I want my opinions back, technological progress!

opinions

Alright, so we have Internet. It’s really awesome and I am really grateful. But Cheryl Cole was wiser than me. In the opening lines of her song ‘Fight for this love‘, she says “too much of anything can make you sick. Even the good can be a curse.” I should have listened. Hell, we all should have listened.

This was 2009 and five years ago, while Cheryl was singing this live on stage somewhere, I was somewhere happily stuck in the nowhere land of the Internet. 19 at the time, curious as a cat, I was thrilled to be online. I tried out every forum, regularly changed my music taste and watched every film noir movie I could get my hands on. Why? Because it was all for free and everything was there, all the freaking time.

Facebook hadn’t really kicked off in Germany back then. We – or better they – were all still stuck with StudiVZ and other platforms. (Germans used ICQ instead of MSN, too.) The internet enthusiast that I was, I was already using what the rest of the world was using.

I got my news from news sites, my music from YouTube or torrents – I was sharing news personally which means that I was forced to really read and digest the news articles I was referring to, so I could actually talk about it if anyone had further questions. (Quality control!) I shared music by burning them on CDs or USB sticks which means I was forced to really filter and select only those which I thought were the best of the best of the best. (Quality control!)

There are so many other things that are now different. But that’s ok. It really is. The thing is, I think my brain might be a little overwhelmed. My life, especially my thought processes were slow, five years ago and I miss being slow. It felt way more efficient than it does right now. Right now feels fast-paced, unorganized and not at all focused.

Okay, yes, you might say that I was also 19, young and likely stupid, but I remember so much more of what I read and listened to from my youth than I remember from two or three years ago.

I am sure I am not the only one. We, Internet fans, absorb so much of this world, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed and in a strange way, powerless.

I want to take control of this happening. Any suggestions?

Comments will save my life.

_

Featured image shows Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress. Steeped in both nostalgia and futurism, the attraction’s premise is an exploration of the joys of living through the advent of electricity and other technological advances during the 20th century via a “typical” American family.

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Two kids, different childhoods

opinions

Let’s move inbetween parallel universes and imagine two kids and two childhoods. Let’s call them Mateo and Hala. Both have been reported about in the media in the last two weeks – for different reasons. Mateo strikes more search results, Hala isn’t that good in getting noticed on the world wide web.

Linda honey

Google search results for Mateo

This is Mateo. He is 3 years old, lives with his parents. He is terribly sweet and he likes terribly sweet things – cupcakes to be exact. He has run out of cupcakes to eat. Here he is trying to persuade his mommy, I’m sorry, Linda to make him happy again. Over 5 million people watch him begging for happiness and food security. Ellen Degeneres is one of them. Ellen is ultimately Mateo’s angel and gives him a happy ending. One month later, at The Ellen Show, Ellen wheels out a superhero-festooned trolley loaded with the longed-for cupcakes. For mommy, uhm Linda, there was a well-deserved spa voucher and a cheque for $10,000 for the family. 2 million people are witnessing this. Mateo’s cupcake quest is told in 9 minutes and 26 seconds on the internet.

This is Hala. She is a bit older than Mateo, lives with her 5 siblings in a tent in Lebanon. She is incredibly cute and incredibly strong. Her pHalaarents died, not too long ago. A famous Hollywood actress visits her. Hala tells her that the house fell down on her mom as bombs dropped from the sky into her hometown in Syria. She talks about their big, beautiful green garden where they would play and wait for Mommy to prepare food. Her brother talks about pyjamas. Her older brother doesn’t talk much anymore. He is busy trying to forget about his mom’s death. Hala takes care of all of them. Fortunately, her brothers help her. They collect and sell trash. They say, “it is not fair that we have to live like this.” Hala’s story is told in 7 minutes and 9 seconds on the internet. Not many witness her story.

Both are kids. Both have childhoods.

From The Archives: Girls in Riyadh, 1935

opinions, pictures

Saudi Aramco, officially the Saudi Arabian Oil Co., is the world’s most valuable company – and a Saudi Arabian national petroleum and natural gas company, founded in 1933, based in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

The origins of Saudi Aramco lie in the oil shortages of World War I and the exclusion of American companies from Mesopotamia by the San Remo Petroleum Agreement of 1920 (this is where  France was given a 25% share of Iraqi oil – but that’s another story). The US Republican administration back then, during the times of President Hoover, had popular support for an ‘Open Door’ policy, he himself initiated as secretary of commerce in 1921. Standard Oil of California (SoCal) was among those US companies actively seeking new sources of oil from abroad. This is a photo from the archives of Saudi Aramco in 1935 that I found from this tweet.

 

 

Hobby: Critical Thinking

opinions

More than a month ago, I created a Facebook page called “Dinge, die ein Politikstudent nicht sagt” (>3 500 fans), following the example of its successful English Version “Things Politics students don’t say” (>6 000 fans).

