Saturday, 26 March 2011

What you don't have

Coincidence is a funny thing. I tend to read books and listen to music at the same time, and this frequently leads to some strange collaborations. Listening to REM's Life's Rich Pageant (particularly Begin the Begin) whilst reading Michael Scott Rohan's Winter of the World series leads to all kinds of re-inforced messages.
The most extreme example was several years ago, whilst listening to The Yearning by Things of Stone & Wood and reading a book by David Gemmell (I forget which), I read the words "the shadow of death" at exactly the same time as they came over the speakers. It took me a moment to work out exactly what had happened as my initial perception had been that these words had suddenly acquired more weight.
It'd be enough to make you nervous, if you were superstitious, easy led and very nearly dead.

Just this morning I was listening to the excellent Meursault album All Creatures Will Make Merry  whilst finishing off Ben Goldacre's book Bad Science.
I heartily recommend both of them.
But as I was reading the good doctor's final pages he produced a quote from The Economist along the lines of "the true cost of something is what you have to give up to get it".
At about the same time from the stereo came "It's not about what you don't have, it's how little you're given and how far you can run with it".

Coming, as they did, so close together they struck me as quite profound.

I'm not going anywhere with this blog by the way, it just occurred to me, that's all.

But I guess it does give you a bit of an idea why people are so precious about children, after all, what you've given up to get there is incredible.

On a completely unrelated note, I've fished the REM album out for a listen this afternoon and, in looking up the link above, have just lost about half an hour reading interesting stuff about the band.
The internet is still eating my life.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Dopamine rush (or How the web turned me from a creator into a consumer)

I've not been playing as much music over that last few months, nor have I been taking as much exercise.
Most of my sporting pleasures are outdoors and it's been cold and wet, I've been doing some long hours at work and some disappointing news on the music front has taken some of my initiative from there.
So I've told myself.
And it's horseshit.

Some people come home from work and put the TV on, it then stays on until they go to bed.
Not being a TV watcher for the most part* I've always been a little bit smug and superior about the stuff I did instead: read books, news websites, exercised, played music yadda yadda yadda.
Pride cometh before a fall.

The reason that my excuses for not creating more music or getting properly fit are horseshit is because I've been doing much the same as the TV couch potatoes but with my own personal drug of choice.
The web.

I was joking with a friend yesterday about not being able to go to bed because I hadn't finished reading the internet yet and it reminded me of a study a saw recently (can't remember where I'm afraid, you'll come to understand why) that said some people get a dopamine hit from learning new things or acquiring knowledge.
And this has been my drug of choice. I've not been sat in front of the TV because I've been sat in front of my PC.
For hours at at time.
You could argue (and I certainly did to myself) that it's not like I've been sat here watching prat-falls on youtube or vegging out playing farmville on facebook, I've been reading a fair number of web comics true, but mostly I've been reading news or current affairs comment sites. Getting my little hits of knowledge.
But am I really learning anything? Or am I just filtering articles and stories to provide data that supports my already-held views?

So today I did an experiment and chalked up a tally of websites I've visited this evening:
38 webcomics
68 news articles or fact-based blog entries
4 comment runs off those blogs
15 other sites (webmail, facebook, house-hunting stuff)
And am I any smarter than I was yesterday?

So, it's time to cut down. It's tempting to cut off entirely (because I find it easier to stop doing something than to limit doing something) but I don't read a newspaper and I don't watch the TV and there's only so ignorant I'm willing to be.
So cutting down it is.
Maybe I'll get back to creating some content rather than just consuming it.**

* Ironically there's a tv series on at the moment called How TV Ruined Your Life which sounds really interesting.
** You'll note that the alternative title still puts me as a passive actor in this, I'm aware that the web has done nothing to me, it's how I've chosen to use the web, but I thought it read better as a title.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Russia Today, really? Apparently so.

I was surprised to find myself watching Russia Today this morning. The BBC was just looking at Conservative conference and we were scanning through the other news channels. Turns out Russia Today (presented in English by Americans) is available on freeview.
How odd.
I was even further surprised to find one of their interviewees talking about how stations like Al Jazeera and the like were climbing up the ratings channels compared to CBS / Fox etc.
His theory was that the previously established players had become so ingrained in the rest of the establishment that they were no longer producing news, they were dressing up opinion and marketing it. Increasingly people are trying to get away from this and find outlets that were focussed on the facts not the spin.
This is not a particularly new idea, I've been reading multiple news sources for a while now to try and get a balanced view, but today the media has helped me out by providing the perfect example, two headlines covering the same story:
From the Telegraph:

HSBC reveals plans to quit London for Hong Kong

From the BBC:

HSBC says talk of moving HQ to Hong Kong 'presumptuous'

The opening paragraphs of each article go even further in their disagreement.

It's getting increasingly difficult to find that balance.

Whether Russia Today and Al Jazeera are suitable examples of News-not-opinion media houses I will leave to your imagination but you can't help but wonder how many people would tune back into a news organisation that actually focussed on researched news and journalistic integrity rather than celebrities and ratings?