Archive: youth

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.

Well my week-long voyage of discovery has come to an end. In actual fact, I decided early this week which party I would vote for. I wasn’t sure whether I would actually go along to vote though.

In the end, I decided to go along to the polling station. I fancied a walk and a bit of fresh air. Besides, my parents dropped in to vote on the way to a meal at glamorous Wetherspoons, so I would have gone hungry if I didn’t go with them.

Having reached the polling station without being bumped off, and decided which party I preferred, the costs of voting seemed very small even considering the minuscule benefits. So I went in, queued behind my parents, and cast my vote.

When I first went in, the polling station seemed quite quiet — there was only one person casting her vote. But by the time I left, I had seen at least another four people come in. I was expecting it to be proper tumbleweed stuff, but it seemed steady, even if it was quite slow.

Plus, one of the other voters was someone I recognised as being in my year at school, which perhaps bodes well for the youth turnout. Though to be fair, it is probably more likely to be a totally meaningless coincidence.

Anyway, even if the European Parliamentary election is ostensibly not the most interesting, the week in politics leading up to it has been fascinating. For one thing, I have enjoyed getting stuck into the issues and the parties.

I haven’t really done this sort of blogging for a couple of years at least now, so it felt a bit unnatural. But it was worth experimenting, and it certainly increased my awareness of the salient issues leading into this election. This sharpening of the brain has always been one of my favourite aspects of blogging.

Then there has been this whole issue with the Labour government in Westminster disintegrating in front of the world’s eyes. It would have been perfectly normal for this all to have happened after the election. But for this to happen in the run-up to an election seems incredible. It is an amazing piece of self-flagellation, demonstrating a lack of discipline and self-control. Either that, or things simply became so bad within the government that this actually was the least worst option.

Now the internet is abuzz about what will happen at 2201, when the media can again report freely on politics. It’ll be fascinating to watch this situation unfold.

I have to say, even though I despise their policies, I feel kind of sorry for Labour candidates and activists who had to try and make something out of this mess today. They’ve really been shat on by Gordon Brown’s ineptitude and cabinet in-fighting that is completely beyond the control of the activists on the front line. Makes me glad I’m not a politico.

The other incredible story of the day has been the tale of Ukip voters’ frustration at… wait for it… being unable to unfold a ballot paper properly! Unbelievable. Shows you the class of person that Ukip attracts.

There is a valid point to be made about the order parties or candidates appear on the ballot paper. It’s well known that the SNP exploited the alphabetical system to good effect by temporarily renaming their party “Alex Salmond for First Minister” during the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary elections, a stunt that possibly explained a lot of the confusion that voters experienced.

In the twenty-first century, you would expect something a bit more sophisticated than alphabetical order. Surely it can’t be difficult to have the parties and candidates displayed in random order, printing an equal number of each iteration of the ballot paper? But with so many things wrong with the political system in this country that no-one in power seems bothered to fix, this is small beer and it’s no wonder this situation has been allowed to unfold.

Anyway, in the end I decided to vote for the Liberal Democrats. This isn’t really a huge surprise. I have voted for them (as my first choice) in every election since I got the vote. It is true that I have become a bit jaded with them recently, but in fairness that is mostly because of their so-so performance in the Scottish Parliament.

Ideologically, they are easily the party I’m closest to. In fact, they are probably more or less the only party I could bring myself to vote for. The deal was sealed when I read their election leaflet, and was impressed by the tone and the positive content about the Lib Dems’ role in Europe.

If I had a second choice, I may well have ended up casting it for Jury Team. Despite my general scepticism about the anti-party rhetoric, I like the main thrust of their message. I was also quite impressed by their number 1 candidate Alan Wallace, who has a blog where the message is quite measured. Today he also added me on Twitter and replied to one of my tweets, so I appreciated the effort to reach me.

Now I just have to wait and find out if I cast a pivotal vote that got the Lib Dems and extra seat. I somehow doubt it. And I have to wait until Sunday to find out. Gah. Just as well something interesting will probably happen tonight anyway then!

There’s been a lot of chat recently about whether blogging is dead, sparked by this article in Wired by Paul Boutin. It’s easy to scoff at the article, and the idea that blogging is dead is obviously nonsense. But I doubt the claim would have got so much attention if there wasn’t a bit of truth in it.

I’m not sure that much of what Paul Boutin says is new though. The first time I heard about the article was through Mike Power who added:

…most people under 20 wouldn’t touch blogging with a barge pole, seeing it as old-fashioned and nerdy.

