Does it even matter if they got the celebrity news illegally? Isn’t there something wrong with it anyway?

This Soviet war poster conveys the message: &q...

A Soviet war poster "Don't chat! Chatting leads to treason" (1941). Image via Wikipedia

It seems strange to ask such a thing. Nowadays, the law is the line in the sand when it comes to morality and anyone who can successfully say in court that they’re on the right side of it then the morality of it per se is never discussed.

There’s a similar phenomenon with office gossip. I’ve been thinking about office gossip recently: who’s a good source, who’s good at making informed guesses, etc. But what’s more interesting is the question of how that person came to learn of a particular item of gossip. What’s the relationship between these two people? Was it in conversation or overheard? It can tell you a lot.

It’s interesting to hear about how well people keep it together. “Being professional” is a game all employed play. People who can cleanly separate home and work are celebrated, and rightly so, so long as they are succeeding at it.

When people fail at it, the mere act can become gossip or, worse, they end up revealing something quite personal themselves. Celebrities and mortals alike, the question as to what to do with personal knowledge once you have it is one that can burn you if it’s too hot.

For the media, the obvious answer is “print it”. It’s how they make their money and many detest it; but it’s legal. Really, that’s what keeps it going – that and an exploitable mass of readers, gurning gleefully at some sorry sop that somehow compensates the void in their own life.

Of course, it’s easy to sneer when other people do it and then delight when you’re able to do it yourself. Which is why I’m not truly believing what I am writing. I don’t mean that in some sort of figurative way (e.g., “what the devil are my hands doing?!”) but in a literal way.

If we’re guilty of it ourselves then is it all right to project this seemingly hypocritical standard onto corporations? Well, you could say yes on the grounds that there is significant difference between a few people at the office knowing a secret about you to anybody with an internet connection.

We all have secrets we don’t want other people to know. Part of life is being able to reinvent yourself – celebrities are often mocked for doing so. Part of that is burying the past and moving on after you’ve dealt with it. The level of intrusion by the media is horrifying.

Leave people alone. If you don’t like someone and you tell them to leave you alone, I think you have a right to expect that they do. This applies to work, personal, and celebrity lives. Find other things to do.

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Is it sexist to laud the success of women when they come at the expense of men?

In short, no.

There are two articles in today’s Observer that talk about how woman’s rise in salaries and choice have led to a significant change in the dynamics of the workplace and their relationships with men. Naturally, both of these articles are in praise of this change, referring to the “old” times of gender inequality, both in terms of career and family (and other things too), as a dark shadowy past that we are only now starting to escape. I use the word “we” there because, even though I am a man, I recognise these changes as an inherently good thing and therefore identify myself with those who would laud these things as good (even if it could be shown that it would personally disadvantage me, as I am a man).

The two articles in question are also available online:

Diversion

To jump ahead, ignoring the content for a moment, it’s genuinely very startling to see comments saying things like:

So, inequality is “unfair” when it is skewed in favour of men, but “fair” it is skewed against men.

Not sure I see the fairness in that myself.

LeeDauphin

And:

Men paid more than women, “stonkingly, grievously unfair”.
Women paid more than men, “shaft of sunlight in the gloom”.

Someone explain this to me.

MacGyver

And:

What’s with all these articles about women? I repeat why does everything have to be constructed within the realms of gender?

GiftedOne

Now, I haven’t formally studied gender-ethics, gender-politics, or any other field specifically through the lens of gender; I had the opportunity to do so while studying my undergraduate degree, but the closest I came was, when studying welfare, spending some time studying the state provision of child care resources in various countries. As you might expect, most of the participants were women and – interestingly for me – as the class was in the evening (I had to attend then as I had a scheduling conflict) most of these women either worked, had kids, or both.

