The power of the written word

Charlie Brown Wah Wah Wah
I used to read a woman’s blog, everyday. It was amazing: Her drunken, violent mother, her complicated pregnancy, her terrible having a baby experience followed by terrible post-natal depression. It was a detailed slice of life which was compelling to read. One day she wrote that her husband was thinking of resigning from his job to go to another job for more money even though his boss had been great to him and it was a bit of a dilemma and what was he to do? Next day, the blog had gone forever, all that was left was an apology for saying too much.

I can only guess that the last entry, before the blog got deleted, jeopardised her husband’s livelihood and it was the kind of the thing she might not have mentioned to any of husband’s work colleagues had she seen them face-to-face.

I remember when I was eight-years-old being with my mother when we met a woman in the street who told us all about her suicide attempt. At the end of the long, sad story she looked at me as she said,

‘And I lay on the bed and wished that I would never wake up.’

I am probably the same age now as that woman was back then and I wonder would this woman be blogging nowadays? Lots of people do blog about their feelings. Is there any difference between blogging and telling people in the street?

Blogging about something and publishing it online means that you don’t know who you are telling although you have an exact record of what you have said. Telling someone in the street face-to-face means you know whom you have told but you might not remember exactly what you said.

Whether you are saying too much depends on how comfortable you feel sharing whatever you have to say and your state of mind. If you are traumatised, the filters, that you normally have to stop everything you are thinking coming straight out of your mouth, are not always working and sometimes that is not necessarily the best time to be talking about things, well, in front of eight-year olds anyway, but it is often when you have the greatest need.

Talking or blogging can be cathartic and just the thing to make sense of an event. Or, you can, as in the case of the husband-job blogger-woman, say too much and later be sorry because you set into motion events you wish hadn’t happened.

It is easier to be free with your information when there is just you and a computer and no one else. There is the fake intimacy of ‘between you, me, and the four walls…’. The X million people also on their computers who might read what you are writing, are forgotten about.

When interacting with another person we often tailor what we say depending on what they say. Or, we get prevented from saying what we want to say because this other person has something to say. Or, someone else comes along and we don’t feel comfortable having the same discussion in front of them. On a computer there is no one there to stop you saying exactly what you want to say, exactly how you want to say it. Liberating or dangerous?

It is common to read about people getting fired because they have blogged about themselves and the company they work for feels that its reputation is somehow compromised. This is interesting because people often talk about how they feel about their job when in the workplace. But, because they are talking to a limited audience in the canteen or at the coffee machine it doesn’t carry as much weight as if their opinion is all typed up and put online where you have an audience -potentially in the millions. The power of the written word does seem to be greater than the spoken one.

Years later, I asked my mother about the woman we met in the street and she didn’t remember it at all. Perhaps, back then she was forever meeting women who wanted to top themselves. Perhaps, she chose discretion. She chose not to remember in case the woman in question didn’t want anyone to remember and be reminded of a difficult time years later. Or perhaps, we said goodbye to this woman and got on the bus to go home and what to have for tea become the most important thing to us.

And perhaps it is the same when reading blogs. We switch off the computer and go back to our lives and we forget a lot of what we have read and eventually these blogs are deleted by their owners and whatever seemed so important then isn’t so, because life is ever changing. And, since we are all human, and the human condition doesn’t change, perhaps you can’t share too much. Perhaps, sharing our experiences and connecting to others for good or for bad is all we have, whether we do it online or in person.

Get stuffed Stuff Magazine

stuff off stuff magazine

I am in the market for a new mobile phone. I love my current LG running android but it is a bit battered and after a little family member chewed the buttons it doesn’t work as well, and the camera is very slow. So, I was given a copy of Stuff Magazine The Android Issue and having looked at it for the first time today I am enraged. I am furious.

What has the girl on the cover got to do with anything in this magazine? Turning the pages there is more of her and another girl in progressively silly poses. They are not even interacting with the technology, they are just looking about with a vacant expression only ever seen in porn magazines for men. Android doesn’t need porn style poses to promote its wares. I think my alternative version of this cover is better. Same plastic dollie bird except Barbie has more clothes on and looks pleased with her ipad.

