Social

We do have the time

We need to stop lying to ourselves. Last time I checked, there are 24 hours in a day. That’s 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds. How are you spending yours? Let’s do the maths. We’re all sleeping through a whole bunch of them. If you’re one of those people who manages to exercise before breakfast or endures a soul-destroying commute, you might be sleeping for a meagre 6 hours. You have my respect. If you’re one of my sloth-like housemates, or, in other words, a student, you could be kipping away upwards of 12 hours. For most people—the grey majority, the unremarkable average—let’s call it 8 hours in the land of nod.

For the sake of making a point, let’s say you have 16 hours left in which you are, at least relatively, awake. Most people have, have had, or will regrettably end up, in a 9 to 5 job. The ‘working week’ might be five sevenths of your regular week, but it’s important to remember that your ‘working day’ is probably about half of your actual day. You have about 8 hours left then. A couple in the morning and half a dozen in the evening. Let’s take away 2 for commuting (though if you’re lucky it will be a lot less) and another 2 for meal times and chores.

You have 4 hours left. That’s a really long time.

How are you spending those leftover hours? The chances are you’re sat in front of the television, binge-watching Netflix, a football match in which your team isn’t even playing, or the first film you found channel-flicking, having already missed the first half. If I asked you why, you’d say it’s because you’re tired and just want to just switch off after work. And that’s absolutely fine. There’s nothing wrong that. It’s your leisure time—do whatever you want. But don’t say you don’t have any time. You haven’t seen your friends in weeks. You’re on your third consecutive takeaway meal. You haven’t exercised properly since school. Don’t say you haven’t had time.

If you don’t like your job, that’s to say, if you don’t live to work, and this unfortunately seems the case for the majority of people today, then your life is what goes on around the office. It happens in those 4 hours in the evening, on your weekends and your 28 days of annual holiday. It isn’t easy to lead this productive double life. Some people can juggle two jobs, or do volunteer work in their spare time, but most of us can’t—or at least don’t. I’m yet to even start my 40 to 50 year working life so I’m not lecturing anybody. Soon enough, I’ll be in the 9 to 5 machine and then we’ll see how easy it is to write something like this when I’m falling asleep on the sofa at 9pm. That’s why I’m writing it now, as a reminder to myself that I will have a life outside of my job.

‘I do have time’ is a mindset. Getting more value out of those 4 hours is a life project. Something to think about and work on every day. Maybe you’ll play badminton for an hour with friends tonight after work, and then progress to watch three back-to-back episodes of House of Cards.

That’s progress.

 

Advertisements

Should first year at university count?

When you roll up on Day One feeling like an impostor of inferior intelligence to every anxious face around you, knowing that your marks this year won’t count towards your final degree seems pretty assuring. When you groggily wake up after a fortnight of Freshers in a hangover coma, this seems especially assuring. At the end of their first year many do receive that 40% pass with pride. After all, maintaining such an impressively low average seems an achievement in itself. But plenty of students, myself included, did lo and behold venture into the library this year (I didn’t actually take a book out mind you) and end up wishing that it did count, if only for a little.

The “40% mentality” annoys me. First year does count – it counts as much as £9,000. No one would ever willingly throw away such a sum, so why do most students? Sure, first year is about meeting new people, adapting to life away from home, and building up your alcohol tolerance. But you could do all of these things on a gap year – let’s be honest, it’s also about upping your game academically. Scraping a pass isn’t going to do you any favours here. You’re bound to do better second and third year, when it does count, if you can remember how to read and write.

I’m probably giving you the impression that I’ve sat at my desk, locked away in my room for most of the year. I have – playing Football Manager. Contrary to popular belief, attending a lecture or seminar now and again (I only had seven hours of them a week anyway!) doesn’t mean missing out on any of the “uni experience”. I had the best year of my life, going out two nights a week, playing for a sports team, meeting new people all the time. The reality is, the only thing studying really replaces is the afternoon nap you would never have considered taking before this year anyway. You shouldn’t sleep through £9,000, even if your lecture is at 9am.

IMG_4213

I think easing us in with a weightless first year is unnecessary and disparaging. No other environment grants you such a luxury. The real world is a high pressure environment. An employer wouldn’t refrain from sacking you any longer than a week, let alone a year, if you only handed in papers when you felt like it. Sixth Form was all about preparing us for university level work, so we don’t need a year-long practise run when we get here. What is there even to learn? You pick up how to reference in essays and how to work the washing machine soon enough.

