Society & Media
Posted By Meg / 12th June 2013
My daughter, aged 15 months, likes stickers. She likes to unpeel them from a sheet with tiny curious fingers, then lift them off and find a new place for them – on a sheet of paper, her tummy, my face, wherever – patting them into place with a purposeful “stick-stick!” (actually, she mostly says “dick-dick!” at the moment. A bit awkward in public. But I digress.)
We discovered that she liked stickers when changing her nappy one day in her bedroom. She caught sight of a tiny lifted edge of a wall sticker, next to the change mat, and proceeded to methodically remove it, with a triumphant beam on her face.
She then progressed to price labels or special offer stickers in the supermarket, before eventually we decided to overrule the “3 years plus” advice on the front of most sticker books and packets and got her a sheet of smiley faces, with which she has played (under supervision) quite happily for a couple of months.
When she went into hospital a couple of months ago for an operation, we got a copy of Cbeebies magazine because it came with a sheet of stickers from her favourite cartoon, Sarah & Duck, and she enjoyed peeling them off the sheet and sticking them methodically onto her spica cast, the doctors, her observation chart and so on.
So yesterday, while in good old Marks and Spencers, I noticed they had a special offer on children’s activity books and thought I’d see if there were any stickers to be had.
Disappointingly, M&S have decided that something as innocent and simple as stickers need to be rammed into gender-stereotyped pigeonholes.
The “stickers for girls” selection included:
- Disney princesses
You can see one of the books (and peek inside its contents) here. NB, I’m only referring here to activity books specifically with the words “for girls” on them.
Meanwhile, in the 2000 stickers for boys book, here is a selection of sticky images depicting things which my daughter is apparently not supposed to like or play with:
- Stars, explorers, musicians, robbers and astronauts
- Spiders, snails, slugs, beetles, bees (no butterflies to be seen, of course)
- Funny facial parts including eyes, noses, mouths
- Lions, tigers, birds
- Circus tents, trees, people
- People swimming, sailing, kayaking, diving, camp fires, tents
- Pirate imagery including cats, desert islands, treasure, skulls, crossbones
- Dinosaurs, rocks, shrubbery
- Robots, flying cars, spaceships, stars, planets
- Fish, flying saucers, pumpkins
- Trees, umbrellas, water
Well, bugger that. I bought it anyway.
And if it’s still in the house when Erin learns to read, and she asks why all those brilliant, imaginative, exciting stickers are for boys, I shall tell her that Marks and Spencers were short-sighted, small-minded and silly because they thought girls should only like fashion and princesses and flowers while boys were allowed to create worlds and play with dinosaurs, astronauts and lions. How very silly of them!
[Related: Let Toys Be Toys is asking retailers to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys. Join their campaign and sign the petition if you think that girls should be
allowed encouraged to play with robots, too.]
Posted By Meg / 26th October 2012
[Digging through old documents recently, I came across this piece about the moment when the power of the social internet really clicked for me. I can't remember who or what this was for, but thought I might share it anyway.]
I got an email address when I started university in 1993 – the highly-memorable email@example.com – and it was a good way to keep in touch with far-flung friends who I’d been to college with in Canada. Email seemed like a miracle – no waiting for international mail delivery, and no guilt about only writing a few lines, rather than feeling obliged to fill up a whole foldable airmail letter.
But even though email powered my first few years online, and the web started creeping in, it wasn’t until 1997 that I had my real AHA! moment about the internet.
It was the first of May 1997, and I was writing one of the final essays of my university career. At that time, I didn’t have my own computer – or at least, not one connected to a printer and the internet – so I headed to the 24 hour computer lab on my university campus.
As the sun went down, I logged on to one of about twenty terminals, and started writing. Or at least, I tried. It was hard work and the words didn’t flow smoothly. I found myself distracted by trying to find something good to listen to on my walkman, flipping through the paltry selection of tapes (tapes!) in my bag. And I wondered what was going on with the election results.
You see, that day, May 1st, had been a general election in the UK. I’d done my civic duty in between visits to the library, and was curious about how the electoral map was looking. After eighteen years of Conservative rule, the tide felt like it was turning. I opened up a web browser – Netscape 3, I think – and tentatively typed in a search term: election results. Nothing -though it took ages for the page to load to tell me that. I logged onto Pegasus mail and checked my email. Nothing of interest. And then I opened up IRC, which I’d dabbled with before, and searched for a UK room – #electionnight, IIRC – which I joined.