The Stuff magazine cover and its Android article appalls me. The message I guess this cover is aiming for is: Android is ‘sexy’. The message I receive is that this magazine is aimed at and edited by sad porn loving men who like to fumble furtively with their Android apps and believe any sort of technology is a man’s domain. Disturbing to say the very least in 2011. The Internet has opened up the world in so many ways and technology is moving on constantly to make things better and more exciting. But sadly, marketing ‘sexy’ is used to sell more than ever and we are bombarded by unnecessary pictures of scantily clad vacant women.

Come on, you might say, it’s only a bit of fun. It isn’t. It truly isn’t. I am a mother of young girls and a computer scientist. I want to share with them the excitment of a world improved by technology. Cool, accessible technology which makes life easier. I won’t be using Stuff magazine to do that because I don’t want to have to come up with an explanation of what the silly girls are doing in the pictures. Imagine it:

Daughter: What is that girl doing mummy?
Me: Well she certainly doesn’t need to use that stylus when checking the weather app, she hasn’t got to grips with the multi-touch functionality on that HTC phone and she really must pay more attention to what she is doing…

Give me break! Already my eldest has used the term ‘boy’s toys’ and I can tell you that it is not a term she learnt from me.

We don’t need to sex up our technology, especially not to promote Android. Come on Stuff magazine, have some respect for your demographic and stop treating them like porn mad losers.

Newsflash: women do technology. The first computer programmer was a woman.

Goodbye Kubrick, hello twenty ten

The old kubrick website of Ruth Stalker-Firth

Today I updated WordPress. Wow! I have blogged in the past about how much I love WordPress, but where have I been? The WordPress community have been busy making everything smart and sexy. The new dashboard and themes make me desperate to write cool blogs (Dream on – I will).

Before my discovery today, I was a little upset to change my Kubrick theme, I read somewhere that it is no longer supported but after I installed my upgrade it worked as beautifully as ever. However, as much as I love its calm blue smartness, I have always secretly hankered for something more without ever wanting to commit to doing anything. Apart from the ‘if it ‘ain’t broke don’t fix it’ adage, scripting is a means to an end with me. If I really need to do something in a scripting language, I hack away blindly and never get it right the first few goes. Sometimes catastrophically.

When I was an industrial placement student, I edited a whole live database system under the tuition of the resident systems security ‘expert’ (who was one creepy guy). I guess he would have told me not to do that but I was 20 years old and didn’t have a very long attention span. Seriously, who does at that age? Anyway, one embarrassing mess later I was highly amused to find out that he hadn’t a single backup of the database in his Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu tricks . It just goes to show you that everyone needs to think carefully about who is going to carry out the essential but boring jobs (university departmental intranets are a total case in point). And if you must also bore your poor students whilst instructing them, make sure you practice what you preach, and it is probably best to get it down in an email so they have clear instructions.

Apart from my hacktastic tendencies, the other reason I hesitated about tinkering with the Kubrick theme was that I liked its simplicity and its clear lines and from a usability point of view, it is easy to read and to process (Where am I? Where have I been? Where am I going?). I have chosen a similar layout on this one and it looks great, but reading it I tire more easily because the text is too wide and hence, more tiring to read. I need a smaller text column. I feel more tinkering coming on.

Luckily that will be easy to do as I have used the child theme approach (great tutorial here : http://www.throwingabrick.com/wordpress/customizing-the-wordpress-twenty-ten-theme.html ). The child theme approach to editing themes is perfect. It lets me overload my code changes in a separate directory without ever messing up the real theme’s code. Fantastic. And then, when tired of scripting, I can use the Appearance Editor in the Dashboard to change colours and had a tinker about. The sidebar is taken care of by the Widgets drag and drop. This mixture of a bit of typing and mouse manipulation is exactly me. I love it. I want to start thinking of cool things to say, up my game, have cool blogs, but I might just have to fiddle with this new theme a bit more first.