Tag Archives: Social media

Everything that’s wrong with personal computers

Okayokayokayokayokay. Yes. I owe the fact that you’re reading this to the same personal computers I’m about to abolish. I’m sure there’s a great deal of good coming from them. And I mean PC’s, laptops and smartphones as well. But before we as society have completely disappeared inside our close companions, let’s take a little step back to look at the damaging part of computers and our relationships with them.

They’re flat (even the yoga-ones)
Some days ago, I flew over Paris at night, and for the first time in my life recognized a city by its lights, while flying above it. Then I thought that it seemed as though I was looking at google maps. Then I thought of how much this didn’t look like google maps at all. Very much. Real life is so incredibly more striking than the screen, even if you have to stretch your neck into a cramp to perceive it through a tiny airplane window. Suddenly seeing the Champs-Élysées with my own eyes reminded me of that.

They demystify
In real life, miracles are something you cherish, something exceptional, something that feeds the life inside you, something you breathe. Building a friendship for example. Computers give us access to an endless flow of cute cats, beautiful women, great inventions and unlikely basketball points. But they’re not special! You will never see someone on the street or even in a theatre dance as well as you saw them on youtube, or hear a better song. So we keep watching, turning the exceptional into the norm, and making the normal unattractive. Seemingly unattractive.

They hypnotize
Yes. I’m fairly sure that there’s actual hypnotization going on when we face a screen. Why else is it hard to stand up and walk away? Computers, with all their imagery, sounds and repetition hook us stronger than Coca Cola ever did. What’s more, I believe that working with several tabs or windows at once, actually fragments our minds. It creates the feeling of having a pile of tasks to attend to. That causes stress. Anxiety. It scatters your attention. As if you’re talking to a hundred people at once. O, wait, you are.

They make mistakes (and you get the blame)
Some say machines don’t make mistakes. Well, sloppy programs sure do (not that I can write them better). In the past months, I have spent at least a week on phone and e-mail to correct wrong transactions, fix technical issues and create new categories for my particular case. If more and more of our data get registered and uploaded, that means that more and more of them get mixed up in some administrative system, which bounces it on to the next. And as the gear wheels of those machines keep turning, they suck our identities in untill we’re completely stuck. And of course we’re not the ones to benefit from that, we just have to fix it. More than anything, it’s a problem for elderly people, who are already in deep water when it comes to the digital status quo.

They disempower
To give an example: some say social media give people the chance to bypass the traditional media which are controlled, edited and censored by an elite. It has been true for places where censorship was high. For a bigger part, however, social media follow the already established entities, who know perfectly well what to say and how to build their capital of followers. Indeed, the algorithms of social media have the weak feed the strong. A new capitalism of attention. The big ones casting shadows over the small who hope to be heard, but are silenced by the noise of their soulmates. Thus, they waste time in virtual life.

 

Ha! Writing this makes me sound old. Yet I always had my reservations (and attractions) to computers. It is clearer to me again, now, how important it is to take time off the screen. Watch the brightness of the sun. Smell the smog on the streets. Hurt my head on a low ceiling I didn’t know before. And luckily, that actually works. Joy cannot be injected through the eyes. It arrives when you are in motion, rushes through your veins when your heart pumps wildly. Spring is coming.

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Social media do not a prison make, nor avatars a cage

The demonization of social media is a trend on social media. Social technology causes isolation, leads to blind consumption and causes blood and explosions. People have coined terms like iDisorder and mobilegeddon, and some even blame global environmental issues on the blind indulgence in cyber illusions. We have witnessed a collective behavioural shift and are shouting that out to the world.

I was in my adolescence during the coming of mobile phone age. Some of my classmates had mobile phones, others did not. I personally was against it. Imagine. We had that option back then. Nonetheless, I remember having a conversation with one of my teachers, where I told him that I thought it would be easier to date girlfriends with a phone than without. You could just ask their number, send them a text and go out. The thought seemed to surprise him.

Of course, there aren’t many things more annoying than people checking their phone all the time when you’re having diner, or strangers who bump into you on the street because they are not looking (this happened to me). And if it’s yourself, yes, it’s exhausting to deal with having countless pages open twenty-four seven. But I believe that’s a phase. There are barriers to overcome, and yes, that needs effort. We are forced to learn to deal with this increasing pressure of information. We need to jointly establish proper codes of smartphone conduct. We need to master our new gift.

