Who do YOU think you are?

I’ve not yet joined Google+.  It’s made the headlines today, deleting the account of users who have not registered with their real names – but is this really in line with its ethos of “don’t be evil”?

So with 20 million accounts in 24 days, uptake of Google+ has been rapid to say the least.  You can see why the project has been created – it’s a bit Facebook style social network – including the +1 button which is a bit like “like“, a bit Flickr photo album, a bit Skype internet video call and a lot more bespoke (different people can see different things).
As Google is a cool brand, and generally a trusted brand, loads of people have apparently been less Luddite than me and jumped into the pool – but it seems I’m not the only one standing by the shallow end saying “yes, but is it safe?

Online, I’m @rose22joh on Twitter and here on my blog.  It’s a pseudonym I’m happy with – if people want to call me Rose when commenting on posts or tweets, that’s fine by me.

On Facebook, I have to use my real name as a matter of user policy. It was one of the reasons it took me a long time to join – but I decided it was ok.
The connections I have on Facebook are people I know or have known personally, I don’t just randomly befriend people, or accept people I don’t really know.
I also maximise my use of privacy options.  I don’t need to be rose22joh on Facebook – if people want to find me there it’s because they’ve become friends IRL (in real life, not in Ireland!) so they know my name.
If it’s someone from my past, if they really want to they’ll find me by looking at mutual friends’ “friend” lists and guess.  I don’t HAVE to accept their request.  Not everyone’s accepted mine either (good for the soul to keep the ego in check).

Even my social media-phobic husband uses LinkedIn. “Everyone” does – at least everyone whose business depends on building and maintaining personal relationships.   It hosts bits of my CV – on the other hand simply Googling my name brings up bits of that, along with stuff that isn’t about me but about people that share my name.  That must be a complete pain for all those Sue Taylors, John Smiths and Muhammed Hussains.  At least by using LinkedIn I can be clear what is actually me!

The BBC article on this issue of identity talked about use of real names:
– preventing SpamBots (I use Wordpress’s excellent companion tools on the nasty little critters which seem determined to try to sell me naked women and pharmaceuticals – those xxxriwphgergn@iutgboe.com addresses are a real giveaway);
– preventing Trolls (why do people waste their time that way, choosing to spread that patina of nastiness across the surface of the internet);
– benefiting advertisers (well, yes, obviously.  This is “no free lunch” territory – see below);
– making life difficult for those under oppressive political regimes (and this will surely be the tipping point – the internet represents a form of freedom in Iran, China etc. – but while the Tienanmen Square example doesn’t bode well…)

Essentially, using real names is a sort of nudge theory – being transparent and therefore known, you should behave better online.
But it is more than just that.  If you look at eurobloggers that blog in their real names (yes, I’m thinking about you Jon Worth and Joe Litobarski) – identity online can be part of building your personal brand and in the twenty first century. Generation Y gets that – and is, it seems, much more open with personal information than their elders.

But equally you can build a reputation on a pseudonym – now defunct blogger “Julien Frisch” preserved his anonymity until the end.
But blogger “Guido Fawkes” is now often in the mainstream media as Paul Staines.  That is probably in part because his role has become increasingly that of journalist rather than merely a blogger or “citizen journalist”.

One of the joys of the internet is the freedom to develop a whole new you: in fact that seems to be the major appeal of Second Life.  It enables people to be taller, thinner, prettier, an dwarf, a knight, a princess, a musician showcasing their soul, a DJ, a writer, someone with a voice.  For some people that becomes the real them – and so be it .  This is a world my great grandparents could not even have imagined.  There needs to be room for anonymity on the internet, but the internet is a big place.

Most users realise that they’re not getting something for nothing – the targeted advertising via Facebook and Google shows that clearly.  Most of us regard it as a price worth paying for the convenience of being where all our friends are online.

But there’s a responsibility in having access to so much personal information, and every development – making mobile numbers accessible on Facebook, handing over Twitter users identities to super-injunction owners – makes people reappraise just what information they put out there.

There needs to be room for anonymity on the internet, but the internet is a big place…

Bon nuit


Pondering Harry Potter

Last week I saw the eighth and final Harry Potter film “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2“.  I strongly recommend you go and see it – this is one of the many official posters…

Having now seen all of them – and read all of the books, yes, despite being an adult – I wanted to stop for a minute and think about what makes Harry Potter so appealing.