That’s an interesting point. A lot of outsiders tend to think of blogging and the like as something that young people do. But I remember a few years ago a survey finding that the average age of readers of political blogs in the UK is around 40. That might be younger than, say, the average age of readers of The Telegraph, but we’re not talking about the cast of Skins here.

Before that, I always wondered why there weren’t more people my age blogging. I started blogging six years ago when I was 16, but I am an outlier. I can’t think of anyone else who has been blogging for that long from such a young age (though no doubt there are some). I struggle even to think of many bloggers who are my age or younger full stop. There are a few that I know of, but I could probably count them on one hand.

This links neatly in with one of Paul Boutin’s points though. Blogging is being overtaken by social networking sites like Facebook. It’s worth remembering why I started blogging. It is simple: I was bored. My first post was written on a cold, boring night in the middle of the Christmas school holiday.

Moreover, if I had an aim with my blog, it was as a really easy way to reach a wide variety of friends in a really efficient way. At first I was peeved when I realised that my friends couldn’t be bothered reading my blog. What I had forgotten was that, while updating a blog was efficient for me, it was wildly inefficient to get all of my friends to keep on visiting my blog all the time.

Social networking sites fix that problem by giving everyone a central space to share their thoughts and news. No doubt if sites like Bebo and Facebook were around back then, I wouldn’t have started a blog. Indeed, I originally wanted to set up a LiveJournal rather than a blog, but back then you had to pay for a LiveJournal account, so I set up with Blogger instead.

The only reason I stuck with blogging was through the quite accidental discovery that, while my friends were seemingly uninterested in what I had to say, complete strangers would regularly visit to see what I was thinking. That amazing fact is what keeps me going as a blogger, despite some pretty dry patches over the years.

And I’m lucky to have discovered that. Blogging has given me plenty of opportunities that I would never have had were I a simple Facebook user. Undoubtedly my life has been enriched by blogging as it has furnished me with an armful of skills. A 16-year-old Duncan Stephen today would almost certainly not start blogging — but he’d be worse off for it.

But it is important for blogging that the landscape has changed over the past few years. Before 2004, the buzzword was blogging, pretty much exclusively so. Today you can add podcasts, social networks, Flickr, YouTube, wikis, microblogging, social bookmarking, tumblelogging and an increasing list of tools that are all lumped together under the “web 2.0″ umbrella. And when the landscape changes, blogging will inevitably have to evolve. As Rory Cellan Jones says, “its nature is changing.”

The evolution of blogging is nothing new though. By most accounts, blogging is now over ten years old, easily out-dating the web 2.0 phenomenon. The man who is said to have coined the word weblog, Jorn Barger, intended it to mean “logging the web”. That makes tumblelogging or linklogging services such as Delicious a much closer relative to the earliest blogs than what are today known as blogs.

Similarly, during a middle period beginning at the start of this decade, blogging was taken broadly to mean an online journal or a diary, often with very personal posts. Today, that would be seen as quite odd, since social networking sites such as Facebook are a much more appropriate, private place to talk about your personal life. It might seem inappropriate that people blogged so much about personal issues, but prior to the likes of Facebook, people had no choice.

Meanwhile, the stereotypical blogger writing about what he had for breakfast has now moved wholesale over to Twitter, a more relaxed place where there is no stigma to writing banal, inconsequential nonsense. Mind you, the advent of Qwitter may change that!

Over the years, my blog has evolved from being somewhere where I would (quite inadvisedly, and sometimes shamefully) leave personal rants, or write about what I had for breakfast, to a place where I would take part in conversations about current issues. Instead of writing a few short and snappy posts per day, this blog now more-or-less exclusively contains posts around 1,000+ words long typically published several days apart. Whereas a few years ago I may have written a stream of consciousness, today I might spend a few days (or even a few months!) mulling over a subject before writing it down. Places like Flickr and Twitter certainly wouldn’t allow me to do that, as Paul Stamatiou points out.

Instead of being a one-stop-shop for all things me, my blog is now just one part of a huge range of online activities. How all of these activities relate to each other and what I should publicise where is a problem that I still grapple with, and I probably won’t stop grappling with it any time soon. (I’ve currently settled on gathering everything in a ‘sidebar’ on the home page.)

A lot of blogs have undergone a similar transformation over the years. It’s notable how many people are now relatively quiet on their blogs, but are still updating Twitter regularly. As if to illustrate that, an item on the Today programme this morning was meant to discuss the death of blogging but ended up dwelling more on the popularity of Twitter.

