Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

In the past two days, I’ve ended up in two different arguments with two different men – both of them strangers – in two different forums, about two (ostensibly) different issues; and yet their methods of argument, even their language, have proven eerily similar. The first argument happened on Facebook, when a friend posted a joke about MRAs (“How many Men’s Rights Activists does it take to change a lightbulb? Not all of them!”) and one of her¬†friends chimed in to assert that, as feminists, we were hypocrites for finding it funny, because if the joke were being told about women, we’d be outraged. The second argument happened on Twitter, when, in response to my tweeting Mallory Ortberg’s recent deconstruction of a sexist book review, an unknown man asked both of us, plus another woman, whether we’d have been just as outraged if the targeted reviewer had been female (the implication being that we were, once again, hypocrites).

Both disputes began with a single man challenging two or more feminist women to defend their beliefs on the basis of a hypothetical genderflip from male to female which, in both cases, completely missed the point of the conversation. In the first argument, changing the subject’s gender would obviously have an impact on how the joke was received, because the joke is explicitly contextualised by our awareness of gender inequality,¬†the punchline a verbatim reference to the cry of “Not ALL men!” with which MRAs so frequently – and aggressively – attempt to derail¬†feminist discourse about sexism and misogyny. To suggest, therefore, that such a joke is offensive on the grounds that a genderflipped version would be even moreso is to fundamentally misunderstand that this is the actual point of the joke: namely, that even though women are still being ¬†disenfranchised by an¬†entrenched culture of sexism, the first response of too many men is to act as though their hurt feelings at being accused of sexism, however tangentially, is the greater evil.

By contrast, the proposed genderflip ¬†in the second argument was ineffective for the opposite reason: though Ortberg’s piece certainly made mention, not only of the reviewer’s gender, but of the fact that she’d yet to see the book in question reviewed by a woman, the ultimate point was simply that the review itself¬†was written in a sexist manner; that this was not a helpful¬†way for anyone to review women’s writing. Had a female reviewer written the exact same piece, replete with the exact same biases and problematic turns of phrase, Ortberg might certainly have worded her response differently, if only in the sense of attributing the reviewer’s attitude to internalised sexism rather than male privilege, but the source material¬†would still have been sexist,¬†and therefore deserving of the exact same level of outrage. For our interlocutor to have based his¬†opening rhetorical sally on the idea that female feminists will be naturally more inclined to excuse sexism if it comes from other women – and worse, to phrase this 101-level question as though we had¬†never once considered it before¬†– was not only deeply oblivious, but actively insulting.

To be clear: genderflipping can be – and frequently is – a useful rhetorical device in conversations about both sexism generally and the more specific issues facing persons of all genders. But its usefulness is always going to be contextually dependant on the user’s understanding, not only of what sexism is, but how and why it functions. Because sexism is fundamentally a problem of inequality, the subversive impact of a well-executed genderflip rests in its ability to switch the (im)balance of power in unexpected ways, thereby highlighting the fact that it exists to be subverted in the first place. Genderflipping an argument to support or restore¬†the status quo, however – whether by asking us to sympathise with those already deemed sympathetic, or to approve¬†the power of those already powerful, at the expense of those already viewed as unsympathetic or powerless – is not only a wrongheaded misuse of the technique, but a catastrophic failure of comprehension. The same is true of other subversive flips, like racebending (which is why, for instance, Victoria Foyt’s Revealing Eden: Save the Pearls was such an all-out disaster).

The fact that these two men deployed the exact same tactic for the same, poor reason was notable. That their subsequent responses also aligned was downright creepy – and I mean that in the fullest sense of the word. In response to their condescending language, I referred to each man in tern as patronising, half in anger, half in the hope that they might rethink their approaches. Here is how they responded:

On Facebook:¬†Being patronizing is so much fun you are welcome for it… You may be right but your anger clouds your point and makes it seem far to emotional and not logical. Now before you go off your rocker that I just equated your style of rhetoric with classic feminine traits, I will say that I have done this very thing to men on facebook and gotten the same overly emotional reaction… I always am deliberately patronizing because it would be a waste of the day to do it by accident.¬† ¬†¬†

On Twitter: My pathetic faux-humour patronizes men and women in equal measure. Men find me every bit as exhausting.

In other words, both men¬†accepted that, yes, they were indeed being deliberately patronising, but that I had no grounds for finding their approach sexist, because they were just as rude to men – as though, once again, completely¬†ignoring both the context and the content of the conversation was sufficient to make the accusation go away. Nor is this curious tactic of attempting to deny sexism by claiming misanthropy, or some version of it – as though an admission of being rude to everyone completely rules out the possibility of being rude to certain types of person in specific, culturally coded ways – a two-man anomaly. To quote from Lindy West’s¬†How to Make a Rape Joke:

This fetishization of not censoring yourself, of being an “equal-opportunity offender,” is bizarre and bad for comedy. When did “not censoring yourself” become a good thing? We censor ourselves all the time, because we are not entitled, sociopathic fucks… And being an “equal opportunity offender”‚ÄĒas in, “It’s okay, because Daniel Tosh makes fun of ALL people: women, men, AIDS victims, dead babies, gay guys, blah blah blah”‚ÄĒfalls apart when you remember (as so many of us are forced to all the time) that all people are¬†not in equal positions of power. “Oh, don’t worry‚ÄĒI punch everyone in the face! People, baby ducks, a lion, this Easter Island statue, the ocean‚Ķ” Okay, well that baby duck is dead now. And you’re a duck-murderer. It’s really easy to believe that “nothing is sacred” when the sanctity of your body and your freedom are never legitimately threatened.

Both encounters were frustrating and draining; both left me feeling like I’d wasted time, effort and emotional energy engaging with someone who viewed my exhaustion and distress as a personal victory. ¬†It is disputes like this, in fact – not so much for their content, but for their frequency and duration – which so often prompt people to say, Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t engage. Just ignore them, and they’ll go away. But as I’ve said elsewhere, and as much as even such minor encounters increasingly threaten to burn me out, this isn’t advice I’m willing to take. Like playground bullies, trolls don’t go away when ignored: quite the opposite. They take silence to mean they’ve won, or as assent, or as a challenge to try harder: either way, it invariably emboldens them. I’m not for an instant suggesting that¬†people should engage above and beyond their coping level, or that we should all die on every half-assed rhetorical hill that drops into our blog comments with a virtual smirk and the suggestion that lol maybe ur overreacting??? – I just don’t believe that silence is the answer. This sort of behaviour isn’t anomalous; it’s part of a pattern, and one which needs to be identified before it can ever hope to be changed.

