Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Horrible World of Dating in the 21st century

So I have a date coming up and as most human beings I am a little nervous. You want to make a good impression and you hope that the person across from you will also be interesting and worth the time you are about to spend on them. However I have spent the last 7 months dating and here is what I have discovered – to my great consternation – it sucks! 

Back in the dark ages of no internet and no smart phones dating was a whole different animal, not because we did things differently but because we had less competition. These days with internet dating sites such as, eHarmoney and Apps like Tinder (stupidly addictive and utterly shallow as it is) you have a choice of thousands of “eligible” partners at your fingers tips, the thing is so do the people you end up linking up with. 

What I discovered through my own experience is as follows:
a)      The internet makes it exceptionally easy for you to come off saner, more attractive and generally more of a well-rounded individual than you are -This means that I end up going on dates with creeps who thing it is OK to try and put their hands up my skits within 10 minutes of meeting me, grab me and generally invade my personal space before they have been given permission. That I receive messages that are so vile and perverse that I am tempted to report the individual to the authorities.

b)      The internet makes casual sex exceptionally easy, but it is also starting to make it the norm of male female interaction– I enjoy a roll in the hay as much as the next gal don’t get me wrong, I myself have taken advantage of this no strings attached approach to copulation, we all have needs. However I am now finding it impossible to actually go on a date without the guy pushing  himself on me at the end AND being accused of being a cock tease because I had the audacity of being a strong willed woman that will not be intimidated or bullied into having sex when I do not wish to. At the same time if you do end up having sex on the first date you become easy, he loses interest and there is rarely a second date. No connection beyond a physical one was made and the person on the other side has no interest of establishing one.

c)       Girls seem to be left with the impression that the only way to impress a man is through sex – My competition is a bunch of sex-kittens who are more than willing to send out semi or fully nude photos of themselves to any and all that request them. So when I say no to taking naked pictures of myself I am instantly dismissed. Since when is my entire personality contained within my boobs? What happens when those 23 year old perky pair of Double Ds are around her knees in 30-40 years’ time and look like deflated balloons? It doesn’t matter because the objective here is a quick shag.

There are countless other numbers of examples and theories that I have about why dating these days is so horrible, awkward and leaves you feeling second rate. I have the pleasure of liking myself as a person (mostly at least) and being pretty certain that I am a good egg, I have been around long enough now to be aware of myself, and be able to deal with the disappointment and what comes across with rejection or indifference. My policy is that rejection is a very large part of life and it says nothing about who you are and more about who the person rejecting you is or wants you to be. 

I am also certain that the majority of girls and boys in their early 20s currently on the dating sites and Apps have not had the life experience to be able to deal with any of this. I can see this emerging trend of human sexual interaction producing a large amount of self-loathing, uncertainly and lack of confidence in both sexes. Maybe this is just me wishing that we can go back to meeting someone naturally going out for a drink and seeing what happens rather than spending our evenings chatting to 20 different people trying to find out which one of them is the least offensive to go out with pretending to be more or less than we are. 

I also want to highlight that I am fully aware that I am making massive sweeping statements and generalisations on this topic, that I could very possibly be wrong and that I welcome any and all corrections/comments. I acknowledge that many people enjoy the simple casual nature of such interaction. I am also not judging anyone because it would be extremely hypocritical of me. I am simply sharing an observation and maybe suggesting that we need to take a little bit more care and be slightly more sensitive to the effects we may be having on individuals, even our one night stands. Naive? Yes! Optimistic? Absolutely, there is no other way to be!

Thursday, 3 April 2014

I am an addict

I am a self confessed smartphone addict. Ask anyone that knows me, the phone is attached to my hand. I use the device for a multitude of things. Mainly it is my link to the “outside” world. It is how I communicate with my family which is all over the world, my mom, brother and grandmother being some odd 2000 km away. I read on it, I read news, food blogs, car blogs, technology blogs, wikipedia, and I have my kindle app on it so I read books. I watch TV and Movies, and of course I access my Social Media networks.   

