Tag Archives: society

Is it social?

Sunlight streams through the panes of glass, heating up the room to a temperature roughly equal to that of the Gobi Desert, and, reflecting off the slightly off-white of Physics Unit 1 June 2011, it taunts the student with its vitamin D-filled mockery.

Yes, it’s examination time again, that time when hours of sunlight and hours of time spent indoors with one’s nose either in past papers or textbooks are seemingly proportional.

For one student, of apparently unknown identity, that somewhat irksome proportionality became less so last week. Partaking in the social media craze of the selfie, one GCSE student snapped themselves in front of a hall full of fellow students and a rather powerless invigilator. The audacious student underwent the cancellation of all their papers and prohibition from public examinations for 5 years – or so they say.

Some of my contemporaries protest that, since no sensitive information was leaked, this is a rather unfair treatment. Mutterings are made about the growing distance between adults and youths as regards social media.

In one respect they’re right. There is a lack of understanding about social media youth culture. But that nescience is not solely confined to adults – youths themselves are unaware of the implications of what they post and where.

This particular selfie was a ridiculous statement of over-confidence which undermines the seriousness of public examinations – punishment has been meted out and hopefully will deter others from behaving in a similar way, despite it being “worth the retweets” according to the instigator.

The concept of the selfie is, in essence, based on a desire for recognition and praise. Most people who post them do not intend viewers to note the nice landscape, cute pet or whatever else the excuse in the tagline may be; they crave ‘likes’. This is prevalent not only with teenage girls and boys, but even, actually, with the older generation.

This is all part of the sub-culture which has sprung up surrounding social media. Numerous users of Facebook are so desperate for attention that they post statuses informing those who are too bored or desperate to scroll past them on their newsfeed that they may receive a like on a profile picture or a compliment on their timeline in return for liking that status. And what, pray, is the point of that exercise? Presumably so that the poster can feel self-satisfied after collecting a certain number of likes for that status, plus the kudos of appearing a popular individual who readily hands out compliments.

Full disclosure: I have a Facebook account. Some of you may have ended up here from Tea With Shortbread’s Facebook page. Before I set up my Facebook account, when I was 15, I used to affirm that I would never get it. This was due to my perception of the culture surrounding it, of which I was already well aware, with my father, as a lawyer whose expertise involves social media, having warned me of it and of whispers of the issues related to it which I heard at school, namely cyber-bullying and relentless showing off (of which one aspect is covered in this post).

I also wanted to keep up with the latest news from celebrities or organisations I liked, principally F1 drivers, and to know what was going on in my year – posts which don’t always emanate self-congratulation or attention-seeking desperation.

Yes, Facebook can be useful. I can now follow the latest tennis tournaments much more easily than on BBC live text or equivalent mass media services, see memorable pictures of my Duke of Edinburgh group battling incessant gradient changes and even see what the PM’s getting up to whilst campaigning.

A limited selfies are actually entertaining, like the one of Michael Gove with some schoolchildren or that selfie which made Mrs Obama so incensed. Selfies can also be useful. A few months ago, someone kickstarted a trend of women/girls posting selfies without make-up on and nominating their friends to do likewise, thus not only raising around £8m in less than a week but superseding the annoying trends of selfies and ‘neknominations’ (the latter led to a few deaths). Even people who never engage in selfies engaged in this, like me, although since I don’t wear make-up I wore a wolf mask instead.

Social media also managed to make a tangible benefit to society in the last year or so as well, with the efforts of terminal cancer patient Stephen Sutton being broadcast on several social media platforms, enabling him to raise almost £4m for the Teenage Cancer Trust by engaging well via social media as well as his indomitable courage.

Social media is not inherently bad. The most basic aims of it is to create better connections with other people online, whether with friends (Facebook), business contacts (LinkedIn) or the wider world (Twitter). That’s basically what parties are for, in the non-online world, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

What is wrong is the way society uses social media for selfish purposes. Cyber-bullying is a selfish attempt for people, often with inferiority complexes or issues of control, to assert some form of domination over a chosen target, and bullying amongst youth is probably at its height amongst the Facebook accounts of Year 8. Many profile pictures are selfish attempts to garner admiration – not all, but many, predominantly youth over-concerned with their image (a major issue for which media in general must take a lot of the blame). Some statuses are also designed to win support, particularly the mysterious ones which don’t specify any particular issue.

