Archive: society

I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say about the rioting at looting that has been taking place in parts of the UK. But I fully support the sentiment behind Operation Cup Of Tea, the “Anti-Riot” that took place on Facebook and Twitter at 8.30pm today.

Stay positive and have a cup of tea.

Operation Cup of Tea

Google has never quite worked with social media. After buying Blogger, it never seemed to know what to do with it. Then there were the high-profile flops Google Buzz and Google Wave. It was tempting to think that the mighty Google had lost touch completely while Facebook and Twitter gain more ground all the time.

Google+ is another attempt to take on Facebook. The twist is that this time it might work. It threatens to buck the trend of gaffe-prone Google product launches. People are actually excited about it. I’m excited about it. And I can’t remember when I last felt excited about a social media offering.

Google have obviously spent a lot of time and effort on making sure that Google+ works. A big emphasis has been placed on the user interface, with changes being rolled out across all of Google’s major products.


Google Circles interface

On that front, the biggest head-turner has been Google Circles. There is nothing particularly revolutionary at all about the concept. You separate people into different groups, meaning that you can share certain information with your close friends while keeping it hidden from occasional acquaintances.

Facebook has had this feature for as long as I can remember. But it’s never been sexy. Google has realised that people are attracted by flashy and playful interfaces as much as (or even more than) interfaces that are merely functional.

I was initially not impressed by the idea. But I have found that I have created many more circles than lists in Facebook. In Facebook I only have two — ‘Close friends’ (which I don’t particularly use) and ‘Limited profile’ which hides certain profile information from certain people.

But on Google+, I now have separate circles for six groups of people, with the intention of creating more. At the time being it is difficult to tell if the Circles feature will be useful in a way that Facebook’s lists feature isn’t.

A relatively clean slate

But what really strikes me about Google+ is the fact that its main selling point is that it’s not Facebook. Most are focusing on the privacy aspect of this. I am not sure if Google is less of a worry than Facebook on the privacy front.

But where Google has the upper hand is on its image. Over the years, Facebook has built up a lot of baggage. Facebook is now a massive deal with complicated systems of etiquette. Look at how people (only half jokingly) talk about relationships only becoming ‘official’ when your relationship status is set on Facebook.

For this sort of reason, Facebook has become a minefield. I often think twice about adding someone on Facebook just because of all the baggage that comes with it. Some people might take offence. Do they want to be Facebook friends with me? I am never sure. Which pretty much means that I add almost no-one these days.

Google Circles has a major advantage, in that it doesn’t come with all of this baggage. Moreover, it cleverly avoids calling everyone friends. When I signed up, by default I had circles called Friends, Family, Acquaintances and Following (for people I have never met but whose posts I find interesting).

The crucial inclusion of the Following circle means I can feel more comfortable about adding people. Already it is starting to feel more like Twitter or Tumblr in terms of the people that are on there, but with the functionality of Facebook.

Partly this is because, for the time being, Google+ is mainly full of the geeky types that I only know online anyway. Time will tell if Facebook users and more ‘real life’ friends will join Google+. But for me, it is a massively good sign that I have already happily added a number of people to my Google Circles, some of whom I would not consider adding on Facebook.

The other features

This is where it starts to unravel a bit for me. Beyond Circles, which is more about a change in culture rather than any revolutionary new features, I am not sure what else about Google+ is exciting.

I have tried, but I just do not understand Google Sparks. What is it for? It seems like a really bad version of Google News or Google Alerts.

Meanwhile, Hangouts looks like it could be fun, but probably not for me. Out of curiosity, I tried it out on my netbook, which has built-in the only webcam I own. But it seemed like Hangouts almost killed it! Admittedly, my netbook is a bit old and is creaking at the seams, but it wasn’t the best of experiences.

What’s to come

Overall, though, the most exciting thing about Google+ is that it heralds a change in direction for Google. It sounds like there is more in the pipeline and that they are intent on shaking up the social web. Circles is a great start.

If you happen to want to, you can add me on Google+.

At this time of year, it is often best to leave petrolheads alone. They may be tetchy. Perhaps they are a bit zombie-like.