What I find most interesting about smart phones is the fact that they connect us to people instantaneously. There are more instant messaging apps and social media platforms than I care to list. When I use my smartphone, I can share my thoughts, feelings, jokes, gossip, videos, pictures, voice notes, and anything else that I find interesting. What that does is it gives me and every other smartphone user instant access to the people we care about - and theoretically care about me in return. What it also does is gives us an increased sense of loneliness when these people are not available at the exact moment that we want them to be available. We should also add to this an increased sense of self importance. When we send a message with any of the most popular messengers, we can see our message being delivered, read and we can see the other person physically replying to the message, and it all happens in real time, so when we do not get the reply that we are expecting straight away there is a danger of feeling hurt, excluded, we worry and we wonder “why don’t they want to reply to me straight away?!”. This simultaneously makes us self centred and it takes this inflated self-importance and erodes it because while we think we are so special that we warrant an instant reply, we are then confronted with the fact that we are not. I can imagine this has major effects on young people’s self esteem and self worth in very negative ways.  

Here is an interesting fact that my best friend pointed out when I was discussing this with him recently. Sometimes you want to take the time to think before you reply. Instant messaging doesn't diminish the level of conversation that we have, just because we are not having it face to face or over an analogue phone line doesn’t mean that the conversation is not important or sensitive. In such moments when you are having a serious discussion or an argument you will want to take the time to reply, you want to ensure that you have structured the message in such a way that your point and meaning come across clearly without being misinterpreted or twisted. You don't want to say anything stupid or hurtful - or at least I try not to, and yes I often fail.

Not only do we have this instant access to the people in our lives, and not only can we see when they are “not interested” in talking to us, but any argument that we have with them is recorded on this little device. Every word we have said wrong, every message can be brought back up and thrown at us at any moment. For me this is an exceptionally negative development within human relationships. In the past unless you had eidetic memory a lot of arguments were forgotten and left behind, where they belong, today these can be revisited and they can cause irreparable damage to relationships that would have otherwise stood the test of time.  

This all leads to behaviour that is not very emotionally healthy or mature. We often forget that this is predominantly communication that is written down, during serious conversations we may not have access to the person’s face, tone of voice or body language, we have no way of knowing how they meant for the message to be delivered, and despite the help of emoticons it is very easy to interpret things in a very negative way. If we are feeling insecure at the time of the conversation we can take messages that are actually positive in a very negative, attacking and accusatory manner. I find all of this terribly disturbing, and that is because I can see all of the above effects on myself and my state of mind. It hasn't driven me crazy yet, but I will admit that there are times when I do get exceptionally frustrated. I think the most frustrated I do get is with my mother. She is someone that is almost always instantly available to me, if she doesn't reply in 5 seconds, if she is not on skype as soon as I tell her I am on skype I get annoyed. It is a completely irrational response. If she doesn’t reply for more than 15 minutes I have a major panic attack, is she well, is my grandma well, has my brother got injured? Usually she is in the shower, eating, cleaning or having a coffee; doing perfectly acceptable things that we all do and that do not require interruption just because I expect a text message.

This is not a good emotional state to have to be in, and this is an emotional roller-coaster that we all go through all the time thanks to the smartphone putting social networks in our hands 24/7  The evolution of the mobile phone into a smart phone did not take into account the lack of emotional revolution and in many respects the emotional retardation of at least western society today. The mobile phone was created for the purpose of economic advancement and growth and there are parts of the world that still use it for exactly that purpose, it empowers women and small businesses in a way that would otherwise be impossible due to poor infrastructure.

Today our smartphones are connected to the internet 24/7, we have messages coming at us from every direction and we do not get a break. Social media has allowed for a particular kind of self image portrayal to occur that is fascinating but exceptionally dangerous for our mental health. We inflate the lives of the people around us through the images and information they have shared and we deflate our own self image, when in reality we are all experiencing the same thing. People have been trying to project a particular image and personality that they believe is attractive for God knows how long, but you needed physical contact for that. Today you get to see EVERYONE’s life and it inevitably looks better than yours. Despite people having staged their lives and their persona for an exceptionally long time, I strongly believe that today we do not have the emotional maturity to deal with this. A lot of us do not quite grasp the concept that what we see on facebook and twitter and the rest of it is a very very small part of a person and their activities, and it is what they want us to see, it is tightly wrapped in bells and whistles specifically designed to attract our attention.

