Black Mirror – A television series

Black Mirror – a television series

Black Mirror is a television series that was broadcast by Channel 4 a few years ago and made available to Netflix audiences recently. The series explores a variety of topics and issues to do with technology from death to crime and existentialism. It also explores themes like family and friendship.

We spend a lot of time thinking about technology and how it has changed our lives. Sometimes it’s fun to watch 80s series to see the world as it was before computers and the internet and sometimes it is fun to watch dystopian essays or short stories exploring facets of modern life.

In modern society we see that social media is affecting the discourse that is taking place between politicians and normal people. We see how social media and the lowering of the barriers of entry to the fourth estate have created a golden age for propaganda and disinformation. We see in The Waldo Moment that a CGI bear can mock the political system. It could be directly related to what we have seen happen recently.

Be Right Back deals with online identity and how a person can be emulated once they have died. The question is an interesting one. The more active we are on social media the more our character and personality can be understood and reflected back. This is limited. We are not entirely ourselves online. There are some things that we hide from the online world.

In Fifteen Million Merits we see a dystopian vision of the world where everyone lives in a small dark room. They get out of this room to go and peddle for a few hours to get Merits. Once they have 15 million merits they can “apply” for a different kind of job via a talent show.

Nosedive explores popularity and social networks. Everyone is constantly being rated based on what they share, how they interact with others and more. In such a dystopia people can progress or lose privileges based on reputation. In such a reality people are vulnerable.

A vertovian theme is explored in “The Entire history of You”. An implant called the Grain records your entire life and you have the ability to fast forward and rewind moments of your life. In so doing you can analyse what went well, what went badly and more. You can also see more than you were intended to see through other peoples’ recorded experiences. In this episode we see the Kino-Eye, the all seeing eye. Your life is no longer private.

I like some of the themes that are explored in this series and I recommend people to watch at least some of the episodes. I feel that they are relevant to our discussion about social media and online lives.

A satirical look at music festivals as a form of psychological torture

When we’re 14-28 years old the idea of going to a music festival to see the artists we spend our free time listening to is fantastic. Imagine all that drinking, that mud, that food, those opportunities to seduce and best of all that ambiance. The prospect of going to a music festival is so appealing that we fantacize about going to work as bénévole to have the full experience. I have been through that experience several times as a result of which I chose to have a week off from socialising to recover. Now that I have provided you with context I want to take a satirical look at music festivals as a form of psychological torture for those of us who have grown too “old” to know which artists are playing.

Traffic

The most evident form of torture is traffic. This comes in the form of passengers in trains, buses and to some degree cars. In trains and buses you will have the pleasure of standing in work clothes next to youths in t-shirts, drinking beers and possibly listening to music and generously allowing other people to listen. Imagine how pleasant this experience is when you’ve just finished a ten hour work day and you want to listen to an audiobook. “If I wanted this experience I’d have stayed in London” is something you might hear the locals say.

Of course this is not limited to public transport. Private transport too is affected. In this case you’re on the motorway and you want to go home but you get stuck in a column of cars so long that it stretches from Gland to Rolle and beyond. This is amusing. As I joked about with a passenger yesterday as I drove back from a day of climbing and filming that traffic jam is usually around Villeneuve or between Lausanne and Morges. At least for once it had the decency to migrate. What a pleasure to be stuck looking at cars in a different place. From here we can see the Rolle vineyards and out towards the Léman and the Alps.

If you want to get off in Gland or Nyon you’d better be patient as there is an excellent chance that you will be stuck for half an hour getting off the motorway. It is for this very reason that when I offered to drive a person I said that I would drive to Coppet to pick her up rather than Nyon. I wrote “In the morning I can pick you up from Nyon but in the evening I will drop you off in Coppet. This turned out fantastically for three people at the end of the day.

Two people were heading back to Geneva and catching the train from Coppet meant that they were on the TPG network. The third person lived in Coppet so my avoiding a music festival provided her with a climbing wall to home village solution.

You see this. A music festival inconvenienced me and yet I still make an effort to simplify the lives of others. That is a demonstration that despite the intense dislike I have for a music festival I still know to be kind and courteous to those who do not inconvenience me.