I think the first year at university should count for something like 10% of your degree. Such a reform shouldn’t be made to motivate those otherwise careless and lazy students, but to credit those who would have put in the effort anyway (though subsequently it would encourage the former). First year should be worth enough to acknowledge the hours of study that made it up, but not so much that a jittery 2.2 can’t be raised to a 2.1 by the time you graduate. You might argue that it would be wrong for someone’s early homesickness to be the difference between them achieving or missing out on their dream of a First. It would be a great shame, but the reality is there are countless other factors equally influential and out of our control. The difference between success and failure can be said to boil down to anything: a stingy, hard-to-please marker, or the man flu you couldn’t shake for a month in second year.

Alternatively, maybe first year could be valued with financial incentives. At some colleges in Oxbridge, for example, the highest achieving first years are given the nicest rooms the next year. This sort of approach makes a lot of sense. The way universities are throwing scholarship money at prospective undergraduates in an attempt to lure overqualified students is immoral. These funds should be redirected towards the hardest working first years – students who actually chose to study at the university in the first place and weren’t bribed to do so. Giving £500 to anyone who manages a First and perhaps £250 to those that get a 2.1 seems like a good policy. Universities might even save money as some of the scholarships they offer to new students at the moment amount to thousands of pounds.

550w_reality_the_apprentice_0712_1

Failing any kind of reform, I would urge employers to pay more attention to those invisible first year marks that most probably don’t declare on their CV. If you have two similar candidates boasting 2.1s the first thing you should be doing to distinguish between the two is to check whether either was guilty of the “40% mentality” in their first year – forget the DofE award. If one candidate did only scrape a pass while the other was pretty solid, you sure as hell know who’s going to be the one pulling sickies, and leaving the office mid-email when the clock strikes five.

 

Social etiquette explained

Last term I left a lecture theatre eagerly – I did quite a few times actually, but on this particular occasion I stopped to hold the door open for some other people first.

No no after you

I let a guy and a girl go ahead of me. They may have been dating; they certainly knew each other – it doesn’t matter. There was nothing unusual about it. You wouldn’t write a blog post about it. So why am I? Why on earth do I even remember this? Because the guy turns to his friend and says: “Maybe chivalry isn’t dead.” I couldn’t tell whether his tone was sarcastic or suggestive. It was just annoying. But what was worse, was when she blushed.

modern_knight_pull_chair

I think they both thought that I was somehow making a gentlemanly gesture towards her. I clearly fancied her. Yeah…no. I wasn’t making any kind of gesture. I wasn’t holding the door open for her, and I wasn’t holding the door open for him. I was just holding the door open.

You might credit me with good manners. But to be honest, it wasn’t even a conscious decision. I have to admit that in that situation I wasn’t actively being polite. Instead I was driven by the innate desire to avoid an awkward situation. We all have this. A group of people getting stuck in a doorway is just embarrassing isn’t it – it would involve further social interaction: an apology and a negotiation anyway about who proceeds first.

The same innate orientation to avoid an awkward situation at any cost is the reason you will offer the last cookie to someone else, isn’t it?

Please, be my guest

Sure, you want it. But it’s not worth feeling guilty over.

And you’ll have the same response in countless other situations too. The fear of failing to meet social expectation has become greater than our desire to do the right thing in the first place.

I should think there’s already a word for the phobia of awkward situations, but on the slight chance that there isn’t, may I suggest ‘politeness’?

 

The no makeup selfie

I want to briefly offer my thoughts on the latest social media phenomena to hit my Facebook: the no makeup selfie that’s supposedly raising awareness for Breast Cancer.

Now I’m not against the idea. I just don’t really get it. I wouldn’t condemn anyone for taking part because I’m sure girls are getting involved with good intentions. But I can’t help but feel uncomfortable when I see the word selfie in the same sentence as cancer.

The significance of it being a no makeup selfie one would assume lies in the notion of it being a ‘brave’ thing to do. Even as a guy, I can appreciate that girls might not usually feel comfortable enough to publicise such a picture, one where they feel that they might not look at their best. This a great shame, but a reality when we live in a world where even profile pictures are filtered and photoshopped. Okay, so sharing no makeup selfies is a good thing because it promotes naturalness and encourages girls to be more comfortable in their skin. Great.

But this isn’t the reason why girls are taking these pictures. They are being taken in the name of Breast Cancer. This is where I find an issue. How can anyone consider taking a no makeup selfie a ‘brave’ thing to do in juxtaposition with the suffering cancer causes? Maybe I’ve missed the point here, but why else would women choose to support other women in this way? A selfie to me connotes vanity and attention seeking, but is more importantly just a bit of fun. It seems hardly appropriate to associate any of these things with Breast Cancer. Feel free to disagree with me, but I can’t help but feel that the whole thing unintentionally belittles a serious issue.

breast-cancer-ribbon

There is one other aspect of this phenomena that baffles me. With the greatest respect to sufferers and their friends and family, of all the life threatening diseases, Breast Cancer is surely the one we are most aware of. Is there anyone who sees one of these selfies pop up on their Facebook and actually feels more aware of the issue? Offering support to the cause is obviously a positive thing, everyone would agree, to the extent that writing a status declaring such seems unnecessary. Surely what Breast Cancer charities need is monetary funding, not empty words. A no makeup selfie that raises awareness has little impact – should it not be, if anything, a sponsored selfie?

