Christopher Nosnibor Banned from Social Network.. for Networking

Back in the MySpace days, when I was refusing to sign up to Facebook before peer pressure and a mass exodus meant I had to move in order to maintain my virtual profile and contact with many of the people who I’d met but who had since migrated, there used to be a running joke about Facebook that centred around the absurd premise of only networking with people you already know.

Having accumulated over 1,300 ‘friends’ (who probably are electric) since setting up my account, it’s probably fairly obvious that I’ve exchanged friend requests with a lot of people I’ve never met, never heard of and know nothing about. I do, however, tend to share a number of mutual friends with these ‘strangers’, more often than not on account of common interests and publishing.

Sometimes, I may not be actively seeking friends to add, but will fire off the odd friend request because, well, because Facebook tells me to. Granted, I’m entirely responsible for my own actions, but the feature whereby Facebook suggests friends is undeniably a less than subtle form of suggestion. Now, I’ll concede that it does list these suggestions under ‘people you may know’, but when you’ve got a significant number of mutual friends who move in the same circles, then you’re into ‘friend of a friend’ territory in a rapidly diminishing virtual world.

Still, to cut a short story shorter, it would seem that one of my requestees decided they didn’t know me and didn’t want to and told Facebook as much. Consequently, I received a notice informing me I was banned from sending any friend requests for a week, and furthermore, I was required to revisit the terms and conditions and tick a box on a declaration stating that I wouldn’t send friend requests to anyone I didn’t know, ever again. I was given the option to cancel all of my outstanding friend requests, or just those sent to users with whom I have ‘few’ friends in common, which was generous, but note the use of the word ‘few’ – not ‘no’. What qualifies as ‘few’? it’s all relative, surely. If a person only has 10 friends and five are mutual, it’s relatively many, but few in real terms. I know, I’m intentionally missing the point to an extent.

Moreover, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the irritation and antagonism serial spammers cause, or the threat to personal security the scamming spammers represent, but I nevertheless find this suspension approach absurd, because it’s not hard to distinguish between a human who’s a heavy user and a spambot.

Can you imagine the same scenario playing out in the real world: for example, delegates milling around at a conference not speaking to one another or introducing themselves to others? Shuffling up to the buffet and not speaking to someone because they don’t already know one another is hardly networking, is it? Or imagine a freshers’ week at university where no-one strikes up a conversation with someone just because they look interesting or they’re wearing a particular band T-shirt or whatever, because they don’t share an arbitrary number of common friends already. It’s unfeasible, and life simply isn’t like that. Social networking isn’t like inviting random strangers into your house just because they knock at your door: the clue’s in the name.

So is this an indicator that despite what Facebook claims to be, and despite the fact we’re supposedly living in a shrinking world with a wider society, what we’re actually doing is growing more insular, more fearful of ‘strangers’ and spending our time indoors not meeting new people, preferring instead to only associate in virtual life with people we know in real life? This would also suggest that social networking is, in fact, the precise opposite of what its name implies, and it would be more accurate to describe it as anti-social not-networking. Staying may well be the new going out, but forgive me for wanting to get out more while I’m staying in.

 

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Farcebook: absurd ‘guidelines’

 

And if you’re loving my work, This Books is Fucking Stupid is published on April 1st.

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I’m in good company….

The following review is something I found on-line while working on my forthcoming novel., This Book is Fucking Stupid. It’s a review of Hemingway’s classic The Garden of Eden.

 

I give up.

This book is fucking stupid. There is no story at all. It’s all a bunch of sleeping and eating in France while nothing actually happens. Envy and sex. That’s it. A woman has a mental breakdown and Hemingway obviousy had some rampant sexual fantasies. Now that I know what happens… Catherine loses her mind because she’s jealous of David’s attention to writing…she’s a rich little psycho who wants to be showered in attention constantly. She gets increasingly jealous of his masculinity and she admires it so much that she keeps getting her fucking hair cut more and more and it says online that she even got tailored pants and picked up a chick with whom she had a lesbian affair with. Then she lets David sleep with her too. They’re like some sick happy triangle. Oh my god, really? That’s it? A whole fucking novel for that? My god, the first stage of her psychotic episode seriously took up like a third of the book. Maybe when this was written it was groundbreaking and mind bending so I could be looking at it with completely the wrong mindset and judgmental eyes. I just found it to be such a drag. For me, right now, in 2011 at least. I feel like that was such a waste of life, lol I’m sorry. Wow. Just WOW. Like I said it’s probably a lot more amazing in the context of the time. It took the dude fifteen years to finish. I read the summary on the book and thought it was boring, I should’ve just put it back on the shelf. I guess I wanted a taste of how it was written and how everything played out but I found a lot of babbling, broken scenes with a lot of pointless fluff, a lot of “and”s and a character I really dislike who talks too fucking much and needs counseling. I’m a little disappointed. I should just stick to Poe. There’s always a twist, and if there’s not it at least gets you thinking and stimulates the senses. And Emerson. God, this book made me feel so stir crazy. Crazy. Town. Let me out.

