In September of , less than six months after he appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly being shaved by a leggy blond model, Douglas checked himself into the Sierra Tucson Center in Arizona, where he was treated for what was described in several British newspapers and U. Douglas reportedly agreed to seek therapy after his wife caught him in bed with a woman he had picked up in a bar at a Beverly Hills hotel.
I entered Sierra Tucson to treat the cumulative effects of 20 years of overwork and alcohol abuse. Until then, I had never had any counseling or therapy in my life. The program covers a wide range of issues, which is all I have to say about it. If you have a marriage to a movie star, you have to accept that your life is under the microscope. When I came back and looked at what was there, this was it. That movie was like a signature of the whole decade, right? What they left was more like a fault line running squarely down the center of the battlefield in the war between the sexes.
I love, and have always felt very comfortable, working with ladies. And not a lot of guys do. Douglas speaks slowly in a whiskey voice, as if someone had told him once that rushing betrayed a lack of confidence. He cannot seem to help squirming in his chair, however, and his fingers are constantly running through that improbable upsweep of caramel-colored hair. But time will show it can be exhausting, and take its toll. Sometimes there are easier ways to do it.
He was 5 when Kirk and Diana Douglas divorced.
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He still has some residual anger. Douglas spent most of his childhood in Connecticut with his mother and stepfather, visiting his father on holidays from school. It was show-biz, you know? As a prince of Hollywood, there was also a certain amount of show-biz at home. He selected theater because it sounded easy. The risk element takes away a lot of the fun.
Douglas and his producing partner, Steve Reuther, started their own production company six months ago, and have signed a deal with Paramount to deliver 12 to 14 pictures over the next four years. When I had my success as a producer, people always wanted to know why I wanted to be an actor. And when I got some success as an actor, people asked me why I still wanted to produce. There was an old-fashioned black telephone sitting on a side table. I picked up the handset, and it delivered a recorded message laden with cryptic clues. I retrieved my possessions from a locker, then sat on a black couch and waited, without drinking anything.
I figured that since someone had told me to move on from the library, there was another person coming through behind me. When he arrived, I convinced him to work with me. We encountered another girl on the way. I snared their contact information, learned who invited them both to the Society, and started to build a mental membership chart. I'm not usually good at puzzles. But this was a new kind of puzzle. I was dying to know: Who else was a member of the Latitude Society? What was the internal hierarchy? How could I find the people who'd created it? By the end of the day, our mission had led us to a roomful of arcade games.
As we played one of the games, a staticky vision appeared and delivered a mysterious speech containing a code word. This word allowed us to return to the Latitude website and log in, whereupon we discovered Forums where all the participants used assumed names. I recognized some names from weird Bay Area art projects: Justin's moniker was Dr. I chose Noisemaker, an old Burning Man nickname.
Immediately, I set about figuring out how to meet the Society's mysterious creators. The few people I knew in the Society didn't know much or acted cagey when I asked them for details. Through Google, I gathered only that it was a project created by Nonchalance , a company that previously created an art "cult" called the Jejune Institute.
I learned many things from the Forums, and I grilled Justin—Dr. Professor—with a flurry of questions. Professor explained that, in Latitude parlance, he was my ascendant. As the person who received the invitation from him, I was his descendant. He was several steps ahead of me in the Society, and he had already gathered a lot of information. But in response to my thorniest questions, he always asked: "Are you sure you want the answer?
Or do you want to figure it out on your own? The irony made me laugh, and I bought it immediately. I purchased several invitations, but invited only one person; I held on to the rest. I barely knew what I'd joined, and I had no idea what inviting others might mean. But I was eager to learn. I even posted it to Instagram , with glee and trepidation. Was I breaking the rules? What were the rules? One day, I met a local artist for lunch. He laughed when he saw the shirt and spoke a Society code word. I carefully asked him for details. He shrugged. You know. Those people. For a few months after I joined, members met in person by arranging gatherings on the Forums.