Throughout the night, as I typed furiously to get my essay finished, strangers around the country and around the world broke the news of the election results as they came in. They were watching on television, listening to the radio. I was flitting in and out of the chatroom. Strangers reached out across the wires and shared what they knew. They were caustic, and joyful, irreverent and analytical. I didn’t know who they were – still don’t – but through them, with them, I was immersed in the unfolding results of that historic election.
The tories lost. Labour won in a landslide. I finished my essay.
As the sun came up, I walked several miles back home through the gradually-lightening city. From open windows, the sound of laughter came spilling out, and in the streets, celebrating the news of the election result, people were drunk and dancing. With my final essay in my bag, the election result cheers still ringing in the streets, and the sensation of being connected to hundreds of strangers around an event, it felt like the beginning of a bright new day, full of promise and expectation.
And in many ways, it was.
Posted By Meg / 30th January 2012
I see you getting yourselves into a froth about frictionless sharing on Facebook. These are the three things I observe people saying most often:
1. “I hate that [app] shares things WITHOUT MY PERMISSION!”
2. “But I don’t CARE if my friend has just been to a place/listened to a song/watched a movie/read an article. I wish it wouldn’t pollute my newsfeed!”
3. “Ugh! I don’t want to share EVERYTHING with EVERYONE all the time!”
These things are, needless to say, usually expressed in the strongest possible terms on Facebook, Twitter, in comments etc, and almost invariably paint the individual as a victim under the conspiratorial cosh of a big evil megacorp. How very bally dare they?
If these things bother you, gentle netizen, might I offer the following solutions?
1a. Apps need permission to share (post) things on your newsfeed on your behalf. In fact, you have to opt in to use them. Opt IN, not opt out. You may not have paid attention as you whizzed through the screens, but there’s a point at which you usually have to click a box that says ‘Yes, I give my permission for this app to do what it does’ – even if that box is actually labelled ‘install’. And somewhere not too far away, there’ll be a description of what it does.
So before you rant about apps posting ‘without asking your permission’, spare a moment and ponder whether you installed an app without reading what you were signing up for, perhaps.
I know EULAs are a pain and no-one reads them, but this is hardly one of those 193-page epics you get in iTunes, where you may very well be giving up the rights to your first-born on p78 for all you know. It’s a couple of lines, that says quite clearly what’s going to happen, and what’s going to be shared. If you click install, you’re giving permission. If you click cancel, it should set a cookie and not ask you again.
2a. If your friends are bothering you by constantly sharing things they do/read/eat/watch/listen to, you can quiet them down. Next to the thing that they’ve posted – sorry, the thing that has been posted on their behalf by the app they gave permission to – there’s a little down arrow. Click it and then select one of the options to fine-tune the signal you get from your friend. You want all their updates? Just the hand-written ones? Everything apart from music and videos? Nothing from this app at all? No problem. Just highlight your choice.
3a. You can fine-tune your sharing permissions, too. If you are bothering your friends (or you are bothered) by frictionlessly sharing every step you take, every move you make, every video you watch and everything you add to Pinterest, to name but a few possibilities, you can fine-tune your own sharing preferences. You can do this not only where you originally gave permission to the app (see above) but also on the app preferences page.
On the left hand side of your main screen (what you see when you visit facebook.com) there’l be a list of apps you use. Click on the little “more” icon that appears next to the apps header, or on the little pen icon (this means “edit” in Facebook-land) next to the app you want to tweak.
This brings you to a magical place where you can change your preferences about who sees what – choose to share output from this app with the wider public, or just friends, or only yourself.
Or go for “custom” settings, which enable you to share with particular lists of people (which you can set up in your friends settings area) or even *exclude* certain individuals or lists, as illustrated below.
So you don’t mind sharing what you’re listening to, but you don’t want to share it with your boss? No problem. You can tweak that. Or you want to share your Foursquare checkins with everyone apart from your real best friends? Also completely achievable via the same method.