 

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Hemingway: Who are you calling stupid?

 

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They were cunts in school and are still cunts now….

Job-hopping was, historically, considered to be a bad thing. A job was for life, and anyone who had a CV that consisted of an endless catalogue of short-term contracts was perceived as either being unable to stick at anything, or incapable of obtaining anything more than seasonal or temporary work – usually menial, low-grade employment that was undemanding and required minimal intellect or, worse still, the kind of person who made a habit of getting themselves sacked. Times have changed. Some people actually choose to flit between jobs and call it ‘freelancing’. Others have short-term work forced upon them, and it’s no longer simply the blue-collar types. Offices and ‘contact centres’ (call centres to those who live outside of the corporate environment) are bursting at the seams with temporary staff and staff on fixed-term contracts – to the extent that many large companies actually employ very few staff directly. While the hourly rate for a temp may be higher on paper, subtracting the cost of benefits such as staff pension and sick pay and it’s easy to see why companies do it, although the benefits are immeasurably in their favour over those of the employee. Many of these temporary staff are educated to degree level, yet are still unable to secure permanent contracts. Even in positions that require higher qualifications and levels of experience, the situation is the same: universities are employing teaching fellows on a basis of a semester at a time, for one or two hours of teaching a week.

Again, there is an immense disparity between the idea of job-hopping as a lifestyle choice and the common reality for those who find themselves forced into a life of what Ivor Southwood refers to in his book Non-Stop Inertia as ‘job precarity’. It isn’t fun. And yet recruitment agencies and those who enjoy the ‘freelancing’ lifestyle (usually the kind of people who get head-hunted and land a short-term contract of a year or two in highly-paid executive roles) all emphasise the empowering nature of the ‘freedom’ this approach to employment affords the individual. For those who lack the comfort of a financial buffer and the capacity to earn large sums in short periods of time, the uncertainty and lack of stability that arises from short-term employment contracts is is anything but liberating, and every bit as depressing as being stuck in the same dead-end job for a decade or more.

The endless quest for a new contract and the endless stream of rejections the endless applications elicit is just as soul-crushing as knowing that your life is slowly slipping by while you sit in the same office churning out the same meaningless shit each dull day. At least that unfulfilling rut pays the bills, ensures the rent gets paid and affords the kind of security that comes will a pension, sick pay and all the rest. As a job-hopping freelancer, you are not your own boss: you’re a slave to the quest for the next thing and the search for a new boss to fuck you and discard you along with all the short-term contract trash not worthy of a permanent contract.

Still, surely no employment can be as depressing as Friends Reunited, arguably the first social networking site – if re-establishing contact with people you already know qualifies as ‘networking’. More often than not, people lose contact for a reason: the friends who are worth keeping, you make the effort to maintain contact with, and the effort is mutual. If you want to feel old, look up your old schoolmates. Check out their photos and see how their youthful looks have faded as they’ve grown fat,old, bald and saggy. Read their profiles and see how happy they are with their pathetic lots as they plough through life unquestioningly, aspiring to nothing more than a fortnight in Spain to provide a change of scenery from the 9-5 which, though monotonous, is the pinnacle of their capabilities, and as they like their colleagues and are able to leave their 2.4 children with their parents or grandparents while they go for a few drinks down the pub on a Friday night, it’s no cause for complaint. The ‘successful’ ones are no better really: leaving behind their small-town roots and making for the big smoke after graduation, they’re rich, jet-setting and love their Autumn skiing trips, mini-breaks to Paris and Rome and will have seen the world long before they retire at 50, but none of this changes the fact that they were cunts in school and are still cunts now.