One field of this debate where I fundamentally disagree with the main stream is on the question: is digital contact less real than physical contact? Many suggest that it is. Consider this: whose face do you see when you look at someone’s face? Does the air blur your sight? Do your eyes change their shape? If you touch? What more is it, really, than a stream of electricity from brain to brain? People say social media distract us from reality, but physical appearances equally do. Don’t we like beautiful young women more than ugly old ones? Aren’t we more likely to believe deeper voices than higher ones? People wear masks in real life, which they sometimes release on the net. It might sometimes be easier to have real contact with people on the web, because distractions there have different shapes.

I perceive it almost as my duty as a writer to state that sometimes, a carefull selection of words in a text can be more physically stimulating than a kiss. What I want to say is that real contact is not dependent on physical circumstances, real contact is a joint choice. It’s about the attention you give.

The power of social media and smartphones is not that it provides us with illusions. The illusions were already there. The power of social technology is that it actually facilitates a type of getting to know each other that did not exist before. It enables us to be continuously in touch with a large number of real, existing friends. It allows us to keep building on lasting relationships all over the world. Today, that statement may not surprise you, but if you think about it, that truly is magical.

Selling CEO’s

Two Dutch banks recently announced a raise for their CEO’s of about €100.000 per year. In the week following the announcement, several thousands of their clients subscribed at the competing green bank: a sudden increase in registrations. Twitter boomed, some important politicians complained, and the CEO’s decided to cancel the salary increase.

Since about the time of the Occupy movement, western citizen’s trust in banks and bankers has dropped to below zero. Of course, over 99% of us still have bank accounts, but our perception of banks has shifted from ‘a service’, to ‘a group of slave drivers’ or at least ‘a bunch of greedy frauds’. Banks are doing their best to improve this. Since the 1st of April, it is even mandatory for employees of Dutch banks to sign a vague list of ethical guidelines for bankers.

The CEO salary case is interesting, because it clarifies some things. First, it reveals that the CEOs in Dutch banks are as greedy as they were before, but they use arguments for it now. Theirs was: by raising the salary, they’d be able to attract more reliable leaders, and thus become more competitive on the bank market. Because why would someone do his best for something, if he or she is not paid over a million per year, right? That would be playing your cards wrong. Not only can we conclude that the Dutch bank leaders are greedy (but try to hide it), the market of bank CEOs remains focussed astronomical salaries. It makes sense, because herding astronomical numbers is an astronomical burden: you have to keep them all in your sight, else they run away.

This event also reveals the power of these banks’ clients, especially when amplified by a social media outburst. A single decision of self-enrichment led to such buzz and fuzz that the CEOs had to take it back. No juridical court involved, it was all angry mob. And an overplayed hand. The careers of some of the dudes up there are even on thin ice now. They are made aware again that contracts are a two-way thing, and they have signed an astronomical amount of them.

This was a tiny battle. I’m curious to see how much the power of the people is really worth. It was about some salaries this time, but what if more important decisions are at stake, such as resignation of the board, or structural reforms? Could consumer disobedience still put leaders on their backs?

Becoming a collective

The World Parks Congress ended about three days ago. No more running around on the lookout for people to interview. Team buddies Lilian and Johannes left straightaway; back to Bonn and Beijing. Tom´s road parted from mine in Bombaderry:  gotta love the Aussie village names. I am now writing in the train from Kiala to Sydney. The melancholy in my heart helps me perceive the soothing charge of the rocky, wild beachscape passing by outside.

The video we made with the YPMC was received with a standing ovation induced by Daniela, who presented it. It was made as a voice for our generation of environmentalists. It starts with “we are a collective”. That means that we´re a community, a network of young brothers and sisters, dispersed all over the world. It believe it is true: indeed we are a collective, indeed, we act for nature, but more importantly: this is only a start for collective action. Or it can be.

One of the main questions heard at such congresses is: “what do you do?” It is perhaps because of the way they are set up, the way they are funded and the contemporary imperative of presenting yourself in a pitch. People get paid to praise themselves. It has been like this for the young people as well. It has weakened us. A better question to ask would be: “what shall we do?”

Some of the things that the young people currently seem to do well are: getting other young people outside with a no walls campaign, stimulating the outreach of a rapper on nature and educating children on the importance of nature. They are important initiatives, but the world needs more than that. We need strong, well enforced laws that answer nature´s cry for help, we need massive divestment from fossil fuels into sustainable energies. We need well-being, not money, to be central in our decision-making. We simply need massive global reforms.

After some good talks with Tom on the road, I´d like to propose something to all young ‘changemakers’ who attended the World Parks Congress in Sydney last week. Those who identify with the term ´leaders of the future´. We´ve all been involved in empowering communities. We know the tricks to helping them have a voice. Yet where we failed so far, is where we forgot to apply this expertise to ourselves as a group. The real collective may have been presented to the congress, but it is not yet there.