As has been well-documented by now, subconscious bias is a tricky thing. With the best will in the world, it’s still entirely possible to be blindsided by privilege; to make linguistic, social or narrative choices that reinforce negative stereotypes or which disenfranchise others. This is why it’s so important to think critically about the media we consume and the stories we tell, and to listen when others point out patterns in our behaviour – whether culturally or individually – that are indicative of a deeper, more subtle prejudice. Despite the irrevocable fact that humans are creatures of culture, it can be difficult to determine the origins of our default settings, if only because it disquiets us to think that hidden elements might be influencing our decisions. What does free will mean, if our actions are ultimately informed by beliefs we never knew we held? As tempting as it is to think of subconscious bias as a sort of Jedi mind-trick (something that only works on the stupid or weak-willed; which is to say, other people), that’s only a comforting lie. Our brains get up to all sorts of mischief without our conscious supervision – everything from catching a ball to regulating our hormones – so why should our thoughts be sacrosanct?

The intersection of the collective and the personal, therefore, is a fascinating place: the junction at which we as individuals both shape the culture around us and are shaped by it in turn – a symbiotic ecosystem whose halves have merged, oroborous-like, into a whole. Our actions, no matter how unique to us in terms of motivation, don’t happen in a vacuum; but despite its ubiquity, culture as a concept is amorphous. Trying to convince someone that their behaviour has been influenced by external social pressures – particularly if the end result undermines their good intentions – is like nailing smoke to the wall. I know what I meant, people say, and it had nothing to do with¬†that. And if you don’t know what I was thinking, then how can you possibly judge me?

Let me tell you a story. As a child, I was deeply, innately contrary, but in a very specific way: I couldn’t bear to be told, “You’ll like this!” Even at the age of five, it seemed like such a wholly offensive assumption ¬†– the very cheek of it, adults daring to lecture me on my preferences! – that I would instantly resolve, with the stubborn, bodily determination of children, to hate on principle anything that was thusly recommended. By contrast, anything I was told I wouldn’t like because it was too old for me, or that I wouldn’t understand, I made a perverse effort to enjoy: I simply couldn’t bear the idea that anyone else might know me as well as – or better than – I did. Had my parents ever thought to deploy it, reverse psychology doubtless would’ve worked a treat; instead, I ended up fleeing the room with my hands clapped over my ears when my father first tried to read me The Hobbit, so adamant was my refusal to meet his expectations. I’ve grown much less contrary with age, of course, but even so, it’s still an active process: I have to constantly watch myself, and a big part of that is acknowledging that other people’s opinions don’t magically become invalid just because they’re assessing my thought process.

The point being, external criticism is just as important as internal certainty. The two perspectives are a necessary balance, and while being firmly mired in my own brain is a viewpoint unique to me, that doesn’t mean other people can’t make relevant observations about my behaviour – or, more importantly, about my place in a pattern to which my privilege has rendered me oblivious.

Which brings me to the current explosion of websites, memes, Twitter feeds and tumblrs dedicating to crowdsourcing proof of the ubiquity of prejudice. Once upon a time, for instance, if a colleague or acquaintance made a disturbing remark at the pub – such real-world locales being the default point of comparison whenever we start worrying about being held accountable for the things we say online – then there’d be no record of the comment beyond the level of individual memory. At best, we might have written it down as close to verbatim as possible, but then what would happen? Nothing, as there was nowhere to put such information and no reasonable means of distributing it. More likely, we’d vent our outrage by retelling the story to others, but with each iteration, the tale would weaken, eventually becoming little more than an¬†anecdote whose relevance our audience could deny, or whose truthfulness they could question, on the basis of a lack of solid evidence. ‘It was just a one-off,’ they might say – but without the testimony of others to support our claim that the remark was representative of a bigger problem, how could we possibly prove otherwise?

Now, though, people’s prejudicial comments are anything but ephemeral. Everything from status updates to dating profiles is a matter of public record, and even if we go back and try to edit or delete our words, the simple magic of screencapping means that an original copy may still exist. When that sort of data is passed along, there can be no uncertainty as to what was really said, because nothing is being degraded in the transmission. Even in instances where sites are collecting, not screencaps, but personal stories of bias and discrimination, the cumulative effect of seeing so many similar incidents ranged together serves to undermine the suggestion that any one victim was simply overreacting. Thanks to the interconnectedness of the internet, disparate individuals are now uniting to prove that the prejudice they experience is neither all in their heads nor the result of isolated bigotry, but rather part of a wider, more pervasive cultural problem. And where such data is collected en masse, it becomes progressively harder to deny the truth of their experiences: because if our whole reason for doubting specific accounts of prejudice is based on the assumption of an unreliable narrator, then how are we to justify our dismissal of hundreds – perhaps even thousands – of similar cases?

Frustrated by constantly encountering the same sort of sexist abuse online and then being told that the problem was a minor one perpetrated solely by idiot teenage boys, female gamers responded by setting up Fat, Ugly or Slutty¬†and Not In The Kitchen Anymore, two hefty databases of audiofiles, screenshots and in-game videos that stand as collective testament to the scope of their routine harassment. Sick of being told that their experiences of condescension and exclusion¬†from sexist, racist colleagues was only so much thin-skinned paranoia, academics have begun documenting their experiences at sites like Mansplained¬†and What Is It Like To Be A Woman In Philosophy?, the better to highlight the prevalence of such bias.¬†Tired of seeing female characters drawn in objectifying postures that are, quite literally, anatomically impossible, discerning fans have set up sites like Boobs Don’t Work That Way and Escher Girls to document the problem. In recent days, when Twitter has been inundated with racism in response to topics as varied as the US election results and the recent Red Dawn movie, angry netizens have collectively banded together to take screenshots, collate the data and then name and shame those responsible, as per the modus operandi of sites like Hello There, Racists¬†and Hunger Games Tweets. For street harassment, there’s any number of tumblrs to choose from – which is itself a depressing reflection on just how common a problem it is – along with sites like¬†Hollaback and Catcalled¬†that are trying to combat the issue directly.