This section of the Formula 1 season, in mid-autumn, is the part that contains a lot of the “flyaway” races that take place in Asia. This means getting up at ridiculous hours, all for our fix of watching cars go round in circles for a couple of hours. This section of flyaway races, and the one that comes at the start of the season, truly is a feat of endurance.

This year at work, I have ended up with lots of holidays to use up before Christmas. I have decided to use a lot of them around these flyaway races to help me cope with the unsociable hours. It is working out fairly well — I might plan my holidays around the concept next year!

But here is the thing. Is getting up ridiculously early to watch the grand prix taking our devotion to the sport too far? Lukeh has just published a post about his inability to explain this behaviour to his colleague.

This is just adding to the thoughts I have been having about whether it is time for me to relax my policy of trying to watch as much F1 action as possible live, rather than recorded. Is it such a big deal if I swap ridiculously early mornings for a nice long lie in and the comfort of watching the race whenever I want?

The appeal of watching it live

Since I originally got into F1 back in 1996, I can only have missed a tiny amount of races. There was the 2000 United States Grand Prix, which ITV neglected to broadcast live on a proper channel, leaving us with a late-night extended highlights show. There may have been one or two other races that I have failed to see, but I don’t think so. Naturally, if I can, I watch a race live — and qualifying too. And practice if I can get away with it!

It is easy to understand why watching the race live would be preferable. For one thing, nothing beats the thrill of seeing events unfold in front of your eyes as they happen. You just don’t get that feeling if you’re watching the highlights later in the day.

It’s also pretty cool to have Twitter open and to chat with fellow fans about the sport we love as the event itself is taking place. And for me, watching the race and qualifying with live timing open is an absolute must. The onboard channel is another nice bonus. Anyone who has seen the set-up I use to watch races knows about my need to have data as the race unfolds. These options wouldn’t be available if I had recorded the race.

I suspect that one of the reasons I became interested in F1 was that it gave me an excuse to stay up late and get up at exotic hours when I was young, when I otherwise wouldn’t have been allowed to. I became hooked to the sport during 1996, but I have very fond memories of staying up to watch the 1997 Australian Grand Prix, when ITV had a full night of special programming celebrating their first race since winning the rights.

I am sure there is a fair bit of chest-beating as well. Putting ourselves through this sleep deprivation is like earning a badge of honour. F1 fans can often be seen boasting about just how much of the action they have seen live and how little sleep they have had. It is easy to get sucked into this mindset. I tell my friends with pride, expecting them to be impressed — but they only react with shock and disgust.

This is before we have even gone into the traditional argument in favour of watching live. What if you accidentally find out the result? Can you spend the day without living in utter fear of somehow overhearing what happened?

Would it be all that bad to miss the race?

I am not yet contemplating missing a grand prix entirely. But I am beginning to wonder if recording a race and watching it later would actually be good for my soul. I have a reputation among some of my friends — none of whom are all that into F1 — of being a tad too dedicated to watching F1, even if it means getting up ridiculously early.

This weekend’s Korean Grand Prix could possibly be the first race in a couple of years that I haven’t seen live. Not since I had to work on Sundays, at the late, great Woolworths, have I failed to watch a race live.

Tonight, I am staying overnight at a friend’s home in Dundee, as we are celebrating her birthday. Of course, this sort of thing comes first — so I am sacrificing the grand prix that takes place early on Sunday morning.

But I would by lying my arse off if I didn’t confess that I have been thinking of ways to consume the race live. Setting the alarm and surreptitiously getting up to watch the race at 6am would probably be socially unacceptable in the extreme — even if I use headphones and turn the brightness down!

In this case, is it worth listening to it on the radio if I can’t access pictures? Perhaps even watching it on the Softpauer iPhone app could be a good substitute?

I somehow doubt it. The sensible option is therefore to chill out, remain calm, sleep through it and do my level best to avoid any spoilers until later in the day when I can watch the race by myself at home without disturbing anyone else.

I am not sure that my friends are all that impressed with the sacrifice I am making though!

