Lies

With the virtual world awash with fake news and unconfirmed rumour, navigating the Internet’s never been more fraught. How can we tell what’s real and what isn’t? In most cases, I use more than one ‘impartial’ news sources for a confirmation on big stories: Reuters, the Associated Press and the BBC News sites may not be everybody’s providers of choice, but if all three are simultaneously flagging up breaking news, that’s normally a good indicator of actual validity… if it happens in a country that is not mine (as was the case with the US pipe bomber story) then national news in that country is the way to follow things as they develop.

However, accepting that nothing read online as fact is becoming the far more sensible default state. Yes, you’ll encounter experts in your travels, and I’m not belittling anything such people say, but honestly you should start fact checking. Wikipedia isn’t bulletproof, but there are third part sites that can help separate wheat from chaff. There has been a story circulating on Facebook (for instance) suggesting a supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park is ready to erupt (a la the movie 2012) for… well, a long time. It’s all complete bollocks, part of a slew of urban myths and legends buried ‘in the cloud.’

However, there are more insidious lies being told of late that I find increasingly disturbing.

Twitter thinks it can fool me, but I know better. It doesn’t help that I run three separate accounts through my phone, and that on one there’s a lot more followers than the other two. This means that the phone thinks when I’ve read something the night before, I might want to follow that person the next day via the other accounts… that’s not how this works, and you know it isn’t. It’s like telling me 126 people I am friends with retweeted this picture and therefore why don’t I want to do the same? This is not organic engagement, algorithm. I see through your ploy. GO AWAY.

I knew that inbuilt paranoia would finally have some use.

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There’s a bigger issue here, of course: laziness. You wanna look like you’re up with news and current events, so you like all that stuff, and retweet those things… and after a while it is easier to let the AI think for you. Except, we all know how that ends up working out. Writers create dystopia for a reason, and a lot of it is wrapped up in those for whom fake news is easier to swallow, whose opinions don’t seem to mesh with the majority. For every individual shocked at the depths of depravity others can sink to, there’ll be someone seeing how much worse they can manage and still get away with it.

Welcome to human nature, which is only as restricted as the information that gets crammed into the average brain. With the Internet as our playground and AI the arbiters of space, time and knowledge…

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This is also where those of us who have mental shortcomings need to get quite tough, and the more sensitive or vulnerable to suggestion end up as prime vehicles for exploitation. It should not be a surprise that it is AI driving negative rhetoric either, it is a perfect vehicle for such dissemination. If you cannot distinguish noise from imitation, blocking out everything is just easier and less stressful, yet along the way a vital level of rationalisation simply withers up and dies. The truth can (and will) set you free but only if you are capable of distinguishing it from everything else that’s masquerading as the exact same thing.

When trustworthy companies intentionally blur the lines of truth to improve their third quarter figures and throw shade at their competition, we should be up in arms, but time and again, it never happens. There is a reckoning coming, like it or not, and it will end up with large groups of people happily sending themselves into wilful oblivion, probably based on a Facebook Poll which secretly took their assent by making them click on pictures of cute animals. As we stand in the smoking, dystopian remains of the planet, yet again, we will only have ourselves to blame.

Stop letting the Internet lie to you, because it is.

Why

This month, we’re doing stuff differently.

I’ve been blogging in various forms for nearly a decade. Just writing that down sends a shiver through the soul: ten years. I’ve been out here for all that time and still, most days, my family doesn’t have a clue what I’m talking about. The number of people who enquire about stuff which is clearly recorded here and on other blogs, via social media and elsewhere remains staggering. All these words, and stories, and now poems that most people who say they know me don’t have the first clue about, or comprehension of.

It’s all here, but honestly, who is really listening?

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A survey conducted by the BBC and which forms the basis of a Radio 4 series on Loneliness is fairly damning in the understanding that many of us feel as if nobody is there and supportive when it matters. It’s a constant source of amazement to me that after so long pouring out my heart online, people will still say they have no idea of how I think or feel. The problem, in essence, is complexity: most of us only cope with the basics on any given day, and emotional depth can often be difficult when you’re struggling yourself.

Still here millions of us are, carrying on, in the vain hope that someone might comment with agreement, or at least register the notional understanding of how soul-destroying being alive can be when existence is lived largely internally. It is no wonder that so many 16-24 year olds are feeling exposed: their entire world is laid bare for all to see via Social media. When nobody notices that you exist on that stage, it is understandable why such emotions will be generated.