There are collective resources for day to day instances of sexism, like About Male Privilege, Everyday Media Sexism¬†and Everyday Sexism;¬†resources for sexual harassment and abuse, like Got Stared At;¬†and¬†Twitter feeds dedicated to weeding out some of the more disturbing quotes from sites like¬†Reddit¬†and various¬†PUA¬†(Pick-Up Artist)¬†message boards. There’s also the utterly heartbreaking Project Unbreakable, which consists of pictures of rape survivors holding up signs bearing chilling quotes from their rapists. From the LGBTQ side of things, there are tumblrs like I’m Not Homophobic, But¬†(two of them, actually);¬†Dear Cis People, which is a collective of messages from trans individuals trying to counter prejudice; and¬†Things My Transphobic Mother Says, which does what it says on the tin. And then, of course, there’s seemingly endless bingo cards: arguments that various communities have heard so many times as to render them both offensively unoriginal and predictive of the ignorance of their interlocutors. Examples include Anti-Comics Feminist Bingo,¬†Sexism In Games Bingo, Racism In SF Bingo, Political Racism Bingo, MRA Bingo, Homo/Biphobic Bingo¬†and GLBT Fiction Bingo – and that’s just for starters.

As demonstrated by the¬†mixed¬†public¬†reaction¬†to the recently established¬†Nice Guys of OK Cupid¬†tumblr (to say nothing of the¬†outrage¬†its¬†existence¬†has¬†provoked¬†among¬†detractors), this new breed of public shaming, whereby ordinary people are publicly mocked for saying bigoted, offensive, or downright creepy things on the internet, tends to be viewed with a combination of schadenfreude, resentful worry and outright rubbernecking – and yet, at the same time, it undeniably fills a relevant need. Because, as demonstrated by¬†the recent exposure of Redditor Michael Brutsch, aka Violentacrez¬†and the concurrent discovery of actual criminal behaviour within his subreddits, there can be a disturbing correlation – though not necessarily causation – between saying horrendous things online about women, POC and LGBTQ persons, and actually threatening, endangering or actively harming such persons through hate speech, stalking or other criminal behaviour. Legally, however, there’s almost no way to take such behaviour as a warning sign and initiative useful preventative strategies: until or unless someone actually ends up hurt – thought of course, psychological suffering is seldom counted – the justice system is useless. Employers and schools, on the other hand, have proven themselves more than willing to sack or discipline staff and students whose online hijinks attract the wrong kind of attention – or, more worryingly, who simply dare to be critical of the institutions to which they belong; while some have even been fired for defending themselves from overt discrimination.

This is hardly an ideal situation, not least because it places the burden of extrajudicial justice into the hands of individuals whose only available form of reprimand – the withdrawal of money or education – is arguably the worst possible reaction to such offenses. Aside from doing nothing to address the root cause of the problem and everything to exacerbate a sense of entitled resentment that the mighty forces of Politically Correct Censorship are reaching out to ruin the lives of ordinary, hard-working people, this sort of trial by media – or rather, trial by¬†institutional¬†response to trial by media – sets a dangerous precedent in allowing organisations unparalleled scope to punish employees, not for their on-job actions, but for who they are as people. And yet, by the same token, we as humans don’t just switch off our bigotry the minute we clock on at work or enter school grounds. If an employee’s online behaviour is saturated with undeniable racism and misogyny – and if that person is employed alongside women and POC – then how can their beliefs in the one sphere not be demonstrably relevant to their actions in the other? If subconscious bias is enough to measurably affect the decisions of even the most well-intentioned people, then how much more damaging might the influence of conscious bias be?

More and more, it seems, we’re crowdsourcing our stories of prejudice – and, as a consequence, policing ourselves and others – out of a sense of desperation. Despite technically being on our side, in the sense that most forms of discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation are illegal, the legal and judiciary systems are years away from being able to effectively intervene in instances of online harassment, while even the concept of a dedicated mechanism, agency or other such authoritative body designed to step in and address the problem in lieu of random mob justice feels improbable. Eventually, it’s inevitable that both our cultural assumptions and our standard response to online bigotry will evolve, but progress towards that point will be slow and haphazard, and in the mean time, there’s still an obvious problem to be addressed.

Writing several years ago on the decline of traditional print media, technological commentator Clay Shirky drew a comparison between our current state of change and the turmoil that was first produced by the introduction of the printing press. To quote:

During the wrenching transition to print, experiments were only revealed in retrospect to be turning points. Aldus Manutius, the Venetian printer and publisher, invented the smaller¬†octavo¬†volume along with italic type. What seemed like a minor change ‚ÄĒ take a book and shrink it ‚ÄĒ was in retrospect a key innovation in the democratization of the printed word. As books became cheaper, more portable, and therefore more desirable, they expanded the market for all publishers, heightening the value of literacy still further.

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. (Luther and the Church both insisted, for years, that whatever else happened, no one was talking about a schism.) Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify.

And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.

And so it is, I suspect, with the rules that previously governed the separation of our personal, public and working lives. All three spheres overlap in ways they previously didn’t simply because our physical presence in a given space is no longer the most pertinent factor in determining when and how we inhabit it, and under whose aegis. Intuitively, it makes sense to assume that someone who believes women to be inherently submissive will shrink from promoting female employees to positions of dominance, because even were such a person inclined to try and act against their instincts for the sake of corporate equality, we as people aren’t so compartmentalised that the attempt would always meet with success. And yet, what else can we do but try? Nobody is perfect, and the solution to deep-seated bigotry isn’t simply to fire or expel everyone who dares to express the least bit of prejudice; all that does is encourage the use of subtle discrimination, while the underlying problems still remain. In the mean time, though, we have shaming tumblrs and bingo cards and angry, public discussions about the cognitive dissonance necessary to claim that one is a gentleman while simultaneously asserting that sometimes, other people are obliged to have sex with you, because society is yet to construct a viable alternative.

It’s by no means a perfect solution – or even, in fact, a solution at all. Rather, it’s a response to the widespread assumption that there isn’t even a problem to be solved, or which can be solved, or which is demonstrably worth solving. And until we’ve debunked that assumption, there’s nothing else to be done but to keep on amassing data, calling out bigotry and using such tools as are available to us to see what happens next. As Shirky says, it’s a revolution, and until we’ve come out on the other side, there’s simply no way of knowing what will happen. All we can do is watch and wait and learn – and keep on tumblring.

 

There has been some concern this week about sexism in Australian university colleges; specifically, at St Paul’s College, Sydney University, after it came to light that a group of male students had created a pro-rape/anti-consent group on Facebook called ‘Define Statutory’. Not without reason, this has sparked outrage in various quarters.

