watching history from a far..

January 21st 2013 – The Second Inauguration of President Obama

Today, as several inches fell in Leeds, creating a white slushy blanket which we only experience every few years, in a icy Washington D.C. the world watched an event that only happens once every four years; the inauguration of their president.

I was looking forward to returning home from work in the winter darkness to my new cosy flat and watching Obama’s speech and the festivities unfold.
He spoke, as expected, with authority and the voice of liberal and pragmatic reason in today’s modern world. In his short at times abstract speech, which in true politician fashion, he touched on the key issues the United States, as the leader of the western world faces in the future. He focused on climate change, national debt, gay marriage, rights for immigrants (big voting demographic!) equality for all. The spectacle of millions of people on the mall in Washington all pointing inwards towards one strong leader protected by discrete but evident bullet proof screens; a constant reminder of the reality that he is wanted dead by many for the views he expresses, and lives in a nation perpetuated with gun violence.
As Beyonce sang an undeniably impressive rendition of the American national anthem, I was wowed by the spectacle of the crowds, the flags, the values, the freedom…the greatest nation on earth. That being clearly from my American accultured existence which has glorified the nation I’ve watched on TV in parallel worlds since I could comprehend. I know this makes my viewpoint biased and that I see the reality through tinted glasses. However, with all of my years of education, learning, inquitiveness, I have to endorse wholeheartedly the power of that one man, who in my opinion is the greatest world leader I have had the pleasure to watch on the global stage.
The next step is a female president, so a first ‘husband’ can take a back seat.

Undeniably, Obama is gaining momentum, power, authority and confidence. It is great to be able to watch him flourish and grow into a roll which he is moulding and crafting to his world view and that of so many he influences. He has a battle on his hands fighting against a Republican congress, however, he has to push the Medicare improvements, the debt recovery, the gay rights agenda and the climate change policies. In the next four years, those issues are going to become heightened and pivotal and affect not just his own nation people but little insignificant me in a northern English city thousands of miles away..

He’s shown the power of his determination and conviction with the gun restriction legislation after the Newtown shootings of last month which seem to have set off a spate of constant shootings in a variety of states. Every few days headlines are peppered with another school shooting, so much so that they’re now starting to no longer make the headlines. Ultimately, as Obama recognises the sources of the issue need to be tackled; namely the mental health support for vulnerable young people and the prevalence of the gun culture in which they live which makes access to weapons so normal, easy and conclusive.
Like with the other issues Obama stated ‘we, the people’ (repetitively) should tackle together, the key will be his ability to target the root causes, understand the whole issue and plough forward with definitive action.
Most commentators believe that Obama’s speech was more concrete and ‘fighting’ than this first inauguration address; perhaps showing the development in the conviction of the individual.

one thing is certain, this young 24 year old in a nation far away will be watching his next steps very closely indeed, and hoping that he shows the strength of conviction he demonstrated in his inaugural speech..

The treatment of women in India and professional female cricketers… young women have to accept the reality of their vulnerability…

As fires have been burning over the treatment of women in India, as a young female living in a thankfully liberal nation, I’ve come to the realisation that I have to accept my vulnerability to protect myself. Self-awareness of one’s own limitations are paramount for survivial and if you are to succeed in an environment. Though I am lucky that I am of the first generation to truly be on an equal footing with men in society, the fundamental differences between the sexes which will restrict us. Fact. It’s not that we are unequal but we must accept how our differences fundamentally affect us.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2013/jan/14/england-cricketer-sarah-taylor-mens-match

As a female cricketer myself who has played numerous times as the only girl on men’s teams, I’m torn about how I feel about Sarah Taylor, a girl of my age playing professional cricket in this country…having been on a field of male cricketers many times, I know that the presence of a girl undeniably affects the play of every male player on both teams. They may not want it to or argue that it doesn’t, but it does FACT. This materialises in many different ways. Should this be an issue? It depends what kind of cricket you want to play, that, doesn’t it?!

There are some things in life which you have to accept. Some things can be changed, other things have to be accepted as facts. The way things are. Once you accept them you can learn to live with them and find ways around them.

Personally, I’ve come realise that being female makes me vulnerable in a world of men and women. It is not being pathetic, whimpish and anti-feminist. It is a fact. Just like the fact that I can’t easily play basketball or netball against tall people because I am 5’3 and it is a fact that I physically can’t reach the ball when then hold it above my head. Like adults playing with a child. I accept that but it doesn’t stop me playing netball against people nearer my size.