My first reaction upon reading about Gordon Brown’s “bigoted woman” gaffe was, “but what if she is bigoted?” My second thought was, “this will probably work in Gordon Brown’s favour”.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time the media got a tad over-excited when criticising Gordon Brown, only for it to work in Brown’s favour. Just remember back to the faux furore over his handwriting. Then there were the bullying allegations which could have been so damaging for Brown but ended up being more damaging for a charity.

It turns out that, although she perhaps is not a full-scale bigot, Gillian Duffy’s views certainly head towards that zone. Her anti-immigration rant was a pretty typical ill-informed platitude. The nadir was her asking “where all those eastern Europeans are flocking from”, to which the answer is, of course, eastern Europe.

Even so, this is nonsense the like of which we probably all hear every day, be it in an overheard conversation on the street or one of those mad phone-in bigot-magnets that radio stations love to broadcast every morning. In that sense, it was over-the-top of Gordon Brown to call her bigoted, although I would probably have been thinking the same myself.

I am sure that if John Prescott had done this, it would be widely seen as a vote-winner. As it is, this incident plays into media narratives about the gaffe-prone shambles of a man man who fails to empathise with voters and who has a Jekyll and Hyde character. But how many can seriously say they have never muttered under their breath about other people’s views being intensely wrong?

What I find interesting, though, is that Mrs Duffy holds these sorts of views and yet describes herself as “a lifelong Labour supporter”. This is just yet another demonstration to me that Labour is not a compassionate party that cares about the worse-off people in society. A truly progressive party ought to welcome and applaud the endeavours of people who are so desperate to make their lives better that they will move to the opposite side of the continent to try and legitimately make it happen.

This gets to the heart of the real reason why this incident is damaging for Gordon Brown. It exposes the fact that Labour has long since given up the pretence of being the party that is in favour of the disadvantaged in society. Yet at the same time, it dismantles like a house of cards all of the efforts Labour has made over years, if not decades, to court the votes of bigots.

This is the party that likes to talk tough and act tough on immigration. It is the party that delights in putting up hoops of fire for immigrants to leap through. It is the party that introduced the bigoted points based system. It is the party that, in a bigoted move, restricted residents of EU member states Bulgaria and Romania from legitimately seeking work in this country.

Gordon Brown is the person who proudly announced that there should be “British jobs for British workers”. Well, today he’s said it all — Labour is the bigoted party.

The problem is that Gordon Brown has, probably for the first time I can remember, said something about immigration that I can actually agree with — but it wasn’t intended to be heard. That’s because while Labour likes to think of itself as the “progressive” party, its credentials in this area are in fact wafer-thin. If Brown thinks that expressing a mildly anti-immigration view is “bigoted”, he and his party will nevertheless do anything to gain the votes of bigots if it means they can get into power.

It interests me that one of Gordon Brown’s most extensive apologies today has been to members of the Labour Party in an email. Is it because he called them bigots?

It is notoriously hard to get to grips with the youth. Advertisers hate it. The age group of 15–24 — of which, incidentally, I am still part — is notoriously fickle. They define themselves almost in terms of what they are not rather than what they are.

That is the explanation being given to the counter-intuitive finding by Ofcom that the proportion of 15–24-year-olds using Facebook has decreased in the past year. Facebook as a whole is still growing. But the problem is that it’s now full of parents and teachers, and it would be deeply uncool to be using a website like that.

In the same week, a Nielsen study has shown that teenagers don’t use Twitter. It has been long suspected that they never did use Twitter in large numbers, but now there are figures to prove it.

That came just weeks after a 15-year-old doing work experience made a splash with Morgan Stanley who were trying to get a grip on what the future might look like. Matthew Robson said, among other things, that Twitter is for old people only.

It probably comes a surprise to some. Even Mashable implies it wouldn’t have believed it if it hadn’t seen the figures. I am sure there are lots of people out there who imagine sites like Facebook and Twitter being full of youths donning virtual hoodies and organising virtual knifings. But young people are not so easy to pin down. The Ofcom report declines to tell us what young people actually are spending their time online doing, although we know for sure that they are online in their droves.

Mine is the first generation to have grown up with the internet. And like every shift in in youth culture, from rock and roll to video games, it gets people thinking about the possible downsides of growing up in a new environment. So they say that the internet gives you a short attention span. Or it dehumanises community life and leads to suicide.

