Oct 1, 2010 Comments Off
I was saddened this week by the story of the US college student who committed suicide after he discovered his roommate had secretly filmed his tryst with another man, and then published it online.
I add the emphasis, because it’s the most disturbing thing about an already tragic situation. Clearly we don’t know everything about the circumstances and there’s almost certainly a lot more going on than is apparent when a closeted teen commits suicide, but any way you look at it, his roommate’s actions were cruel, invasive, bullying and wrong.
There are two things jostling for attention in my head about this:
One: I’m not blaming social media, but I do worry about the habits that a social life (amplified by social media and networks) can fall into. Performing. Feeling like you have to constantly feed (/amuse/entertain/shock) a hungry audience, it’s easy to slither unawares across the line into behaviours and activities which are just wrong – like bullying – or stupid – like revealing too much about yourself online. I think some people – ok, many people – get seduced by the noteriety and enjoy the buzz of microfame, which means their boundaries of privacy and acceptable behaviour get ever so blurry. This can come back to bite them – or others.
Two: how do you support teens (especially) who are being bullied because of sexuality, appearance, intelligence, economics or anything else, especially within the artificial cruel crassness of a school or college dorm?
Speaking of supporting teens who are being bullied because of their sexuality, sex-advice columnist and podcast host Dan Savage recently kicked off an interesting and – I think – worthy initiative called the “It Gets Better Project”.
The project is inspired by the suicide of 15-year-old Indiana teenager Billy Lucas, who hanged himself two weeks ago in his family’s barn after enduring bullying from his classmates.
Savage realised that the one thing he and others who had been through tough times and bullying as teens wanted to say to today’s LGBT teens was: I know it feels bad now, but it gets better.
In an effort to counter the despair and isolation that many young gay people feel, Savage has launched a YouTube channel to provide positive examples of gay adults living their lives and sharing that simple message — it gets better.
“It occurred to me that we can talk to these kids now,” Savage said. “We don’t have to wait for an invitation or permission to reach out to them using social media and YouTube.”
He’s inviting LBGT people to upload videos to a dedicated YouTube channel, describing how they may have been bullied in high school, and how life got better once they moved out into the read world.
Human, moving – and hopefully effective.
Apr 17, 2010 5
For as long as I’ve lived in London, I’ve lived under the flight path.
That’s not saying much, of course – most of central, west and south-west London is affected by plane noise, as they circle over the suburbs, make a languid turn over Tower bridge and then approach to Heathrow along the Thames.
I remember standing on the school playing fields (when I should undoubtedly have been chasing a hockey ball or hustling to class) and looking up at planes not so far overhead, trying to identify the airline from the tail fin design. Alitalia. BA. Pan Am. SAS. Lufthansa. Countries in the sky.
For most of the last decade, I’ve lived directly under the flight path, in Mortlake by the river, which is the point where the wheels come down on the landing approach.
When we first moved here, I was hyper-aware of the planes. I’d wake up as the first flight droned overhead around 04.30, before dropping off again. And then, throughout the day and evening, every thirty seconds, they’d rumble over on their way to landing: loud enough that you’d miss a few seconds of important dialogue in the film you were watching, or have to pause your conversation for a spell. Before Concorde stopped flying, the air would be thunderous for nearly a minute as it slid overhead.
Yet most of the time, I didn’t mind the planes. They reminded me that up above, people were about three minutes from landing – homecomings, holidays, greetings and meetings. Three minutes before landing, everything is put away and switched off. There’s nothing to do but look out of the window at the huge expanse of London below and anticipate the moment when you’ll touch down. It’s nice to sit in my study, or in the back garden, or lie in bed and think of people in a suspended, anticipatory, excited state above, just moments from an arrival.
And I’ve been in those planes, too. I purposefully sit by the window when returning to London, usually on the right of the plane, so I can drink in the sparkling city. And what a welcome home.
Greenwich. Tower bridge. Cannon Street. Waterloo. Green Park. Hyde Park and the Royal Albert Hall. The Empress building. Queen’s Club. Hammersmith bridge. Leg o’mutton nature reserve at Barnes. My house, by the bend in the river. Dukes Meadows driving range. Brentford. Hounslow. Heathrow. Home.
