politics, the google effect – and cameron’s insatiable search?

I’ve only tweeted once @zebrared today.  This was that tweet:

This was provoked by the stories today that government – British government; Tory government at that  (so when was the last time a Tory administration didn’t manifest the most awful of nanny states?) – was aiming, in David Cameron’s words, to push forward his “one-nation” vision by owning benefit claimants’ lives:

The prime minister, David Cameron, will say: “Our one-nation approach is about giving everyone the opportunity to improve their lives, and for some that means dealing with those underlying health issues first and foremost.

“Whether it is drug or alcohol problems, or preventable conditions in terms of obesity, support and treatment will be there for you. And we must look at what we do when people simply say no thanks and refuse that help, but expect taxpayers to carry on funding their benefits.

“Over the next five years, I want to see many more people coming off sick benefit and into work and Carol Black will report back to me on how best to achieve that.”

Black will say: “Addiction to drugs and alcohol, and in some cases extreme obesity, can have a profoundly damaging impact on people’s chances of taking up meaningful employment.”

So much of the above so very disheartens me that I really don’t know where exactly to start at all.  Apart from anything else, it’s the poverty-porn equivalent of blaming rape victims for the experiences they’ve suffered, and for the trauma which inevitably proceeds to muck up their lives.  For when Cameron says we must deal with underlying health issues first and foremost, he is taking onboard in his capacity as politician the right to interfere with the judgements and knowhow of a swathe of other professionals.  It is a clear example of the rank politicisation of everything.

And when he argues that we have significant numbers of people (they must be significant because if they weren’t, government wouldn’t spend time on making the relevant policy) who say no to the help such professionals will be offering, as they (ie the people saying no) simultaneously expect the taxpayer to continue funding their “circumstances”, I’d really like to ask him how he can square “one-nation” ideas with:

  1. arguing that to be in receipt of support from the state gives politicians, more than any other professionals, the right to decide how people live their lives
  2. and in so doing, allows the aforementioned politicians a similar right to let everyone else who is not in receipt of benefits do whatever shit they please

For in essence, what Cameron is constructing is a two-tier humanity:

  1. people on benefits, who are little more than miserable fashion accessories which high-level egos can wave and brandish triumphantly on their way to further personal and work-related success
  2. people off benefits, who can thank the Lord Cameron – for the moment, anyhow – that the state has decided not to stick its bargepole into their affairs

In truth, it’s not a bargepole – Cameron loves the less poverty-stricken, after all.  Numbers – ie those which relate to dosh, obviously – are much easier to quantify and comprehend than emotions, thoughts, being caring and – hey-ho, why not? – even acts of love.

But even as bargepoles are not right now an issue for Cameron himself, there is – for the second group – an element of supping with the devil.  As long as nothing changes, or appears not to be changing, we can sit quietly, broodingly perhaps, whilst we make a pact of silence and conspiratorial resignation with our status of “having been left alone for the while”.  How long it will last we cannot know.  All we know is that at the moment the focus is not on us.

And it’s surely true that the more we do social, the less social we become.  So who really needs to worry too much anyway?  The trend is much bigger than any of us wee individuals.

Neither is managerialism any more the challenge most facing us: if only all we had to deal with was a CEO or two feathering their corporate nests.  No.  This is something much bigger.  This is the politicisation of everything, can’t you see?  Everything and its mother is now the goal of a politics without limits: a politics which seeps into every corner and space of our lives like water into tapestries of ruin.

This is the Google effect, in fact: such politicians have realised they want to get everywhere; they want to see everything; they want to be involved in everyone; and they want to know all about what you want to do, before you even know yourself.

Cameron’s not a politician so much as a flesh-and-blood version of a 21st century search engine, exhibiting monumentally intrusive instincts.