Often, we simply met for drinks or meals, but impromptu traditions emerged. For instance, some members conducted regular explorations of San Francisco's privately owned public spaces. Then, after several months, the Society itself introduced official "Events. Praxis always began with a senior Society member retelling the Fable that we'd heard from the glowing book:.
There was an island And at its centre was a village. And on its shore there was a port The fable-teller was always from the Affairs Guild, a group of volunteers that ran Society events. Each Guild member had their own way of telling the Fable, which changed depending on their mood. After the Fable, each Praxis went in different directions, but it was always creative and ritualistic.
The first Praxis I attended was led by an ethereal, soft-spoken redhead in her twenties. I thought she might be Kat Meler. Slowly, between jaunts and parties and Praxis events, I collected a group of Society friends; the artists, gamers, and general weirdos who formed its core. We traded tidbits about how the Society was structured and we investigated its mysteries.
For example, the website contained a hidden form that enabled members to look up codes from the grey books' Indexes. Several members mined that form to make spreadsheets of terms like "abraxoids" and "abydos," and then we searched those spreadsheets for patterns. Rocco is a co-founder of the experience design firm Foma Labs.
I felt like part of a vast and dynamic underground community. Greg Gioia, who tended bar at many Society events, said that "There was a feeling that by stepping into the lounge, you'd traveled in time to an underground world only slightly connected to the city above. Soon, the community members developed new rituals in the Society style. Some members told the Fable as a bedtime story for their children.
Others came up with unique invitation experiences when they gave away invitation cards. I heard a rumor that one ascendant led all his descendants through a stone tunnel and onto a beach at night, where a robed circle of candlelit chanters granted the card. I soon felt confident enough to start inviting people myself.
Disclosures : I Found My Heart in San Francisco Book Four by Susan X. Meagher | eBay
There were no official instructions about how to choose descendants—we knew that we should invite people "of like mind and heart," but that was all the criteria we were given. I went slowly, because I wasn't always certain about who was right for the Society, and invitations weren't free. Yet despite these limitations, I invited at least two people per month.
It was becoming an expensive hobby. In fact, granting invitations was one of my favorite aspects of Latitude membership. Everyone reacted to my invitations differently. A few of my descendants became highly involved members. Some people passed through those doors, had their adventure, and went back to their lives unaffected. And others never even activated their cards; they told me sheepishly that they were "too busy.
I'm an inveterate networker, and I thought the Latitude might be a good networking tool. But inviting colleagues and clients proved risky, even when I was certain that they'd love it. For example, one ex-colleague seemed thrilled and honored to receive the invitation. But later, he mailed it back to me with a note: "I started signing up for an appointment, but… While I'm cool with the cloak-and-dagger-ness in fact, I kinda like it the information asymmetry really bothered me, i.
This became a known factor among experienced Society members—that many invitees never used their cards. One member wrote later that "I was stunned, flabbergasted, to learn that a significant number of people don't even bother taking that step. C'mon, people: Be better. In his daily life, Thomas leads statistical experimentation at the payment processing company Square. I feel like much of my life is so focused on Doing The Thing that I don't take that kind of time very often. The feeling of warmth and excitement and sparkling eyes was really strong, and it formed a lot of my sense of what this group was and why it was meaningful.
Lena Strayhorn, an experimental musician and stay-at-home mother who has worked as a nonprofit administrator, told me that "I was vaguely confused yet elated by Praxis. It was like performance art as a secret society meeting. I threw myself into participating, building the art-life project along with other members. The long-term collective storytelling arc deepened for me, every time I attended. So although I can't say exactly what drew me to the Latitude, I was hooked.
Over the course of my year in the Society, I fell madly in love with a new boyfriend—yet even in sleepless delirium, I kept Society events on my calendar. I worked hard to build my consulting brand, which led to a dream job at a media startup. So my work schedule became punishingly intense, but I made time for the Latitude. And finally, after months of puzzle-solving and card-granting, I received an invitation from Kat Meler herself. She invited me into the Affairs Guild and offered me the chance to run a brand new Praxis—with Jeff Hull, the founder of Nonchalance.
