Tag Archives: Social media

Thoughts On Liberty


Image: Vintage Telephone by Daniel St. Pierre

I attended a very interesting lecture yesterday at Morley College called ‘On Liberty’ by Shami Chakrabarti (which, since it only cost a mere penny as part of the ‘Penny Lecture’ series, was partly a shameless plug for Chakrabarti’s new book, of the same title).

That probably is a good thing though, as Chakrabarti is the director of Liberty, a campaign group for the defence civil rights that protests against things like ‘the snooper’s charter’ and increased invasion of privacy (not least due to the prevalence of technology and surveillance equipment). It was refreshing to hear from a young (-ish, in her own words) woman from an Asian background, if only to counterbalance the abundance of old white men we usually hear from (compelling and articulate, though they are).

I was speaking with my boyfriend, James, who accompanied me to the lecture, about what I’d write a blog post about, should the mood take me. This is it. There are so many angles you could take to approach the topic, but I’ll probably go for just one.

This one facet of modern life that has become murkily interwoven into this debate on human rights and privacy: technology. It has been partly caused by the spread of the internet and social media, which now connects and exposes us all in ways hitherto dreamed of only in science fiction.

Ordinary people rely on technology to get around, to do their jobs, pay their bills, and stay in touch with their friends and family.

It is used by violent groups in countries outside the western world, which are rising up to overthrow a perceived – whether real or fictional – oppressor. They use technology to communicate, to recruit new members, and cause terrifying amounts of damage to their own countries and others.

Technology is also used by security organisations to survey the public, as well as by the news media to produce a continuous steam of stories and images of ‘terror’. Technology is a medium that is used and abused by all.

Even under these circumstances, it’s still quite frightening that people are so willing to allow the erosion of their basic rights and liberties because they are half-asleep. We are so used to being poked and prodded by marketing companies and government that it’s only a tiny step further.

It’s easy to dismiss basic invasions of privacy when you are still enjoying a fading liberty, sure that they’ll be surveilling someone else, and not you, or even because you are terrified of what might happen to you and the people you love. The citizens of the republic of China, North Korea, Nazi Germany, and the USSR probably felt the same.

Racism and xenophobia appear to be on the rise, with the popularity of political parties like UKIP (which now has two local seats), the move to tear up the bill of Human Rights (in favour of ‘British’ rights) and the backlash against immigrants who are believed to be ‘leeching’ our resources. This is surely, in part, an unconscious backlash against a far more sinister and uncontrollable threat: global terrorism.

I agree with Chakrabarti and many others that the powers the government is attempting to give itself are completely out of proportion to the threat, and with dubious efficacy. As Chakrabarti says, it is impossible to wage war on an abstract noun – and, if you can, you will never be able to tell when it has come to an end.

Quote from Shelley (used in the lecture):

“Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number-
Shake your chains to earth like
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many-they are few.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Masque of Anarchy: Written on Occasion of the Massacre at Manchester


Women who eat (angrily) on tubes

I think I have some insight into why there was so much backlash from the so-called ‘feminist community’ and women at large against the guy who started a Facebook group by posting photos of women eating on tubes. Several women complained about their photos being used, but he refused to take them down for a long time. There was lots of media interest in the issue, but no one could really pinpoint why this was apparently so sexist.

To focus solely on women and their relationship to food touches on a nerve, which men probably don’t notice, because there isn’t the same stigma attached to eating for men.

Most women will be able to identify with the awkwardness of eating at work – snaffling your lunch in front of other people, and having others pass judgement on what you’re eating. ‘Oh, you’re so healthy.’ ‘What – crisps? At 10am?’ ‘Why aren’t you eating any cake?’

I don’t think men tend to take any particular interest in the eating habits of their peers, but the opposite is certainly the case for women. I think this partly stems from the immense pressure on women to tightly control their eating habits, in an effort to reach that svelte size 8 – which is in reality out of reach for most women, or would be unhealthy to attain.

For women, life is a constant battle to look thin, while resisting the tidal wave of marketing and advertising from the food industry. From the cradle to the grave, we are assaulted with images of stick-thin women, from Disney princesses, to models and actresses. Ironically, the UK food industry is currently worth £175.4 billion and still rising; some people are obviously getting rich by making us fat.