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I look to more high profile people on how they address such issues, and am continually left wanting. Take the famous author I unfollowed this weekend, whose fortune is being made on challenging people’s notion of self. This man complains that he gets grief on Twitter and so prefers Instagram, because there’s less emotion to deal with, yet this is what he writes about in his self-help books. Watching his Twitter exchanges, he receives abuse for his ideas which in many cases appear to be intentionally fuelled.

Trying to manipulate your environment is what many writers love to do as a means to continue interest, and it works: we’d all far rather enjoy other people’s drama than keep recycling our own. The irony of watching American women argue amongst themselves this weekend over what is the best way of protesting injustice is a perfect example of how, by not actually listening to each other, things never improve. Life slowly degenerates into echo chambers, and everyone believing they’re ‘the only one who feels like this.’

You’re not, really.

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I am a terrible listener. My family’s quite right in this regard, and my aim this month is to not be that person. It’s tough sometimes: my son is 18 in two weeks time and I still remember him on my lap as a baby. It is not the other person who is solely to blame for a communication problem, both of you can do better. I’m also going to do my damnedest to listen to other people too, which is why there’s some hashtags in my post not normally used.

Changing circumstances can be hard, but speaking from experience, the rewards from doing so are considerable. You’ll be amazed at how much in common you can have with other people if the time is taken simply to sit and listen. If you’re reading this and have never commented before, I’d appreciate therefore knowing you’re here, because that alone is the impetus to keep writing and continuing to be motivated. It appears self-serving because, as of today, it is.

Time to start asking questions of the people who I live with, to see what answers come in response.

Reality Bites

Yesterday was one of those moments on Social media where it became apparent that my version of Reality quite seriously deviates from a lot of others. It was also a salient reminder that what gets published is never the full picture.

You need to constantly be reminded of this, especially with those who quite obviously use the platform as an advertising tool, or as means to show their friends how invested they are in their joint interests. Part of the problem for me, over time, is that my depth of obsession with a number of subjects has either drifted or ceased to exist. However, for others those feelings still remain, and it would be both churlish and unfair to prevent the enjoyment that they bring.

It’s also quite difficult to discuss the consequences of a difference in outlook without someone taking this as criticism, and that’s the bigger issue. Depending on what your piece of art (whatever it maybe) set out to do, should largely dictate the response it receives. Critical thinking asks of a reader, or viewer, or anyone participating in a group event not to just get lost in what they are given, but appoint personal relevance to the experience. That does not have to mean enjoyment.

This is where the whole fabric of Social media begins to show some basic flaws.

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280 characters is a pretty tough platform to get right first try. I ended up yesterday telling a story, getting the threading wrong (each Tweet in the right order, attached to the same header) and ended up copy/pasting the whole thing off into a work processing document before getting it right second time around. If you’re reacting instantly and don’t think your process through, the consequences should by now be quite well understood.

However, that’s not all there is to worry about. If you’re the person who is happy their mates are having fun and isn’t fussed when they flood your timeline, there is nothing to worry about. However, when you’ve had a shit day, and it’s time to not just allow people to be happy because that point needs to be made… we all know where this is going. I unfollow those who complain about Eurovision, for instance, because a) it’s a part of my timeline and b) if you don’t get it, you won’t get me.

Occasionally, these differences allow you an important insight into people’s outlooks.

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For me, all of these moments where my feelings split are carefully recalled for future reference. Occasionally however something happens (as was the case yesterday) where it’s more than simply a difference of opinion, and I think I see something that might not be there. What needs to happen then is the independent verification from others that a) I’m not insane and b) this can be interpreted in several ways. I’d like to thank therefore everybody on my timeline who made me feel that I’m not alone, and that this Reality isn’t just mine.

That matters far more than I initially realised.

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Everybody needs to recognise the reality checks when they happen. Being alone, having a difference of opinion that sets you aside from others is not a bad thing. It’s not reason to panic. It shows that, crucially, your reality is not just yours alone. Understanding why these differences occur is nearly as important as being able to accept that they have, and the whole process has potential to radically transform the way you think.

Just be careful how you react when they happen.

