March 23, 2007

Here’s a topic likely to drive the wrong sort of traffic to my site. First thing’s first: this is not pornography. This is not voyeurism, as such. It is, however, about empowerment.

I spotted on Flickr a set entitled Support Topless Women. Now you see why I placed the disclaimer at the top of the post; no doubt this entry will attract attention either via Google or via the various appropriate tags.

The purpose of the set seems vague. Certainly the last photo in the set celebrates a woman’s right to be topless in public in one part of New York. Which brings up the question: why, in the enlightened 21st century, is it actually an offence in some places for a woman to walk around topless?

Let’s think about this.

Primary sexual characteristics are those parts that are required for natural procreation. The external genitalia, to use such a horrendously clinical term, are the bits that we can see and, erm, touch. I can understand people covering these parts, for reasons of hygiene, dignity, etc. The other guys on the street don’t need to be embarrassed when I gleefully swing past them, for example.

Secondary sexual organs are the bits that help define us. Things like facial hair, muscular definition and strength, general body shape, placement and volume of body hair, placement of body fat, etc. The things that make women women, and men men. These things are never as ubiquitously offensive as, say, a naked penis in the bakery section of the local grocery store. Some people may be offended by a muscular man, just as some may be offended by a naked breast, just as some may be offended by a hairy back.

So why exactly is a naked breast considered illegal by some, while a hairy back is not? I’d wager that more people would find a hairy back more offensive these days than a naked breast.

Of course, I can understand that the idea of exposing breasts on the street as casually as you would a Somerfield bag is a scary one, especially given the number of men around who barely manage to scrape together the requirements to join the human race. But that’s not my point.

Why is the naked breast, arguably a thing of beauty in the same way the rest of the human body is, such an offensive thing to some people?


March 20, 2007

I’ve spent years now buried in an academic environment. I enjoy it. I’m enough of a nerd that I naturally bury myself in abstract ideas and play with them until I’m satisfied. I then get really bored and have to find new ideas to play with. I always notice though that I’m not of an academic background. I’m not naturally a part of this social elite. I don’t share the same humour, I don’t like the same activities or pass times. That’s fine by me, but I do wonder what it means for me, for my life, as a whole.

I grew up in a fairly average household. Money was not always readily available, and such things as a new TV were often an extreme luxury. I was truly lucky one year that my birthday and Christmas were combined to present to me my first personal computer. I’m neither the son of academics nor well paid professionals. Few in my family have any degree at all, but I’ve got two and will complete my third at some point in the future. I’d go so far as to say I’m fairly bright, but also that I found my niche early in life.

Even back at school, I built up a strong collection of friends and teachers who acknowledged my technical skill and natural intelligence for some types of work. But through all this, I never properly connected with the “nerds” at school. Given my other interests, you’d think I would have connected with them easily. I did try things like Warhammer 40k, Magic: the Gathering, etc, but I never really got these things. I could play, but I was never passionate about them. Through all this, I maintained a core of “normal” friends, if there really is such a thing as normal. You know, friends who were more into music and girls. That’s what I wanted to talk about. It’s what I thought about in private that led me on a different path than most.

I’ve worked in some fairly low-end, blue-collar jobs over the years, and they were really fun. Difficult, hard work, painful, stressful-like-academics-don’t-understand, but above all else shared with people in the same position. The sense of team, the sense of camaraderie, was astounding. These were normal people. They openly looked at the porno mag somebody “found” on their way to work. They joked about bodily functions. They got annoyed when the can machine gobbled their 50pence and they didn’t get their can of Coke (or got excited when it produced two cans for the price of one). They got annoyed by real things, and were amused by real things. Real life. They carried real life with them, no matter where they were.

Yet people in academia, and presumably some other professions, aren’t like this. In professional circles, people don’t dare allow real life in. And you know what? The conversation in these environments is often pointless, staid, and fucking boring.

To this day, I truly enjoy the company of friends outside of work. Real people, real life problems. Friends who work in call centres, bars, hotels, estate agents, etc. Actual jobs, generally doing actual things. I would have much more fun going to a gig with a friend who isn’t afraid to let go and enjoy the experience, than the colleagues who go running together. I enjoy people who are happy to have fun, rather than feel the need that they have to be achieving something at all times. I don’t give a damn how far my colleagues ran last week. I do care that the guys on stage in front of me can’t play for shit, but somehow the energy and emotion in the room transcends that. The things that matter to us shouldn’t be about achievement, they should be about emotion.

I have a constant internal struggle with all this stuff. I understand normal people better than I’ll ever understand an academic. To this end, I deliberately don’t live in the upper-class portion of this city, I don’t drive a car, and I always take public transport where possible. And yet my thoughts occupy an academic space without effort. So, which world do I fit into? Writing papers, reviewing papers, working on and building abstract concepts: these are all easy things to do. They might be difficult to get right, but they’re easy to do: I only have to think and type, and can generally take breaks when I please. That’s different from 13 hours of customer interaction, hard labour, walking, standing, aching feet, sweating, rushing, keeping things together, and grabbing a quick 20 minutes for a snack if you’re lucky. Doing real work is something that I miss.

These thoughts were crystallised by my previous post. The perception of many will be that the ex is holding down a low-end, low-pay job, and that any trained monkey could take her place. But so many people spend their days sitting in an office pushing paper around, not contributing to the world in any way, and often not doing anything that directly affects another human being. So, I ask you, whose job is more important?

I felt like my job meant more when I was pouring beer. I know that the job was certainly way more difficult. And yet it pays less because it requires less mental abstraction.


March 16, 2007

I don’t get Twitter. I just don’t. I didn’t get it the first time I saw it. I don’t get it now. I probably won’t ever get it. Clearly, I’m not down with the cool kids. I’m not the only one who doesn’t like it.

I do see a certain nicety in knowing what people are doing on a moment-by-moment basis, but it’s pure novelty. People like information, people like to know what other people are doing. It’s natural, then, that we quickly attach ourselves to something like Twitter. But I do think interest in Twitter will wane.

Why? Mainly because it actually does take a bit of effort to take part in something so fleeting. To keep Twitter going, you have to have a sort of a dialogue. It’s main target seems to be the office crowd. People sitting bored at their computers waiting to see what their other bored friends are up to. It’s a semi-real time system, and nothing else.

So, kids aren’t going to attach to it all too well (character limit? lack of themability like myspace or bebo?). Professionals may take an interest, but will eventually lose interest (they’ll be busy at some point, and at that point it’s easy to drop unnecessary tasks to never think of again). Honest-to-god adults who still communicate face-to-face obviously won’t have any interest in Twitter at all. The only people I see who might carry it are the people sitting in doing admin in offices or call centres. And, to be horribly crass and condescending, they probably don’t have the motivation to continue pushing their thoughts to Twitter. They’d rather just update their bebo every couple of months with new “drunken pics!!!1”.

I honestly believe that Twitter is the fad of 2007. Remember the Hamster Dance? Oh yeah. This is Hamster Dance, Web 2.0, minus annoying tune and hamsters.