Monday, 8 August 2011
I tried to start writing this post about three hours ago. What happened to those 180 minutes I could have spent typing? Well, twitter and rolling news had a large part to play in it. As did obsessive email checking, and scrolling through BBC coverage.
Why the interest in the London disorder? But more importantly, why the need to find out what is constantly going on? The nearest I was to any rioting was watching my brother and a friend earlier use water-pistols to spray my windows as they laughed hysterically.
It’s awful – I know it’s awful. These riots will result in lost homes, lost livelihoods and potentially even lost lives. The looting and violence is shocking. I spend quite a bit of time in London, so although I do not call it ‘home’, I do feel for the capital and its inhabitants. No-one deserves to be subjected to the scenes we have seen on various websites – of buildings burning and crumbling, of masked gangs roaming streets like zombies, of ransacked shop fronts. It’s a Monday for heaven’s sake!
However, I didn’t really know much about what was happening until I turned on my computer this morning. I have a new policy of trying to cut down on internet consumption (a web-diet perhaps?), and spent the weekend enjoying the freedom of spending hours reading and scribbling ideas in my notebook. I went for a long walk, had endless family discussions, and finished sorting out my room.
And do you know what? I felt better for it. Not knowing what dreadful things were happening in the world, just for two days, helped me to clear my head.
So, as one can imagine, I had quite a lot of catching up to do in regard to the situation in London – which is still unfolding as I type - a strange thought. As these words make the journey from my head to the document in front of me, people are being affected. Firemen and paramedics are facing risk as my fingers move across the keyboard.
It’s not that I don’t want to know what’s happening – I do, and I think that is important for everyone to educate themselves about current affairs. But there’s current, and then there’s current. Twitter, like many other forms of social media, provides a constant stream of instant updates. Want to know what is happening in Hackney, right now, this very second? There are pictures, comments, hashtags and even blogs devoted to the events unfolding step by step.
Sometimes this is good, as it leads to instant (and very often important) knowledge, awareness and positive action. However, I do also sometimes wonder if Henry Miller was on to something when he wrote in ‘The Colossus of Maroussi’:
“To be silent the whole day long, see no newspaper, hear no radio, listen to no gossip.... to be thoroughly and completely indifferent to the fate of the world is the finest medicine a man can give himself”.
Along with the need to read and spread information (eg, advising people about where unsafe areas are), there is also an addictive quality to constant updates. It’s the same as seeing the ‘Inbox (1)’ message, or finding a Facebook notification or a blog comment to moderate. The internet seems to have sped us up to the point where we always crave the new, the next, the immediate.
I know that many may disagree – I realised that when I started trying to articulate these feelings. But my question is, is instantaneous news always healthy? Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes it feels a bit voyeuristic, like seeing news footage of waves engulfing the coast of Japan as it happened.
The news focuses on bad events like a child with a magnifying glass – sharpening every detail, and sometimes sizzling the subject of its scrutiny.
It’s true that we deserve to know what goes on in this world, especially if it affects us directly. But do you know what else is good? Letting go for five minutes, so that one can appreciate sitting outside on a windy day with a cup of tea, or reading a beautiful sentence in a book. Knowing that there are still good people in the world, despite the reports of criminals treating London’s shops as one large trolley dash.
I guess that is possibly why we find the past so comforting. We already know what happened, and that there is no way the events of previous years will change. They are constant - something we can analyse and dissect, safe in the knowledge that we cannot be harmed by history’s villains.
Which brings me on to the inevitable part of the post – the clothes. These photos were taken a few months ago; a now comfortable past. I remember the sense of solidity while sitting on the stone wall, years of work beneath me. Then there was the reassuring familiarity of the various locations that change daily according to light or season. But these are the changes that are anticipated – even expected. They don’t cause anxiety or worry.
I am wearing a second hand blue woollen blazer and patterned shorts, with Topshop shoes (and wellies) and Next tights. The ‘Mummy’s Scissor’ necklace is homemade, and the belt was my grandma’s.
Finally, to all those affected by the horrific London riots – those who have lost their business premises, valuable work or homes, those who have been subjected to violence – all I can say is that my thoughts and wishes are with you on this dark and deeply chaotic night.
Edit: In light of overnight coverage, my article seems already quite obselete. Is that how fast news is moving now? The havoc wreaked through this beautiful city - from Chalk Farm to Croydon - is beyond belief. In the end, I couldn't look away from coverage. It ended up being personal. I know some of those streets, I know people living in various affected areas.
Having tried to switch off from the terrible news, and finding this impossible, I started reflecting on the role of the media. All websites and feeds were linked directly to the rioting - useful for information, not so good for spreading inspiration. 'Copycat' events taking place in Bristol, Birmingham and other cities couldn't have happened as quickly in the past, as the pictures and coverage of mayhem wouldn't have been so immediately accessible. And that's before we even start looking at Blackberry Messenger. However, social media such as twitter has also been instrumental in the extraordinary riot clean ups taking place this morning; an inspirational group effort. Media - a double edged sword.
Finally, I was saddened to realise that many of those creating the lawlessness were of my generation - teenagers.
For a very eloquent and thought-provoking response, by Camila Batmanghelidjh (who I admire very much), see here - http://t.co/5RrAxP8