Allow me to add to it.

Prior to commencing my time as an undergraduate at Sydney University, I interviewed for a place in two of its co-educational colleges: St Andrews and Wesley. From all the reading I’d done beforehand, St Andrews had been my first choice. Ironically, given that it was where I ended up living in 2004 and 2005, Wesley was something of an afterthought; what swayed me was being introduced to the resident turtles, a trio of doleful chelonians camped in the courtyard pond. During my interview, I distinctly remember joking to the now outgoing master, Reverend David Russell, that any college with turtles couldn’t be all bad. He laughed, and as much as anything else, I suspect it was this which saw me accepted as one of his students.

I was also offered a place at St Andrews. I turned it down. Arriving for the interview, I was already nervous, and when the petite female student giving me a tour of the college mentioned having been stuffed into one of the dryers by a group of male yearmates, my trepidation was not improved. She waved off the incident as a prank, but with a sort of wry, wary eyeroll that wasn’t entirely reassuring. Her anecdote followed me into the interview room. I don’t recall whether I mentioned it explicitly or voiced instead a general anxiety about the behaviour of male collegians, but whatever my words, they caused the master to straighten in his chair, his voice to change. He admitted, seriously and with a mix of shame and anger, that there was still a ‘rugger bugger’ culture in the upper forms, but that I could rest assured that both he and the college as a whole were doing their best to stamp it out. Perhaps he assumed my knowledge of campus sexual politics to be greater than it was, or maybe my concern was more obvious than I remember. Either way, he went so far as to say that, though there had been ‘incidents’ even in recent times, he deplored them. Because of these assurances, he said, I could feel safe at St Andrews.

I appreciated his honesty, his forthrightness and his clear willingness to fix an entrenched culture, but I did not feel safe. On that basis, as much as for the turtles, I chose Wesley, where my chances of being bundled into a cramped metal box seemed smaller. Certainly, I never had to fight free of any laundry equipment in my two years as a resident. I did, however, have fun: I got drunk, I made friends, played copious amounts of MarioKart in lieu of attending morning lectures, went to parties at the surrounding colleges, and acted in most respects like the undergraduate I was. I was never sexually abused at college, nor did I know of anyone during my tenure, male or female, who was. But that is not to say that nothing ever happened.

In 2005, I went, alone, to a party at St Paul’s. I was feeling adventurous, rebellious, flush with the need to meet new people and enjoy my youth. Being an unaccompanied, slender blonde in a short blue dress and rainbow knee-socks, I soon found myself a group of new acquaintances – friendly lads, all of them, and not the least bit menacing. We drank together for most of the night, and at some point, the ringleader of our particular group suggested we retire inside, where the drinking continued in his room. There were about fourteen of us, I think – not a small number – and from hazy memory, I was the only girl. This was not an unfamiliar dynamic to me: the vast bulk of my school friends were male, and I’d often been the lone female presence at various teenaged gatherings. I was confident, if drunk; I laughed with everyone else when the guy whose room it was stripped down to his underpants and tackled a mate, and did not object to his occasional hugs. I did not feel threatened, or preyed upon, or vulnerable, but whether this would be true for every girl in that situation is a different question.

Twice during that night, I wandered into the hallway – not alone, but as part of the general overflow of bodies. There was a boy I didn’t know whose room was across the hall; I’d seen him throughout the night, and he seemed to have noticed me, too. The first time we met, he beckoned me over to his doorway. I went, wondering drunkenly what he wanted to talk to me about, only to find I was being quite unexpectedly kissed and pulled into a room. I disentangled myself as graciously as possible; he grinned as if to say ‘oh, well’,¬† and let me go. The second time, I was warier, but still lacking in sober judgement: it took several attempts for him to coax me over, proffering apologies and saying that, in all seriousness, he needed to tell me something. It turned out to be a case of fool me twice: I escaped again and left the party soon after, having been jolted back into my senses. Once outside, the cold air woke me up further. Had I drunk just a little bit more, been a little less in control of myself, I might have done something I later came to regret. The guy hadn’t been forceful, or aggressive: just hopeful. That’s not a defence, of course – or at least, it wouldn’t have been, had my decisions been less intelligent. He was soused to the nines, and so was I. We were both stupid, but we were also lucky. There are worse combinations.

On another occasion in 2004, I failed to lock the door to my room at Wesley. I went to bed after a party, fell asleep, and was woken up about half an hour later when one of my male yearmates climbed in next to me. He’d blundered into the wrong room, but after I pointed this out to him, he professed himself too drunk and too weary to correct the mistake: could he sleep on my floor, please? I was tired, he was persistent. After a minute of arguing, I took the path of least resistance and agreed. Inside of three minutes, he had climbed back into my bed, at which point I lost my patience and ordered him out. After some complaints and several futile promises to mend his behaviour, he finally staggered to the door and left. I locked it after him and went back to sleep with little more than a muttered complaint and a weary eyeroll. Really, college men. What else could you do?

Both times, I emerged unscathed. To say that alcohol was a key factor in either incident is an understatement: arguably, it was the only factor. I was never assailed, per se, nor was the behaviour predatory: rather, I chalk it up to drunken male optimism. But the fact remains that it was male, and it was drunken, and it took place at college. Does that make it a consequence of chauvinist culture? Arguably, yes. Had my resolve been less firm, or either male more insistant, this would be a much darker narrative. Physically, I was at every disadvantage. The boys I encountered were undeniably opportunistic, but they didn’t press the issue once my feelings were made clear. That being said, they both made more than one sally; a more tired, more hesitant, less stubborn girl might have made worse choices, or had the possibility of choice taken away from her altogether. Not having spoken to either male in a state of sobriety, I am no fit judge of their daylight personalities. Were they sexist? Did they take pride in their college culture? Were they rugger buggers? I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now, but there are those who would contend, not unreasonably, that it shouldn’t matter either way: sober, they might never have climbed into my bed or tried to pull me into theirs, but sobriety didn’t enter into it.

