Saturday, 12 March 2011


            I had just finished throwing up when I heard someone calling my name from outside.  Licking the bitter saliva from my lips and spitting it into the toilet, I turned to leave the cubicle.  On opening the door and seeing the bathroom, I was once again punched in the xiphisternum by my conscience which almost put me down to one knee; a slight stumble.  Appropriately, it felt as though I had been punched by the tip of a sword.
            The door frame is a reliable wing man to every drunk, as it was to me at that moment.
            The green marble on the walls and the sincere expression on the face of the Nigerian immigrant worker selling a spray of cologne for £1 forced me to choke back a snort at the presentation of this juxtaposition. He is a big man, and I could tell by the way his cheap shirt pulls at his trapezius that he either spends a lot of time with a pull up bar or he has a second job carrying heavy loads.  Probably both.  From the compassion displayed in his eyes; despite no doubt being paid less than minimum wage and having to play Houdini multiple times a night in situations where aggressive drunks who have been stood up too many times in one night want to take their frustration out on someone, I could also deduce he was most probably in the country on a student visa and restricted to working only 20 hours a week.

            “Would Sir care to splash his face with some cold water?”
            I shook my head but offered a man-smile, the type where you kiss your teeth but press your lips together firmly.  Again, I heard my name.  And the nausea returned.
            I had just finished giving a talk when I was hit with the first wave of nausea.  I looked down at my Oxfords, curious as to why they felt like cement blocks and my head started swimming.  My freshly pressed and bespoke Thomas Pink shirt, bought for the occasion suddenly felt like a whalebone corset.  My hands, white at the knuckles, were holding onto the wooden lectern as if to choke any potential life out of it.  I'm sure the audience are applauding but I can hear nothing.

            The ugliness of being floods into my consciousness and I can't tell myself apart from the paintings that adorn the walls.  Have my emotions been painted onto me?  Perhaps deft brush strokes with a careful but purposeful hand have crafted this moment and continue to craft each new one.  No.  Talking about tertiary economic activity and how to implement cheap immigrant labour was a choice, I realized.  I realized this for the first time in my life at that precise moment.

            At least the paintings, whose existence is defined by their being, do not need to comprehend or face a choice, never mind deny one.  Because that's what I had been doing.  Education was a choice.  Employment was a choice.  Snorting from the very lap of Columbia was a choice.  These things can present anyone with problems of the conscience, such as:

The problem that in order to gain the PhD supervision necessary for progress, you may have sabotaged the preparation of more than one person with the help of a keystroke logger, which records the key presses on a keyboard.  Very handy for discovering passwords.

Or, the problem that you may have hand-picked illegal immigrants for jobs that barely paid enough to cover the bus travel to and from work every day; and dangled the carrot of a full-time contract in front of them so much that they literally begged for the stick of no lunch break and 14 hour days.

            These problems play on the mind unless they are written off.
            You did not have any choice in the matter.
            Your hand was forced.
            You could have done differently, theoretically, but you live in the real world where bills need to be paid and reputation is key to having a good life.

            With my audience facing me expectantly, I made the first real choice of my life.  By that I mean for the first time in my life I was fully aware that my actions were always a choice and by denying I had a choice in every action I took meant denying I was a human being and more importantly, denying from myself that other people existed as separate social agents and not merely objects to be impressed or scorned.

            I did the only thing I could think of at the time.  Every action is a choice.  I raised my hands, palms facing the audience as a signal to stop applauding.  I was persistent so they knew I was not simply feigning modesty.  When silence fell over my audience I turned my hands around, so that my sweating palms faced me instead, balled my hands into fists and raised the middle finger on each hand.  With my hands still raised I took full advantage of my lapel microphone to address the crowd.
            “Fuck you.  Fuck you very much.  You are all parasites”

            And I walked off stage.

Serenity is not something you would associate with a man who had just insulted a large audience but that is the only emotion I felt.  Well, it was the first emotion I felt.  The serenity of facing up to the transcendent nature of being human was shortly replaced by the sharp impact of a colon gripping cold sweat which you most definitely would associate with a man who had just insulted a large audience.

            Every action is a choice.

I tipped that large Nigerian man very well.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Abandoning Facebook

After posting my last blog regarding social media, I felt a bit of a hypocrite.  I use Facebook more than most people I know, but usually only in short bursts on my phone.  Nevertheless, being constantly connected to Facebook meant I never missed anything and was able to comment on and reply to everything instantly.  Some would say this was a great thing and a step forward.  I think of myself as being very honest with myself and it wasn't until I wrote the last blog post on social media that I realised what the real cost of Facebook was for me. I'm sure if you use Twitter more than Facebook, this may also apply.

The first issue is the dissociation between online and offline society.  My offline society (what a cynic would call "real life") consists of classmates at university, of whom in a class of 72, I regularly speak to maybe 10 at the most in any depth; my closer friends and family which number around 10 and include the guys I grapple and spar with.  That's a close network of about 20 off the top of my head.  My Facebook society numbered around 250, most of which are acquaintances or classmates I rarely speak to, or people I knew previously but don't really talk to any more.  I'm a very sociable person and will speak to anyone about anything at any time, however real-time interaction with people I regularly only interact with online seems to have affected my attention and ability to converse in real life.  Performance wise, I converse in the same way as before but mentally, there are relatively large pauses and gaps where my typing would have been before.  I also have found myself wanting for words more often than I would have previously.  I can only assume this is where I would be putting a word into Google to check I'm using it in the right context.  The thing is, I don't ever need to do this - I only do it because the opportunity is there online.  So my online interactions change my offline interactions and conversations in a negative manner.  I have usually been known by friends as a pretty fast thinker, especially with humorous retorts but there have been more than a few occasions where I could not think of anything to say, funny or otherwise.

Another issue which comes to mind regarding Facebook is the intense interest in the minutiae of a passing acquaintances life.  Because information is passed so fast, unsubstantiated rumour can be widespread in minutes, and an enormous game of Chinese whispers can change the original meanings beyond comprehension. The problems of real-time text only interaction are not new but because the inter-relations resemble a huge Venn diagram on Facebook, it presents a whole new problem.  The main problem I have personally is the one of not interpreting intended meaning.  This is just an aside though.  My main issue is with the first point I raised.

Because of this, I have deleted my Facebook profile.  My studies have been affected by distractions (not just the internet) and so I have constantly asked myself what a scholar of the 19th century would do in this situation.  Facebook is not one of them.  Maybe blogging isn't either, but I'm not playing at being a scholar all the time...