Get a (second) life

November 20, 2008

Imagine this scenario: You enter a room to find your partner engrossed in the computer. Nothing strange about that.

But suppose your partner was preoccupied with placating a furious online boyfriend, or heavy petting their cyber girlfriend…

Or even enjoying fellatio after paying virtual money for a two-dimensional hooker?

You may or may not think this is a big deal. But Amy Pollard divorced her husband over it.

Amy and David Pollard met five years ago in a chat room, and their legal marriage, although short, nonetheless survived their online marriage.

Both have an avatar, a Second Life character through which the ex-couple exist in cyberspace. These tend to look like the Brad Pitts or Angelina Jolies of this world, however acne ridden their creator may be.

Ironically Second Life offers people what they are trying to escape from in their first lives. Homes, families, finances, pets, albeit more glamorous ones.

But mostly it’s about trying to hook up with a cyberspace hottie.second-life_1

Stephen Lunn in his article Don’t be a virtual ass, rush out this second and get a life in The Australian, takes the view that sometimes people should just stand up, walk to the closest door, proceed through it and get themselves the hell outside.

But according to Philip Linden of Second Life, it enables people to ” Re-define what personal identity means, when expressed in a world where anybody can be anything, can do anything, and can create virtually anything.”

Second Life has generated huge interest in terms of its capacity to offer a low-budget platform where conferences or meetings can be run on limited funds. And Reuters even have their own Second Life reporter, Eric Reuters. In real life he is Eric Krangel, a technology journalist based in New York City.

But Communities Editor of the Daily Telegraph, Shane Richmond, said in an Online Lecture at Cardiff University: “Personally I can’t see it replacing the Internet, which gives a lot of information in a short space of time. If I have to walk or fly to read my email, it doesn’t really grab me.”

Despite scepticism from people like Mr. Richmond, we have left the era where the media industry can force ideas (however good) down the metaphorical throats of their audience.

Alex Davies explores a valid point in her blog about how the future of Online Journalism will be dictated by people, not technology – so if people want to interact on Second Life rather than traditional news sites, they will. Particularly since Second Life prides itself on being driven by user generated content.

But whether or not Second Life is destined to become bigger than say, Google, it brings to the forefront some interesting and relevant issues. And cases like the Pollards’ divorce enter into unchartered territory.

So how does the ordinary person navigate around already slippery relationship rules on the Internet? How would they react if their partner too were having an online “virtual” relationship? Would they see it as a pardonable offence, banishable behaviour, or just a bit of fun? And has the Internet changed our definition of infidelity?

Sex sells in Second Life, as it does in real life, and it’s no secret that cybersex is among the entertainments on offer in the programme. Entrepreneurial users even make real money as cyber hookers. (Link to interview with Evangeline, an online prostitute. Be warned; it’s fairly x-rated!)amster-dames02

But as the definition of reality becomes horribly blurred, we find ourselves in the midst of a whole host of moral dilemmas.

Unfortunately, rape in programmes like Second Life is not unheard of. Not only the “consensual” rape built into some games (although if you’re interested in that debate, Jess McCabe has an interesting blog about it). But a case last year in Belgium about a girl who claimed she was raped on Second Life raised frantic debates about what constitutes rape. (Mark Methenitis gives an overview of the legalities involved and advises police to use their time to catch real rapists).

While trawling through various sites on this subject, a comment by Brad Drac really stood out. He said:

“Second Life’s biggest appeal is that it’s content is entirely user created and governed. Unfortunately, this turns out to be more of a weakness, as the majority of the people playing it are incompetent, moronic, sexual deviants. Shit there’s even “adoption agencies” where people can rent kids. I’ll leave it up to you to imagine why.”

Amy Pollard knew her randy ex-husband was looking for something we can only guess was missing from their relationship. There was certainly another person interacting with her significant other, if not physically, than emotionally, so doesn’t that constitute cheating?

And this is what it comes down to. Web 2.0 is all about individuals and communities interacting directly with each other. And it is growing increasingly sophisticated to the extent that people are living out lives, perpetrating ‘crimes’, and making money, all of which are beginning to have consequences in their real lives.

Still, Second Life is still in its elementary form. I will watch with interest to see where its users take it.

Christmas Colour

November 18, 2008

What better colour to rescue us from our credit-crunch blues than a splash of pillar-box red?

Style icons Kate Hudson, Scarlett Johansson, Katie Holmes, Liv Tyler and Natalie Portman have all been spotted donning the statement scarlet, and it’s a firm favourite this year with Alexander McQueen, Versace and Valentino, who have used it to give their clothes a dramatic and modern flair.

Scarlett Johanssonvalentino spring 2008

Quintessentially British, pillar-box red evokes that best-of-British spirit and Christmassy feeling, but comes with a luxurious twist. A look perfected by Martine Mccutcheon in Love Actually.

