Sunday, May 29, 2011

Feeling jaded by social media. First, it's exhausting to try to keep up with the pace of discussion. It's a damn waste of time when I have so much else I should be doing. And that time isn't even well spent. I feel like I give to it and don't get back.

Second, I am on there for professional reasons but I feel like a lame failure in the face of all these people talking about all the very exciting and clever and prestigious things they're doing. I feel very remote from it all, as though everyone else is kicking goals except me, and even if I were to kick a goal myself nobody would notice.

Third, I treat it like a substitute for real interaction because I just sit at my desk by myself for large chunks of each day. But it's not as rewarding. It's so easy to think you're 'conversing' by trading throwaway lines, 'likes', funny links, etc, but you're not. What does it really mean? What kind of lasting connection are you really building? Looking for genuine support and companionship from social media feels like shouting down a well.

Fourth, I feel sad that I am not a peer influencer; that I can't galvanise and enthuse other people, and make events happen. Sometimes I check the stats on the links I tweet, and only one or two or three people have even clicked on the link. For instance, I really wanted to start up a singing group, but only about five people said they'd definitely do it, and they were all women, and I find the idea of being in charge of a 'women's choir' really embarrassing and repellent as this implies chunky amber beads, woollen wraps and cropped wide-legged pants worn with boots. And salt-and-pepper pixie cuts. And red leather jackets.

Fifth, and I guess at the root of all this, is that I am feeling very sad and lonely and exhausted and mediocre, but nobody wants to read about that. Social media really foreground that requirement to 'perform' oneself in a way that's palatable to others. At least here on my own blog I have an excuse to go on about myself.

I am so annoyed with myself that I find it impossible to stay away from social media when it is so hollow and unrewarding.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hipster crime. Today I was sitting in the window at North and noticed the girl next to me was working on a MacBook that was the spitting image of mine, which was stolen when my house was burgled over Easter! It was even in a red leather case identical to the one I kept my computer in.

"Excuse me, but how long have you had this computer?" I asked.
"About a year," she said.

She let me examine the computer and the case. My computer had a pinkish smudge on the back of the screen where the case had rubbed on it; this computer didn't. My space bar was worn; this one's wasn't. My N key was wearing off; this one's wasn't. So it wasn't my computer.

But being a paranoid sort, I couldn't help wondering: what if she knew she'd only recently bought it from a friend of a friend at the pub, and here she was now, confronted by someone saying they'd had a computer just like it stolen? Would she own up to it? Would she let me check her computer's serial number against my stolen computer? Or would she lie and say, "Oh, I've had this computer for about a year?"

It's a cliché of hipsterism that while it obsessively mines the past, it doesn't want to put that past in context. (Perhaps this is true of people in general, and not just hipsters.) You shop at vintage stores and op-shops, but you don't like to think about who owned, wore and used those things before you. Instead, you empty them of specific meaning, retaining only their use-value to you, now, or their generic value as representative objects of their type.

So, it isn't that silly a possibility that someone might not want to confront the fact that the computer they just got at a bargain price, while 'new' to them, actually has a history that incorporates a crime in which they, as the 'new user', are implicated.

I was also pondering how hipsters are happy to 'steal' and deal in 'stolen' goods without compunction, when those goods are digital music and video files, software, or anything perceived to be in public space without obvious signs of ownership – for example, things abandoned on the street or left behind in cafés, bars, cinemas, etc.

Those piracy ads saying "You wouldn't steal a handbag!" are idiotic because they don't recognise that hipsters steal when it's easy, casual and opportunistic, when there's a culture of peer acceptance rather than peer shame, when the chances of being caught are low, and when they aren't confronted with actually having to dispossess someone else. Perhaps hipsters would steal a handbag… if that bag were sitting on a chair in a bar, and their friends assured them it didn't belong to anybody.

However, I have another theory about hipster crime: that it can be vindictive. Hipsters don't glass each other in pubs for fun, or on thuggish pretexts like "are you looking at me?!!" Only if they have a history of disliking the glassee.

You can get drunk, throw a television and kill your housemate's cat. You can punish your ex-girlfriend by stabbing her fish. You can vengefully snap the spokes on someone's fixie. You can slash your housemate's finger in fury after he tells you to turn down your music, then he calls the cops on you, and when you get back from jail you find someone has ransacked your room and stolen cash and valuables.

