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To be or not to be: anonymity online

Perhaps it is a symptom of my generation, but I have never been especially fussed by government surveillance. A friend of mine summed it up when he said bemusedly, in response to the Snowden ‘revelations’:

“I’ve always just assumed they’re spying on us.”

He’s not paranoid. He just doesn’t give a damn. He and I are both unconcerned by it all, to a degree that people of a certain age and political lean simply can’t understand. Our basic thinking is that, because neither of us are terrorists, we haven’t an awful lot to worry about.

If that seems naive, it’s important to remember that just because such things can change at any moment, that doesn’t mean they do, or ever actually will. It is possible to react prematurely to threats, when they are barely on the horizon. This is what the masses often do.

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Brevity is brief: The obsession with soundbites will end

As a Journalism graduate, I have been taught that in the digital age, we must adapt to the fact that the average person won’t spend more than 15 seconds reading a website. The thinking is, if readers don’t engage with long form, we should stop writing it.

There are a few obvious problems with that assertion. First, a website’s high bounce rate may indicate a failing of search engines, not content; people navigate away because the article doesn’t directly answer the short query they typed into Google. Sometimes, a simple question has a simple answer, or you only have time for the basics right now, because you’re in the the middle of a conversation.

That’s the essence of mobile information; you can become informed an details, in bits and pieces, instantly. This only improves the quality of conversation. I remember when people used to flounder around, saying “I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I heard… [cue conspiracy theory / common misconception / rumour / urban myth]…” Now we know, within seconds, what is generally recognised as true.

In no way does this process of fast information gathering diminish the importance of long form writing. For people who seek it, they are directly looking for nuance and background information, which journalists in the digital age must continue to provide.

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Laugh at veganism, if you want

I’ve been vegan for a good while now, and I still get annoyed when people laugh at it – just as we all get annoyed when people laugh at our beliefs, especially when they are strong.

And I do let a lot slide, knowing that meat eaters would confuse any lack of good humour over animal death for a symptom of me starting to take myself too seriously. I could spend half my life explaining, to no avail, how veganism isn’t about me, or any human at all, but about animals. Not to mention rights and justice – not things to be taken lightly at all.

I suppose the experience would be different if the world was on my side. It’s harmless to laugh at things which everybody does, because there’s no victim to that joke, nor is there any sense that people on mass live in denial of one of the worst, and largest, atrocities of our age.

It’s meat eating that we should be laughing at, this entirely senseless thing that the majority of us do when we don’t have to. If we were honest with ourselves, we would have to admit it’s a bizarre, gross habit.

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Don’t lie to us about Sense8

Sense8 is a sci-fi drama thriller which is particularly popular in LGBT circles. Indeed, I wouldn’t know about this fantastic two-series Netflix show if it wasn’t for my trans connections.

The reason is obvious; it is directed by the Wachowski sisters, two transwomen, and contains a trans actress and model playing a transwoman, with no shying from the everyday drama of being trans.

She also happens to be in a gay relationship, and she isn’t the only one – there is a gay male relationship too, looking at the problems of being a gay action star icon in a socially conservative country. There is also a pansexual minor character and more than a handful of characters seem happy to swing both ways in some situations, engaging in a couple of eight-way mixed sex telepathic orgies.

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The runaway train and the vegetarian

Recently, the old moral conundrum about the derailed train popped up in conversation. Slipping into a reverie, I only rejoined the conversation when it had segued onto: “Why aren’t you a vegetarian, then?”

The speaker wasn’t vegetarian, but I understood immediately how he had got to that point. The recipient of that question had been one of the people who posits that, given the choice between leaving a train to derail and kill five people, or diverting it to kill only three people, they would choose to divert it.

From there, the conundrum deepens; what if you, personally, had to kill these people face-to-face, by your own hand? Most people who took the numbers approach, i.e., would reroute the train, here change tack and say that they could not do it, if it involved this kind of direct, personal, overtly violent action.

This leads naturally onto the question of vegetarianism because, when asked if they could kill an animal directly, most meat eaters would say they could not or would not.

Even those who claim they could, never actually do, or when faced with the opportunity, turn it down, especially if it involves something more up front and personal than firing a long-range rifle.

I always think that the numbers-is-logic answerers of the conundrum answer too quickly. They say “Of course I would divert the train,” as if that’s all there is to it and the answer is completely obvious.

Those of us who demur probably better understand the implications of this act. To “play God” and directly intervene in the lives of others has a potent effect on your psyche.

It would raise alarming questions about you, if you did not live uneasily with the guilt of taking an active role in killing those three people.

For that is what the reality that numbers-people tend to brush over; you are not merely saving five people instead of three. You are killing three people.

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Let’s stop dubbing things “first world problems”

It’s the kind of phrase where the person who coined it must have felt very smug indeed. What could be more satisfying than knowing your expression, meme or concept has gone viral?

It doesn’t last. I remember reading that the one who came up with the “manic pixie dreamgirl” concept trope was perturbed by its overapplication. And as likely as not, you’ve never heard of that.

Everyone has heard of FWP, to the point where it has its own acronym. You needn’t delve into the murky depths of Urban Dictionary to find it.

It’s not just you and the other whippersnappers. I remember, during my childhood, on tired days my mother would get rather annoyed at all manner of expressions, such as “I’m starving”, saying: “You’re not starving! People in Africa are starving!”

And also in reaction to behaviours, such as the typical childhood activity of leaving and picking at food on the plate: “Children in Africa would be glad to have that food!” It’s enough to make a ten-year-old rather resentful of children of Africa.

Of course it’s true that we, both children and adults who should know better, complain too much about things that don’t matter much, in the grand scheme of things.

But, does it really improve society, or make any difference at all, to set aside so much time to acknowledge it, to dedicate great swathes of the online world to pointing it out?

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Don’t refer to trans people in the past by their old pronouns

Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox will have different experiences of being trans in the public eye. Laverne Cox became well-known after appearing in Orange is the New Black, but did so as a fully fledged woman.


She played a transwoman and was perfectly open about her past – even agreeing for her identical twin brother to play the pre-transition version of her character, a decision which I consider to be nothing less than heroic – but nonetheless appeared identifying as a woman right from the off.

Caitlyn Jenner, on the other hand, had a life in the public eye before she transitioned, which means that she will always be beset with misgendering, as much a force of habit than anything else.

This misgendering is not necessarily in regards to matters of the present; more likely, it relates to her past, where people confusingly switch pronouns or even names, depending on which time of life they are referring to.

Most people are simply confused as to procedure. For those people: You must never refer to a trans person by their old name and pronouns when talking about them in the past, unless it is essential, i.e., you are telling the story of their life. If you accept that without question, you can stop reading right here. If you can’t see why that should be, I will explain it to you.

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