The Real Thing

Star Wars, despite its title, is not an accurate depiction of the battles between the Rebel Alliance and the Imperial Empire. They are undoubtedly cyphers around the underlying  narratives of love, devotion and loyalty. I also reckon George Lucas is a Lover, and not a Fighter as a result. I know there’s been a lot of muttering about The Mandalorian, many of them based around the concept being too much western and not enough sci-fi.

This is the first time I’ve seen at least that someone’s pulled the military tactician card. Of course, they’re applying 21st Century Tactical Ability to a show that’s… you know, set in space, where doing the exact opposite of what happens on Earth could easily be considered as military genius. The fact someone’s applying their labels to this approach is increasingly where we are in fiction: this is the state of play.

Communication is becoming a Problem.

I wonder, is this statement is blanket, or does it depend on the person speaking. I don’t have any more context, just this one line, which I feel needs a bit more meat on its bones, but frankly at this stage I’d feel genuinely afraid to approach the author. If we were in the same room, face to face, that would not be the case. Instead, as this is Social media and I am not a mutual, it remains a retweet and no more.

The means by which I am able to learn about diversity right now is dependant on quite a strict set of rules as a result: mostly, I listen. I am often afraid that what is said and done could not be interpreted as the support I’m trying to show but in fact the exact opposite. I’ll look superior, or act as if that’s how things ought to be, and that’s why quantifying a lot of queries right now is becoming something of a worry.

How do you ask questions you never had until now without looking like an idiot?

A lot of it, of course, comes with time and patience. If I’d have waited and watched, this tweet would have appeared and given me context. Following this person, listening to their tweets should, in time, give a decent grasp of what it is they’re attempting to communicate. The biggest single issue with so many of us right now is not taking those vital moments to stop and think. The author, I’d say, is worth following too, if he was prepared to offer what was required for better comprehension.

The reality of life right now is that doing this, thinking through what we see and read becomes increasingly difficult on top of everything else being asked. Someone I really like unfollowed me overnight, and I’m fairly confident that my output over the last few weeks will have been the reason. It’s been political, controversial for some. I could ask for the real reason, it would be really easy.

However, I’m not sure I will end up liking what’s heard as a result.

I did that once. A person I really enjoyed reading, and interacting with, cut me off so suddenly that I had to ask why. That email is kept, printed out, as a salutary warning: sometimes, your heroes are the villains. The people who play a certain role because it keeps people interested are, in reality, nothing like what you wish they were. They end up knowing that what you are is not what they want in their lives.

Trying to work out the reason for that is pointless: it goes back to that word, ‘tolerance.’ Eventually they grasp that perhaps you don’t belong in their feed: too preachy, not fun enough, don’t get the point of the way they use their platform… because it is their platform. They are the main point of it. Everybody else is there because they allow them to be. Is it pedantry, or is it arrogance? Is there even a difference online?

It doesn’t matter. All that matters, in the end, is how it is said.

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I read something yesterday that was amazed at how those who advocate kindness can then be so angry and combative when challenging other’s opinions. Passion, I realise, is not a good emotion to try and demonstrate in a text-based medium. Undoubtedly, people just look at you and decide you’re angry instead. So, if you want to communicate better in the modern world..? Learn how to make your points in 280 characters or fewer… 

Before you reply, consider the consequences of your words. Pedantry is becoming an art form. Everybody’s looking for that unique angle, when what really ought to happen is honesty. You can do it without starting a fight, if it’s done well, with thought and application. Most importantly, you can be kind and still make your point. It just takes more thought than many people can afford to spare online.

That’s what I need to work on going forward.

Lies

This is a scheduled announcement that when you’ve been on the Internet as long as I have, you’ve seen an awful lot of stupid shit. In some cases, you were there the first time someone was dumb enough to try something, it got totally forgotten, and now the same old rubbish is being recycled again (and again and again).

Example: I’ve seen the ‘I forced a bot to watch X’ meme a few times now, each with a different subject matter. It’s a great means by which a comedy writer can eke out exposure and flex their social media skills. Good luck to them all, I say, this is a good use of the medium. It’s only the equivalent of that picture of the guy with the pretty girl, staring at another (clearly prettier) girl and the dichotomy that creates in our subconsciousnesses. It’s known as the DISTRACTED BOYFRIEND meme.