In the months after September 11, 2001, the sound of planes took on a different edge. More menacing. Despite the fact that they were still just tootling along toward the landing runway, sometimes the noise sounded surprisingly loud – Too loud? Too low?
And there were other concerns, too – we can’t shop in our local Sainsbury’s without thinking of the tragic tale of the man who fell to earth – a story that sounds apocryphal, but horrifyingly, happened. More than once. Knowing that certainly lends an edge to doing your weekly shop. We glance nervously at the passing planes sometimes, too.
I woke yesterday morning to the sound of birds in the trees outside the window, and wondered what was missing. It took a while to realise the absence of planes made this place feel different.
It’s been a strange combination of eerie and delightful these last few days having no plane noise at all.
No contrails. No regular rumble overhead. Because there are no planes.
The atmosphere over most of Europe, they tell us, is full of dangerous ash. And yet the skies seem so beautifully, strangely empty.
Oct 26, 2009 1
Back in the nineties, when the web was young…
…most web pages took over a minute to load
…the song of one’s home 14.4kbps modem was more familiar than any novelty ringtone (what’s one of those, then?)
…AOL was a groundbreaking kind of company
…chatrooms were still a non-sleazy novelty
…marquee and blink tags were in common usage
…a web-ring was a social navigational device, not a gang of kiddy-fiddlers
…many web sites had an entire page dedicated to links
…the use of nested tables to layout a website was cutting-edge
…Google, Blogger and Amazon were just a twinkle in the eyes of their founders
…Facebook, YouTube, MySpace and Twitter were just random meaningless utterings
…building a web page was something only total weirdos would do
…dear, (now) departed Geocities was a vibrant and bustling place for play and experimentation, consisting of “neighbourhoods” and suburbs with particular themes or personalities, named after real or imagined geographical locations – SouthBeach, TheTropics, EnchantedForest, Tokyo, MotorCity, PicketFence, Petsburgh, Athens.
And each of these was stuffed with hundreds of citizens, tending hundreds upon thousands of lovingly constructed pages, each brimming with animated gifs, eye-bleeding backgrounds and a never-ending stream of scrolling, blinking, neon, capitalised, centre-justified text and badly-compressed, rasterized photos.
Including me, for a short while.
At the time, one of the most common phrases on the internet was “this page is under construction” – a sort of excuse or explanation, I suppose, often accompanied by a representation or parody of the symbols usually associated with road-works or construction sites in the non-virtual world. Strips of black and yellow tape or triangular red, black and white icons of ‘Men At Work’.
But thinking about it, it was a strange statement to make. At the time, the entire Internet was itself under construction; being built and explored and defined and designed and conquered and claimed by users just like me. By definition, web pages could (and can) continue being constructed, built upon, refined and redesigned forever – there’s no end to the work: even now, a redesign is only ever a temporary thing and its unveiling tends to be just a brief resting status in between periods of intense redevelopment activity.
The point is, the Internet can’t ever be completed, at least in the traditional sense of the word. It’s a living work in progress. The constant ripple of activity keeps it being. When it stops evolving, it stops being relevant. That was the point of web pages versus print and then as now, the idea of publishing flat print-like pages without interactivity or hypertextuality or even contextuality and formatting to the web is quite daft.
The web is alive: as long as there is networking occurring – both social and electronic – the Internet will exist and be continuously re-invented, never quite the same from one second to the next.
Back in the nineties, I used the idea of being under construction as the central focus for my (now horribly outdated and quite shuddersomely facile) MA Thesis: Under Construction: (Re)Defining Culture and Community in Cyberspace.
Don’t read it though. You can garner more knowledge about internet culture and community from five minutes on Twitter these days – and if you do decide to plough through it, remember that in the nineties many, many people (including academics) didn’t know what the internet was, let alone a modem, which is why it’s so full of explanations and definitions of terms.
In fact, back in 1997 when I stated my intention to embark on research in this particular area, I was told by senior members of the Anthropology department that there was no such thing as culture and community in cyberspace, and that I should redirect my attentions to something proper instead.
WHO’S LAUGHING NOW, EH?