But hipster crime can also encompass fraud and confidence crime (see Hipster Grifter), because hipsterism is built on bullshitting. The same skills of written and verbal persuasion, fluid personal identities and job mobility that serve hipsters so well can be put to work scamming people and then skipping town. Hipster communities are also much the same across the world, and are good at assimilating newcomers with shady backstories.

I got to making a mental list of which crimes hipsters would and wouldn't commit. Street muggings: no (too much premeditation; involves confronting the victim). Shoplifting: yes (cool associations with Winona Ryder; nostalgic associations with teen rebellion; righteous feeling that evil corporations deserve to be robbed). Drugs: yes (necessary for partying; scary original sources obscured in long, complex distribution chain). Vandalism: yes (especially in the course of drunken revelry, as 'street art', or in retaliation to a previous grievance). Rape: yes (offence happens in private and victim can be smeared as not 'chilled', a 'crazy bitch' or a 'slut'). Murder: only accidentally or in moment of anger. Gun crime: no (obtaining a gun legally is too much work; getting one illegally is too scary). Knife crime: only accidentally or in moment of anger (carrying blades is 'too ethnic').

Of course this is all just me stewing in my paranoia over my stolen computer, and has no empirical basis whatsoever.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Books I've read in 2011. This doesn't seem like nearly as many as I thought I'd read, but it works out to roughly a book a week. I also tried to read Zero History by William Gibson but I found it really tough going, which is odd since I enjoyed its prequel Spook Country so much last year.

You can also pick up the shameful trend of 'books that have been turned into movies'. This is a longstanding weakness of mine as you will see from my bookshelves. In some cases I read the book to prepare for the movie; in other cases I saw the movie first and then was inspired to read the book.

And I have just learned (via looking up Chris O'Dowd, aka, "the Irish guy from The IT Crowd", on IMDB) that they've made a BBC costume-drama miniseries of The Crimson Petal and the White, for which I am absolutely jonesing because I adored that book. It features Shirley Henderson (whom I adored when she played Marie Melmotte in The Way We Live Now – another incredibly satisfying BBC costume miniseries), and Gillian Anderson plays Sugar's mother, the madam Mrs Castaway!!!

I just would like to put it on record, however, that I never saw Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole.

Others on this list are books I pick up from secondhand bookshops and op-shops. One such was State of Decay, which is an SF conspiracy thriller set in a dystopian America in which foreign wars are fought by cybernetically reanimated corpses – 'revivors'. (They reminded me of a combination of the Cauldron-Born in Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain and Asimov's robots.) I enjoyed the procedural plot and the richness of the detail with which Knapp sketches class strata and the logistics and metaphysics of revivors. It kind of lost steam at the end, but it was definitely an absorbing read and hence brilliantly fulfilled its purpose, which is to temporarily escape my terrible life by reading books over café meals.

Other books are ones I requested to review. That includes Things Bogans Like, which funnily enough, I did not like. (Can I also just say, while I'm on the topic, that I was absolutely mortified by the way errors were introduced into that review during copy-editing, for which I was then crucified in the comments.) However, most books were intended for The Enthusiast but so far I haven't got to them. I just feel full of despair and self-hatred, well, generally, but also whenever I think about my aspirations for that site and how short I fall of them.

I am especially ashamed that some of these authors are friends of mine and I felt an obligation to them to get word out about their books (which I really enjoyed!). While I was looking through my bookshelves I also saw other books written by friends, published last year, that I meant to review but never got around to, and a fresh wave of shame threatened to swamp me.

Some of the books are also for my book club. Tomorrow we will be discussing Wolf Hall. Judging from early reactions, I think I'll be the only person who enjoyed it (apart from the club member who suggested it). I found it vivid, evocative and startlingly contemporary, even as it narrates familiar, 500-year-old events, and it was a nice contrast with A Man For All Seasons. Thomas Cromwell emerges as an astute, cosmopolitan political operator with a bone-dry wit… but also with a heart.

Anyway, here are the books.

Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris
Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris
An Ice Cold Grave by Charlaine Harris
Wicked by Gregory Maguire
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
The Apple by Michel Faber
The Guardians Of Ga'Hoole: The Capture by Kathryn Lasky
Things Bogans Like by E Chas McSween et al
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Black Glass by Meg Mundell
August by Bernard Beckett
Little People by Jane Sullivan
True Grit by Charles Portis
The UFO Diaries by Martin Plowman
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
State of Decay by James Knapp
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The President's Vampire by Christopher Farnsworth
Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris
The City and the City by China Miéville

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