When I read about the St Paul’s Facebook group, I feel angry, outraged on behalf of men and women alike. Rape is not funny, and it is not simple. Throw alcohol into the picture, and a college environment, and it is even less so. Being too drunk to remember forcing yourself on someone is not a defence, no matter how out of character it is. The act of rape does not fall into a moral grey area, even if the circumstances surrounding it might conceivably, hypothetically, be said to do so. No matter how wonderful a time I had at college, it would be naive and inaccurate to say that there weren’t problems, and that these problems did not sometimes involve a combination of sex and alcohol. The fact that there is a documented history of such incidents is undeniable, which in turn suggests a pattern of behaviour within a particular context. Of itself, this does not invalidate the good times I had at Wesley, nor does it lay a shadow over my undergraduate years. But I will not pretend, for the sake of a rosy-tinted memory, that nothing happened at all, or contend that what did happen was insignificant. In my personal recollection, what matters most is that I was neither harmed nor threatened. I joked about it the next day. I was not the only girl to do so. But there will be others who couldn’t, and still can’t, and never will. In the end, I was lucky, and though it served to help me twice, it is not something I would encourage anyone – man, woman or college authority – to bank on.

First, some links:

Clay Shirky on the collapse of traditional newspapers and the need to find alternative means of journalism;

Natalia Morar, who organised an anti-government flashmob on Twitter and is now hiding from arrest;

Oprah and other celebrities battling to be the first on Twitter with a million followers; and

SR7,  a company for hire that specialises in digging up dirt on employees for other companies.

Now, some thoughts, in no particular order:

¬†1. Journalism is essential. People both like and need to know what’s going on. However, journalism is not a naturally occuring resource. People must go out, obtain information, then analyse, write and relay it, a time-consuming process traditionally¬†deemed¬†deserving of monetary compensation. No matter how easy it is to copy an existing source online, that source first needs to come from somewhere; and before that, someone must decide that the source itself is newsworthy.

2. As has always been true of all creative endeavours (singing, painting, dancing), there are vastly more people who participate in these activities than are paid to do so. Largely, this is a question of enjoyment, creative expression and ease. Blogs have tapped into this in a big way. Most bloggers make no money. Many blogs are read by only a tiny handful of people known to the writer, or not at all. And yet, they are prolific, because even without monetary compensation, the vast majority of people simply enjoy writing them. Many readers employ a similar logic.

3. Despite having been around for a number of years, Twitter has only just hit the collective journalistic hivemind. Recent weeks have seen an explosion of articles on how it is being used, why it is damaging people, whether the concept is utterly pointless, and the implications of its ongoing development. Diverse examples of all these include:

– the now-notorious #amazonfail incident and its aftermath;

the Times bemoaning Twitter as a ‘rolling news service of the ego’ and then promptly signing up;

a warning that social networking sites are damaging kids’ brains¬†at the same time¬†Twitter is being added to the Brittish school curriculum; and

Рthe use of Twitter in both the Mumbai bombings and hyperlocal news sites.

4. Writing on the collapse of newspapers as we know them, Clay Shirky sums up the process of social revolutions thusly: “The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn‚Äôt apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can‚Äôt predict what will happen.” He concludes by saying that what we need is a “collection of new experiments” to help us figure out how journalism – as distinct from newspapers – can keep working.

5. TV news isn’t going anywhere. Neither is radio, which has survived bigger technological upheavals. Print journalism is failing because the internet has ruined its monopoly on exclusive media. Unlike free-to-air radio and television, which have always had to contend with the notion that a¬†majority of listeners won’t be paying directly for their content, newspapers have thrived as a one-to-one exchange: a set amount of money per customer per paper, with very few exceptions. It’s not that the internet devalues the written word, or that¬†making journalism¬†freely available is inimical to notions of profit: it’s that, without being able to charge on that one-to-one basis, newspapers cannot command anything like their previous volume of revenue.¬†They’ve simply never had to compete with a medium that could do the same thing, better, for a fraction of the cost. And now they’re floundering.

6.¬†¬†Spare a moment to consider the notion of Digital Rights Management – DRM – and its relationship to the newspaper fiasco. Although concerned parimarily with digital music copyright, the ongoing debate about encryption for games and, with¬†the advent of the Kindle and other such devices, the pirateability of digital books and audiobook rights, the¬†underlying problem is the same in both instances:¬†defining notions of ownership for both¬†users and creators in an era¬†where digital copies are readily available. Books in particular have always been subject to the whims of borrowing and lending without falling apart, but might their new digital formats change that? Or are they an exception to the rule? For long stints of time, it’s nicer to read on a page than a screen, but¬†what if screens are improved, or some other technology developed that is just as comfortable to use as paper? Will we still crave tactile connections?¬†

7. People might not like to pay for content, but¬†as Wikipedia,¬†YouTube¬†and Linus Torvalds¬†have already¬†proven, many are¬†ready, willing and able to create content for free. Open source principles clearly predate the current revolution, and consciously or not, they’re informing it.¬†Remove money from the equation (or at least, give it a drastically reduced emphasis) and¬†gaze anew at the crisis of print journalism. Blogs, tweets, viral news: many of the new news staples are ungoverned, unruly, disparate products of the hivemind – flashmobs, crowdsourcing – but that doesn’t mean they go utterly unpoliced or work without change or criticism. Hey, it’s a revolution, folks. We’re breaking and making at the speed of thought. Give us time to learn the ropes.

8. Way back in 1995, ¬†Major Motoko Kusanagi once¬†mused, “And where does the newborn go from here? The net is vast and infinite.” In 2006, she reaffirmed the sentiment. We’re not yet ghosts in the shell, but let’s keep an open mind. The future rests in us.

Recently, I’ve been struggling to comprehend the social ramifications of defamation, censorship¬†and privacy laws in government and industry.¬†While the scenario of a verbally abusive¬†co-worker or boss is undeniably awful, and while nobody should have to¬†put up with¬†insults about their character, religion, race, competency, sexuality and/or personal hygiene, I can’t help but feel that¬†restrictions¬†designed to enforce polite behaviour are¬†increasingly infringing on freedom of speech. Prior to the rise of the internet, I imagine there was a fairly intuitive rule of thumb when it came to bitching about colleagues, viz: don’t write anything down. Trash talk was for the pub and other such¬†friendly gatherings, or at the very least somewhere courteously beyond earshot of the person in question. Email¬†lead to a new¬†caveat:¬†keep it off the company servers. Personal accounts are personal accounts, but you never know when someone might¬†have legitimate cause to flip through your business correspondence. Even in this instance, however, there was still a veil of privacy, in that barring an authorised, dedicated¬†search¬†or deliberate hacking, there was no way for the subject of the conversation to accidentally ‘overhear’ and thereby take offence.

