Tag Archives: Twitter

Inspiration is everywhere

If there is one thing I have learnt from the last couple of weeks of reactions to the London Olympics on the social media sites, it is that you can look at event of this nature and see whatever takes your fancy. All manner of commentators from an array of political standpoints have been able to use the Games to support their previously held views. As pal and mortal bath-dweller, Mark Woff so eloquently puts it:

There seem to be thousands of humans spending hundreds of hours commenting on threads with such earnestness, glibness, vitriol, lack of self-awareness… one wonders what drives it. More crassness in people hissing comments over the Twitterfeeds at athletes, people seeing and sustaining the dark side everywhere…

And yes, there was plenty to hate, especially the grasping behaviour of some of the companies involved, the empty seats a slap in the face for everyone who had tried to get tickets in the ballot and failedincluding athletes’ familiesthe Tory MP who deemed the celebration of British accomplishments in the opening ceremony to be ‘leftie multicultural crap’. All buzz-killers.

But also, yes, plenty to celebrate, even for those of us in parts of the world who had to experience serious sleep deprivation to follow our heroes. I don’t know if I have failed or passed the Norman Tebbit ‘cricket test’, but I have been keeping an eye on the Japanese victories as much as the TeamGB ones, if only because national broadcaster NHK seemed to have a policy of only showing events Japan was doing well at.

Japan’s women footballers – nicknamed the ‘Nadeshiko’ after the name of a flower – may have been disappointed not to stun the US again following their victory in last year’s World Cup, but showed a lot of heart to take the silver. The game could have gone their way if they had taken all their chances, but they still surpassed the men’s team and – perhaps – earned a seat in business class on the way home.

Seen from here, where gender equality lags far behind that of comparable countries, the most inspirational outcome has been the pleasure Japan has taken in the success of its female athletes, especially in wrestling, table tennis and judo. It is too soon to tell if that will be enough to overcome the workplace inequalities, lack of affordable childcare and adherence to traditional gender roles common to most of Japan. Hopefully it is a start.

In addition to this celebration of the kids at school who were really good at running and suchlike, there was good news for the ones who prefer to be nose-deep in a book too. NASA managed to land a robot the size of a small car on Mars, following a journey of eight months and a landing by way of a sky crane and parachute. Sending back pictures, communicating via Twitter – both on 100% real and verified, as well as the predictable but still funny spoof feeds – the Curiosity should be enough to get us dreaming of space again.

And so, just as every other commentator has used these events to reinforce whatever it was they already believed about something, so I choose to see them as a light in the dark, proof that so long as there are people prepared to risk it all, work harder than the self-confessed lazies like myself ever could to push their minds and bodies to achieve more than was thought possible, we might not be quite as doomed a species as previously suspected. Who knows what our future could hold?

If we can sparkle he may land tonight

- David Bowie, Starman

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Content creation

There is a commonly held belief that in these days of social media, what we do is manufacture content. How many times have you been told that when you use Facebook or similar sites, you are not the customer, you are the product? Your engagement, your clicks, your likes, these are the items that are being sold, and for huge numbers if the Instagram purchase is taken as evidence.

This is, after all, the way of our new product-based civilization — in order to participate as a citizen of the social web, you must yourself manufacture content.

And manufacture it we do, every occasion photographed and uploaded, often before even saying farewell to our companions, for every location a check-in, every issue from the critical to the trivial can be extensively and rabidly commented upon. We must be the generation both with the greatest opportunity to express ourselves and the least inclination to notice when others do the same – who can say that they regularly keep up with everything they have bookmarked or flagged? Most days, scratching the surface and sharing a little of what we have unearthed is the best that can be hoped for.

A camera-phone photograph is a captured moment, a tweet or a status update is a passing thought crystallised. None of them are meant to stand for eternity, perhaps for the first time our means of recording what goes on around us are designed to have a transitory quality (if you don’t believe me, try searching for tweets you wrote more than a year ago as I did when writing The Teas That Bind, it was the biggest headache of the whole process).

So, where does that leave those creators, the writers, photographers and artists who are trying to produce something of more lasting value? In this eloquent exploration of ‘the Facebook Problem’ for photographers by Martin Parr – a photographer who relies on a seeming lack of awareness of the camera on the part of his subjects – he notes that:

[n]ot having everyone looking at you in these situations is a major achievement.