So, I am female. And right now, I am a young female. There are plenty of things I can do without feeling remotely aware of this, shopping, walking, driving. I can hold my own.

However, there are some things I will always feel vulnerable doing. Travelling is one of them. Going abroad. The nature of my sex means that violation of my nature is always a possibility. Unlike a male who generally has greater physical strength, and different organs, I, by the nature of my body, am vulnerable. The eternal vulnerability of the childbearer. A burden hard to bare but one which must be realised.

I think back to travelling around Cambodia, and the naive 18 year old british girl who had no awareness of her vulnerability and went off in evenings with strange men she did not know, to places she wasn’t familiar with. Such blatant disregard of safety and predicament is asking for trouble. Awareness is key.

And so I have gradually reached a level of acceptance. I will happily travel alone abroad. However, I know exactly what my limits are and there are some things which I cannot do alone. That’s not being defeatest. It is being realisitic. There are many more things a female can do compared with just a few decades ago, never mind centuries ago. Yet as long as men exist in the world, women will be vulnerable to the sexual urges which define exisitance. I would not, for example, walk alone along some streets, even in this country. Whereas though a man may also be vulnerable, as a woman the reality of violation is always with me as it is with any woman. My small size somewhat intensifies this reality.

And so, when I look at all the exotic places my money can take me to in this ever shrinking world, I exercise great caution when thinking about visiting parts of Africa and Asia. I must to ensure I keep what I have. I would advocate the same awareness to every other young woman, regardless of the state of their nation’s stance of treatment of women, though for some like those in India, unfortunately they must always be on a heightened sense of alert. That is, until there are some significant cultural changes…

Technology Talking? See the person! Random acts of kindness and a first time in two years…

People are embroiled within their personal technology fuelled worlds on an almost constant basis. Everywhere I looked on the train to work commuters were swipping at their phones; if they weren’t their ears were plugged with headphones, blocking out the sounds of the real world. Many were doing both. A few traditionalists read the Metro newspaper or an old fashioned ‘book’. And so is the pattern of the daily commute throughout the western world.

Image

I’m not saying I don’t join the tech-commute as I walk from the station up through the heart of a metropolitan wintery city throbbing with the life of pre-working day throng; black clothes, warm hats, steamy breath, clicking heels. However, I occasionally step outside of this inward looking individualistic reality and look at it from the outside. As I walked into work through the sleepy cafe which exuded breakfast smells; bitter coffee and crispy bacon butties, I looked at the tables. Sat in a line were several young students, each completely absorbed in their own personal worlds as they swipped and pressed their phones; embroiled in the myriad worlds a tiny black box could take them into.

I smiled. Thinking how lucky these fellow young people are, sitting in warmth, maximising the benefits of the technological revolution they are living through. Yet, also, how ironic they are only silently speaking to those they could tap into on their phones. And how ironic that their communications; the tiny sparks and threads they create with flicks of their fingers, are borderless and boundary-less. They could be speaking to someone in any corner of the globe, on any subject or topic imaginable.

I left work, as usual, too late, and off I trotted to the station at half walking-very-fast and half trying-to-run-discretely (you know with knees together and elbows clenched). As I did the final sprint for the train, I realised the back pocket of my bag was open and I’d been merrily dropping things from it along the way, of course with headphones in I didn’t hear the things go. Then a Northern Rail lady held out my train pass to me saying ‘You dropped this’, gratefully thanking her I backtracked and grabbed the packet of painkillers which had also fallen out a little way back, zipped up the offending flap and continued on my sprint the length of the platform. The signalman was just holding up his signal sign and blowing his whistle and the ticket collector was hanging one foot in and one foot out of the back carriage door. I ran up to him and he let me leap in in true stylish fashion head first into the carriage.

Slightly bedraggled (to say the least) I threw my bag on the floor of the train and bent double to get my breath back. The ticket man said in a friendly chuckle ‘close call that!’. I responded with a gasping smile and nod.

I decided to stay in the little lobby space by the door as a Chinese tourist with a very large pink and white spotted suitcase was blocking the door into the carriage. Once I’d gained a modest amount of composure I whipped out some teaching prep for the following day and stood trying to edit it. The ticket man was still pottering around and started a gentle, convivial conversation with me about the busy nature of the trains, the weather, Christmas, the usual (probably quite English!) things.