This is where I can pompous and arrogant. I think I have a level of self awareness that is higher than the average person so I can recognise all of these issues that I have mentioned and I see them affect my life. To me that gives me full control over them, I can see the triviality and irrationality of getting irritated at people not messaging straight away, I can see the negative impact that my smartphone can have on my life and I can and will do things to change that. I am going to ensure that my phone is turned off at least one hour every evening and I am going to read, or write or simply have a beer or a walk or something that is “me” time. I think that we all need to do the same, we need to step away from the mobile phone addiction and we need to learn to communicate as adults. We need to learn to believe in ourselves and not require the validation that we think we get from this not quite fulfilling type of communication. It is easier said than done but it is a start. I would also like to highlight that there are many positive sides to the smartphone, and I will visit those very soon! 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Playing with Fear

Fear is a natural instrinct that we have developed over the millennia to protect ourselves from predators in the wild. To be afraid of the unknown is the most natural reaction, it keeps you and yours away from harm and ensures the propagation of the species, any species. With human beings and our “higher” intelligence fear is also linked to knowledge and a wider awareness.  So what happens when you are the top predator and the only thing you have to fear is yourself and your own? The answer to that is simple, look around, this is what happens. We fear sharks, tornadoes, floods and other such acts of God because they are known to cause harm and devastation. But we also fear more abstract things that we have little knowledge of.

Fear is no longer just an instinct that protects us, it is now a tool used by people, predominantly politicians and people in influential positions, to control society. Society is no longer build on the simple rule of survival of the fittest, we do not live in an agrarian economy so food is not just out there in the garden or in the field. Today our lived are built on abstract concepts which are retained and controlled within plastic and metal boxes with 1 & 0s quietly ticking away creating value out of thin air.  Our education system is so advanced that it ensures a build in ignorance of socioeconomic structures that keep us subdued and fearful enough to be perfectly controllable. Deep down we know something isn’t quite right and every now and again that feeling is brought out of us by a dissident voice out in the wilderness that reminds us we are not a herd of sheep, and then the fear mongers do their job and we are behind our desks again working quietly away making money for the super-rich and super powerful. 


Fear is everywhere these days, we turn on the TV and the news covers violence, economic disaster, political instability, job cuts, social unrest mainly caused by poor political decision. We are too afraid to show people who we are because we may be judged if we are slightly different. Since when is it ok for an individual to be afraid to be themselves? And this fear is no longer spreading just through regular TV and newspapers, we now have new and ingenious ways of picking on the different, the weak and the unusually natured. Social media shows humanity in its’ two most extreme forms. We cannot control social media, we cannot fully censor it – although we try – it moves too quickly for us to be able to protect ourselves and our children from the trolls on the internet waiting to exploit our fears for their own personal gain and entertainment. At the same time social media allows us to see the astronomical capacity humanity has for empathy. It connects us in a way that has never been possible, it makes the feared unknown accessible through a protective filter and that in turn lets us learn and therefore fear less.

The point I guess to this impressive rant is that people play with our fear, they use it against us but at the end of the day you are always and forever in control of your own life and if you think otherwise then you are wrong. Do not ever allow fear to stop you in your tracks. Risks are a part of life and the fear of failure, pain and the unknown can be paralyzing, but only if you let them. Life regardless of the hardships, the heartache and the general messiness is beautiful and should not be wasted. Go ahead play chicken with your fear! Bet you you’d win!  

I want to leave you with this beautiful video because I think it perfectly shows the beauty of being human, the grace, elegance and boundless eloquence we are capable of: Sarah Kay: If I should have a daughter..."

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

A failure to Inspire

I recently wrote a book review on  reviewing  “The Diamond Age” by Neil Stephenson. I had to edit out a lot of what the review said because it was not relevant to the story. Having to censor myself didn't leave the best taste in my mouth and therefore I wanted to share the cut out part on here.  I also was reminded of it last night while watching a scene from “Good Will Hunting”, so I have dug up the original review and polished it a bit to a more coherent rambling.  