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Friends Reunited: keeping track of a bunch of cunts you never liked in the first place

The desire to rebuild bridges with people you were never friends with in the first place is simply a manifestation of the anxiety of ageing, the fear of losing one’s youth and all ties with it. Never mind that you hated school and were bullied mercilessly: you were young and had your whole life ahead of you. Rather than face the fact that you’re halfway through your time on the planet, it’s infinitely preferable to delude yourself that on reflection, school wasn’t that bad, in fact it was good fun. But however hard you work on kidding yourself, however much you force yourself and everyone to swallow the lie that you were cool in school, the bullying was just banter and that you didn’t spend those years lonely, depressed and yearning for something, anything, that would take you out of that hateful environment, every once in a while something will trigger a rush of recollection and it will all come screaming back at you. Sometimes, you can’t help but yield to those pangs of curiosity, when something random makes you remember a name, a face, an occasion and it drags you back like an undertow and you wonder what that person, those people are doing now. And before you know it, you’re trawling Friends Reunited or Facebook. You can’t help yourself, it’s a morbid fascination that makes you recoil in horror at that ageing face, that flabby beer gut, those sagging tits you lusted over when they were pert and teenage and hadn’t been ravaged by three screaming brats by three different fathers, none of whom is the current husband, hanging off them but you still go on through those family snaps, the pictures of the works nights out, the hen night for that slapper who laughed at you when you said ‘crotches’ when you meant ‘groynes’ in geography class. You can still hear that honking sound that ended with a snort and your blood boils with repressed anger even though it was almost a full fifteen years ago now. And that’s why you try not to think about it, because when the recollections resurface, the old wounds open up and you find yourself staring into the gaping gash straight into your fear-filled soul that’s been shrivelled by a decade of corporate dehumanisation. You need to snap out of it, now.

 

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The Changing Face of Consumerism X: Down on the Street

Only just a few days into January and already the sales reports from the high street are beginning to filter through for the run-up to Christmas. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone will be surprised by the fact that broadly, sales have been rather poor and substantially weaker than hoped, and that as a percentage of retail sales, online transactions account for a larger proportion than ever before.

Sky News report, ‘There is one factor common to the trading statements from Next and John Lewis – an increase in online sales that has propped up the overall results.’

The on-line article continues, ‘In the case of Next, it’s [sic] Directory service recorded a 16% increase between 2010 and 2011 for like-for-like sales. Sky News has been told that online sales account for roughly 90% of this figure. With regards to John Lewis, online sales for the five weeks to December 31, 2011, were 27.9% up on last year.’

Apart from exemplifying the kind of statistically-dense reporting that’s likely to bamboozle the average reader and providing a practical demonstration in the kind of journalism that uses a proliferation of numbers in lieu of meaningful analysis, what we are supposed to extrapolate from this is that the figures speak for themselves. Of course, this is patently untrue, because the figures, bald and devoid of context are in themselves virtually meaningless. The scant analysis offered by the unnamed reporter does little to shed any real light on the implications of the figures when they ask ‘What can we learn from this? Well essentially that we, as shoppers, are inherently lazy and becoming increasingly more so,’ adding ‘There is nothing wrong with that. If we can shop without leaving our desk or home then we are choosing to do so.’ Really? There’s a lot wrong with being inherently lazy, on so many levels, but of more importance here is the fact that shopping from one’s desk (something many employers would surely disapprove of, and which could constitute misuse / abuse of company systems) or home does not necessarily equate to being lazy. I would contend that lethargy has nothing to do with it, and that the laziness of consumers is nothing in comparison to the laziness of the journalists proffering such poorly-considered evaluations of the ‘facts’.

For starters, the article fails to take into account the fundamental fact that high-street (or out of town) shopping – real-life shopping – is hell. Never mind, as was mentioned in the BBC’s TV report, that the opening hours of high-street retail outlets are both limited and limiting, and that on-line shopping affords the convenience of 24/7 open hours, which are handy for those who work sociable hours (I say this because those work work anti-social hours aren’t stuck in an office or other place of work between the hours 9am and 5pm, when shops are open, and if you’ve ever tried to do any serious shopping within the confines of a lunch hour Monday to Friday, you’ll appreciate that it’s not only nigh on impossible, but more hellish than Beelzebub’s oven).

Discounting the Sartrean hell that is other people momentarily, there’s the fact that comparing the prices different retailers charge for the same item is considerably more straightforward and less time-consuming on-line than on foot. And of course, time is money, supposedly. Undoubtedly, that time is the most precious commodity an individual can have is part and parcel of the hectic technology-driven lifestyles that facilitate both on-line shopping and global commerce. If workers do spent time at their desks shopping on-line, it could be that they’re time-wasting skivers, but could just as readily be because they’re too busy to take a proper lunch break in which to hit the shops, which have probably relocated to an out-of-town shopping precinct.

According to the Sky article, ‘The trick for retailers is how best to facilitate that and how they combine an online store with their high street shops whilst keeping both profitable.’ No kidding. By making your presence as a business prominent via the most channels available, with particular emphasis on those where the most customers are, then you’ll fare better than if you don’t. The adage ‘Location, Location, Location’ still has merit, and applies to the virtual world too. As for keeping outlets profitable, that’s surely how business works, period.

