Oct 272013
 
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Chris, who I have occasion to read more often than I read mainstream content, says this today on a blogger’s favourite subject (the bold is mine):

[…] Stephen says that “if you want your blog to get noticed now, best to develop a niche.” But the thing is that the MSM has left a lot of big niches. Sunny’s right that “there is just too much opinion out there”. But a lot of voices doesn’t mean we get a diversity of ideas.

There’s an awful lot which the mainstream ignores. Perhaps the main question I ask before blogging is: “what needs saying that isn’t said elsewhere?” And I’m rarely stumped for an answer. The mainstream tends to ignore things such as anti-managerialism, the ubiquity of ideology/cognitive biases and the vast quantity of new and interesting economic research. Yes, there’s too much opinion, too much manufactured outrage, too much narcissism and too much obsessing about the Westminster village. But there’s a shortage of different perspectives.

Compare and contrast with the new owner of the Boston Globe, our dearly beloved John W Henry (dearly beloved for Liverpool-loving households anyway) (again, the bold is mine):

We as a society used to spend countless hours watching and sharing a limited amount of media mainly through television programs. Ironically, we now have increasingly significant social isolation and alienation as a byproduct of the rise of social media tools that overwhelm young people. These tools need to be designed to provide for more maturity, restraint, and responsibility.

Ironically, we also seem to no longer have any time because of time-saving devices. As a parent, I see kids completely immersed in Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and messaging. One of the attractions of summers at Fenway Park is seeing families actually sitting together and conversing for three hours rather than sitting in different worlds at home.

We live with what the writer and thinker Clay Shirky has identified as a “cognitive surplus.” We need ways to move from consumption to activation. The Globe can be a catalyst for activism across a broad range of interests. The same technologies that breed loneliness in some contexts can provide opportunities for people to connect with one another meaningfully and make differences in each other’s lives. These differences don’t have to be earth-shattering to be of great significance. We live in a time in this region with terrific opportunities to lead.

In their different ways and in their different contexts, both Chris Dillow, the proudly amateur blogger (though in no way amateur writer, much less amateur thinker), and John W Henry, the very American – very global – businessperson, whose interests straddle nation-states, sectors and very different communities, have come to similar conclusions about what’s wrong with respectively cherished fields of communication.  Their solutions are different, of course, as befit their causes: Dillow needs enough resource to live his life as he pleases, in order that such resource may then give him the relatively little time each day he needs to usefully inform and produce his blogging.  Meanwhile, Henry is looking, on a much more physically grand and industrial scale, to develop a business strategy – almost an ideology, in fact – which will serve to turn currently capacious readers into expansively active doers.

As many have already observed, in particular a kind of unwilling mentor of mine, blogging by itself achieves nothing; cannot even be valued when in such a vacuum.  It must connect with the world (ie must be read by someone) for anything of worth to happen.  This time of reading may of course not accompany the time of writing: if this is the case, the blogger is indeed a lonely soul whose writings will only please an audience when he or she is long gone.  But most of us understand/have understood traditional blogging to be in possession of a very firm location and connection with time and place.  And in such a perception of what blogging should be (or maybe should have been), a thing of direct and common engagement with a community and people of particular sort, we realise that Henry’s goal to encourage his readers – ie his relatively passive, more significantly freeloading, absorbers of often sadly shallow content – to become souls who begin to make differences in others’ lives purely as a result of a newly conceived journalistic practice and industry … well, from the point of view of a long-time blogger like myself, it does make for truly fascinating reading.

If what is good about the Chris Dillow kind of blogging is now being perceived by someone like John W Henry as the kind of thing the mainstream newspapering he wants to rescue is often found to be wanting in – not for people or editorial reasons so much as overbearing industrial pressures where, even in the so-called quality press, the quality content continually fails to beat back the self-replicating “celebrititty” Internet-baiting dross – then perhaps there is a future for the former instincts of blogging at its halcyon best (Norman Geras and Paul Cotterill also come to mind), especially as partial saviour of the mainstream at its most lovably popularising.

If Henry can do for the likes of Manchester’s long-lost Guardian what he is currently doing for Liverpool’s football – if he can rescue the campaigning newspapers of the past from the sad obscurities and conceptual abysses into which so many have fallen (in their admittedly desperate bids to remain solvent in the latterday journalistic free-for-all that is the 21st century web) – perhaps one day we will end up agreeing that there must be no fundamental difference between the mainstream and the traditionally-conceptualised blogosphere after all.

And if this is the case, if that blogosphere I describe finally maintains its integrity long enough for the mainstream to realise exactly where it all went wrong, then it will – at the very least – have served to keep the flame of good journalism alive.

As it will finally have served its purpose.


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Oct 182013
 
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I was living in the halls of residence depicted below when John Lennon died a violent death, though it was a couple of months after the taking of the picture that it happened.

Me and my family at uni, 1980-style

I can, of course, remember what I was doing: I was ironing clothes.  It must’ve been towards the very end of my first term at uni, for it was a Monday and I don’t think I had yet got into the habit of skipping class too often.

When you start thinking about bits of your past like these, all sorts of things start unspooling.  Two articles I’ve been using in my Skype classes recently are connected to the above photo: as you may have seen, there is a VW camper van in the background, and such a van played a hugely important part in my childhood.  Not only mine – the BBC would seem to have found a doppelgänger of my parents and their behaviours, in everything except perhaps the evil weed of tobacco.

Anyhow.  On the holidays we took every summer or so to the then-Yugoslavia we would be sung to sleep in the evenings by my father’s ITT cassette-recorder.  As my sister accurately recalls in her piece, the Beatles figured highly on the playlist – even before playlists existed!  John Lennon became a part of the furniture of my infancy.  To have him wrenched from me so destructively just as I made my transition to adulthood at Warwick was truly quite a shock.

Quite a shock indeed.

That, in fact, is the destiny of all that is furniture.  Eventually it is wrenched from our precarious grip.  Whether through our own demise or through the demise of another, it is inevitably violently wrenched.  And as much of our cultural output these days, in such plentiful – perhaps even promiscuous – times, the cheap and cheerful Ikeas of the world don’t always get dumped before the Chippendales.

At uni I used to sing Beatles, Wings and Simon & Garfunkel songs on my scrappy acoustic guitar when I felt a bit miserable, and by so doing I would then feel less miserable.  But in the end, it was for me – and it was primarily me it made feel better.

Thus I have continued, once I curiously lost my singing voice in my mid-40s, to act in a similar way with the written word.  Perhaps, in a way, trying to find again that voice I no longer was able to exhibit.  But again trying to find it for myself, not others.

Lennon, McCartney, Dillow, Bell, Geras … curious influences, eh?  Complex connections.  Strange connections.  But all committed, in the positive sense of the word I mean.  Committed – unlike myself – to forging correctly singular paths in those wayward worlds of otherwise terrible and mind-numbing disablingnesses.

