Friday, 24 July 2015

I can't quit you

Or: the rise and fall of Facebook
I'd quite like to not be on Facebook anymore. Not for any hipster-ish reasons - as knowing my friends, that will be the first accusation, and if that were my reasoning, I'd have deleted my account years ago. It's just kind of... boring now. I sort of can't be bothered. There's very rarely anything good on there. And that's not a specific accusation levelled at the people I'm friends with, not at all - it's simply that my social circle joined it at about 17, and while we've been changing over the last few years, so has Facebook itself.

Teenagers aren't joining it now (I have this on good authority from my 14-year-old sister) - probably because their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents are, and are posting pictures of their walking holidays and mid-morning snacks, and bitching about the weather/the government/traffic. It used to be where you posted 102 pictures of one night out, then complained and commiserated about your hangover, then planned the next night. Statuses covered everything from the ever-so-slightly-amusing, to the wryly self-mocking, to the unashamed complaining. Now, I don't have too much of a problem with the inevitable rise of engagement ring/wedding/baby photos - well, I suppose it depends on how bitter hormonal I'm feeling, but most of the time, I quite like looking at pictures of pretty jewellery and dresses and cute babies. Who doesn't?!

Because the kids wised up very quickly when they saw that it was where Mum was posting their baby pictures, and decided not to go there, it's become a place for grown-ups to check up on each other. It's a given now that employers will search for the profiles of prospective employees - in an interview last January, the interviewer said to me "I see we've got a couple of mutual friends, how do you know Dan Smith?" (Not his real name, clearly.) This was eighteen months ago, and it felt a bit weird then, but now, I'm just assuming it will happen.

These days, my social media channel of choice is Twitter, which trounces Facebook in almost every way. It moves faster - if you forget to close the tab and then look back after a few minutes have passed, there will be at least 50 new bits of content. With the 140-character limit, there's less space for the braggers and moaners to brag and moan. It's perfect place for writers and wordy types - unlike the rest of the internet, on Twitter, text performs better than images, in terms of content-sharing (Twitter people are MY people). If it's images you're into, there's Instagram.

Twitter is also slightly less showy-offy, and a bit more "let's just share fun and interesting things with each other". Obviously this isn't always the case; a number of high-profile Twitter users - mainly women - have had truly shocking experiences with the site, and it has been very hard to get that abuse taken seriously. But for the small-time, non-famous user, it's a pretty good spot to be. Especially if you like words.

The other brilliant thing about Twitter is the sense of community. A gorgeous example came a couple of Fridays ago, during Channel 4's The Last Leg - while discussing the Budget, comedian Adams Hills suggested that anyone who was in need of, or could offer help (anything  - doing some shopping, mowing the lawn, looking over a CV) should tweet their offer or request with the hashtag #legup. Within an hour or so, there were nearly 16,000 tweets containing the hashtag. "If we're going to get screwed," said Hills, "we might as well push back". It was totally heartwarming - I saw requests for jobs answered with "send me your CV!" as well as fundraising targets being smashed left, right and centre - all because for a few hours, genuinely decent people were connected, held at a virtual stopsign by social media.

There's a short list of things that stop me quitting Facebook altogether:

1) it's a good place to promote the blog. Every time I look at my stats*, the Facebook link is one of the highest traffic sources.

*Something I do embarrassingly often when you compare it to the amount of hits I actually get.

2) it's the easiest way to stay in touch with my farthest-flung friends. (I possibly need to examine my priorities, having just put "promoting my blog" above "having and keeping friends" - but there you go.)

3) the messaging function is handy (especially if you and/or your partner are, to use the technical term, utterly shite with your phones) - in spite of the slightly weird way it tells you when someone's 'seen' your message. I'm certain that's caused a billion arguments since its introduction - "I know you got my message, Steve; what the hell were you doing that it took you four hours to reply, hmmm? HMMM???"

Let's be honest, I'll probably stay on Facebook; it still has its uses, and not enough of my friends get Twitter (what's to get, guys? Imagine a virtual pub, around the time of last orders, where everyone's having opinions quite loudly and merrily). It won't be long before the next social networking site lumbers into view.

On the Bambi bookshelf

It's another creepy stalker thriller; but a straightforward one this time, told from the victim's point of view. Wonderfully dark, the characters cling to you like cobwebs and show up in your dreams, long after you've finished reading. And finishing it won't take long - I'm a fast reader anyway, but I tore through this in a matter of hours. I think I may need to try and move away from stalker stories now, though, as they're starting to freak me out.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Get loud.

When under pressure, or placed in a stressful situation, some people get loud. They shout, sigh, huff, bang doors, slam pens and books on their desks. They cry, and spit snarky retorts across rooms. (I'm one of these people.) Other people go quiet. They retreat, tuck themselves and their messy, unravelling feelings away, and go very still and say nothing at all.

We suspected the Budget would be bad news for the young, poor and vulnerable, and our collective sense of dread turned out to be utterly justified. In short: "Housing benefit has been scrapped for 18-21 year olds, the new minimum wage will not apply to anyone under 25 and maintenance grants for poorer university students are gone, replaced with another loan. Our poorest students will now leave university with a higher debt than those from more affluent backgrounds" (from here).

The comment pieces that appeared in the days that followed were telling: "What have young people done to Osborne to deserve such contempt?" asked The Guardian's Polly Toynbee - to which I suspect the answer has less to do with what they have done and more to do with what what they didn't do - i.e. vote for a party that wasn't the Conservatives. Jonathan Freedland, also at The Guardian, had an interesting take on it. But it's Sali Hughes' piece on housing benefits, from The Pool, that best illustrates what these cuts will mean for young people.

It's simple, and stark - the less money and support you have, the smaller your world gets – and the bigger, darker and scarier the ‘outside’ becomes. Opportunities flicker and evaporate, and the chances to change your situation appear less and less often, and eventually stop cropping up altogether.

You come to a standstill. You are young – late teens, early twenties – but you are not how young people are ‘supposed’ to be, which is sociable, lively, ambitious, and energetic.

You have to spread your energy thinly, so eventually you stop moving, stop dreaming, stop fighting – because moving, dreaming and fighting require fuel and fire you cannot afford to expend.

You stop fighting your own corner, and don’t have anyone to fight it for you.

This is how you crush a generation – you take away their support, you make it harder still for them to progress, you all but tell them they don’t matter. They don’t have a place in this country; it isn’t built for them.

You write them out of their own stories; render them voiceless and inanimate. But in doing so, you set fire to the future. Because that’s what happens if you screw over the young – you burn any hope of a better future; you reduce all the cities and ideas and stories that would have come, had they been given even half a chance, to ash.

Those of us with voices and homes and fuel and heat must now get loud, on behalf of those without. Those of us who can act, should - march, protest, join societies, make it known that this is not what a lot of us voted for, this is not the society we want. Make some noise.

Sorry this is quite a bleak one. You know what's not bleak? This song. Just try not singing along. Just you try.