The phrase ‘Under Construction’ is interesting for Anthropologists and other social scientists, who sometimes theorise that that culture is itself a construction – made and reinforced by the actions of those who show up and participate. In my thesis, I explained that even perception is not a passive experience.
We are constantly constructing the world (through perception, etc.) as much as the world is constantly constructing (shaping, changing and influencing) us. The idea of a ‘passive media’ such as television takes on a new perspective when it is understood that the process of watching a soap-opera requires the brain to unconsciously perform startling feats of interpretation and imagination just to make sense – images – out of the millions of pixels and lines fired rapidly at the screen, not to mention understanding the plot.
Fascinated back then – and still – by the idea that just by showing up, we are causing the net to come into a new phase of being. Leaning forward makes that link even more tangible. That’s still true, of course. Perhaps moreso than ever?
As a sidenote, I was thinking the other day how long it had been since I used the acronym “IRL” or the expanded phrase “In Real Life.”
It used to be the thing we’d say when we meant “not on the internet”, and I’m glad that it has become gradually obsolete over the years, now that the internet is accepted as part of life.
The internet is real life: I am real, sat at my real computer, engaging with the screen and the world beyond that it unlocks, in real time, via my eyes, ears, keyboard, mouse, attention. Online and offline make much more sense, being descriptive of state rather than reality.
(Likewise, I’m glad that we don’t talk about “virtual communities” anymore – as if spending time with people interacting around common interests and deepening relationships over time was in any way less than real. Now we know it can be, and that gets proved and reproved every day.)
So anyway, today’s unplugging of the Geocities life-support made me think about how we shaped it, and it shaped us.
Geocities slowly became unloved, unused and eventually undermined by wave upon wave of new services which helped us to express ourselves; live out loud, on the screen; learn to create/tinker/experiment; play with our identities; find others; experience the thrill of seeing our words, our work in a public “space”.
But for all its faults, Geocities was, for many long-term residents of the web, the first place they called home(page). And because of that, we mourn its passing.
But its spirit lives on. The creative, tinkering itch still runs thunderous and irrepressible through us. Our web experiences – and we ourselves – are still under construction.
Sep 4, 2009 4
The many ways in which the experience of Twitter’s development and growing popularity is very much like the experience of early blogging
The reminder a couple of weeks ago that pioneering blog publishing engine Blogger was launched ten years ago got me thinking.
I’ve been blogging for nearly ten years now – since it began with a W – and being involved with something from the beginning, plus passionate (and sometimes despondent) about its potential and usage in the years since means I’ve had a lot of time to watch and think about how it has matured and been used. There are certain things which we can now look back on and consider milestones in the development and maturing of blogging – like how the media responded to it, how people embraced and used it and how it penetrated mainstream web usage over time.
Like blogging (which I started doing in January 2000, and used Blogger to publish my blog from April of that year), I’ve been using Twitter since relatively early on – my earliest update via Twitter was in November 2005. I’d link to it, but
a) it’s in my private/personal account (@megp) and
b) all my archived tweets (pre July 31 2009) have disappeared, as experienced by many others in this thread on the Twitter help forum.
It’s actually that help forum – and the appalling petulant and rude manner in which some users are addressing Twitter staff – which got me thinking more specifically about how, in so many ways, the timeline of the Twitter story mirrors that of Blogger and early blogging. Both have seen similar patterns of early usage and behaviour and adoption by certain functional and social groups, and both have learnt – the hard way, sometimes – about technical and social scaling issues as well as being a playground for emergent behaviours and activities, and all the fun and challenge that comes with that.
This isn’t an attempt to demonstrate that startups and new technologies are subject to many of the same pressures and reception issues – that’s been clearly documented and brilliantly expressed in Gartner’s Hype Curve. Rather, I wanted to explore some of the striking similarities in specific situations, movements and experiences in the early days of both micropublishing and blogging, from the perspective of an early settler and long-term resident of both of these strange and wonderful new(ish) countries.
So here’s something I’ve been working on for a little while: it’s a very approximate timeline of the activities, patterns, behaviours and reactions experienced by both Twitter (/micropublishing) and Blogger (/early blogging) during their first few years.