But saying today that this shift to other services like Twitter is a sign that blogging is dead is just as daft as saying in 2004 that blogging threatened the death of the mainstream media. It would be deeply ironic if the once vibrant and hip blogging scene were to itself become threatened by new technology. But it won’t. The world evolves and blogging simply has to evolve with it, just as the mainstream media evolved with the advent of blogging. Rather than dying, blogging is maturing, as Gary Andrews notes.

I think Paul Boutin makes some really good points, but he misses the point a few times. Trolls and flamers in comments are a well-known problem. But let’s face it, that is hardly confined to blogging. That is a problem with the internet in general.

Meanwhile, the point about most bloggers being unable to compete with the top 100 is nothing short of bizarre. How many people really start blogging with the intention of being in the top 100? Though being in the top 100 would be nice, it is far from my primary motivation. Has Paul Boutain never heard of the long tail? As John Connell notes, the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, Chris Anderson, is the father of the long tail. All-in-all, it’s just a really odd argument to be put forward in such an arena.

And the idea that Google doesn’t notice blogs any more is absolutely bizarre. This certainly does not chime with my experiences. Over three quarters of my visitors come from search engines. That figure used to be closer to two thirds. My friends often tell me that they accidentally found my blog when they were searching for something (that’s the only way I can get them to read my blog to this day!). I myself have, to my annoyance, had my blog come up as a high result in a search.

Then there is the idea that blogs need to be personal to be valuable to people. I hardly think this is so. In fact, this is a complete contradiction to Paul Boutin’s assertion that bloggers all aspire to be the next Huffington Post or Treehugger, not exactly the most personal sites in the world. As Robin Hamman says, Twitter and Facebook may lead to the decline of the diarist blogger, but the topical blogger remains unaffected.

Nowadays, with the likes of Facebook, Flickr and Twitter, there might be easier — and more personal — ways to publish your content than to start a blog. And there is absolutely no doubt that maintaining a blog is a major commitment. But that doesn’t mean that blogging doesn’t have an important role to play. In fact, I would argue that it makes blogging all the more important.

Hello.

I’ve been wondering a bit about the way technology news is still ghettoised. I don’t mean news about the latest rubbish web 2.0 start-up with a ridiculous name. I mean quite important stuff. Security problems and the like.

Take what happened last week. A patch to fix a major flaw in the DNS was released. It is pretty important stuff. But the only mentions of it have been ghettoised in the darkest recesses of the technology sections, cordoned off in yellow and black tape with “warning: geeks only” written on it.

I don’t watch the television much these days, so I might be wrong. But I saw no mention of it on the news. I heard no mention of it on the radio. You certainly don’t hear people talking about it on the streets or in pubs.

You might think, “So what? Security update for X, Y and Z are released every day. You can’t have the news reporting it every day.” But something extra happened with that security update that was released last week: it crippled many users’ computers. Including my parents’ computer.

It is just as well I was still able to use my computer to try and find out what the problem was and how to workaround it. It turned out that ZoneAlarm threw a hissy-fit after Windows XP had updated and prevented users from accessing the internet.

In fairness, the BBC reported this on their website — but that’s not very useful if you’ve got no internet. Perhaps there are still people scratching their head about why they’ve not been able to access the internet for the past week.

The problem is twofold. One, the mainstream media seems quite averse to any technology story unless it’s to do with [say this like a caveman] “GOOGLE” or “APPLE”. Or “GOOGLE”. Simply, if you want to find out anything meaningful about technology you have to really know where to look for it.

And this brings me on to the second part of the problem. The people who don’t know where to look for information are also the most vulnerable users. There are people who, for whatever reason, can’t be motivated to take proactive measures to prevent themselves from the various security issues that inevitably arise when you use the internet.

I have a friend who bought a new computer a few weeks ago. The other day he complained to me that his new computer has already got spyware on it. The thing is that it’s not difficult to protect yourself really.

I’m not really a computer expert in the slightest, but I know the basics of how to protect myself — essentially keep all your software updated with the latest patches and don’t click any dodgy links. I don’t think it’s really a difficult concept. And — touch wood — these basics have worked for me. Since I got my own computer early last year I’ve never had anything worse than a tracking cookie on my computer (as far as I know — I just know that this is an invitation for my computer to explode under the weight of pop-ups tomorrow…).

But even simple measures like these that anyone can take are difficult to get through to some people. So many people still treat computers with awe. It is sometimes easy to forget how foreign computers are to many people.