Memes are what makes the Internet tolerable. They are the distraction many of us crave in these dark, ugly times. It is also by far the best means to make information stick. It is no wonder therefore that certain commentators, who are incapable of altering the collision course this country appears to have adopted with it’s own self destruction, are using similar tactics to create a picture which is, like it or not, utterly false.

I’m seeing a lot of stuff like this of late: high-profile personalities ‘bigging up’ the fact that once upon a time, this country was fantastic, and it clearly isn’t that way any more, and really, it’s beginning to piss me right off. There are two reasons for this. The first one, perhaps unsurprisingly is that it’s just not true. The Olympics did not somehow make this country a better place to live in. Yeah they were great, and the legacy’s been awesome, but truth remains the UK was shit beforehand too. 

The second one’s more insidious: this isn’t meant as a means to get people encouraged to do anything about the situation, it’s just for views, to create an illusion of participation and interest. The fact that other people don’t get this remains a mystery to me, until I look at a certain type of user on my own feed. They’re the one’s who don’t ever contribute anything of value to any conversation, but try and make you react in order to feed their own attention-seeking status.

If you go look at your feed, you’ll know who I’m talking about.

Occasionally, you have to assume some of the stuff spouted online is stated in total ignorance of what actually takes place online, this tweet being a case in point. I know that this definition has become a slogan and is being used quite extensively by a group of trans-exclusionary radical feminists. I can only assume that someone in Government would do their homework when receiving a gift such as this… that’s how this works, right?

On Social media, a lot of very stupid stuff happens. Most is easily corrected with retraction and apology… except that rarely ever happens. If you’re using your account to talk AT people and not TO them, you are part of the problem. Just being online, posting things, or talking to yourself in the hope people respond… what are you contributing? What’s even worse, of course, is when people respond and you don’t. You’re not in a conversation when that happens. You’re lecturing.

No good comes of discourse that is ultimately one-sided.

We are the World

The more I look at the news, the more comes a sense we are close to a crossroads. Twitter announced profits this week, with the revelation that millions of accounts had been removed or deleted which were being driven by AI. I’ve spoken before on how ‘robot accounts’ can create wonderfully diverse works of poetry and prose. Those same architectures, when loaded with hate speech or abuse and driven by those determined to wreck lives, can (and are) getting high-profile individuals tossed from their jobs. It is easy to see why those who use Twitter to sell themselves want this kind of stuff removed and silenced.

Except, as I have found to my cost, removing what you think is bad has unforeseen consequences.

Manufacturing a place where people can’t say bad things about you is a dangerous game to play. As a writer, criticism is an absolutely vital part of the playbook; you need people to point out what they think doesn’t work. Except, of course, many actors and creatives won’t even read reviews or consider a contrary viewpoint. I’m seeing increasing numbers of online individuals either embracing the abuse head on or, as seems to be the case for certain individuals, remaining online but curating their feeds to a point where ‘bad stuff’ is not sorted or even filtered. If you aren’t nice, regardless of who you are, you get blocked.

This is where I sit right now: people never spoken to, or interacted with, block me because a) an awful lot gets tweeted  and b) a lot of that output is retweeted into other people’s feeds, something others don’t want. I am curated out because these individuals don’t care what is said. This seems harsh, but fair on initial examination but as people start dictating to others what they think is bad and good and others don’t think and blithely just copy and import block lists… this is no longer a public forum. If you place yourself here and have an opinion, there are always consequences.

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I spend a lot of time getting annoyed at how easy some people expect their lives to be. In fact, there are days when there’s genuine disbelief at the narrow mindedness and arrogance of individuals who clearly think that unless it is all done for their benefit, then what’s the point to begin with? We’ve had the absolute pleasure of a house guest for the last five days, who has taught me enough stuff in his brief presence to keep brain busy for weeks. Under normal circumstances, I would never have interacted with this individual (a friend of my son’s) and to do so is the constant, unerring reminder that the unexpected brings reward. Opening yourself to new views and attitudes is a vital part of existence.

