Category Archives: My ‘life’

Overanalysis of my not very interesting life

New Year, New Bathroom, New Lock-In?

 

So I spent most of the ‘Christmas’ holiday redoing the bathroom – stemming from a leaky waste on the bath and mould growth mainly because of a broken extractor fan – It took me several days to rip out the old (partly rotted) frame under the bath, build a new one and put it back in, sort out the leak, degrout and regrout, de-seal and reseal, sand and paint (quite badly, thankfully white paint is quite forgiving), and it cost about £100 for the tools and various industrial chemical products.

Now I could celebrate the fact that I now have the whitest bathroom in the known universe, the fact that I did this extremely cheaply compared to ‘getting a man in’, and I could even celebrate my capital gains – lots more tools, some more knowledge, and a tiny bit of extra-skills. However, I don’t see it like this – I’ve come to realise that my efforts have really only been ncessary because I’m locked into what I think I’ll call a sub-optimal bathroom context:

For starters had the original housebuilders left the side panel off the bath (which is only on there for aesthetic reasons) I would have noticed the leaky waste a lot earlier, saving myself hours of ripping out the rotten frame. The waste was only loose, not cracked – so firstly I’ve been a victim of uncessary normative bathroom aesthetics.

Secondly, the mould-growth due to the fan being broken only occurs because I live in a block of flats and there are no windows I can open to allow the bathroom to air naturally. If I could afford a house, which I can’t around here, I could simply open a window and the broken extractor fan wouldn’t be as much of a problem. Thus I’m also a victim of relative poverty, albeit on a salary of £45K a year.

Thirdly, I’ve also got to thinking that the need to grout and seal stems from the fact that the bathroom is inside – A bathroom is a wet area within a dry area – This might sound like I’m stating the obvious but it’s actually quite an unnatural place for a bathroom to be – outside would make a lot more sense. It isn’t necessary to have inside bathrooms, or even private bathrooms, but I don’t really have a choice to buy a property without one, or to use collective bathrooms outside (nothing in convenient reach for me). Thus efficiency dictates that I need to use my own private bathroom – So here I am a victim of a conflation of urbanisation/ individualisation/ privatisation.

Now.. I think most people would look at the job of redoing their bathroom and feel a sense of satisfaction (a kind of meaningful agency if you like). I do sort of feel satisfied, my bathroom is now VERY white – but I’m also painfully aware that this sense of satisfaction is as thin as the layer of paint on my bathroom walls, beneath the surface of which is a bizareely sub-optimal nexus which has led me into having no choice but to spend time and money on doing up my bathroom.

What annoys me most about the above point is that I do actually want a private bathroom – even though this is not necessary – I’ve been socialised into this, the result is extremely sub-optimal, and this is a tough one to break out of.

So what’s the ultimate solution to all of this? Well long-term, once I’m done with my job, which does require me to wash every morning, I’m going do without the normative bathroom aesthetics – the bath panels, tiles, extractor fans, anti-mould paint, grout, sealant and so on, and live in a field and wash outdoors with a bucket.

After all, water falls from the sky and goes back to the earth, may as well cut out the middle men.

Update –

Having wrote this (TBH I never intended to write this, but it’s been cathartic) I find myself interested in the Sociology of bathrooms and bathing – if anyone knows of any further sources on this please do get in touch! Questions/ issues I’m interested in are…

How many times would the average homeowner redo their bathroom, how much money would they spend>? I’m more interested in spread rather than ranges.

Based on the above – what is the lock-in effect of the average bathroom? – How many months of a working life is spent paying for bathroom upgrades?

How have bathroom aesthetics evolved? Who are the main agencies at work in the social construction of bathroom aesthetics. What has status got to do with this?

How many people do their own bathrooms renovations compared to other parts of the house? I’m quite interested in this – It is more of a technical challenge in some ways than a living room or a bedroom, but then again if you cock it up you have to spend less time looking at it, so its less of a risk (plumbing aside).

Anyway, enough of bathrooms for now…

 

 

The negative experience of iTime on yer smartphone

Oh the irony – My intention 6 weeks ago was to get a dialogue going between Bauman and Buddhism, and here I am getting sidelined by the concepts of iTime and Pointillist Time – still, at least I’m experiencing the subject matter of this essay……

‘Whenever you are, be sometime else’. A philosophical analysis of smartphone time by Demian-Noah Niehaus

Defining iTime/ overview of the essay

In this article, Niehaus examines how smartphones create a new temporality which, (following Agger, 2011) he calls iTime (NB iTime does not represent a qualitative break with the earlier internet era, rather its evolution and intensification.)