But sites like Facebook and Twitter have changed all that. Now, employees are able to form online groups and discuss the foibles of their jobs en masse or tweet about the demands of annoying co-workers – with troubling consequences. The blogsphere, too, has created workplace turmoil, with some employers sacking staff for mentioning their jobs online. While companies are well within their grounds to worry about the release of actual business information, especially where a preemptory or unauthorised¬†mention of¬†same could¬†cause genuine loss or damage, the¬†notion of bringing a company’s reputation into disrepute simply by admitting to personal foibles and opinions is deeply troubling.¬†Satirising a job is not the same as maligning it, and criticising management should not be a sackable offense. Nonetheless, such things are currently happening.

As a student, I never liked the idea, put about at assemblies and other such spirit-building occasions, that I was moving through life as a ‘representative’ of my school, nor that my behaviour at all times, regardless of whether I wore the uniform, was correlated to some nebulous, anachronistic¬†notion of school pride or reputation.¬†As a grown worker, the sentiment still holds. First and foremost, we should belong to ourselves: all other affiliations, be they professional or academic, are secondary. There’s an ugly paternalism to schools and businesses laying claim to the morality and opinions of their attendees, and this is what rankles: the notion that our individual humanity is permissable only insofar as it doesn’t contradict the party line. It’s a big, messy, multifaceted issue – slandering colleagues is different to releasing confidential data is different to criticising management is different to having a sense of humour is different to daily blogging – but it is, ultimately, the same issue. Namely: how should we act online?

In a perfect world, people¬†wouldn’t insult each other, nor would¬†certain personality¬†types be incompatable. But this is not a perfect world. In an age when instantaneous, public communication has dropped the veil of privacy from personal complaint, we need to grow thicker skins and get used to living with other people’s opinions. Because what’s really throwing us for a loop isn’t the fact that people have opinions or even that they’re different from ours: it’s that, all of a sudden, we know what they are, and feel moved to respond. Companies are kidding themselves if they think that the vast majority of their employees would still work if they didn’t have to. Work is a necessary evil: get over it. Employees are kidding themselves if they think that bitching about co-workers in cyberspace is the same as bitching at the pub. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t type it where they can see it: simple. The law is kidding itself if it proves systematically incapable of distinguishing between serious, ongoing abuse and satire. People make jokes, and every exchange is nuanced: take it into account. Authority figures are kidding themselves if they think their position should put them¬†beyond mockery or scrutiny. As in politics, you will be teased, disliked; your decisions will be questioned. It’s the price of being in power: live with it or step down.

But most importantly, we as a society are kidding ourselves if we think the solution to socio-digital omnipresence is to segregate our personalities. Our jobs and lives are bleeding together exactly because the two should be compatable; because people want to enjoy their work while still retaining the freedom to speak their minds. Communication should be used as a tool for social improvement, not restriction, which means compromise on both sides. And historically speaking, compromise has never involved the building of walls between different groups or ways of life.

Instead, it knocks them down.

Consider the following four articles on the dangers of youth exposure to too much digital culture:

iPod Safety: Preventing Hearing Loss in Teens;

Twittering brains withering, expert warns;

Teens flaunt sex, drugs on MySpace; and

Too much PlayStation causes painful lumps,

all of which cropped up in today’s online news. Together, they pretty much exemplify the fears of the Builders, the Baby Boomers and, to a certain extent, the elder members of Generation X, not just as regards their own offspring, but concerning¬†all of modern society. Loud and clear, they’ve been wringing their hands for the past few years over the perils of digitisation, and every time, I’ve experienced a disqueting lurch of anger. It’s taken today’s media¬†quartet for me to understand why this is: after all, cynic though I may be, I still put a certain base faith in the opinions of scientists and sociologists, especially when backed up by established studies. As a member of Generation Y, I’m hardly an impartial observer, and to a large extent, my negative reactions stem from a sense of being personally maligned, even where certain behaviours or criticisms don’t apply either to me as I am now, or to my historic teenage self. Rather, I feel outraged on behalf of my generation and those younger: that we are, in some sense, being fundamentally misunderstood. I can hack criticism, yes; but the sheer weight of professional authorities whose time has been purposefully devoted to proving that almost everyone under the age of 25 is steering themselves on a course towards social oblivion has begun to seem less like the amalgamated findings of unbiased research and more like an unconscious desire to demonise technology.

When it comes to growing up, it’s human nature to get fixed in whatever era raised us. Modern society is shaped, by and large, to ensure this happens – advertising and television timeslots, for instance, aren’t shown at random, but painstakingly catered to particular demographics. Thus, once we lose interests in the trappings of a given age and progress to playing with a new kind of gadget or watching a different kind of film, we effectively graduate from one type of newsfeed to another. Not watching weekend and afterschool cartoons, for example,¬†means that we no longer learn which shows are cancelled and which will replace them, and that certain products, like the latest toys and games, will no longer form part of our daily media experience. Because our interest in such things has waned, we don’t notice the dissonance: rather, we assume that things have remained static in our absence, and are often startled in a moment of later nostalgia when, flipping on the TV at 3pm, we recognise none of the cartoon characters, none of the hosts, and none of the merchandise. Such disorientation provokes outrage: who are these strangers, and what have they done with our childhood? This biases our opinion of the new product towards hostility and skepticism from the outset; and even when we take the time to watch these new shows, the magic is missing, because we are no longer children. Wrongheadedly, however, we don’t immediately identify this as the problem, and tend to believe, rather, that the product itself is at fault. In fact, it becomes difficult to fathom what kind of person such programmes are catered to, and so, by extension and quite unselfconsciously, we have already taken the first steps towards discrediting the intelligence and taste of the next generation. This outrage slumbers in us, omnipresent but quiescent, until we have children of our own, or are forced to deal with someone else’s. Nonetheless, it is there.

Consider, then, that the technological advances of the past few decades have¬†leapt ahead¬†at unprecedented speeds. In the space of twenty years, we have moved from cassette tapes and walkmans to CDs and discmans to the now-ubiquitous mp3s and iPods of the new millenium. For a generation who started out buying their albums on LP, this is triply disconcerting, while for the generation who thought themselves blessed by the miracle of radio, it seems like a kind of magic. This is all common knowledge, of course, and therefore glossed with the shiny patina of frequent repetition: by itself, the comparison doesn’t provide an explanation for the hostility of older generations. Until, that is, we combine it with the above example about treasured childhood cartoons, because in this instance, not only are the new characters unrecognisable, but they don’t even appear on the same device.