This was the first time in two years of travelling on that train line every day, twice a day, that I had had more than a functional conversation with a ticket inspector or anyone else I didn’t know, on that train. We chatted away, smiling at each other and helping each other with the next fragments of conversation (as kind people do). I told him that this was my penultimate train journey; later that week I would be moving to Leeds where I work and will no longer need to commute on Northern Rail’s tired and grotty rolling stock (I didn’t tell him that bit!).

And so, with all my technological devices firmly ‘out of the way’ in my bag (I had at least 3 on me – ipad, smartphone and mp3 player) I had a lovely face to face conversation with a stranger; an activity which filled me with more warmth and satisfaction than hours of interacting with technology. That, added to the kindness of the lady picking up my dropped possessions really shows the power of the random act of kindness that those ‘noticing’ the world can conduct. I’ve now finished my train commuting, and just think, I could have gone two years not having a conversation with anyone on that train line…

So, perhaps now and again, we should take a break from the wonderful technological devices which enhance our lives and take a look around us, notice our fellow human beings, have a good old fashioned conversation and maybe even conduct a random act of kindness. Perhaps that can be the most enhancing thing of all.

How can icow can help the developing world!

A few days ago I read an interview with Bono about how technology can help shape and improve life in the developing world in the future.

http://www.technologyreview.com/qa/508771/bono-on-how-technology-can-transform-the-world/#comments

Copyright http://fenesi.com/

Copyright archive.the-spine.com

As I said in my comment – I reckon mobile tech at the grassroots level will be pivatol in Africa, iCow is the future! As this BBC article alludes to:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/30/africa-apps-software-digital-enterprise

The possibilities are endless, as the only piece of technology so many people in Africa have is a mobile phone, the way to tap into these resources is key to tapping into the lives of those who own them and improving them.

Rape in India: A result of sex selection?

Following TIME’s article here, I made the comments below:

http://ideas.time.com/2013/01/04/rape-in-india-a-result-of-sex-selection/

Having listened to interviews with women in Dehli on the BBC world service about this issue this morning, it seems there is an embedded problem within society in India about attitudes to women and expectations men have of them. Perhaps better sex education is a way of changing this, though the challenge of changing attitudes is immense.

However, it’s encouraging that so many have come out to protest about this issue, new attitudes are infiltrating slowly, it’s just a matter of how powerful this infiltration can become, and how much ‘people power’ it can generate to really change a culturally embedded aspect of Indian society

The multi-faceted present and the even more complicated future…

As the technological tools evolve all around us, the media and mediums which are expelled and disseminated through them are also rapidly evolving, sometimes more subtly than we can easily notice. These changes reflect the subtle changes in society and the relationships both personal and professional that we become embroiled in. I’ll take just one example – ER – now this award winning series, arguably one of the best of the twentieth century, has had an audience of millions. I’ve recently been watching earlier series, and following the characters and their storylines. I’ve just put on TV a random episode from the tenth season (after giving up on the second Lord of the Rings!) and I’m struck by the contrasts with the sixth season which I’ve been watching. The depth of storylines, the emotion, the character involvement, the personability of the situations the characters are in, the multifaceted nature, the raw emotions, the empathy shown by the characters…all of these elements have been developed and are incredibly well depicted in the episode I’m currently watching.

In contrast the season 6 episodes are superficial, quick, sharp, unfeeling, objective. I think this subtle change also depicts the change in our society towards more depth in relationships generally; the more multi-faceted nature of our modern world which is increasing at a rapid rate. (Of course, with ER it was also an inevitable gradual development of television!). Think back to your grandparents time; did they talk to their friends and family as much about relationships, deep emotions, stress, depression, anxiety…even our parents generation rarely publically chatted about the myriad of aspects of life that we do today. Ultimately, of course our lives are becoming rapidly more complex and multifaceted, in no small part due to technology and the millions of invisible technological threads we spark and weave around us every day. Just think, how complex with the lives be of our children and their children? The mind boggles..

The truth behind the smile; what’s in not taking a photo…

I’ve been thinking about what I wrote about smartphones and have an addition to make about the use of those wonderful, multi-faceted tools to take photos in a world increasingly inundated with images!

Male Holding Smartphone

Think, just for a moment, about the last photo you took of a person or people with your phone. Why did you take that photo? Was it to capture a moment that you wanted to remember? To snap a friend in a funny, unorthodox pose, or a group of people who don’t often get together? I expect Christmas yielded quite a lot of these types of snapshots in time. And what do you want to do with them? Keep them stored safe so you can look back at them? Where will you store them? On a cloud?  On a USB stick? The whole issue of storing data raises numerous questions about our intellectual property which I won’t start on now (you’ll be pleased to hear!).

