Tag Archives: opinion & analysis

The lives of people on the Internet

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THE INTERNET: Feel free to be a jerk

Guest post by Tharuna Devchand

SO a little while ago the Mail & Guardian suspended a journalist intern for an anti-Semitic comment on Facebook that amounted to hate speech and was therefore in conflict with the South African Constitution. Without a warning, the kid’s career was ruined because of a social networking site where groups like “My name is Khan” (a group that disrespects Hinduism) and “F*** Islam” exist with thousands of followers who spread the hatred.

I’m not justifying what Ngoako Matsha said, nor am I implying that M&G was wrong in suspending him, but consider the medium in which he said it — cyberspace.

In cyberspace, every person should be seen as a figment of their own imagination­. Nothing is real. Nothing we say is a true reflection of who we are. On the Internet, we are all Tyler Durdens. There are no boundaries, no policies and rules to keep us neatly between the lines, no reputations to uphold or cultural conventions to keep us in place.

The Internet is like a global Fight Club. It’s where we can guiltlessly des­troy something beautiful and return to our lives feeling better about ourselves. It’s cathartic and, since we all can’t be Jackson Pollocks, it may sometimes be our only outlet.

I constantly hear people complaining about how perfect their Facebook friends’ lives are or what interesting lives other people on Twitter have. It’s not true. It’s just what people choose to show you on the website that makes it all seem perfect.

Social networking sites house a giant­ community of people all suffering from small-penis syndrome. There is a constant war to keep up with the cyber Joneses. Saying that people exaggerate on the Internet about their lives, their feelings, their opinions and how great their lovers are is an understatement. If peer pressure in real life can drive one to do things one normally wouldn’t do, the pressure to be infamous on the Inter­net can land one in a mental institution. Gosh knows what Anthony Weiner was thinking when he tweeted a photo of his, um … weiner­.

While it is never easy to work out the true nature of a person in real life, it is 1 000x harder in cyberspace. On the Net, you can be anything and anyone you want to be.

Those who aren’t that popular or who lack friends may upload albums of them being cool with photos of them sloshed with their heads in a toilet just to show that they can party with the best of them. People who are going through tough times may exaggerate all the positive things in their lives and leave out the hardships. And people who are quite restricted or oppressed in their real lives, may go cyber crazy, voicing outrageous opinions and desires on the Net — probably under a pseudonym. It’s a safe outlet that we believe has no consequences — until we lose our jobs for letting loose.

The problem is that there is no line that determines how far is too far until we cross it. We constantly push the boundaries of what is right and wrong just to see how far we can go, whether it’s driving at 129 km/h in a 120 km/h zone or voicing mad love for Adolf Hitler and his beliefs.

Contemporary society has become mostly unaffected by things that are shocking or at least used to be shocking a decade ago, and to deal with this, people try to raise the bar. Cartoonists, comedians and teachers are continually trying to shock people into thinking about things on a different level. Look at how far advertisements have gone to prevent people from drinking and smoking excessively, and to encourage people to abstain from sex, and you’ll see just how just how numb our society is.

Is it okay for me to call my black friend a k***** on her Facebook wall knowing that she won’t be offended? Is it okay to tweet angrily about how upset I am about something the DA said and in turn label it as racist, not because I think that they are racist, but because I just feel the need to put the party down? No, but it feels good.

The South African Constitution currently doesn’t apply to the Internet. Maybe it should, but I doubt that will stop people from saying things, uploading videos and creating images that are shocking. Every day there are more stories of people being judged by their online images. Employers hire people based on their tweets, courts implicate people because of Facebook profile photos, people are fired because of some YouTube video that shows them spray painting expletives on a wall. But it’s those things that make us cool on the Net, that get us hits, that make us believe that this could one day make us famous.

Dear World Leaders

OPEN LETTER: When human soldiers kill for you

Dear World Leaders,

Could you ever take the life of another human being? What would it take for you to kill someone?

Assuming that most people are morally good, asking this of anyone seems to me morally wrong. Yet this is exactly what soldiers are asked to do when trained and sent to fight wars in foreign lands in the name of “national security.”

We would all like to believe that soldiers are no longer trained to kill by dehumanising the ‘enemy’ – by characterising them as sub-human and less deserving of living a human existence. We are made to believe that soldiers are now trained to kill “only when necessary”, but this isn’t quite the case, is it?

It is not in our nature to kill. Unless one is psychotic, the psychological trauma that comes with killing another human being, even in the name of defence, can have irreparable effects on both the soldier and society.

Instances of girlfriend and wife abuse may increase and traumatised soldiers may become plagued by fear and hatred. Equipping soldiers with expensive machinery – which we all have to pay for – and asking them to “fight for their country” is a burden on us all.

No man or woman should ever be asked to kill a fellow human being for any cause other than their own self-defence. To do this is to suppress a part of their humanity and to lose a part of yours as well.

Sincerely,
Humanity

“You don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around – and why the parents will always wave back” – Bill Tammeus

Exotic animals: to pet or not to pet?

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EXOTIC PETS: Know the commitment you are making

Exotic petsI OFTEN see that neighbour’s cat hunting in the garden and wonder whether cats are simply born to be wild. Several domesticated cats ‘run away’ from home adding to the growing number of strays that hunt birds, rodents and lizards.

