with one of my favorite blog­gers, Havi Brooks, who thinks of the Inter­net as a river and has a com­pre­hen­sive tech­nique for man­ag­ing her time there. I liked the idea in the­ory, but it didn’t really speak to me. Then I came upon an image con­jured by R. Tay­lor, who said he finds it use­ful to think of the Inter­net as a mall.

The Inter­net as Mall. Bingo! I felt a click.

It’s said that Eski­mos have hun­dreds of words for snow. In fact, this turns out to be the Inuit equiv­a­lent of an urban myth, but nonethe­less it got me thinking.

There isn’t a sin­gle Inter­net. Rather our Inter­nets are legion.

There’s the infor­ma­tion kiosk-Internet, the water cooler-Internet, the research-library Inter­net, the employ­ment office-Internet, and the linen-and-housewares-store Inter­net, to name just a few that I frequent.

There’s also the Giant Gabfest Party Inter­net, and that, too, has its place.

It hit me that the prob­lem wasn’t inher­ent to any one of these. The prob­lem was in my not being clear on which one I planned to visit. Ditto for what I wanted to accom­plish there and how long I planned to stay.

Over the past two days, I’ve been work­ing on this. Here’s what I’ve been doing (most of the time, any­way): Before I sign on, I ask three ques­tions: Which Inter­net? For what? How long? I jot down the answers. For exam­ple: “Infor­ma­tion kiosk. Find out how to delete track changes com­ments on a Word doc. 5 min­utes.” Or: Water cooler.  Check FB & email. 15 minutes.”

And you know what? Once I have this sort of plan in place, I’m pretty good at stick­ing to it. I don’t drift mind­lessly from email to Face­book to web surf­ing. Instead, I do what I came for, and then I leave.

Build­ing on this, it occurred to me that, if I were plan­ning a trip to the mall, I could use a shop­ping list. In life offline, I don’t drive to the mall to buy printer paper, get home, and then five min­utes later, drive right back to buy cat food. No. I keep a list of what I need to do at the mall, and when I get there, I do all it at once.

So that’s what I’ve started doing for my trips to the Inter­net mall. When I think of an email I need to send or some­thing non-urgent I want to look up (as in: What movie is play­ing this Fri­day at Pop­corn Noir?), it goes on the Inter­net shop­ping list. It can wait for the next sched­uled trip.

Not sur­pris­ingly, plan­ning my Inter­net trips and using my shop­ping list has made me increas­ingly aware of my ten­dency to reflex­ively jump online for no real rea­son except that my mind is wan­der­ing and the Inter­net is there.

When that Go-There-Now impulse kicks up—and I’ve never seen a bet­ter depic­tion of its siren call than this essay in Orion—I’ve found it’s use­ful to have a list of Things To Do Instead.  For exam­ple: Make tea, pick up 10 things, read the news­pa­per and put it out for recy­cling.  Or, to take another tip from Havi: What lit­tle thing can I take care of right now that would make life bet­ter for Slightly-Future-Me?

It’s always struck me as silly to say that the Inter­net is LIKE THIS or Face­book is LIKE THAT—akin to say­ing that the tele­phone is LIKE THIS or hand­writ­ten let­ters (if you remem­ber those) are LIKE THAT.  All of them are just means, ways to con­nect. As it hap­pens, Eski­mos don’t have hun­dreds of words for snow. I, how­ever, could use at least that many for my Internet.

Note:  Have you found help­ful strate­gies for man­ag­ing your time online? If so, please share them below.

6 things that cracked me up in 2011

The Happiest Place On Earth

Who needs pos­i­tive think­ing when you have a dark sense of humor?

This was my Face­book sta­tus update on Tues­day, billed as my “Insight of the Day.” (Actu­ally, it was my first and only insight likely to be so labeled, but Face­book  is for­giv­ing that way.)

In any case, I’ve been think­ing a lot about humor lately—and the crit­i­cal role it’s played dur­ing my past year in Plan B Nation. Of all the qual­i­ties that serve us well in this place of uncertainty—optimism, grat­i­tude, and per­se­ver­ance, being just a few—humor is per­haps the only one that comes nat­u­rally to me.

Peo­ple often tell me that I am funny, and it’s true that some­times I can be, but where I really excel is in recall­ing funny things I’ve read and heard. In that spirit, here are six things that cracked me up this year—and helped make my roller coaster search for work both bear­able and (at times) entertaining.

1. I’m sorry I bit you dur­ing my job inter­view: For most of us in Plan B Nation, job inter­views are seri­ous stuff.  In any case, rest assured that what­ever hap­pened at your last inter­view, it was nowhere near as bad as this guy’s.

2.  And that’s why you should learn to pick your bat­tles: But per­haps you are totally sick of think­ing about jobs, work, the econ­omy, or any­thing remotely related to any of these. If so, per­haps the time has come to spend some time reflect­ing on BIG METAL CHICKENS.  Seri­ously, I rec­om­mend it. You’ll be glad that you did.

3. Adven­tures in depres­sion: Still, no doubt about it, life in Plan B Nation can really suck, and you may find your­self becom­ing just a teensy bit clin­i­cally depressed. In which case, I’d like to intro­duce you to this darkly hilar­i­ous lit­tle car­toon about how even the sad­dest among us can still find a way through.

4.  Why yoga can be so irri­tat­ing (although you should go any­way!): Of course, one of the best ways to avoid depres­sion is reg­u­lar exer­cise. Yoga has the added ben­e­fit of fos­ter­ing a deep sense of con­nec­tion to the world around us—except when it doesn’t.

5.  An hon­est Face­book polit­i­cal argu­ment: Just because you are home alone on your com­puter look­ing for work doesn’t mean you can’t take part in dis­cus­sions of the major issues of the day.  And where bet­ter to do this than Facebook?

6. Need a role model? If so, look no fur­ther than best­selling author Laura Zig­man, whose Xtra­nor­mal video series has quickly been gain­ing a cult fol­low­ing and offers text­book exam­ples of Plan B Nation humor.

* * *

I hope you enjoyed these. Please help add to my col­lec­tion! Share your per­sonal 2011 favorites in the com­ment sec­tion below.