Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

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my gay online adolescence.

January 28, 2013

Just the other week, Harry Hitchens (from BBC’s Young Apprentice) posted a video on Youtube coming out to the world.

He states that his main motivation for doing this was so that other young people who were learning to accept themselves and their sexuality did not feel so alone. I wish that there had been more of these videos when I’d been growing up, because my gay adolescence was quite lonely; and although I knew I wasn’t the only one, it was a long time before any of my peers were willing to expose themselves so publically and so deeply.

In my youth, we had no Youtube or Twitter. Facebook didn’t arrive until the end of my first year of university. As a teenager, all I had was Faceparty and MSN (and AIM for a brief period, but few in the UK used it), and Myspace (which I used primarily for my music, but I was fortunate enough to meet a couple of people via that medium who have ultimately become good friends). Otherwise, to talk to other people, there were online forums and bulletin boards; awkwardly enough, for a year and a half I navigated my adolescence writing cathartic and experimental poetry on a largely Christian bulletin board. Eventually, for a range of reasons, we drifted apart (although amicably so).

My father took a long time to cave in to broadband; over dialup, I used WinMX to download music one song at a time; occasionally I would download brief gay porn videos that would take HOURS for just a couple of minutes’ worth of footage, that I would then delete upon logging off the net for fear of my dad seeing them. A couple of times late at night once my parents were long asleep, I also cybered with randoms I found in chatrooms on WinMX. The screens of these chatrooms were black, and the writing for different people would be in different colours; it looked much more aggressive and raw than the internet looks now, but there was no permanence to the interactions; the words spiralled into an abyss, into nothing. In the present, every single thing you do online has ramifications; thankfully, I didn’t have to navigate my sexuality and my youth online with the fear of my words being screenshot, paraphrased, used against me at any opportunity being a realistic one. (I know it could still have been done, especially with my father’s IT expertise, but it wasn’t prevalent the way that it seems to be today.)

During the year I spent living in Spain, I used to spend a hell of a lot of time chatting to Hannah on MSN, and a site we explored for a little while was called MeetYourMessenger, which was a combination of Faceparty and MSN. It was not very fruitful however; I remember having one conversation where a guy spoke to me exclusively through ostentatious, glittering animations and smileys. He was blocked after that conversation. I also used to read gay fanfic on Nifty, and I actually got talking to a guy on there; we even met up a couple of times! We also used to cam, and all of these memories remind me of how when flirting on all of these different sites, people were desperate for pictures, for videoed conversations. Separate USB webcams are now a thing of the past, but back then they were an indispensable part of the online experience for some, threatening symbols of sexual predators for others, and a laugh for the lucky rest of us in between.

A lot of people don’t know this, but I originally found Toby through Fitlads, a gay dating site that intimidated me far less than Gaydar. I didn’t have an iPhone at that point so I have never used Grindr, and I think I’d probably find that too intimidating too. Anyways, after a couple of successful conversations on MSN where we both proved to one another that we actually had thoughts in our brains, once we found out that we both were attending UWE for our postgrads, we decided to cut the online stuff and just meet in person. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I had forgotten a lot of these things until I started looking back over my teenage years in detail, and thinking about all of the websites I used to visit. They sound almost quaint compared to what sites are around now, and at the same time as the internet became faster, sleeker and more commonplace, I thankfully became older, wiser and more prudent with my actions. At the age of 11, 12 or 13, I don’t know if I would have been savvy enough to evade every pitfall Facebook (let alone more adult sites) has to offer. From my time at Cirencester College, teaching young people about how to be intelligent about what they share on the internet is important – especially in a culture of digital natives where there is a lot of pressure to share everything (from peers and otherwise). In this same way, just as I discovered the internet as I grew older, is the right to privacy something young people of today will only really discover and understand in their twenties – once it’s, perhaps, a little too late?

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facebook – back from the brink

January 22, 2012

Last night I went out with Toby, Christina and Pete, and we were talking about (among other things) people’s use of Facebook, how it can be quite irritating and invasive, and a new thing that pops up when you add someone as a friend (which I rarely bother doing!) – apparently you choose the ‘level’ of friendship (e.g. close friend, or acquaintance, or colleague). There is some other system of creating a “life event” and of viewing a friendship between two particular people (which Christina labelled as “spooky”, as Facebook will find all of the pictures that both people were tagged in and create some sort of pictorial / event timeline out of it).

Now, when I rejoined Facebook, I did so mainly to keep in touch with my old colleagues from Cirencester, which has been nice. But after the first week or so of being in London, I didn’t really use it! I don’t update my profile (I have twitter for that), I don’t post up pictures (because I have this blog and my occasionally-used tumblr for that) and people communicate with me via other means. Last night, Toby also stated that he hasn’t really been using Facebook properly for the past year or so, and we both considered closing our accounts (for me, this would have been the second time). I don’t know if Toby still will, but I was set on it – returning to Facebook only proved to me how much I didn’t really need it. But this time around, it’s hardly been a burden having Facebook because my presence on there is very minimal and completely for the purposes of communicating with friends of mine who use that as their main outlet.

