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.


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.

a new twitter tool to break off diplomatic relations

I’ve been getting the same sinking feeling, tweeting and reading between this social network and that.

I used to have a Twitter account with rather a lot of followers.  It’s still there, but I don’t use it.  Maybe it’s wrong of me not to remove it altogether.

I don’t know how many followers it has now.  Probably not very many.

I don’t know about you but here in Britain, the news is pretty unremitting.  If it’s not VIP paedophilia, it’s terrorism.  If it’s not the evils of corporations, it’s news from beyond the notorious grave of the evils of nation-states.

I don’t know about you, but I find these things hard to deal with.  They say that people with epilepsy – I have the condition, by the way – are more sensitive to visual stimuli.  If they’re more sensitive to visual stimuli, why not other kinds as well?

It seems to me we have a serious problem.  There’s a lot of information; little power.  A lot of justice; little resource.  A lot of wealth; limited access.

Knowledge is no longer power.  Its value has been severely inflated: now everyone knows, it doesn’t matter we know; it doesn’t make any difference.  The criminals amongst us, whether political or business, carry on without a care in the world.  And those politicians and businesspeople who are anything but criminal get painted with the same broad brushstrokes.

Social networks are a fantastic invention.

But knowing so much about the dark things in life – and inevitably, bad news sells – can be terribly depressing; can make us incapable of seeing a way forwards.

That’s the problem of brushing shoulders with these dark things I mention.  Inevitably, ultimately, they cloak us with their ways of being.  We see and do like they see and do, or at the very least we remember how they see and do; and then it becomes so difficult to simultaneously remain aware of the very best of life whilst the horrors are served up on a virtual platter every day.

It’d be grand if social networks could make the world a better place.  Yet if we don’t see the rubbish the bad are creating, or if we deliberately choose to look away in order to protect ourselves from feeling so down, how can we stop them – in the first place – from making the world a worse place?

How can we use social networks to create a better planet – even as we need to keep tabs on the awful planet it currently is?

It’s a process of cross-contamination, that is clear.  But why is bad seemingly more powerful than good?  My religion, from which I am firmly lapsed, taught me the opposite.  And I suppose people like my mother would say the world is at is because those like myself have done precisely what they have done: turn away, if you like, from the straight and narrow.

I don’t believe, myself, this is the case.

I don’t think such a simplistic explanation is useful.

Yet the problem, an age-old problem, is simply magnified by our using of social networks.

If it was difficult enough to be good in medieval times, how much more difficult is it now when a billion tweets and likes prick our consciences – or not, as the case may be?

I’d like to think that not all is lost.  Partly, because I think a possible solution exists.  In fact, it’s one I’ve only started to take onboard recently.

In my old Twitter account, I think I only blocked once or twice in my life there.  I never remember muting: neither retweets nor completely.


As my current account slowly seems to be accumulating the flotsam of miserable news I left behind me previously, I experimented the other day by simply muting the retweets of one of my followers.  I didn’t break up completely – that seemed so harsh.  I simply silenced part of their output.  The relief was considerable; the need, in hindsight, patent.

I tried again today with another account: a similar degree of satisfaction.


I know.

I know what you’re thinking.

It’s not only passive-aggressive to do such stuff – it’s also quite cowardly.

Maybe so.

Maybe it is.

I wonder, though, if it isn’t actually a white lie well worth telling.

Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should; but just because it’s not the most honest procedure doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.  It’s an example, if you like, of diplomacy in social networks.  And the real world, without diplomacy, really wouldn’t get very far at all.

So if we really do want to use community tech to make the real and online worlds better places, why not develop tools that actively promote diplomatic behaviours?  Consciously implement protective measures which, without being patently rompedoras, do break up the kind of feelings which the unremitting news I mention is once again producing in my sensitive soul.

At least occasionally.

Why do we have to be full-on in expressing our opinions?  Wouldn’t it be possible, for example, to program an anti-flamewar tool – an anti-trolling filter, if you like – which detected keywords in any particular exchange and actually made continued tweeting or engagement physically impossible for, say, ten or twenty seconds?

Or, for the worst offenders, a day?

If necessary …

Like banning someone temporarily from a videogame for not complying with minimum rules of engagement.

Lots of objections.  From data protection to freedom of expression.

But I’d only be suggesting a very short pause.  If verbal violence was the consensual weapon of choice, it could then proceed as always.

The anti-flamewar tool, we could call it.  The virtual equivalent of breaking off diplomatic relations.

So what do you think?  Do we now … well … are we at that point where we literally need to engineer tactfulness?


My memories of trolls pre-date the web.

My first contact with them, as a father who sat by his children whilst they watched their TV, was the original Spanish version of “David, el Gnomo”.  It’s funny how first seeings fix it for you.  I far prefer “The X-Files” in the Spanish dubbed version: the voices are much sexier, much warmer than the originals.  The dubbed version of Disney’s “Aladdin” could never replace Robin Williams, but the Spanish equivalent of the same company’s “Beauty and the Beast” (“La Bella y la Bestia”) is so much more fun – especially the figure of Gaston.

So.  Trolls as in “David, el Gnomo” are one of my abiding memories of my time in Spain.

Nowadays, it seems to me of late anyway, the term has come to mean not only people who deliberately aim to pull other people up short – often in a very cruel way – but types who in any other century might simply have been called pedantic.

Yes.  You got it!  I’m clearly talking about myself here …

I remember the other day a very short exchange with a notable British lawyer who has carved out a considerable social-network reputation.  Deservedly so, too.  I met him once, at one of those events in London I used to go to: I immediately liked his seriousness and his informed focussing on issues; I felt, I suppose, it matched my own tendency to talk about real stuff instead of nattering on this or that.

Anyhow.  As I was saying.  A couple of days ago, he asked the Twitterverse to comment on his newly refreshed website.  I made a light-hearted comment, alongside a more serious evaluation (“informative without being fussy” were the words I think I used – can’t say much more with 140 characters!), in what I thought was the spirit of the request.

He replied shortly afterwards, saying: “I actually found that funny.”  (I assume he was referring to the light-hearted comment.)

And so I suddenly realised, as I reeled back through other more recent exchanges, that maybe I’m getting a small reputation as an incipient troll of the worldwide-web kind.  You know.  The kind of person who has too much time on his or her hands, and so spends it wastefully, chasing down bollocks.

Pardon my language.


On the other hand, I don’t feel – inside – that people should really see me like this.  Pedantry is irritating, that’s true, but in some areas – say safety in a nuclear power station – you’d be bloody glad for analogous attention to detail.

In a sense, then, the democratisation of everything except democracy – and here I mean social-networked access to publishing and communication versus feeling you’re making any real difference at the ballot box – has meant simultaneously that there’s both more pedantry to be retweeted and liked, if you so wish and if you are of a mind, as well as greater reasons to stamp – troll-like (as in my kids’ childhood TV) – on the heads of any such instincts.

Yep.  In the grand sweep of things, especially this week, it’s a really minor matter.  But our specialised society so depends on building its multiple foundations upon carefully wrought, observed and sustained accumulative detail that any tendency which serves to criticise and demean such pedantry surely doesn’t bode well for the future.

What do you think?  Am I a sort of troll?

Be kind.

Like all trolls, we do actually take criticism very badly.