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twitter_logo_sThere’s still plenty of twitter buzz and hype, if you’re looking in the right place. And it doesn’t look like it’s going away quite yet.

Principally, the discussion seems to centre around questions about the point, or lack there of, of Twitter. Isn’t it just a distraction? Is it worth while? etc etc.

Paul Bradshawe at the Online Journalism Blog is all in a flurry about twitter, and making some excellent points while he’s at it. Some of these are drawn from there.

Apart from the fact that all this discussion ultimately helps twitter grow, there are a few issues particularly guilty of generating negativity.

One comes from the Twitter site itself where it principally sells itself with the tag

stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?

Sure, it’s simple, but it doesn’t exactly imply any serious use or depth. It sounds like: ‘trivial, and ultimately something you could do without’. Now, like the Metro free sheet, perhaps this is all Twitter needs to make some money, but it would not really be deserving of hype and acclaim.

Closely associated, but not propagated by Twitter itself, is the claim that ‘it’s just like facebook profile updates’. Elicited response: ‘err, so?’ Quite right.

Another source of curious negativity comes from the association with celebs. Those who think that many celebrities already make meaningless noise blindly consumed by a bored Joe Public will think Twitter is just another slimy tentacle reaching into peoples lives and distracting them from being themselves (or something similar).

The thought is that surely if Twitter is anything good it should amount to more than a new medium for celebrities to mouth off.

Thus there are plenty of quizzical whats-the-point questions to keep the debate up. What fuels the other side of the debate? Why don’t we just throw up our hands and say that it has no point? That it’s ‘dumb but fun for some’?

I think the answer is that Twitter feels like it has potential – something as yet mostly unrealised but glimmering and promising somewhere in the near future.

Quickly-breaking-news-stories and organising-large-groups-of-people  point towards this potential, but aren’t quite it -the it that many are anxious to be a part of but can’t articulate yet. That it’s unarticualed probably accounts for the fact that it is so often described as ‘answers to ‘what are you doing now?’ ‘ or ‘like facebook updates’ – and hence more quizzicle questions. The supporters want to say more, but they don’t quite know what to say yet.

I’ve enjoyed Twitter so far – it’s a bit like being in a small (but growing) exclusive club, like Facebook in the old days  – but have a lingering feeling that there really does need to be more of a point to the Tweets.

How can I make it purposeful? Both in what it put out, and in who I follow. Here’s a thought:

“Twittasophical: Philosophy in 140 characters.”

Since much of philosophy is about asking questions, it might sit well with some probing 140 character questions. Perhaps it should be called Philosophy140.

In the meantime though, I can try and make at least some of my tweets non-trivial, and keep looking, with all the others, for that elusive ‘it’.

I follow – 15

Following me  -12

Verdict in progress: Fun, but looking for something more.

See also:

A memorable piece of science reporting from the BBC:

While researchers often come up with overall estimates of the likelihood of intelligent life in the universe, it is a process fraught with guesswork; recent guesses put the number anywhere between a million and less than one.

Which, for your entertainment, is followed by

“It’s a process of quantifying our ignorance,” said Duncan Forgan, the University of Edinburgh researcher who carried out the work.

Indeed. Read the full post here.

Exciting news: Kate of The Manchizzle has teamed up with Chris of Mancubist to produce a new website sporting a ‘writers map’ of Manchester for local content. Kate:

It uses a Google map of the city to organise stories or poetry linked to particular places. Readers can click on a place marked by the little cloud icon to read a piece of writing associated with that spot.

This looks like a fantastic project. It’s local, it uses web2 new media (and all that jazz), and it has some great potential.

Of the stories that are up I particularly liked Rats and Mice by Mike Duff.

It’s short enough to to be readable on the web, and drew me in quickly enough to keep my attention to the end. And it’s a nice bit of writing to boot.

I think perhaps the little speech-bubble/cloud icons on the map could do with being a bit more visible, but I like the idea. (Since they asked for feedback).

Both Kate and Chris speak of new developments on the horizon, so it will be interesting to see firstly how the project takes off, and then where they take it. Watch that space (and get involved too!)

The ‘writers map’ brings to mind a BBC local media project that is on the cards (as far as I know), involving local maps pinned with multi-media content. Lets hope that if that does arrive it doesn’t harm the progress of Rainy City Stories.

Well done Kate and Chris.

In the student union here at Manchetser University ladies can no longer visit the ladies room, because there is no ladies room. There’s no men’s room either.

Instead there are ‘toilets’ and ‘toilets with urinals’.

Previous labelling was deemed ‘genderist’ – offensive to those who don’t fit in the gender boxes.

UMSU Welfare Officer said in an interview for the BBC:

If you were born female, still present quite feminine, but define as a man you should be able to go into the men’s toilets – if that’s how you define.