I was recently emailed by a reader and occasional commenter here, Fran Walker. She was curious to know, what with me being a youth and all, if I have a life outside the computer?

As the worry of tinies not being able to interact with other humans, and the problems this may later lead to, is current news, it makes me wonder how you get on, as I regard you as one of the first of the “totally familiar with computers generation”? My son, who is 39 and lives in Taiwan, uses them for specific tasks, dislikes emails, prefers phone calls, and was in the first lot at school when computers were introduced, but he had a computer free childhood before that (say before 12 or 13), whereas, I suspect you had access to your parents’ computer since you can remember?

Like, I suspect, most people my age, I do indeed have a life outside of the computer, although it’s true I spend a lot of time on it. Partly this is because most of my work requires me to use the computer. Then, much of my spare time is consumed by the search for work, which is easiest to do on the internet.

There is also the plain fact that I love being connected to the internet for a whole host of reasons. Most of all, it brings me into contact with so many people I otherwise would not have. And it enables me to contact existing friends easily and comfortably. As Shane Richmond pointed out in his response to Vincent Nichols, the internet “enriches communication, it doesn’t destroy it.”

It is definitely the case that people in my generation are more familiar with computers. When I was young my parents had a BBC Micro, although it was quite old-fashioned even then. As far as I was concerned it was only really good for playing quite rudimentary games, when I could have been playing more sophisticated console games.

We only really got a contemporary computer in the late 1990s, and access to the internet came after that. By that time I was into my teens, so I can definitely remember a pre-internet era. I think for my generation, there were still a lot of people who didn’t have experience with the internet until they were fairly old.

I certainly remember when we started using the internet at school during my standard grades, aged about 15 or 16, there was at least one person in my class who had never used the internet before. Mind you, it’s true that I remember it so vividly because it was so unusual.

People often pose the hypothetical question, “could you survive for a day without the internet?” I recently went away for a short break, and I probably spent longer away from the internet than I have done for years.

Mind you, I expected to still be connected. But thanks to O2’s shaky 3G service it wasn’t to be. That was quite annoying because I wanted to contact people through Twitter. But it wasn’t the end of the world. I had a lot to do anyway, and was focusing on doing the things I wanted to do on my break.

As for voluntarily foregoing access, I think it would be difficult but not impossible. Certainly, one of the first things I do when I get up in the morning is check the internet, and it’s one of the last things I do at night. Would there be any point in not checking? I don’t think so.

A thought experiment like this is not terribly useful. You could try to “survive” a day without the internet, but what would it prove? Could you go for a week without reading your post? Or a month without reading newspapers? I certainly couldn’t survive a day without listening to the radio — I would go round the bend very quickly if I was deprived of it. Is that healthy or unhealthy?

For my generation, having a life outside the computer is no problem. Certainly, I spend a while on the computer. But many people might spend that time watching bad television or getting steaming drunk down the pub, which is much less healthy than spending your time reading Wikipedia.

But — and this is where I start to show that I am at the older end of the “youth” bracket — there is a but. My generation is not the first to grow up having not known a pre-internet world. In fact, I haven’t even had access to the internet for half of my life. So the real people to ask about the worry of an internet-obsessed world would be those who are currently 10 or under, and have never known a pre-internet home or school.

However, I would predict that, like Elvis’s dangerously swinging pelvis, we will come to view as quaint the fact that there was ever any concern.

Sweet summer night and I’m stripped to my sheets

Forehead is leaking, my AC squeaks and

A voice from the clock says, “You’re not gonna get tired”

My bed is a pool and the walls are on fire

So begins the new single by Animal Collective, ‘Summertime Clothes’. Their solution to being unable to sleep in the oppressive heat is to go out and walk through the city (only to be confronted by the smell of trash).

I used to do that when I was younger. I’d slip out of the house and wander around as dawn broke. It’s quite a strange experience to walk around at 4am, when it’s broad daylight and there is no-one around. It’s good, but it doesn’t help you get to sleep. But if you stay in bed, by the time it cools down sufficiently (if it ever does) the sun is ready to rise again and you face the other problem of sleeping at summer — it’s too damn bright.