And then, this morning I woke up to find that Victoria – an old friend of mine from Oxford – had messaged me to find out how I was doing. We hadn’t written to each other in a couple of years, and I hadn’t seen her since I graduated from uni. We were very close in our first two years, living in the same corridor and spending a lot of time with one another. She is such a sweet person, so it was really nice to hear from her! I have written her back, and this experience said to me “if having Facebook now is so light on commitment, why bother deleting it? At least every blue moon, somebody will get in touch and revive a friendship.” This approach made sense, and I feel that I have struck the ideal balance – I’m not completely detached from Facebook, but it is something that I use only when I feel like it. There is no compulsion to check it or update it the way that there used to be at university. I feel unburdened by it, and every now and then a nice surprise like Victoria’s message makes me glad I joined it again.

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kissing etiquette.

August 20, 2011

Toby and I were having a phone conversation the other night, and I said how I found it strange that my close friend Davina (whom I have known for over 20 years) has recently stopped ending her text messages with kisses. She used to end them with 5 kisses – sometimes “xxxxx”, but sometimes “XxXxX” – this is why the sudden absence of these kisses is noticeable.

I wondered aloud to Toby whether, at 26, Davina now felt that she had to be grown up and not add kisses? There was no issue of a loss of friendship, as her language was still affectionate: she started her most recent text to me with “Hey hunny”. My conversation  with Toby developed into a more general rumination on how many kisses it is appropriate to put at the end of a text message, and the complex set of ‘rules’ (or more precisely, considerations) that we all take into account – often without even thinking about it.

For example, because I love Toby to pieces, I basically hammer the X button until I feel that it is enough – the kisses that I send him can vary anywhere between 5 and 12. Because I text Toby far more than anyone else, at the end of typing messages my finger therefore automatically goes towards the X. This can be a problem thought if I am not texting Toby, and some restraint needs to be exercised. For example, Mike is quite manly and is also 37. So he doesn’t put any kisses at the end of his texts, and I have to make sure that I don’t put any at the end of texts I send to him, as it would be a tiny bit odd – although it’s quite difficult to explain why this is. The same with Trevor, my colleague with whom I car share and get on with well, who is in his late 50s. However, I find it weird not ending a text message with some sort of sign-off, so instead I put a smiley face. Trevor (being quite relaxed) from time to time also uses smiley faces; Mike does not. Out of all of my friends, it is most acceptable to end texts to Mike without any punctuation or sign-off whatsoever. But I find it weird not to use anything at all – the text then feels blunt, functional and lacking in my personality.

But is my personality immature to be using kisses at the end of texts to people other than my close friends or partner? With close friends like Hannah or Karina, I might end my texts with two or three kisses. With Nick, another close friend who is a boy, I might end my texts with one or two kisses – to preserve some semblance of masculinity; and also, because there is only one man who gets all my kisses, and that is Toby. So does this mean that there is a fundamental but extremely subtle hierarchy of respect to family and partners, as well as consideration of gender, level of friendship, and sexuality? For example – it feels more acceptable to put kisses on the end of texts to Nick than to Mike, as Nick is gay whereas Mike is straight. But surely that is stupid? On the rare occasion that I accidentally end texts to Mike with an x or two, he has never said anything or been remotely bothered.

Something that Toby pointed out to me is that just as I do with him, he usually leaves me a lot of kisses at the end of his texts to me. But very occasionally, I only get two or three – and me being me, I notice this and wonder if there is any reason for it. I found out through our conversation – because I have an iPhone, I have no character count on my texts. But Toby’s phone still has a character count; and so, to avoid going over the character limit into what is technically a “new page” of the text message, sometimes he will only have two or three characters left, which means that I get less kisses than I am accustomed to. So another thing that I have to remember is that we all have different phones and different contracts / allowances.

To friends of mine who are reasonably good friends (for example, Mike’s wife Caroline, or my colleagues Amy and Charlotte at work), I will end my texts with one kiss; to people whom I don’t really know that well, or am texting for specific information, there are no kisses to preserve a business-like approach. But as I grow older, and in theory more mature, should I be ending my text messages in a more perfunctory way? I don’t even know if Davina has had this conscious thought – all I’ve noticed is a change, and I am just projecting onto it. But it triggered an interesting discussion, and a realisation that there are a lot of subtle things that we consider, almost automatically, when we send text messages to our friends, partners, colleagues and so on. As a 25-year-old man, am I too old to be ending my texts with kisses? Or should I just carry on, be myself and not think about it so much? Surely this is overthinking something very simple; but as I’ve illustrated, the etiquette of kisses on texts is deceptively complicated. And a lot of the mystery was dispelled through an actual real-time voice conversation, which possibly speaks volumes… At the end of the day, text messages can be an excellent form of quick and convenient communication, but shades of meaning and levels of affection can be conveyed much more accurately and honestly through tone of voice and the spontaneity of a real-time conversation.

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my robot is better than your robot…?

August 16, 2011

Check out the new video from www.iamfirst.com, an American initiative to encourage more students to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects at school and beyond. It features various celebrities highlighting the importance of science, including Justin Timberlake, Steven Tyler, will.i.am, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Jack Black.