Among the most successful posts have been following posts:

The money is in studying Politics, you end up poor if you do Economics.

I have finally found a simple definition of politics that everyone can agree on!

or my favourite

My parents were so happy when I studied this instead of law.

As it is with all things, they’re funniest when they’re true. To anyone who has just finished his A-Levels, look for these pages on Facebook, relevant to your desired program. They will tell you more about your next three years in college studying – let’s say – politics than any student counselor.

When I first started studying Politics back in 2009, Facebook was not as popular in Germany as it is today. As there was nobody to truly tell me how it would be like to study what I had always had an interest in, I was left with my intuition, people’s opinions and experiences about studying Politics and my parents’ disapproval.

I dived in naively, not knowing the relatively unstable job market for political scientists-to-be. While it is true that most political scientists find Jobs within federal governments, think tanks, nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities, political lobbying groups, and labor organizations. Now, three years later, I cannot stress enough that getting a job is highly dependent on one’s own efforts and luck to become a good job candidate.

I now understood why my parents were not particularly keen on seeing me sign up for three, and most likely, five years of studying Political Science.

But 2011 changed everything.

In 2011 within just a few months, “pretty stable” regimes collapsed, Japan’s nuclear catastrophe irreversibly changed Germany’s energy policy and Denmark returned to its infamous border controls. Nothing seemed safe, everything was unpredictable. Questions were asked, answers were needed. The more complex the news, the more necessary became those who could explain them: political scientists turned into overnight celebrities. What they were taught are what they can do best: organize chaos, explain mysteries, foresee hindrance. Explain the world.

Luckily, my parents now, too, understand.

Poison Penmanship and Politics: Twitter and The Armchair Activist

opinions

The ever growing number of online freedom fighters has been an issue since the advent of the notorious Kony campaign by Invisible Children. At first impression, you must be wondering why it would even be an issue. Why would the increase in conscious citizens using Twitter to tackle real world issues be an issue? Romance.

Freedom fighting has often been romanticised as something heroic and courageous, filled with grit and bloodshed, something noble. The camaraderie, the union of men and women bound by oppression and fighting for a single ideal, freedom. Now this may be a cinematic description of what the Syrian rebels or PKK soldiers may be doing but nonetheless it paints a picture that does not exist. Now I do not doubt nor am I talking ill of those around the world in these political positions – however the fusion of the Internet and the romance of anti-establishment has created a new battleground for these online Guevara-influenced guerillas.

Social media was at the forefront of the Arab Spring and the ones I speak of bear no resemblance to them. I am talking about those who tweet excerpts of The 48 Laws of Power, nationalistic views and the odd picture of Karl Marx or Fidel Castro smoking a cigar with an abstract comment like “the ashes fall like my comrades in battle”. For the readers who get the impression I am a right wing nut with a disdain for anything red or left – no, I am quite the opposite. I was born and bred in London to Kurdish refugee parents. I’ve been submerged in politics, completely out of my control, since I can remember. Now rather than parade what I believe in and what I have learnt, the point I am making is that these armchair activists take themselves too seriously and honestly believe they are waging a necessary war via the Internet.

One click of a hashtag on Twitter and you are sent into a warzone of regurgitated facts and angry polemicists seemingly trying to build a nation with 140 characters. The romance of it attracts the superficial ones. Some do like being oppressed, most may not know it but they are driven by it, they like fighting for a cause and without it, feel redundant. So what do they do? They fight fire with fire. An endless war that they initially tried to end by taking up arms online and as a result they unknowingly become a victim of their own circumstance. The oppressed and oppressors are no different in this case, just two sides of the same coin. For people who are supposed to believe in the welfare of mankind and basic human rights, they are very quick to incite violence on their oppressors or those who disagree with them.

Now I get the same response over and over: “They’re raising awareness, it counts for something”. Yes it does but where does awareness end and action begin? The internet is a great tool and a great tool must be utilised, it is not intended to just add ease. It is easy to tweet a 140 character war cry from your armchair. However, I am not suggesting you get the next flight to Tibet and spearhead an independence movement. My intention is for you to be critical of superficial tendencies that get in the way of something so integral as peace and safety for your neighbour.

There is an undeniable romantic appeal towards freedom fighters and anti-establishment. As a result, people become so concerned with the supposed flashy and glamourous life of a guerilla. They do not act like thinkers and builders on Twitter. They act like the very same soldiers they “fight” against. Thus the internet is another battlefield and everyone is equipped with weapons ranging from Twitter to Facebook. People need to understand that the revolution will not be Youtube-d. Actually, it already has.