I remember a couple of years ago when there was a really bad signalling failure on the train line into Edinburgh. Basically every train was cancelled. An old lady pointed to the automated departure monitor and asked why it said a list of trains towards the bottom of the screen were still listed as being on time.

This is what she said in protest (as though it would make her more likely to get on a train to Edinburgh): “I thought computers were wonderful things that never ever went wrong.” But even my basic knowledge of how computers work told me exactly why the trains were still listed as being ‘on time’ — because they hadn’t even departed from their start station, so hadn’t passed any sensors and weren’t technically late at all. The computer was none the wiser for obvious reasons.

This can be put down to the old issue that people in their thirties and younger have been using computers for almost all of their lives and understand what a computer is good for and what it isn’t. Youngsters who have lived with computers all their lives understand how a computer works, but for many people older than that computers just work by magic.

The thing is, that divide between young and old is not so clear cut as I used to think. I was listening to iPM yesterday and there was an interview with Clive Sinclair. He pointed out that back in the 1980s computer users really understood computers because they had to in order to get them to work. Today’s youngsters growing up with computers generally don’t understand computers at all.

So we come back to my friend who is the same age as me and has a problem with spyware. I have had a few conversations with him where I have tried to persuade him to use Firefox. For him, the internet is the internet and he doesn’t understand how one browser can be better than another. Even though I have told him about all the superior features and better security that a browser like Firefox or Opera can provide, he persists on using Internet Exploder version bum point poo.

Many people, through ignorance, don’t take the simple measures to keep themselves safe on the internet. I’ve had a look at the stats for this website to see what bad browsers visitors to this site are using.

In the past month, an amazing 20% of visitors used Internet Explorer 6. This is a web browser that was originally released seven years ago and last updated four years ago. It is notorious for its security problems. The more up-to-date Internet Explorer 7 was released almost two years ago.

You would expect Firefox users to be smarter, right? Not always. In the past month, 243 Firefox users that visited this website were using a version of the browser that is considered unsafe (which I defined as 2.0.0.14 and below). This included 19 people using 1.5.0.12, 11 using 1.0.7 and 8 using 1.5.0.3. Most amazingly, 4 visitors were using Firefox 0.9.1, a browser that has been out of date for four years. I dread to think what kind of security problems these users have been getting themselves in.

It got me wondering. If this many people are using dodgy browsers, how many people are still trying in vain to unsubscribe from spam emails? How many don’t know that even viewing an image in an email alerts a spammer that your email address is active? You could go on.

I don’t mean all this in a preachy kind of way. I completely understand why it is difficult for people to keep up to date with all the security issues that arise. I just find it really frustrating that simple awareness issues are not, well, made aware to people.

Things don’t get much more ubiquitous than the internet. It is impossible to imagine that someone growing up today will not be a regular internet user in some form or another. And there are real dangers on the internet that aren’t to do with [say this like a caveman] “PEDOPHILS” and “CYBER BULLIES”. But the media reports on made-up dangers like “KNIVES” and “YOOFS” and “KNIVES” as though we are on the verge of bladeageddon.

Yesterday I was listening to Digital Planet. They had a chap called Stefan Frei on reporting that around 60% of all internet users are using an out-of-date browser. He had a really smart way of thinking about software security. You should think of software as being perishable, just in the same way as foodstuffs. You wouldn’t eat a mouldy slice of bread, so why would you use a browser with a huge security hole in it?

It’s a really smart analogy that should be spread far and wide. It’s just frustrating that the place I heard it was on Digital Planet, which is probably listened to mainly by people who already know that they should be updating their browsers.

I am rather confused by Jeff’s post on the SNP’s new proposals designed to curb anti-social drinking. He says that the SNP’s approach is radical and is proof that the SNP is not just populist. But when you look at the proposals, they are a who’s who of reactionary measures that could well have been lifted straight out of a cliché-ridden Daily Excess editorial.

Let’s look at the list as laid out by Jeff.

  • Raise the limit for purchasing alcohol in off-licenses to 21

    Well right away this is about as populist as policies get. Blame it on the yoof. The media loves to do it, and the politicians love to throw around these age limits. They get to look “tough” by passing some draconian legislation that adversely affects someone. And who better to do this to than the youth, who do not vote in high numbers because they are already so disenchanted? SNP wins by looking tough without losing any votes.

    Besides that, what is this age limit supposed to achieve? We all know that these age limits are about as workable as a chocolate kettle. Given that there is currently an age limit of 18 and under-18s still find it easy enough to get their hands on alcohol, what makes anyone think that raising the limit by a few years will improve the situation any?