While I think that trying to engage young people in STEM subjects (or any academic subjects at school) can only be a good thing, this video is all wrong for several reasons – which are outlined in my resulting questions from the video, listed below.

  • Why is will.i.am wearing a blood pressure cuff?
  • Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber don’t even go to school!
  • Reciting names of elements does not make one a scientist.
  • What is a Doctor of Thinkology, and what scientific careers value this qualification?
  • Phones and pianos are made of science! Ergo geeks are great and you should become one!
  • WHERE ARE THE ROBOTS? I certainly don’t have a robot. I didn’t see any of these celebrities’ robots!? So how can their robots be better than my robot?
  • I am quite confident that Einstein was not a rockstar.
  • How shiny is will.i.am’s chest? Surely that’s not natural. Perhaps HE is the robot?
  • So people should take jobs in science, engineering, maths and robotics because there are more jobs there than in basketball (which I thought was obvious)? Not because they might be any good at science, or want to study it further? Surely we should be encouraging young people to follow their dreams and make use of their talents and aptitudes, not just advise them to choose careers based on which sectors have more jobs?
  • Robotics and science is the future, because robots are all futuristic and shit… yeah.

I agree with will.i.am that if every school has a basketball court, then they should also have a science programme. That is perhaps one of the few sensible suggestions to come out of this video. Also, he says that educating our youth and getting them equipped for tomorrow is important, and I wholeheartedly agree. My issue is that this video is not educational – they have basically thrown a bunch of celebrities at the screen, told them to say “Science is cool!” and hope that kids buy it. How does this equip them? What concrete knowledge does this video share? Our youth is surely not naive enough to buy into something without concrete reasoning of why science is important – saying that scientists made an iPhone is not enough! I would suggest that emphasising the importance of STEM subjects in order to go into a range of careers, increasing earning prospects, mentioning specific job fields where vacancies and progression are available would have been the way to go. Young people need and crave this kind of information when they’re making their subject choices, university and college applications, and so on. This video is a bit nothing-y, at the end of the day.

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a year without facebook.

July 7, 2011

It has been over a year since I wrote this post and closed my Facebook account. So how have I found life without having a profile on the biggest online social media site?

Fine! Quite good and carefree, in fact. I must admit that occasionally, when seeing colleagues on Facebook in the office looking at friends’ photos, I have thought “it would be nice to have access to that”. But then I remember that the whole point of leaving Facebook was to leave hassle behind, and not only do I not have to worry about looking through reams and reams of photos and other notifications, I don’t have to get into the murky politics of accepting and ignoring friend requests from colleagues whom I don’t really know, or people I haven’t seen for years without worrying that it might come back to bite me through a mutual friend. I don’t lose productivity time through Facebook. I still vastly prefer Twitter because I can update it with the minimum of effort, and it’s much more like a conversation than like a Myspace page with bells and whistles. Perhaps I’m just getting older, but I don’t miss Facebook chat and I am going on MSN less and less. While I think that all of the stuff the internet can do is amazing, I am living my life more and more in the real world, and as I grow older and more independent and responsible, my time is taken up with real concerns such as cars, bank accounts, finding a new job, moving, affording a holiday…

The only thing that might bring me back to Facebook in a small way (and this remains to be seen) is my job. Not to converse with colleagues or keep up with any popularity contests that are going on (I am so not interested in that, as I already know who my friends are and I am content with that), but to liaise with students in a professional capacity. Some older staff have embraced this, while others are nervous about it and it admittedly has its risks in terms of e-safety. But my job revolves around working with teenagers, and Facebook is one of the major ways in which they communicate and interact with one another. I therefore feel that while using their personal emails has worked absolutely fine for me this year, perhaps next year I shall set up a Facebook account for my tutees so that I can announce things to them on there, and they can use Facebook as a means of communicating with me if they need to – perhaps it will be more intuitive for them than always emailing me. I have also written a tutorial activity on advising students not to put up ill-advised things on their profile, as important people such as employers might be able to look at this! I then realised that as part of the discussion, I recommended tutors to advise students on how to change their privacy settings… but not having Facebook, I no longer know exactly how to do that! So in a very small way, I am out of the loop – but it would only be a concession to work purposes that I might return to Facebook, in a small way.  We’ll see.

I feel like I am treating myself a bit like an addict, and acting as if anything that threatens my abstinence from Facebook might be a bad thing… although I was never excessively hooked on it in the first place! Generally, my life has been a lot better and freer for having closed my account. Although when I was talking with Elenna on the way to work this morning, and she said how much she has benefitted from Facebook reuniting her with old friends with whom she had lost touch – for me, I have been there and done that. Anyone I wanted to regain touch with, I would either have done it up until last year, or it’s not worth doing. Perhaps my opinion will change in the future, who knows? I just prefer having one less way for people to contact me. After all – as I said last time, “all of [the important] people have my mobile number, my email, my address.  If they really wanna talk to me, or I really wanna talk to them, I will make an effort to do so in a more personal way than Facebook offers.” Game over.