Flashes, Camcorders, and Compulsive Documentation at the #Olympics

I think the strangest example of compulsive documentation is the bizarre need we feel to photograph events that are definitely going to be documented anyway. The athletes filming the Opening Ceremony from within the parade last week is a great example of this. I was very taken with this at the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Games and took a really bad photo of the athletes filming the crowd during that ceremony.

And I’ve noted this oddness before, when thousands took photos of the 2008 Presidential inauguration, Malia Obama among them. In these actions, (entirely superfluous in the age of the mass media), we see the audience authenticating their own experience. “I was there and I took my own pictures to prove it.”. It’s the digital equivalent of picking a pebble off a beach – banal in itself, but imbued with meaning and sentiment for the one who took it. Continue reading “Flashes, Camcorders, and Compulsive Documentation at the #Olympics”

Unburdened Enjoyment

I was at the Olympic Park earlier this week, and for technical reasons I was unable to share this fact via my social networks.  As Luke says above, this absence of the need to login and share is indeed ‘freedom’, but nevertheless the unease took a few minutes to wear off.

This feeling should not be written off as mere addiction.  The desire to tweet and share and document is not always a sign that we are slaves to technology.  As well as being a means to share, these technologies are also simple aide memoirs, reminding us where we read something, or when we went somewhere and who we spent time with.  The value of such archives depends, to a large extent, on their completeness (this is also true for a lot of digital art like timelapse montages, which are another type of archive).  In my senile years I anticipate being grateful that I compiled a comprehensive diary of my activities.

https://twitter.com/dance4joseph/status/231323499057266688

For me, the main unease generated by my missing smart phone was not that I could no longer (over)share, but that I would not be able to fill the regular moments of downtime that city living always presents.  The time spent waiting for a bus or on a platform is no bother when you have a near-infintie supply of quick and quirky messages to read.  Kipling’s penultimate stanza “If you can fill an unforgiving minute / With sixty second’s worth of distance run” sticks in my head.  Does the tweeting count as a useful way to spend that “unforgiving minute”?

More on Tom Daley and the Twitter Trolls

After viewing some of the responses to my article on Tom Daley and Twitter trolls, I have been thinking some more about this issue, and the wider problem of people posting offensive and threatening things online.

Many responders felt that I was too lenient on @Rileyy_69, when I said that “This appears to be the kind of outburst that is commonplace in a noisy, modern, and connected society.”

In their view, the level of abuse was not an ‘outburst’ as I put it, but something more sustained. The same person posted threatening videos on YouTube, and the invective he posted on twitter was not limited to the Daley tweets on the day in question. If this behaviour is systematic rather than a heat-of-the-moment slip of the finger, then it should be treated as threatening behaviour. Or so the argument goes. Continue reading “More on Tom Daley and the Twitter Trolls”

Involving the police is not the way to teach trolls a lesson

First published at the New Statesman, so add your comments there.  I will definitely post a follow up to this as lots of people have made very pertinent points about this whole shennanigans.

Another day, another Twitter controversy. Less than a week after Paul Chambers heard that the appeal against his conviction in the so-called Twitter joke trial had been upheld, we hear that the police have arrested another person for something written on Twitter.

The person arrested is a 17-year-old, who sent messages to the British Olympic diver Tom Daley. In one tweet, the troll said “u let ur dad down” and in another (later deleted) said that Daley should be drowned. It must be assumed that it is this language of violence which led to the arrest.

When it comes to the limits of free expression, context is important. The messages were deeply unpleasant, but did not appear to include any specifics. The teenager was in Plymouth, not in the Stratford Aquatics Centre. He did not call for others to take a specific action. This appears to be the kind of outburst that is commonplace in a noisy, modern, and connected society. The referees of every professional football match receive similar threats every weekend. Edwina Currie said that tax exiles should be shot. Jeremy Clarkson wants to murder the entire public sector. We often hear calls for bankers to be hanged. Outlawing this kind of speech might seem desirable in theory, but would be chaotic in practice.

The outrage against these tweets (and by extension, a justification for the police intervention) is that Tom Daley is a national treasure. This is true, but laws cannot only protect people we like – they need to work equally well for everyone. If another, less popular, athlete receives similar abuse, will there be similar outcry?