Strange Days

About once a week I think, perhaps a bit less, someone who I know is fairly prolific on Social media will vanish. If they’re a sensible type, there’ll often be a précis to this along the lines of ‘I need to take a break.’ It is becoming the norm, rather than an exception, and denotes that an individual has, quite sensibly, grasped how much of a controlling influence this medium can become. There’s a reason you take rest days in exercise, can’t eat the same junk food for months on end without at least injecting some healthy food groups. Everything in excess is dangerous.

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However, this may not help solve that persistent unhappiness that’s experienced via Global group interaction. Social media is neither soft drug nor cranial stimulant. It is the equivalent of talking to someone for an hour whilst simultaneously doing something you either love, hate or really aren’t that fussed about. If you’re in a bad place, there’s a 50/50 chance it won’t improve your mood, and then you have another important decision to make. Should you rely constantly on virtual encouragement when, if the power went out, you really would be on your own?

Why do I see people constantly using it as a crutch when in reality a ball and chain is the more realistic metaphor?

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There’s the key: appearance. What you see as one thing is completely different to someone else. That’s why we no longer just have glasses of water in the future, you’re either full or empty and let that be a lesson to you, young lady. Do NOT stand in public places and decry anybody else’s opinions as shonky, lest ye be judged as shonky yourself, for the future is being listened to only if your follower count is over 9000 and you’re a registered Opinion Haver. We are approaching the last days of independent thought: algorithms are already blocking your Tweets as noise to the people you really care about. They’re already leaving Social medias because grown men can get them the sack just by having a Reddit group.

Seriously, this is the future of the Internet?

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We dodged the bullet in Europe in the last week over copyright, but they’re already reloading the gun. People in the US are already seeing their net being throttled and metered: it is just the beginning. We will look back on these glory day in a decade’s time (assuming we’re all still here of course) and wish we’d stopped wanking amongst ourselves far sooner. This will be a place where you need to pay for an opinion, and then negotiate the various paywalls in order to have any chance of being heard. If you want emotional support from friends, you can bet it will come with a fee and conditions.

The Data Apocalypse is coming: don’t say you were not suitably forewarned.

Freedom 90

On Saturday, it became apparent that one of my vanity e-mail addresses had stopped working. There may have been some quite important email that has vanished, but I will never really know the cost, and it is far too late to worry. What this prompted was a long, hard look at what happens to my email and what is merited as ‘important’. It transpires I have ten e-mail addresses, gathered across the years. At no point have I ever deleted a message on at least three of them.

The rest of the day was spent sorting out the chaos that lack of activity had produced.

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In the end, 25,000 messages were trashed. This includes mails sent when my first ever Gmail account was created, back in 2005. The vast bulk of rubbish was acknowledgements from sites such as Twitter, or online forum which I belonged to, that simply never got dealt with at the time. It took a couple of hours, but the effort was more than worthwhile, and it allowed me to see exactly what account was getting what trash mail. The long-term benefit is that the actual volume of mail into my Mac (which collects from all the Gmail accounts and the vanity domain addresses) has been reduced by over 80%. Using the GDPR fiasco to unsubscribe from multiple newsletters and online gumph that’s no longer needed, it’s like the last thirteen years of bollocks into my Inbox never existed.

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Needless to say, it’s a little embarrassing that it took my own stupidity to kick-start the action, but now that’s done, there is no going back. The sense of satisfaction and general organisation cannot be adequately overstated, either.

Like so many things, this should have been done years ago.

Look At Me

I don’t like the way some people on my Social media feed are being influenced by large companies. There’s nothing I can do about it, of course, and by pointing it out I’ll simply be accused of not understanding their feelings. The fact remains, I watch daily as people are far too easily manipulated. No, I’m not imagining this. There is no tinfoil involved. In the Wild West of Social media, the law is not fast enough to keep up with offences. It is the moral turpitude of people involved in making fake news, ‘innocently’ promoting their brand using cheap emotional hooks or simply wanting to draw attention to themselves BECAUSE THEY MATTER DAMMIT that stands between here and social disintegration. Therefore, EVERYBODY has a responsibility, yet very few are prepared to even think about consequence

If you cannot clearly discern reality from the invented, everybody is in trouble.

There are too many problems effectively to solve if you go and stare at the negative for too long. If I have to isolate one that seems to be endemic to all the issues I personally experience, it would be emotional blackmail. I’ve watched this used by the alt-right against Florida schoolkids who simply want to live without fear. I watch politicians use it as a means to justify Brexit, not Brexit and all points in between. The most depressing form, however, is undoubtedly the format that seems to afflict everybody, from nobody to celebrity, which is beautifully encompassed by the desire to be noticed, but at the same time not ending up looking like an idiot.