Longer days. I used to like that aspect of summer. This year I am not so sure. Several times I have woken up convinced that it must be morning, so intense is the sunlight. I raise my head only to look at the clock and see that it is something like 4:30am and I have had barely had two hours of sleep. Back to sleep I go, waking up every so often because of the brightness. I hide my head under my blanket, but that only makes the overbearing heat worse.

This isn’t the first time I have struggled with the summer climate. Three years ago I wrote a short and simple article entitled “I hate summer“. It got a bit of reaction at first. Later on it sporadically attracted further comments. There would perhaps be a small trickle during our winter, when wilting Antipodeans would vent. When it becomes summer in the northern hemisphere more people join in.

Now it seems to have turned into a bit of a self-organising support group — a collection of like-minded people who are united only by the fact that presumably they all one day turned to Google and said “I hate summer“. There are now a few regulars that leave comments on that post, which recently passed the 100 comments mark. It’s been one of those unexpected successes of this website.

It’s good to know that you’re not the only one who dislikes the summer. Many like the sun and the heat. In fact, it’s normally taken as a given that hot weather is a good thing. Not for me.

To my fragile Scottish complexion, the sun is just like a giant death ray in the sky. There is the small fact that it provides almost all of the energy on our planet. But I’d never guess it, given that it seems to sap all of the energy out of me.

Then again, I don’t mind sunlight so much. A bit of sun can’t be bad. It keeps those vitamin D levels in check. On a pleasant day I like to walk in the sun. A cool, sunny winter day can’t be beaten.

The real problem with summer is the intensity of the sun and the heat that comes with it. In fact, the sun could be away completely and it will be even worse. Is there anything worse than an overcast, cloudy, rainy, muggy, humid day? It is unbearably bad.

It’s not just the high temperatures, which might be bearable for a period. It’s the fact that once you get too hot, you reach some kind of tipping point, and it’s impossible to escape it for the rest of the day. A cool drink, for instance, provides only transient relief.

Some people say that winter is just as bad because it is too cold. That may be so in a way, but there is something evil about summer’s heat in that it is truly impossible to escape it. After all, if it’s too cold during winter, it’s not a problem — just throw another layer of clothes on. If it’s too warm during summer, there is not much you can do about it without getting arrested.

Moreover, my nose turns into a tap. It is not just the hay fever, which I am not sure if I have. But I certainly suffer a lot from Achoo Syndrome. I get that during winter too, if it’s sunny enough. But when it’s cooler, sneezing is something you can shake off fairly easily. During summer you cannot have a sneezing fit without having to reach for a towel as a result of the perspiration it causes.

More nose-related woe comes when you consider the summery stench. The smell of rubbish has already been alluded to by Animal Collective. But more than that, you cannot take a simple trip to the supermarket without your nostrils being assaulted by the BO of some middle-aged fat man who thinks it is the done thing to walk around with his top off. The sight is equally bad, especially when so many people walk around thinking nothing of the fact that they’ve turned the colour of the Forth Bridge.

And for the sake of taste and decency, I am not even going to go into the problems I encounter down there.

As if to prove that the world really has it in for me, I am convinced that my room is by far the hottest in the whole house. I can leave the window open all night and you’d never guess. But if I go for a walk around the house, it feels positively breezy, even in rooms where the window is clamped shut.

The really worrying thing is the fact that all of this summer malarkey adversely affects me so much despite the fact that I live quite far north in a relatively cool country. Indeed, I live on the coast of a peninsula of an island. Here I sit writing this a mere ten minute walk away from the North Sea, struggling to cope with a temperature that is apparently not higher than the teens. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I lived closer to the equator or far inland. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

A word on the important matter of Twitter etiquette. Of course, Twitter itself is full of its own little rules and norms. But now it seems that there is a need for social norms to develop so that we know when it is acceptable to update Twitter.

I find myself once again on the side of Patrick Harvie. I spotted in The Scotsman on Friday that the co-convener of the Greens found himself in a bit of hot water for using Twitter while hob-nobbing with Gordon Brown and other politicians.

