Who are you?

Away from cyberspace we mark our identities with clothes, hairstyle, shoes; showing (or NOT!) off ourselves to others by visual cues, shaping our outward representations; our public selves.

Not everyone do this in a conscious way. A lot of people don’t even understand they are wearing the equivalent of uniforms, just as others are very much aware that they are in the business of making personal and sometimes political statements.

These visual cues support the individuals within a society in their need for organising their surroundings – which people to feel linked to, which people NOT to feel linked to. Who to listen to and who to dismiss.

This leads to a very prejudiced way of sorting people and their opinions. But, as the proverb goes – “prejudice is the foundation on which society rests”. We need short cuts, or the brain goes down from overload.

So, even while the internet was originally hailed for providing an environment where people were NOT judged based on gender, colour or clothing style we are now witnessing a plethora of ways to differentiate the self from the anonymous collective.

So, at places like Facebook people join groups not to be active parties in a community but to tell others their preferences – a kind of personal tags. And we blog and bedeck ourselves in profile pictures seldom picturing ourselves but rather picked for their subtexts and metaphorical meanings.

I’ve read, in a text not available on-line so I can’t link to it (Reload – rethinking women and cyberculture), that in internet communities where people were free to take on other identities than their own the identity most commonly used is ‘white caucasian male’. Because whatever the social construct those are the people other people listen to without being biased.

So. We need to tell the world where we want to belong, and when what we are don’t coincide with what we need to be to be taken seriously we lend an identity the shape of with fits our needs.

In the on-line world or in the flesh and blood world judging the correctness of those projected images is equally difficult.

But it’s fascinating to see how humans always find a way to satisfy those basic needs. Like announcing identity.

The death of Journalism?

Transparency. Journalism. Social media.

Some say this new thing called social media is killing the ‘old’ media, suggesting words printed on paper.

When Pagemaker first appeared we got flooded in badly made flyers, pushed on us by our local grocery shop. The Death of Graphic Design was announced – now everyone could make their own ads and no one would need those professionals whose only justification had been mastery of a set of hands on tools. Knowledge and experience was not an issue.

You all know were that ended, right? Since some years back those flyers and leaflets have started to look take on a more professional look. Because design is not about pushing graphics and chunks of text about on a screen – it’s so much more.

Now, quite a few people I know have told me journalism died +10 years ago, at the hands of reality shows and sensationalism. Others are saying it’s dying here and now, at the hands of transparency and Twitter.

Let me tell you my not so very humble opinion. We are drowning in a flood of information. We have to react to every thing, every time, at once. The flood is up, everyone’s running, and but a few has the time or backbone or the means to sit back and watch the macro perspective. So no one knows what information snippet is connected to what, what information is true or false or significant or insignificant, or who has planted it – a very elite few has the time to turn information into knowledge.

This is the logical next step in the political strategy of the pseudo-democratic western culture – to allow everyone right of speech but to listen at no one. Let the populace drown in egotistical indulgence in designer handbags and which celebrity’s in bed with whom and Today’s Outfit while the powers that be enact their agendas, fed by hunger for money and power.

In such a situation journalism has a place. Serious journalism, with an agenda, boldly announced. Not this present self-proclaimed and false ‘objectivity’ of the reporter ethos, but real journalism.
People analysing data, recognising patterns, and telling us what they see. Digesting information, and telling us their views so we can compare against our own value sets. Helping us stay afloat.

So while journalism sure looks dead to me there is a need for it.

And don’t forget – almost all media are social, only some are more participatory than others. TV, that demon, offered a channel for national and cultural cohesion, in a social context even though only a few got to participate in its production.

Life

Consider life.

What is it?

The questions are as plentiful as the answers. But ultimately life is what you do with it.

Thinking about how many people actively chose not to live at all but to long for times past or roads not taken the question accurately ought to be What’s NOT life. Maybe.

What prompted this chain of thought, you might ask.

This weekend I discovered I was looking back on some past experiences thinking ‘I could never be like that again’ – meeting new cities, new situations, taking everything in, revelling in the novelties.

With experience comes the ability to see patterns, to foresee, to expect certain things. The blank slate can never be blank again, once it’ve been written upon.

I decided I could only learn from this. That trying to relive the past is to not live today. I’m sure there are still experiences to be made out there. I’m here to make them, to welcome them. To learn new things.

If I shall truly be able to say I have no regrets nostalgia is to be avoided. Life is now!

Even when lethargy sets in.

The Daily Life of a Designer.

I’m not prone to posting videos, or even images. But this one really got to me.