To be honest, while I learned about welfare provision and I also learned about these women and it was an eye-opening experience for me. They all loved their children and many of them their jobs, and they wish they could find a better way to balance them, especially with the added pressures of getting a degree. Their partners ‘helped’ them with this but, in the end, that was what it was: ‘help’. When citizens are in need of help, it is the responsibility of  government to step in and help. It seems that in the UK, as with so many other countries, the government was incapable of recognising the hardships that could only ever affect one half of its population: women.

What the commentators have said at the end of these articles is that they cannot understand why “everything these days” is skewed in terms of gender. I can understand the frustration, I suppose, when you see female journalists talking about equality but ostensibly doing so in dichotomous terms of “men vs. women”. But what these commentators don’t understand is that this is the only way to talk about these issues. How else can we talk about female-specific issues and problems without specifically talking about women? That is a truism if I ever did see one.

To put it another way, if we were going to talk about the issues surrounding people who are black – for example, how there is a variation in sentencing which suggests that non-white offenders are more likely to go to prison than white offenders for the same crimes – then you can only ever talk about in terms of a comparison between white people and non-white people; to do otherwise would completely skirt around the issue. For issues surrounding women, there are many that are still very real today. When talking about how the tides are turning for women, you can only ever talk about in terms of how it affects men too.

Inversion

So – returning to the articles – Hinsliff’s article starts with the sentence “It is not often, in these dark times, that one stumbles across a snippet of good economic news.” This sentence then leads on to an exposition of how it is good news that they pay gap between men and women has shrunken to a record low. In fact, she says, women in their 20s are now earning more than their male counterparts. Why – as a male in his 20s – do I think this is a good thing? Because it’s a change. Precisely because the system was so out of balance for the past … erm, forever, that to see women finally gaining parity (even the upperhand) in this single aspect of life is a step towards equality. If one believes that equality is a good thing then one must see this as a good thing.

Now, there are criticisms that say things like, ” but women are starting to overtake men, almost alarmingly, in terms of education and wealth, and this will simply lead to new inequality: that of men”. I disagree, I think it is alarmist to say that this is the thin end of the wedge, and that as soon as women are in a position to “grab power”, that they will use it to subjugate men. It’s an easy – and boring – target to say that feminists wish to destroy all men and hold them back; and seeing as there are still so many strata which women are still truly unable to penetrate, such as parliament – particularly the front bench – and boardrooms, for example, it seems unlikely that there is any evidence for this at all.

Bolick has done a great deal of work while researching her article and she lists many interesting points like these, which I won’t repeat – the best thing to do is to read it for yourself. It is long – some 5,000+ words – but it encapsulates seemingly all major gender-specific aspects of a woman’s life: careers, family, relationships, etc. As a male who is not personally privy to these potential tribulations, it’s an interesting mix of sociology, statistics, and personal viewpoint.

Anecdote

Instead, for me, I want to keep things light – personally, I like the idea of intellectual, financial, and political (i.e., “power”) parity with women. I do enjoy female company, whether it is for simple conversation, intimacy, romance, or sex. The great thing about equality is that there should be no surprise if a woman says the same things about men (or other women). It still surprises me that people are surprised when a woman takes a strong interest in, say, her career, or her children, or both, politics, or even just sex (especially when these exclamations of surprise come from women).

I remember when I first started dating women, I found it incredibly frustrating that there were these strict gender stereotypes that were meant to be adhered to. As a male, despite not having a job, I was expected to pay for everything. As a female, she was not allowed to ask me out – instead she had to “drop hints” that she was interested and hope I pick up on them. The “dating game” is littered with these outmoded, useless, prohibitive bullshit rules that try to contrive how a relationship “should be”. I am sure that there are many men and women out there who still hold these stereotypes up as law. If modern “romantic comedies” are anything to go by, there are. As a friend once said to me, romantic comedies peaked at When Harry Met Sally and have been in decline ever since.