I have been coverting some bright red leather gloves after I saw them in October’s Vogue. So far I have spied a few, the most beautiful being a pair of cashmere-lined red Italian leather gloves by Forzieri, spotted on Agnes Deyn after the Chanel Boutique opening night in London. Topshop also do a funky (and cheaper) pair. Head-to-toe crimson is not always appropriate, but a splash is an ideal way to spice up a winter wardrobe.

But there is nothing like the overstated glamour inherent in a bright red, beautifully tailored coat, which oozes just the right amount of sophistication, confidence and sexiness to make you stand out from the crowd.

I’ve seen a few scarlet-clad ladies strutting their stuff on the streets of Cardiff in the last few weeks, but didn’t pluck up the courage to scuttle after any of them to find out where they got their coats from…bring on the christmas sales!

But for those in the know, red is always a firm favourite. Italian fashion designer and style-god Valentino Garavani, said:

Red has guts…. deep, strong, dramatic. A geranium red. A Goya red … to be used like gold for furnishing a house … for clothes, it is strong, like black or white. – Valentino

Love Actually

Thanks to a rugby-mad younger brother, I had developed strong connections with rugby and shivering in the pouring rain while watching mud splattered schoolboys beat each other up on the pitch.

But at least I knew the basics. My friends and I booked the Wales v. Canada match on a whim, and while we were walking to the game, one of them asked if Johnny Wilkinson was playing…it is safe to say we weren’t your typical rugger fans.

We had left ticket collection to the last minute and queued for what seemed like hours. But our anticipation mounted at every shuffle forward, and by the time we reached the shop I was waving my credit card around wildly looking for 80 pound women’s-fit rugby shirts and anything emblazoned with a Welsh flag.

Our seats were on pitch level and we entered, beer-in-hand, bedazzled by the brilliantly bright lights. The bulging muscular men before me were suddenly the most attractive I had ever seen in my life. Beer-fuelled chants conveyed my heartfelt enthusiasm, I felt even more Welsh than the Welsh. Every time they scored or converted a try I jumping around like a maniac, an idiotic grin stretched from ear to ear.

Such is the intoxication of sport. No wonder my ex-boyfriend missed my birthday party because Arsenal were playing. At that instant I forgave all, my reaction to his non-appearance now seemed to me strangely hysterical and self-centred. How could I have been so insensitive?

By the end of the match I had clean forgotten my English heritage and felt I too would lay my life down for Wales. Just as the hulky yellow-shirted men had put their bodies on the line, my allegiance to the sport was, I felt, unwavering.

As we left the stadium and hit cold, drizzly reality, like an aphrodisiac wearing off my chants were delivered with less and less conviction (and misgivings about my former boyfriend came rushing back).

I started to think about the unfilled seats in the spectator stands, mirroring the problems that rugby is encountering in the current economic climate.

When I got home I read a blog by Delme Parfitt No Wonder Crowds Are Down who highlighted how members of the public are becoming increasingly choosy about how they spend money.

Numbers show many people are finding rugby matches too much of a financial stretch to the extent that Osprey boss Mike Cuddy announced in October his team wouldn’t be sustainable if current attendance levels continued.

The wider picture of this is worrying. Not only is sport an industry whose finances are the cogs setting the wheels in motion of so many things we take for granted. But in terms of the game itself, particularly during these dark financial times, those who do spend their money on rugby tickets want value for money; they want to be entertained. But what does this mean for players?

Sport is already an industry whose rules and practises are applied outside ‘normal’ boundaries. A case in Cardiff Magistrates Court last week dismissed a GBH charge because it was in the context of a football game. Another example: Gareth Jones, 28, a scrum half, was struck by Darren Ryan during a match at Cardiff Arms Park on April 20 and died in hospital two months later. The judge ruled it was a “tragic accident”. For good or for bad, people expect players to put their bodies on the line for their entertainment.

As warm-blooded females, my friends and I were deeply disappointed that Gavin Henson, pretty-boy and key Welsh player, was missing from the pitch. But his long-suffering Achilles tendon problem also saw him miss out on playing against South Africa a few weeks ago.

The decision not to play him in that match was left until the 11th hour, hoping something could be done to enable him to play, when of course he shouldn’t (and in the end, didn’t). At that time he hadn’t even been training fully and his recurring injury was triggered in a game the week before because he played too early.

Adverts like this Nike onei_love_rugby_2i_love_rugby mirror how we view this kind of behaviour in sport as heroic, rather than stupid.

Just like millions of other rugby fans, my friends and I were overawed at the examples of brutal strength displayed on the pitch. But although sportsmen and women accept risk as a condition of their employment, managers have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their players, particularly as there are presently even greater pressures from fans to perform.

An article in today’s Sun entitled ‘Have you no shame’, calls for readers to petition against the lack of apology from social services in relation to ‘Baby P’, denouncing them as “shameful, disgusting, cowardly and disgraceful”.