Spot on. This is what designers have to endure, around the clock, around the planet. Off-planet too, if there are other cultures out there. Don’t think this urge to meddle is unique to humans… sadly.

I would lie if I said I hadn’t had my own close encounters of that kind. CLOSE encounters. Because this happen in interaction design too.

Courtesy to inUse for spreading this.

Polarisation. An effect of consciously made choices.

The last months of December 2008 saw the Rosengård riots (here’s a link to an english language text on the events).

The first months of 2009 saw riots in Tensta, outside Stockholm, too.

Lately a series of malls and shops put to fire in Södertälje.

For those not familiar with the areas I’ll say that these neighbourhoods can best be characterised as ghettoes, places where lots of people with refugee backgrounds (first or second, or even third generation) live and where the landlord knowingly exploits these peoples’s lack of proficiency in the Swedish language to make them accept living conditions way below what anyone else deems acceptable.

What is wrong? Swedish National Defence College, or at least the department curiously named Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies, has been investigating the phenomenon (warning: link goes to PDF document, in Swedish) of what they call “radicalisation” and yet don’t seem to be able to reach any decisive conclusions.

Ever since I read the report month ago I’ve had problems deciding what to think of it. The academic world dismisses it, mainly based on bad research ethics on behalf of the researchers. Among other things they destroyed their source material, but they also based their conclusions mainly on interviews with third parties.

I now know what I think is the reason for my lack of determination. While the report talks about the need to break the alienation forced upon immigrants, and lists measures such as a revised national housing policy, it avoids talking about the policies leading up to this state of things.

During these last 20 years or so we have witnessed a policy heavily biased towards a favouring of the one’s already well off. This trend has been at work whether the government have been (nominally) left or right wing. The common wealth that has taken decades to accumulate, in the form of pre schools, schools, hospitals, pharmacies, roads, rail roads, and a sound social security system, has been divested, bit by bit, for ideological (right wing) or populist (left wing) reasons.

We now find ourselves in a situation were only the connected can get a job, were only the wealthy can afford higher education and a decent place to live. If you’re low income – don’t expect anything like health care or schools functioning. Don’t expect flats without severe water leakage, damaged and dangerous electrical wiring, mouldy bathrooms… The lower on the social ladder, the less the support you can expect from society.

And at the bottom of the social ladder, who do you find? Immigrants. So. What is the surprise about riots in areas where the population is almost exclusively immigrant or descended from immigrants? A lack of skills in the Swedish language, a lack of examina recognised by the Swedish system, from another culture alien to Swedish customs, a lack of contacts in the labour market, and sometimes with traumatic experiences from torture, bombings, executions of family members, systematic harassment based on sexual preferences…

Humans are a social species. If the established society fails you, you found an alternative society around you. No wonder there’s a wealth of parallel societies out there, with their own legal systems and their own social control, often at odds with the Swedish system.

The policy that has lead us to this is a conscious one. It the politicians haven’t understood the consequences of their policies, well, that’s on their conscience.

The religious zealots, the crime networks… they only take opportunity of the situation. Apprehend or outlaw these and new will emerge. Because they’re only the symptom.

The ailment is elsewhere, as is the cure.

Review: Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

I don’t know what I expected from this. A book about war, obviously, a future war, and one that had gone one for a while. What I knew was I was in the mood for some ‘classic’ style science fiction, and Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi, promised to be just that.

We follow the adventures of senior citizen John Perry as he decides to gamble his life on the promise of… extended life – he quits Earth and join the Colonial Defence Forces for a term of no less than two years, with a high probability of serving the full ten the contract stipulates. He have no idea what is waiting for him, yet he feels he is not ready to die. And the CDF only recruits 75 year old people, people who wouldn’t be expected to withstand the rigours of war. So it’s a given the CDF have a way to make you young again, no?

I haven’t read any Heinlein in ages, yet he was the first reference that came to my mind while reading Old Man’s War; a kind of flashback to my teens when I devoured anything with Heinlein as an author.

I don’t research books too closely before reading them so I had no idea Scalzi himself recognises this debt, but it makes sense.

In the first half of the book Scalzi manages this heritage very well, but the second half don’t live up to expectations – at least not mine. This is mainly due to a couple of all too unbelievable coincidences and going-ons. The writing is still accomplished, and by that point if you have invested in the main character you want to know what will happen next, but the story in itself just didn’t hold up.

The last chapter felt contrived, and should rightly had been labelled ‘epilogue’. I guess the publisher demanded him to axe it, to make the rest into another novel.

Despite above reading this book was an enjoyable experience.