So let’s think and wonder a little on behalf of the future.  Be kinder to our furniture I say, before we end up foolishly trashing it.  Use it if we must – but not abuse it.

Even furniture, sometimes, cries out in the pain of that deadening hand of gravity.

That gravity which eventually overcomes us all.


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Sep 142013
 
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I haven’t posted here for a couple of days now.  As it’s September, I’ve been getting a steady flow of new online English students.  That they pay and this doesn’t should be self-evident.

Sometimes you have to accept that what you do is so contracorriente that there’s simply no way to feed a family off its back.  I’ve tried for two years; even have a Newstex account which literally pays about $2 a month (so if you feel I misuse your content, I’m quite happy to give you a share of what I “earn” – just don’t expect either to get anywhere soon as a result) … but all this and more to little avail.

I do believe in what I write and also why.  But the little reward of counting up the hits no longer applies these days, as everyone learns to circumvent and block the kind of cookies and systems which provided such minimal reward in the past.

So where am I now?  Beginning to work very hard to build my online language-training business, after a couple of years of learning how to do online training effectively, and perhaps – even – originally, to an extent.

And what does this mean?  Well.  This blog will continue until that date in November 2013 when I finally reach seven years of existence.  Once I reach that date, I think I must put it in mothballs.  There’s enough content here, by now, for anyone fairly interested in finding out about my strange and weirdly lateral way of perceiving received opinion – in finding out more, and maybe thinking they can fix me in some pigeonhole or another.

This, I think, will never happen though.  I always start from scratch in what I do.  If I am half-decent as a teacher/trainer and identifier of learning needs, this is because I attempt with all my soul to listen to what the person in front of me is saying.  And I do the same – have done the same – with the world I have before me as well.

So then.  I hope the last seven years, when that date is reached, will be seen as having been years of learning, curiosity and a real desire to educate oneself.

For the rest, I can say only long goodbyes are contemplateable in my world.  I love people too much to cut off my contact with any of you without prior notice.

This post, then, serves to signal the start of mine.

I guess money is at the root of all decision-making, after all.  Even love.


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Jul 092013
 
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I’m not sure this isn’t exactly the wild and savage blogosphere piggybacking off an existing website; alternatively, it might be a very clever piece of viral advertising.  Either way, I hope the originators of the website named in the image below don’t take offence if I dare to participate in this lovely game.

"Best Moment" award?

It was brought to me by my dear old (new) friend Wrenfoe, who – as part of the game – listed me here on his splendiferous blog.  As a means of advertising me of the fact, he then commented thus on my previous post – that being, of course, Ed Miliband’s reformatted speech:

Hi,

You probably get dozens of these sorts of Blog nominations (- so feel free to ignore me) but I was asked to nominate Blogs for a “Best Moment Award”. As spam goes this seemed like one of the friendliest forms and I was more than happy to have my ego massaged.

http://wrenfoewisdom.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/flibbertigibbet-owner-accepts-meaningless-award/

Here are the rules for the acceptance of the award:
1. Display the award logo:
2. Link back to the person who nominated you:
3. State 7 things about yourself:
4. Nominate 15 (or however many you can) other bloggers for this award:

Anyway, thank you for letting me enjoy your blog (Wrenfoe)

Actually, as a point of order, I never get nominated for anything.  I barely get read these days, in fact.  (Blogging as a disconnected soul has disconnected me from my public, methinks.)

Thus it is that my recasting of Miliband’s remaking of Labour rapidly makes way for a blogging meme.  How short the news cycle has indeed become.  A matter of a few brutal minutes, in fact.

:-)

So here goes my contribution.  First, seven things about myself:

  1. I’m very mild-mannered, you could even say deferential.
  2. I wish I wasn’t.
  3. Family is really important to me, so if you’re evil and looking to find my weak spot … that’s it!
  4. I like writing almost as much as family.
  5. I think I’d be a much better editor than writer, if given half the chance.
  6. I hate what the Tories are doing, even as I find it very difficult to hate the people doing it.
  7. I can’t stand getting on a plane – so my plane is now the worldwide web.

Now the bloggers who I nominate (a few more than fifteen, as befits my tendency to overkill!):

  1. Wrenfoe, of course – I like my ego to be massaged, and am happy – especially where deserved – to return the favour!
  2. Bob from Brockley and Norman – for reminding me of where wayward thoughts and ways of thinking should definitely not venture.
  3. David and Paul – for having had the learning and impatience I could never achieve.
  4. Chris – for making me remember that my Economics A-level gives me just enough knowledge to make myself look foolish.
  5. Peter – for informing our present with so much of his history.
  6. Munguin – for making me laugh when I should cry, and – sometimes – for making me cry whilst I’m laughing.
  7. Rick – for telling corporate life as it is, and for wondering how it should be.
  8. Paul, Tom and Shuggy – because they only blog when they have something worth saying.
  9. Ninki, my sister – because she’s bright (in both senses of the word), positive … and pregnant with meaning.
  10. Stan, my brother – because he always tells it like it is (he also writes with his partner, Damae – as well as loving assorted vehicles).
  11. James and Paul – because they know a helluva lot about what should worry us all.
  12. Craig and Jeff – for the things they know and, sadly, must share.
  13. Finally, the Galludor – for concentrated brevity in all things socioeconomic, infused and sustained by a moral conscience of the highest order.

There you are.  Only took me the longest it’s taken me to write a post for absolutely yonks now.  And, to boot, it’s knocked Ed Miliband off the top of my blog!

Can’t be all bad, now can it?

Final caveat: please (obviously) feel free to disregard any attempt on my part to nominate anyone who feels an unwilling party to the matter.

Just a bit of fun, really.

We find out a bit about each other.

And maybe, by doing it, we find out a bit about ourselves …


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Jul 082013
 
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Chris argues the following, in a lovely overview of wrongness:

[…] Writers must be sufficiently smarter than their readers that readers feel their intelligence to be flattered, but not so much smarter that they appear weird. […]

In my case, apart from the obvious TLTR aspect of my pieces, I’m beginning to wonder if my problem as unread writer lies as much to do with being a less demanding person than my peers – and thus clearly weird – as it does to do with the fact that my posts are intrinsically unreadable.

Let me mansplain.  Yesterday morning, my daughter was in awful, tearful pain.  She had an ear infection.  Instead of going to A&E, we phoned up our local out-of-hours GP service to make an appointment.  In five minutes, the nurse had phoned back, enquired after the symptoms and arranged an appointment at our local cottage hospital for 11.30.  We were dealt with before the appointed time: no wait, no hassle, no problems.  This is an example of an NHS service on its knees, I suppose.  I’m sure there are many cases where it is so, mind. So I’d just like to say, as a result, that I’m grateful for small mercies.