I’m not suggesting that frictionless sharing is always brilliant and Facebook is perfect or anything like that – these are topics for other blog posts, as yet unwritten (at least by me). I’m just pointing out that there are options, and you have agency in this experience.
You are not a sea-slug. You can change things.
So take some damn responsibility for customising your own Facebook experience. If it’s not working for you – or your friends – tweak it. Frictionless sharing is not a massive conspiracy to infringe your privacy at every moment, even though you may not like the implementation or philosophy or even the name. You have choices and options about your publishing and reading experiences. Use them.
If you care enough to publicly moan, please care enough to fiddle with your settings, too.
NB Although I work at The Guardian and was involved with developing the Guardian Facebook app, these thoughts – like all the others on this site – are entirely my own. I’m not speaking on behalf of any other individual or company at this point. This is my purely personal
rant encouragement for people to take a bit of responsibility and exercise a bit of choice in their web experience, or STFU.
Posted By Meg / 22nd March 2011
When managing a community, creating new community functionality or developing a social- or contribution-centric projects, avoid using words like allow and let (e.g. “we’ll allow people to upload their photos…” “we let users comment on articles…”)
Using words like these will negatively influence – or betray – your perception of the project, as well as giving a strong indication to everyone else (including the community) of user involvement: barely tolerated, and only made possible through your largesse.
Instead, think about using words like invite, empower and encourage, even in your internal emails and planning documents.
It may sound silly, but the right frame of mind can help you make good community decisions on a site, and the words you use even to think about it or describe it can influence your frame of mind. If you think about users as troublesome, bothersome, people doing a thing you’re graciously allowing them to do, then you’ll expect them to be pathetically grateful/need constant supervision or management/will want to break the rules.
Contrast that with a message that you’re inviting users to get involved, or encouraging them to share ideas and images. See how different it feels? Already, the kind of community management you’ll be thinking about might include curation, reward, conversation development, and so on.
So think about – and influence – your subconscious approach via the words that you choose to describe community participation. In other words: mind your (negative) language.
Posted By Meg / 22nd March 2011
A little while ago, I did an interview with Joe Pike from Spin Your Web (a site about journalism and communities). Joe’s now uploaded the interview as a number of bite-size video chunks, and I’m posting them here, along with links to the notes and blogposts on the Spin Your Web site.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about the ideas in these series of videos. Do let me know in the comments.
(and in case you’re wondering – most of the meeting rooms at the Guardian offices have original photos by our staff photographers and others, commissioned for Weekend magazine etc. That’s why Al Pacino is glaring over my shoulder throughout the conversation….)
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Posted By Meg / 21st March 2011
Twitter celebrating its fifth birthday today reminded me of a post I wrote on my old site a while back, when pioneering blog publishing engine Blogger had reached its tenth anniversary. I’ve imported it below (and updated a few bits), as many of the points are still relevant – if not more so.
I’ve been blogging for over eleven years now – since it began with a W – and being involved with something from the beginning, plus passionate (and sometimes despondent) about its potential and usage in the years since means I’ve had a lot of time to watch and think about how it has matured and been used. There are certain things which we can now look back on and consider milestones in the development and maturing of blogging – like how the media responded to it, how people embraced and used it and how it penetrated mainstream web usage over time.
Like blogging (which I started doing in January 2000, and used Blogger to publish my blog from April of that year), I’ve been using Twitter since relatively early on – my earliest update via Twitter was in November 2005. I’d link to it, but
a) it’s in my private/personal account (@megp) and
b) all my archived tweets (pre July 31 2009) have disappeared, as experienced by many others in this thread on the Twitter help forum.
It’s actually that help forum – and the appalling petulant and rude manner in which some users are addressing Twitter staff – which got me thinking more specifically about how, in so many ways, the timeline of the Twitter story mirrors that of Blogger and early blogging. Both have seen similar patterns of early usage and behaviour and adoption by certain functional and social groups, and both have learnt – the hard way, sometimes – about technical and social scaling issues as well as being a playground for emergent behaviours and activities, and all the fun and challenge that comes with that.