Sky’s report concludes with the observation that ‘Both Next and John Lewis know their customer base well and play to it with success’ (fine, except according to the figures, Next’s overall sales are only fractionally up, and its high street sales have dropped dramatically, a point that provided the focus of The Guardian’s reporting of the same information, with Zoe Wood writing, ‘Analysts estimated that like-for-like sales in Next stores fell more than 5% in the last two months of the year, resulting in a worse than expected 2.7% decline for the six months to 24 December. That weakness was offset by a strong performance at home shopping arm Directory, where sales jumped nearly 17%. Together the divisions delivered growth of 3.1% which was in line with guidance given to analysts in November’).

The reporter ends their piece by opining that ‘Retail is Darwinian, the survival of the fittest. Success and survival comes to those who change and adapt. The old adage is the true: the customer is always right.’ This is blatantly untrue, and blindly propagates the myth that markets are consumer driven. As I have bemoaned variously, I feel largely uncatered for as a consumer. It’s not even the obscure items, that I would expect having difficulty with, that present the biggest problems. If I want something unusual, there are niche stores – granted, usually on-line – that stock them. I’m talking about specific books, records, storage solutions, brand footwear at prices I’m willing to afford (£95 for a pair of DM Chelsea boots is obscene however you look at it) homebrewing equipment and other such items. But try finding something simple, like decent oven mitts, a ceiling-mounting light for the bathroom designed to work with a fitting that runs in conjunction with the wiring for an extractor fan, jam jars, etc., and you’ll probably struggle. I can’t be the only one seeking these items, and can therefore only conclude that others make do with whatever alternatives and close matches are readily available. How does this indicate a market tailored to the consumer?

Moreover, if I find myself making an increasing number of purchases on-line because I frequently return from town empty-handed, having been unable to find the specific item I was searching for, how is that an example of consumer lethargy? Again, by failing to cater for my needs, the high-street stores have failed their (potential) customers and driven them on-line. If retail is Darwinian, surely the survivors are the ones that stock the items that consumers actually want. After all, it’s only possible to convince people that they want what they get and that they don’t know what they want until they see it up to a point. If I need a new stylus for my turntable, it won’t do to tell me that vinyl’s outmoded and that I should get myself an iPod and docking station instead, and similarly, if the styli in stock aren’t compatible with my turntable, I won’t be buying one – or a new turntable for that matter, at least for as long as there are other stockists who carry compatible styli. It’s really not that hard.

High-street shopping is tiring and laborious. Some people love it and will spend days trailing round shops trying on shoes and clothes and all the rest. Yet even those than enjoy such shopping expeditions will often make their purchases on-line, not through lethargy but because of the price. No-one with half a brain is going to buy an item in one place they can purchase for a third less elsewhere, especially when they know it’s the item they want having already tried it on or out. On-line stores don’t have the overheads of physical stores: fact. They don’t have to pay out-front assistants, cleaners, heating, lighting, or, most significantly, rent on the floorspace. This is precisely why Amazon can undercut Waterstone’s and HMV so dramatically (and why HMV, with their Channel Islands based tax-loophole savvy on-line arm can undercut its own physical stores, a retail model also known as shooting oneself in the foot). Of course people are going to go and buy their goods on line for less. It’s simple economics.

Another piece of simple economics is that anything that isn’t growth is considered recession, but to expect endless growth is unrealistic. Sure, the world’s population may be continually expanding, but that doesn’t mean they all want to buy the same products. Certain markets have limited potential for expansion, even mainstream mass markets. Therefore, to declare ‘flat’ sales or lower than projected growth a complete disaster seems unreasonable. Yet many companies will lay off large numbers of their workforce in light of such ‘disappointing’ results, and blame the recession while contributing to it and exacerbating the problem further.

But perhaps the biggest major omission in these reports is that people aren’t spending because they simply don’t have the money. There’s a global financial crisis going on. The fact that the figures for Christmas 2011 correspond with those for 2008, only with the decreases in overall sales and the erring toward on-line sales more dramatic, reminds us that we’re still in a slump. The words ‘recession’ and ‘depression’ still hang over financial reports like a black cloud. Look at the most recent unemployment figures: they’re still on the up, not just in Britain, but in the US – and the US economy is the global economy.