My issue today is education, not just in our schools but at home. Our failure to inspire young people through knowledge is devastating. In his book Stephenson touches on a social illness that I have been observing for quite a while. This illness is the cloning nature of our education system.  Every year, hundreds  of thousands of students are spit out by higher education institutions in this country having been imbued with almost no real knowledge. They have learned the ins and outs of their fields through the opinions of others, and like their fellows before them there were rarely - if ever - think on their own. From my own experience at university any statement I made had to be backed up by a quote or reference to show that it was valid. While I agree that making (un)educated guesses based on feelings or points of view may not be in the best interest of academic vigour surely being told that no thought of yours is really acceptable unless it has already been thought up by someone else is not a good way to build confidence and nurture curiosity. It is not the fault of the students, from an early age we drip feed our children information of all types, socialising them into the public sphere, teaching them what is right and wrong – never giving them the tools to decide and evaluate the good or bad of a situation on their own. 

This is the illness that runs deep through our society's core. Our children believe in things because we have taught them to, but they do not know why they believe in them.  If I am not able to explain why I believe (in) something do I truly believe it? I have no understanding of it, because if I understood it I would be able to explain it and would therefore be in a better position to believe it or not. This blind trust that what we are told is true is derived from social indoctrination. It has stifled our creativity and made society – in the west at least – complacent. We now largely lack critical thinking, we unquestioningly lap up what we are told and reproduce it on a greater and greater scale.

Many people try and blame technology for our problems. They blame computer games for the violence, telephones for communication issues, social media for devastating the confidence of youngsters and promoting promiscuous and “unsocial” behaviour.  All of that is not a failure of technology, it is all a failure of society. We are too shallow and vain to be able to use the great discoveries in a constructive manner –and by the way I will be the first one to put my hand up and say that I waste my time on the internet looking and stupid things, but I can also list under my hobbies “reading Wikipedia entries and following the reference links”. As a professional nerd I also correct Wikipedia entries .

Now social structures exist for a reason, I am known to use Roger Griffin’s terminology - although probably not in the way he means it - and call those structures  the “sacred canopy” – a protective layer of social norms, traditions and religious practices that provide a community be it of local or national size with rules by which they can exist in a comfortable and (re)productive way. Social change comes about either when the sacred canopy is forcefully removed through violent means or is eroded through the alienation of its members from the community. Today in the 21st century both are occurring all around the world simultaneously. Young people – of which I am still one for now – find ourselves unable to find an identity because there is no stable community from which we can derive it. As social creatures we identify ourselves through languages, and language comes from our community/nation. When the language that we use is conflicting or simply not delivered we can suffer an identity crisis.

One way of combating this is through equipping our children with skills to use knowledge to (re)construct the sacred canopy, improve it even. So far we have failed, and I think it is because we have forgotten to nurture, we have tried to give equality to all and have therefore made everyone equally socially inept by distorting some natural roles within human structure and behaviour. While we have self awareness and higher intelligence than any other mammal, we also don't tend to develop the tendencies of a sociopath because we are brought up by our mothers (and more often these days fathers too) in a nurturing way. Unfortunately that has been eroded by the socio-economic need for both parents to work like horses just to make sure their children can eat. In turn the children lack the upbringing that would come naturally in a less materialistic system. We are now vain, self absorbed, selfish, greedy and cruel, but we are only those things because the social sphere we thrive in promotes that kind of language and defines us so.

I have endless faith in human nature, the empathy we are capable of displaying in our darkest moments borders on the divine. Unless we teach our children how to be empathic, be kind, be thoughtful, be useful, we will fail and self-destruct through our own ignorance.  Education is not just being able to recite poetry, regurgitate hundred year old theory, and answer a few mathematical problems. Education is about looking at what humanity already knows, questioning it and testing it to see if it is still valid, God knows we have disproved our own theories before!  Education is knowing who you are, having confidence in that, and using it to promote and improve others and their abilities and well as your own. This is not something that people are born with, this is something that is nurtured first at home and then if you are lucky at school and in the community.  

When you have children send them to school, let them learn history and the rest of it, but also challenge them, make them do things that may scare them, ask them questions, argue, disprove and improve their points of view, but most importantly allow them to change your point of view because age doesn't always mean wisdom. Sometimes young eyes see clearer.