Tavish Scott bemoaned the poor manners of it. But a spokesperson for Jim Murphy (himself an occasional Twitter user was a bit more light-hearted, noting that it is normal for Greens to like birds, so it’s not unusual for Patrick Harvie to be tweeting.

Although The Scotsman article itself is not too scathing, immediately underneath was a comment piece by a curmudgeonly “etiquette guru” who says dislikes “antisocial BlackBerry use” because “it really is the worst sort of behaviour”. I don’t know about you, but I think someone takes it upon themselves to go around the place telling other people to behave is actually incredibly rude.

Richard Havers calls him a twit. But Jeff at SNP Tactical Voting doesn’t see the problem, and I have to agree. I wonder if there is a generational divide here. I can well understand why people might find it disconcerting for someone to occasionally prod on a gadget while at a social function.

But these devices are our umbilical cord to the world. Why be holed up in a room when you can be communicating with the world? I think people my age have a tacit understanding about the acceptable use of mobile phones in a social situation.

While I would certainly feel offended were it to happen during a one-to-one meeting, it is in the nature of discussions with larger numbers of people for everyone to find themselves not taking part in a conversation at some point or another. I would particularly be tempted if the conversation centred around that turgid game known as football, as Patrick Harvie found. It is not as though he was constantly plugged into Twitter. He only fired off seven tweets over the course of about three hours.

If you are not engaged in conversation, there is no harm in getting your mobile out. Everyone does it in larger gatherings, and from time to time I have even seen instances where almost everyone in the group is doing something on their mobile. It might seem odd, but it is not a demonstration of antisocial behaviour.

It is silly to call using Twitter antisocial. I never got this nation that using modern communication technologies is antisocial. In fact, it is the complete opposite. So Patrick Harvie decided to take a bit of time out from communicating with eight other people. But by posting to Twitter, he began communicating with his 100-odd followers. So which is more antisocial — ignoring the eight or ignoring the 100?

I also like Patrick Harvie’s point that it is those other 100+ people who are the important ones. If nothing else, the politician’s use of Twitter is a good demonstration of a desire to engage people in the political process, even if his contributions on the night were not always very serious.

The Scottish Parliament’s newest MSP has found herself getting a bit of attention from the media because of her blog. Anne McLaughlin, known to bloggers as Indygal, has become the SNP’s newest Parliamentarian following the sudden and sad death of Bashir Ahmad.

The first story I saw about her blog in the media was actually not completely negative. The article noted that her blog has attracted a loyal following and seemed to appreciate the eclecticism of the blog.

I do like the Indygal blog. It is a friendly and humorous read. Anne McLaughlin’s new job also means that for the first time a Scottish Roundup editor has become an MSP. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few others become MSPs as well…

The way The Guardian‘s article was written did rather outline the potential for a less favourable spin to be put on the blog.

In other posts, she has branded the colourful Labour MSP Lord George Foulkes as an “ignoramous”, called Labour MSP Frank McAveety “the daftest man in the parliament” and described the historian and nationalist MSP Christopher Harvie as a “splendid nutter”. She branded an SNP councillor in Glasgow who defected to Labour in one uncompromising posting as The Ego.

Today there has been much huffing and puffing over a post from a couple of weeks ago containing “surreptitiously taken” photographs of goings-on inside the Parliament building. On the surface, claims that it damages the trust among MSPs and staff may seem reasonable. But looking at the post it’s clear that it was tongue-in-cheek and rather innocuous. The fuss stinks more of party political points scoring than anything else.

Still, it throws into focus once again the dangers of being a blogger. This is by no means the first time a blog post has thrown a spanner in the works of a political career.

By-election candidate Jody Dunn broke ground in 2004 when she blogged during her campaign in Hartlepool. The Guardian said she was blogging her way to by-election history. Unfortunately for Ms Dunn, it was her own political career that was history after the Labour campaign capitalised on a tongue-in-cheek post in which she described all the locals as “either drunk, flanked by an angry dog, or undressed.”

The Labour Party has felt the effects of ill-advised blogging as well. When Gavin Yates became the then-leader of the Scottish Labour Party Wendy Alexander’s head of communications, he probably wasn’t banking on being caught out by his own communications from the past. His blog had been less than complimentary about the Labour Party. But even though he never wrote anything truly damaging, the media still pounced on it, and it added to the long list of woes that beset Wendy Alexander’s brief period as Labour leader.