Context counts, then, and against a backdrop of financial uncertainty, rising inflation, etc., etc., people are spending less money because they have less money. It’s interesting to note that these reports appear on the same day that homelessness charity Shelter made public the findings of a survey they had recently conducted, which revealed that one in seven Britons has turned to credit such as a payday loan or unauthorised overdraft to help cover their rent or mortgage in the last year. Surely this is all the evidence required to establish the reason behind reduced spending. I’ll say it again: people simply haven’t got the money. But then, perhaps they never did have the money. The difference now is that neither do the banks, and so they’re not lending it out. And if people can’t get credit, then they can’t spend the money they don’t have on things they don’t need. Better to spend the money they don’t have on the things they do need, like accommodation. It’s a slippery slope, of course, and where it ends is anyone’s guess. But then, that’s what economists do….

 

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The Changing Face of Consumerism IX – Real, Real, Real

Just as the nature of consumerism has changed dramatically during the course of the last decade – not to mention the last half-century – so the nature of industry has also metamorphasised. In so-called ‘developing’ countries (it’s a questionable term. Technological advances could be seen as development, but an exponential increase in fossil fuel consumption and an insatiable need for unsustainable resource is rather akin to ‘developing’ a 40-a-day smoking habit coupled with some heavy drinking), Industrialisation has caught on, dragging them into the global marketplace. By this, of course, it simply means that large corporations can circumvent domestic legislation in favour of giving workers rights and exploit an fiscally impoverished workforce even more ruthlessly. Driving costs down is good for business, as it increases profits, and the shareholders and the City love that.

As more manufacturing has been ‘outsourced’ to developing countries, the nature of employment in the ‘developed’ countries has moved toward tertiary service industries. Collar colours aside, the most fundamental difference between service and manufacturing industries is the tangibility or physicality of the product. The closest you’ll get to seeing or holding your insurance or shares, for example, is in the form of a certificate or other printed document. When you think about it, these objects which represent the thing in itself but are not in actuality the thing in itself – i.e. the signifier to the signified – you’re buying a concept more than an actual product. Of course, this is simply how money works: the ten-pound note in your wallet is not actual money, but a physical symbol of money. The balance in your bank, if you’re fortunate enough to be in the black, does not mean there’s really £500 that you own just sitting there. This is common knowledge, but it’s hard to separate the concept from the reality. You do not have any real money. No-one ever sees ‘the money’. Tom Cruise could yell till he’s blue in the face, he’s never going to be shown the actual money, just more printed paper that promises to pay the bearer a designated sum on demand. But try making that demand and all you’re likely to get another sign or representation.

We live in a virtual world. In his writing on ‘The Political Unconscious’, Frederic Jameson theorises that one feature of postmodernity is a reality that is infinitely deferred. This theory is now the reality as we exist in our virtual worlds projecting ersatz avatar versions of ourselves into the ether. It becomes impossible to distinguish the real from reflection, not only for others, but for ourselves. Do we become the identities we project, or do they become our real-life selves when the layers of the onion that is the multi-faceted personality are peeled back one by one?

On a personal level, my real-life self and virtual self are indeed separate but given to occasional and significant crossover. And so it is that we both like music and books with a passion, but struggle to get to grips with the modern trend for downloading. It’s ok: Deleuze and Guatarri convinced me I’m ok because a schizophrenic mindset is the only sane response to the postmodern, late-capitalist society I find myself in.

Stumbling around the house trying to avoid the partially organised and rather precarious stacks of CDs and books in the office and groaning each time I try to accommodate a new purchase onto the shelf or rack, I can completely understand why people would want to declutter, to reduce their lives. Yet try as I might, I find myself unable to separate the intangible – the music or the words – from the tangible, the physical – the record or CD or the book.

Nevertheless, I like my intangibles to present a physical form. The way I respond as a reader to words contained in the books I read is a complex process, which, while admittedly develop through conditioning and personal experience, is nevertheless intertwined with the act of reading. An audiobook may contain exactly the same words, but will not cause me to react in the same way. On a purely personal feel, the act of reading also entails the turning of the page, the look, feel and smell of the book. The quality of the paper, however poor, the print, the formatting, the cover, while peripheral, are all integral to varying degrees in combining to create the experience as a whole. Even the process of sourcing books is a part of the relationship I have with it: memories are made in the locating of a book in a little secondhand shop while on holiday just as much as they are of recalling where I was when I read the book, and how I was feeling at the time.

The same is true of music and many other objects – objects that now clutter my home, but collectively tell a version of the story of my life. This isn’t to suggest in any way that I am my possessions, or that my possessions own me and not vice versa. Nor would I really describe myself as a materialist in the conventional sense.