And such search will never give up until you do.  And when you finally do, it’ll turn to your beloved.  Until you beloveds no longer exist as such.  And until neither, as a discrete individual, do you.

hyperlocalians (or how to make journalism pay)

I wrote the following lines back in January of this year:

In truth, what we became was the second Industrial Revolution.  Instead of mining coal, iron ore, slate and diamonds, the Facebooks and Googles and Twitters et al mined what they managed to convert into our freely available and plentiful thoughts, using relatively simple and cleverly repeated programming strategies along the insatiable way.

The grand achievement of the Industrial Revolution of the 21st century has been to turn human beings – in an ever-growing and significant minority – into natural resources to be exploited and maximised for the benefit of those who still conserve some dignified relationship with work.

As the minority slowly becomes a majority, we shall see whether this will remain a sustainable state of affairs.  Whilst people like myself have laboured under the foolish and confused state of mind that no one paid us for what we did because what we did wasn’t worth paying for, people, institutions, finally very large concentrations of wealth, which have known all along far better than we ever did, have taken all those ideas, have created firehoses and algorithmic streams whose intelligence – whilst no longer the work of any individual author, and thus becoming free of all copyright, payment and intellectual recognition – nevertheless still requires the billions of authors to continue contributing without financial compensation.

Also:

It’s amazing how the our virtual 21st century ecosystem has become, essentially, a capitalism which exploits a millionfold more than Victorian times ever did.  And yet few people who are exploited seem to see it as exploitation.  They say: “Social networks?  Hey!  That’s fun.”  And if you say to them: “You know, whilst you’re not making ends meet, someone in Silicon Valley’s turning a helluva business on what you do when you look at your smartphone!”

To conclude:

Isn’t this all a case of colonialism squared?  Only, instead of geographic and racial, it’s become virtual and mental.

But the ethnocentricity, the self-centred commerce, the egotistical carelessness … even the cruelty that comes out of thoughtless acts which start out in one type of place – and end up condemning real lives to heartless despair in quite another …

These are the real implications of this very 21st century destruction of all of the natural resources alluded to.

Shortly after writing these words, I created a project called chester.website, where (I think) I was stumbling to create a sustainable relationship between intellect and reward.

After seven months of slog, I realised I’d not got the skills to generate the engagement and sense of belonging which I needed others to feel for the project in question to take off properly and function.

But I haven’t given up on the idea of avoiding the mistakes of the blogosphere’s past decade; of social networks; and of Web 2.0’s ultimately sneaky pulling of the wool over our collaborative eyes.

It seems to me that within the hyperlocal environments that have sprung up around the country over the past few years we are resolving many of the issues that currently face the sector of local news.

Maybe, longer-term, national and global news too.

One issue which is creating considerable tension however – I’ve seen it in others on Facebook and elsewhere, in particular in the comments that committed individuals working in hyperlocal leave every so often for us to read – is that which occupied me in my January piece quoted from above: the dignified, sustainable and just relationship between a good day’s work and a good day’s pay.

That people who work – I resist the term “professionals”, as it tends to imply a certain kind of worker and I certainly don’t mean to restrict the categories here at all – should in a world of plenty be receiving plenty less than they used to, or perhaps nothing at all, makes me wonder if there can’t be a better way to reconceptualise everything.

Even within Web 2.0 and social networks the idea of reward for work is not ignored: when you post a photo people like, you get temporary notoriety (oh, all right! Call it fame …) as the “likes” and positive comments flood in.  So the nexus of doing and getting something in exchange holds up – forms, in fact, the whole foundation of social media as all of us know it.

What’s broken, though, at least to my mind, is the convertibility of the reward generally assigned us.  What’s broken is the ability to do something useful for ourselves with those “likes” and comments, which isn’t simply – little more than – a square root of narcissism.  Was it Newton who argued energy not only couldn’t be destroyed but could also be moved from one form to another?  Well, Zuckerberg has destroyed that sequence of laws and beliefs.  In early 21st century Web 2.0 as it has become, “likes” and verbal love remain congealed in a personally useless aspic.  The energy of the Facebooks of the world is deliberately stuck in virtual craws.

This is clearly not healthy.  So I wonder: how best to deal with the situation?