It’s a special paradox that women are charged with the impossible duty of being painfully thin, and yet constantly deluged by adverts that urge them to consume.

Typical ‘subconscious’ messaging behind an ice cream advert: Eat this chocolate ice cream – it’ll make you look and feel sexy and meet the man of your dreams.

On the other hand, from women’s magazines: Don’t eat ice cream – Kate Moss doesn’t, and as a result she is sexy and happy.

How many women can look at a picture of a Big Mac without their mouth watering? And how many count the calories in that burger?

I think this originally ‘banterous’ Facebook group, which is still online (with all but one of the photos removed) inadvertently taps into women’s private torment, and subsequently unleashed the fury of millions of beleaguered women. This man and his acolytes were not just bantering about women eating on tubes – they were, in a way, pointing cruelly at the hell that exists between women and their food. It is hard to enjoy eating without guilt, and the woman who genuinely does is rare.

We must eat – but not too much, and not on tubes, it seems.

Public ambiguity over “no makeup selfie”…


Image via Independent

Why was the public so angered or allured by the “no makeup selfie” trend recently? For those of you who missed it, this was legions of girls snapping photos of themselves on their smartphone cameras without any makeup, posted with the hashtag #nomakeupselfie on preferred social media channel and making a donation to a selected cancer charity by text. Participants also publicly nominated other women to do the same. The movement wasn’t started by Cancer Research, the main cancer charity involved, but they received £8 million in six days – and ultimately enough to fund 10 new cancer trials.

Apparently, the “no makeup selfie” people were making the mistake of suggesting that something which requires only as much effort as prodding the screen of your phone and uploading to Instagram was akin to running a marathon or a hosting a bake sale. This apparently insulted cancer sufferers, because not wearing makeup is nothing like losing all of your hair and feeling terrible as a result of chemotherapy (and potentially dying, of course).

While this is serious indeed, many celebrities frequently do idiotic things that are woefully contradictory, and no one has actually said that not wearing makeup is analogous to the physical changes caused by cancer treatments. When all the men grow moustaches, no one accuses them of comparing it to the experience of prostate cancer or losing a testicle, and letting hair grow is at least as little effort as going bare-face.

At first, I wanted to understand what had led some people to lampoon this sensational trend, cast aspersions, or others to embrace it wholeheartedly. It’s undeniable that the whole thing can teach charities a lot about the fundraising potential of social media.

I toyed with the idea of suggesting that the reason so many people posted a no makeup selfie (with or without donating to a cancer charity) is because it appeals to our sense of vanity. It engaged our obsession with constant sharing and comparing: the glut of digital stimulation that has so distinctly pervaded our lives in the last twenty years. I was going to make some kind of comment about modern life, but I lost interest in that idea.

So much of what we absorb, especially if we inhabit the thinking sphere – with its higher education, broadsheet newspapers and political engagement – is judging the wider collective for a perceived slide into nihilistic retardation. We wring our hands and insist that people are so apathetic and easily entertained that they will mindlessly gorge on whatever is slopped in front of them – whether that’s a smart phone, a widescreen television, juicily exposed flesh or extra-large french fries.

When making these judgments, to be found in the columns of newspapers, magazines and personal blogs, this collective never includes ourselves.

We frequently say, “Everyone is obsessed with fiddling with their smartphones, even whilst in company… Isn’t it sad to see those couples sitting together not talking to each other? I hope we never get like that-” even while our own partner’s eyes glaze over as we launch into full rant.

It’s never us struggling with our weight and consuming too much fried chicken. We’re the ones smugly scoffing sushi and looking down our noses at people who might actually just be doing something because they enjoy it, and thinking rapturously, “Fuck my health!” Maybe.

The complaint most grating on me right now is: “digitisation is spreading like a noxious weed and ruining our lives! If we don’t curtail the rampant dissemination of technology into the very womb, then childhood itself will crumble. Children won’t be able to tell the difference between a cat and a pokémon!”