    There is nothing to suggest that raising that limit to 21 will make it any more difficult for rowdy youths to get their hands on alcohol. And why should perfectly law-abiding 18-20 year olds who intend to drink alcohol responsibly be prohibited from doing so?

    The fact is that those youths who really want to get alcohol will just nick it from their dad’s cabinet. Or their friend’s dad’s cabinet. Or their uncle’s cabinet. Or anywhere they can get it from. That is assuming they haven’t just got someone else who is above 21 to buy it for them, as Scottish Tory Boy points out.

    Congratulations SNP — you have made it almost impossible for law-abiding drinkers to get their hands on alcohol, whereas the rowdy contingent are encouraged into behaving even more rowdily.

    And if you want people to act like adults, it’s probably not the best idea to treat them like kids.

  • Reprice drinks to a minimum of 35p per unit of alcohol

    You want a continental “café-style” drinking culture? Then raising the price of alcohol is the last thing you should do.

    Why is that then? Well, increasing the price of alcohol will mean it will make little sense to just have one or two drinks with a meal. It will be too expensive for little return. If alcohol costs three or four times more than coffee, no-one will drink it like coffee. Instead, people will use alcohol by saving up their money for a big night out. The result? More binge drinking.

    Jeff says that the SNP’s policies are remarkably similar to those of Sweden. He is correct. Jeff also says that “I can easily imagine [they] don’t have the same alcohol-dependency and vandal culture that we have here.” Unfortunately, Jeff hasn’t done his research because Scandinavia — where alcohol is much more expensive than it is here — has a notorious binge drinking problem.

    Nor is the USA exactly a haven of responsible drinking. Has he never heard of the American phenomenon of “spring break”? These North American events are legendary for their excessive binge drinking and rowdy behaviour. Nor do I think of Australia as one of the most sober nations in the world!

    Clearly, simply raising the price of alcohol won’t encourage people to stop binge drinking. In fact, if anything, it will have the opposite effect.

  • Have dedicated [alcohol] checkouts in some of the larger supermarkets

    I’m not exactly sure what this idea is supposed to achieve. Jeff says it is to create an “inconvenience of having to go for a separate checkout to buy alcohol.” But what does it mean? Walking a few yards? If people will have already travel all the way to the supermarket, having them walk to a different checkout is hardly going to put anyone off.

    And think about the scenario. You’ve got some irresponsible people who only go to the supermarket to buy some bottles. They just go to the alcohol checkout, pay for their goods and then saunter off to the park to cause some fuss. Then you’ve got the responsible drinkers who want to enjoy a few glasses with their meals. These people are genuinely inconvenienced, as they have to go to the checkout twice — once to pay for their food, and another time to pay for their alcohol.

    Yet again, the responsible drinkers are punished whereas the troublemakers hardly bat an eyelid. Yet another sloppy policy.

  • Increase of financial support for alcohol prevention, treatment and support services

    No complaints here. This seems sensible enough to me.

This is not to say that there is not a problem with irresponsible binge-drinking and rowdy neds in the streets. Jeff rightly notes that Scotland has a problem and it’s not good enough just to sit there and let it continue. The point is that these measures will do absolutely nothing to curb binge drinking. If anything, they will exacerbate the problems while making life difficult for the majority who drink sensibly.

Unfortunately — as we see from governments of all shades time and again — the temptation for a government faced with a problem is just to do something, anything. Preferably sounding tough. Then declare the problem solved. No matter whether the solution is well thought-through or planned out.

Oh dear. SNP MSP Christopher Harvie has found himself in a spot of bother for comments he has made about Lockerbie and the Scottish yoof.

On getting to Lockerbie, I discovered that the place is a dump – it was Tescotown. It should really have a certain attraction of a rather sombre kind as a place where something terrible happened; there are, after all, places on the western front and that sort of thing that have such an attraction for families who have lost people there.

There are a few things about this paragraph that are a bit off for me. I might be completely right to say that Lockerbie is a dump. I have never been, but frankly it wouldn’t surprise me. There are plenty of dumps around the place, and Lockerbie isn’t exactly known for its beautiful beaches or rolling hills.

Jeff is right when he says that if Lockerbie is a dump, Christopher Harvie should be able to say so. It should not be exempt from analysis because of the fact that it is the scene of the country’s worst terrorist atrocity.

But here is the thing. Christopher Harvie seems to be saying that Lockerbie should be positioning itself as a potential tourist attraction to help rake in the money from fans of disasters. As Mushkush implies, the idea leaves a slightly sour taste in the mouth.