While this is a one-sided but valid point, putting individual head-shots of social workers alongside tag-lines such as ‘PASSED THE BUCK’ ‘RETURNED TOT TO MUM’ and ‘TAKEN IN BY A LIAR’, asking members of the public who know the named and shamed, to call, text, or email (numbers supplied) The Sun with information, is in itself shameful.

Social services have helped vast numbers of children. And the system they operate under has huge legal and beurocratic restrictions.

The fact this baby underwent enormous physical and emotional pain should not be excused, and the people responsible for what happened should be penalised. But it should not be a witch-hunt.

Radio 4’s Analysis: Responsible Journalism raised questions about whether our newspapers have a responsibility to make the public space a better place.

The programme discussed some people’s attitudes about how ethics have no place in journalism. Jean Seaton, Professor of Media History, University of Westminster, who was taking part on the show said: “The press in Britain feels as if on the whole it would rather there was a scandal and involved somebody in charge’s blood”.

Sure The Sun raises a valuable point. But is it responsible to put faces of vulnerable, and possibly innocent people in the newspaper and online?

Martin Moore, Director of Media Standards’ Trust, was also taking part on the show. He hit the nail on the head: “There is a tone that the press takes. It tends to be sceptical, highly aggressive and somewhat hysterical. And to a certain extent one could argue that this is positive because it raises issues to high on the agenda very quickly, it brings them to people’s attention very fast. At the same time, it can alienate many people from the debate itself because they’re either scared to participate themselves or because they just don’t want to engage in something of such high tempo and such hysteria”. (see here)

Listen to the show, its not very long, but really fascinating.

Journalists who don’t report responsibly will both alienate and potentially harm people. Referring to my blog How the media loses friends and alienates people, from a business perspective, journalists cannot afford to estrange any more of their readers.

The human nose for sniffing out the simplest and most effective way to fornicate should not be ignored.

And internet dating is, shock horror, becoming a socially acceptable way of meeting people.

Of course there are the still the perverts and sad old men out there, but more and more people are beginning to understand the appeal of dating services that never close. Busy people can now avoid being discovered three weeks after they died alone in a one-bedroomed flat, having been gnawed by Alsatians (Bridget Jones’ greatest fear). 8642751

Do I sense the prick of ears from fellow underpaid and undersexed journalists? Deadlines, early mornings and late nights do no favours to our wild-eyed and over-worked complexions. Is a CV comprising of a well-angled photograph and witty one-liner beginning to sound appealing to anyone in the dating market?

According to Caroline Marcus of the Sydney Morning Herald, the future of TV is also online.

Thats Why You’re Single is a dating television show due to be released on Yahoo7 this December. It is shown in five minute snatches throughout the day to fit in with all of us who spend far too much time having sneaky Facebook checks while our bosses are looking the other way.

It also highlights how television stations are taking note of the changes in store for the industry.

Human mating instincts pounced on the internet as a convenient and fresh way to meet other like-minded people, leaping aboard the bandwagon with a zealousness that is only now beginning to infect the media world.

For the unlucky-in-love, this is the chance to grab the attention of a man or woman who would look straight through you if you passed them on the street. Lets face it; odds on at least somebody out of the millions of visitors to Internet dating sites won’t be repulsed.

Echoing this, for the first time smaller papers and magazines are finding themselves on a level playing field with nationals and big magazines like GQ, turning the industry on its head. Small businesses, small time journalists, small men, you name it, they all have just as big a chance as the big boys. It is astonishing, but unsurprising, that youtube gets more hits than the Guardian website.

But just as your blind date can turn on their heel soon as look at you, small papers that don’t deliver aren’t going to keep readers.

Of course people get screwed over…but don’t they in real life? Even Shakespeare, a man famous for his heartfelt soliloquies of love, admitted all ain’t fair in love and war.

But at least the Internet is going some way to help those with smelly feet find a mate. Television, newspapers and magazines have started to take note of the opportunities available using the Internet to maintain readership, but have found themselves facing real and stiff competition for almost the first time.

The Worlds Gone Obarmy…

November 12, 2008

The unprecedented number of young American votes is a feat of which Obama and his team should be rightly proud.

The numbers speak for themselves in that they indicate the extent to which Obama understands the America he has newly inherited…this man knows how to get things done.

And both Barack and Michelle Obama understand how important image is.

Michelle Obama making a speech

Michelle Obama making a speech

In an interview with British Vogue, Michelle Obama talks about the beautiful but classic image she has developed for herself, a look that comes across as no-nonsense but feminine – and a look that many high-powered women find difficult to master.

