Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

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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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the art of conversation.

May 20, 2012

On Thursday evening I was waiting to meet Toby and Said in Starbucks in Westfield after work. I had my frappuccino, my copy of L’Officiel Hommes Italia (I had bought the Italian version rather than my usual French version in order to practise my Italian – I have been doing my Italian course for 3 weeks and I feel it’s going well, although I am still finding it hard to avoid thinking and speaking in Spanish) and my iPod in. I had serendipitously commandeered three comfy armchairs around a table, and was settling in to read. However, the cafe was getting busy and Toby and Said were running late due to traffic and transport. A pretty Asian lady in a blue coat came up to me and asked if anyone was sitting with me. Now, I could hardly say “I’m sorry, my friends are coming” because I didn’t know when they would arrive – as it happened, I ended up waiting for another half an hour before they arrived. So I said “No, go ahead and take the chairs.” The woman flopped down in the seat and exhaled loudly, before exclaiming “They should make places in here (i.e. Westfield) where you can sleep for half an hour!” I smiled and agreed, and soon she was joined by her equally pretty friend, who sat in the other vacant armchair. For a while, we didn’t converse, but somehow we eventually started talking. About shopping, about London (the first lady maintained that London used to have “quiet areas, but now there are so many people everywhere, you can’t escape them!”) and about iPhone apps. We even talked about finances and relationships, and somehow we passed the time amiably chatting. Their friend showed up and they introduced her to me, and although I didn’t know these women, I felt included and comfortable. It was an unusual situation, and when Toby and Said finally arrived, they wore slightly amused and surprised expressions on their faces as I bade the women farewell.

I explained how we had ended up talking, and I realised that while it was cute that “I had made Starbucks friends”, in the past this kind of situation probably wasn’t so uncommon. When you’re on a plane or on a bus and someone sits next to you, in the past we didn’t have iPods and other devices with headphones to cut ourselves off so effectively from the rest of the world. Ok, we might have been reading a book and people might have interpreted that as someone not particularly wanting to engage in conversation, but it didn’t render us incommunicado from the world outside in the same way – and we probably didn’t regard someone new wanting to talk to us as an entirely unreasonable intrusion on our privacy. Although a lot of people harp on about the youth of today communicating so wholly via social media that they no longer have (or necessarily need) conversational skills in the real world, I don’t think that I hold with that anti-technology, anti-modern view. People are either socially confident and equipped with skills to handle face-to-face interactions, or they’re not. Me and my friends use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. – but we also enjoy talking face to face and venturing out into the big wide world.

As someone who has always been good at learning languages, the hardest and most nerve-wracking aspect of studying a new language is always speaking and listening – being able to successfully navigate a real-time, real-life interaction and find the words and sentences to express my needs and opinions. It takes practice, perseverance and a certain acceptance of making mistakes and learning from them. We can’t be afraid that we’re going to mess up from time to time – because that is definitely going to happen, and when we ask for help, correct ourselves and re-establish our confidence is when we learn. In much the same way, people can’t be afraid of making a social blunder even in their first / only language – it’s a totally understandable fear, but if we acquiesce to that fear, then we end up staying in hiding behind that array of screens never to conquer our social unease. The art of conversation is something that some people have much stronger skills in than others – but everyone can practise and hone those skills. We are all human, and at the end of the day physically being with one another isn’t the only way, but it is the ultimate one.

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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.

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satisfaction.

September 5, 2010

So I must be honest, I am not as over the moon in my new job as I expected to be. Perhaps I am naïve to expect to feel so happy, but it’s a saving grace that Mike is there with me because otherwise it would be a bit lonely and I would have nobody to vent to who knows precisely what I’m going through, because he is going through the exact same stuff.  However, although he was a bit unsure after the first day, the job seems to have grown on him more than it has for me.  I am looking forward to going to work tomorrow, but mainly because it will alleviate the boredom of this weekend at home, and mean that my next weekend in London with Toby will approach that much more quickly. The difficult thing is that there is nothing specific I can put my finger on – all the staff are lovely, I finally met my tutees (although if they’re doing a reshuffle so that I am not unfairly laden with more students than any other tutor, some of them won’t be my tutees after all) and apart from a few cheeky ones (which you have to expect when they’re aged 16-19), they all seem pretty nice so far. Term starts tomorrow and I’ll be into the real job rather than preparation and laying the groundwork and multiple meetings which seem designed to confuse something which ends up being the common sense I had expected. I am looking forward to starting, but I don’t feel the enthusiasm I felt a month ago (yes, this is my 4th week!). I don’t really know why, but I feel like something’s missing lately and I can’t pinpoint what, so I’ll just keep going and hopefully I’ll slowly feel more satisfied. I know that I want to take my driving test (hopefully next month), then I can move out, so I am slowly accomplishing my goals but until I get a car I feel a bit like I am in limbo; depending on Mike to take me to and from work, I am scared when he moves house in a month’s time because then I’ll be getting the train / lifts from other members of staff again, and I don’t like that dependence on people I don’t know that well, even at the same time as their kindness touches me.

