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.

 

facebook-logo

Farcebook: absurd ‘guidelines’

 

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

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

 

100_0044

 

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

Liberator! Part 7

‘Wake up, you’ll be late for work!’ Amy was shaking him to stir him from his slumber. Tim didn’t want to wake up. He’d been dreaming that he was on top of a mountain, looking out across the expansive vista of other mountains and trees on the slopes below.

‘I’m not going to work,’ he mumbled from under the duvet.

‘Are you ill?’ Amy quizzed.

‘Nope.’

‘Working from home again?’

‘No!’

‘Have you got a day off? You didn’t tell me if you have!’ she sounded tetchy.

‘No,’ Tim sighed. ‘I’m just not going to work.’

‘I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with you,’ Amy snapped as she flung herself from the bed and dashed about making herself ready.

Tim tensed. He felt a strange sense of déjà vu and something else just beneath the tension. A tingle of excitement and apprehension perhaps.

Before long, Amy had left for work and Tim found himself alone. He turned over and slept for another hour before being awoken by his phone. He turned over and picked up the device that lay buzzing and bleeping from his bedside table. He checked the caller ID. Seeing that it was Flashman, he killed the call and turned over again and slept for another half an hour before getting up and enjoying a leisurely breakfast. This was novel! But before long the novelty wore off and he began to feel restless. Restlessness gave way to agitation. He felt twitchy, fidgety. Resisting the urge to continually check and recheck his email was almost more than he could endure. It seemed unnatural, somehow. To remove the source of temptation, he stitched off his laptop and went for a walk. He had no idea where he was going. It didn’t matter: he simply needed to be out. He hesitated momentarily as he deliberated with himself over whether or not he should take his Blackberry. Going anywhere, even as far as the lavatory, or the back yard, felt somehow wrong, like a breach of protocol, or worse, like heading into a war zone without any kind of arms or protection.

The first thing that struck him was the extreme quietness that hung in the still air. He inhaled deeply and looked up, soaking in the sky’s blue hue and the delicate patterns the clouds traced across the vast expanse. Before long, he became aware that there were sounds to be heard, that the world was not silent. Sirens, but distant, sounded more calming than they did urgent. Birds chirped.

***

He awoke is a panic-stricken sweat. His jaw ached from grinding his teeth. His bruxism was beginning to wear him down, causing frequent toothache and dental sensitivity. He’d treated the last week like a holiday. He’d even let the charge on his Blackberry run down so he wasn’t being hassled by notifications of incoming messages or calls or texts and wasn’t tempted to switch it on. Ignoring the land-line was rather harder, but he’d turned the ringer down, or otherwise taken himself off for walks, drives and cycle rides. He’d spent all of Thursday from midday onwards in the pub.

So far, he knew inside himself that up to now he had only been dabbling, a few small token approximations of the principles of self-liberation. Small wonder nothing had really changed. He still felt tired and stressed and was still struggling to manage his time. Friday night he found himself walking aimlessly, a little drunk but alert in the cool night air. It was as he wandered he found himself struck dumb by a moment of clarity. This was his epiphany, and with it the realisation it had to be all or nothing.

 

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

Liberator! Part 1

Are you stressed? Tired? Struggling to manage your time?

The questions on the front of the A5 page – technically a sheet of A4 folded horizontally down the centre of its landscape format to create four sides of A5 – seemed to be speaking to him. Standing in the self-help section in WH Smith, Tim hesitated. He wasn’t in the habit of frequenting this aisle, and had only found himself there on account of taking a detour to avoid a woman with a large pushchair and another child, a toddler, hanging off the hem of her jumper, as he made his way toward the stationery department. A self-professed realist, he didn’t believe in fate or chance or coincidence. Nevertheless, it struck him as strange that this pamphlet should be there, quite incongruously, yet somehow most appropriately. Yellow/cream in colour, with plain serif lettering in black ink, contained within a two-line rectangular border on the front, it was unusually eye-catching in contrast to all of the sharp, bright photographic images of Paul McKenna and other self-satisfied-looking self-help gurus, and the pastel shades of the other books that promised to reveal the secrets of relaxation, happy relationships, success in all aspects of life and eternal youth and well-being. Most eye-caching of all was the legend in the very centre of the page, in block capitals and a full forty-six points high: ‘LIBERATE YOURSELF!’ it read. It seemed as though it were be shouting, the words reverberating within the cavity of his skull. Then, at the bottom of the page, appeared the line ‘…and discover who your real friends are’.

Tim didn’t have any time for this airy-fairy mind and body spiritual claptrap, but something about this leaflet, perched in front of the official glossy publications impelled him to pick it up. What was it doing there? Who had left it there? It looked too carefully placed to have been accidental. But why would anyone leave such a publication lying around in a shop? What could they possibly hope to achieve in doing so?

As much as he was a realist and a rationalist, Tim was a capitalist, and his solipsistic world-view ensured that he could not conceive that others would operate beyond the parameters of the social norms within which his existence was framed. Even a philanthropist needs the means by which to sustain themselves, and even charities require funding to cover operational costs. Nothing in life is free, and to that end, the motivation behind the document in his hand, that he had picked up and was now eyeing suspiciously, perplexed him. And yet he could not bring himself to dismiss it out of hand, or to simply ignore it, leave it where it was in the store, and go on his way.

He was stressed and tired and struggling to manage his time. He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He was exhausted, and this was reflected in his sallow appearance. Turning the leaf, he read the first few lines of the text printed in 11 point Times New Roman across the two centre pages. The questions on the front cover were repeated, this time in bold, followed by the promise that ‘This pamphlet will explain how, in a few simple steps, you can reclaim your life for YOU!’ Tim couldn’t help but be sceptical, but read on anyway:

Consider the following questions: How much time do you get for leisure? ‘You’ time? Time for socialising? Ok, so you probably have responsibilities – job, family, general living, specifically cooking, eating, washing, etc., etc. – and how much time away from these do you get? Yes, leisure time. That’s time to do as you please, things you enjoy doing. Time spent participating in activities that aren’t a chore.

‘Excuse me, young man’, a decrepit old bid said, prodding his arm with a bony finger.
With a start, Tim turned to her. ‘Yes?’

He sounded more aggressive and irritable than intended. He couldn’t help it. He couldn’t help it, he knew he sounded ‘off.’ The simple fact was that he had been feeling decidedly fractious lately, and it was difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why.

‘I’d just like to…’ the wizened old goat’s voice quavers and tapers off points down the aisle with the pallid unguiculate hand she had been poking him with.

‘Oh, right. Yeah.’ Tim flushed slightly. ‘Sorry.’ He felt like a twat. He stepped aside and waited for the crone to creak past before folding the pamphlet in half and tucking it into the pocket of his pure wool charcoal grey suit jacket.

 

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