In fact, one could argue that death threats to public figures are less important than those directed at ordinary people. If a schoolboy living in one of the East London boroughs around the Olympic park receives a tweeted death threat today, it is likely to be from someone he knows and who he actually meets every day. This kind of bullying is much more serious that the “remote” trolling experienced by members of Team GB.

Daley, meanwhile, has a legion of supporters. He seems to be perfectly capable of dealing with trolls like this without the police being involved. His response to the unpleasant tweets was classy – he re-tweeted them! The troll then received a heavy social punishment – thousands of people wrote in solidarity with Daley. His antagonist was so humiliated that he later posted some gushing apologies. The storm should have ended there. What happens on Twitter, stays on Twitter. When confronted with offensive and threatening words, it is usually better to respond in the same medium. Fight a book with a book, a play with a play, a tweet with a tweet. Police involvement might teach that troll a lesson, but it also “chills” other people’s free expression. People have a right to be angry.

In the coming days, we may hear from a few luddites (almost certainly members of one or other of the Houses of Parliament) decry Twitter and the internet as somehow inspiring this hate. This is of course rubbish. Poor taste jokes and vocalised wishes that certain public figures should die horribly have always been a feature of discourse. Before, these comments were lost in the din of a crowded pub. Now, they find a kind of semi-permanence on Twitter, which gives them a credibility they do not deserve. However we respond to this new kind of speech, let’s not confuse the medium with the message.

Cycling to Work on the Eve of the Games

The smug designer with the skinny t-shirt and a fixed gear bike.
The mother in blue track suit with an empty child seat fixed to the pannier.
The ill-prepared lad in the baggy jeans on mountain bike with the seat set way too low.
The hobbyist with orange glasses and Lycra that matches his titanium frame.
The dreadlocked courier with a thick chain wrapped around his chest.
The woman with frayed ginger hair crawling out of her helmet.
The two Japanese tourists, inexplicably on Boris Bikes (miles from a docking station, surely?)

Could I discern
The same eager twitching as the red lights wane,
The same grit of the teeth as clear road opens up ahead
The same extra power on the pedals as the bike overtakes a bus
The same glance over the shoulders, to check the gap between the person behind,
The same confident gait of the one who imagines himself to be wearing a yellow jersey,
As I perceived in myself?

At the four way pedestrian crossing at Ludgate Hill,
When the red lights rudely put the brakes on our makeshift peloton,
Did I perceive in the tall old man in a linen suit,
In the girl in a flowing white dress and flat sandals
In the woman in the business skirt and trainers,
In the sweaty man in shorts, now carrying his fold up bicycle,
A quicker step
A longer stride
A firmer tread
As if the noise that heralded the green man
Was no longer a high-pitched beep
But a starters’ gun?

Quoted in Politiken

Over the weekend I was quoted in Politiken, the Danish broadsheet, discussing the LOCOG attempt to control how staff, athletes and the public tweet during the Olympics.  The ‘Games Makers’ have strict tweeting rules, and Twitter have been roped in to police ‘ambush marketing’ attempts by companies who are not an official games sponsor.

Here are the quotes:

Hos den engelske afdeling af PEN, der kæmper for ytringsfrihed over hele verden, siger kampagneleder Robert Sharp, at han finder forbuddet direkte latterligt. “Det er bizart og man kan spekulere over hvilket signal OL sender ud ved netop at lægge så meget vægt på deres sponsorers interesser. Det efterlader en med en dårlig smag i munden og det strider for mig at se imod hele den olympiske ånd, der går ud på åbenhed og at dele”,  siger han.

and

Robert Sharp tvivler alvorligt på, at de den Olympiske Komite kan håndhæve nogen form for censur. “Vi har tidligere set i forbindelse med retssager her i Storbritannien, at selv ikke et forbud fra Højesteret har kunnet stillet meget op overfor twitter. Tværtimod tror jeg ethvert forsøg på at stoppe en twitterpost eller et opslag på Facebook vil have den modsatte effekt. Det vil sprede sig på nettet med lynets hast”, mener han.