We argue that people don’t talk to each other anymore because it’s much easier to be entertained by the electronic device constantly attached to our persons. I wonder how much more accurate it would be to suggest that those people never really liked each other that much in the first place.

Perhaps the public isn’t as easily swayed by the behemoth forces of modern life as we might suggest when we’re feeling a sense of moral superiority over others. Maybe people, just like they always have, sometimes want to talk to each other and other times, they’re frankly bored with the conversation.

Maybe the no makeup selfie is not a sign that superficial vacuous celebrities (and their homunculi, the popular girls at school who can now digitally lord their superiority over you directly to your own home) are taking over the once-sacred charity world, with its “innate” moral purity. It could actually be that vain girls and celebrities are doing what they often do: glorifying themselves in mildly inappropriate settings.

Criticising human weakness is a way for many of us to shore up our own egos. Whether it’s snootily mocking someone for spending too much time on their phone, being selfishly materialistic or posting self-obsessed Facebook status updates, we love to look down on the superficiality of others.

The world of charity is a bastion for people who want to feel superior about themselves. I work in this sector and I love it, but I do sometimes feel a creeping sense that I could justify thinking of myself as morally superior because I’m working towards the greater good of humanity – even if I may only anticipate a disappointingly-average maximum salary.

We were angry because the no makeup selfie was narcissism masquerading as philanthropy, and it had infiltrated the charity community. Ostensibly, the charity world is earnest, other-focused and lacking in coiffed glamour, but the no makeup selfie smacked of contrived artificiality. Some people tried to say they were angry because the phenomenon indicated that people have become especially egotistical and superficial as a result of the spread of social media.

I think there is probably the same number of vain people now as before the birth of Twitter and Facebook – it’s simply that they now have a much more public outlet for self-expression.

We’ll always find something to panic us and complain about, all the while feeling smug that we’re not a part of it. In reality, sometimes people choose to do nice, good things and, lots of the time, they don’t. I choose to believe that, most of the time, people aren’t corrupted by social decay but are making a conscious, sometimes shallow choice – whether that’s taking a photo of themselves and posting it on the internet or growing a moustache for Movember. Image

Out of Place? Media Workshop for Self-Help Groups

I went to a social media and press training course for self-help groups in Wandsworth today. I was a little out of place, to say the least, but in good company.

Many people were making jokes about leaving the social media to younger members of staff (namely Alice from Life Time, another attendee of the group), and not having a smart phone. Everyone was terribly earnest and we sat in a circle, just as if we were attending a real self-help group; though I’ve never personally been to one. It was like tapping into another world; the world of communities and vulnerability and age.

It was oddly movie-like, abounding with familiar stereotypes – the young liberal volunteer who confesses to checking the Guardian news on her smart phone every day. “News finds me,” says the tech-savvy social media lecturer, and for her, “getting lost in the news” is a frequent problem. Bombardment. This course is like a master class for keeping up with the modern world for many of the group, who are middle-aged or older.

It was like meeting the archetypes of society… The elderly man who quit his high-flying job because his wife has cancer. The fresh-faced, rosy-cheeked girl who a boy somewhere must be madly in love with, with scarf, boots and box fringe. The sweet, shy black lady who is reluctant to join the circle. The earnest, motherly group leader who has been running self-help groups for thirty years. The Vod-like (Fresh Meat) happy helper with a buzz cut, geeky glasses and Doc Martens. The sweet older lady with a degenerative neurological condition, who is highly intelligent and jokes about her walking sticks being sexy.

I am a hair’s breadth away from becoming Communications Officer (hopefully my next job) and yet it wasn’t until recently that I learned how to make a blog.

This group of self-helpers, out to improve the lives of others, occupy a strata of society often championed by the government, and yet at the same time is trampled by the Bullingdon Club boys, who possess little to no idea of the reality of grassroots community.

I don’t have much idea of it, really. Well, I didn’t until today.

All it makes me think, is, money gives you chances.

It is a slice of life; a useful workshop after all.

Online Dating: An Uplifting Post

Stockimages - freedigitalphotos.net
Stockimages – freedigitalphotos.net

I’m going to try and write an uplifting post this time. This delightful blog, Musings and Amusings, documenting and celebrating cutting-edge developments in science and technology, is a good example of posts that are not just a series of internet rants.