To my knowledge, the domestication of animals by humankind began with the reindeer. Since then, pet stores have thrived and now offer a variety of animals from the scaly to the fluffy – from around the world for people to keep as pets.

I can understand the lure to own an exotic animal. The good than can come from this is that it should encourage the owners of such animals to take a bigger interest in their lives and better understand their worlds. As an owner of exotic fish, I also understand the chances of survival of such animals in the wild. But once equipped with the right knowledge, the hobby extends to recreating a safe & happy habitat in which they may thrive.

I all too often notice people coming into pet stores, noticing them see something unusual and getting excited, buying something exotic, and exiting the store without the proper knowledge of how to properly care for their new pet. Pet stores do offer brochures and guidelines on how to look after most of the animals they sell, but what’s really needed is more expertise and customer interaction between animal experts and consumers.

As far as exotic fish are concerned, I appeal to pet store owners to simply print out and place relevant information regarding proper care of different fish species above each tank in the store. Information regarding their diet, tank requirements, how large they grow and what other species of fish they can be kept with. This way, at least consumers may get the information at a glance.

More importantly, it is the responsibility of all those who wish to acquire an exotic pet, to do their homework beforehand and fully understand the commitment they are making. It can be a thrilling and educational experience. Let it be that rather than a tragic and sad end.

The Buzz around Google Wave

GOOGLE WAVE: An analysis of its untimely downfall + Google Buzz

GOOGLE announced the closure of Google Wave on their blog after much hype from loyal Google followers. There has been much buzz as to why Google Wave was a failed project, but the pivotal reasons appear to be three-fold. Excessive hype and expectations, too many features for a single web application, and at the same time, not enough unique features to differentiate Google Wave from existing services (Facebook, Twitter), all ultimately lead to its untimely downfall.

The hype involved a handful of people being invited to test Google Wave and lead to several bloggers discussing it amongst themselves. After almost a year of testing and a plethora of blog entries, a lot was obviously expected of Google’s latest brainchild. However, there were still only a handful of people that actually knew how to make use of Google Wave and in an era of short attention spans and click-happy web-users, the buzz had just about fizzled entirely upon its release.

Google Wave logoThe problem was that for the average web-user to get to grips with Google Wave required setting aside a good period of time to learn how to use it, and for many, watching a video tutorial was essential. Google’s software developers even admitted that the service “takes a little getting used to” and that even they were still learning how to use it themselves.

Once Google Wave invitees got the hang of Wave they needed more people to be using it besides themselves in order to get a proper wave going. This proved to be difficult enough in itself, but perhaps the problem was not a lack of users, but rather a lack of appeal.

What exactly is Google Wave?
“Wave’s primary feature was to let users collaborate in real time, using an in-box-like interface that resembled a mix of Google’s Gmail Web mail service, and its Docs and Spreadsheets product. Each strand of messages, which could include text, links, and photos, was called a wave. Google launched the product with an API for developers to build extra functionality in the form of extensions that users could turn on and off” – Cnet News

I would argue that Google Wave had two other inherent problems. The first being that it did not offer enough unique features – i.e. things that web-users couldn’t already perform using existing Google and other services, and secondly that it tried to achieve too much at once. There also seemed to be a lack of focus with regards to what the product would primarily be used for.

To rope people into any new web service takes time and requires baby steps if you want to get enough people on board in order for the services to be worthwhile and developed further. The web-user trend is to stick with what’s foremost familiar and secondly to make use of the tried and tested. Although Google Wave offered several easy ways to perform familiar tasks online in real-time, the popularity of services such as Facebook and Twitter far outweighed its demand as a new web service.

Google has brought many great apps to the table that are worthy of praise and the Internet would not be the same without them; sadly Google Wave was not one of them. Until a viable market demand is found, the focus should be on improving existing Google services before unleashing something new to the online public.

A bit on Google Buzz

Google had another chance with Google Buzz – a web app released just prior to Google Wave. For those who are unfamiliar with Google Buzz, the service is an extension of one’s Gmail account – appearing below one’s inbox. It can be rightfully argued that Google Buzz is essentially a Twitter clone as it allows friends to provide status updates, embed photos and links, and to follow or be followed by other Buzz users. It now has a few Facebooky features too – these being the options of liking or commenting on other users’ posts and embedding photos and video.

Google Buzz logoThe idea was to discuss “the buzz”, but from many users’ experience the service seems to be primarily used as a promotional tool for embedding links and directing peoples’ attention to them. Facebook remains the popular choice for status updating and the sharing of photos and videos and Twitter is still the first choice for posting something of real value.

I do not imagine that Google Buzz will ever become as popular (or perhaps more importantly – more popular) than Twitter or Facebook – least not until it offers something different to what exists already. Buzz needs to be able to stand on it’s own, which isn’t currently happening with the ability to Buzz on Facebook or Buzz on Twitter.

Perhaps bloggers and Google Wave testers are largely to blame for the excessive hype and ultimate disappointment of Google Wave. Perhaps it was the product itself that asked too much of web users by way of time and practical use. Or perhaps Google Wave simply did not fill a need in the World Wide Web by offering something entirely unique and different.

Google can surely be forgiven for the failure of Google Wave and hopefully learn from their mistakes. With a history of so many other great services and the downfall of only a few, support for future developments should by no means be tainted by their recent faults. Keep the services coming Google; you ultimately never know what will work on the web until you try.

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