It all comes back to that old chestnut — how will an employer react to your blog? This is a sticky one that has long vexed me. Never before have the personal views and lives of people been on such public display. Not just through blogs either. The social networking phenomenon means that people are volunteering information about themselves to others in a way that was never possible.

It is near ubiquitous among people my age. My generation will run into these difficulties first. For instance, how might a potential employer react to all of this freely-available information? One point of view is that having this information out in the open will disadvantage you. But if everyone else is doing it, we are more or less back to square one.

Not quite though. Some people will have their illegal activities recorded on Facebook or Bebo. Others will have pristine profiles that arouse no suspicion, even of the consumption of a quiet pint. But might these people be seen as anti-social and one-dimensional by employers?

With my blog, I have basically constructed a database of my opinions going back to 2002, when I was 16 years old. I’m sure most people are quite thankful that their 16-year-old selves are long forgotten. Might I be disadvantaged by something I wrote three, four, five years ago? It might be something that now seems gauche, or an opinion that today I may not agree with — something I don’t even remember writing.

There have probably never been more laws preventing employers from discriminating against people with certain personal attributes. But ironically, today’s technology enables employers to access a wealth of candidates’ personal information like never before.

The thing is, we all volunteer that information. I think a few people from this generation will get their fingers burnt here. We like to think we are savvy enough to deal with it, but we are still fumbling around in the dark. We are all self-taught and we will make mistakes.

Future generations will be taught by their superiors, in the same way that parents today think nothing of teaching their children about etiquette and other rules of society. If I come to view my decision to blog openly from a young age as a mistake, I would warn any children I had not to. But I would have had no way of knowing.

Similarly, Anne McLaughlin was hardly to know two weeks ago that she would be an MSP and find her blogging activities land her in a spot of bother. I suspect in the long term this will blow over, but we’ll probably see a different style of Indygal — that is, indeed, if she returns to blogging at all.

One of the best Scottish political bloggers around, Kezia Dugdale, took her blog down for a few months, saying it was “far too risky a past-time”. Now she is back in the blogosphere, but “smarter with how, when and what I post.”

Ideally, it would be good if politicians could blog freely, without fearing that it will be used against them in the future. I very much agree with Bellgrove Belle. The faux-furore surrounding the Indygal blog is pretty much a non-story. But — in life in general, but particularly in the highly charged world of party politics — these things will happen.

That’s a real shame because I think people like Anne McLaughlin and Kezia Dugdale do a lot to help engage people in the political process.

Having laid into the nasty side of human nature a few days ago, it is only fair that I redress the balance when I am reminded of the good side of people.

When I wrote about my (un)employment situation I wasn’t expecting to get such long responses from people offering advice. Not only did I get some great comments to the post, but I also got a couple of emails which I wasn’t expecting.

The fact that people took the time to write to me was a reminder of the nicer side of human nature. Thanks to all of you! :)

I see that the BBC’s iPM blog is asking for the human stories behind the current unemployment figures. Well, I am a human face of two recent news stories.

As readers are no doubt sick of reading by now, one of those stories was the loss of around 27,000 jobs at Woolworths. The other is the shortage of graduate-level jobs.

I graduated last summer. I didn’t have a job to walk into straight away because I wanted to take time to think about my future plans. Plus, the economy seemed bad enough at the time, and I thought maybe things would improve a bit later down the line. Now I have more or less decided what sort of work I would like to do, but of course the economy has deteriorated further and the jobs simply aren’t there.

The thing is, I’m not the only one. I can’t think of anyone who was in the same school year as me and has found a graduate-level job. I haven’t kept in touch with many people from university, but those I have heard from are either working in part-time retail jobs or more-or-less volunteering. I am still in touch with a lot of people from school, and no-one I know who was in the same year as me has found a job yet. I’m sure there are loads of people of my age who have found a decent job — I just don’t know any of them.

Many are doing five year courses anyway so are still studying. One or two have opted to go onto further study, while the rest of us are still searching for employment. And I’m not talking about people who got thirds from Shatsborough Poly by any means. I know someone who got a first at St Andrews University and is currently working in a shop.