The President-Elect is an attractive man who always looks impeccable. He is certainly in tune with the young of America, even being spotted in the occasional basketball cap. He also famously intends to install basketball hoops at the Whitehouse080828_obamagym22

writing for The American Prospect, explains how American elections can often be a popularity contest. When working at a bar in Washington during my gap year I overheard a worrying remark that sent shivers down my spine, but has enabled me to understand the psyche governing some peoples attitudes towards voting in the States.

A perfectly normal looking man stated he would vote Bush because “the guy looked like he would be a good fishing buddy”… I have no words.

In part to combat middle Americas instinctive leaning towards republicans for reasons as stupid as this, online social networking has been used furiously by Mr Obama and his team. But as Jose Antonio Vargas of the Washington Post points out, blogging does not make communities but grows around communities that are already there. Obama understood this, which helped him to infiltrate diverse pockets of voters.

The quote on the OBAMABIDEN blog is telling in its insight.

‘I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington…I’m asking you to believe in yours’

What this election hammered home is individual people really do have a voice. But although Mr Obama won the presidency for a number of very good reasons it is unlikely that he would have had the same lead if McCain’s lot had been more web savvy.

The media hype surrounding Obama has been almost sycophantic, but in using the Internet, Obama has exposed himself to criticism too.

Understanding that has enabled him to connect with his countrymen, in a way never seen before. Obama effectively brought politics into the modern era, accepting society today is more interactive, something we as journalists certainly have to adapt to. It has taken the Internet to bridge the gap between politics and its perceived relevance to people’s day-to-day lives.

The media hype surrounding Obama sets standards for the Democrats, which they will find difficult to live up to. And now his campaign has finished I will be interested to see what happens to his Web presence.

News Is A Hot-Dog Stand

November 5, 2008

Artist Charlotte Andrew modelled her C’art gallery on an old hot-dog stand she had shipped over from the States.

But instead of the usual (undeniably tantalising) buns, stuffed with emulsified pig intestines, fried onions and garnished with unnaturally bright yellow mustard, she sells conversation and creativity.

Charlotte muscles her way to her chosen destination with her C’art using National Rail and pure grit, and sets up shop, inviting passers-by to grab a piece of paper and paint, ink, draw or colour a picture. Then they exchange their picture with one that somebody else has left displayed.

The pictures they took home
The pictures they took home

When I had a go, I found it surprisingly difficult. I don’t think I’m alone when I look back to the last outing of my now scattered colouring pencils as a distant memory from primary school.

It made me sit still and really look at my surroundings, and after the initial awkward few minutes I quickly became absorbed with getting right the shape of a goldfish in a beautiful little garden just off Leicester Square – a seemingly impossible task considering they absolutely never stay still!

Charlotte’s creative instincts were rewarded by people’s enthusiasm. A few graphic designers who worked in Soho returned almost every day the gallery was open, loving the opportunity of a creative outlet and like-minded people to chat to.

People’s generosity also shone through. An eight-year-old returned with a new set of pencils for the C’art while she was doing a show at the Liverpool Biennial.

In part for survival and in part because of technology increasingly available to them, journalists too are beginning to appreciate the immediacy of capturing people’s attention using different mediums.

London

Psycogeography is an interesting concept which has been called upon by journalists and artists alike. It encourages the study of human emotions and behaviour to support inventive tactics exploring anything which excites people enough to stray from their predictable paths.

Charlotte’s C’art is a good example of using different kinds of multimedia to achieve just that. She has documented through photographs and video people of all ages – from five-year-olds to 90-year-olds – interacting with their city and other people through pictures, to create…what?

Twins in Londondscn29701

As the saying goes: ‘people is news’. Listening to voxpops on websites like Murmur demonstrates how individuals are far more likely to respond to cities they grew up in or have strong links to. People attach significance to the cinema where they had their first kiss or the bench the local drunk always sat; a sense of nostalgia surrounding places and people inspire responses which journalists can learn to harness.

Dan Meadows, a fantastically charismatic guy who gave an Online Journalism lecture at Cardiff University last week, helped to set up BBC Capture Wales. This project promotes the mantra ‘everybody has a story to tell’ and provides multimedia tools through which people can tell their own stories.

What Dan, Charlotte and increasingly, journalists, are trying to do, is to use the medium ‘as the message’. That is, to involve people using film, photography, pictures, the Internet, and so on, so they can see news (or art) as something which is relevant to them and their lives.

Words and images often carry great weight and are loaded with meaning, particularly when they are used together. The strength of feeling conjured up through nostalgia is a powerful tool that can be used by the media, but should be done so responsibly.

An extreme but poignant example: Irish Republican newspapers published pictures of Bobby Sands, a republican who died in prison after going on huger strike, which specifically conjured up embedded memories of folk law, religion, and symbolic iconology. This manipulated already heightened emotions and tensions and arguably led to many more deaths during the Troubles in Belfast. (For more info click here).

Journalists can use multimedia as an effective way to reach their reader, but they should be aware of the power of doing so.