So what if the women you’re dating is earning more than you? So what if the age gap is atypical and she is older than you? So what if her title is more impressive than yours? Crush your ego, man, and look at the positives. I like the idea of the woman wanting to pick up the cheque after a meal. I like the idea of discussing ideas and thoughts that an immature woman would not be interested in. I like the idea of a woman who is successful at her job. Why are these things considered bad? Perhaps I am more alone than I thought in thinking that strong, thoughtful, independent women are interesting and attractive.

Conclusion

I find it very surprising that when confronted with these issues, some men’s first response is simply to lambaste women for their success. It is certainly a bad thing if men were to fall behind in terms of education and wealth, and a new chasm opens just as one closes up. But we should not criticise the successes of women who, through facing adversity and sheer bloody-mindedness, they have managed to promote themselves as equal people in our society. If anything, it is a wake up call – it should be taken as a way to shake up our lives and dispel old-fashioned ways of thinking about gender relationships. It should raise us out of our complacency and enjoy a new level of competition.

The doomsday scenarios that some knee-jerk commentators anticipate are too far in the horizon to be considered a possibility at this point. I think if you were to ask men and women about this, it would be mostly men who see these sorts of issues as divisive rather unifying; a bad thing rather than a good thing. The men could respond that women are just biassed because it benefits “them” more than “us”, which  would (ironically?) not only reinforce suggestions of dichotomy and divisiveness, but totally ignore the benefits that it would bring. Equality is a good thing and if it means that women outperform men in some aspects of life then so be it – but this is still a good thing and merely adds to the wonderfulness of this change.

I genuinely rejoiced when Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said “let’s eat puppies”…

Cannibalism, by Leonhard Kern, 1650

Image via Wikipedia

A brief summary of what Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall said can be found on the Guardian website, but for the sake of saving you a click allow me to paraphrase:

Let’s eat puppies.

OK, he didn’t say it like that – but what he did say was that there is no moral difference between the eating of puppies and the eating of pigs. After all, it is merely a social difference that we – on the whole – choose to eat to pork rather than puppy. You know what? He’s right. I rejoiced not because I particularly want to eat puppies (I would probably try it) but because it was a win for logic and reason (and it lets me cite my Master’s dissertation in an article).

Veganism

For my Master’s dissertation I asked the question “Is survival cannibalism morally permissible?”, a question, seemingly, that had never really been directly asked. However, there were nuances of it when you looked at the works of philosophers who talked about the consumption of animal flesh, and I think I successfully teased out the best ones it my dissertation.

A common citation for those arguing for in favour of the abolition of meat-eating is the famous bioethicist, Peter Singer. Peter Singer is a vegan himself, supposedly so moved by the force of his own reasoning that he moved away from omnivory and his day job to focus on bioethics. His book, Animal Liberation, is an impressive, well-argued, accessible book that is worth reading by anyone who eats anything (so, no super models).

One of the key arguments in the book – one that he makes early – is that there is a sense of speciesism amongst meat-eaters where they make arbitrary demarcations between animals that are okay to eat and ones that are not. So, we say pigs are fine to eat but not puppies; chickens but not ravens. He examines numerous arguments that people might offer in defence but it always comes down to one similar argument – “but they’re pigs” or “but they’re chickens“.

This argument, he says, has been used countlessly in the past to justify other atrocities – the slave trade and racism (“but they’re black people“), the oppression of women (“but they’re women“), and in the case of cannibalism (“but they’re human!“). None of these arguments are based on any sort of facts or reliable evidence – they are just based on the values of “we are us” and “they are them”. One cannot help but feel inclined to agree with Singer on these points (at least when they are presented so generally).

Snips and Snails and Puppy Dogs Tails

Indeed, when you examine Fearnley-Whittingstall argument with this context in mind it’s hard to refute it. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that I could not find an article of outrage on either the Daily Mail or Daily Telegraph website – one was neutral and the other (the Telegraph) conceded but said that there was evidence that it would be difficult to breed dogs for meat, as if that was the salient point.