1) Language
No matter the language you read Harry Potter in, the love of language is evident.
From the character names which so neatly fit the personalities to the place names, the background research into meaning is evident (witness the straight forward Madame Sprout the herbology teacher, or the more complex traitorous Malfoys – meaning bad faith in Norman French). Hogwarts itself sounds unpleasant and is beautifully translated in the French version to “Poulards” – a “poule” being both a chicken and a spot, and the “lard” element retaining the hoggish flavour of bacon.
The film vocabulary is beautiful too – from the bright simplicity and dodgy CGI of the first two films, the lights of Christmas and the darkness, mists and pounding music of the later films, Harry’s journey of growing up and his rites of passage are also articulated in a clear but entertaining way.
For me, it is the beauty of the words that draw the reader in. But what keeps them there?

2) A fantastical world
There are very few children these days who board a train and disappear to a school world without returning to their parents at the end of the day – boarding school itself is fantastical to the majority.
Throw in brooms, spells, a castle, and fantastical devices (mirror of Erised, time turners), animals (grindylows, boggarts, hippogriffs, not to mention the more mundane pet owls that deliver the post…) and you have an amazingly attractive world. Enid Blyton with magic and less racism.
It’ll be interesting to see if a love of Harry Potter moves into a love of wider sci fi and fantasy in Harry’s generation kids.

3) Love
The brilliant Mark Greene at the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity has blogged on the enduring theme of self-sacrificial love in the Harry Potter books, citing not just Lily Potter’s sacrifice for Harry (making him “the boy who lived”) but also Ron sacrificing himself during the chess game in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Snape’s journey,  as well as Harry’s own game changing action in the last film/ book.
He mentions too Dumbledore in the context of the father figure raising his son for death (rather like God in the bible).  But he doesn’t mention Dumbledore’s own self-sacrifice – saving Draco Malfoy from becoming a murderer by instructing Snape to take control at the critical moment, even though it speeds his own death.

4) Gender Equality -yes, even here
The Don’t Conform Transform blog has produced a neat overview of why the characters, and particularly the female characters in Harry Potter are different from the classical supporting role character roles allocated to women in other books and films.
Given JK Rowling was basically told to hide the fact that she was a woman in order not to alienate readers when the first book was published, this is a massive achievement, and another thing to love the series for.

5) Growing up
I read the first Harry Potter book quite late, in 1999.  I loved it so much, I bought a limited edition version for my then boyfriend and was one of the sad people up at midnight buying the Goblet of Fire (although in my defence, as a twenty-something it was at a station WH Smith at the end of a night out in London!).
Throughout the books, I’ve been Harry’s generation (more specifically I’ve been Hermione, as I imagine most girls are, particularly those that were a bit too clever and not the prettiest, though I’d hope for a bit better than to end up with Ron).
But in the last couple of films, I’ve felt a change in myself.  It is probably a facet of having a baby, you sort of take on a universal sense of motherhood.
In any case, I found that I was watching Harry, Hermione and Ron and worrying about them rather than cheering them on as they faced more and more dangerous situations.
And when a Weasley died (and I’m shocked that I can’t remember which – I had to use my outsourced-to-Google remote internet brain to check that it was Fred), I didn’t feel it as the loss of a friend as I felt it was in the book, but the loss of a child and the horror for the parents of having to carry on anyway.
Just as in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I found that I cried at what felt like inappropriate moments. For me, it is not the battle that triggers it, but the sure and certain knowledge in the preparations that there will be death to follow.  The scenes preparing for the defence of Hogwarts,  Professor McGonagall’s tiny moment of joy when she finally gets to do the “Piertotum Locomotor”  spell bringing the Hogwarts’ statues to life, those moments made me cry.  I hadn’t realised how much until I had to wash the mascara off afterwards!
And there was a moment in the slightly comical 19 years later coda when sensible-haircut Ginny and the others appeared, I turned to my friend and said “you do realise that’s us”.  Because like it or not, in a couple of years or so, it is.

So it’s not just those that were 10 or 11 when Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone came up that have grown up with Harry Potter.  While some of the books are a bit long, and as Mark Kermode pointed out in his review it did sometimes seem like Bloomsbury were afraid the magic would be lost if an editor were to prune a little, JK Rowling’s novels have been part of life – little islands of escapism, by turns enchanting and disturbing, encouraging reading and inspiring writing.

If you’re having withdrawal symptoms, I recommend Rick Riordan‘s Percy Jackson series – don’t be put off by the name similarity, the USA setting or the truly dreadful film adaptation of the first book “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief”, if you want to learn your Greek mythology and be thoroughly thrilled and entertained this is a great place to go next.  There’s a 5-book series already complete and the second of the next series is due out this October.
And don’t forget, in September, there’s www.pottermore.com too…

We came, we saw, we swished!