Perhaps it’s my age, but I want to feel as though I’m actually buying something when I part with my money. Yes, I know that in reality that it’s the production – the recording, the creative process – that is where the bulk of the cost actually lies. The physical object – the CD or the book – coat pence each to manufacture. A CD may cost in the region of 49 pence to produce, but paying the artist a wage of some descrption, that allows them to eat while they record the album, for which it’s necessary to hire (and pay for) a studio, engineer., etc., soon becomes a substantial expense, and one that must be recouped – usually before the artists gets paid, too. Then there are the designers, the PR people, and all the rest. So, the difference in production cost between a CD and an M3 version of an album comes down to the medium. However, this is only partly true: depending on the size of the manufacturing run, the cost of producing a CD is in fact negligible, and the same is true of a book. Yet as a consumer, I don’t really care about these matters: it feels like the difference is a yawning chasm that spans half the universe.

It’s not just the sound quality (I know the sound of Mp3 files has improved enormously in the last few years, but even if an MP3 isn’t compressed to fuck, it’s still inferior to the digital spectrum we were once sold as being the glory of the CD, which in turn lacked the vibrance and depth of vinyl. Forget clarity, that clinical crispness strips something from the recording that can’t be substituted or compensated, and the MP3 is the CD’s poor cousin, lacking the physical presence and lyric booklet in much the same way that a virtually turning page is not, however hard it might pretend to be, a fair substitute for an actual page.

I’m aware of the issues of storage, perhaps more than most. 1,500 or so LPs and 12” singles, 600 7” singles and in excess of 2,000 CDs are a real bastard to house in a two-bed terraced property, and to move when it comes to relocation. But at least I know where my money’s gone and what I need to insure. Picking up a storage device no bigger than an audiocassette knowing that it contains not only my entire music collection, but also music to the value of something in the region of £30,000 is almost inconceivable. The same is true of a virtual library. The fact that a fire tearing through the house would – or could – have the same effect regardless of my choice of ‘file’ type is really beside the point.

It’s curious to note how times have changed: time was when an extensive library of books and an expansive record collection were perceived as accomplishments. They inspired respect, even awe. Now, the owners of large volumes of material possessions are considered to be simply behind the times, information dinosaurs plodding a Luddite land of clutter that’s cumbersome and difficult to navigate. Why would anyone want a 10-volume encyclopaedia when mankind’s entire learnings can be obtained on-line via Wikipedia (or other sites if more specialist knowledge is required, but why would you want that, really, unless you’re a real nerd)? In fact, what’s the point of a space-hogging PC base unit and monitor when you can have everything you need on a tablet? A music collection and library that not only occupies considerable space, but cost a fortune and took a lifetime to accumulate seems entirely redundant beside a small, flat piece of digital kit that costs around £300 and can be transported anywhere. And I suppose if you’re happy or able to accept a life of precarity, instability, endless mobility, that’s fine, but it’s not for me.

In fact, for many, owning music seems superfluous when you can stream it all via Spotify. It frees up funds to purchasing other ephemeralities and experiences. Again, the idea of a life recorded on Facebook is one that doesn’t appeal to me. The public nature of the medium aside, I struggle with the concept of a reliance on something that may disappear at any time. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in our world of rapid development is that technology attains obsolescence at an evermore speedy rate. There was a time, believe it or not, when the 8-track, the cassette and the videotape were all cutting edge. Betamax, laserdisc and minidisc were all the future, yet despite the qualities these media offered, early adopters were left out of pocket and out of style, not to mention out of the technology loop. CD was supposed to supersede both vinyl and the audiocasette – yet strangely, the MP3 killed both CD and tape while vinyl hangs in there, with a whole new wave of audiophiles sustaining a market that previously didn’t exist. I digress: the point is that Facebook could be next year’s MySpace, and a life on line is only a transient representation of real life: it’s a history that can not only be easily misrepresented and misappropriated, but one that could even more easily be erased. Obviously, nothing’s forever, but the physical – especially if backed up, duplicated somehow – has a greater capacity to be futureproof than anything that relies purely on the intangible (but then I find the idea of playing a virtual guitar while playing at being in a virtual band equally abhorrent and not just a little strange Step away from the console, pick up a real instrument, learn to play and form a proper fucking band if you have any interest in Rock Stardom!).

I’m not doing technology down as such – at all, in fact – but can you imagine future generations, instead of looking through albums and biscuit tins of family photos and shoeboxes of postcards and correspondence, gluing themselves to a screen and reminiscing about the day that prompted that romantic email, the wonderful day out to the coast captured magnificently in 6 megapixel digital colour, or even the idea of returning to that book you so loved in college and forwarding your friend or child the Kindle download to read and share the wonder? In all of the streamlining, the decluttering, something has been lost. An on-line playlist is not a direct or equal substitute for a lovingly-compiled mix-tape with lovingly-written, hand-scribbled notes on a piece of paper torn from an exercise book and inserted, tightly-folded, into the plastic case. If, as Marshall McLuhan suggested, the medium is the message, what sort of message is a medium that’s so theoretical say about our times and its users?