Read the rest of this entry »
Sep 2, 2009 2
Yesterday, a new empowering climate change campaign called 10:10 launched with the aim of encouraging as many people, companies and institutions as possible to sign up to a pledge to cut their personal carbon footprints by 10% during 2010.
Here’s a chunk from one of the articles from yesterday’s Guardian G2:
The 10:10 campaign, which is launched today in partnership with the Guardian, is designed both to answer the call for immediate action, and to offer individuals and organisations a meaningful way of taking it. It is the brainchild of Franny Armstrong, the irrepressible film-maker behind The Age of Stupid, a powerful docudrama about our failure to tackle climate change. The idea is compellingly simple: by signing up, individuals and organisations from multinational companies to schools and hospitals commit to doing their best to cut their emissions by 10% by the end of 2010, precisely the sort of deep, quick cut the scientists say is needed.
You can read much more about the initiative, the launch, the philosophy behind it and the difference that such an apparently small commitment would make here on the Guardian environment site (The Guardian is a supporting partner of 10:10, though this probably earns it a higher place on the IoS’s smuggest Britons list – this year we were included for being “Patronising toffs, taking their revenge on the world after being bullied at school.” Does that mean the IoS are pro-bully? Or just bitter? Most confusing. Anyway, I digress.) or at the official campaign site at http://www.1010uk.org.
I signed up yesterday:
10% is a very achievable reduction for the vast majority of people, and can be made through a small number of very simple (and not too hairshirted) actions (which we should all be doing anyway and which take very little effort)..
I’m inspired to think that a committed movement of people making small, personal but significant actions might be able to make a real difference. What was it Margaret Mead said…?
I hope you will consider signing up, too, and encourage your friends to do likewise, even though I know that many people try to live in an environmentally-sensitive way already, for lots of varying individual reasons.
Proselytizing aside, I went along to the launch event yesterday at the Tate Modern on London’s south bank, and had a few thoughts and experiences there that I wanted to jot down while they were still in my head.
Read the rest of this entry »
Jul 13, 2009 13
Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could not only visit a particular place for a holiday but visit it during a particular era?
I’ve been thinking about this in preparation for our upcoming visit to San Francisco, a city that I know and love and have visited a number of times over the past 20 years (erk!). It’s always good to visit (and especially so nowadays, as I have family and friends there), but on the train the other day I found myself ruminating about how interesting it would be to visit that incredible city, but during it’s hippified free-love-and-flowers-in-your-hair heyday in the late sixties. Or during the wild days of the Barbary coast?
What if you could book a holiday in the past?
That got me thinking about other places with particular times it would be interesting or characteristic to visit – like Manhattan during the late 50s and early 60s – the Madmen era.
Or London during the swinging 60s…wait, is this just a 60s thing? No, there must be other places with characterful or formative times associated with them…. Help me out here.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s imagine that the tourism time machine doesn’t go further than 200 years without your face melting off, so no visiting of Pompei or having hot chocolate with the Aztecs.
Where would you choose? And when?
Jul 21, 2008 11
Dear Twitter Friend,
There’s no easy way to say this, no sugar coating that can make this pill easier to swallow: It’s over. I’m breaking up with you.
When we got together, it was fun. The medium was young and we were playful; trading confidences and sharing snapshots of experience with our social groups via the constraint of 140 characters.
Offline, we met for drinks and events and our conversations spilled over into IM, email: You had my phone number, like I had yours, but we used Twitter to send D messages instead of texts – so much easier to type than thumb-fumble.
We lived in the fragile familiarity of the overlapping Venn of our friends. Life was good.
And then things changed. The site became popular. You grew with it, started to gather contacts and acquaintances until they began to multiply of their own accord, like copper coins by the end of a day. Soon, your Twitter contacts list was made up of more followers than friends – people with whom you had a string of casual textual encounters.
The intimacies we’d once shared, ambient and otherwise, were gone. I was still private, protected, placing trust in those I’d selected to belong to my community, but you had opened up, and it had all become a game. You had no time for mere status updates now, when you could be interfacing with the world; broadcasting, gaily @ting in public with the masses (where a quick D would have done just as well), flaunting public displays of affectation.