And maybe it’s time we learnt to be grateful for small mercies again.  My daughter is already recovering fast due to the penicillin she was prescribed.  In other periods of history, her pain and fear would have continued.  In our period of history, this needs no longer to be the case.

So why are so many of us not grateful for small mercies any more?  This is the weird bit: I have learnt, quite recently, to be so.  I’ve written a number of posts which reflect this: here, herehere and here for example.  I begin to see the arguments of those most of us consider quite evil as something we ought at the very least to examine and comprehend.  As something we should attempt – in good faith – to incorporate into our world views.

This is not a popular mode of thought.  I think consumer society and a greater degree of leisure time are probably, in part at least, to blame: consumer society, because it teaches us, whatever the context, that we should always maximise our outputs – essentially making us quite intolerant of anything which chooses not to pursue a path of ultimate perfection; leisure time, because it gives us far too much space to circle painful ideas – essentially allowing, and even encouraging, us to develop and horribly vent our unkindnesses on others.

It’s weird not to want to hit back.  It’s weird not to want to bloody the nose of someone – or something – which is bloodying yours.  It’s weird to be so grateful that one’s daughter is now better.  It’s weird to look around one and attempt to see the good we should aspire to, rather than the bad we know the bad guys are trafficking.

It’s weird because, precisely, that system we call consumer capitalism has trained us into that pursuit of maximisation I mentioned above – so much so that none of us (few of us) can properly escape its clutches.

And when people do try to see all sides of an issue, do try to contemplate the potential for observing with good faith all positions, they are discarded as being irrelevant to a dynamic which, instead, must only go down one set of routes: those of violent dialectics, impulsive (or, alternatively, highly considered) disagreements and monolithic battles.

It’s weird to want to act in good faith despite the enemy.

It’s weird to be less demanding in the face of manifest advantage-taking.

It’s weird to suggest that battles we fight may actually be battles of choice – that is to say, our choice – rather than battles they’ve allegedly imposed on us.

To be less demanding, to not want to use – to not want to allow contagion by – the discourses of consumer and corporate capitalism in every level and moment of our lives, is of course clearly weird: I can see this all too well.

But if we are to survive as emotional and social beings, there must surely come a time when we manage to shrug off this historical yoke of capitalism without having to fall into the trap of using its very same tools.  To achieve a new society without the oppression of effervescently excessive continuous improvement and change must demand of us a change in the way we demand things of ourselves.

We must demand less in order to take control of what’s left.  Otherwise, our desire to control everything will lead us to final intellectual destruction.

Anthony Painter launches tomorrow a new book on what’s left for the future.  You can find out more about it here (the bold is mine):

Left without a future? poses a simple question: despite the failure of neo-liberalism, why has the left failed to provide an alternative that resonates? In a context of enormous social and economic change, the centre-left has not found a convincing new governing statecraft. Now it must seek to create a practical new vision in anxious rather than prosperous times.

The website’s introduction goes on to describe the book thus (again, the bold is mine):

Anthony Painter argues that the crash marked an end of an era for the left as well as the neo-liberal right. It has yet to adapt to this moment in a convincing way: either resting on old orthodoxies or pursuing new approaches such as Blue Labour that don’t answer the needs of the time. The centre-left should instead look at cultivating a new suite of practical institutions to take on concentrations of power in the market, state and society – creating greater social justice in the process. Left without a future? is a manifesto for institutional change in finance, business, labour markets, welfare, public services, education, political parties, democracy, and much else besides.

This desire to move towards a more practical approach, framed by the goals of social justice, seems interesting in principle – and kind of what my recent instincts to being less demanding may also coattail on: a politics of the nitty-gritty which didn’t revert to managerialism, which involved ordinary people in its fabrication, which tied disparate opinions together on what they could agree on – rather than spending so much time in a sterile harvesting of everything disagreeable – would all surely make for a better world, and perhaps sooner than we think possible.

I’m fed up of point-scoring which leads to no process of problem-solving.  Maybe other people are fed up of the same.  If enough could be made to realise they’re not on their own, we could re-engineer a society currently destroyed by the demanding focus of consumer capitalism – and make it, once again, in the image of humanity.

Make tools no longer the focus of our yearnings, but a simple, easily managed and occasional extension of our existences.

Is that really such a weird objective to have in one’s life?

Well.  If unread I must be, at least let it be for this!

:-)


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Jun 042013
 
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Wikipedia defines “changeling” thus:

changeling is a creature found in European folklore and folk religion. It is typically described as being the offspring of a fairytrollelf or other legendary creature that has been secretly left in the place of a human child.  […]

And thus this blog’s surface has changed today.  Might be the restlessness an approaching summer provokes; might be me simply finding myself at a bit of a loose end.  Whatever the reason, I hope you like at least most of the result.

In the meantime, a jolly good reason to play a fantastic piece of music.


http://youtu.be/W1xfkUdl13M


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Mar 162013
 
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John Naughton, an old-school web-logger of considerable note, confused me this morning.  His very short quote for the day went as follows:

“If you’re the most intelligent person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”

James Watson

Luckily, I spend a lot of my time in the right rooms.

So why did this confuse me?  Because it made me wonder why I am where I am, so many years down the line.  So many years since I got seven straight “A” grades at the age of sixteen (just a “C” in German, I’m afraid – most of the class preferred paper planes); stumbled fractiously at the age of eighteen; and never quite managed to look forward since then.

For I’m pretty sure I’ve been underachieving here.  At least in this world.  At least according to its overriding and generally accepted criteria.

Then, just now, in serendipitous reply, this beautifully sharp observation came my way via its author Dave Winer (the bold is mine):

Anyway, I was just reading this piece in the New Yorker. It’s short and to the point, and asks an interesting question. Why doesn’t Mitt Romney finally let his hair down a little. It’s of course well-written, it’s in the New Yorker after all. I thought to myself — “I bet this is the kind of writing they’re looking for at Medium.”

I’m more casual a writer. I think of blogging as a written form of fresco. Made of plaster with a little coloring. It hardens fast, and you move on to something else. I used to say “we’re just folks here.” That’s the kind of writing I aspire to.

Yes!  This!  This!  Precisely this!

“We’re just folks here.”

It’s no underachievement to be communicating in this ether at all.  Occasionally, just a bit, the real-world intelligentsia believe themselves a step up from everyone else, but – in truth (and thankfully) – intelligence has no respect for social boundaries, nor only resides in the intelligentsia I mention.

In much the same way, in fact, as the ether we’re operating in has little respect for real-world definers and delimiters.

So by all means ensure you’re in those rooms filled with people your intellectual betters – just don’t expect it to be easy to identify which rooms or who these might be.

____________________

Further reading: this, on the buzzword prefix/label/limiter “open” (as in “open source” or “open government”), is probably relevant to much of what I write on this blog, especially as a prejudice I hold; especially as an instinct I exhibit.

I do, however, also wonder whether “open” is such an attractive idea precisely because “closed” is (perceived as being) such a common experience.