The salient point is in our values. Values are things the ends that we find important; goals in life that we strive to accomplish; the things we want around us in our lives. Values are ‘arational’ in the sense that they can be rational, irrational or neither – we may value something for reasons that simply do not exist, and what is valuable to one person may not be to others. Think of something you like doing – do all people like doing it? Is it conceivable that there are people who hate it?

When we think about puppies, we might conjure up images of playful pets, certain television adverts, or simply an animal that you are apathetic to. You may, however, think of your next meal. You may think “I wonder what puppies taste like?” This is a valid and reasonable thought – it’s not disgusting or vile; it’s not something to be concerned about. In fact, if you were to substitute ‘puppies’ for ‘humans’ I may not even blink an eyelid at you.

All it is is culture – the values we are brought up to believe in and the ones that are reinforced daily by our peers, the media and society at large (like nursery rhymes).

Culture

Don’t kid yourself – there were cultures that believed in human cannibalism. Whilst my dissertation only covers cases of extreme hunger, there was a whole world that I simply didn’t have the time to delve into where our entire human history may have been built on the recycling of human flesh via direct consumption of the dead. In many places on Earth, protein would have been a rare commodity and the freshly slain body of an enemy would have made an excellent feast for your kin.

Furthermore, cannibalism was used as a psychological weapon to strike fear into the hearts and minds of rival clans. Could you imagine, being in the jungle with your hunting party knowing that any moment these demon warriors could leap out at you, capture you and then tear your friends’ flesh from their bones at eat it in front of you? These are not just myths – there is strong anthropological evidence of it. This was a cultural thing that ran right through the lives of some people. Don’t think children were spared either.

Any interesting case to consider with cannibalism is that in some cultures it was considered a great honour to eat someone. If they requested you did it, it meant that you were special to them and that they wanted their body and spirit to be united with yours forever. They would even go so far as to crush up their bones to a powder, mix it with liquid and then drink it. Bones are mostly calcium – what better way to get calcium in a civilisation that does not milk cows or an equivalent?

Conclusion

Really, then, there are many interesting ideas to consider. The most important one is that there seems to be good reason to distinguish between animals on the morality of eating them. While some may be repulsed by the idea – which is their right, no one would force them to eat meat – others are not so. They are simply curious and logically making the point that there simply is no good reason to arbitrarily say “it’s OK to eat pigs but not puppies”. There isn’t – attempts to do so will fail. In my opinion, at least, it is simply a matter of cultural values and the personal choice of individuals. If one is dead set against meat in all forms then the matter is already settled; if you’re a meat-eater then the choice is personal. Most will probably shy away, but at least they should have the choice and not some poorly reasoned “this is yucky”-type arguments.

“You’re wrong but I can’t be bothered to tell you why”

This post builds on my previous post, I guess, in the sense that the disconnection between people online often causes people to kill their mental ‘tact’ process and just go full-knee-jerk mode. I experienced this today when I received an update from Amazon saying that someone had posted a reply to my review of a product that I wrote. Rather surprisingly, and perhaps rather patronisingly, the reviewer stated that we “must have been using a different product”, that he “couldn’t be bothered to respond to my individual points” and that “people should ignore my review” (paraphrases).

To boot, my 800-word review, which I consider to be fair (even if unfavourable) has so far attracted 2 votes, both of which say that my review is ‘unhelpful’. The fact that my review is neatly itemised, summarised and moderately lengthy, seems to undermine those votes. Nevermind, democracy is democracy – even if it is blind. What’s important is the free-reign (which I respect, in principle) of people vote for the things they personally consider helpful or useful. Unfortunately, however, this can have negative results.

Digging

When I poked around the other reviews for the product (of which >15% were less than 4 stars), I found a pattern: there were three or four users, all of which have given the product 5 star reviews, going around commenting on other people’s reviews. Furthermore, rather than being polite and asking people why they had experiences, they were quite rude – even calling reviewers names. After all, the reviews left on Amazon are (usually) not written by professionals – they are average human beings who have had an experience with the product. Most of the time, they either like or they don’t, and most people appreciate it when reviewers describe their own personal experience with the product. What’s weird is when people try to contradict you, i.e. “clearly you’re wrong as that’s not the experience I had”. That doesn’t mean anything. If I say “I don’t like the taste of chocolate” and you say “well I do” then you haven’t successfully rebutted my argument as there was no argument in the first place.