Those who malign far right (and far left) as being the enemy yet block out all noise that doesn’t suit them seem not to grasp that the only way to truly be free is to embrace everything as an intractable and inevitable consequence of humanity. Ignoring anything, like it or not, remains a form of wilful ignorance. How we deal with such noise as society moving forward will become almost as important as what is said in ‘public’ places where, perhaps stupidly, we believe ourselves free of criticism or consequence. You might think nobody listens or cares that you too are restricting your online existence, until contention arises, by which time it may already be too late.

Everything you say and do online has the potential to alter your life.

Copy Me

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One of the first words my daughter learnt at her new school was plagiarism. From the beginning  to the end of the School year, that concept was drilled into her: just copying from the Internet and passing it off as your own work is wrong. I was reminded of this yesterday when reading, of all things, a Teen Vogue article. I followed the site after the US presidential campaign, and the resulting output turned out to be one of the best things to come out of 2016 for me and many others.

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This story, of a woman on Instagram effectively plagiarising another (far more high profile) user’s work gave me genuine pause for thought. I know this stuff happens all the time, have seen artists that I follow complain that their work has been wholesale lifted and copied without permission. With the size of the Internet, it is no surprise that even my own work’s been duplicated and used by ‘scraper’ sites: added as filler on websites who’s existence is dubious at best. One of the reasons I finally left Google’s Blogger site after being there since launch was the amount of site hits which went through me that was clearly spam, other people using the URL as a means to direct suspicious traffic. However, it isn’t the nature of this kind of plagiarism that makes me uncomfortable. In the case of our Copycat Instagrammer, there’s almost an artistic reverence to the work which, once upon a time, might have been considered acceptable. Now, with what I know about how the Internet works? It’s just plain creepy.

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The note at the bottom of that Teen Vogue article is the real takeaway from any story like this: in my mind I imagine the copycat ‘grammer had done this simply to try and gain new followers by dupicating shots she knew would be popular. The fact she went to the exact same places to do so is no surprise either, because if all that matters in your mind is a simple reproduction? Then you require the same backdrops. In a world where image is everything (and it is if you’re playing the aspirational lifestyle card) then one assumes the effort expended will be, in the mind of any copycat, worth the reward. Except here’s the bigger problem: thought. If you have all the money you need and the time to simply scrape someone else’s life and pretend that you’re living it yourself, does this provide any real notion of satisfaction? Do you get kicks and thrills simply by pretending you are that person? If that is the case, is this ever going to be mentally healthy long term?

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I know people online who live like this. There is evidence to support that case too, in at least one case from multiple sources. I’ve considered the wisdom of pursuing an individual but after a long and very interesting discussion with a member of the legal profession, any case comes down to whether your evidence is prosecutable. As soon as it is possible to gather sufficient concrete proof that your copycat/stalker/abuser is just that, Police and Law Enforcement are becoming increasingly willing to take cases to court. For everything else, gaps in international law between countries allows crazies to quietly slip through the cracks. You teach your kids to be careful, watch for the signs, but grown ups rarely do the same for themselves until it is often far too late.

For some, however, online plagiarism has become what they’re best known for. Copying others has evolved into their own ‘signature’ move… and can you blame people, when Hollywood will reinvent itself every 10 years, a movie’s not really a classic unless it’s been remade several times, and fashion relies on recycling trends each season allowing magazines to roll out decades old stock photos of when that trend was popular the last time. Everybody’s guilty from time to time of seeing someone else’s work, going ‘oh yeah I could do that better’ and doing just that. Without that turn of events I doubt that man would have invented the wheel, learnt how to plough crops or how to use plants to make people better. Like it or not, borrowing from others is a basic part of human nature.

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The problems inevitably surface when you cross a line, which is often far more clearly defined than many copycats might like to believe. Do it once and you’ll probably be smiled at and the duplication acknowledged (especially if you do a decent job) but keep on repeating and people will eventually and quite rightly accuse you of not having any of your own ideas. In fact, if you keep doing it to the point where someone notices and then you stop and simply latch onto something else? Perhaps it might be time to take a look at yourself. If all of this ultimately is an attempt to keep people interested in your life, then maybe the real issue isn’t having an adoring audience to hide within. Speaking as someone who, for many years, never considered the consequences of her actions, you may not be lucky enough to be forgiven. The better option, undoubtedly, is not to fixate on someone else’s life as being an aspiration, and to focus on fixing your own.

In the long term, it will be better for your soul.