Your call on this one.  I’m sure you’ll decide for yourselves.


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Feb 222013
 
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After meekly exiting Labour’s intranet, Members Net, having blogged for quite a while in its partisan embrace, I stumbled across an outside world of blogging at the hand of Andrew Regan’s now defunct political aggregator, Bloggers4Labour.  I thought this a wonderful device, maintaining as it healthily did the visual and locational idiosyncrasies of individual blogsites, even as it brought together in one sensible place the feeds of each and every one.  It allowed for a wonderful overview of what was bubbling under in the Labour-blogging community; it helped new bloggers get exposure and support from existing practioners; and it served to sustain a worthy sense of common cause in what has often historically been a fractured political grouping.

Andrew really did know how to integrate the needs of readerships by using technology.  He would even supply his own often gently proffered and constructive comments on other people’s posts.  This helped create a point of focus on the wider input which – in a very simple and neat way – helped generate an air of shared purpose.

My memory of Bloggers4Labour was almost entirely positive.  Both Andrew and I, sometimes together, sometimes separately, tried to build on this original achievement with other projects which I was either rather tangentially involved in (for example, Andrew’s Poblish – a super-aggregator designed to outdo Google’s own search in the global field of political blogging) or more directly engaged with (for example, my idea for a Last.fm of political thought).  In all cases, I think what drove him – and certainly myself – was a desire to return, in some way or other, to that golden age of political blogging which Bloggers4Labour – at its most didactic and pedagogical best – seemed at the time to represent.

Instead of cramming everyone together in a single platform – a kind of awful melting-pot as per a United States of Blogging – Bloggers4Labour and the ideas that came afterwards looked to allow individuality to shine through even as the aim was to bring voices together.

A European Union of Sovereign Blogging, if you like.

So if it was such a good idea, why didn’t it quite work out?  Who knows?  Maybe because we didn’t have the resource; maybe because we didn’t quite hone the ideas; maybe, in reality, because it wasn’t such a golden age.  Or maybe because blogging, in a different way, has kind of had its time and has transmuted into other ways of exchanging the information we value.

Blogging always was a bit of a traditional hierarchy of communication: author-led top-down authorities who were often challenged, but never entirely toppled, by those who would hang from their coattails.  Which is not to underestimate the importance of commenters to the good functioning of a blogsite.  Sometimes, the broader reputations acquired belonged more to those who commented than to the original posters themselves.

Symbiotic relationships of thought were ever thus.

Of course, we all know what happened to blogging: Facebook and Twitter.  It was probably going to happen, whatever the company name, whatever the online constitution, whatever the business model.  But Facebook and Twitter both hastened traditional blogging’s demise.

People much better resourced than us English blogging fans were able to re-engineer the instincts behind standard blogging for an instant-fix generation.  And so the beautiful exchanges between considered author-led hierarchies began to lose their dominance on the web.

*

So now we come to February, 2013.  And whilst the domain’s been running for a while, with a fairly traditional blogging platform behind it, SpeakersChair.com – a cross-party political blogging website on which I have had some of my recent posts published – has suddenly had the audacity to suggest, through a massive makeover of functionality, that political blogging might not be as defunct as we thought.

Before this change, SpeakersChair.com was essentially a traditional melting-pot-type blogging platform.  Writers of different political colours submitted their posts for site editors to repost on the site.  We see this model operating successfully in many places: from Liberal Conspiracy to – I guess – even the Guardian‘s Comment is Free.  I think, however, that the new SpeakersChair.com moves away from this model in several significant ways:

  1. From a melting-pot blogging platform like Liberal Conspiracy, where visuals and technologies become common to all authors even as posting rights remain with site editors, it transmutes itself more into a souped-up kind of TweetDeck, where its prime function is to sit as a front-end to both Facebook and Twitter – as well as SpeakersChair.com itself.
  2. The ability – and challenge – of each contributor is to act as an authorial hub around which comment is designed to flow.  I guess this could be the case for contributors who write original posts just as much as it might be for contributors who add their opinions as comments to original posts.  In fact, at very first glance it seems that the deliberate intention is to blur as much as possible the hierarchy between original posters and commenters.
  3. I cannot but help considering this latter innovation healthy: it clearly shows that the designers of this online constitution understand that their version of political blogging needs to “get” social, if it’s to have any decent chance of catching on.  And social is much more than tacking on commenting tools at the tail-end of the professionalising commentariat: social, above all, is a matter of sharing hierarchy and power.

Seen, then, as a communication front-end more than a traditional website, seen in fact primarily as a posting tool to various channels, there is no reason why SpeakersChair.com shouldn’t compete effectively with Facebook, web Twitter and even third-party communication tools out there.

I just wonder if there’s also an app in the pipeline.  That imperious world of mobile Internet doesn’t half make or break communication these days.  It surely would serve to complete a beautifully political blogging circle which, for me, started out with Labour’s Members Net, stumbled for a few years after Bloggers4Labour’s major steps forwards – and which could now quite easily find its natural home in a cross-party communication project that, at least in my humble opinion, has everything it needs to deservedly succeed.


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Feb 122013
 
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Questions, questions, questions.  In latterday society, it seems you’re OK as long as you keep any you have to yourself.  What 21st century society appears to require of us – above all – is certainty, application and action.

I’m the first to admit my skills at headlining posts are bordering on the non-existent.  And I freely admit I’m the first to admire the poetry which English tabloids – in particular those tabloids from Mr Rupert Murdoch’s stable – inevitably exhibit with respect to this very particular art.  So it was with great interest that I learned today of this piece of wisdom in relation to the writing of headlines, especially headlines as questions (many thanks to David for the heads-up!):

Betteridge’s law of headlines is an adage that states, “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” The name refers to Ian Betteridge, a British technology journalist who primarily covers topics relating to Apple,[1] although the general concept is much older.[2] The observation has also been called “Davis’ law[3][4] or just the “journalistic principle.”[5]

Wikipedia goes on to state (the bold is mine):

Betteridge explained the concept in a February 2009 article, regarding a TechCrunch article with the headline “Did Last.fm Just Hand Over User Listening Data To the RIAA?”:

This story is a great demonstration of my maxim that any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word “no.” The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bollocks, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it.[6]

Andrew Marr also gets in on the act with these revealing words on how short-of-time journalists skimming for useful data tend not to look beyond the initial wrapper because of the punctuation mark used (again, the bold is mine):

Five years before Betteridge’s article, a similar observation was made by UK journalist Andrew Marr in his 2004 book My Trade. It was among Marr’s suggestions for how a reader should approach a newspaper if they really wish to know what is going on:

If the headline asks a question, try answering ‘no.’ Is This the True Face of Britain’s Young? (Sensible reader: No.) Have We Found the Cure for AIDS? (No; or you wouldn’t have put the question mark in.) Does This Map Provide the Key for Peace? (Probably not.) A headline with a question mark at the end means, in the vast majority of cases, that the story is tendentious or over-sold. It is often a scare story, or an attempt to elevate some run-of-the-mill piece of reporting into a national controversy and, preferably, a national panic. To a busy journalist hunting for real information a question mark means ‘don’t bother reading this bit’.[7]

I have to say this looks like it might explain quite a great deal of my current experience with blogging.  Whilst I easily get 10,000 spam comments a month, the real and productive reactions rarely show themselves.  Is, then, my tendency to ask more questions than provide authoritarian answers frightening away the readership engagement in droves?