Another interesting point that has come out is where the commenter, i.e., not the original poster, starts to talk about how the product compares to other products on the market. “Oh, but it’s cheaper than product X” or “oh, it has a feature that product Y doesn’t have”. Again, this is a personal review. If you’re seriously considering buying an expensive product then you read many professional reviews for it. In these reviews, typically, the professional reviewer will compare it to other products. If I post a personal review saying “this product had poor performance” and then you tell me that “it has better performance than product Z” – you have not successfully rebutted me. Once again, there is no argument to rebut – it is a personal opinion. I am reviewing product A and only product A – if I haven’t experienced Products X, Y, or Z, I cannot describe my experience with them.

Finally, there’s this rather sad “clique” effect. In the online community, we call them “fanboys” – the people who love a product, game, band, service, franchise, or brand so much that they cannot stand for any criticism of it. Typical examples include Star Wars, Apple, and Justin Bieber; say something negative about any of these things in certain areas and you will feel the flames of fanboys. Fanboys will just contradict you – much like someone defending their religion or mother; it’s just automatic, knee-jerk emotion. Say something negative and they won’t even try to understand your reasons they’ll just reply – completely ignoring your points; the commenter who replied to my review demonstrated this with his comment about “not responding to individual points”.

Insidious

Unfortunately, this behaviour is insidious. When you first land on a product on Amazon, you’re created by the cheery product image, price, details and description. You then scroll down to read the reviews. Amazon, rather nicely, is honest about the reviews it receives and counts them up depending on their star rating and displays them in a tidy little box with refinement links. This is great – you often find that the best reviews (i.e., the most even-handed) are two and four star reviews as these tend to be, in my experience, people who are discerning and thoughtful. One star reviews tend to be from people who had some totally unrelated experience – like the delivery was late, or they cut themselves on the bubblewrap. Five star reviews tend to be from people who are scarcely qualified to review the product as their eyes were misty from the tears of joy of finally owning their very own product A.

When you view these reviews they tend to be sorted by how ‘useful’ people think they are and, like the M25, we circle back to where we started. I consider my review to be helpful – alas, I suspect, fanboys have gone and voted it down, which means that it will appear lower in the rankings. Indeed, when you visit the reviews section of the product – the only ones listed on the main page are 5 stars. This, I believe, is because when people see the question “was this review helpful?” they actually see “do you agree with this review?” Imagine a website where your mum was being reviewed and people were putting her down, talking about her weight and that scraggily tooth she has, etc., and then you saw a link that says “do you agree with this opinion of your mum?” – what would you do? Your instinct would be to hit the “no” button and hope that no one reads it.

Of course, that review of your mum, might be even-handed. “Oh,” the reviewer writes, “she looked great when fully dressed but once the dress came off…” and so forth. It might even be accurate. However, the question you saw when you clicked ‘no’ was “do you agree?” This, of course, is not the purpose of the question. Unfortunately, then, this is the problem. People are free to read all the reviews (so long as Amazon hasn’t removed them) and people can – and should – dig around for as much information as possible. The problem is that people don’t do that. They see what they want to see. If they see smiling faces in adverts, grinning celebrities and a bunch of 5 star reviews from “average users” then they’re going to buy the product … and they might be disappointed.

Summary

I don’t disagree with online democracy, I think it’s great. I also don’t disagree with people disagreeing with me. The thing I disagree with is people who leave odious comments attached to people’s reviews, calling them names and failing to even respond to their points. Democracy isn’t perfect and one negative result is behaviour like this – people who, you would hope, wouldn’t have the guts to say this sort of stuff to you to your face. The type of people who, I suspect, would realise what they’re saying is irrelevant if they just bothered to think about and break away from the knee-jerk reaction they are so accustomed to.