We are probably the only group of young people who are this close to the big conservationist decisions ahead. Probably among the young ones with the biggest potential to make the big changes. We know each other, and we have each others trust. We have support from our elders. We have well-established networks, though we lack the overview. Let´s change the nature of our presence at these congresses, and indeed ´lead by example´. Let´s shift the motivation of our visit to co-creating something that has impact. Raise funds for that. The next time we visit a congress, perhaps Hawaii, let´s take time to represent not ourselves to each other, but our community to the world. Let´s work towards coherence and infect the crowd with it. Use our joint presence to create something we think is important.

To reach this, I think it´s crucial that we all stay in close touch on the longer term. Build a closed digital platform, meet up. Share our expertise to build a collective CV. Let´s listen to each others opinions, gain insight in our common strengths and weaknesses. Dreams and worries. Discover our real potential. Without drifting away. We commit to this, remember?

The first question is easy: what can I contribute and how much time do I want to spend on it? The rest will follow. We could map our networks, find out what we lack. Look for leverage for change. Together we can create something that really is bigger than us. Acting local has been great, but let´s bring this to a bigger level. Let´s become the collective and act globally.

Million Masks

I should perhaps start this post by admitting that I was not present on the streets last Wednesday, the 5th of November. Were you? Did you know about it? There was a global demonstration.

The March against Monsanto on May 25th was the first global protest in history that aimed against a single global company. Even though the Amsterdam Dam Square was filled, the protest barely reached the Dutch news. The Monsanto Stock market did drop temporarily. This week, the European Commission nevertheless recommended the Council to grant permission to breed the genetically modified maize 1507 which, by the way, was not produced by Monsanto but by a Dutch company. Where are Greenpeace when you need them? I suppose they are too busy saving Faiza from the Russians.

Back to the Million Mask March. They have called themselves an alliance between Occupy, Anonymous and Wikileaks. From the online information sources the magnitude of the actual events are hard to grasp. Mass media have smaller head counts than some twitterers and smaller media do. We know for a fact that Russel Brand was there. And the Vendetta masks, imitating the face of Guy Fawkes,  involved in attempt to assassinate the king of England on, guess what, November 5th 1605. Not so long ago, people wore scream masks. What happened there?

V. Vendetta. A rebel with a cause. A legend, who decides for himself what is good and what is not. He suffered. His goal justifies his means. He is an example now. His mask enables others to express their pain. It helps them say that the big ones have messed up. Once again, a movie character stepped off the screen.

The call for peace is loud and clear. It’s message is not so much rational as it is ethical. You guys are cheating! You’re ignoring the rule of respect! You’re not cleaning up after you played the game!

Even if few people have heard of this one, such movements have impact. Occupy encouraged a first indigenous rise to politics. It inspired the guy who makes clean phones to start his business. It opened the dialogue about the banking system. Has it been enough? No. Yet the ball is rolling, and symbols of change keep joining the field.

Bait

If you were a fish, which bait could a fisherman use to catch you? Money? Sex? Love?

There is a program that’s able to estimate your age and sex quite accurately just by what you tweet. And have you heard of Kred? That’s a website where all data on Twitter activity are put into graphs. These data are now accessible under the motto of transparency. Paying customers can then see analyses about many types of influential words, sentences and multimedia. They could study reactions of target groups, but also those of individuals. It’s a start. I think that these techniques will get much better in the near future, up till the point where programs will be able to detect our childhood traumas from the photos that we post.

With the arrival of social media and E-identities, psychologists and cognitive scientists have access to endless data on the patterns that guide the human brain. What determines our choice? Which patterns make us into who we are? Marketers, states and many others will learn and take a leap closer to the aspects of ourselves that we thought were safely hidden. If, over the course of the coming century, we’d like to stay mentally free, I think it’d be wise to join in on that learning.

It is an option to back off from internet interaction, in order not to be deciphered. In that case, the fishermen will study your neighbours, brothers and sisters. They will still find out who you are and where your desires are hidden. Another option is that you start to fish for yourself and see what works and what not. Taste some of the bait from time to time, and see how you respond to it. In that case you will add information to the pile and give the insights you gather back to the mass. You’d contribute to the creation of better bait that makes more people snatch. Either way, the bait will get tastier, juicier and more thought through than ever.

If you were a human, which bait would lure you?

Hoax

I see well-educated people spread viral messages with deformed, badly reviewed or simply unjust information about a wide variety of topics. Hoaxes. A sense of sensation seems to drive them to copy bad articles, and spread them further over the web. Popular topics are Monsanto, the EU and our privacy. Power and control, basically.