 

Social media can be a brilliant means of spreading important messages and addressing issues, but I think on this occasion good intentions have been misconstrued. Perhaps no real harm has been done and I hope so. But I also doubt any real good is being achieved either. The no makeup selfie is certainly a better phenomena than the neck-nomination anyway. May social media continue in this promising direction and refine its efforts to bring about positive change.

Social networking nominations

Last week the phrase ‘neck and nominate’ sadly reached my Facebook feed. For those of you who don’t know, a neck-nomination is, perhaps as it sounds, a drinking competition. People, usually Uni students, record a video of themselves necking a large quantity of alcohol, sometimes in a bizarre way (like upside-down) and then challenge two or three friends to outdo their effort within 24 hours. It sounds pretty stupid because it is.

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 14.52.34

The competition and peer pressure factors to this fad have seen it escalate rapidly. My halls has produced two students downing a pint of vodka, followed by shots of sambuca and absinthe respectively. Even more disturbing attempts have gone viral over the internet. As you will probably be fearing at this point – yes, people have already died taking part. No doubt those videos were taken down quickly. They effectively depict the accidental suicide of someone trying to impress their rallying friends. Imagine how their nominator must feel.

I was nominated. While I like a drink as much as anyone else, I boycotted partaking outright. The response to my decision from friends was really interesting. Even those who had already taken part themselves completely supported my decision. This was mildly assuring but also rather sad. It seems that after over a week of the deluded craze, people on my Facebook feed have finally accepted the obvious. The atmosphere of peer pressure is clearing, but only to reveal the damage already done. It’s all well and good that people are now sharing the responses that condemn the activity, but their hypocrisy is laughable. Regret is spreading amongst my friends, the reality hitting home with texts from concerned family members who have seen their published attempts.

In light of this, I still truly believe social networking does more good than bad.

If you had heard of this fad, you might not be aware of its replacement craze. The ‘RAK nomination’ stands for random acts of kindness. Instead of spending an hour watching stomach-churning neck nominations, I recommend checking out these heart-warming RAK videos. I won’t remember the guy who drank a pint of mouthwash, but I might just remember the lad I saw in the street yesterday, offering the first slice of his newly bought Dominoes to a Big Issue salesman.

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 12.53.30

The Hipster Complex

A couple of months ago I purchased the new MacBook Pro. I would like to justify my move away from a standard laptop with an essay full of computer jargon, but I can’t. I know nothing about computers. The aliens that work in the Apple store were wasting their time on me.

Apple logo

Apple is an ambivalent company. Like British Marmite (which is a yeast spread, for those of you who don’t take tea with the Queen, mmm), you either love them or hate them. Everyone agrees that they make gorgeous products. But everyone also agrees that those products are overpriced. While there is great debate contending their superiority over their rivals, it’s a ceaseless dialogue held between two loyal and unyielding fandoms. A never ending verbiage in a foreign language of pixels and gigahertz. One you would need a degree in Computer Science to comprehend. To the ordinary consumer, let’s be honest, the decision to buy a MacBook has little to do with the finer details. The aesthetic is a leading factor. A Mac, like a denim jacket, is a symbol, a cultural icon.

Does one’s decision to invest in any such object make them a victim of vanity and everything else detestable about our materialistic capitalist culture? Are we all consumer magpies, the puppets of smug marketing departments based somewhere ultra cool like downtown LA, seeking whatever we are told is shiny this week? Yup. And there’s nothing we can do about it.

When you think of a typical Mac user the following probably springs to mind. Someone sitting in a Starbucks, a pair of 3D-like glasses upon their nose, drinking their usual coffee (the kind that required a list of specificities to assemble). They have headphones in, listening to a band you haven’t heard of yet, uploading generic filtered photos – probably of their coffee – onto Instagram. The image is only too familiar. I wear those glasses. I like Starbucks. Heck, I even had indie Instagram before Facebook went and bought it… Does this make me a bad person? You might want to dislike me for it – I really want to dislike me for it – but the sad truth is conformity is inevitable. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. Imitation should be seen positively, as complimentary. Without the idea of social majorities, minorities can’t exist to prompt progress.