And presumably vise versa.

Now, unisex toilets are not a new idea, and have been batted around for a while now. A few days ago I overheard that they had recently been shouted down at the BBC.

What is unusual is the apparent reasoning behind the move: some who define as transsexual and transgender have complained that they are uncomfortable using the men’s toilets.

But if this is the case, why not use the women’s toilets? If they self defined as women, wouldn’t that be a more obvious choice? (and the same would go for people with ‘woman’s bits’ who self defined as men).

Now clearly, who am I to suppose to know what the ‘obvious choice’ would be in these circumstances. I’m sure there are many reasons why my flippant suggestion doesn’t wash.

But here’s another (admittedly more expensive) idea. The union should install a third genderless loo, with both urinals and cubicles. Women can powder their noses in a man-free environment, and trans-genders can spend a penny without feeling uncomfortable.

Oh, and apparently, we can’t ask if this is political correctness gone mad, because that in itself is an un-pc phrase, according to previously mentioned welfare officer:

using the term ‘mad’ in a derogatory fashion is disabalist

Update:I went into the union to find the old signs still standing. I’ll let you know if they ever actually do get replaced.

The BBC are keen to not only produce content for the full spectrum of the UK audience, but to pull employees from across that spectrum as well. And quite rightly.

Hence the BBC’s in-house newspaper Ariel was very keen last week to make the most of the diversity of the new intake to the recently revived BBC Production Training Scheme. They wrote:

Not all in the BBC mould: they include an ex-lawyer, a stand up comic, a former scaffolder and soccer coach.

What’s more,

They’re all graduates but they’re not predominantly from Oxbridge, as may have been the case at one time.

More ticks for diversity, or such is the implication.

However, a quick scan through the profiles reveals that the ‘former scaffolder’ has a masters in anthropology from Cambridge. He has also been a bookshop owner. We can assume he did a-levels and at least four years of higher education, and he’s only 24. In the picture he is wearing a jacket approximating a blazer, and a pink shirt.

‘Not in the mould’ because he got his hands dirty on a summer job? This is clutching at diversity straws. At least we needn’t worry about Jeremy Paxman being right.

It is surely unashamedly playing that shallow media game to reinforce the notion that how our PM takes his holiday matters to us. Sure it might be interesting for the kind of people who are interested by Heat magazine, but I doubt they are interested for political reasons. He could Mr Famous-For-Being-Famous for all the Heat readers care.

But we can’t seriously think that we should criticise him as a Prime Minister for what he wears on the beech.

Some think otherwise, and even say the holiday snaps that were taken

seem to tell a wider truth, which is that Brown doesn’t understand the country he’s running.

Seriously.

I accept that this might be ‘just how it is’ – how media and politics work- but that doesn’t mean we have to like it and pretend it’s all ok.

I might be ashamed to call myself a philosopher, after this from philosopher AC Grayling. It is an illogical and ridiculous rant against faith schools that gives atheists a bad name (an atheist agrees). I half wonder, in fact, if it is meant as an ironic bash at the kind of articles that find their way to places like Comment is Free.

I might be ashamed, but I know that being a member of a kind does not mean that you share all characteristics with other members, or responsibility for what they do. We don’t criticise all wheeled vehicles for polluting, just because cars pollute (bikes don’t).

But Greyling writes that religious people:

traditionally employ and always threaten torture and execution for those who do not accept their theories, who to gain their ends sometimes engage in war, massacre and murder, and at other times use bribery, brainwashing, and techniques of preying on the poor, sick, depressed and traumatised

…and so ‘religious’ people should not be involved in running schools. Apart from the above being just false as it is put (‘always threaten torture’?), these are also accusations that you might make against white people, so does that mean white people shouldn’t run schools? Or people in general, for that matter, perhaps we should have schools run by robots…

It’s the kind of argumentative fallacy that I teach first years to avoid. (But then, as I said, perhaps it not supposed to be anything more than a silly rant.)

This post was originally published at Louie on Media – a fictional blogger created as part of the Jo Bloggs Project. The Jo Bloggs Project (Meet Jo Bloggs) was an experiment in digital storytelling using social networking site Facebook and blogs, and incorporating audio and video created alongside and embedded in the web platform. All the work was carried out as part of this years MediaNet Academy. It was a fantastic course to be part of and I’ll have more to say on it in the future posts.

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It is easy to find tales of woe and long laments about the challenges to traditional values in the media brought on by the rapid rise of digital technology: 24 hour news rooms scrape around for a continual stream of edgy and exciting material, with little concern for anything as trivial as truth, or editorial responsibility; the flood of half thought out comments and blogs on the web drowns out intelligent and well researched analysis

However, there were a few notes of encouragement from speakers at a recent talk at the Churches’ Media Conference, entitled Searching for Values.