Considering Social media as a ‘game’ must be done with a great deal of care.

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It seems to me that by far the best means by which you survive in this lawless land at present is to keep everything at arm’s length. It works, to a point, until someone appears with their Emotional Blackmail Joker and shoves it in your face. We’ve been ‘friends’ for X years, you can’t do X, Y or Z because I will take this as a personal affront and you will back down. Except for the problem, inevitably, is that you aren’t friends, and never really were. Unless the definition of friendship is quite clear, in this modern world, NOTHING is to be expected or anticipated. NOTHING AT ALL.

If it matters enough that someone is friends with you, then you tell them. That’s why I spent a month last year doing just that. It is why the people I care about have time taken to read their tweets, or blogs, or consider what it is they have to say. I can support people I do not know well, and help them, but this does not make us friends. That only happens when both parties agree to the transaction, and never before. If you believe, whilst reading this that we are friends and that’s something that matters to you, yet we have never discussed whether we are or not? It is time to reassess your definition.

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I refuse to use Social media as emotional blackmail any more. I have followers, of whom a VERY small number (probably less than 70) are people I talk to regularly, of which maybe 25-30 are friends. Of that, less than ten are good friends. I communicate with one person with whom I share a genuine friendship on a daily basis. Just the one. There are three others I’d consider as close or comparable, so that’s four people. Everybody else, let’s be honest, I don’t have a clue about. Some people obviously think we are friends because they talk at me on a daily basis, but many of these ‘conversations’ make me feel uncomfortable. The emotional attachment others have to me is undoubtedly weighted in their favour.

If I cannot accurately discern intent, what chance does anybody else have?

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Smart people don’t have these conversations in public, but I’m getting to a point where there has to be some disconnect between the people who believe I’m their friend and the truth, which is I’m not, they’re just a follower. In the end, it is easier to just remove these people from my followers’ list and hope they get the point. The last time that happened, however, it ended in tears because the person concerned believed they deserved to be my friend and that I should return the favour. I don’t need toxic attitudes like that in my life, and to be fair to everybody else here, you shouldn’t be getting attached like that to me, to begin with. It’s unhealthy and ultimately self-destructive.

Sometimes the truth is what everybody needs and deserves.

Sunrise

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Stuff has changed. You’ve not seen all of it yet, but trust me when I say to you that it has. The depth of that shift will slowly begin to show.

Let’s begin.


There’s been much excitement in this house over Christmas thanks to Netflix, and the Amazon Fire stick we’ve had for a year and hardly ever used. I have a fair amount of Netflix content I wanna work through (and I will) but for now, you need to have the Amazon service enabled to truly appreciate the horror I am about to share. Well, that’s not strictly fair, because… well, you’ll see.

Welcome, one and all, to Kitten TV.

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If you are familiar with the movie Scrooged, you’ll know there’s a point where rodents appear in Bill Murray’s seasonal adaptation of Dickens’ TV adaptation in attempt to get dogs and cats to engage. Well, this series of six shows does the about face, using kittens as a means to hook a generation of people (presumably) addicted to cute kitten videos and GIFs via the Internets. The concept’s ridiculously simple: build a set with a perspex fourth wall, drop a load of kittens into it, comedy ensues. There’s a Minecraft set, and an entire episode dedicated to cats in hats. I kid you not.

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Back in the 1990’s, in the early years of satellite TV in the UK, there was a TV channel up in the 300’s that showed nothing but a roaring fire overnight. There was another channel that just showed beaches and boardwalks. This is no different, in effect, to the years when TV didn’t happen 24/7 and there’d be Public Information films to fill the gaps. Back when BBC2 tested colour movies, I can remember watching slices of history that are now so jaded and bizarre they feel like a dream, or part of the past that simply never existed. Fortunately, the Internet’s beginning to fill in these gaps, and the movies of my past can still be a part of the present.

Having found a list of the BBC2 colour test movies, I’ll be spending the next month sharing with you guys (via the @internetofWords Twitter feed) the joy of a world I was shown on screen during my formative years. Like my 12 year old daughter will undoubtedly remember the happy evening she spent watching kittens get bored and roam Godzilla-like across cheap cardboard sets, these memories are an essential part of the process of learning and understanding. Yes, kittens are relevant.

TV does not just have to be about the depressing things in life.