Friday, 18 March 2011

Spoilt for Digital Choice has the great benefit of being free. Setting up a profile is painless. Within minutes you have a presence on the site and are ready to flirt and be flirted with. My introductory e-missives to Beautifulsweetlittlething and HuskyDarlingtonLady were ignored, but the lovely Julia84 responded almost instantly to the message I sent her.

We had so many interests in common: film; music; literature; travelling. George Orwell was her favourite writer. She listened to the Velvet Underground and Ella Fitzgerald. She worshipped Casablanca. She wanted to live by the sea and learn to sail.

Our early exchanges went well enough. Cari84 would choose Rick over Lazlo. She agreed that the Velvets were much better with Nico. Not that she put any of this in full sentences of course. Full sentences are not the stuff of this sort of chat. The latter sentiment went something like this: OMG! vu w/ nico? vu w/o nico? erm??? idk. w/ nico. Not only did this fail to make me lol, there was absolutely no chance of it making me rofl.

Cari84 responded quite favourably to the wizened looks my profile photo displayed, but didn’t take too kindly to my failure to abbreviate. 'WTF!' I said, 'I’m fond of the fuller form'. When I mentioned that I wasn’t really six foot four as my profile had suggested, and that my six pack was five cans short, I never heard from her again.

Cari84’s disappearance caused me a monetary despair. I was a dating site non-entity. The only message I had in my inbox was from AmazonEssexGirl who wanted to do unspeakable things with tropical fruit. Few people were clicking on my profile. And the more profiles I looked at, the less my interest was aroused.

The experience of online dating reminded me of when Rebecca Llewellyn stood me up in Cardiff in 1989. But at least this time I didn’t have to spend two hours standing outside Marks & Spencer listening to elderly shoppers discuss the evolution of undergarments. Instead, I logged off, snapped shut the jaws of my laptop, and spent the evening wandering around the house in a state of increasing doubt and self-recrimination.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Say Hello, Green Wave Goodbye

Can social media change the world? Evgeny Morozov doesn't think so, and perhaps he has a point. A tweet might enable one protester to link up with another with a fashionable rapidity, but try throwing one of those micro e-missives at a tank and you'll begin to see the limits of the digital telegraph.

The Green Movement in Iran in 2009 sought to bring down Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following a disputed presidential election. In that fervid hour, when internet evangelists like Jared Cohen rushed to proclaim the protest "the one that social media built," the cliché of choice was that Twitter would transform Iran, 140 characters at a time.

The failed attempt to unseat Ahmadinejad is the subject of Iranian-German filmmaker Ali Samadi Ahadi's film, The Green Wave, which receives its UK premiere on March 25th. Drawing upon techniques seen in Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir, Ahadi animates the work of Iranian bloggers, thus imaginatively recreating moments from the 2009 protest not recorded by TV cameras.

It is clear that the internet offers a novel locus for dissent; it also allows governments, both authoritarian and democratic, a new means of tracking down citizens who are resistant to established authority. Can social media change the world? Why don't you write a blog post about it?

Monday, 7 March 2011

Manufacturing Content

Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing and the screenwriter of The Social Network, doesn’t like the internet. “There’s just too much bad information getting out there,” he told the Dairy Goat Journal, “and I have to believe that’s mostly the fault of the internet, which isn’t held to any standards of accuracy.”

Mr. Sorkin’s view is that the internet has undermined the role of newspapers. Surely, that perspective is a correct one. After all, didn’t the print rags once contain all the information we needed to help us make sense of the world around us? I too remember that glorious time when the Daily This or the Morning That would arrive through the letterbox each day. Oh, how we were once enlightened by the informed objectivity of the great columnists! Oh, how we gobbled up the accurate truth like a plateful of nutritious and healthy info-food!

Here in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland commentators such as the Daily Mail's Peter Hitchens and The Guardian's Polly Toynbee, must be allowed to continue to run the information in our lives. There can be no other way. The media class to which the aforementioned duo pertain are interested in nothing other than the purest truth. They are untainted by personal interest, prejudice and subjective political conviction. They wish only to inform. Need it even be said that their work is based on the purest accuracy. Of course it is. That is self-evident. Let us thank Mr. Sorkin then for reminding us bloggering souls of our place in the information order. Ours is not to question. We must simply receive.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Infamy, Infamy, They've All Got It Infamy

We all know that the United States allowed Pearl Harbour to be attacked so that Frank Sinatra could win the Best Supporting Actor for From Here to Eternity. But websites like the and will try to convince us otherwise. ‘Wake up’ is the battle cry of the conspiracists. If we refuse this imperative, we must be one of the ‘sheeple,’ or else a disinformation agent in the pay of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Conspiracy theories elevate the importance of the individual: we feel flattered that we are privy to a truth hidden from public view, just as we feel cheated when fed a line from our elders and betters. The websites devoted to the investigation of the shadow government running the world not only satisfy our demand for control and assurance, but also flatter our sense of our own importance. They make us believe that if we, the online mass, noble citizen journalists all, merely swallow the official version of history then we abrogate the essential responsibility of the investigative reporter: to get at truth, whatever it might be and wherever it might be found.