What is true and what is not? This question has held people’s minds for as long as they exist. Through the ages, there have been opportunities for new beliefs, and they have been either undermined by the dominant players or embraced by them.

The emergence of science provided simple methods that help verify certain statements for truth. As time went on, topics became less straight forward and “truth” turned into “validity”. Some scientific branches evolved into constructs of theories and ideas. These constructs became institutions and these are now defended by those who work for them. Like the fortifications in the Medieval age.

Dollars where spotted. Doubt arose. Scientists now contradict each other. Humanity feels this. Outside of the institutions, some people see truth as no more than a belief. Take the climate sceptics. Valid reasonings are understood as stories that can be undermined. After all, some people say, political forces shape what is considered “true”. And hasn’t the past shown that truth is subjected to the altering force of time? It’s under these circumstances that social media appeared.

Conspiracy theories are not new. What is new, is the way they are spread over the net by people who should know better. What is also new is the way each theory can be traced back to its source. Posts can be tested. If we stop believing in the unquestionable authority of scientists, why not take responsibility and research for ourselves?

The fact that scientists are not always right does not prove that truth is purely a negotiable thing. Truth is also something every individual can honestly strive for. I’d like to invite you, reader, to look through to the sources of your on-line information. It can be quite interesting to see how some stories are blown up when rewritten. And if you plan to re-post something, take a moment to consider your own credibility. Your E-identity is at stake.

With the expansion of social media, the entrance of noise on the line will only get worse. I think it is therefore essential that we all check what we and our friends post and re-post. We have the opportunity to reshape science into something we should all take part in. Knowledge to the people.

What will become of information now lies in the hands of the people who are willing to work for it. Join us.

Graffiti and the Gravity of Gravity

By biking slowly you open up to the surroundings in a different way than when you’re quick. I am holding my steer loosely and at ease. Me at my finest. Or that’s what I believe.

The speed bump near my house does not come unforseen. Passing it every day, I know it very well. I wouldn’t say I appreciate the bump. It is a nasty one, to which I have to anticipate quite a little each time I go with speed. Tonight, I am going slowly, so there is little danger. Or that’s what I believe.

So it happens that my mind drifts where my body was an hour ago. Mr. La Luz gave us an inspiring talk on how he avoided sudden bankruptcy of his catering company by selling 50.000 obligations of 1 euro within 3 days, helped by social media.

I get called back by a shock. It was the bump. I see two tourists come from under the graffiti ornamented bridge to the right. They are about to become spectators of a struggle between my physical appearance, my bike and what Newton once framed as the attraction between two bodies.

The steer shoots to the right. That’s where the sidewalk starts. It’s stuck. I am quite surprised that I managed to lose control at this idle pace. I am an individual who commends himself for heaving escaped perilous situations. I have regained control during slip events and even when I had tyres stuck in a tramway. Indeed, when I moved to the Netherlands ten years ago, my quest was to master the bike better than the Dutch. I have learned to make sharp curves without holding my steering wheel. My traffic radar – a basic Dutch city biker’s skill – works without a flaw. I have lifted the daily need of transportation to an art. That’s how I am able to afford this looseness in the first place. Tonight, the bricks of the city of my ancestors disagree.

As I grab the steer and try to pull it back, the bike bends. The pedals capture my feet while my back wheel pushes the entire cascade forwards. Did I brake? I cannot tell, but something changed. My front wheel makes a sudden shift to the left. Up till now, the situation seemed out of control. Now it is. The saddle catapults my body, while the bike takes off below me, only to find its way back to the ground in a swift parabolic motion. I follow a similar curve, and reach out to the ground with my left hand.

One of the great things you can buy in the Netherlands, is a basket for the front of your bicycle. You wouldn’t imagine how handy they are. Gloves too hot? In the basket. Crate of beer? In the basket. Just bought a nice plant? Into the basket it goes! The basket – my friend, my friend – the basket. Or so it has me believe.

While my hands stroke the floor, my ribs discover the solid character of my precious basket in a wholly new way. The air rushes out of my lungs and some limbs fly by. It doesn’t take long until I’m safely back on the ground, knowing that I’m not sleeping on my side tonight.

In the ideal scenario, the two tourists who just witnessed my life flash by continue their pace pretending that nothing happened. I know before I look up, however, that this is not that scenario. It is perhaps for that reason that I make my groan sound as manly as possible. When I look up, I see them coming to my aid.

“Are you ok?” . “Well, I’m still able to breathe, so I think so.” and in a different tone “I have no clue how that happened!”.

“Don’t worry, man” says the guy, “it happens to everyone…”. He deserves this gaze of death.