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The Fascination With Ourselves

The other day, the word ‘selfie’ was inducted into the Oxford English Dictionary. No, this isn’t another post about how much I hate new words that have sprung out of social media sites, but rather a clever and topical way to begin my post about my irritations regarding selfies and other pointless photos uploaded to Facebook and the like. I know, what a brilliantly current segway into what’s likely to be little more than a rant about popular youth activities.

Ever since photography became a medium available to the masses people have wanted photos of themselves to remember experiences. Maybe a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Christ the Redeemer, or the Statue of Liberty. Or maybe they want to have a record of themselves posing with cultural artefacts of particular nations; A cup of tea, a pint of Guinness, some sushi, haggis, maybe a disgustingly greasy burger. I find all these perfectly acceptable as they serve as memories of time spent on holiday. They’re even less infuriating if there’s more than one person in the photo, which is why when a group of girls at King’s cross station asked me to take a photo of them on holiday, I happily obliged.

Selfies are a very different kettle of fish. Incidentally, a kettle of fish would be a much more interesting image than 99% of selfies. I can’t help but think that were we not in the world of peer approval via the ‘like’ button on Facebook or the ability to comment ‘You beautttt!! <3 xxxxxx’, selfies wouldn’t be the inexplicable phenomenon they seem to have become. I have to admit though, I didn’t previously know that pointless flattery is less than 3. There are clearly some educational benefits to selfies.

There are a few different types of selfie, I’ve noticed. There’s the typical teenage girl one with the subject filling the entire frame with a generic and forced smile, possibly leaning slightly to accentuate the features they believe will attract the most attention. These are often coupled with a short caption detailing the context of the photo, even though this is entirely irrelevant as they have no intention of showing the context but instead seem rather preoccupied with ensuring their pose is completely indistinguishable from every other pointless, infuriating photo they’ve ever taken of themselves. Some of these may even go further in the quest for frivolous gratification and include a caption along the lines of ‘Urgh Im sooo ugly :(((‘ in a transparent (and yet disappointingly effective) plea to be corrected by their fellow airheaded make-up consumers.

A second category of selfie I’ve noted is the male attention-seeking selfie. Now this is an odd offshoot of the typical female seflie as it too is attention-seeking and yet the captions can often be harsher, even more self-aware. Still ridiculous though. For example, not long ago a guy I’m friends with on Facebook (far from indicative of our actual relationship) posted a selfie of himself looking like a carbon copy of himself from any of his other hundreds of pointless selfies along with the moving caption “F*** off im tired”. No, that’s right, it was a caption uploaded along with the photo itself, not a comment in response to anyone at all. In fact, the only person I’ve ever seen comment on one of his photos is his girlfriend who’s always admirably nice. I say admirably, because I’m genuinely impressed with her acceptance.  I can’t fathom the reasoning behind these pictures as he doesn’t get any positive reinforcement to encourage him to continue posting these selfies, and yet he doesn’t seem to need it. What exactly is he hoping to achieve through this endeavour? That’s not a rhetorical question, I’m honestly curious.

Lastly, I cannot come to terms with the fact that celebrities tweeting selfies of themselves can even be categorised as news. Well, as the sort of nonsense that passes for news on the Mail Online. Ooh look, an attractive, and somewhat famous female has posted a photo of herself on the internet, screw Syria, THAT’S what people want. And you know what? They might be right. The Mail Online is frighteningly popular despite the blatant sexism, racism and borderline paedophilia that’s deemed acceptable because it’s the daughter of a supermodel that they’re commenting on.

The Obsoleteness of Remembering

Do you remember that time your mate did that hilarious thing? Of course you do. You’ve probably got a photo that you took of them and posted it on Facebook. Maybe you even tweeted about it! Did it get lots of retweets? It did? Congrats! Of course, if you don’t remember that hilarious thing your mate did then you don’t even know they did it, making the whole remembering thing utterly redundant.