As we have become more aware of our roles as content creators, so we are also developing a more heightened sense of our public image, so that calls for unflattering photographs to be deleted and retaken are now so routine that they pass without comment except in jest. Few of us, I expect, would be happy with an unfavourable photograph being displayed on the internet, even if the button was clicked by a legend like Mr Parr.

For writers the social media problem is often one of focus, as when everything ever written is available for you to read – often via the same machine you are attempting to use to create – it takes a strong soul to turn away from the delicious yet distracting fruit being proffered. Writer Sean Lotman notes, in this interview with the Diverse Arts Project:

[Doing art] … entails removing yourself from the outer world with its tweets and status updates and general distractions. It’s not easy to do. In fact, it can be like hitting your head against the wall…  it’s easy to be influenced by others’ work.

It appears to me that creators are caught on the horns of a twin dilemma, building your social media presence to establish an audience for your work takes you away from doing the work that the audience are meant to be appreciating. Investing time in the creation of vibrant online presences will only enhance the wealth of some Silicone Valley entrepreneurs. Hell, at least in the ‘bad old days’ the writers and photographers routinely got paid, without having to send emails like this.

In that case, why do it at all? Back to Sean Lotman for a final word:

Don’t expect to get rich or famous. Don’t let your ego be manipulated by ‘views,’ ‘faves,’ or ‘likes.’ The best art is rendered because it had to be. You don’t have a choice in its creation.

The only choice, then, might be who you create the content for. That being the case, be sure to choose wisely.

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The Arab Awakening – Tweets from Tahrir

For someone who sat on the sidelines cheering on the revolution of 12 months ago and who still wishes to see Egyptians achieve all they dream of for their country, this film from Al Jazeera English is moving and inspirational.   I cannot recommend it highly enough – you must watch it.

And if you haven’t yet read a copy of the book that informed the documentary, the excellent Tweets from Tahrir – compiled from real-time tweets and pictures as events in the Square unfolded – be sure to rectify that immediately.

The Egyptian revolution famously became known as the first Twitter revolution.  Both the film and the book show how that happened, although as blogger and activist Tarek Shalaby notes in the film, if the revolutionaries hadn’t had Twitter, they would have used something else!  Still, this is a demonstration of how to use social media for something more lasting than the dissemination of memes and LOLZ.  Let’s hope it can be followed in other squares before too long.

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Sayonara

The shot pools clouds of confusion behind my eyes.  Somewhere overhead, the pub stereo plays songs by bands from the distant towns I grew up in.  It’s getting closer to the time to say goodbye.  As the alcohol mists over everything, I try to hold onto a stray thought, knowing otherwise it will be lost for good.

There are some people you want to stay friends with forever.

But the expat life is one of hellos and goodbyes, neatly slicing lines between those that are staying and those moving on.  Natural and man-made disasters abruptly speed up the churn until it seems like a constant round of farewells and greetings.  In the midst of this whirl, some you meet will matter more than the length of time spent together would usually warrant, not because you agree with them on everything, but because the manner of the disagreement feels too enjoyable to do without.  Each of you sure of the rightness of the point, yelling across the pub’s background noise, yet hardly able to remember a day later what it was or why it seemed so important.

Then there are the other creatives, so sure of their demands and so uncompromising in their execution that watching them work provides more than the obvious ‘inspiration’.  Instead, it feels closer to having a fire lit under you, being spurred to only produce what will deliver equivalent highs.  Learn as you go, but work without fear and without compromise.  Keep to your own standards and ignore the chatter.  Set out a list of rules then disregard them anyway.  Don’t pick fights with the Metropolitan Police Department.  That’s what I’ve picked up from only one month of knowing probably the mouthiest guy to take on Tokyo with a camera.  It’s been ace and I hope it’s not the last time our paths cross.  Safe travels to him and to the two cute dogs and watch yourself, England – he’ll be landing soon.

Sayonara, Charlie!

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Jishin-yoi: the feeling of earthquake drunkenness

It usually starts with a jolt.  If walking or standing, I notice the ground beneath my feet start to move, or if sitting I feel it along my spine.  I brace myself for what is coming, look up at the light switch to see if it is moving…

… but nothing.

Check Twitter but there are no messages saying ‘quake!’ or, as we have got used to them and levity has crept in, ‘first!’  No reports from the Meteorological Agency announce an aftershock has been recorded.  If there are other people around, my friends or students or coworkers, they do not seem to have noticed anything amiss.  I shrug my shoulders, try to escape the sense of unease and get back to whatever it was I was doing.  It must have been what I have started to think of as another ‘ghost aftershock’.