But still I clung to the relationship. I wanted to believe that the connection we had was personal, special; that you valued what I had to say as much as what you put out there; that like me, you were listening and speaking from the perspective that ours was a shared social space, that what we said needed to be relevant or at least interesting to everyone else forced to listen.
I was wrong.
You began to use our relationship as a way to bombard me with stuff. You carried on conversations with others in front of me (and everyone else).
You used our personal connection instead of a blog; instead of a search engine; instead of an IM client; instead of a loudhailer; instead of an RSS feed.
You mistook my lack of constant interaction for receptive listening and overshared the minutae of your day; that conference; the gig you were at. The platform became more important to you than the people on it. It became important to you that #everything #you #said #was #findable.
You blurred personal with public, and friendship with frequency. You used tools to interface with The Community (and me, somewhere in it) which aped IM clients or blogging extensions.
Or if you weren’t spreading it on thickly, you were silent: watching, listening, taking more than you gave, letting my candid confessions of everyday existence hang pregnantly in the ether between us without sharing your own experience of life, or what it is like in words. Silence sounds a lot like judgement: feels unbalanced when we’re down at the pub and is no more comfortable online.
The discomfort of the relationship became the elephant in the room; the moose on the table; the failwhale in the jamjar. When I found myself gritting teeth when you flooded a page (especialy when there was no “older” link) or @ted at people instead of IM, I knew it was time to do something bold.
So I searched for a pause button. I hunted for ways to stem the torrent of trivia, the bombardment of your broadcast persona loud in my browser. I wanted to find a way to keep the closeness we’d once had while also making you realise that I valued our relationship but I couldn’t carry on like this.
But there’s no pause button. And so I’m breaking it off. If you don’t see me in your contact list anymore, this is why: I’m a friend, not one of your followers.
I’m sorry – I wish there was another way – but it’s clear that our connection means something different to me than to you. There have been too many small irritations or lapses of what passes for reasonable social behaviour for this to be ignored.
It’s time to call it a day.
I still value your friendship – you must remember that – and we’ll still have pints in the pub, emails, and the occasional IM. There are loads of ways we can communicate comfortably again – I’ll still be reading your blog, looking out for you on my buddy list, subscribed to your RSS. I’ll look forward to you tumbling into my browser, full of the youness of your life and passions. Maybe you’ll be reading my online stuff, too. I hope we can hold onto something of what once brought us together.
Maybe at some point in the future, your Twitter stream will split and you’ll have different streams and modes of communication for different kinds of people depending on relevance and relationship. Maybe, one day, I hope.
But until then, until we can share the same social space without it feeling like a burden or an infringement or a chore, it’s time to make the break. It’s for our own good.
Until that day, I remain, forever, your friend,
(PS I’m not breaking up with Twitter, the app. I’ll still use it, and still see other people on it. I’m just pruning my community, is all; This isn’t about Twitter. This is about you and how you use it.)
Jul 7, 2008 19
You know when someone goes to the doctor in a movie, or in real life, and s/he looks gravely at the nervous patient and tells them he’s got some bad news and then describes the size of it and it’s always the size of a soft fruit. And as with tumours, cysts and other noxious swellings, so with babies.
And then when certain news organisations write stories about deforestation, oil slicks or similar, they compare the rate of loss with leisure facilities, principalities, or small nations.
The thing about all of these things is that they are universal. An apple is an apple is an apple. Everyone knows how big an elephant is. All of these things have a human scale, and can be imagined at will, to make a relevant comparison or to describe something else.
With that in mind, I’ve been trying to come up with a scale for the universal units of measurement (used for everything from foetus growth to tumours to deforestation). These are all things I’ve heard used as a relative size for things, but I’m sure it’s not exhaustive: Please add your own, if you know of others.
- Grain of sand
- Human hair
- Golf ball
- Kiwi fruit
- Tennis ball
- Credit card
- Can of Coke
- Pack of cigarettes/Pack of playing cards (in these more enlightened times)
- Honeydew melon
- Paperback book
- Football/Bowling ball
- Hardback book
- Big dog
- Family car
- Garden shed
- Double-decker bus
- Nelson’s column
- Football field
- Isle of Wight
- Mount Everest
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, trying saying the words “..about the size of a…” in front of any of the above.