Like many things in life, the act of remembering seems to be a thing of the past. It’s as obsolete as, say, a gramophone. Remember those? Yes, you do, because there are pictures of them. If there were no remaining evidence that gramophones ever existed then you probably wouldn’t be able to recall them.

10% of all photographs ever taken were taken in the last 12 months, probably mostly selfies and pictures of food on Instagram, but incredible nonetheless. Now, photographs are wonderful, amazing things, and utilised well, they can be great works of art, provocative, powerful, emotive and stunningly beautiful. But the other thing that photos allow us to do is remember events, places, people, and many other things more vividly than man was ever capable of doing beforehand.

In this, the age of smartphones, tablets, and other pointless lumps of technodrivel in object form, remembering is an outdated concept. Despite the fact that writing things down in order to not forget them is far from a new idea, the new channels available to catalogue our every thought and action seem to have contributed to this notion that nothing should be left to dissolve into the abyss of all that other stuff we’ve forgotten. Almost everyone in the western world now has a tiny device in their pocket able to access the sum of human knowledge in a matter of seconds*.

Not only can these miraculous tiny gadgets reach all of those hysterical cat videos, but they can also take photos, record video and sound, or even allow you to write notes. This means that wherever you are, whenever you are, and whatever you are, you need never forget that genius chuckle-brothers-based joke you came up with. You could even write down that blog post idea about how out-dated remembering things is nowadays! Only if your battery hasn’t died though.

It’s not even just things that we ask technology to remember that we’re reminded of anymore though. Having somewhere to record thoughts and musings is definitely good. Things like Facebook just take it too far. Birthdays are a great example of this, most people have many ‘friends’ on Facebook, quite possibly more than 2 or 3 hundred of the things. One person with, say, 284 friends, let’s call him Tarquin, doesn’t really like most of the people he’s ‘friends’ with and certainly doesn’t know their birthdays off by heart. They feel the same about him, and yet thanks to Facebook they’re bound to tap away at their keyboard until they work out how to send a heartfelt ‘happy birthday’ to him. This all lessens the niceness of being wished a happy birthday, and I now respond with severe cynicism to anyone whose birthday wish is simply ‘happy birthday’. It’s forced people who are actually friends with Tarquin to have to think of something slightly different and more interesting to include in their message. On my birthday my friend texted me simply ‘hb m8 yh’. A far more thought-out message than the aforementioned emotionless drivel, that actually induced a hearty chuckle. Thanks to Facebook, I now preferred that murdering of grammar to a perfectly punctuated happy birthday wish maybe coupled with a meaningless smiley face, a glowing yellow embodiment of modern ambivalence.

Facebook also notifies you an hour before an event is due to occur. Even if it’s your own event. Have we become so used to having technology do our thinking for us that we’re not even capable of realising that we’d invited people to an event of our own creation?

I’m so glad Facebook is around, were it not I’d probably just be lying on the floor wondering why I’m not doing anything over and over again because no flickering screen informed me that I’d already had that thought and maybe I should branch out a tad.

*Sub-note, this is a ridiculous phrase – any time period is a matter of seconds, some just of more than others.

The Irrelevance of Knowledge

There are many times in life when knowing something doesn’t help you in the slightest. And yet we’re fed information daily throughout our entire lives, gathering nuggets of fact until we have a veritable warehouse stuffed to the rafters with stats, or trivia, song lyrics or movie quotes. Maybe even a mathematical formula or two.

This mismatched focus on knowledge is harrowingly evident in our education system, not that I’m about to dive into a political rant about education or anything. Although I will say that Michael Gove seems to have no legitimate claim to be education minister despite the fact he went to school. Scratch that, clearly he’s the most qualified man for that position. Not like it’s important or anything.