It’s just a shame. Like the Tory party in the UK, democracy has spoken (well, not really – bloody coalitions) and we have to respect it. It’s worth protecting even if it results in such awful behaviour.

Anonymity on the Internet

I’ve been thinking about anonymity a lot recently. I don’t have any media outlets to cite specifically but the whole “Twitter and Facebook helped organise the riots” hyper-reaction caused a number of commentators to become apoplectic with knee-jerk… -iness. “Back in my day,” I assume they spluttered as their calf muscles gave-way from search a violent reaction, “we didn’t have Twitbook and Facetweet – so riots couldn’t have been organised so blasted quickly!”

Indeed.

Ludicrousness aside, social media (Twitter especially) can be used under a cloak of anonymity – after all, there’s no requirement that you give your real identity (though I believe Facebook and Google+ are taking steps to make this the case) and you’re free to assume whatever persona and moniker you wish. Some of the best Twitter accounts are satirical ones, mocking (kindly) an exaggerated version of a celebrity. You might not know who the real person is, tapping away at their smartphone with witty comments on their way to work, but it doesn’t matter – it’s the content that really matters.

Lucky

We’re really quite lucky internet protocols developed the way they did – open and free, allowing data to move almost unhindered between destinations. Secure protocols – the good ones – even prevent middlemen from gaining access to your data. You can be having a conversation with someone on the other side of the world about some insalubrious fetish you have (which I know you have) and no one could know. You can even stream video, audio and cash their way and people wouldn’t know (unless they really started to dig).

Anonymity on the internet allows us to reinvent ourselves as many times as we like. A famous example is a game like World of Warcraft: be an elf, be an orc; be a male, be a female; be green, be blue; be whatever you like – it doesn’t matter. All that really matters is that you play by the rules. Those rules are set by whoever’s server you’re on. You could call it anarchy, but that would seem to put pejorative slant on it – like calling it ‘chaotic’ or ‘disorganised’, when in fact the opposite is true. Things only seem chaotic when you don’t understand the rules. That perky, green elf you fancy might be Bob, your 50-something bank manager.

Unlucky

Of course, there are drawbacks. Hit-and-run personal attacks, fraud and theft all occur regularly. Furthermore, anonymity is used by those to commit serious crimes such as distributing child pornography or laundering money; things that no moral person can abide. While we might allow for some trolling on forums and stealing of swords in Warcraft as compromise, we certainly don’t allow for paedophiles and well-organised criminals and this is where we welcome intervention by the police, ISPs and other tech firms.

Unfortunately, to bring the topic round again, we are left in this grey area: between the pure, “white” benefits of anonymity, and it’s murky “black” drawbacks, sullying its name. My opinion? I think anonymity is a wonderful thing. As I said, I think it allows for genuine discussion and judging people on their content rather than appearance. So often, we hear of doing this in real life: judging people by what they do and not how they appear (hey, MLK’s “I have a dream” speech is based on this wonderful idea) – so why is this idea, for some, so difficult to grasp when it is actually applied to a medium that genuinely allows this?

Mr Whatshisface

Unless you live in a prison or small town, most people you pass in the street are going to be anonymous to you. They’re real individuals but you have no idea who they are. Most of us are happy to keep it that way unless we want something from them. The same is true online: except it is taken to the extreme – unlike real life, online anonymity allows to not only hide-in-plain-sight and not be seen but it also allows you to adopt a new identity with only your imagination as a limiting factor.

Were I, a bulky, hairy, young man, attempt to, say, impersonate a female supermodel in person, I would fail horribly – online, perhaps I would be more successful. This – the ability to create new identity or simply hide – is incredibly liberating, especially to the meek. Online, the shy do not have to worry about making eye-contact with people, being visually impressive or even quick-witted. They are given the space and time to be considerate; time to refine their thoughts and actions, and present themselves in the best of light.