My question is, what makes us take a photo of one group of people, but not of another? What makes us want to capture one scene but not another? And what makes us take the next step – to disseminate the photos we took to other people?

I spent one day last week sitting in a room full of family members, as toddlers ran around my feet and babies were occasionally thrust into my arms, I found myself wanting to be somewhere else (in the words of the Rasorlight song..). There were more cameras in that room than people, as everyone had a camera on their phone, and many had extra ‘designated’ cameras. Photos were being taken every few moments, clearly be people who felt that they wanted to capture the excitements of the moments they were experiencing and the group of people who were (noisily) surrounding them. I, however, had my phone in my hand and had no desire to capture that moment at all, because of my personal feelings towards the whole occasion.

So I put it to you that in the future, when our ancestors look back at the billions of images we took with our tools (very good luck to them – we need to start cataloguing…!), there will be an inherent bias. Those people like me who sat in the corner of that room experiencing that scene, our perspectives won’t be captured by images. Every image is a subjective take on a scene or occasion and can’t be divorced from the input of the person who took it, whatever motive was behind it.

Anyone looking back at my photo diaries, the images I kept or even framed, will find plenty of images of one side of my family (who I love spending time with) and very few, if any, of the other side of my family. So, how many discontented people’s viewpoints will be lost in the future through their lack of ‘capturing’ moments with their ubiquitous camera phone; something now almost everyone of us has at our fingertips to make a photo documentary of our lives?

Next time you take a photo with your smartphone, think about why. I’d put money on the fact that it will be to capture a moment in time you want to remember fondly. I hope it will be. But remember the hidden secret voices of those around you who don’t capture that moment in a snapshot. Sometimes, not everything is as it seems in a photo.

The Smartphone Revolution…just the start…

As we ring in the new year of 2013 – I wanted to write something about the one device which was, and remains, perhaps one of the most subtle but significant additions to my world this year- the smartphone..and I know that this powerful, buzzing little tool, is the just the start of the beginning of many incredibly exciting technological changes to come…which makes the future incredibly exciting…doesn’t it?

The Smartphone revolution

About two months ago I got my first Smartphone (after a long time waiting and anticipating!) and about a month ago I got my first tablet – an Ipad2. I knew before I claimed these two pieces of technology that they would change the way I do things. Indeed, they have effected how much I check my emails, twitter and facebook, how easy it is to take photos and post them online for others to see. How easy it is to google something I’m unsure about or expand my knowledge at any time of the day. To have such resources at my finger tips is truly amazing and I found today, after sitting at the breakfast table for a few hours, that I began to crave my smartphone and it’s instant communication, information and knowledge seeking capabilities.

The ipad and smartphone are, primarily tools of enhancement. For example, the radio station -Morefm Auckland I’ve listened to for years on my desktop or laptop computer through varying bandwidths of internet, I am now able to listen to through the ‘tunein’ app which both my ipad and smartphone have – I was able to do this when studying, or anywhere on the go. Itunesu and the khan academy alongside TED videos all allow me to expand my knowledge by feeding me intellectual videos and courses.

I guess these changes are subtle, yet they are vastly significant as we ease through the technological revolution; changing oozing all around us. It’s remarkable to think sometimes of how simple my first 13 years were. How simple the time was before I had the most basic of computers and mobile phones. How our lives have now changes almost beyond the comprehension of our ancestors. Even the facebook revolution; social media infiltrating every aspect of our lives is specific to those under 40; those of Uncle John’s generation being reluctant to engage with it – primarily, in my opinion, because their own social circles are not embroiled within it and therefore they, unlike us, do not feel like they are ‘missing out’ by not being involved in it and the vast amount of news and personal developments that are posted within that forum.

And so our lives evolve alongside technology. Dad jokes that often I have three devices strapped to me; interacting with each in a different way and for different reasons. That is true; the knowledge I get from social media truly quenches a now inherent thirst for constant activity at all times.

I wonder how in decades time this technology will have evolved, and our reliance on it will have developed. Broadband will undoubtedly be faster, interactions across the world smoother, easier and more constant and the manner in which individuals create, craft and regulate themselves and their relationships will have newly defined around online presences and ‘profiles’…

And so we march into the exciting technological world; on the cusp of writing a masters dissertation about mobile technologies, I expect to learn more about what users need, what level of technology is expected, but also I know that, as with so much, it will become vastly outdated in a very short amount of time by the vast new superseding tools which will soon envelope us. Will we control technology or will technology control us?