Following that he turns his guns on the much maligned youth of the country. They cannot get a second of peace from the establishment’s whining about the yoof.

They are a demographic that literally cannot win. If they spend too long indoors playing their Xboxes they are criticised for not getting enough exercise and causing an “OBESITY EPIDEMIC“.

If they do the opposite and dare to go outside to get some fresh air and happen to commit the heinous crime of wearing warm clothing they get called names like “hoodie” and “yob”. And everyone points at them and says, “Why are you standing on the street corner? It is so intimidating.” As though just standing around is intimidating.

If they are not on the corner but are standing in the vicinity of a shop some ridiculous person comes along and installs a discriminatory device that is deliberately designed to cause youths pain. And people wonder why today’s young people are disaffected.

Anyway, Mr Harvie has added himself to the long list of poshy snooty types criticising yoof fashions. You know, fair enough on that front. Some people do wear horrendous clothing. But why is he attacking Tom Hunter for it? I thought the SNP were meant to be aligning themselves as a pro-business party. But Christopher Harvie’s comments are about as anti-business as it gets.

It must also be said that the most immense fortune that has been made in Scotland in the past few years – that of Tom Hunter – has arisen from selling people what must be the ugliest clothes worn by anyone on the entire continent.

Tom Hunter is one of Scotland’s most successful businessmen. If Mr Harvie’s theory is true, then Mr Hunter has done the country’s people a great service–selling people clothes that they want. He spotted a gap in the market. It is what great businessmen do best. It should be celebrated. But Christopher Harvie just looks down his nose at it.

There are also echoes of this anti-business sentiment with his dismissal of Lockerbie as “Tescotown”. It is the most successful business in Britain, which makes it the butt of ill thought out jibes like this. What does it even mean to be a Tescotown anyway? My town has a Tesco as well–does that mean I should just go and top myself now?

Christopher Harvie Anyway, back to fashion. What clothing would Christopher Harvie prefer people to wear? Knickerbockers. Goodness me. Apparently his personal preference is for plus fours. And look at that awful check jacket. Holyrood Watcher rightly takes him to task.

For me, this whole issue highlights a problem with the electoral system currently in use for Scottish Parliament elections.

Christopher Harvie was the SNP’s candidate where I live in Kirkcaldy. During the campaign he began to get a bit of a reputation as a “mad professor” among some locals. From today’s comments it looks as though he earned that reputation.

Even Brian Taylor has used slightly colourful language on his blog to call Mr Harvie ‘The Nutty Professor‘. And according to Kezia Dugdale, “Rumour has it the SNP were waiting for an episode like this but were surprised it has taken so long.” In addition to Christine Grahame, it looks like the SNP has its second major loose cannon.

Prior to Mr Harvie’s campaign, I was considering voting for the SNP as an anti-Labour tactical vote (not that it would have done much good anyway). But I did not want to vote for Christopher Harvie. He lost in Kirkcaldy. Yet, today he is an MSP. He got in through the back door on the list vote.

No-one voted for him to win his seat. People only voted for the SNP as a party–or Alex Salmond For First Minister, as they were known on the ballot papers. What a shock those voters will have got, thinking they were voting for Alex Salmond and instead getting Christopher Harvie!

The problem with the list system is that it gives voters the minimum amount of power possible. Voters have no control over the candidates. Positions on the are determined internally within the parties. This makes the MSPs accountable not to the voters, but to internal party structures. This allows too many poor candidates become MSPs and fills the Parliament with lackeys. The Scottish Parliament needs a heavy dose of Single Transferable Vote to weed out these people.

One last thing. I really don’t get this quote from Jackie Baillie on Christopher Harvie’s comments.

“He represents a supposedly pro-European party but displays the worst kind of euro-phobia.”

He singled out Scotland’s youths for criticism, and said they were the worst in Europe! How this is supposed to be a display of Euro-phobia beats me.

Unfortunately, this does not tie in with my theory about the inadequate list MSPs. I have to conclude that Dumbarton is one of Scotland’s many Labour rotten boroughs.

There are only two things in the world that give us absolute total happiness. One is seeing other people fail. The other is unwrapping a newly-bought CD.

–Armando Iannucci

In the wake of all the upheaval that the recorded music industry is facing, a lot of people have been predicting the death of the CD. After all, the very reason why music is cheap or free these days is because they don’t need to be put on a physical object which then has to be transported around the world. Surely digital downloads are the only conceivable future for music distribution.

