Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Dear Online Newspapers/ Blogs....,

I like you. A lot.
I like reading different views on the same news stories without having to leave the house, like pretty colourful moving pictures and graphics ( I am a 90s child after all) and I like the fact that I can annoy my friends, relations and acquaintances with what I'm reading via Facebook & co.

I am also not against paying for your content. Actually, I think it would probably improve your quality, make you more independent and therefore would bring your actual customer (the reader) back into focus.* I completely get that until the day come when everyone happily pays for online content you need to sell space on your site to advertisers. I know you have bills to pay and children to feed.

What I don't get; what, in fact, really gets to me when you, online media, take the necessity to make money from us punters as an excuse to make our reading experience as awful as possible. I am, of course, referring to adverts/ alerts that pop up in front of the article you are trying to read/ media product you are trying to consume.

Alerts, specifically, that ask you to sign up for a newsletter/ alert etc. before I had a chance to assess, if the outlet is worth my future attention by reading the brothermocking article ( I am looking at you, Huffington Post) or putting up a "voluntary pay wall" (I'm looking at you, Taz).

Please don't do this. If you keep it up, I will have to stop using you sites (I'm to young for an anger-induced coronary.) and I will miss your excellent content. Put your offers, requests and like buttons at the bottom of the article and I will consider, share or even pay, if I liked what I read.

Many thanks,

Slightly Disgruntled

* I would like to take this opportunity to introduce readers to Flattr. A great way to donate to bloggers, artists and musicians you'd like to support on the web.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Changing the world without changing my lifestyle

How the right kind of selfishness can improve your life and the lives of others.

Hello reader, did you know that you can change the world? Ok, you won't be able to impose a new world order or make everyone believe in your brand of religion but with a few (mostly) mental adjustments you and I can make a practical impact on the world. (I'm an idealist, please don't judge me.)

Below is a list of things absolutely everyone can incorporate into their lives and change the world a little bit at a time.

I should point out that while I think I SHOULD be doing all those things, I am very far from implementing them all. This article is my way of challenging myself and anyone who would like to join me to become a better person.

I will (try to)...

1) ....be aware of others around me
Is there anything more annoying than people who use public spaces with enthusiastic disregard for the rest of the world. This includes people shouting into their mobiles or carrying large, bulky objects during rush hour (including push chairs) on public transport, groups of people taking up complete pavements or supermarket aisles and people talking through films.
I have come to the conclusion that these people don't do it on purpose to drive the rest of humanity insane; they seem to have simply forgotten that they are sharing the public space with, well, the public and that in the grand scheme of things their errant is no more importsant than mine or yours.
It is very easy by the way to become the object of people's annoyance and chances are that on many occasions you have held people up with your petty little errands. I know I have.
Why should I care?
Whenever you irritate someone, you make their day a little bit worse. Yes, I know chances are that you may be having a crap day, too, but passing on your irritation with humanity on to others makes things worse. If you share your relationship problems or sing Happy Birthday to your auntie on a crowded train carriage via the medium of mobile phone, you potentially sour 20 to 50 people's day. Maybe they are all sensible individuals who will deal with the anger in a grown up way, chances are they'll let it out on their colleagues, families or just people who have the misfortune to be close by (who will then also be sharing their irritation with the world).
I am convinced that happy people are better people, especially when put in a position of power. And don't you sometimes need a happy police man, bouncer or boss?

2)... not use other people's behaviour as an excuse for my own behaviour
Can 1 million idiots be wrong?
A home truth staple of my mum's was and is: "...and if your friends jumps into a well, would you jump after them." So far, so familiar. This little gem of mother's wisdom, however, uncovers what I think is probably the lamest excuse in general life: "But EVERYONE blocks the fire escape with their luggage", they moan until there is a fire.
Why should I care?
Behaving with courtesy and forethought could, like in the example of the fire escape, potentially save your life. It also has the magic power of making everyday life more efficient and less frustrating.

3)...demand perspective of myself and others.
This point is inspired by the media. It seems to me that news tend to differentiate sharply between villains and victims. This makes great narratives and may even sell more papers but it makes humanity uglier. Criminals vs people, politicians vs, public, Tory vs. Labour, benefit cheats vs the public purse UK vs. EU... (sorry I had to make that point ;) ). It seems to be all about differences and who is winning, rather than middle ground and how to solve a problem. Personally, I don't care who wins the financial crisis but feel we as humanity would achieve a lot more if left and right pooled their resources and, you know, worked towards the common goal of solving the "mess".
Why should I care?
As much as I like being entertained by conflict humanity would probably be served a lot better by compromises that make everyone sorta happy instead of victories that makes the biggest minority happy and everybody else angry. This can be achieved by applying perspective to things you  create and things you consume. Journalists should realise that good and evil are extremes and usually EVERYONE is a mixture of both. Readers/ viewers/ listeners should also realise this and boycott news outlets that pretend otherwise for commercial effect.