A few months ago I still had the luxury of working in a shop. Of course, staying on at Woolies was never my long-term goal. It would have been useful as a back-up plan though. Not exactly a plan B, but maybe a plan C. As it stands, I’m still waiting for something to turn up in the realm of plan A, I need to wait and see with plan B, and plan C has totally fallen through already. For now, I’m onto plan D — D for “dole”.

So the news that there is a shortage of graduate places is not exactly news to me. I’ve experienced it myself and I’ve shared that experience with my acquaintances. What is really worrying is that a situation that was bad for the class of 2008 looks set to become even worse in 2009, with no sign of a recovery.

I had long feared that my degree wouldn’t be worth much. When I was at my lowest ebb, I thought that the whole higher education machine was a bit of a scam. When you are at school, you are pretty much told by everyone that going to university is the only option if you don’t want to spend your life being a street cleansing operative. Parents want you to go to university because of their pride. Schools want you to go to university, probably because of some kind of target, or league tables or something. And governments want you to go to university because of their peculiar obsession with having 50% of school leavers in higher education, and probably also to keep unemployment figures down as well.

Quite why I should have wanted to go to university is a bit of a mystery now. It was fairly clear early on that my degree wouldn’t be enough to set me apart, mostly because people began to tell us. There was that old joke about the university graduate who went on to become the best barman in town.

I could see why it was the case. The intellectual range of students is surprisingly large. I studied alongside many students who did not seem very bright (and spent much of their four years at university consuming alcohol), but were obviously quite good at exams. I think I am relatively smart and hard-working, but I don’t happen to perform so well at exams (my essay marks were always higher). Both types of student are likely to get a 2:1, but one of those types is surely the better for the employer. I have few ways of signalling to an employer which type I am.

The fact that employers do not value degrees very highly at all is evident in the fact that most blue chip companies will have job applicants sit their own exams, aptitude tests, diagrammatic reasoning tests and so on and so forth. Simply, there are too many degrees sloshing about in the system and the value of a degree is now so low that it tells you almost nothing about a person’s ability to do a job.

Maybe in the long run it will pay off and I will be pleased I put myself through four years of stress and horrible three hour round-trip commutes. In the meantime, I look at the people around me who have never been to university and think what I could be doing now had I taken their path. If I worked in a shop from the age of 16, I could be in management by now. If I left school at 16 and took up a trade such as plumbing, I would be perfectly comfortable and happy with my life already. I might even be running my own business. As things stand, I just feel a bit lost and I don’t know what my prospects are.

What I find notable is that the few opportunities I have had have arisen as a result of my blogging activities. No-one is interested in me because of my degree. There are plenty of people with one of them, and they’re all looking for jobs too.

The loss of my part time job last week came as a further blow to morale. Even though I was planning to leave my job at around this time anyway, there is nothing like being made redundant from a low-paid shelf-stacking job to make you feel like a spare part to the world. I need to remember that it’s not my fault.

Unemployment has affected me more than I thought it might. While I have never been unemployed in the official sense before, I have had periods of downtime before — summer breaks from university and the like. I thought it would feel like that. But it doesn’t. A whole lot of baggage comes with unemployment.

I have found myself being quite down at times. The scariest part is not the lack of income (for the time being) but the potential that I might end up isolated. You might not get along with all of your colleagues, but they are nonetheless like a second family. It’s a whole set of people who are there, prepared to listen to you and offer advice. Regular contact with people keeps you connected to society. With many of my friends either still studying or gallivanting somewhere else, I am a bit worried about becoming isolated.

Jennifer Tracey asks on the iPM blog if there is less of a stigma attached to being unemployed now that the economy is in such a bad state. I couldn’t help but feel rather self conscious as I took my first trip to the Jobcentre and I almost felt like the spotlight was on me as I walked up the steps to the entrance. I suppose that is quite silly really, because in this part of the world the Jobcentre’s steps are quite well used.

But what other people might think doesn’t bother me as much as what I think does. The prospect that I might be unable to positively contribute to society for the next while vexes me a lot.