Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The internet ruined the Millenials.

It has become a concern of mine that my generation, the younger section of the Millenials, a term that makes us sound like wise, post-human ethereal beings, are anything but.

As more of my creative friends are dragged into the disused quarry that is the dire employment cycle of 2013, I've started looking at not only myself and my friends and family but the people I converse with online and even the writers I admire in newspapers, magazines and in blogs. I think we're all dying out.

I can't think of a time when it was easier to distract yourself. I'm doing it right now. I have a list right next to me of articles I could be researching for, articles I need to write, jobs that need to be finished and tasks to do for work, but I've chosen to write this instead. It's on the internet. It doesn't seem like a real time commitment.

I see so many talented people having interesting debates online on a daily basis that could be put towards some really groundbreaking work. They never will be. This is not meant in a disparaging way - creative types have always procrastinated - only that it saddens me so many ideas will go un-explored thanks to how quickly they can be shared, talked about and forgotten.

I wonder if some of the world's greatest philosophers would have managed to change the course of thinking forever had Twitter been around in their day. They'd have managed a good few thousand RTs perhaps (if they'd had a decent following, been picked up by a Blue Tick-er or had written it without punctuation for the Weird Twitter crowd) but they might never have gotten round to picking apart their ideas in a book. They might have become more introverted, speaking their minds only behind a computer screen, discouraging them from attending conferences and making speeches and lectures. It's a hypothetical situation but one that I've been thinking about a lot lately.

More than this, our generation in the West is seen as living out an endless childhood. How can a member of it be taken seriously? Those before us lived through what were perceived to be Real Hardships - wars on their doorsteps, breadline poverty, mills and factories, unequal rights - see us as spoiled or even, to my constant exasperation, ungrateful. Thanks to the incredible lives our predecessors lived we are free to use the benefits they accumulated to spend our lives in a constant state of purgatory, drifting from one thing to the next, living for the weekend in a life more-or-less unchallenged by society or hardship.

We don't always choose that life. As perpetual children of plenty we're, unfairly and wrongly, never really expected to accomplish or achieve anything of much worth. It's partly our fault - fetishising cupcakes, spending our time doing nothing in particular, wallowing in self-pity - I feel like I am still a teenager, but I'm not. I'm at an age where many of my heroes had already begun their roads.

The worst part is, I know what I want my contributions to be, I'm just not doing anything about it. For many (or perhaps most) that realisation of where you want to be hasn't occurred yet and that's a true challenge, one that should never be scoffed at. Our generation has been told by those previously mentioned parents and grandparents who lived through True Hardships not to spend our lives using each day up doing something we hate. The result of this well-meaning worldly advice is that for the most part we feel we are wasting our lives, endlessly trying to reach some happy living Nirvana where time isn't the enemy and activities are meaningful instead of guilt-laden distractions from the real world.

I know that a great deal of my friends and acquaintances have Plans. These Plans have been sitting in folders and in notebooks for months, perhaps years; thought about daily but never acted upon. These Plans might not be fully-formed yet, but they are meaningful enough to keep close, like some desktop talisman glowing from the inside, promising a better life somewhere in the non-specified future. It could be the basic construction of the beginning of a novel (yes, that's me). It could be a spreadsheet detailing how enough money could be saved in a year to go travelling, to go back to university or to start that business you always wanted. It could be a photo album of people you want to get back in touch with, who you know make you a better person, who will be the key to achieving what you want in life. It could be a basic scribbled-down note of realisation that something needs to change, but you're not sure what.

I know one thing - while we're stuck in unfulfilling online purgatory, none of these things will ever be realised. I don't like what this could mean. The internet is a creative chimera - the perfect place to share ideas, research in depth from the comfort of your home and to blow off steam, but it's also the most effective time-sapping device ever created by nature or man, destroying good intentions and wasting days of our lives. If I was the conspirational sort I'd say that perhaps social networking was devised to stop the creative types of the world from doing anything at all.

You could say that it has enabled more people than ever to question the motives of those in power, that it has given the masses access to huge amounts of information and data. You could say that it offers a total and complete resource to find out anything you could ever need to know. You could talk about how it is the perfect place for like-minded people to share ideas, thoughts and values. This is all true. What is being done with this new-found activism though? Are we creating more, doing more? Or are we endlessly recycling it, forming opinions or ideas and then going to make another cup of tea?

We are making ourselves feel impotent when we are not.

Monday, 22 July 2013

How to check your charitable donations go where you want them to.

"I don't give to charity - they just spend the money on advertising and legal proceedings anyway."

I hear this a lot when I talk about giving to charity and I can see where this opinion comes from. Tarnished forever by the actions of charity hawkers in the street, people now view giving as a hassle, and one that won't necessarily end up with any noticeable or fulfilling outcome.

In March 2014 the Charity Commission's data held on the annual returns of charities will be made free open data, however until this point, it's fair to think that charitable donations aren't making any difference. After all, how can you really tell if your charity is keeping their spends a secret?

I give to charity and always have ever since I earned enough money to sustain myself and then have a bit left over for having fun with. I figured since so many people have helped me out over the years (see 'the week my cat died', 'the time our family were technically homeless' and 'all the times I've called free organisations like Citizen's Advice Bureau for advice') this was the best way to give something back to the universe (or whatever). As much as I'd love to be of more practical, personal assistance to my charities of choice, I either can't - I'm in the wrong country for starters - or quite simply, money is far more useful to them.