Revd Dr James Hanvey suggested that, in fact, a world without extensive and fast media reporting would be a world of ‘dis-truth and manipulation’.

We should be grateful, he argued, that we live in a world that can report on the Tsunami, on Zimbabwe, and on Guantanamo.

His point seems to be that we are better off having these stories told and risking some error and distortion, than living in an information vacuum, or worse, having ‘facts’ dripped down through some Ministry of Truth on high.

Better to have it a little messy, and accept the bad with the good, than to have no good at all.

A little while later, philosopher and journalist Julian Baggini stressed that many of the problems that arise through new media are just old problems in new cloths: we should not proclaim the decline of morals if they have been that way all along.

Whilst this may not seem like a message a hope, he was making a point that was stressed again later on by speaker Sarah Joseph: new technologies may give rise to new evils, but they also give rise to the potential for new good.

It is likely that many of the ethical and moral issues surrounding digital media are not new ones, and there is certainly a place for reflecting on all the positive potential caught up in this evolving area.

Last night MPs debated and voted on the ‘saviour siblings’ issue in the House of Commons. In the debate, Conservative MP Dominic Grieve condemned the misleading rhetoric of those who said that this wasn’t an issue of ‘designer babies’. Whether good or bad, Grieve argued, we shouldn’t play down the fact that there is an element of design involved: the babies are designed to have a specific tissue type that will be of potential benefit to an older sibling.

The fact that this is not the only reason for the creation of the life, and the fact that the babies are not ‘designed’ in any other way, does not deter from the fact that some level of design is involved and should be recognised as such, Grieve claimed.

His respondents hit back with the assertion that this was just a matter of selection and not of design: the required embryo is selected from an otherwise random process.

No doubt Grieve’s claim was intended to prevent his opponents from shrugging off the rhetorical force of the ‘designer baby’ criticism so easily. Whilst they may not be ‘designer babies’ in the fullest sense that that phrase implies, they are ‘designed’ nonetheless (he claimed).

Does selection count as design? Perhaps when it is intelligent and directed. It might even be though that design is inherently a matter of selection (that selection is necessary for design): I can design a pattern on a grid by selecting the colour of each square, and the composer designs his piece by selecting which note to place next.

However, it is not obvious that (intelligent) selection is sufficient for design. Our intuitions perhaps go the other way when a single act of selection takes place from among a set of options, as with selecting an embryo from a batch. The finished ‘product’ then does not seem to have been designed in itself, since a different selection would not have lead to any changes in that baby, but a different baby all together. We would not say that we in any way designed the house we live in simply because we chose it from a set of available houses to buy: a different choice would not have meant changes to this house, but a different house all together.

It is this, I believe, that is doing the work for those who claim it is not design: there is no way this particular baby could have been different given our selections, because our selections happened at an earlier stage. The consequences of this, however, are that given big enough selection of embryos with different traits, it should be possible to be quite specific in choosing the traits of your child without having any ‘design’ involved at all. You can hear the lab saying ‘We don’t design your child to have brown eyes and an aptitude for maths and music, we just select it from a wide range of potentials.’

What’s the moral here? Perhaps it is just that language is slippery, and that rhetorical force presses in from all sides (there is much more to ‘designer baby’ than issues of design). But it is also that that this is an issue of control. Design or no design, ‘intelligent selection’ is control.

As it happens, I have no firm opinions, moral or otherwise, on this issue.

This week I chose the wrong day not to go into university – it seems I missed all the action.

I can’t help but feel the police in the video would have been better off keeping an eye on things from a distance, rather than offering a rather lame token of resistance – its not like the students were about to hurt anyone or anything.

Instead there was a minor ‘clash’ with police that achieved nothing but make the whole thing look better on TV – that and strengthen the view of a few socialist arts students that they are being opressed by the Machine.

Free education, they say. I guess that means ‘free education from the clutches of the corporate bosses who have turned it into a comodity’, as well as ‘can we have education for free please’. Two for the price of one slogan. Efficient.

I sound like I’m being flippant, which I am, I guess, but they complain about value for money one moment, and then that education is being treated like a commercial commodity the next.

Furthermore, education is never free; someone has to pay me to mark 60 3000 word essays (and the rest of it). I know they know that, but I’d love them to be a little more specific in their ‘demands’. Admittedly ‘Education for 3 or 4 years after the age of 18 should be paid for by all through higher taxes instead of just by those who receive it’ isn’t quite as catchy.

The building they chose to sit and hold their debate in is the one I work in. I could have looked down from the balcony above and spotted premature bald spots, or something.

All that said, I have no problems with a healthy bit of student protest. It builds character, and surely has to be better than passive dull students, too hung over to hold up a sign.

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