I shall admit that my blogging is mainly ranting, perhaps because it’s all too easy to do. It’s much harder to think of happier things than bad things, see what’s wrong rather than what’s right, partly because our brains are predisposed to look at the negatives.

Also, we are strongly conditioned to do so.

I don’t know why, maybe it’s to protect us from danger or keep us striving for improvement. If people were too contented, they wouldn’t be driven to make more and more money.

Either way, this was originally intended to be a post lamenting the childishness that online dating can drive us to, and the depths of human stupidity: the selfishness of human interaction.

It was inspired by this story I read in the London Metro about an IT specialist called Kishore Nimmala who was arrested after snatching his date’s Blackberry. He claims he did it because she tried to leave without paying for any of their drinks and he was trying to “get her attention.”

I shall leave out tongue-in-cheek discussion of the social skills of IT workers and gender roles.

I was going to say that online dating is too prescriptive, and too desperate. Focusing too hard on certain things means you will never get them. The ephemeral nature of romance means the harder you try, the less it appears.

Dating online fosters the illusion that a relationship with a complete stranger – who has nonetheless provided a detailed personality specification – is more likely to work than one with someone randomly attracted.

It encourages the commodification of love and the futile perfectionism of relationships, and instils a fear that you cannot make it alone.

Instead, I will examine this phenomenon in a more positive light. The world has changed immensely since the days of “courting” when your grandparents met as teenagers and were married for sixty years. The digital generation have adapted to its hydra-like incarnations and online dating is one of the results.

London often inspires feelings of anger and foolish actions (they were in Leicester Square), so Mr Nimmala’s behaviour may not have wholly arisen due to the nature of online dating. Though it affords an element of anonymity knowing you never have to encounter that person again, perhaps he considers abusive behaviour appropriate towards anyone.

Partly due to this rapidly growing industry, we no longer have to rely on blind luck or the charity of friends – or, indeed, drinking alcohol in clubs and bars – in order to meet someone new. It’s a lot easier and cheaper than going to a bar, sometimes. The social media dating app ‘Tinder’ allows for click-and-scroll – if two people like each other on the basis of viewing five profile pictures of the other, they can meet up for a date.

Without online dating, you’ve got to hope you meet someone before you leave school or university, or the volume of people you meet on a daily basis will be drastically reduced and so will your chances of meeting “the one”.

Interestingly enough, bespoke matchmaking services are on the rise. They are comprised of experts who use various criteria to match up their members with a “perfect” partner, including DNA matching and, of course, birth charts.

Online dating can be considered liberating for the modern singleton, especially for women who have traditionally tended to wait for men to make the first advance. The dater is more empowered; with the chance that mixed signals will result on disappointment on one side much more diminished. It represents the democratisation of dating, since attracting someone new no longer solely depends on an individual’s (sometimes dubious) flirting prowess or good looks.

It helps people who are shy or maybe unused to the dating game after the breakup of a long marriage. People with difficult facts to disclose, such as an incurable disease or the fact they are a long-term carer, are afforded a screening process, saving difficult conversations later down the line.

So, there are many benefits to online dating, as well as some dangers. Would I use these services personally?

If I were single, which I haven’t been since university, I’d like to think I’d be brave enough trust to chance.

I am well aware this was still a rant.

I think we are all capable of being happy alone, and the relentless drive towards unification and marriage is a bit unnecessary. In my opinion, it’s really important to learn to live by yourself, and celebrate the greatness of your own life.

The internet has many more possibilities for fulfilment than just dating, such as forums and websites to help you connect with like-minded people, free tutorials to help you learn almost anything, huge repositories of information and, of course, Google Earth. There are countless things I don’t and, most likely, never will understand.

I’d still like to think I use it for so much more than trawling Facebook, though not as much as I should.

Believing you can stay with one partner forever is probably a phantom dream, and a bit of a recipe for unhappiness. Online dating can be great for meeting new people, having more fun, and more helpful for some than others, but I’m tempted to say that’s about it.

So I couldn’t write a happy blog post, though I did try. Maybe next time.