Are we really saying there is no market for places which postulate instead of declaim?

Must we really give in to the fearsome dictatorship of authority-seekers?

And does the very fact that I ask so many questions really mean I’m actually writing a load of absolute bollocks?


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Dec 122012
 
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James summarised it thus (more than fully) on November 30th, in a piece clearly titled “#Leveson is excellent on internet free speech. He didn’t brush over it, he robustly defended it”:

Leveson […] draws a clear distinction between a news outlet which claims to provide trusted reporting and the internet in general, where there is no implied trust (although Leveson uses the term ethical rather than trusted, which in this particular case I believe are interchangeable as trust in news output flows from ethical journalism).

Chapter 7, section 3.2:

“… the internet does not claim to operate by any particular ethical standards, still less high ones. Some have called it a ‘wild west’ but I would prefer to use the term ‘ethical vacuum’. This is not to say for one moment that everything on the internet is therefore unethical. That would be a gross mischaracterisation of the work of very many bloggers and websites which should rightly and fairly be characterised as valuable and professional. The point I am making is a more modest one, namely that the internet does not claim to operate by express ethical standards, so that bloggers and others may, if they choose, act with impunity.”

Leveson doesn’t say this but there is also a jurisdiction issue online. It’s not strictly true that bloggers may act with impunity if based in the UK, as there’s always the possibility they will be traced using existing legal instruments and prosecuted or face civil proceedings for libel or privacy breach.

7.3.3:

“The press, on the other hand, does claim to operate by and adhere to an ethical code of conduct. Publishers of newspapers will be (or, at least, are far more likely to be) far more heavily resourced than most, if not all, bloggers and websites that report news (as opposed to search engines that direct those on line to different sites). Newspapers, through whichever medium they are delivered, purport to offer a quality product in all senses of that term.”

James also goes on to point out the difference between social media making content available and the very same content being “emblazoned” on the front page of a highly visible online newspaper.

So.  We have an ethically-driven industry versus an ethical vacuum such as the Internet.  And we have the industry of extreme visibility versus the amateur placing of content at a much lower level.  As I pointed out a couple of posts ago (the bold is mine today):

Some further thoughts, then, on where this might all be leading us:

  • We need to look beyond the tools and their physical manifestations – it’s always easy to notice the technology and think that content must inevitably follow suit.  What’s clearly missing in all kinds of media at the moment is the instinct to reflect and think behind the headlines before putting virtual pen to paper – the impulse to leave, for a few days as a draft, a piece of work usefully unpublished.  Blogging is as guilty of this as any newspaper columnist out there.  I am as guilty of this as anyone else.
  • I would also ask us to keep in mind that whilst the free press belongs to limited liability industry, free speech should belong to unlimited liability people.  And the rights and responsibilities, as well as the punishments for transgression and so forth, should be quite different in each case.  If we believe that international corporations are better guarantors of our free press than the laws of representative democracy, then the real problem doesn’t lie in statutory underpinning or not – it lies in a democracy which isn’t representative enough.  No amount of any social media under the evermore fierce gaze of Western governments is going to fix a system as broken as that.
  • A people’s press, then, perhaps?  A kind of Fifth or Sixth Estate?  We need statutory protection for free speech here in the UK at the very least if we are to propose such a model.
  • The ideal?  Maybe an osmotic world of information exchange where industry and people interface to their mutual benefit.  But not under the current weight of English and Welsh libel laws.

Leveson, then, as per the slant James places on him at the end of last month, seems clear that there is a substantial difference between, on the one hand, the Internet as it has grown up and is manifesting itself through blogging, tweeting and Facebooking and, on the other, the industry of highly visible newspapermen and women.

But today the Guardian publishes a report on a conference Leveson has just given.  An immediate observation: I thought at the time of the report’s launch, Leveson had assured us he would take no questions and make no further comments.  The second “public outing” in as many weeks would seem to give lie to such assurances.

Or maybe I misunderstood.

Or maybe I simply invented the moment.

Talk about picking and choosing your stage …

*

Anyhow.  At least according to the Guardian, Leveson is now in two minds about the Internet.  Whilst he still accepts that social media is the “electronic version of pub gossip”, and does seem to accept that this might actual inscribe a virtue for human thought (that is to say, the thinking of the unthinkable – the freedom to go anywhere with a train of thought), he doesn’t seem quite convinced any more that the implications in relation to law, and what and how we should apply it, should be followed through.

What’s more, he seems to recognise the ethical side of the newspaper industry isn’t quite as ethical or convincing as it might be, especially when he says:

[…] if journalists saw the law going unenforced against bloggers, it might “undermine media standards through encouraging them to adopt a casual approach to the law”.

“If we are to ensure that appropriate standards are maintained, we must meet these challenges, and ensure that the media … is not placed at a disadvantage where the enforcement of the law is concerned,” Leveson said.

I think, to be honest, and I’m happy to be corrected if you feel I’m being too cynical, that those who’d really be placed at a disadvantage would not be the media but, rather, the rich, powerful and/or well-connected who strive to manage the news which journalists are allowed to print.  If such things as described by Greenslade are happening already – and they have happened for a long time I am sure – just think what they could get away with under a regime where lawyerless and amateur communicators could be silenced and punished to the same degree as an industry.

Leveson is right to say:

[…] that it was a “pernicious and false belief” that bloggers were not subject to the same laws as print and broadcast journalists.

But he is wrong to argue that, in exactly the same way, both individual free speech and the industrial free press should be marshalled, controlled and punished by our justice system.

It’s just not fair, proportional or democratic.  If my yearly income is a minuscule percentage of what a media behemoth turns over globally, I can hardly be held equally responsible for errors of judgement.

Now can I?

So I come to my last question: what does Leveson really think about blogging?  Is it a force for good which often takes us to the wilder parts of human thought in a productive and constructive manner?  Or is it something which for the good of the status quo must now be progressively chilled into holding back its occurrences?

A sensibly policed state – or the anteroom of a police state?

Where is Leveson now?


