Sunday, 28 April 2013

Reclaim workshop

In my spare time, I run 330Words, a not-for-profit writing community for authors and people who would like to be authors but don’t particularly know where to start. The thing's been ticking along for three years now and I'm quietly pleased about the community that's grown up around the site.

Next month, as part of 330Words, I’m going to be running a workshop with Reclaim, a great Manchester-based charity that works with young people to develop skills and confidence.

I’ll be teaching a session about creative writing based on my experiences with 330Words and hopefully imparting some thoughts on how to write a short story. If all goes to plan, the group will be writing some of their own work on the day and I’ll be putting the best ones live on the site.

I’ve lectured before on social media, but definitely looking forward to branching out. Exciting stuff.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Redesigning the save symbol

There’s an interesting discussion currently taking place on Branch about the relevance of the ‘Save’ icon; the 3.5 inch floppy disk that sits in the left-hand corner of most word-processing systems.

I haven’t used a floppy disk since the demise of my Acorn Archimedes in the early 90s and the discussion about replacing the symbol in the interests of relevance is an interesting one. Aside from suggesting a number of alternatives to the humble floppy disk, there’s also a fascinating argument relating to the semantic implications of choosing a new symbol.

Dane Petersen provides my favourite comment:

“The interesting thing about the floppy disk icon is that it isn't an abstract representation of the data object itself, but an anachronistic representation of the act of saving itself.

It sidesteps the issues of, say, a document icon being too specific (and not an appropriate symbol for, say, saving an edited video), or a circle icon being too generic (and not recognizable as representing a data object), by not attempting to represent the object at all. The floppy disk icon is brilliant in its idiocy.”

There’s also an argument about whether the save icon needs replacing at all. On his blog, Conner Tomas O’ Brien makes a strong case for keeping the status quo.

“Once a symbol enters a culture's visual language, it can convey meaning on its own, even after the physical object it ostensibly represents is obsoleted.”

Monday, 8 April 2013

The cautionary tale of Paris Brown

Over the weekend, The Mail on Sunday reported on the tale of Paris Brown, the newly appointed youth police and crime commissioner with a tendency to tweet her mind. The piece focused on the nature of the Tweets from the 17-year-old's personal Twitter account; comments which were described by her boss, Ann Barnes, as rude, offensive, unpleasant and unacceptable. You can read the full report from the BBC here.

"A lot of young people use them and say the most horrible things. They don't even think about what they are saying and I think this is what's happened with Paris," reflected Barnes.

"Won't it be good if, from her own experience, she can try to get over to young people that [some things] they say on Twitter or Facebook are unacceptable?” she added.

The eminent Steve Kuncewicz wrote an interesting comment on the situation. While you should all pop across to his site to read his take on the whole affair, I’ve pulled out a paragraph below:

"What you say online has real consequences in the real world. More and more cases in the employment tribunal revolve around social media comments and, despite the data protection and human rights issues involved in online vetting, I’d bet that most employers take a look at candidates before employing them.”

Wise words for a Monday morning.

Occasionally, I lecture to university students, advising them on how best to use social media to job hunt. My favourite stats come from a survey done by in 2010 (I bet this figure has gone up).

  • 53 per cent of employers look at the social media profiles of applicants to a position.
  • 43 per cent of these employers chose not to hire a candidate based on content they found.

Smash cut to Monday afternoon. The newspaper print on yesterday’s Mail on Sunday wasn’t even dry.

Surprising no one, the passing of Margaret Thatcher was extensively covered on everyone’s favourite 140-character social network of choice. Thatcher was a divisive figure and the commentary on Twitter reflected as much. Some people liked her, some did not.

And that’s absolutely fine.

Opinions are good. Twitter is a messy senate for the masses and I love that I get to eavesdrop arguments which dart between politics and television shows in a heartbeat. Opinions make social media an interesting place. And I can choose to agree or disagree with you at my leisure. But this isn’t my point.

Never write on Twitter what you wouldn’t want to be quoted on by your mum, boss or the BBC.

Some of today's tweets about Margaret Thatcher wouldn’t have looked out of place on the front cover of a national newspaper.

Social media isn’t new anymore and we’re not lawless pioneers in the wild west of the internet. What we say can be recorded, documented and played back to us. Time and time again, we have seen the repercussions of an ill-judged tweet; firings, legal action and convictions. Our words don’t just float away into cyberspace.

We need to be aware that, even on social media, our words have real ramifications.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Pitch Party Update - Running with Nike

This weekend, I had the chance to pick the brains of Tuheen Huda, winner of last year's Pitch Party competition. He's a sterling chap and it was great to get his thoughts on what I need to put together between now and next January for my own play.*

I've spent the best part of the weekend putting together some ideas about what I want to say during my play; what themes I want to explore and what, ultimately, I want the audience to get out of the experience.

The piece I performed during Pitch Party looked at the divide between our real lives and our digital personas; how we pick and choose what to post online in order to present a distilled, idealised version of ourselves on platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

I run a fair bit, but I'm fairly selective about what I let the Nike app autopost to Twitter after a jog. If it's a decent run, I'll probably want to share it. If not then, well, I won't.