(your suggestions and other late additions are in italics)
Feb 6, 2008 8
Last night, out for dinner with a group of friends in celebration of one of our number’s birthday, I mentioned that I had noticed that in an awful lot of articles lamenting the lately departed entertainer and king of trivia and video clips, Jeremy Beadle, he was referred to as a “Prankster”.
In fact, a casual search on the interwebs shows that he’s been referred to as such online on no fewer than 464,000 occasions, and that his name occurs in nearly a fifth of all search results for “prankster”. This is surely the only proof required.
This got me thinking about where “prankster” registers in the general field of japes and subterfuge, which in turn got us talking about whether there was, in fact, a continuum of such things, into which all of the various shades of japery, trickery and subterfuge might appear.
And you know, there is. And here’s how the categories break out, with a full explanation of each, and examples, after the jump.
Jul 24, 2007 8
As some of you may know, I had to go into hospital last week – nothing particularly dramatic, and I’m much better now, but serious enough at the time to warrant 24 hours under observation and on IV medication.
I’ve never been in hospital before – though I’ve obviously visited other people in them, and had the odd outpatients appointment. When I was much, much younger, my somewhat, erm, adventurous approach to play landed me in casualty a few times, but I was always discharged a few hours later, swaddled in bandages or splinted and hopping.
So it was with some surprise that I heard the registrar say “hmm, we think you should be admitted for a bit, so we can keep an eye on things…”
It wasn’t a terrible experience – though IVs hurt, and they don’t tell you that on Grey’s Anatomy – but hospitals are, well, a bit shabby and very, very boring.
In fact at one point, starved of stimulus and interaction with the outside world (and food, though on reflection perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing), and lying immobile as another round of drugs drip-drip-dripped into my left arm, I found myself pondering how spending a night in an NHS hospital is not dissimilar to spending a night flying club class, on the redeye from the west coast of the US to London.
Ways in which the experiences are similar:
- There’s not much privacy
- If you end up next to someone really chatty, they want to talk All. The. Time. and you can’t get away, because there’s nowhere to go.
- You don’t get a whole lot of choice about where you’re going to be while there. If you don’t like your spot, you can’t really ask them to move you.
- The bed is too narrow and unfamiliar.
- There aren’t enough pillows/blankets.
- You’re unable to control your environment, so are constantly slightly uncomfortable: too hot/too cold etc
- Sleeping hours constantly filled with mysterious humming, clanking, thrumming and other background noise including doors slamming and the bingbong! of phones ringing
- There’s a constant undertone of other people snoring, which you can’t do anything about
- You find it really difficult to get to sleep because of the unfamiliar, uncomfortable and slightly stressful environment
- …and when you do finally get to sleep, you can only rest fitfully because you keep waking up (or being woken up) periodically during the night
- …and when you do finally drift off properly, you get woken up about an hour later because the timetable dictates that everyone should be awake at that point.
- The staff all wear uniforms.
- You have to try to relax in close proximity to total strangers.
- The lights on/off at a specific time.
- Staff come by to check on you every once in a while.
- The food isn’t what you’d eat at home.
- Entertainment options are limited to whatever you brought in with you.
- You’ve got a slight, nagging concern that your ipod/game device battery is going to run out
- You can’t use your mobile phone.
- Bathroom facilities are not up to much, and you have to wait your turn, and you are haunted by the overwhelming sense that other people have used it. Recently.
- You can’t easily wash, and if you want to get changed you have to do it in semi-public or in a cramped washroom cubicle.
- You can’t step outside for a breath of fresh air.
- You want to wear slippers all the time, because even though you know they clean things, you are aware that this is a high-volume traffic area – lots and lots and lots of people have passed through this area.
- There’s a strange smell around – processed air, cleaning products, plastic, foam-rubber…
- The staff have an outward air of friendliness, though you know that they’re not really in the hospitality industry and that you’re getting in the way of them having an easy life.
- When you get out, you’re relieved, very tired and in desperate need of a shower.
- At the time, it’s a pretty miserable experience, but looking back on it after a good night’s sleep, it doesn’t seem too bad.