Furthermore, people who face genuine intimidation or physical danger in person are free on the internet. Abused women can hide from dangerous ex-partners; freedom fighters can organise themselves so long as they have a mobile phone; teenagers are free to pursue their interests, without worrying what their peers will think of them. If you end anonymity on the internet – if you create Cold War checkpoints on the gateways to the internet then you are slamming the door in the faces of so many people.

Conclusion

Anonymity online is such a powerful tool that it is actually baffling that we still have it – but it is such a precious thing. I have this blog, where I am free to write as myself and attribute my thoughts and feeling to my name, but I also have an anonymous blog, kept under a pseudonym, where I am free to simply express myself however I feel and talk about whomever I want in whatever manner I choose. Of course, I run the risk of being found out – but like all glorious things, it’s worth the cost.

Anonymity is liberating: you are free to act how you wish, to a reasonable limit, and it epitomises the libertarian idiom of having the right to be free, so long as you do not infringe other’s freedom. Let us be rational when we are faced by threats to our liberty: let us handle them with cool heads and unjerked knees. When one abuses a freedom, they must be punished swiftly and sternly – you do not punish them by removing other people’s right to that freedom; what could that possibly achieve?

Passing judgement on others

Victoria Coren in today’s Observer wrote in a very interesting article about feminism and the recent Slut Walkers. However, while the article is interesting in-itself, I wanted to pick and highlight a part where she wrote about being a juror:

I’ve been a juror. They never want to convict anyone of anything. They’re so terrified of “reasonable doubt” that they switch off common sense. I sat on one case where… I’ll change the details, but it was the equivalent of a man buying a gun and my fellow jurors saying: “But how can we be 100% certain he wasn’t acquiring it as a makeshift spoon to stir a soup? Anything’s possible. We’d better acquit.”

I highlight this because I too have been a juror and like she did, I ran into similar difficulties with some of the other jurors. The truth is that you can never be certain about these things and the defendant’s lawyer was keen to stress that point – he levied against us a huge wash of arguments to promote doubt. In the end, dissenting voices were convinced otherwise and the defendant was convicted of the crimes he was said to have committed. In the end you have to be reasonable – and no reasonable doubt existed.

Ease

What’s interesting is that passing judgement on people is something we do everyday. You see someone walking down the street and you analyse their demeanour, clothes, hair style, shoes, etc. You read an article online and decide whether that person is making a good or bad argument for their case. You’re reading this now and you’re judging me.

What’s also interesting is that these judgements are often so very easy to make. The advice my parents gave me when it came to talking about other people is that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

Furthermore, with this ease comes a lot less social stigma around doing so. It’s funny really – you often hear people saying about how they “speak their mind” and “don’t hold back” and yet this only leaves me to wonder “when did tact became such a bad thing?” and “why is it now considered socially acceptable to hurt each other’s feelings?”

Not guilty

Of course, not everyone is innocent of this crime, myself included. I pass judgement on people just as easily as other people do. I’ve often done it and, upon realising that no one was going to chime in to share my view, immediately regretted it. It’s easy to do it and, sometimes, to get away with it. Only rarely do people call you on it. On the flip side, you could say that there is nothing wrong with “telling it like it is” – it’s the truth and often people need to hear the truth.

Perhaps, then, you could conflate acquiescence and acceptability – perhaps people are silent because they secretly agree with you. The first step to correcting a problem is identifying it – demarcating it from the familiar and shining it in the spotlight. It’s often a brave person who has the confidence to stand up and say something is wrong – most people just carry on, hoping for someone else to “be that guy”.

But you’d have to question – beforehand – whether what you’re saying is really a problem that needs to be highlighted. For example, I’m overweight but being reminded of it constantly could be devastating to my self-esteem; sure it might be spur to me to do something about it but who’s place is it to make such a comment? Why is it anybody else’s business?