Noise pollution

Traffic, in isolation is often a nuisance but worse than traffic is noise pollution. The countryside is quiet. The noise of the nearby river is so normal that you do not notice it until you listen to a recording of normal every day sounds. Add to this the summer sound of crickets and birds and you’ve described the noises. In the distance you can hear the train de St Cergue as it makes it way up and down the Jura.

During the music festival you get to hear sound checks from 11am onwards. You hear the sound of the kick drum, voice microphones and other instruments. This goes on until two or three more bands on the Grande Scène have finished their sound check. As a young adult this is nice, this is part of the euphoria of “having a music festival in your back yard” as Americans would say. This is not a nuisance. The torture comes after ten at night.

In Switzerland you are not allowed to shower, take a bath or make noise after 2200 hours under risk of a fine if you do not get along with your neighbours. This makes living in Switzerland civil. Working professionals know that after 2200 they can go to bed and nothing should wake them up.

During the music festival common decency goes out of the window. From Tuesday to Sunday morning if your bedroom is facing towards the music festival you will hear booming and howling until 3am every day. That is the noise that is transmitted through double glazing, thick walls and a layer of insulation. If you open the window you can sometimes make out who is singing. I remember hearing Faithless or other bands when they played years ago when I was still familiar with the artists.

If you’re not working or you have flexible hours then you can shift your sleep pattern to match the music festival. You can wake halfway through the morning and so the impact is neutralised.

Yesterday I did not have that luxury. I am passionate about rock climbing and the great outdoors. For who share this passion usually like to wake early and get to the mountains before the sun is too warm. The music festival kept me awake until 3am and and by 6am I had to wake up to pick people up and drive to the mountains. I had between two to three hours of sleep and waking up was not easy. We arrived at the meeting point early so I had a short siesta in the back of the car to refresh myself at least slightly. I did feel better as a result of this siesta and was able to climb and to film others climbing. I had a good time but I was sleep deprived. If I had not committed to driving another person in the morning then I would have aborted the climbing day and I would have slept. I would have lost a day of doing two things I love thanks to the selfishness of festival goers and the sound gremlins (my name for music festival sound engineers) who flood the countryside with noise.

When I got home and sat at the laptop I could no longer hold my head up. I struggled to prepare dinner and when I ate I was fighting to stay awake. Eventually I gave up and went to bed with the laptop and youtube videos providing background noise to cover the music festival’s inconsistent noise. After the fire works were fired I slept until this morning. I woke but was unable to stay awake several times this morning. Eventually at 9 I woke up and had a deep desire to write this blog post about music festivals as a form of torture.

I don’t want music festivals to stop and I don’t want people to be prevented from having fun. I want sound engineers to do their job. I want sound engineers to design music festival sound so that people at the festival can hear it but so that surrounding villages and working professionals can still sleep properly and work. Sleep deprivation is a torture method and music festivals, for all of their social ideals should respect that not everyone wants to go to a music festival. Music festivals should respect the locals.

I avoid using the name of the festival that inspired this post to avoid giving them free advertising. 😉

 

A Nonverbal Autism Video Interview

I saw Horyou share a link to Speechless with Carly Fleischmann. This is a Nonverbal Autism Video Interview carried out via typed words on a tablet.  The text is read out electronically. The interview is warm and convivial.

It stands out because it does not use a fast talking or energetic host. The interviewer does not talk, in the conventional sense. They could easily have inter-titles rather than synthesised voice. It is because they show the challenge of this interview that it is interesting. It shows that charismatic fast talkers are not the only people with an opportunity to interview artists. It shows that given the right circumstances anyone can interview artists and that desire and interest are required but that solutions can be found for other challenges. It opens up the world to a diversity of people. Imagine video interviews in sign language for example. There is no reason for a specialist channel not to take on this challenge, to fill this niche.

Three things make this possible: Video production costs have gone down so it is easy to find the budget to record such an interview, technology makes communication for nonverbal people much simpler and finally Youtube makes content distribution to an audience easy. This video has three and a half million views.

I will find more videos like this. I believe that they play an important role in modern society where we believe that everyone should be treated equally, to have equal opportunities. It is too easy to idealise the charismatic radio presenter who has a way with words and forget that charisma can be found in people’s intellect. You see it through the laughter in the interview, you see it in the way the interviewee is so relaxed. It’s a shame that there is just one interview. Imagine it as a weekly show.