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Dec 102012
 
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Ariel has an interesting article over at the Guardian which not only describes current behaviours in mainstream and social media but serves as an excellent repository of such behaviours – in this case, in relation to the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas.  Whilst during the riots last year in Britain, social networks and social media served to put the authorities on the back foot, lessons since then have clearly been learned.  When Ariel headlines the article in question as “The first social media war between Israel and Gaza”, he could just as easily describe it as one of the first social media wars, full stop.  This, for example:

From the start, the Isreaeli Defence Force (IDF) and Hamas shared clips on YouTube, and posted messages and images on Facebook and Twitter (also here), which initiated heated debates on the platforms. Many reporters followed these and actively participated in the discussions, which made social media an important element of both reporting and criticism of the conflict.

This should hardly surprise us.  That manipulation of social-media news and its transmission takes place must be self-evident to anyone with any experience of how stories in such contexts surge.  Recent cases of sex-abuse allegations have generated claims and counter-claims which can hardly depend only on the dynamics of sheeply flocks.  But in the argument that Ariel develops, we get a further strand of behaviours that add a far more complex interest to the mix.  For he also describes and defines the following processes:

[…] Unlike any other war in the past, the Israeli-Gaza conflict has been characterised by the mass virtual participation of ordinary people via social media. […]

And this has led to the more mainstream media feeling obliged to take onboard, and within their own frames, websites and even offline print, such popular – and, maybe, populist – content.  In a post-blogging Facebook generation, where the very fact you’re an amateur communicator adds weight, veracity and conviction to what you tell, it must be the case that, in order to be able to properly convince, latterday industrial media has had to acquire a journalistic equivalent of what film-makers learned to call cinéma vérité.  A kind of post-modern approach to communication, perhaps.  A veneer of “realistic” edginess to their product where once smooth and house-ridden styles were sub-editorially imposed as unquestioned – and unquestionable – good practice.

Some further thoughts, then, on where this might all be leading us:

  • We need to look beyond the tools and their physical manifestations – it’s always easy to notice the technology and think that content must inevitably follow suit.  What’s clearly missing in all kinds of media at the moment is the instinct to reflect and think behind the headlines before putting virtual pen to paper – the impulse to leave, for a few days as a draft, a piece of work usefully unpublished.  Blogging is as guilty of this as any newspaper columnist out there.  I am as guilty of this as anyone else.
  • I would also ask us to keep in mind that whilst the free press belongs to limited liability industry, free speech should belong to unlimited liability people.  And the rights and responsibilities, as well as the punishments for transgression and so forth, should be quite different in each case.  If we believe that international corporations are better guarantors of our free press than the laws of representative democracy, then the real problem doesn’t lie in statutory underpinning or not – it lies in a democracy which isn’t representative enough.  No amount of any social media under the evermore fierce gaze of Western governments is going to fix a system as broken as that.
  • A people’s press, then, perhaps?  A kind of Fifth or Sixth Estate?  We need statutory protection for free speech here in the UK at the very least if we are to propose such a model.
  • The ideal?  Maybe an osmotic world of information exchange where industry and people interface to their mutual benefit.  But not under the current weight of English and Welsh libel laws.

A couple of final thoughts.  First, in relation to these words from Ariel (the bold is mine):

Just as cyber-war and cyber-terrorism have become prevalent, social media warfare is here to stay. It seems that the fight for public opinion will keep growing in importance, and play a more central role in future conflicts. The fact that opposing parties can communicate directly with the public will increase the pressure on journalists to stay relevant.

To these words I would be inclined to add that the above-mentioned three battles will shortly form part of a new Holy Trinity of communication.  Just as industrial media was kept in the shadow and practice of the security services throughout the whole Cold War and its aftermath, leading to the corruption that recent phone-hacking scandals have uncovered here in Britain, so now social media will be in the eye of and form a target for such institutions.  It could hardly be any other way.  If amateur communicators are making more of the news their peers are wanting to read than the news outlets themselves, no veneer, however thick, will fool any member of the post-Leveson generation.  There is no way back.  And the security services probably know this well before the newspaper industry is able and prepared to take it on the chin.

Second, these are all matters which have interested a lot of us recently – both readers and writers, both amateurs and professionals.  Such a post-Leveson moment as this will surely serve to define at least the next fifty years of communication in Britain – and people really don’t realise what’s happening.

We’re sleepwalking into the future of so many unfreedoms.

Social media warfare being just one more sorry battleground they’ll fashion in order to restrict our ability not only, not primarily, to freely exchange our thoughts but also – far more importantly – to be able to evaluate their narratives.

Because if the future is going to work as I think Ariel believes, the ability to sift and determine where truth really lies will become far greater and relevant than it currently might be.

A world of multiple and simultaneous intertextualities?

Almost fit for a new generation of Johann Haris … and I mean that in as complimentary a fashion as you care to allow me.


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Nov 292012
 
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Emily Bell argued yesterday in the Guardian that by making and sustaining a distinction between the press on the one hand and social media on the other the Leveson Inquiry had painted itself into the corner of irrelevance.  Her definition of the free press would, instead, be as follows:

The free press of the 21st century consists of the distributed social platforms, the WordPress blogging software and the “dark social” matter of the hidden web, as much as it is the venerable institutions that have local accountability to whatever regulator the UK government should seek to appoint.

Leveson is, however, quite undeterred.  He repeated his assertions today as he delivered his 2000-page report on press culture, its ethics and its possibly regulated future.  Try minute three of the video below:


http://youtu.be/8iuxaVkfHOA?t=3m

He’s clear there is a difference, isn’t he?  No doubt in his mind at all.  The question is, whose instincts should we run with?  Those of a professional journalist such as Bell, seeped, as she is, in communication lore and its dynamics – or a man with the kind of regulatory instincts which only the professions of lawyer and judge can infuse?

I’m not sure, actually, that’s the real issue to hand.  I’ve always felt my blogging – and latterly my tweeting and Facebook output – was more along the lines of a global conversation than publishing.  Certainly, if anything tended to the latter, it would be this blog – but even there, the habit of hyperlinking and bouncing off other’s occurrences, the fact that the purpose of my blogging has always been to brainstorm ideas and follow them to their ultimate consequences, surely gives me the right to side more with Lord Justice Leveson than with Emily Bell’s almost catch-all attempt to include social media under her professionalising umbrellas.

And I really don’t think I’d be the only blogger or social-media fan to believe that we converse and dialogue more than publish.  Whilst Leveson attempts to see beyond the technology – to identify what makes institutional and industrial communication very particular to the health of a democracy, to that holding of power to account – it would appear that Bell seems to confuse means and aims.

That newspapers like the Guardian use social-media technologies – blogging software, tweeting and Facebooking facilities, even the chatty discourse of conversation – doesn’t mean that the original social media, the bloggers and tweeters and Facebookers galore, have suddenly become paid-up members of the official British press.  And it goes without saying it’s my firm belief that all attempts to make us so, by anyone who believes that’s the way forward, should be firmly resisted.

Why?  Out of pure self-interest?  Out of a creeping set of double standards?  Out of a desire to be able to say without having to accept responsibility for one’s content?