There is very little chance this will change, because the human species has the desire, particularly pronounced amongst youth, to win praise and feel appreciated. Social media gives a better platform than ever before for this. It’s time for society to take much more seriously the impact of social media and start trying to rectify some of the more adverse changes before they become indelible.

Picture is of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, whose social media accounts not only spread the best pictures of the collection but also give information about viewing times – an excellent example (picture taken by me at the RAF Waddington International Air Show 2013).


14th February

Yesterday was Friday. There were high winds, fierce periods of rainfall and brief interludes of sunshine, accompanied in the evening by Great Britain’s first Sochi gold medal (congratulations, Lizzie Yarnold) and another excellent re-run of New Tricks.

It also happened to be 14th February; the last movement in the concierto of flurried special offers at restaurants, over-dramatic window displays in shops and rushed film releases. St Valentine’s Day: otherwise infamous of the day when one who happens to be unattached cannot go to the cinema for the purposes of actually watching a film, check social media in the face of a deluge of drenched outpourings of ‘love’ or go out for a meal without coming under intense suspicion.

Against this storm surge of romantic seawater stand the Thames Barriers of anti-Valentine sentiment, decrying the celebration as ‘commercialised’ and ‘false’. But, I opine, the defence is required not only against one day, but rather, as with rainfall, against an almost incessant series of ‘romantic’ declarations throughout the year.

There are certain aspects of the romantic aura which can be preserved. The excellent captioned picture in the title picture would not be possible without that infamous short poem, descended from a collection of nursery rhymes. Moreover, familial events of love, such as christenings, birthday celebrations, marriages and funerals are pillars of our society which should not be erroneously eroded by the derision of anti-romantics. It is not against the actual fundamental principles of courtship or love which I regard with animosity; rather, the way modern society goes about proclaiming it.

Those of us with social media accounts will almost certainly be acquainted with those Facebook timeline posts or direct tweets by X declaring how Y are the best thing that ever happened, that X misses their darling Y with all of their heart, that Y could not sleep for thinking of X or enjoyed their romantic meal with X. And, for everyone except the persons involved, it provokes one of two reactions; either the wet, romanticised exhalation of longing that something similar would befall us (Z), or an expression of disgust and longing that they deactivate their accounts. In neither case does Z, in fact, actually want to view such things, no more than one wants to awkwardly stand beside a couple saying their goodbyes over-fondly whilst waiting for a train, or be forced to avert their gaze as couples declare their mutual undying love in a public place. Those of the first reaction, Za), would not be filled with such feelings of inadequacy or forlorn hope, whilst those of the second, Zb), would be spared the anguish and torment of such things.

Maybe I’m Victorian, archaic in perception, thought and reaction. I certainly belong to Zb). Having had experience of such things sent to me for all the world to read, and feeling sick in the stomach yet being compelled to be thankful, I have first-hand experience of the strain such public exhortations of ‘love’ can place on a relationship. Perhaps befitting a Brit two centuries afore my time, I struggle to cope with any public display of emotion, be it grief, love or pride when concerning personal matters. However, in my opinion – and it is only that – the reason certain people take such pains to tell people they love them is because they in fact do not. Rather than X sending a private message to Y, X posts it as a Facebook status, thereby ensuring friends and family of both all see it, because they are afraid the relationship will struggle, is short-term or is one-sided. Why else would X feel the need to announce it for all the world to see?

Those shaking their heads at this moment will argue that X might be completely in love with Y, assured of the continuance in their relationship and is hence so happy that they want everyone under the sun to know it. I refute this. Every single couple of my acquaintance who could possibly be termed ‘perfect’, ‘long-term’ or such adjectives refrain from such public declarations of their mutual adoration. It is a personal matter. And all of those who take openly to social media to incessantly declare it often break-up within a few months. In fact these public exhortations have the reverse of the desired effect because they highlight that X (the poster) is insecure in the relationship with Y and feels the necessity to declare his love openly in an effort to preserve it.

As I said, perhaps it’s a view framed by a monocle. But think about it. And the next time you feel compelled to openly and ostentatiously announce your love, please do so in private.


Featured image courtesy of “Talk Like Shakespeare Day”.


Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler’s Fuehrerbefehl of attenuating the influence of the Jews in Germany reached down into the educational system, the poisonous anti-Semitism dripping through and contaminating even elementary education. In primary school, one learnt the ‘distinguishing features’ of a Jew (big noses, protruding foreheads and close-set eyes, according to the contemporary racial stereotype), was incited to deride those marked with the yellow Star of David and to despise them upon sight. Upon progression into secondary school, in addition to this virulent racism, pupils completed mathematics equations calculating the bombing of Warsaw or relocation of undesirables, were taught eugenics and how the Aryan race had to be preserved.

Soviet bloc. Communism was (or is) glorified as the mechanism for the conservation of mankind, whereas democracy and constitutional monarchy were dismissed as unfair, unstable and unviable. Whilst embryonic or fledged Communists and archaic Russian heroes such as Alexander Nevsky, Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin were lauded as heroes and societal exemplars, Peter the Great (who modernised and westernised Russia, developed the navy, furthered trade links and established St Petersburg), Catherine the Great (whose cultural interests brought the enlightenment to Russia) and Leo Tolstoy (author of “War and Peace” and political liberal) were forgotten. Figures such as Oleg Gordievsky, former KGB agent who defected to the west in the 1980s, and Alexander Litvinenko, who also defected from the FSB (successor to the KGB) and was later poisoned for his revelations concerning his former employer, are actively despised.

Modern Britain. Although extremist parties do not hold power, the education of our younger generations is being compromised through the influence of indoctrination. Although ostensibly open and tolerant (the latter is, quite rightly, mocked by German ‘ambassador of comedy’ Henning Wehn for being in fact exclusive since the attitude does not extend to welcoming or encouraging), at times holes in society emerge which expose the issues, such as egging of politicians, school bullying of those with financially poor backgrounds and death threats sent on social media websites to public figures.

There is, however, a more easily rectifiable hole in education. It concerns one subject, but perhaps the most important subject for the understanding of human life and machinations. History. Looking back at past examples, such as Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Communist China, the initial stage of indoctrination of children via the education system has always been conducted through the adaptation of history. In Nazi Germany, for example, Hitler’s background was altered for teaching to erase his alcoholic father, failure to get into art school on grounds of proficiency and other details inconsistent with the account given in “Mein Kampf”*. In Soviet Russia, the late tsar and his family were criminalised and the western powers (Britain, USA and France mainly) labelled as warmongers, declining powers and sources of social evil. In Communist China too, children – especially during the Cultural Revolution – were instructed in the failings of American society and the ‘shocking’ liberalism thereof.

Today, all over the nation, there are children being indoctrinated by the left. As Michael Gove’s statement, and subsequent piece in “The Telegraph” by Jago Pearson, have shown, just because the UK is not in the hands of extremist lunatics we must not think that indoctrination is not prevalent. Today, all over the nation, there are children being taught that the First World War should not be revered because military leadership led the military, that it is in the interests of democracy not to illegalise the criminal Ku Klux Klan, that all monarchist systems are unfair and should be eradicated. Today, all over the nation, children who do not possess left-wing views are being admonished, ridiculed and marked down.

History must be neutral. Judgement is not a thing to be pre-inserted and taught, so that all lessons are delivered with a spin, and balanced arguments are usually superficial (for example arguments opposed to the left-wing view are minimised and overriden in the end). I am not saying that a Conservative spin should be placed on these lessons; I am saying this, that we should all be extremely careful so as to imbue our children with the importance of the skills true history imparts: analysis, balance and the eradication of bias.

Next year, for the first time in 11 years, I won’t have another history lesson. Despite being the history prefect, I have become so exhausted of arguing for what is right – against the left-wing bias – and for being dismissed on no grounds except that I do not comply with the left-wing interpretation (and not solely in a school environment: my school possesses an excellent history department), I am giving up history. My study shall continue on a personal basis, unaffected by the spin placed upon it by successive governments.

It is ridiculously easy for a government to place their spin on the curriculum of history. And it can be easy to neutralise that spin. The views of hitherto governments have usually affected the impartiality and reliability of the study of a subject which must needs have such, but in modern times I truly believe the situation has never been more dire than now. In all my 11 years of history, never have I encountered such indoctrination as that of the AS level.

This can be changed. And it must be.


I have been misinterpreted as being critical of my particular teachers. This is not my opinion; I have had some excellent teachers. My problem is with the curriculum itself and hence hitherto governments.

*In case anybody is interested, I highly recommend reading “Mein Kampf” in parallel with the first volume Sir Ian Kershaw’s biography of Hitler.