I don’t like the idea of this. If I was five years younger it would probably make perfect sense to me. Last week’s edition of The Economist tells the story of a focus group that EMI held. It was aimed at understanding yoofs better. At the end of the meeting, the teenagers were invited to take as many free CDs from a pile on a table as they wanted. Not a single person took a CD.

It’s just the latest example of a recorded music industry that has always found it difficult to adapt to new technology. Historically, consumers have gone for the most convenient and cheapest format rather than the technically excellent one. So says Fredric Dannen if you scroll a long way down.

When the long-playing record (LP) format was introduced by Columbia Records back in the late 1940s, the industry as a whole resisted it, and many predicted it would never take off because 78s sounded better. Without question, early LPs did not sound nearly as good as 78s. But given the choice of listening to all of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on two sides of one record versus sixteen sides of eight records, the consumer opted for convenience and simplicity (not to mention less shelf space).

…You can always count on the record industry to cling to the past, and to fight innovation.

So does the arrival of MP3 mean the death of the CD? I personally hope not. I love CDs. I am of that generation, probably a small five–ten year window of people who wouldn’t consider vinyl but had no access to file sharing as they grew up. Napster came onto the scene in 2000, when I was 14 — well into my music-consuming life.

I have been collecting CDs since I was nine years old. I haven’t counted, but I must have around 600 CDs. I only bought my first vinyl records a few years ago. I bought them grudgingly, only because they were not available on CD. I reckon today I have 30 vinyl records.

I have only ever bought around a dozen MP3s — again, because they were not readily available on CD or vinyl. (I have downloaded a few dozen more because they weren’t commercially available at all — mainly live bootlegs and demos.) I would consider buying more. But although MP3 is the format du jour, there is a big block in my mind preventing me from buying something that I will never be able to see or touch.

I suppose this makes me a collector. (Yes, my collection is in alphabetical order — or it was until I ran out of space.) Collectors tend to be fans of vinyl though, which makes me an anomaly.

It would be nice to think that the CD will limp on and eventually survive another day in the MP3 era just as vinyl has done in the CD era. I have grown up with CDs and I love them. I’m not an audiophile, so the sound quality issue doesn’t worry me too much. And to be honest, I can’t be bothered with the faff of vinyl.

Whether it is CD or vinyl, there will always be people like me who treasure the physical presence of an album. It’s not just about a collection of notes. It about an event, a happening. It’s the artwork, the packaging. The sleevenotes, the lyrics. The smell of the booklet. It has an aura. When you hold a copy of a good album, you are transported to its space without even having to put it on. Could all of this really die because of the internet?

When Radiohead released In Rainbows, the pricing structure grabbed all of the headlines. But that wasn’t the interesting thing for me. The pay-what-you-want method is just a belated recognition of the fact that people could choose to pay nothing anyway.

The other aspect of the release of In Rainbows interested me much more. I didn’t pay anything for the MP3s. I downloaded them for free when they were released on 10 October. That’s because I got them as part of the £40 “discbox” set.

The discbox is a premium edition of In Rainbows. It comprises a CD of the album, an second CD with eight extra tracks and enhanced content, a 2× vinyl edition of the album, and generally all-round badass packaging.

In Rainbows discbox packaging

£40 is the most I have ever paid for an album. I hesitated before I ordered it — but not much. Although I am sort of a collector, I have never been a completist. I am usually happy to have the CD version on its own. But I couldn’t resist the awesomeness of the discbox — despite the fact that I hadn’t even heard the album.

This was largely ignored in the media coverage of the album, but to me it was the most notable aspect of the unconventional release of In Rainbows. When I first posted about In Rainbows, I neglected to even mention the fact that the MP3s were free. I didn’t find it that interesting.

People like me, who love the physical formats, will be continue to be catered for. It is easy to make money out of us. Slap a sticker saying ‘limited edition’ on a record and suddenly demand for it will become price inelastic. Suckers like me will buy premium versions of albums at higher prices than we would otherwise consider. And this will become ever more important for the record companies as physical sales continue to get eaten into by the internet, where profit seeking is impossible.

In Rainbows wasn’t the start of this. Limited edition versions of albums have been around for a very long time. But in an age where it is becoming increasingly difficult to make money out of recorded music, it is becoming more and more prevalent.

When I went shopping for Sigur Rós’s Heima DVD I thought £17 was a bit steep. Then I saw the limited edition version for £25 and bought it.