This isn’t an attempt to demonstrate that startups and new technologies are subject to many of the same pressures and reception issues – that’s been clearly documented and brilliantly expressed in Gartner’s Hype Curve. Rather, I wanted to explore some of the striking similarities in specific situations, movements and experiences in the early days of both micropublishing and blogging, from the perspective of an early settler and long-term resident of both of these strange and wonderful new(ish) countries.
So here’s something I’ve been working on for a little while: it’s a very approximate timeline of the activities, patterns, behaviours and reactions experienced by both Twitter (/micropublishing) and Blogger (/early blogging) during their first few years.
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Posted By Meg / 14th February 2011
Based on my own previous experiences of commuting with a bouquet, and today’s observations of people struggling with blooms on public transport, I present this handy guide to how to carry flowers (either given to you or on your way to present them to someone else), without looking ridiculous.
There are in fact six main carrying stances:
1. The Bride
Stance: Single or double-handed, bouquet held in front of the body.
Notes: Tendency to look like blushing bride. Must avoid slow-walking, or wearing of white clothing.
Stance: Single-handed, bouquet held upright but tilted at a slight angle.
Notes: Pose suggests that the holder is unaware that they are holding a lovely bouquet of flowers, or that this sort of thing happens all the time. “What’s that? Nice flowers? Eh? Oh, you mean these flowers? Yes, I suppose they are…” NB: Can play havoc with weak wrists.
3. The Sweep
Stance: Single-handed, bouquet grasped around the base and facing downwards.
Notes: Signals embarrassment about receiving or carrying flowers. Usually accompanied by intense blushes. Very effective for de-petalling the blooms, as downwards-orientation and pendulum motion conspire with gravity to cause petals to drop off.
4. The Torch
Stance: Single-handed, bouquet held upright, slightly aloft and at a right angle to the body, but at some distance.
Notes: Usually adopted by boyfriends/husbands, this posture signals that the carrier has bought the flowers for someone else, and is merely conveying them to their intended recipient, plus do you really think I’d be caught dead carrying flowers around in the street? Do you? Well, do you? What sort of bloke do you think I am? etc etc. NB: Can be painful on upper arms/shoulders if used for a long time.
5. The Award
Stance: Single-handed grasp, with bouquet resting in the crook of the opposite arm.
Notes: The award for best flower carrying posture goes to….*drum roll*…. whoever carries their flowers like this! Impossible not to seem as if you are receiving an award, or holding a large, florid baby.
6. The Microphone
Stance: Single-handed, bouquet held upright and slightly aloft directly in front of the body, near the face.
Notes: Can seem as if you are about to break into karaoke, depending on the type of flowers. Avoid bulbous blooms.
Of course, it’s best to remember that, on today of all days, nothing says “I love you” like dead vegetation
Posted By Meg / 10th February 2011
On Channel 4′s 10 O’Clock Live this evening, Charlie Brooker provided an excellent rant about Cameron’s attack on multiculturalism in the UK. As part of this, he mentioned the Twitter reaction to another popular Channel Four series, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. As I pointed out on 18 January, much of the Twitter contrail has been full of casual racism and prejudice towards Gypsies.
To illustrate this, Brooker read out some tweets, which were shown on screen.
Now, the way that Channel 4 displayed and credited the tweets which Charlie Brooker read out on screen weren’t only contrary to Twitter’s clear guidelines about use of tweets in broadcasts
Include the Twitter logo in close proximity to the Tweets for the duration that Tweets appear in broadcast.
Make sure that the Twitter logo is a reasonable size in relation to the content.
Include the username with each Tweet. If you have concerns about user privacy or broadcast standards, please contact us regarding exceptions unless you have a prior agreement with Twitter.
…but they also appeared to attribute the offending words to Twitter users called Phillip, Anabel and Hooligan.
But the tweets were actually by @Phil_sola82, @anaboula and @hooliganbad:
…and not, in fact, @phillip (a programmer from Portland, Oregon), @anabel (a renegade psychologist from Mexico) or @hooligan (a writer in California who hasn’t tweeted since August 2009).
So what happened here? My suspicion is that whoever prepared the research, on-screen graphics and script for that segment of the show wasn’t sufficiently familiar with Twitter to recognise that that there’s a difference between real name and username, and that they had accidentally put offensive words into the mouths of unsuspecting Twitter users.