Your honour

I suppose the only real thing we can garner from this is that it is up to individuals to consider what they’re saying and the impact it may have. “Think before you speak” is an excellent moral to follow and if people followed that then a lot less impulsive and crude things would be said. Tact, I think, is good.

It often reflects poorly on the speaker when they something negative about someone. But someone is often required to stand up and say things that challenges the status quo and it’s often a relief when someone says what everyone’s thinking. The real trick is not just saying whatever comes into your head but rather refining your personal filter to ensure only the right things get through.

Those with a concerned conscience about these things pick up on a ‘wrong’ thing to say and remember it – a judgement about someone else often becomes a judgement about you. A good example of this is the film Mean Girls, which is actually not just a ‘teen movie’ but a cleverly written commentary on the effect of the things we say about each other. In the end, all the girls are brought together to admit to and apologise for the things they have said about each other. It’s an extremely cathartic moment but one that could have been avoided if they had just thought about what they were saying in the first place.

Judging people should be tough – like being on a jury. It should be about you weighing up your opinion and its necessity. I think if we all took a little extra time to do it, we’d make better choices and we’d end up saying nicer things to each other.

The Google Chromebook is a threat to Apple, not Microsoft

Google Chrome Icon

Image via Wikipedia

The Guardian is keen to point out in the opening paragraph in its article on the matter that the Chromebook represents an “audacious attack on Microsoft” as it will ship not with Windows but Chrome OS, Google’s own operating system.

However, this doesn’t seem to be an attack on Microsoft per se or, if it is, then it is, at most, a snub. Considering that Microsoft is a rival to Google in many markets, namely in search via the Bing/Yahoo! vs. Google Search fracas, it was always going to be unlikely that they would agree to share profits over the sale of these laptops.

Apple Crumble

No, the obvious contender in Google’s market is Apple. Google, as we know oh so well, have announced their encroachment into the already saturated online music market and are currently enjoying the fact that Android smartphones are currently outselling iPhones. Apple, on the other hand, can boast about how they have overtaken Google as the world’s most valuable brand. Thus, by my reckoning, recent point-scoring goes 2-1 in Google’s favour. Microsoft, by comparison, is not even in this fight, sitting in the stands gloating about their recent acquisition of Skype for $8.5bn – a company that has barely posted a profit. Congrats, Microsoft – you are the epitome of a sleeping giant.

Apple is well known for its sleek design and combined software/hardware products. It’s primary focus is user experience and the new Google laptop is all about that. Apparently consumers don’t want to mess around with their computers anymore. They don’t want to have control over it. They just want it to work with the minimum amount of fuss.

Anybody who knows anything about the Apple/Microsoft debate will know that Apple users always boast about how their iMac “just works” and is so “usable”. Clearly, therefore, the qualities going for Google do not challenge Microsoft at all. It’s Apple who should be worried. It’s Apple’s business model that has a new competitor.

Trust

Like Apple, people trust Google – perhaps too much – but they do. Run-of-the-mill consumers seemingly begrudge Microsoft and its Windows products. Microsoft can market itself all it likes using the current buzzwords like ‘cloud computing‘ but out of three only Google seems to know anything about it and they’re the only ones taking it seriously.

The Chromebook will have limited disk space – very limited. The idea, they argue, is that so long as you have an internet connection, you can use your laptop. You can access all of your Google services (and they are numerous) and do all the things you would do with on an OS X or Windows system but without the fuss of having to pay for licenses, finding the right software or storing them. It’s all on Google’s servers, waiting for you to use for free. This is the Apple business model one step further – their architects thinking, “how far can we push the focus on user experience?”

Conclusion

The Chromebook is a challenge to Apple, not Microsoft. However, it does squeeze Microsoft; after all, they want to see be seen as keeping up with the trends and embracing cloud computing – but they’re a step behind. The Chromebook is a fantastic step for Google and, as the Guardian article points out, an audacious one. It seems like one that will pay off.