As I continue to argue, there’s always a better way.  Whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, there’s always, without exception, going to be a wiser direction towards the future.  The question is really whether we are able to lift our heads above the walls they have built around us, and see the green grass beyond which is waiting to be rolled in.

The key here, in this particular case, is convertibility.  Money has lost its utility in Web 2.0, because what we do – the reward we get –  has had money as its currency gouged out of it.  The only people who get money from Web 2.0 are the tech orgs which run it for their benefit.

The alternative, then, has to be time (it is, in any case, all that they’ve left us).  At the moment, as I pointed out above, our time is being mined just as coal – once – was mined and delivered to colonialists who reserved the right to rip resource out of virgin land.

But what if we turn our Web 2.0 time into the convertible substitute that money historically has operated as – the convertible substitute we need in order that intellect may continue to earn us a living wage?

Time banks you believe I mean?  Not exactly.  Or, at least, not as we know them.

Time banks are general repositories: they’ve always seemed rather cold to me; anyone and everyone can participate, in theory – they then, as a result, lose particular focus.

No.  I’d be suggesting something rather more tied into one particular sector.  Hyperlocal media and communication hubs, to be precise.

Less, minutes and seconds for all and sundry.  More, “hyperlocalians” to pay our journalists.

The question being: how can we make work pay for journalists, contributors and authors in the future?  How can we turn thoughts and ideas no one currently values or filters into the stuff that dignified lives of remunerated souls are made of?

This is my challenge for this autumn and into 2016.  To make journalism pay.

why i like proofreading – it’s the networks of sex, stupid!

I love proofreading.  It’s a humble task in the chain of publishing process.  Or, at least, a task which most will see as humble.

I wonder why I like it so.  I can’t, I have to admit, focus on one activity to the exclusion of any other.  That’s just the way I’m built, I’m afraid.  And those who say otherwise, maybe for my own good with reason, misunderstand what I need.

But if truth be told, proofreading is like good sex – or voyeuristic sex, anyway.  Unlike the role of writer, when everything unspools, when a handle on the work’s direction does not entirely belong to the author, when the characters themselves take on lives of their own … unlike the writer or the thinker or the salesperson, the proofreader sees everything – but everything – at a single glance.

And without too many doubts, either.

The good proofreader needs a dictionary only to confirm: never to identify where something, quite wrong, needs obviously amending.

Obviously, that is, to the good proofreader.

Like that voyeuristic sex I mention, then, the good proofreader commits little of themselves and yet receives so much pleasure in return.

The pleasure of accuracy, of exactitude, of supporting the voice of another even … yes, it’s not all one way; it’s not all being in control.

But it is a getting to know of a network which, soon enough, gets thoroughly explored and defined – ultimately fascinatingly enjoyed, over and over.

Networks are popular things these days: everything, as you can see, can be interpreted as a network.  There is, of course, in all our lives a real place for love and attachment, with all its happy and sad complications.  But surely there is also a place for where we can feel in charge: something which briefly reassures our sense of being; of emotion; of character; of simple existence.

For me, that activity is so often proofreading.  No preparation.  Just an act which has a beginning, middle and end; and which is dependent on us knowing from vast experience exactly what to do at every stage.

Interaction with people is glorious stuff.  But the networks which allow us to say yes or no to words and their multiple links are clearly relationships which form part of a wider pleasure: getting it right, getting it wrong, sometimes getting it intelligently fuzzy … a whole human breadth of curious experience, corked into that ten-page document which acquires fifty comments along the way.

Why do I need it so, then?  Maybe because stimulation sometimes gets too much for me: my brain is constructed with a chemistry which can dazzle myself, if not others; the connections failing on occasions to stop their interesting scuttling around.

I need the limits of two-dimensional networks sometimes; the fitting together in attractive consonance of twenty-six letters and their corresponding punctuations.

But such connections are not malevolent.  They just need comprehending.  As they also need the comprehension of the understanding.

And the channelling of the wise.

Is that OK?