Sharkwater – a documentary worth watching

Sharkwater – A documentary worth watching.

If you have one and a half hours of free time I recommend watching this documentary. It discusses the anti-whaling work by the Sea Shepherd, the work it did to combat long lining around the Galapagos and it touches on the shark finning mafia and corruption.

The documentary also looks at the public perception of sharks. It shows that they are not the dangerous animal that they were thought to be until recent history. The film ends with a shot of the narrator free-diving with sharks and being perfectly relaxed. At one point he says “sharks are so sensitive that they can feel your heart beat, if you are calm they will stay but if you panic they will flee”. I paraphrased his exact words.

Another theme that is explored in this documentary is the food chain. He mentions that plankton absorb a lot of Carbon dioxide and that with the overfishing of sharks the ecological balance will be ruined as the apex predators are lost. He pushes strongly for the conservation of shark numbers. We are familiar with the current Save our Sharks movement.

This is an interesting investigative documentary about the economy surrounding shark finning and why it has a negative impact on the food chain. If the documentary was updated it could look at the economic viability of shark tourism that has grown in recent years. Sharks, in some places are more valuable alive than dead. If you don’t have time to watch the entire documentary then I recommend that you watch the last thirty to fourty minutes.

Thoughts on the New York Times Article about Project Aristotle and its findings

When I read this article I can’t stop thinking of the Prototyping sessions at Lift 2016. Teams from big corporations worked together to collaborate on exploring new ideas and developing new projects. Some had to work on a video, others had to work on models. Others had to create 2d representations. One set of tables had people working on music, graphics and more.

We had to record a number of interviews and they often said that they enjoyed being out of the office, in a different setting with different people. They spoke about how valuable this experience was and that they wanted to do this frequently, rather than once every few years.

In this article they mention that ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’ is important for successful teams. I agree whole-heartedly with this statement. I am not a forceful person, I wait until I am asked a question before speaking. As a result it is easy for me to switch off and think of other things. By finding a team where people listen to everyone else we engage people.

This is a topic discussed in Insanely Simple. It’s a book about Steve Jobs and how Apple works. They speak of the eight-person meeting. If you’re not needed you’re not allowed to be in the room. The focus is on keeping groups small and dynamic rather than large and clunky.

‘‘As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well,’’ Woolley said. ‘‘But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.’’. That’s because listening is an act of kindness but no more. What responsibility or accountability do we have in a team where one person takes over the conversation?

‘‘average social sensitivity’’ That’s good for my personality type. When I take personality type tests seriously and for fun I get Intuition as one of the four words… “skilled at intuiting”. Compassion is an important part of good team dynamics. “People on the ineffective teams, in contrast, scored below average. ”

One of the books “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success” explores this idea in depth. It devotes quite a bit of time exploring team dynamics within the Simpsons creative team. It speaks about authorship, co-writing and collaboration as keys to success. It speaks about letting people work a first draft of the script and getting teams of people to re-work and re-write it. I have heard about this taking place on a lot of television shows. This could be one of the reasons why American television shows are compelling to watch. As teams work on projects everyone feels compassion for the end project, rather than individuals.

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations.

I started writing this as a facebook comment but saw that I was inspired enough to write a blog post instead.

 

Film and Video archiving

Film is Fragile – Film needs your help! | BFI Trailer from BFI on Vimeo.

Recently I spent more than a year working as a video archivist for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. During this time I digitised several decades of documentary films and news stories. In the process I went from knowing very little about refugees to being a better informed member of the public.

We can learn a lot from watching old films and old television series. We can also learn a lot about society. One documentary I watched was about the Bamboo city. It looked at refugees living there and tried to understand why those trying for asylum were refused. It followed their skills training, language training and finally their acceptance to host countries.

Another documentary I watched was about the 1980s Afghan war when the Soviets went in to try to win over the country. It was fascinating to watch how one generation of Soviets and then a generation of Americans met the same challenges and trials.