I don’t think so.

Firstly, bloggers, tweeters and Facebookers do not have access to legions of lawyerly support.  Nor, in general, do they have the consistent and easily maintainable visibility which power of any real kind demands.  If they do have any power, it is the power of the crowd: a lent out, shared and circulated power.  Yes, in its negative manifestations, possibly similar to the power of the mob.  But in its positives, a glorious song to human collaboration.

Secondly, if we’re looking to have an area of reasonably public discourse which can follow trains of new and ground-breaking thought to their logical conclusions, which can imagine new worlds and which does offer our civilisation a route out of a pervasive group-think, surely anyone who cares at all about democratic communication will understand we need to encourage the ambiguity that social media has so eagerly generated and enabled.  The institutional press, in Leveson’s terms, is there to hold institutional power to account – and quite rightly so.  But social media should be reserved, equally rightly so, for the amateur citizen and interested voter to express their opinions as often and as freely as they like.

With certain limitations where the pale is gone so far beyond – but with a desire for “independent and effective self-regulation” whenever the free and open web is able to thus deliver.

As Peter on Twitter said today:

This is one of those days when its good to be mindful of the difference between “free speech” and “free press”

And he’s right.  Let us guarantee by all means the freedoms of the press, as Bell fairly pursues.  Let us also, however, consciously sustain the right of a virtualised base of evermore engaged citizens to use the very same technologies which the press is now appropriating as its own – but for purely individual, non-institutional, crowd-focussed and conversational purposes.

The difference between the press and social media is, therefore, after all, a useful distinction indeed: it is the clearly understandable difference between writing up and speaking up.

Keep that in mind, dear professional journalists – and it’ll be easier to comprehend why Leveson, in this at least, is absolutely spot-on.

Spot-on, that is to say, in his interestingly outsider’s perceptions of exactly where each of our duties really should lie in the future.

____________________

Update to this post: if you prefer reading to watching videos, you can now find a full transcript of Leveson’s statement this afternoon over at the Politics Home website.  The executive summary of the report itself can be found here (.pdf file); the report in its entirety here (.pdf file).


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Aug 122012
 
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This started out as a comment to a reply Dave Semple posted in his “Requiem for a Blog”.  I thought I’d reproduce it here because I feel it may have a wider applicability to others who may frustratedly feel the same at the moment on the subject of left-wing participation in the blogosphere in particular – as well as social media more generally:

“But as a great man once said, philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

Yes. That is very true. I still do wonder if what we need out here is a better feedback mechanism.  So much of what we have written gets taken onboard (that’s my firm belief) – and yet we can’t be absolutely sure it has at all, because a comment isn’t made even as a conclusion is quietly reached.

Blogging see-saws between furious trolling on the one hand and an uncommon reader silence on the other.  The happy medium – where the comments are just as important and frequent as the OPs; a happy medium which I have to say has often been found on TCF – is not widely apparent elsewhere.  So if you were looking to engage people and get them off their backsides, in our monitor-facing virtual world you already achieved quite a lot.

It’s clearly not enough, of course – and your appeal to change the real world in order that as a side-effect the blogosphere be conquered is revealing.  Everyone wants a job.  That individuals use their freely offered-up writings to lever such positions of paid employment is only human.  That it should corrupt the potential power of the blogosphere was perhaps inevitable.  That the solution is to retire from a game you feel you cannot win – and which you conclude in any case is secondary to the real task at hand – is, however, in my gently expressed opinion, not a viable option.

But I do respect the thought processes which have led you to such a conclusion.  Those I cannot deny – they are as totally coherent as one could want.

Perhaps you’re simply not a natural editor- and blogger-in-chief?  Too impatient to sit back and let ideas take their unpredictable and unrecognised course?

Or perhaps you were once a natural editor- and blogger-in-chief – and now you’ve grown into something else?  Doesn’t mean you have to reinterpret the past – or conclude that the tool that got you thus far is generally corrupting, weak and inappropriate for left-wing agitation.

That the big bloggers scurry rapidly to become as MSM as possible is their choice.  It doesn’t, however, have to be ours.

Each to his own is the principle which I think might operate here.

I’m never going to be able to stand up physically in front of a crowd and lead them intelligently through the steps a revolution should take.  I simply cannot do it – I would physically shake.  I *can* gather my thoughts in front of a computer screen and put them together reasonably cogently.  If you are prepared enough and capable enough to do the first, and are good at organisation, and can see clearly enough to communicate your vision in first person, then do so.  And let others, who are only just setting out on their journey of understanding, creep there slowly by beginning to write and communicate tentatively in public.  Where that is what *they* want to do.

The blogosphere often serves as a mechanism of self-initiated consciousness-raising.  Yes.  It’s inefficient, lumberingly repetitive and leads to so many people reinventing the wheel.  But it also means that once such a state of awareness is reached, a real sea-change of understanding is auto-cemented.

Truth of the matter is that what we’re unable to achieve right now is a useful appreciation of how to tap into those very permanent sea-changes – and take advantage of them for our own ends.  But they *are* out there – and they *do* exist.

Don’t give up on social media, Dave.  Even if it simply means you choose to use it behind the scenes, only.

And I would say the same to all of you out there who find it difficult to maintain the patience of ages.  Publishing – a measured historical act which, under social media’s auspices, has morphed into an instantaneous tool for rapid communication – even now sustains its ability to lay down future paths of unknowable development.  It’s true.  Sometimes we don’t know if what we are doing will lead to a modern “Mein Kampf” – or, alternatively, to a truly brave new world we can all be proud of.

But there is nothing we can do about those unquantifiables – all that is open to us is the choice between an irreproachably perfect inaction or a criticisably imperfect participation.

I know which choice I’d prefer to make.

So what about you?

Where are you going to stand?


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Aug 112012
 
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A couple of days ago I posted on the subject of money and how those who use it to define everything appear now to want to impose their criteria on everyone else.  Today, I am minded to recall the thesis of that post as I finish an afternoon stint reading a good Kindle book on my wife’s sunbed out in the garden.

This gentle hour or so in a much improved Spanish afternoon – yesterday was unbearably bochornoso and hit 37 degrees – created in my being such an utter sense of wellbeing that I really couldn’t help feeling: “Why isn’t this kind of experience available to all?”

Can it really be beyond our sophisticated and technologically analytical age to develop the kind of society where such simple freedoms are – realistically – available to all?

Why shouldn’t more of us be able to enjoy such wellbeing?

Why can’t we use money to maximise humanity’s happiness – instead of concentrating it in wells of pitiful limitation?

Why are those in power pushing us towards competing with each other more and more – instead of encouraging us to work together to common interests?

Why in a world where competition is the name of the game – and, thus, where plurality should be a guiding factor – does difference become a potential indicator of shame and suspicious behaviour, and homogeneity the only globalisingly accepted virtue?