And adults struggle with this. They are disconnected from their offspring, from their students;¬†more important than connectivity and reminiscence, however, is the loss of firsthand advice. They simply cannot guide today’s teenagers through the digital world, which leads most youth to discover it on their own. Most of us who grew up¬†with computers and videogames are either several years away from reproducing or blessed with children still in early primary-school: in other words, we are yet to witness what happens when a generation of adolescents is reared by a generation of adults anywhere near as technologically literate as their teenage progeny, who remember what it was like to hang out on Trillian or MSN chat all night, to experiment with cybersex, to write achingly of school crushes in their LiveJournal or to download music at home. Members of Generations Y and Z, in other words, in addition to being¬†burgeoning iFolk, are also a social anomaly: a group whose own adolescence is so far removed from the experience of their caretakers as to prevent their parents and teachers, in many instances,¬†from adequately preparing them for the real (digital) world.

But the gap will close. Already there are¬†children in the world whose parents own game consoles, who will guide them online from a young age, and whose joint mannerisms both in real and virtual company will be drawn from a single parental source. Navigating away from certain parts of the internet will be taught in the same way as stranger danger and the implict lesson to avoid¬†dangerous parts of the local neighbourhood. We teach what we know, after all, and yet large number of commentators seem not to have realised this –¬†which is why I react badly to their writings. They never purport to be talking about teenagers now so much as teenagers always, or from this point on, a frustrating alarmism that takes no account of what will happen when such adolescents leave home, stumble into the bright sunlight, go to university, get jobs, fall in love and maybe have children of their own. In short, they have no sense of the future, or if so, they picture a world populated by antisocial digital natives, uprooting the fruits of their hard labour out of ignorance, apathy and poor management. Either they¬†can’t imagine us growing up, or fear what we’ll turn into.

I’m speaking here in broad-brush terms. Obviously, the distinction between those who are technologically literate and those who aren’t can’t simply be reduced to their year of birth. Every generation has its Luddites (and, if we remember the political motivations of those original iconoclasts, this is often a good thing) as well as its innovators, its geeks and scientists.¬†And many such worried articles, irksome though I may find their tone,¬†are still correct: listening to your iPod on full volume will probably damage your hearing, just as it’s not a wise idea to post intimate details of your sex life on MySpace. The latter concern is markedly new, and something teens certainly need to be made aware of – indeed, professionals new to Facebook are still themselves figuring out whether to friend coworkers or employers, thereby allowing them to view the results of various drunken nights out, or to keep a low digital profile. Such wisdom is new all round, and deeply appreciated. On the other hand, parents have been telling their kids to turn down their damn music in one form or another ever since Elvis Presley first picked up a guitar, and while the technology might’ve become more powerful in the intervening decades and¬†the studies into auditory damage more accurate, the warning remains identical (as does the inter-generational eye-roll with which it tends to be received).

In short, the world is changing, and people are changing with it, teachers, teens and parents alike.¬†And I cannot help, in my own curious optimism, to see this¬†as a positive thing: that in a world where technology moves so swiftly, older generations must constantly remain open to the idea of learning from their younger counterparts, while those in the know must become teachers earlier. There is so much to be gained in the coming years, and so many problems, both great and small, to be solved. The gap between adults and adolescents has never been so large, but while it always behooves those in the former category to teach and aid the latter, this should never be at the expense of at least trying to understand their point of view. And this, ultimately, is what causes me to bristle: whether playing videogames can hurt your hands or spending too much time online can damage your real world social skills, such passtimes aren’t going anywhere. Rather than condemning or sneering at such things outright or tutting sadly, the more productive path is to consider how best they can be incorporated into modern life without causing harm, or to study how they work in confluence with real-world interactions, and not just fret about what happens if they’re used exclusively.

Because technology – and future generations – aren’t going anywhere. We might not look like Inspector Gadget, but baby, we’re his heirs. Or rather, Penny’s. You get the idea.

Viral Monday

Posted: January 18, 2009 in Mixed Lollies
Tags: , , , , , ,

According to the lovely¬†ladies at ButtercupPunch, there’s a viral Facebook music thingie going around, wherein participants shuffle their iPod and then list the first lines of the first 25¬†tracks, so that others can try and guess the songs. As I’m totally behind with this, and as being behind damages my intergeek cred, I therefore give in.¬†So:

1. We’ve got stars directing our fate, and we’re praying it’s not too late

2. Crosslegged on the front lawn, she’s had a bad pill

3. You’re the Devil in me I brought in from the cold

4. Time on your side that will never end, the most beautiful thing you can ever spend

5. If you’re feeling low and lost today, you’re probably doing too much again

6. Purple haze all in my brain, lately things just don’t seem the same

7. Once upon a time I was of a mind to lay your burden down

8. A bold hippopotamus was standing one day on the banks of the cool Shalimar

9. He crys out her eyes, a fire unfurnaced

10. Aishiteta to nageku ni wa, amari ni mo toki wa sugi te shimatta

11. Wire’s coming back again, Elastica, got sued by them

12. Give me a word, give me a sign

13. Sometimes they’ll want to cut you down

14. Yo, this is a lesson in friendship, the depths of a kinship

15. Looking for a single thread of melody to help me get by

16. I think I’ll close my eyes and wait as the world goes by

17. I want a God who stays dead, not plays dead

18. I woke twice last night, walked to the window

19. All simple monkeys with alien babies, amphetamines for boys, crucifixes for ladies

20. I was lying on the grass on Sunday morning of last week, indulging in my self-defeat

21. You keep saying you’ve got something for me

22. There comes a time when you swim or sink, so I jumped in the drink

23. I hate to talk like this, I hate to act as if there’s something wrong

24. Well it’s not hard to see, anyone who looks at me knows I am just a rolling stone

25. It’s because I love you, not because we’re far apart

Knock yourselves out ūüôā

Cruising through the New York Times today, I did a double-take on the following headline:

Teenagers’ Internet Socializing Not a Bad Thing

As this is a blatantly obvious observation akin to announcing that Chocolate Is Bad For You But People Eat It Anyway, I spent a good minute staring at the link, trying to figure out what I was missing. My instinctive reaction was that, for reasons unknown, the Times and the Onion had somehow contrived to swap stories. Or maybe those fake headline guys had struck again Рwho knows? Unable to come up with a better theory, I decided to read on.