Macmillan Cancer Support - "How we raise and spend our money"


If giving to charity is only something you do not do because you're afraid your money will only go towards a fancy TV advert or an MD's large salary, this is no cynical thing. At least you're thinking about what you're doing and not giving blindly to the first charity that comes your way. Not all charities and philanthropic organisations act in this way though and it's fairly easy to do some research and find out how to help the people/animals/countries/wildlife/plants/insects/planet in a way you feel suits you best.

Many charities - like British Red Cross as seen here or like Amnesty International seen here - break down their spending in a visible manner, however not every organisation is as transparent.

Alive and Giving is basically a charity comparison website. It helps prospective givers to find out which organisations offer the best 'value for money' - that is, how much of your hard-earned cash will be tied up in fees and legal costs, and how much of it will actually reach it's intended recipient.

Choosing from the type of charity (so "humanitarian", "agricultural", "medicinal" etc.) and then by location, it's also really handy to help you find out about smaller charities doing work in fields you a) are really interested in and concerned about b) may never have heard of before due to their small size, minute advertising budget and remote/local location.

I tend to research charities a lot before I give money to them (why on earth would you give money away when you don't know where it's going?) and I'm glad there's now a site dedicated to encouraging others to do the same.

Visit http://www.aliveandgiving.com/ To find out more about charities you already support or to find a new one you m ight never have heard of which sums up your morals and beliefs entirely.

Sidenote - Some charities aren't included in the scheme which could be for a number of reasons, most likely being that they decided not to opt-in to be scrutinised. I am of the opinion smaller charities do more to help their chosen causes anyway, however if you're looking for an organisation who isn't listed, check their official website to see if their financial info is listed (usually under "FAQs" or "more about us"). Often it is. If it isn't, the choice is entirely yours.

More interesting links: 
Development tracker - how the UK invests in developing countries
Ipsos Mori's report - "Public perceptions of Charity"
5 things charities are spending your money on - LoveMoney
The "non profits" who spend most of their money on fundraising International Business Times (America)
Is the way we view charity spending counter-productive? - The Guardian

Friday, 19 July 2013

Why mediocre country-pop song "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry fascinates me

I'd been confused by this for a little while.

At my fitness pilates class (haha yes I'm an OAP, something to do with my left hip flexor means I need to do stretches and...you don't want to know all this) there is occasionally a country playlist. I'm not adverse to country music - I love hearing a Marlboro man sing about how upset he is that his lady left with his truck - but some of the tracks on it are truly unbelievable.

One such song is "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry. A song that's quite nice in a bland, background radio music sort of way; it doesn't scream "crossover single of the century" but it doesn't make me want to tear my eardrums out with horror and frustration either. It's essentially a 'nothing' sort of song. If you heard it once you'd never think about it again.

I hear it once a week though, while we do awkward spine rotations in a gym hall just outside of Clitheroe.

For the first couple of weeks the whole playlist blended into one lamentable drone, occasionally punctuated by cynically-written wedding song cash cows by the likes of Shaniah Twain and Alison Krauss. One week I noticed that Brad Paisley was in on the act, crying about drinking whiskey to forget his cheating wife (true country ethics). All seemed well and relatively dull.

Then a song started creeping into my subconscious. I found myself humming a tune throughout the week, so I Googled the words I remembered and lo and behold, here was "If I Die Young", wriggling around in my frontal lobe.

I'm now semi-obsessed with this song. It's not great - as I mentioned before, it's the type of mid-chart-bothering pop country a million other people have done before - it's the sentiment that affects me so. Let me explain.

"If I Die Young" is a song about dying when you're young. Obviously. It details how the singer would prefer to be buried (in satin on a bed of roses) and sent off (sank in a river), how sad her mother would be to bury her child and how people would listen to her final words with reverence and respect.

Despite this being a wholly inappropriate premise for a pop song, this still isn't why the song fascinates me.

What I find so truly fascinating about this track is how it must have been written along the same lines as any classic "first dance" wedding song, but for a young person's funeral.

Everybody has a song that reminds them of somebody, and should that person pass away, that song becomes your own personal memorial of their life. The Band Perry (or more probably, their manager [NOTE: I have since been informed by an eager fan that this track was made before they had a manager, however it was released on Republic Nashville so make of that what you will) had the fantastic business idea of creating that song cold, therefore offering their cut and dried sentiments to be pasted onto an entire nation's grief. What a fantastic way to make money! People are always dying, ergo, people will always need moving funeral songs. The grim gift that keeps on giving.

I'll paste the video below so you can listen for yourself. There is no personal sentiment, no added memoirs or anecdotes - this track was made to be grafted onto as many people's emotions as possible. Almost regimentally innocent with choice lines like "the sharp knife of a short life", I wouldn't be surprised if a boardroom of people sat around brainstorming ways to describe a mother's perfect vision of their beloved child. I can't believe somebody has been so savvy and cynical. I'd be appalled if I wasn't in awe of their massive, businessbutt balls.

Oh, it's also in a key pretty much everyone can sing, perfect for recitals and cover versions. Cha ching.

Listen to it here and then tell me if I'm just being a cynical, unfeeling twat.

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