We all prescribe, willingly or not, to the individuality-killing social construct that is fashion. If you wear Vans you are labelled as a particular stereotype, if you wear Converse you are assigned to another. If you wear something else entirely – damn that’s eccentric – have another label. You can’t avoid the labelling machine that is media marketing society.

Vans vs Converse

Try not to be too self-conscious of this ill-famed ‘main-stream’. Those who find their own quirky little tributaries are only doing the industry’s hard-work, carving out new directions for the main-stream to follow. Trying too hard to stay ahead of the current will leave you a washed up hipster, suffocating in the irony that you are now so cool that you’re uncool.

Or is it so uncool that you’re cool?

Text me some happy thoughts

I’ve invented a game to cheer people up because it’s cold outside and Christmas is over. It’s called, you guessed it: ‘Text me some happy thoughts!’

You will need:

  • Five friends (improvise according to popularity)
  • A mobile phone (not necessarily your own but preferably not stolen)

Now then, the rules are very simple. Ask five people to text you some happy thoughts. You don’t really need to explain why. And you might want to assure them that they can reply with anything, however trivial or profound. Put some thought into your choice of five people. I went for the un-judgemental, and most likely to comply interestingly type, if I wanted to pay them a compliment. Bear in mind, this isn’t exactly a standard text to receive, they’ll probably think you’re standing atop a rooftop somewhere, about to jump… (If you are, please don’t. Read on.)

If ever I could start a viral trend, this would be it. You are making someone stop whatever they are doing, and getting them to think about something nice. No harm in that. They could be having a rubbish day and it might just cheer them up. You also end up knowing some things that make your friends happy, which can only be a good thing. And if they were particularly materialistic in their responses, you now know what to get them for their birthdays too.

I can honestly say, hand on heart, that the results of this little social experiment almost made my day, and they undoubtedly would have, had I not had a particularly good pulled-pork sandwich earlier. So what did my chosen five come up with?

One friend had just finished a (open quote) “fabulous” (close quote) arrangement for a “fabulous” song, and was in (still is in I hope) a generally “fabulous” mood. That’s pretty cool.

Another friend recalled the time her boyfriend tickled her so much that she launched a glass of water at his face. She added “puppies” for good measure. Good shout.

The self-proclaimed pessimist of the bunch sure took his time about it, but replied thoughtfully in the end, so I’m glad he did. He told me that he feels privileged to be white, middle class, living in the best conditions of all time. He said he is happy that most of his family are alive, and that he has “surprisingly high quality friends”. On a slightly different note, he is also looking forward to the new series of ‘The Unbelievable Truth’ on Radio 4. Each to their own.

The fourth answer had the same charming balance of triviality and profoundness. A visit to the Harry Potter studios earlier that day had left him all fan-boyish and nostalgic. He said something awfully sentimental about the privilege of having a best friend… And then something awfully narcissistic about turning out as “an excellent human being with an excellent taste in just about everything”. The concluding thoughts were of his bright future and love of university. I can confirm all to be true.

And then I received the following:

“Matching underwear, matching luggage, Burberry trench coats, Friday afternoons, Saturday mornings, watching my dad do DIY, watching people run for the bus, watching other people while they watch something they love, reality television, the internet, internet shopping, regular shopping, taking the cellophane off a new DVD, finding a really f***ing amazing gift for someone really f***ing amazing, people who buy f***ing amazing gifts, swearing in a welsh accent, people who really watch you when you talk, people who keep hugging when you try and pull away, listening to people who are really damn smart, talking to people who have a lot of general knowledge, laughing with people who really don’t know how funny they are, trying to control your laughter when you’re not supposed to be laughing, people who aren’t afraid, those friends who you can’t look at in those situations because you will piss yourself, fake laughing so much that you end up really laughing, making that invisible and unspoken bond with people at work because none of you want to be there, getting your first ever payslip, getting home after a long shift, taxi drivers who only charge you “how much you usually pay” and believe you when you lie about it, having a sister, being a sister, dancing with my sister, accidentally talking with my sister in the kitchen until 2am on a school night, people who say “yes” when teachers ask: “do you talk to your mother like that?” and “would you put your feet on the chair at home?”, people who get up and walk out when teachers say “stop talking or leave”, my friends, my family, making lists…writing down all the things that make me happy…being featured in blog posts…you.”

Oh I smiled.

What can I take from this little experiment/game?

One happy thought: I have five great friends. Actually, and I don’t mean to boast here, I have loads of great not-playing-the-game friends too.

Life’s good. Play the game. #textmesomehappythoughts

Image

You can find further persuasion to get involved in this lovely post here: http://amarkedimprovement.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/text-me-some-happy-thoughts-why/