The deluxe multi-format edition seems to be becoming more common as well. Björk’s latest single, ‘Declare Independence’, is available as a deluxe edition, yours for only £19.99.

Formatted in the same extravagant packaging as the Volta double LP, this contains all conceivable formats of the single: double vinyl, CD and DVD.

Something else that is becoming more and more common is for people to automatically get the MP3 version for free when they order a physical version. For instance, Nonesuch has started doing this. You can choose between standard 128kbps MP3s or maximum quality 320kpbs at no extra cost.

It makes sense to me. Being able to have your entire music collection on a portable device is becoming an expectation these days. Since vinyl is a bit more tricky to get onto your iPod, it would be good to get the MP3s of music that you have already bought automatically for free. Hopefully more record companies will adopt this approach.

A lot of people have wondered aloud if the fact that we can now get music for free from the internet is devaluing music. But it seems to me as though the internet is not only driving the price of music down — it’s also driving the price of CDs and records up.

In my previous post I wondered if Nick Clegg would do much to enthuse me. Well, in my view he’s got off to a good start.

He revealed on the radio that he doesn’t believe in God. What’s more, he seems to have a thoroughly sensible, tolerant approach to the whole religion issue.

What a refreshing thing to hear from a politician. It does often seem as though atheism or even agnosticism is one of the worst things a politician can be associated with among some circles. Tony Blair even seemed to think it was a liability to be the wrong type of Christian. C of E while PM, since resigning he has mysteriously become a Roman Catholic.

Paul Linford, for instance has said that Clegg’s non-belief is “certainly concerning for me as a Christian” (via Bob Piper). Never mind the millions of non-Christians in this country who have never seen a non-Christian PM! I wonder if he ever found Margaret Thatcher’s sex as concerning for him as a male.

In this supposedly tolerant society, I sometimes think we’d sooner see a three-legged Prime Minister than a non-church-goer — never mind a black or openly gay PM. I wonder how many leaders of the major parties historically have publicly stated that they don’t believe in God. I assume Nick Clegg must be among the first. Full credit to him for speaking the truth.

The second thing that has impressed me is the fact that he has enlisted Brian Eno to “reach out beyond the London beltway”. In particular, Eno is to advise the Lib Dems on how to appeal to young people.

This is good in two senses. Firstly, appealing to young people is good. One of the biggest crimes in the country today is to be a yoof, as you can see with the vilification of the hoodie, a convenient item of clothing.

Appealing to young people is a typical politician’s cliché. But this comes across to me as quite a serious attempt. Brian Eno is not some greasy pole-climbing politician looking to get good headlines in the Daily Mail.

The second sense in which is this good is… Brian Eno, man!

Brian Eno is 59, which has led some people to wonder if he is really the right person to appeal to youth. I’m 21, which is pretty young, although I guess I am not like most yoofs. But I think Brian Eno is great. The person who (as legend has it) invented ambient music has got to be awesome, right?

He has created some of the greatest pieces of music of the past thirty or forty years. A lot of young people respect this. I know I certainly do. Okay, there are various U2-related crimes, but that’s a tough gig. I mean, talk about polishing a turd!

Brian Eno should be respected for actually engaging his brain (one). He is the only pop musician I can think of who doesn’t just dribble out ignorance every time he opines about a topic other than music. In a world teeming with preening pricks like Bob Geldof and Bono, Brian Eno is a real breath of fresh air.

And, unlike Bob Geldof’s sojourn with the Conservatives (presumably David Cameron has some really nice biscuits and a good belly-rubbing technique), Eno’s association with the Lib Dems is principled. Remember Eno’s website from a couple of years back, Lib Dem This Time (rather broken-looking now)? Eno is also a long-standing supporter of electoral reform.

One other thing, and it’s related to what I said yesterday. It looks as though Nick Clegg has raised a few eyebrows by saying that he hasn’t heard of ‘Fairytale of New York’ and by citing a non-existent album (‘Changes’ by David Bowie) as his favourite.

It does seem a bit odd. But what if the poor guy just doesn’t like pop music? I have written before that I don’t understand why we expect politicians to know these things. Sure, most people keep tabs on pop music. But we are all different, and we all have different interests. Maybe Clegg’s “gaffes” are just down to the fact that he doesn’t waste time on trivia.

I’m glad I have ruled out becoming a politician in the future. If I did, I would no doubt be asked what my favourite film was. I’d have to answer, “I dunno, I don’t really watch films,” because I don’t really watch films. Then I’d be crucified by a media (and society?) that wants mine to be a mirror image of the median voter’s leisure tastes.