So I was perhaps gladdened, perhaps saddened to read this story from the Tokyo Times today.  On the one hand, it is nice to know that I am not going completely insane, that this is a recognised side-effect of being somewhere shaky.  As a Liverpool lass, I am also reassured to discover that this feeling is shared with sailors returning home after a long sea voyage.

The sadness comes from realising that, as with so much of the post-quake effects, however bad it is here, others have it so much worse.  A slight sense of giddiness every now and then is nothing compared to those in Northern Japan who have suffered panic attacks, fevers, vomiting and falling down, in addition to the many other physical and mental hardships they have had to endure.

Earthquake drunkenness will, I suspect, go away given enough time.  A recent visit to Kyoto, which sits on a different plate to Tokyo, saw the ghost aftershocks disappear completely for the duration of my stay.  Yet there are many serious problems affecting Tohoku for which people can’t wait for time to do its healing work, instead, help is needed much sooner.

So please, grab yourself a copy of #quakebook while I grab myself a glass of something fine and single malt-like.  It may not be strictly orthodox medical advice, still I reason, if you are going to be affected by ghost drunkenness, you might as well try to chase it away with the real kind!

Whisky glass and bottle on my desk, with postcard of ship at the Pier Head, Liverpool

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Stories from Japan

Stories from Japan that caught my eye this week.

First, a lovely report, in which Tokyo-based Italian chefs got together to help the people of Iwate in the best way possible: by providing some yummy pasta:

People enjoyed the food and some even asked whether they could take the leftovers home

commented Marco Staccioli, founder of the charity project.  I am sure it was very much appreciated, Italian food is well-loved in Japan and I bet there wasn’t much left over at all!

Next, survivors of the tsunami in Miyagi have been helping each other but are still living in desperate circumstances, more than two months after the disaster.  Over three hundred people are crowded into the 20 remaining buildings in one village, with ongoing concerns about their livelihoods:

People are worried and frustrated after losing their homes and jobs. We don’t see much hope in getting our lives back together

 – Keiichi Abe, head of the Omotehama branch of the Miyagi prefectural fisheries cooperative

Last, via Jake Adelstein on Twitter, a dilemma many of us will hopefully never have to face, to save yourself or help others, knowing that you will lose your life if you do?

These and other stories show that, while much good is being done, there is more still to do to attend to people’s ongoing physical needs, as well as the mental stresses from the events witnessed and the uncertainty that has followed.  If you are looking for more Sunday reading and keen to do your bit to help, then please grab a copy of Quakebook!

And here are some absolutely gorgeous hand-coloured images of Japan in the 1920s to feast your eyes on.  Given that I am spending this weekend glued to the katakana, I think this one may be my favourite:

I know how he feels.

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Quakebook

I have been incredibly impressed with Twitter since 11 March.  The earth had hardly stopped shaking before friends around the globe were using the service to get in touch, checking that I was still in one piece and sending their good wishes.  Some time later, when it became apparent that the Tokyo transport network was going to remain out of action for a while, and when phone calls didn’t connect and emails (the Japanese version of SMS text messages) were impossible to send, miraculously Twitter was still working.

It was a real comfort to be in contact with people I ‘know’, both in the real-life sense and because we follow each other, as well as to be able to gather essential information such as the location of Tokyo’s emergency shelters and, more importantly, on the tragedy that was still unfolding in northern Japan.

The real-time, verifiable nature of posts on Twitter has been constantly illuminating, with even entities such as the Japanese Prime Minister and the UK Foreign Office now using it.  The latest reports from the Fukushima plant, Geiger counter readings from Tokyo rooftops, news about train stoppages and planned blackouts, calls for volunteers to sort relief packages, donation appeals and more have all been shared between residents of Japan and other countries at a pace undreamt of by the newspapers and magazines.

Then, just as I thought I couldn’t love it any more, being already prepared to fight to the death anyone dismissing it as trivial, last week Twitter upped an already quite high ante.  Galvanised by an appeal from Our Man in Abiko for assistance, an international array of writers, artists, translators, designers and editors has volunteered time and effort to create what has come to be known as #quakebook to raise money for the Japanese Red Cross.