The bottom line is that if I’m spending money on something, I want something to show for it. I’m not suggesting that it needs to be big to justify the expense, but in a world where so little is fixed, stable, reliable, there’s a lot to be said for keeping it real as a means of keeping it grounded, and as a way of keeping it accessible in the future.

 

Vinyl

 

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Sales Fever! Looking Back on Christmases Past

I spent a large chunk of my day today at an out-of-town retail park, where I parted with a small fortune. It was hell on earth, but needs just: I’d been planning to sort myself a new laptop, printer and external hard-drive (I’ve learned – and re-learned – the hard way the importance of backing up all of my work) for months and had been stalling (and saving) for the sales because, being on a budget wanted to make my money go further. And so it was I returned home with an ASUS X53U, an HP Photosmart 6510 and a Samsung hard-drive that measures roughly the size of my wallet and has a whole Terabyte capacity, plus various other non-computing related items for the house.

Needless to say, it was a relief to get home again, and having reserved most of my items on-line in advance, the excursion kept the trudging and legwork and general pain to a minimum. But while out I was acutely aware of just how many people are out there raiding the sales just because goods are discounted, a point reinforced by endless footage n television. Haven’t people got anything better to do, and why do they feel the need to spend money just because? The justification that a £200 jacket had 50% off doesn’t wash – or dry-clean – when considering the flipside of the equation, namely that there’s still 50% on. The last I heard, we were in the middle of a financial crisis. Are people really still dim enough to max out their credit cards just because they can’t resist a ‘bargain’? It would appear they are.

So once again I was reminded that people are idiots, and of the adage that a fool and his money are soon parted. I was also reminded of a blog I posted back in the MySpace days, which I found on my old (and now full to capacity) 300G hard-drive. It may have been posted on this day in 2007, but most of the points still stand, and it’s somehow comforting to observe how little I’ve changed my position. I like to be consistent (although I have taken time off work this year)….

 

Sales Fever! (2007)

 

The fact I haven’t been present on-line for the last couple of days shouldn’t be misinterpreted that I was busy wholeheartedly embracing the traditional Christmas rituals. I don’t absolutely hate everything about Christmas, and for me, it’s a good opportunity to spend a couple of days not straining my eyes in front of the PC and to actually have something approximating a rest.
 
Still, because I don’t consider Christmas to be quite as big a deal as many, and don’t consider it a reason to go on a month-long bender with everyone I’ve ever met, and don’t feel the need to eat my own body weight in poultry and pork, I didn’t feel the need to book the days between Christmas and New Year off work. Being at the office – a place I abhor with a passion – is always more bearable when there’s no work, no phone calls and no other staff in to drive me to distraction with their inane waffle.
 

Business as usual it isn’t. and while I’ve been able to potter around without distraction and amuse myself by switching the contents of people’s drawers and so on, I’ve also given a thought to those thousands of people who work in the retail sector. As I’m writing this on January 27th, I’m quite relieved to be hiding out in an office: I learned from Breakfast on BBC1 that today was expected to be the busiest shopping day of the year. And the footage I saw of the queues and the rucks on Boxing day were disturbing enough. It raised a few issues, not least of all the question ‘why?’ I mean, after a month of intensive shopping, why would anyone want to go shopping through choice? It’s insane. We’re a nation in financial crisis, in case no-one had noticed. But then, it’s this inherent greed and an inability to say ‘no’ – or to be seen to be unable to keep up with the pack – that’s got us here in the first place.
 

But irrespective of whether or not we (collectively) can afford to splurge, one would think that the last thing anyone would want to do after a period of intensive shopping in the run-up to Christmas is go shopping. I mean, it’s hell. It’s not so much a jungle out there as it is total war. There was an item on Breakfast in which some ‘fashion guru’ was giving tips on how to succeed in the sales, revealing a handbag full of energy-giving drinks and snacks (‘bananas are great for energy…’) and advising that in order to grab that must-have bargain, if you need to kick or punch, then so be it. To condone or promote such behaviour is beyond me. It’s not a loaf of bread in the middle of a famine, it’s a fucking handbag. Let’s get things in perspective here.