And what’s the moral of this story? If you’re displaying tweets on screen (or for that matter, in print), be aware of the Twitter usage guidelines for media, be familiar with the product and how it’s generally used, be careful to respect the company and community and be mindful that an unintentional slip could very likely land you in hot water.
Posted By Meg / 31st January 2011
As with life, so with social media. They’re not that different, really.
1. Avoid hubris/constant self-promotion.
Even if you’ve got a pet topic or issue, change the record occasionally.
2. Listen as much as (possibly even more than) you speak.
You’ll learn something about the environment you’re in, the interests, preoccupations and social patterns of people around you.
3. Give credit where it’s due.
Use social & tech norms/tools to show source and point your followers towards others you value.
4. Bring insight/resources/wit to topics, issues and conversations.
Add something. If you can’t add anything, question the value of opening your mouth.
5. Follow and seek the opinions of people outside your bubble, so you don’t fall into the trap of thinking everyone is just like you.
Posted By Meg / 20th January 2011
A few years ago, following a series of murders in Ipswich of women who had been working in the red light district, we saw a flurry of columns in various newspapers and sites along the lines of this one on the BBC. These articles earnestly debated when – and whether – it was acceptable to refer to the victims in such stories as “murdered prostitutes” or “murdered sex workers” rather than simply “murdered women”:
When someone’s been murdered, does it matter what they did for a living?
Many people have contacted BBC News to complain that we have made a point of describing the women who’ve been killed in the Ipswich area as “prostitutes”. The problem must be the description, and not the language. At least once on Five Live we referred to the women as “sex workers”. This euphemism hardly rebuts the basic complaint, expressed succinctly in one text message we received – “just call them women”.
The complaint took two forms – we wouldn’t bother to report that a murder victim was, say, a plumber, and when we report that the victim was a prostitute we are being judgemental and implying that her life was less worthy than another’s.
There were similar articles following the murders of several women working in similar circumstances, but this time in Bradford, last spring.
This has been in the back of my mind over the last few weeks for two reasons – or rather, one situation and a number of semi-related references. The situation is the murder before Christmas of Jo Yeates in Bristol.
The first reference is this tongue in cheek article from satirical news site NewsThump which carries the headline “The death of one middle class woman is equal to that of six prostitutes”:
The UK media has finally revealed the calculations used when categorising the importance of a human life, or the scale of natural disasters.
The calculations, which are the industry standard, reveal that a mudslide in Brazil that kills between 10 and 20 people would receive the same level as coverage as a covering of snow in Oxfordshire that caused a retired ex-army officer to slip and nearly fall.
The calculations are also used for stories involving murder, and highlight the importance put on the victim not being a prostitute, drug addict or a foreigner when it comes to receiving round the clock coverage.
Our insider continued, “If the victim is respectable, white, middle class, and with a loving family then it’s going to receive blanket coverage.”
“If, on the other hand, the victims are a group, or to use the collective noun, a ‘shame’ of prostitutes then it will take quite a lot of violence to generate the same sort of interest.”
Yes, it’s satire, but there’s a more than a grain of truth there.
At the same time, I’ve been quietly noticing how many news outlets are referring to the murder of landscape architect Joanna Yeates (see also: murder of the landscape architect, murdered landscape architect, murdered architect, murder of architect etc), including the BBC, which just this morning published a story with the first paragraph:
A 32-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of the murder of landscape architect Jo Yeates.
So they “wouldn’t bother to report that a murder victim was, say, a plumber” but they would if she was, say, a landscape architect?
In the 2006 Ipswich murders coverage, the BBC dismissed the complaint I quoted at the top of this post, and defended its use of the women’s jobs as a descriptor, like this:
In this case, the fact that the women were prostitutes was crucially relevant. It suggests, if nothing else, that prostitution is a dangerous way to earn a living and that a prostitute is more likely than most people to meet a murderer. That has to be the starting point of the police inquiry.
If that’s the case, then how crucially relevant to the Jo Yeates murder inquiry is her job as a landscape architect? Is it inherently more dangerous way to earn a living? Are landscape architects more likely to meet a murderer? Or is it fair to say that in this case, as in so many others, the victim’s profession adds colour and human interest to the coverage rather than just calling her a woman?
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