Frighteningly, it appears the story is genuine.¬†How anyone could remain oblivious as to why teenagers – or, for that matter, adults – use MySpace and Facebook is beyond me, while¬†the idea that the MacArthur¬†Foundation actually put money towards proving the bleeding obvious¬†causes a small but vital part of my cerubellum to¬†bulge in a worrying fashion. Seriously, dudes? Young folk nowadays use of the Internets. They send of the text messags, speak on the cellular phones and¬†jive to the rock’n’ roll musics. Deal with it. (I have a sneaking suspicion that the author, Tamar Lewin, is a modern-day Luddite. Only someone completely out of touch with reality could put quotation marks around the phrase “geeking out” and hope to be taken seriously about either technology or youth culture.)

In other unintentionally-self-mocking news, Germaine Greer, that grumpy old feminist, has lambasted Michelle Obama’s election-victory dress with the kind of angry, colourful prose normally reserved for botched military campaigns. The irony of a feminist icon slagging a powerful, intelligent, prominent woman purely on the basis of her clothes – and, stranger still, complaining that Malia and Sasha’s¬†dresses weren’t “girly” – is disturbingly potent. Especially now that¬†actual fashion designers have called Greer’s own wardrobe into question¬†(lordy!),¬†the whole ludicrous¬†incident is eerily reminiscent of something the Monty Python pepperpots might have done.

Now there’s a thought – try a photo of Germaine Greer next to Terry¬†Jones in drag¬†and see what you think. To quote the quintessential Python/Pepperpots exchange:

“Shh. It’s satire!’

“No it isn’t – this is zany madcap humour!”

Also, there’s a two-faced kitten.

Fourth wall, anyone?

Digital Dilemmas

Posted: October 24, 2008 in Good News Week
Tags: , , , , , ,

In news today, a drunk Sydneysider has been caught taking sickie thanks to his Facebook status, while elsewhere, a woman has killed her virtual online husband Рor rather, his avatar.

Clearly, despite mounting anecdotal evidence to the contrary, we have yet to form total symbiosis with the World-Wide Web.

Surfing online yesterday, I ended up reading about Generation Y and our relationship to digital technology. We are (said Wikipedia) Digital Natives, having grown up¬†with video games, computers,¬† the internet¬†and mobile phones, compared to Generation X (Digital Adaptives), the Baby Boomers (Digital Immigrants) and the war-era Builders, or Silent Generation¬†(Digital Aliens).¬†Strange and old-timey as the phrase ‘I remember when’ makes me feel, I do remember¬†life before the internet, digital cameras, flatscreen TVs and¬†mobile phones, however barely.¬†There was¬†a dot matrix printer and early Mac in my Year 1 classroom; a favourite passtime was¬†removing the twin perforated strips¬†from the¬†printer paper¬†and twisting them into a concertina-worm.¬†In Year 4,¬†good students were allowed to play Sim City 2000¬†at recess or lunch, begging coveted knowledge of the¬†godmode password – which unlocked unlimited resources and¬†special building options – from¬†a privileged few. Apart from the pre-installed features on our¬†old family Osborne computer, the first¬†game I ever bought was Return to Zork. Up until that point, I’d thought the graphics on Jill of the Jungle and Cosmo were far out; but this reset the whole scale.

My mother’s first mobile phone was a brick, bigger than the average landline receiver and three times as heavy. Digital cameras didn’t start becoming commonplace until the mid-nineties; previously, you paid for film and took random shots of the family pet to use up the end of a roll before development. When¬†it finally became clear that traditional cameras were being outmoded, there was a rash of media¬†worry about the economic and social consequences – not from a technological perspective, but because¬†Kodak and others were forced to lay off thousands of photo lab staff. I remember when laser printers were new and fax machines a strictly corporate affair. But ancient as all that reminiscing makes me feel, it’s nothing to the realisation that my own children won’t know a time before Tivo, Facebook, 3-D graphics, game consoles with internet access and iTunes. Hell – they won’t even¬†know about VHS, walkmans, discmans and¬†cassette tapes, unless someone tells them. Generation Z is already¬†partway there. ¬†

All of which shouldn’t surprise me, if I’d ever stopped to think about it. But most people¬†tend to assume, however unconsciously,¬†that certain types of knowledge remain static: that no matter what social, political or technological developments occur in their lifetimes, everyone will always know what came first,¬†because they do: it’s just paying attention, isn’t it? But when technology becomes outdated or old customs are cast aside, they don’t stick around and explain themselves. Outside of history lessons or personal curiosity, the next generation just¬†won’t¬†realise – and to a certain extent, it’s wrong to expect they will. Not everyone cares about history, although perhaps they should; but even then,¬†not¬†all of it¬†is relevant. Does Gen Z actually need to know about non-digital cameras in order to function? Are we really taking consoles for granted if we’ve never seen 8-bit graphics? More relevant than such minutiae, surely,¬†is an awareness of social privilege, and the fact that we have no innate entitlement to the status quo.

But people will get bogged down in details. Often, older generations interpret this non-knowledge of younger people¬†as deliberate¬†impudence, and subsequently refuse to become complicit in the new technology. Others find it intimidating, or assume that the only obvious applications must be personally irrelevant or childish,¬†pertinent only to younger people. There’s some truth to the saw about old dogs and new tricks, particularly¬†given the vast removal of digital technology from anything in my father’s Builder generation, and¬†individuals shouldn’t be forced beyond their comfort zones. But in many cases, it’s simply hard to perceive how a new tool can help when the use for which it’s intended is similarly foreign. When my parents first started to talk about getting the internet, I remember thinking, with typically childish conservatism, ‘What use could it possibly be?’ Because until you’d seen the concept up and running, it was¬†almost impossible to¬†comprehend. (After all, the creator of television intended it for educational purposes, and¬†envisaged no scope as an entertainment outlet.)

There’s always going to be new developments, and it’s silly to expect that everyone keep up with the technocrati. Ultimately, we need to keep our own knowledge in perspective, because not all information is timeless. There’s something wonderful in the ability to witness change, and at the current rate of technological advancement, those of us in Gen Y are ideally placed to realise exactly how far we’ve come in how short a time. But until another half-century has come and gone, we might do well to impose a moratorium on tech-history anecdotes.

After all, ‘I remember when’ doesn’t sound nearly so authoritative without bifocals and false teeth.