Returning to the matter in hand, schools in this country, and probably many others, focus on teaching information exclusively. Information is, of course, very important, and not a day goes by when I don’t use Planck’s constant* for something or other. Even exams themselves have a major flaw in this area, being nothing more than a collection of learned info scrawled onto paper by stressed out young people rather than being used to develop any important life skills, or even better, wisdom. Some exams, depending on the subject, are different. The humanities often require more application of knowledge than simply a regurgitation of it. Even the skills involved in these are fairly removed from everyday problems. I don’t tend to have to identify the subtle symbolism in the wording of a poem every day.

There is a big difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is nothing more than what you know, whereas wisdom is knowing how to use what you know. A great man said that. I lie, I said it. Is not wisdom the more important quality? Knowing things alone will get one nowhere.  I wish we could all focus on encouraging children to be wise rather than simply knowledgeable, but I recognise that in this world, wisdom must be preceded by common sense, and there’s such a lack of that around today that I hold little hope of anyone becoming truly wise. If the average man on the street had to choose which woman’s claims to the baby were true, he’d probably just cut it in half. Not quite King Solomon.

*6.62606957 × 10-34 m2 kg / s if you were wondering.

The Evolution of Language

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Nowadays language is quite different to how it used to be (read any Shakespeare play or Chaucer poem to see the extent of this) and I’m a man that enjoys the more obscure words in our wonderful language.

I long to live in a world where people use such words as ‘balderdash’, ‘persiflage’ and ‘yokefellow’ more often. Unfortunately, I find myself alive in a time where words like ‘lol’ and ‘YOLO’ are becoming the norm. This sort of progression and change is natural in language but there are some changes that simply should not be allowed to remain in use. One such term is ‘sick’ to refer to something good. Now, sick is a not a new word, and yet its meaning has been altered so that now it seems to be a socially acceptable way to express that something is enjoyable. This is simply unacceptable. Sick already has a definition – ‘afflicted with ill health or disease; ailing.’ There are many perfectly good words to describe something pleasing; good, great, superb etc. and if the younger generation is dissatisfied with the plethora of words already available to describe something of quality, then they should invent a new word. Using a word that’s already in common use as a useful and well-defined term and attempting to change its meaning so dramatically and pointlessly is both lazy and contemptible.

It is possible that as a person who dislikes change in general, I may be overreacting to this, however, not only would creating a new word be fun, if it’s created in interesting circumstances then in future the story of its conception and creation could be a spiffing quiz question. Interestingly, the word ‘quiz’ has a very pleasing origin. In case you don’t know, the word ‘quiz’ was invented when one man (I don’t know his name – apologies for this) fancied trying to introduce a new word into the English language. To do this, he went around London, painting the word ‘quiz’ onto walls. As people saw this, they tried to work out the meaning of the word, and voila, ‘quiz’ gained a definition and became a common word. Now, isn’t that far more pleasing than some ignoramuses deciding that they aren’t satisfied with the meaning of the word ‘sick’? ‘Lol’ is also now a fully-fledged word, even taking its place in the OED.  However, I do wonder, if you took a sample of, say, 100 13-16 year olds, how many of them could tell you what ‘lol’ means? I’d guess probably close to 100%. But how many could define ‘loll’? Probably still a fair number (I hope), but I don’t think I’d be too wrong in claiming that fewer would know ‘loll’ than would know ‘lol’. And yet ‘loll’ has been around far longer, and serves more of a purpose than does ‘lol’. ‘Lol’ isn’t even an acronym anymore; it’s just a word that used to stand for ‘laugh out loud’ but is now nothing more than a direct alternative to ‘haha’, which I personally prefer. ‘haha’ is almost onomatopoeic, it’s not trying too hard, whereas ‘lol’ has become complacent, safe in its knowledge that it almost monopolises the ‘written equivalent of mirth’ market, so to speak.

I implore you, therefore, to seek out the more flamboyant and exciting words of our unique and magnificent language and to sprinkle them over all you say and write. Bask in the beauty of words and wallow in the pool of literary eccentricity; it will enrich your very existence.

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