On how to read a newspaper, book, article or magazine (Part 2)

opinions

Last time, I promised to tell you what a ‘theory’ is. For me to successfully do that, I need you to do as I say:

Imagine a theory to be a machine, one that looks complicated from the outside. For it to work, it requires not more than 3 very important body parts that each serve a specified purpose along the process of creating ‘information’:

Process 1: Theories are perceptional filters

Perceptional filters do awesome, yet dangerous things. From amid the sea of endless information on how things progress, they pick out those that they deem worthy – hence they evaluate what’s relevant and what is less relevant and thus not relevant enough to mention. The latter type of information vanishes into thin air forever – if nobody decides to pay attention to it ever again.

Process 2: Theories use cognitive frames

While we’re at filtering out ‘relevant’ data, why not put them together as we wish and order them ‘right’?

Process 3: Theories are conceptual schemata

And last but not least, theories wrap their information up neatly into a scheme full of conceptual categories and analytical terms.

At the end of this process of creating ‘information’, a theory always has the intention of wanting to explain everything in the way of attributing reasons for specific outcomes. If A is, B is, too. If A is not, B will not follow, et cetera.
After all, a theory is not a good theory if it can’t explain right, meaning if it can’t select relevant information and put them together in a context so as to explain you the world. So, you see, a theory only explains the only world that it believes to be worthy of explaining to you.

Up until now, it has only been about the theory of theories and I admit: it must have been a bit boring. If you stayed until now and you’re reading this, I’ll give you a really delicious cookie, umm, example: The second half of the 19th century, a lot of ‘academics’ decided it was relevant to explain why societies in Africa and Asia never stopped waging wars. They came to the conclusion, or rather their theory led them to the conclusion that peace could only be reached if local despots were eliminated and elite ‘civilized.’ Rudyard Kipling, an author and a big fan of British imperialism, said one is even forced to ‘savage wars of peace’ to help these countries to be freed from despots and thieves. It is a peculiarly Western thing to believe in certain necessities that urge for a Western call for action.

Not only did this example show you that a very neutral assertion (“They wage wars in Africa and Asia.”) led to a normative conclusion with a call for action (“We must free them.”), it also showed you that it can serve as a relatively good justification to wage another war, only this time it is waged for peace, and not for… whatever these crazy Africans and Asians are waging wars for.

Where do theories come from?

Knowing this now leads us to one important question: if theories can have an impact on political decisions such as waging wars against another people, who is it that creates theories?

It would be naive to assume theories and their assumptions and filters have always been there. Because they have not always been there. They must come from somewhere in order to exist. And it is this question that decides everything: they either come from a society that has passed on its view on life and especially politics to the next generation, and/or from the contemporary dominant group of influences around the world. So, let me accentuate the necessary steps to my soon-to-come revolutionary statement: every information is based on a theory, every theory is based on a certain conviction – both lead to the conclusion that knowledge is socially constructed and dependent.

5 tips on how to read: 

This is hard to swallow but in order for you not to become paranoid while reading, I’ll tell you my top 5 of tips on how to read a newspaper, books, articles or magazines from now on:

1 ) You must pay attention to who has written the particular piece that you are reading: find as much information as you can to make sure you know who you are lending an ear to – and quite possibly, who you are letting to influence you.

I was a TIME magazine subscriber for many, many years and at first, the first 4-6 months of my subscription, I found every article, every author, every cover page insanely intelligent. While there surely are brilliant freelance journalists contributing to TIME every now and then, after a while I changed my approach to reading, became much more critical and even began criticising some authors’ entire school of thought. What I essentially did was to create a profile of each author not just to get to know his or her respective viewpoints on all subjects imaginable but also to be able to understand them. Yes, I stalked them – for it is not enough to just read an author’s biography. Nowadays, journalists are exposed more than ever and if they decide to join Facebook and Twitter – that’s when things get interesting. Following fans/users rebut an article so harshly, that within the comment box underneath, the discussion initiated often gets more interesting than any other give-and-take at the Frankfurter School.

2 ) Read different viewpoints of the same subject. For example, if you want to know more about the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, read Alan Dershowitz and Norman Finkelstein. Read NGO reports and official government reports, and so on and so forth. It saves you a lot of headache and gives you better analytical insight into what is really going on and why it is hard to solve the conflict.

3 ) Mind the language used. Search for terms that you don’t clearly understand, or that you have heard somewhere else before. Sometimes different authors and journalists use the same term for two different things. You need to find out why they call it differently and what the word truly means in each viewpoint.

4 ) Pay attention to footnotes. Sometimes authors are kind enough and want to refer you to key discussions on the same subject.

5 ) Note his/her sources. If you are well-read in a certain subject, you can most probably evaluate an author’s sources. If you are not, look them up and see if he has presented the information in the same manner as the book he cited did. That gives clues as to how he interpreted his data and most importantly his sources – it justifies the existence of the book you’re reading.

You might not apply these tips right away. It takes practice, effort and persistence but trust me: it will enhance your reading and analyzing skills by 150%.

Happy reading!