4)...realise that I could be wrong
Not only could I be wrong but my opponent could be right. The most likely scenario is that my opponent and I are probably a little bit wrong and a little bit right and the best possible outcome would be for both of us to realise this amazing truth and work out a solution that pleases us both. And skip along a peaceful meadow with chirpy birds and pretty flowers.
Why should I care?
I prefer a 100% chance to get a little bit of what I want to a 50% or lower chance of getting nothing. What about you?

)... think about the wider consequences of my actions.
I'm one of these crazy people who thinks that the stuff I'm using should throughout its production have damaged the planet as little as possible and been kind to any person or animal who was involved in the making of this product while also wanting the food I'm eating to be as tasty and nutritious as possible and non-food items I'm buying to last as long as possible. I therefore find myself buying stuff with colourful labels entitled 'organic', 'fairtrade' or 'free range' and paying a premium price. I do this not only to have material for arguments with cynics and because I'm mindblowingly rich; I find they taste better, come without that ugly label 'I condone modern slavery' and I genuinely think that if there is a market for ethically products, producers will provide ( Alternative names for this sections were 'I will vote with my wallet' and I will value value over price').
Then again, it's not only about buying stuff with a clear...ish conscience. I realise it is a bit of a life style change and would either make your shopping more expensive or require a lot of shopping around. But what about completely free and easy stuff like turning off the light when you don't need it, not waste things or simply trying to be a pleasant human being?
Why should I care?
I feel this point is actually a bit of a summary. Actions usually have reactions and they can always come back to haunt us.Some people call it Karma, I call it the bigger picture.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

What has the EU ever done for ME

Today’s rant is aimed at people who think the EU is a work of the devil; it is specifically aimed at my neighbours on a rainy island – Britain. In fact the EU was founded by people with mostly good intentions but incompetence issues (like most things in life).

Before I start my rant I should point out that although I will be concentrating on the good aspects of EU membership, I am aware that the EU is in many ways flawed and should undergo reforms to make it more democratic for everyone involved.

So, here it is: my handy cut-out-and-keep-guide why being in the EU is largely to your advantage.

1. You can travel and relocate easily within Europe.
 This is, or should be,a no-brainer, fancy working in Paris for a while? Or Rome? Well, you can now,     thanks to the EU without having to apply for visas. If you are annoyed at/ scared by all the Eastern Europeans “flocking to the UK” (to loosely quote someone who most definitely is not a bigot) just try to how many Brits have flocked to the continent stealing jobs from hard-working Europeans.
      So, you may not want to relocate to mainland Europe but, admit it, isn’t travelling within Europe not so much easier, friendlier and more efficient since all we need to do nowadays is flash our passports to the friendly man or woman at the airport or in some cases just walk across the border.
      Personally, I would be sold to the idea of a united Europe at this point; for the more hard-core sceptics, however, points 2 and 3:

      2. You live in a peaceful country.
If, like most people currently alive, you were born after 1945, chances are that you never had to hide out in underground bunkers hiding from bombs dropped by your friendly neighbour country Germany or the UK (delete as appropriate), wave your (in extreme cases) 14 year old son off to war, leave your home over night and be separated from your family, be raped/killed/ raped and then killed by the declared enemy. Granted, we are still doing it to other countries but they are further away and tend not to fight back on your home soil. The EU has helped keep the peace between European neighbours partly by getting representatives of each country round a table and talk things through (talking is always preferable to shooting IMO) and partly because the EU makes travelling easier for average Joe. If you wonder how that works try imagining believing the war propaganda of dirty French, merciless Germans and shop keeping but otherwise harmless and simple Britons today when you have probably met some Germans, Frenchmen or Brits.

3.You pay low(er) food prices
Rumour has it that in Britain and the rest of Europe people like to buy cheap food. Seeing that the customer is always right supermarkets try to pay farmers as little as possible. When it comes to milk farmers receive an average of 25p per litre while it costs them an average of 30p to produce.  So, dairy farmers tend to operate making a loss. To offset that loss (and to survive) lots of farmers turn to help from the EU. In 2008 the UK received € 3,755 million (or roughly £3,110 million) worth of farming subsidies, which works out as an average of €12,517 per farm (roughly £ 10,400).
While I’m not saying that the status quo is in any way fair or sensible let’s employ a quick thought experiment as to what would happen, if Britain was to leave the EU.
a)      Farmers continue having to sell milk at a loss without EU subsidies, farms go out of business, there will be food shortages, supermarkets would have to import more and whilst upping their contribution to carbon emission food prices would rise. 
b)      Supermarkets begrudgingly will pay farmers more and need to recover their losses from, you, the consumer, by putting up food prices. 
c)       Supermarkets refuse to pay farmers more, but the government thankfully steps in and food prices don’t rise any more than usual. But your taxes will.