I also mentioned that I’ve been at home this weekend.  I don’t know why, but I feel and act 10 years younger than my 24 years around my parents and grandmother; not throwing teenage tantrums, but keeping an intense amount of privacy and being more feisty and snappy in response to their questions which from their mouths sound nosey; from anyone else, I’m aware that they would just be taking an interest in me and I would happily answer. I don’t know why I revert to this mentality, but I am supposed to be going out for dinner to a pub with my parents tonight; it’s their idea, but I really have an aversion to going and am undecided whether I’m going to attend. It’s more enjoyable for them and for me when it’s just the two of them; I don’t have to make an effort at conversation, they can enjoy some private time, I don’t have to spend a couple of hours quietly hating their choice of venue, I get to have the house to myself for a couple of hours. I know the mature thing would be just to suck it up and go along, but then if the original reason for the meal is to celebrate my new job, why does it feel as if I am accommodating them? I’d really rather just not go, not to mention we already had a meal for the same celebratory reason a month or so ago. Do I really need to do this again? And yet I am aware that I feel like a brat for not wanting to go, as if I can’t spend a couple of hours with my parents without feeling aggrieved.  On the one hand, I need to grow up; on the other hand, why should I still feel obliged to do these things if I am an adult, earn my own salary (finally! and that is a good feeling), make my own decisions and therefore should have choice over whether I want to do something or not? Am I right or wrong to feel guilty?

Talking of guilty, I am tempted to alleviate my boredom and muted despair by going to a café in Cabot Circus this afternoon – let’s face it, I have nothing better to do and I get severe cabin fever staying inside all day. Now, I know I don’t need to spend money, but as I got my first payment a week and a half ago and it was a lovely boost, I know that I only have another few weeks to manage with more than enough money to get me through. Yet I had a lovely coffee yesterday, and I wish that I could get out and about without having to spend money in the process. I am also tempted to buy a bottle of Gucci Guilty because the fragrance smells nice enough but the bottle will look KILLER on my perfume shelf (I am a Gucci fan). Check it:

Sexy non? I think so, and I can already see that if I go into town, my resistance will crumble and I will end up with a bottle. A bottle of fragrance that I don’t need (although I have been quite good and slowly clearing out my stocks), to make myself feel better for how long? I do love shopping, and retail therapy has always been something I’ve enjoyed – buying presents for others or for myself, I enjoy spending money and any excuse to do so is welcome in my book.  However, even though I most probably will possess this bottle within a few hours, I will also know that it is just an excuse. An expensive excuse to distract myself, feel happy for a while until it fades and I’m left in the same predicament. I miss my wonderful boyfriend Toby, and I am so glad to have a beautiful Thomas Sabo ring he put on my finger (no, not an engagement ring, rather a “just-because” present – just because! I got him an iPod touch which he has been sorely in need of) because even when I miss him, I can look at it and have a little part of him with me all the time.  I miss seeing my friends in Bristol, because I’m working during the week and in London most weekends that I never get to seem them much and I really miss them! I hope that I can keep my life moving and finally capture the independence I already feel grown for. Then I’ll hopefully be more satisfied, while I work out what the overall meaning of my life should be.

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switch off and breathe.

May 17, 2010

For all of the time that I do spend on my Macbook, texting on my phone, and attached to my iPod, lately I’ve started feeling that my personal reliance on technology, as well as our dependence on it as a society, is getting on my nerves a little bit.  I freely admit I could not live without my iPod, but to me that is an addiction to music rather than an addiction to electronics; music is something I know I could never give up, as I’ve always been around music since I can remember. As a child, if it wasn’t on TV, radio or the stereo as my mother and I danced around the living room to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, then I was singing it.

Even though I had my first mobile phone at 14, I can remember not even wanting one initially – I got it for my 14th birthday with a sparkly cover (my penchant for shiny things has always been well known) and I said to my dad “I told you I didn’t need one!”.  I didn’t really use it until I started my first part-time job at WHSmith when I was 16, and suddenly I had an exciting, interesting friendship group outside of school – people who were cool, who hadn’t known me for the last 5 years and had therefore formed preconceptions and misconceptions about me, and with whom I could socialise.  Suddenly I was texting and spending my credit like water, and my mobile phone seemed to come into its own.  Today, again I couldn’t be without one, and I use it to tweet, send messages, call people if necessary, record song ideas on the go and generally kill time.  But then, life simply seems to have changed in the last 10 years; it’s just expected for everyone to have a mobile phone, it’s convenient for meeting people (in the days before texts to say you’re running late or there’s been a change of plan / venue, you had to arrange meets in advance and be where you said you were gonna be, when you said you were gonna be there!), they can come in invaluable in unforeseen circumstances or emergencies… they’re a logistical and social necessity.  And yet we survived fine without them 10 years ago… Well, I’m glad in that instance that we’ve come 10 years further.