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The internet has shaped new ways to understand, utilize, and monetize human relationships. As digital media matures, the process of developing social networks is codifying into a set of best practices. Here's an example of a Social Media Best Practice: When social networks begin, they should be exclusive, even if they plan to get big later. One reason startups tend to limit the early userbase is testing. It's useful to test the product on a small number of people and make sure it's good, before taking on the logistical burdens of a million members. A second reason to limit the early userbase is targeting: It's easier to appeal to a small, well-understood market than to target the world's diverse population.
A third is to make users feel special. Networks often feel more exciting when they're exclusive. This is relevant because the Latitude Society was, in reality, produced by the profit-seeking startup Nonchalance. The company's founder, Jeff Hull, started Nonchalance in the early s. His employees included Kat Meler and many other artists, community-builders, and engineers. Within the Society, Jeff sometimes styled himself "The Anonymous Benefactor," and he rarely posted on the forums or attended events. The company's growth strategy was not discussed outside Nonchalance, but Jeff had reportedly said that he hoped to monetize the Latitude Society and make it self-sustaining.
This wouldn't be easy, because the Society was an expensive endeavor—given the technical design, manpower, and elaborate spaces, including multiple rented locations across San Francisco. Jeff has neither confirmed nor denied this number. It was obvious that if the company stuck to invitations and t-shirts, they'd never earn enough to cover Jeff's investment. If Nonchalance's growth strategies mimicked that of a social media product, its problems did too. The most obvious parallel is the grow-first-and-figure-out-revenue-later strategy, famously used by many media startups.
This attitude is sometimes mocked with the phrase, "Build it and they will come. The Society's invitation-only structure came straight out of the modern social media playbook, yet its FTUE was exceptionally hard to manage, because so many aspects took place in locations that weren't directly controlled by Nonchalance.
For example, the initial adventure around the Mission District was enveloped in real-world messiness. As I gave out invitations, I became accustomed to descendants texting me with technical issues "I reached the third station, but the door won't open! How do I get a new coin? Some of my descendants only got halfway through their FTUE, and never finished at all. In other words, there were major glitches because the product was buggy.
Another hard-to-control factor was the invitation process. Some members, like me, thought carefully about each person we invited. Other members had a more casual flair. They carried cards everywhere, and handed them out to interesting strangers without even leaving a phone number behind. Nonchalance tried to manage this by issuing guidelines about what ascendants ought to tell descendants. Eventually, the company iterated on the invitation cards by printing instructions directly on the card case, where recipients couldn't miss them.
As I learned more about the company's operations, I became increasingly curious. It felt strange that my extraordinary Society—to which I gave more and more of my personal time and energy—was "just another Bay Area startup. I heard about people who got invited to the Society only to quit in disgust, saying that its elaborate mythos was nothing but a marketing ploy. Other people believed it was actively dangerous. Rebecca was an early Society invitee, like me, but she canceled her account soon after she joined. No matter where I start a conversation about the Latitude Society, I end up talking about corporate responsibility.
If there was a Terms of Service agreement, why did it not include a formal procedure for releasing yourself from it? I know the employees were monitoring us, but who was monitoring them? Immersive experience design as commercial entertainment is in its infancy, and it doesn't have established legitimacy. If the Latitude came apart because of an incident caused by Nonchalance's lack of oversight, how would it affect the work of other artists like me?
Scarier yet, what would it say to artists if the Latitude Society succeeded? I received my invitation card from someone I knew.
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The day after my appointment, he messaged me privately on Facebook to say he'd been watching me on the video cameras. At the time, I brushed it off. It ruined my enjoyment of the theatrical experience, but there were plenty of other ways I could engage with the project without engaging with him. Then another employee gave my boyfriend a card and told him that I'd been playing for several weeks. That was not great for our romantic relationship.
Finally, at my first and only Praxis, yet another employee told the group what I did for a living, effectively outing my actual identity.