Le Monde Du Silence, film by Jacques Yves Cousteau from 1956 is a fascinating documentary because of it’s reflections of what people knew of the seas and oceans at the birth of self contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) exploration. This documentary as well as all Jacques Yves Cousteau documentaries are an interesting glimpse back to what people were learning about and discovering. It allows us to study and understand the way in which attitudes and understandings have progressed over the decades.

I watched Magnum PI and it’s interesting to see a pre-mobile phone society. It’s interesting to watch these series and see the world of my youth. Another series of interest is Friends because of how seldom we see mobile phones at least at the beginning of the series. We see how society was in the 1990s. If we watch this series in parallel with Big Bang Theory we see how much society has changed. We see how knowledge has progressed.

We need to keep the film and video heritage alive and well. We, as a generation must work to preserve our film and video heritage. We must either donate our time or the funds to help preserve our heritage. In so doing books about film and television history are not just books. They are interactive. When I was reading about Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov these films were on film or VHS tapes and hard to find. Today they are available on demand. If we continue to digitise and preserve our cultural heritage then future generations will see and understand how ideas and art forms have progressed over the decades and eventually centuries.

Lensational – Empowering Women through Photography.

From Friday to Sunday this week SIGEF2015 took place at the Batiment des Forces Motrices in Geneva Switzerland. This event was organised by Horyou, a social network for social good, where people were connecting and networking, discussing how best to help people with various projects around the world.

Living in the Western World we hear and see selfies of friends and many images of food, autumn and things they find appealing to look at. Lensational is a project to bring photographic equipment and photography skills to people around the world.

They recycle cameras, resell cameras, conduct photography training and sell photographs. They are looking for camera donations from both private individuals and corporations so that they can resell these cameras at an affordable price to those who would otherwise not have access to digital cameras.

Women are then taught by NGOs and photographers about photography and this is seen as a means by which to empower women.

Some of these images are then sold internationally to provide these women with additional income from stock photographs.

Photographs by Marginalised Women.

Photography is a pleasant and enjoyable way of understanding daily life. It provides us with moments or instants from people’s lives. In these images we can see how people live and how they have fun. It is a window in to their world and now that technology makes it possible sharing our day to day lives has become easy.

We no longer require National Geographic, GEO and other publications to show us how other cultures live. We can now gain access directly with these people. It also gives marginalised women an opportunity to represent themselves.

Childhood and environmental conscience in Switzerland

I attended the Green Cross International event in Geneva and took pages and pages of notes. There was a lot of information and a focus to provide COP21 in Paris with a message from Geneva, Humanitarian city to Paris and the leaders present for that conference.

Dr. Somthai Wongcharoen – Founder, Wongpanit Group of Companies (Thailand) made a speech about the company he started in 1976. He saw waste not as a problem but as a resource. Through encouraging people to bring their rubbish and paying for it, by establishing recycling centres around the world he helped turn waste in to commodities. During his presentation the topics he covered were familiar.

That’s because in Switzerland PET plastic has been recycled for 25 years, a quarter of a century. It is an inherent part of my character that I will recycle plastic bottles whenever I can. Recycling culture in my village is strong. For several years now we have had a recycling centre rather than a dump. Aluminium, PET plastic, other plastics, paper, and cardboard are all recycled. So is garden rubbish. The amount of rubbish that heads to an incinerator is now a third of a bag every three weeks. In other words I drive to the recycling centre and drop off recycling in the appropriate places and the waste that heads to an incinerator is minimal.

This is such an ordinary part of my life, as a person living in the Canton de Vaud that I feel bad about throwing away rubbish in garbage bags rather than sorting it. Recycling is easy. I started as a child and continued as an adult. It is nice that it has become such an important part of village life.

It seems funny that just 20 minutes from where I live recycling culture is so much weaker. I’m thinking of Geneva. In Geneva people still treat rubbish the old fashioned way. They don’t sort it. This is an abberation and I hope and want Geneva to follow suit. I want to see more places like we see in Geneva train station. In the train station you can sort your rubbish by PET, Paper, Aluminium or other. This is a fantastic initiative by the CFF and needs to spread to conference centres, places of employment and more. If you sell aluminium cans or plastic bottles you should offer a place to recycle these resources.

I will leave you this video to show how waste management can be seen as resource management.