I adore my Macbook, and I couldn’t imagine getting through my university degrees without it.  I remember when my dad gave me his black ex-work laptop to take with me to university; I felt so grown up, 18 years old in a new city with my very own laptop!  When I knocked water all over that laptop approximately 3 weeks later and destroyed it beyond repair, I had to survive two weeks (!!!, though this felt like an eternity at the time) completing essays by hand, watching DVDs on my friend’s computer, and checking emails in the communal computer room.  It was a massive inconvenience, and it really made me appreciate just how much easier computers have made my working life.  In terms of pleasure, music allows me to keep up with (and download) all of the music that I’m interested in.  It allows me to write this blog and share it with you all.  It allows me to produce and record my songs and create albums like Quiet Storm which is my pride and joy, and I’ve felt so privileged to be able to share that with all of you.  It’s allowed me to make new friends through myspace and twitter, some of whom I now hold very dear to me.  I wouldn’t have gotten to know my boyfriend and realise just how compatible we are without MSN.

And yet, despite all of these obvious considerable pluses, I’ve felt myself getting a teensy bit annoyed.  I deleted my facebook a week and a half ago because all of the constant notifications (most of which I had turned off, except then they were clogged up on my profile every time I logged in), the tension between having high privacy settings and resulting awkwardness from restricting certain people who believe they have more of a right to my life than they actually do, the user-unfriendly profile format updates and general invasiveness of it all had just got to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it anymore.  Unlike twitter, which is quick, easy and on-the-go, I found that facebook was becoming a cumbersome site which does everything very well (and I will miss the photo-sharing facilities it had), but sorta places an onus on you to join in with every single aspect of it.  I like that only a select few of my friends have twitter; it allows me to have a little in-crowd, without having to either censor myself or let everyone in the whole world know exactly what’s going on with me.  On facebook, I found that people whom I barely knew were adding me as friends, and after a short period of rejecting them, eventually I just acquiesced because if they were that desperate to be my friend, they might as well inflate my friend count.  In short, it just wasn’t fun anymore.

And yet, I felt scared to delete it, because it’s become such an institution.  When deactivating my account, facebook’s last stand was to show me pictures of my closest friends along with “Nana will miss you.” “Sarah will miss you.” “Nathalie will miss you.” “Hannah will miss you.” “Toby will miss you.” “Mike will miss you.” My heart panged for a fraction of a second, and then I realised: all of these 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.  At that point, I got pissed off by facebook’s attempt to emotionally blackmail me into using their service, and decisively deactivated my account.  That was a week and a half ago, and I haven’t really missed it nor felt tempted to return.  I feel emancipated… I’ll let you know how I get on and if I eventually return to the fold!  But I’d like to say that I won’t 😉

I spend a lot of my weekends with my laptop taking advantage of the wi-fi in Starbucks in Cabot Circus.  Usually I’m getting work done that I can’t get done at home, but sometimes I’m blogging or doing various other things.  I remember having to steal neighbours’ wireless internet at home, and the signal constantly cutting out because I would move my laptop a fraction out of range.  I appreciate now how lucky and how convenient it is to have a stable internet at my fingertips.  But sometimes, if I don’t need to do work, dragging my laptop everywhere is somewhat cumbersome (and my laptop’s not exactly huge!).  Between laptop and power adaptor, it takes up a lot of space in my bag (leaving less for necessary cosmetics, obviously) and gets quite heavy.  So the last two weekends I’ve made a point of leaving my computer at home.  I use my Macbook most evenings, I usually fire it up in the morning while I’m getting ready for uni / work / placement / whatever I’m up to.  So in retrospect, I don’t need to carry it wherever I go (especially since half the point of my most recent mobile phone was that it has mobile internet browsing).  And that’s exactly it.  Technology is a massive convenience, a fantastically useful tool that has revolutionised my life exactly as it’s revolutionised yours.  Or if not exactly, then in similar ways.  I appreciate it and I can remember enough instances of it failing that I generally don’t take it for granted, despite being under 25 and therefore a “digital native” (if you’re over 25, you’re a “digital immigrant”, so now you know!!! 😛 ).  But I don’t want to turn into somebody who doesn’t know how to live without technology.  I used to be happy just singing songs, doing jigsaw puzzles, watching TV and reading books – no internet, no cell, no computer, no iPod, no Playstation.  I could spend days doing simple things like that, and while I’m sure that these days I’d get bored after a while, I want to know from time to time that I’m still capable of living independent of these things that I feel I need, that we’ve all become used to thinking that we need, but we don’t really.  We may need them to survive in our contemporary social landscape, but our lives won’t physically end without them.  I’m currently trying to teach myself that.