When we’re all tightening our belts, it’s time to make sure it’s one that makes us look fabulous…

So Saturday 23 July 2011 was our big day – The Big Swish!

Kent Feminista, the group of feminists I’ve joined, ran The Big Swish, a posh clothes swapping  event in aid of Stop the Traffik.  We also had a cake stall, a pledge wall and a children’s play area.  To help our guests feel glamorous, Sophie from Sophie@Ease in Tenterden offered mini hand, foot, head and back massages from a gleaming white gazebo.

The clothes swap itself went smoothly – most people brought more than one item, and were able to choose an armful of items they wanted in return.  In fact, people brought so many items that we were able to donate the remaining items to the Pilgrim’s Hospice. This felt appropriately feminist, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

 Why clothes swapping?
Well, we wanted to prove that feminism isn’t always about being cross about something, or just sitting round talking.  We wanted to do something useful.  Feminism’s interrelations with fashion are well documented (one of our number when interviewed for the local paper was asked if she’d burn a bra for the photo!) The stereotype feminist in the popular imagination is still 1970s: talk to five people about feminism and you’d be lucky not to have at least one mention dungarees…  But dungarees are not obligatory – we’d have been really surprised if there’s any available at the Big Swish!

As the focus on the Duchess of Cambridge/ Sam Cam/ Carla Bruni/ Michelle Obama’s clothes shows, fashion is politically important – the question is whether to oppose this – we are who we are and clothes shouldn’t matter – or to embrace it, recognising that women do care about these things and that feminism without the issues of interest to women is pointless.
After all, psychological studies show that well-fitting, good quality clothes boost happiness and confidence. As the makeover programmes on TV show, helping women feel good about themselves can change their lives.

What’s more, we’ve all done it – bought the fantastic top in the sale that’s a size too small, and never quite slimmed into it.   The Big Swish was a chance to swap clothes that don’t make you feel good – the dress that’s never really fitted, the too short trousers – for something that you love instead.

In tough economic times, the wardrobe of clothes we don’t wear is not just a mess, it’s a waste of money.  As well as being good for wellbeing and your purse, clothes swapping is the green option too – someone else using clothes means that the world’s resources aren’t wasted and you don’t end up sending that unworn shirt to landfill.

Why Stop the Traffik?
Kent Feminista are a group of Kent based feminists who are interested in finding creative ways of promoting equality for women and supporting women in our communities who are subject to the many inequalities present in our society.
Feminism is about establishing and defending equal political, economic and social rights and equal opportunities for women. It’s not just that women need to be more confident – some of this is about redefining what’s normal in terms of work, caring and household responsibilities for both men and women, and obviously that can’t be done without men getting behind the ideas too.

As we know, there are numerous variations on feminism and they are not all united on views on some of the big themes like abortion.  However there are some universal issues such as political representation and equality and human dignity on which we all agree.  So our fundraising focus this year is Stop the Traffik, the campaign to prevent the sale of people, protect anyone that has been trafficked, and to prosecute the traffickers.
This is very much a feminist cause: feminism is about how we interact with each other fairly rather than treat each other as things to be bought and sold, whether that’s selling ourselves by lap dancing, or each other through trafficking and modern day slavery.

We’re going to look at this in more detail soon, but just quickly, what did we learn that can help you set up your own Big Swish?

  • The style of event requires a premeditated decision to attend, not passing traffic and that means advertising.  Our posters were great and we got them out to the places we knew would take them plus a few more original locations (shop staff rooms in town).  We used Facebook, Twitter, got an article in the local newspaper, bits in a church newsletter, did what we could to tell everyone.  And so we did get people we’d never met before choosing to come and take part!
  • We went for a Saturday when most people were likely to be available. Early evening, somewhere with an alcohol licence might also be good.
  • We charged £2 entry and allowed unlimited clothes donations.  This works but you could also consider £1 entry and 50p an item to swap to encourage really good quality items.
  • We of course ended up with loads left over, but took a decision to donate these to another charity, the Pilgrim’s Hospice.  Old age and caring are much overlooked areas of life (and also within the feminist movement), but given the propensity of the current elderly generation to be women, we should care. Old age is a feminist issue.
  • Having pamper treatments there gave a real feel of glamour – a definite recommendation for any future event.