Why have we allowed the concept of the free market to become distorted by those who use their monetary wealth to corrupt for their own benefit the appreciable tenets of competition and diversity?

And when will all the above finally cease?

____________________

Footnote to this piece: sadly, Dave Semple, over at Though Cowards Flinch, has formerly announced he will no longer be blogging. I’m inclined to believe that many of the questions I ask above have their answers in his considerable writings over the years.  He feels that blogging has had little effect.  I think his kind of blogging will continue to resonate for a long time.

I posted a comment at the foot of his piece and republish it below as a kind of manifesto in favour of keeping faith with the blogosphere – or, at least, as thinking people might wish to continue to conceptualise it:

I think your best blogging was as you described it: agitational propaganda. I wouldn’t be so harsh on the wider activity though. I think it has many similarities to being a teacher. Not because it is didactic but – rather – because you never know the impact you’ve had (or will have) when someone stumbles across your writings. Intellectually coherent bloggers are more common than you might presume and just because some notable use blogging as a lever to greater power doesn’t mean we all do.

We’re not all the blogging equivalents of churnalists, though there *is* a lot of that – where people coattail the main news to spike their hits.

Myself, I’m very occasionally read and I may be spitting in the well of insignficance but in order to feel at peace with the awfulness of this world I do have to bear witness.

Bearing witness means more to myself than my readers? Yes, perhaps it does. But, in the worst case scenario, it’s better than being locked up in a hospital because one can’t deal with what’s out there.

And in the best case scenario, it fills that well just a little so that one day someone may be able to climb out of it.

We’re small. I am, anyway. I have to take small steps. Blogging is one of those steps.

And just so you know, the only reason I now blog on the open Internet – instead of burrowing away inside Members Net and trying to reason from my mindset of relative privilege with your determined class anger – was because of the things you wrote.

You didn’t intend to teach me, Dave. But I did learn from both your behaviours and your content.

I don’t, after all, think I could have written the stuff I’ve posted in the last couple of days if I hadn’t escaped from the self-serving cosiness of the aforementioned environment.

So you see. You saved at least one soul – can’t that sometimes be enough?

:-)

Good luck with all your endeavours, anyhow. Even when you’re wrong, as I think in part you are in what you say above, you’re engaging. And I’ve never got the feeling I’m wasting my precious life on this earth whilst I’ve chosen to read something you’ve written.


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Apr 242012
 
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Paul Evans has been making a consistent case – which I don’t always agree with (though here and here from a couple of years ago I think I do) – for a proper, that is to say, rather less free-culture based, funding of the creative arts.

I asked my Twitter stream the other day if anyone had reliable stats on trends relating to user-generated content versus traditionally generated content over, say, the past century.  I got no reply but the thought was prompted by this other tweet, which if true is quite astonishing:

95% of the worlds information was created 2 years ago according to Michael batty. #casaconf

In the meantime, I read this morning that Facebook is looking to achieve its one billionth user in the very near future.  On the back of all this Web 2.0 energy, both Facebook and Twitter itself have clearly positioned their business models to deceive us into generating the content with which they hope to permanently profit in the future.

Now here we come to a couple of issues out there which even Anglo-Saxon clevernesses such as these cannot avoid.  In some countries such as Spain, and I believe France as well, there are certain “moral” rights which people as authors cannot sign away if they wanted to.  Whatever a contract says, whatever a set of terms and conditions outlines and insists, an individual is simply unable to deny their own right to authorship and its rewards.

So maybe Anglo-Saxon Twitter and Facebook have all the bases covered in the Anglo-Saxon world.  But what about in those countries where it would appear for legal and “cultural” reasons they are moving to regionalise content generation and its reception?  If there is now a French or Spanish Twitter, Facebook or Blogger environment defined precisely and locally by their respective software constitutions in order to comply with local sensitivities, doesn’t this also open the door for equally local legislations to be applied not only in the case of cultural mores but also in the context of copyright?

A legal conundrum which surely drives us down the path of requiring these behemoths of Web 2.0 content generation to begin to recognise and even pay minimally for authorship on a piecemeal and quantitative basis.

A minimum wage for Twitter and Facebook users perhaps?


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Apr 202012
 
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Chris rightly asks the question:

The answer is that all pose what might be the most important question in economics – of how to encourage creativity.

I think, however, the question is misplaced – misplaced because economics, as well as observers of the creative industries themselves, still sees human endeavour on a playing-field where individuals are more important than mobs.  In fact, some would eagerly blame open source movements and other crowdsourcing efforts for having removed the individual – as well as their due compensation – from modern creation.

But if we’re honest about this, it started at least as early as the nascent 20th century production line that was the Hollywood film industry.  (There are, if I remember rightly, historical references to the Flemish geniuses of Renaissance art also running their own industrially produced outputs – though obviously nothing on the scale of Hollywood.  On the other hand, what did the printing-press bring to authorship if not the industry of the many cooks who might very well spoil the broth constructively?)

And this selfsame Hollywood, for quite a while, was able to impose a model that other industries such as newspapers readily copied: take advantage of the multifarious skills the properly channelled mob might apport; pay them minimally for their efforts; and cream off the profitable results in terms of massive gains for hierarchies and shareholders decade after decade.

The problem, of course, for all the above now, is that the mob which once scraped a living by working for the corporates – which quite correctly invoked the added value that centralised communications, places of work and managed teams of able staff brought to very many creative people – has “disintegrated” into free-culture producer-consumers on the web.  The problem with the web isn’t just that the corporates are getting their content “ripped off”; the problem with the web is, really, that the ant-hill mob of selfless striving has replaced the permanent expectation to be individually famous – and paid for it.

If you stop blogging, another blog will replace you.  If you stop posting to Flickr, another photographer will step into your shoes.  We have taken on board so completely the fifteen-minutes-of-fame dynamic of Warhol’s that we actually now expect to be eventually trodden on – and our only desire is to carry on scurrying creatively for as long as our own personal resources last.

The problem, then, with creativity in modern economies isn’t finding ways of generating more of it.  We only have to read up on YouTube’s download and upload stats, on Wikipedia’s daily pageviews and on Pinterest’s current levels of interest to realise that quantity – and even quality – isn’t an issue.  The ant-hill mob is doing its biz – there’s no doubt about that.

No.  The real problem with creativity only exists within an individualist – and perhaps libertarian – focus on what human reward should really look like.  Even as traditional socialism vanishes from most of modern political practice, the old sharing and community instincts which form a part of being a human being find their expression in modern online creativity.

Essentially, creativity has finally gone all post-modern on us: it no longer needs the traditional economic process of investment, worker oppression and shareholder reward to produce its goods.

The question is whether this is satisfactory for any of us who still believe we human beings should be more than grains of sand on anonymous beaches.

And to that question, I really have no answer.

Maybe because part of its answer, sadly, lies in the meaning of life itself.


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