The likes of Alex Jones, David Icke, Alan Watt and Glen Kealey represent a paranoid counter-culture that has extraordinary currency online, particularly on YouTube. They peddle psychological horror as genuine insight and analysis. Their infantile Manichean separation of the angelic and demonic is fine for a bedtime story, but has nothing to offer any considered engagement with real life. When such idealism is allowed to dominate realism the result is a dogmatic refusal to countenance serious intellectual discussion.

I must confess to being a sucker for these clandestine and nefarious games. Plots and inside jobs get my blood flowing like little else on our spinning top of a planet: cover ups; patsies; shadowy figures on oddly named bits of grass; tall buildings that fall as if detonated, fluttering lunar flags, the Bilderberg group. Conspiracy theory is as emotionally thrilling as a Wilkie Collins novel, but as intellectual stimulating as Eastenders. Jump into the matrix and fall down the rabbit hole – to use two of the conspiracists’ favourite cultural reference points – is the way to madness of course. Spend too much time with those who have made a cult out of getting six from adding two and two – and you’ll soon forget your name. One minute you’re asking yourself whether Tower 7 was brought down by a cackling and sinister cabal of Masonic overlords, the next you are sweating pure fear and have forgotten that 1984 (the conspiracists’ bible) was a black comedy.

Oops. That’s the doorbell. I’ll just peep out the window, see who it is. Probably someone selling flannels or horticultural services. Good Google. There are two of them, both wearing black suits and Ray Bans. They look as if they are from elsewhere. Neither is smiling.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Feeding the Troll

Internet message boards are the sites of pitched battle. Threads on YouTube soon become arenas of abuse. On there is open war between lovers of art-house cinema and those who favour Hollywood blockbusters or genre films. The arguments follow a familiar line: a poster will declare that Bergman’s Wild Strawberries is a work of artistic genius. Someone else will confess to having been bored by it. After which, a third commenter, horrified at this cultural blasphemy, will say: ‘Well, go and watch The Nutty Professor then.’ At some point, the word ‘pretentious’ will be thrown in; the nationality of posters often becomes an issue. And on it goes until the coffee break of the site moderator is interrupted.

The internet mood is one of an anger waiting to be expressed, an offence longing to be taken. Arguments are ‘won’ simply by saying ‘it’s only your opinion so nahhhh.’ The notion that wit, wisdom, patience and self-possession should characterise debate is quaint. Restraint and tolerance are not suited to the adolescent state of the internet, nor do they apply to the querulous times through which we stumble. The statement that we all have the right to an opinion is the ultimate modern argument breaker, splenetic disagreement with the opinion being expressed the current height of riposte.

The notorious problem of online tone makes confrontation on the internet inevitable. A sarcastic remark is seen as direct attack, a point is misunderstood, a row ensues. Mischief making is oxygen online, the superficial anonymity of the system allowing us to bait others without consequence, before we disappear into the electronic undergrowth. Online, we are more susceptible to the trolls within and without. Now, I wonder what the Three Billy Goats Gruff are up to.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

All Voices Are Equal, But Some Are More Equal Than Others

Technology has given each of us the opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings with a potential audience of millions, without the inconvenience of having to convince publishers or editors of the worth of our words. Our wise and witty screeds may be ignored, but at least we are expressing ourselves. Isn’t getting into our own grove what it has all come down to online? Mid flickr and blog, I will vodcast my barbaric yawp across the YouTubes of the world.

Whether on blog or social networking page, by user-generated text or image, our view, our take, our opinion is what moves us. Text in. Tweet. Phone in. Email. What do you think? Tell us your story. It may be that you tried a new recipe for shepherd’s pie for dinner last night that involved actual shepherds, or that you recently escaped, under gunfire, from a violent corner of the Maghreb. No matter. Each tale is equal, each teller equally equipped with the means to tell it.

What a load of Simon Cowell. Being witness to a drama doesn’t necessarily mean that we possess an ability to stage it. We each have a story to tell, of course, but it doesn’t automatically follow that we have an ability to tell it. Don’t get stuck with my grandmother whatever you do.

The idea of collective creative parity online is a romantic one, which fools us into believing that we are being listened to, that we matter now more than we ever have before. But the world remains a place in which some have and some have not, some will and some won’t, some can and some can’t. It is not flat, whatever Thomas Friedman and other professional exaggerators would have us believe. We are babbling away like never before, but some voices are more equal than others. The authorities, social, political, economic and cultural, still exist, and these authorities are being influenced by the new priestly caste, the evangelists for the democratic possibilities of technology. Power isn't being challenged. It is simply learning to pretend that it is just like you.