Despite my general disregard for many of the traditional aspects of Christmas, this eagerness to hit the shops on Boxing day or the day after is concerning. One issue is the fact that people seem to expect shops to be open all the time, and we do appear to be very slowly heading the American way, toward a 24-day society. The demand is for convenience, and that demand is coming to be supplied. And why not? Well, it’s all very well to demand, and to receive supply, but what of those who are required to deliver that supply? I’m talking primarily about those in retail here, of course, because 24-hour shopping requires 24-hour staffing of shops, but there’s inevitably a knock-on effect. We already have 24-hour / overnight couriers and so on… and where’s it going to end? And 24-hour is one thing, but what about 365-day-a-year?

Time was when everything closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Now, banks are about the only things closed on Bank Holidays (well, the clue’s in the name). A friend of mine said “they’ll have us working on Christmas day soon, mark my words.” Now, he’s a cynical old goat, but I think he may have a point. And similarly, the synchronicity of Christmas and the exchange of gifts may actually become a thing of the past the way things are going.

Consider the facts: the January sales now start on Boxing day. December 27th is the biggest shopping day of the year. Many take unwanted gifts back and exchange them for things they ‘really’ want in the sale, and I’ve heard a number of people say they’re waiting till the sales for their presents. So it’s not that much of a stretch to see, 10 years hence, people going shopping on Christmas day when the sales start, perhaps having a slap-up meal in the evening, and exchanging gifts on New Year’s eve, with New Year’s day remaining the only day the shops are closed because half of the population’s too hungover to go shopping. Of course, the reaction to this may eventually be to put the sales back to January again, and dog knows what kind of mayhem or rioting may ensue as a consequence.

The trouble is, the people who are at the head of the queues, who will punch and kick and trample to get their bargains and are demanding most vocally to be supplied appear to the, somewhat ironically, the same people who most rigidly adhere to the notion of a ‘traditional’ Christmas – extended family round for dry turkey and Aunt Bessie’s roast potatoes, followed by falling asleep in a cloud of flatulence in front of Eastenders, before re-enacting Eastenders with a major drunken barney of their own over something petty but that will prevent the different factions within the family from speaking to one another until the same time next year.

I’m not defending Christmas as a religious holiday of course, but given that I’m of the opinion that people should hibernate during the winter months, do think that in terms of maintaining a work/life balance, the demand for everything on tap at all times there should be some time off.

So I’m keeping out of it (I’ve quite enough handbags already, thank you). But alas, I may not be able to avoid the sales entirely. Whereas I usually receive more calendars than I have rooms in the house, this year I didn’t receive a single calendar. Ok, so I’ll buy my own. I just hope I’m not too late and won’t have to end up with a Russell Brand picture calendar.

 

 

 

 

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A is for…

Way, way back, I began work on a book with the working title of The A-Z of Internet Porn. The project fell by the wayside, but not before I had amassed a fair few entries (boom boom) and outlined a large (oo-er) percentage of the entries (fnarr) the projected book would cuntain. Maybe one day I will return to the project and finish it off (snicker), or perhaps I’ll attempt to flog the concept to a publisher for someone else to take in hand (huh huh), but in the meantime, while it’s languishing on my hard-drive (nyak nyak) alongside the completed novels Exiled in Domestic Life and Rusty Bullet Wounds and the never-ending work-in-progress that is my post-apocalyptic romance novel So Dark All Over Europe, I thought I might shove (arferoo!) a few extracts up here as and when the mood so takes me… Enjoy!

 

A is for….

ACCIDENTAL NUDITY

It’s a common situation: you’re out clubbing or on a night out with some gal pals and, forgetting you’re wearing something strappy, start dancing rather too wildly (well those 2 for 1 Bacardi Breezers are hard to decline) and suddenly – oops! – your tit pops out. You’re mortified, naturally, and put it away as quickly as possible in the hope that no-one’s noticed. Alas, no such luck: one of your mates had their camera of phone out and just happened to snap at the crucial moment.

The good news is that most mainstream social networking sites like Facebook remove pictures that are in any way ‘adult’ (clearly being off your face and spewing on the pavement is for kids) so should the pics that could ruin your reputation in a matter of hours make it up there (and the chances are that they will), so the chances of them being up for long and seen by the half of the world that didn’t see them in the first few hours won’t get to.

The bad news is that there are people on-line who go crazy for these kind of pictures. And of course, if you’re remotely famous, it’s even worse, because there are paps absolutely everywhere, with their lenses in your life, following you on holiday, to the shops, to the toilet…

Is it porn, though? It’s debatable, it has to be said. But we live in a celebrity-obsessed, sexualised culture in which one man’s poison is another man’s meat and one man’s yawn is another man’s porn…

See also CANDID SHOTS, CELEBRITY NUDES, DOWNBLOUSE, NIP-SLIP, NIPPLE POKIES, VOYEURISM.

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk