Friday, May 31, 2013

If you don't get it, work out its value to you, or don't use it. I've noticed a real hostility towards LinkedIn. People openly say it's useless, and report uneasily that people they don't know are requesting them as contacts, and 'endorsing' them for various skills they've listed on their profile.

"It just makes no sense. Completely random," said one of my Facebook friends today. "I mean, what is the point? What is the point of LinkedIn? Why am I even on there?"

"It's just so ridiculous and has no actual value," added another person.

"LinkedIn is total self-promotion even if you are aware of it or not," said a third person. "How can it be taken seriously when strangers endorse your attributes? May as well download a PhD."

My friend explained how she has found herself feeling out of control there: "I am clicking 'accept' because I am an idiot and don't want to hurt their feelings/make them mad. I accepted people I vaguely knew, then people I wondered if I knew, then strangers – a continuum of vagueness. They send reminders if you ignore them and I always worry I've met someone and forgotten them. I live in dread of being rude. So it's my own fault but the endorsements thing is more recent."

Every social network has users who approach it randomly and indiscriminately – spammers, inept self-promoters, and other idiots – and most other users learn through experience to avoid them. You don't reply to randoms who message you on Facebook trying to hit on you. You report Twitter and Tumblr spambots.

LinkedIn itself emphasises that it's meant to replicate your real-world business contacts in an online environment. It has safeguards in place that mean you can't request that someone connect with you unless you have mutual connections, specify how you know them, and offer proof that you do, such as the person's email address.

LinkedIn only has value in certain industries that do business by deploying 'networks' in a very systematic, ritualised way. My brother, for instance, has a very specific skill set and has worked in the finance and telecommunication industries. He's received approaches from recruiters via LinkedIn, because his profile clearly shows where he's worked and what the nature of that work has been.

For me, in the 'writing industry', its value is more nebulous. I find LinkedIn useful for making my film industry contacts explicit, because my 'value' as a reviewer is greater to film PRs if I can show them that I'm well-connected, have a track record in the industry, and am not just some random blogger trying to scam my way into preview screenings.

As a journalist I also like to 'link in' with editors I've worked with, because that's such an important part of maintaining a freelance career.

If you accept the connection request of someone you don't know – someone who isn't in your industry, lives on the other side of the world, or otherwise has nothing in common with you – you're diluting the aspect of LinkedIn that actually makes it good for finding jobs and connecting with industry people. I feel as if people have been making the mistake of just linking up with all their friends because LinkedIn is a 'thing', and then wondering why they've created basically a 'shit version of Facebook' that makes demands on them that they don't expect and don't want. And for many people, Facebook already performs the same networking function as LinkedIn, but with a more casual, informal atmosphere that works much better in their industry.

If you can't see the value of a social network, or believe its function is already being served by another place you already hang out online, simply don't use it… although FOMO (fear of missing out) means lots of people sign up anyway.

For instance, I didn't get Pinterest for the longest time. I first noticed people on Tumblr linking to pics from Pinterest (and Tumblr, as well, is a blogging platform that was deeply un-intuitive to me  when I first began using it), and when I finally got my Pinterest invite, I was like, "What's the point of this? It's just a stream of pretty pictures!"

I feel embarrassed mentioning this now, but it took me aaaages to realise that you could click on a picture in Pinterest to take you to the site where it was originally published. That's why there are all those recipe pics – you click on the pic to access the actual recipe.

Nonetheless, the value of Pinterest is that it uses images metaphorically: the images don't just represent themselves, but are a visual shorthand for the meanings a user assigns to them. A hairstyle picture represents how you want your own hair to look. A Hollywood red carpet picture could represent appreciating the dress's designer, aspiring to look like (or fuck) the wearer, or chronicling the awards season more generally.

Now I've realised this value, I've made Pinterest valuable to me in a way that other social networks can't replicate.

I've never joined Instagram because it pisses me off to see its users spamming their followers on multiple other social-media platforms with the same pics, yet denying them the opportunity to like or comment unless they're also Instagram users. (It especially irritates me how the hashtags and user mentions, which are meaningful on Instagram, become meaningless and exclusionary when replicated on Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr, simply reminding me that I'm looking into this community from the outside.

I've been using Flickr since 2006 and I'll stick with that, even though its social component has almost entirely migrated over to Instagram. My favourite thing about Flickr is that it saves your original photos in their original format. It doesn't crop and resize them, and make them into a stream. Much as it's annoying and fiddly to go back through Twitter to find a particular tweet, I imagine it's annoying to find a particular Instagram image. But I have my Flickr photos organised so I can find the one I'm looking for easily and download it at its original size.

Nonetheless, I've noticed that my friends on other social-media platforms have entire conversations and connections on Instagram that I'm shut out from because I'm not a user. It's getting so that I'm feeling I have to participate if I want to socialise online.

However, let's take a counter-example: Google+. When it launched with great fanfare and great exclusivity (you had to get an invite from an existing user, much like the original launch of Gmail), I was right there. I created my 'circles', hung out there for a bit… and then just never went back. I just can't see what G+ offers that Facebook and Twitter don't. And whenever I do pop my head in to see what's going on, the place is like a ghost town.

Any social network is only valuable inasmuch as it corrals a group of people you enjoy interacting with, and who can help you source and distribute information in ways that are useful to you – whether that's sharing cool stuff you've found online, getting a new job, chronicling beautiful things you saw, advertising for a housemate… or promoting your new book.

Friday, May 17, 2013

I dreamed a dystopia. Last night (or, more accurately, this morning; I went to bed at 3:30am) I had a dream about a dystopian society where people exist in some facility that they believe is 'heaven'. In their minds, they're living all their dreams, whatever those may be – living a hedonistic life in unbelievable luxury; succeeding professionally; being adored by others.

But in real life, they're packed together at close quarters, living in unbelievable squalor, hardly interacting at all. In my dream, I'd been unfairly condemned to death for a crime that, yeah, okay, I committed, but I was forced to out of desperation and persecution, and it was made to seem malicious rather than self-defensive. But my punishment wasn't death – it was to be locked up in this facility but to see what it was really like.

You know, corny shit like: I imagine I'm lying on a giant soft bed with luxurious sheets overlooking a tropical beach… and then I realise I'm actually lying on a sack of straw in the corner of a noisome shed!

And when I tried to tell other people, they dreamily listened to my rants and then smiled and said, "But it's so wonderful here. It really is heaven."

I'm uncertain whether this was some sort of Logan's Run situation where people in the wider society were told they were 'dying' but then actually being locked up in this giant prison, or what the purpose of it all was.

It made a lot more sense when I had just woken up, as if it would make a really great sci-fi movie, but now it seems kind of silly. I realise this is basically The Matrix meets Fortress but you can't expect dreams to be original.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The difference between belongings and possessions. The other day I was reading this interesting article about a project by Dutch photographer Niki Feijen to document abandoned houses. (The Daily Mail's politics are rotten, but it is really well set up for publishing lovely big pictures embedded in its stories rather than in tiresome clickbait galleries.)

I paused on a line in the story about how these buildings "now house only the crumbling belongings of their former occupants." I was struck by the word 'belongings', which we don't really seem to see much; we tend to describe our stuff as 'possessions' or even just as 'stuff'. I was thinking about how these words have different connotations.

When we speak of 'possessions', the emphasis is on our mastery of material goods, and our use of the things we own to make ourselves feel powerful. Alternatively, 'possession' alludes to the ways in which we allow objects to dominate us; how we fetishise them and obsessively collect and hoard them.

'Possession' developed in late Middle English from the Old French 'possesser' ("to occupy or hold"), which comes from the Latin 'possidere', a composite of 'potis' ("able, capable") and 'sedere' ("to sit").

But when we speak of 'belongings', we're speaking in a more comforting way about things that find a home with us. These objects are in the right place when we own them, and they help us fit into social groups and spaces. Our 'belongings' are totems, security blankets, things that reassure us that we, too, belong.

The word 'belong' comes from the Old English verb 'gelang' meaning "to be together with", with the addition of the intensifying prefix "be" (also seen in archaic words such as 'bedecked', 'bedazzled', 'begone').

When we speak of 'stuff', we're almost talking about filler: meaningless padding to fill the spaces around us and make us look bigger and better. But interestingly, 'stuff' has the same root meaning as 'belongings'. There was once an old-fashioned dress fabric named 'stuff', and it comes from the Middle English via the Old French 'estoffe' ("material, furniture"), 'estoffer' ("to equip or furnish") and ultimately from the Greek 'stuphein ("to draw together").

Lately I've been reading a lot of zombie/apocalyptic novels, and the movie 2012 was on TV on Saturday night. One thing I always notice in these stories – and in those of war refugees – is what they take with them. I'm the sort of person who gets anxious in a film that a character might forget his/her bag or have it stolen.

There is a 'funnie photo' in my parents' photo album of me, aged about five or six, asleep on the floor of my built-in wardrobe. To my parents I looked odd or cute. But I had fallen asleep there in fear and anxiety after reading a kids' book called Dinosaurs, Beware! It was meant to teach children safety rules, humorously using dinosaurs as the characters. My parents thought I'd love it because I loved dinosaurs.