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- Disclosures - Part 1.
I requested that they deactivate my membership. But when I left, I became a security risk. People I knew made vague threats that I would regret leaving or talking about it. A roommate of mine stopped telling me where he was going when he left the house. Friends whom I trusted contacted me and played stupid about their own involvement in order to suss out what I knew.
I can't say with confidence that Nonchalance encouraged this behavior, but they should have been able to predict it. The fact that Nonchalance had no procedure in place to identify, address, and rectify the antagonistic behavior resulting from their product, and made no effort to put those procedures into place once that behavior became obvious, demonstrates a lack of concern for their consumers that, if applied to other industries, would result in fines or a class-action lawsuit.
I recognize that some people's lives were changed for the better because of their involvement in the Latitude Society. I have no desire to denigrate their experience, nor do I hold everyone who maintained membership in the Society responsible for the actions of a few. But my own experience—the one with paranoia and intimidation and inexperienced people abusing fabricated power—is equally real, equally a product of the architecture Nonchalance designed and built. How can I praise someone for the beauty they created, if they cannot also accept responsibility for the ugliness?
Rebecca's concerns are similar to critiques leveled at social media platform companies, which often struggle with harassment and oversight issues. Twitter's harassment problem, for example, is legendary. And yet, even as I heard stories like Rebecca's, the Society was still giving me experiences I loved. I wanted to believe that Nonchalance would figure out how to do it right.
And I wanted to help. Jeff Hull is a shaven-headed man in his mid-forties, with a neat dark beard. In the lounge with the brazen skull, Jeff sat on a black couch, totally at ease. During our early conversations, I didn't ask many questions because I didn't want to seem like a desperate fangirl. At the time, I was thrilled and honored by the opportunity to brainstorm a new Praxis with him.
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There was another Society member with us that day, Anthony Rocco. Together, the three of us had developed the idea for a Praxis called "Fable Exquisite Corpse. I perched excitedly on the couch opposite Jeff and asked, "Can I read a copy of the Fable before we begin? I don't think I remember it all. The island, the village, the port We lit candles on the table and laid out snacks. As twelve Society members trickled into the lounge, we asked them to join us on the couches. We began with the formal opening ritual, and then we explained how Fable Exquisite Corpse would be played.
We went on for an hour. We added visual details to the village, developed its culture, explored the heroes' motives. At the end of it, when the attendees left and we were cleaning up, Jeff said: "That was great. A lot of members were obsessed, even in love with the Latitude Society. But what was Nonchalance building, exactly? A slide deck, recently posted on Slideshare , shows how Nonchalance tried to pitch the Society's business case. Slide No. In mid, Nonchalance rolled out the "membership services," and they took the form of what the media business calls a "paywall.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this caused controversy; if you watched the New York Times roll out its paywall , you might have predicted that Society members would be upset by one, too. Much like San Francisco itself, the Society hadn't felt like it was intended for people with money—until, suddenly, it did. Yet within the Latitude Society, there were extra reasons members got upset by the paywall. Many of us poured hours of volunteer work into the Society, and we felt hurt at being asked to pay when we'd given so much already.
Plus, many of us weren't rich. The new membership plan cost hundreds of dollars a year. The Society had its share of "tech gentry," but membership was expensive even for some techies, let alone artists and social workers. So the paywall felt out of touch with the community—and it created a hierarchy of wealth, where previously members had distinguished themselves via creativity and service. It was a new and unwelcome type of exclusivity.
The announcement hurt especially for members who were struggling to hang on to their homes in a city that was fast-becoming the most expensive in the nation. Living in San Francisco, one often feels trapped in a playground for the carelessly rich, and it hurts to be treated like a toy. And finally: How could we feel good inviting others to the Society, knowing that our descendants would be asked to pay?
Someone started a thread on the Forums titled, "When a gift comes with a price tag," and it quickly gathered responses. Today, there's a public staff list of who worked on the Latitude Society. You can get a sense of the operation's scale from Jeff's "Epilogue" note on the Society website.