Watching #quakebook move from one man’s idea to reality in such a short time has been an inspiration.  However, now it is time for the real work to begin.  Quakebook needs YOU, not only to buy a copy, but to tell your friends and family, to pester everyone you work with or sit next to on the bus, to spread the word as far and as wide as you can to make sure that loads of people buy a copy of this remarkable book.  It isn’t about ego, or glory, or even about the tale of how it went from one little tweet to an actual thing.  Now it is only about raising stacks and stacks of cold, hard cash for the people affected by the earthquake of 11 March.  So please, get involved.

Abiko expects.

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Rough day

Yesterday was tough.  The first full day back to work since the earthquake was always going to be something of a shock to the system and naturally there was only one main theme of conversation for the adult students.  Where were you, what did you see and exactly how long did it take you to get home?

There was also a genuine curiosity as to how a real live foreigner is reacting to the crisis.  Maybe they have read about the ‘flyjin‘ and are surprised to see that some of us have stayed, but there was also genuine concern for my safety, some checking that I knew what to do during a quake and enquiries as to how my family felt about me still being here.

It felt slightly strange to be providing reassurance that I felt safe, knew that I should open a door and duck under a table, that I had huge faith in Japanese engineering and building technology after seeing how little damage there had been in central Tokyo.  I am not entirely sure if I was trying to comfort those listening or myself.  As students told me that they jumped every time they heard a strange noise in the office, that they were buying bottled water as a precaution for their daughters or that a 30-minute commute home had taken seven hours to complete, I wondered whether we would ever be able to return to ‘normal’.

I also wondered what this was accomplishing, feeling equally powerless to assist in the face of such devastation or a student’s sudden tears.  So I came home, opened a bottle of wine, heard from some amazing people on Twitter and then regained a sense of perspective.  I didn’t have a tough day at work.  It was perhaps a little rougher than usual, but not in any way tough.  If you want to see some people who had a tough day at work yesterday, click here.

The Fukushima 50 are risking everything to keep everyone in Japan safe.  So next time I feel like having a whinge, I will be thinking of everything they are going through and lifting my chin a little higher.

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Five tweet story

This sorry tale was posted on twitter earlier, after I had been talking to @the3eyedboy about tweeting very short stories, although he managed to keep his to just one tweet per tale.

Still, I am happy with the way it came out, and looking forward to using twitter again to see what I can create.  If you have any thoughts on stories, twitter or zombie escape plans, let me know in the comments!

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The Simple, Angry Men Of 10 O’Clock Live

Julia hasn’t been watching a lot of UK television lately, so here’s writer Nick Bryan with a guest post on Channel 4’s latest attempt to ‘do’ politics:

Like many in the left-leaning, Twitter-abusing internet world, I’ve been watching Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock Live with interest. Featuring high-profile funny folk taking a swipe at the news, it seems to have launched well.

People are watching it, there are the speed bumps you’d expect from a live transmission written in a hurry, but I think it hits the mark more than it misses. Still, as the weeks go by, I start to feel they might be punching at straw men a little.

I’m not a radicalised liberal. I possess many such opinions but don’t need to take to the streets and enforce them with my fists. So although it is irritating when hardline conservatives (note the lower case C) portray all Muslims as terrorists or all disabled people as lazy, it’s also annoying when their opponents portray David Cameron as a cackling super-villain, or all bankers as snickering pigs.

At this point, I’d like to go beyond 10 O’Clock Live, as they are merely a high-profile example. If left-leaning folk want me to dislike the coalition government (and I sense that they do), explain to me properly why I should stir my venom.

Otherwise, even if I find you amusing on TV or read your column for a laugh whilst procrastinating, I’m still going to write your sincere point off as the rantings of a psychopath in the end. You mustn’t stop trying to be rational because you think most of your audience are already sympathetic.

It is possible to pull off a rant with a persuasive serious point, in fact David Mitchell did a sterling job on a recent 10 O’Clock Live, but once it spills over into raving venom, you lose your audience. Yes, I know what satire is, but putting mean words next to David Cameron’s face isn’t cunning subversion.

In fact, much like the politicians themselves running for election, you have to appeal to the centre. We live in a country where the S*n is the best-selling newspaper by far. Don’t be fooled by the disproportionate number of lefty media types on Twitter, the liberals are vastly outnumbered.

So preaching to the choir isn’t going to get your online petition up to the amount of signatures needed for anyone to give a damn. And if all this turns into a full-on hate campaign against David Cameron, it’s going to energise support for him anyway; we British love an underdog.

Be smart. Stop gibbering at me.

So what do you think? Is there a place for a good, smart funny rant at Cameron’s expense on prime time TV, or is it just pandering to the gallery? Let us know in the comments

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