Instead, I took it absolutely seriously as a manual on how to respond to crisis. There was a vignette in the book about how the dinosaur family had a plan if their house caught fire. They would take only their most important belongings and assemble outside on the lawn.

After reading this, I was gripped by anxiety about what I'd do if our house burned down, so I decided to make an 'emergency pack' of my most treasured possessions and keep it in my wardrobe, so it would be easy to grab quickly. I even had a blanket, in case we got cold at night outside our burned-down house. I must have fallen asleep in there, wrapped in this blanket, which is where my parents found and photographed me. I wonder if they ever took my worries seriously.

In extreme situations you have to make big decisions about which are your most important belongings: not just the most useful or exchange-valuable ones, but the ones that define you most and carry the most emotional weight. When someone is in a situation where they have to abandon their home – as documented by Feijen – it says a lot about these decisions that certain belongings are left behind.

Similarly, the objects memorialised by having been saved from the Titanic (sorry to get all re-Re-Obsession on you) reveals the totemic status an object can acquire because its owner had to decide it was valuable enough to rescue. And those recovered from the water or the undersea debris field – a stopped watch; a shoe; a porcelain doll – are poignant in a different way because their owners perished and were unable to cherish them. Instead, we must – and so must photographic projects like Feijen's.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Good fat and bad fat. I am not putting this on my other blog because a) it is a personal issue that I don't want to discuss in a professional context; b) I feel confident that only about 10 people ever read this blog so it is probably the most private way to express my feelings about a topic that makes me feel very depressed.

Okay, so I stumbled across this irritating article about this plus-size blogger who encouraged women to "let go of their fears" about wearing bikinis and who posted photos of herself wearing bikinis and has now designed some bikinis for fat chicks.

Get fucked, dickhead. Often in well-meaning public debates about 'body image', there's this moronic assumption that as soon as you start to wear clothes above a size 16 – especially if you wear a size above 16 and wear body-hugging clothes – you can be held up as an awesome fat chick, a 'role model' for other 'plus size women' to instil 'body confidence'. But this completely disregards that fatness has its own aesthetic hierarchy that basically replicates straight-size beauty ideals.

You'll notice that the kind of fat chicks who get praised for being awesome and sexy by the likes of Mamamia are what I call 'good fat'. They have only one, pointy chin and a defined jawline. They have a defined waist. They have large plump boobs. Their torso is smooth and round. They look like larger versions of the familiar 'sexy woman' silhouette.

Then there's 'bad fat'. 'Bad fat' chicks have many chins and jowls and little visible facial bone structure. They have small breasts for their size, or large pendulous ones that lie flat against their chest. They are larger around the middle than in the bust and hips. They have rolls and folds of fat that give their torso a lumpy appearance.

People keep quiet about 'bad fat'. It has completely escaped the aesthetic realm of normativity and is only visible in the radical, politicised space of the fat activist movement. You will seldom see a 'bad fat' chick as a plus-size fashion model, or in the non-fat-activist media being praised for 'loving her body' or being a 'positive role model'. Instead she will be an object of repulsion, and will personify the 'obesity crisis'.

I am 'bad fat' and it fucking sucks. My fat isn't distributed in a pleasant, even layer, like a doona. I'm more like a lumpy old pillow. I feel doubly alienated looking at body-acceptance editorials or Facebook posts in which people gush over how 'hot' some plump, curvy chick looks in a stretch minidress. I just don't identify with that sort of woman, or even with the concept of 'hotness', at all. I envy her for being able to fit into socially sanctioned beauty ideals, and I feel that I've failed twice over: once to be conventionally 'hot', and then again to be 'fat hot'.

Years ago I stopped thinking of myself as desirable or attractive. Whenever I catch myself starting to fancy some dude I immediately crush the feelings because he would never return them, and I can't deal with the trauma of having some guy see me naked and have to pretend he wasn't revolted and then politely not ever contact me again.

Swimsuits are not a motherfucking tool of 'sexiness'. When I go swimming I think of myself as an invisible creature who's just there to do my laps and go home. I'm focused only on the activity itself – on what my body can do rather than how it looks.

I really hate swimming at the beach or in social contexts, because the focus is on checking out other people's bodies, and I have to confront 'hotness' and my own remoteness from it. The worst thing is the walk from the ocean back to my towel because my bathers are clinging to my body and I'm sure everyone is repulsed by the sight.

Honestly if I said all this shit out loud I would have sprained my index fingers by now from the amount of scare quotes I've been using. Anyway, I've just written a book that tries to be all consoling and reasonable and "you're not alone" and to critique the social messages that make us feel bad about ourselves, but the short version is that clothes are fucked and I fucking hate having to appear in public in any garment that at all suggests the shape of my body underneath.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Site Meter