The essay is an insightful commentary on the growing trend in smartphone use (Niehaus cites research in which users spend on average 132 minutes each day communicating and using social media on their phones.) The essay also challenges industry data citing users’ own reflections on the emotional consequences of their iTime as an overwhelmingly positive experience (sentiments such as “connectedness” are far more common than “overwhelmed,” “stressed out,” “burdened/anxious,” or “lonely”). This essay offers a deeper, darker analysis of the downside of iTime, and of time spent in hyperculture more generally.

iTime is a wonderful example of what Bauman calls Pointillist time. To cite Bauman….

‘As lived by its members, time in the liquid modern society of consumers is neither cyclical nor linear it is instead pointillist, marked as much by the profusion of ruptures and discontinuities, by intervals separating successive spots and breaking the links between them, than by the specific content of the spots. Pointillist time is more prominent for its inconsistency and lack of cohesion than for its elements of continuity and consistency…. Pointillist time is broken up, or even pulverized, into a multitude of ‘eternal instants’ – self-enclosed monads, separate morsels, each morsel reduced to a point ever more closely approximating its geometric ideal of non-dimensionality’. (Bauman 2007, p.32)

According to Niehaus, iTime has five core characteristics. It is…

a) permeated by constant interruptions, willed or imposed;

b) often structured by the addictive hunt for frissons, short instants of excitement and pleasure;

c) characterised by constant connectedness;

d) happening within the temporal and organisational structures of modernity, while each moment  is ever-more packed with contents, references, and tasks. The structures of late Modernity remain the same, but perception at the level of the microstructure is radically altered;

e) It is likely to take precedence over the linear, single-minded time of one activity.’

Niehaus analyses the experience of iTme from a range of perspectives and points to the following features of the experience of ‘being in iTime’, all related to the fact that the experience of iTime is typically attended by an intensification of multitasking, a strategy many people adopt in order to cope with  the constant influx of wanted and unwanted information. The experience of iTime is characterised as follows…

1. The moment is filled to the brim and often far beyond which means that the speed of the actual experience of living is radically altered and is accompanied by a general rise in felt urgency.

2. It works against us being in the ‘here and now’ because every moment is filled to the brim with references to elsewhere.

3. You end up doing more but find it difficult to concentrate on what it is you are actually doing for a sustained period.

4. Related to all of the above, because iTime is so ‘full’, ‘doing nothing’ becomes difficult.

In short, according to Niehaus’ analysis, the experience of iTime is fragmented and frantic, schizophrenic and agitated, and its open invitation to consume everything all at once prevents us from becoming masters of anything (because the later requires a sustained, concentrated engagement with whatever the object of attention).

Brief commentary

While Itime does encourage these tendencies, users will use iTime differently. It’s not as if every user constantly has half a dozen windows or ‘applications’ on the go. Different users will have different capacities to sustain concentration on one thing at a time while in Itime. It would be interesting to find some research on what percentage of iTimers are truly ‘addicted to the ephemeral-fragments’, lacking personal control over how their iTime is directed, and thus might be labelled as suffering from a kind of hyper-anomic condition.

Conversely, I wonder what percentage use iTime in a very intentional and aware manner, characterised by having clear information-gaining goals, limiting the amount of time they spend online, limiting the amount of windows they have on the go, and thus manage to avoid the fragmentary tendencies of Itime. My own experience today is somewhere on the later side, but not characterised by complete control. I’ve learnt a great deal by reading one essay that’s not quite related to the main topic I should be focussing on, but I’ve also developed lots of ideas that I know will gestate into something truly fruitful (and truly not that interesting to most) later on.

Also, the vast majority of people spend the vast majority of their time not in ‘real time’ rather than Itime, so one has to wonder (and probably remain wondering, because this is the kind of thing that’s very difficult to research) about the extent to which being in Itime effects people’s real-world life-worlds.

Having mentioned all of these cautionary notes, I still think this is a very worthwhile philosophical essay that highlights some very real problematic, negative tendencies of the experience of being in iTime and being in the virtual world more generally.

My Life Analysed – The madness of my mortgage

I bought 25% of my lovely brand new, 2 bedroom flat in Surrey about 4 years ago now, and in that time I’ve saved £22000  ready to buy it outright. A recent valuation ‘valued’ the flat @ £190 000, so when I buy outright I will need to borrow about £120 000 to buy the 75% I don’t own, which, added to the roughly £20 000 I still owe on the bit I already own will mean an overall mortgage of £140 000….

Based on the best deal available (with The Post Officce according to Money Supermarket) if I take this mortgage out over a 15 year* period, I will pay £44 000 in interest, meaning I will pay back a total of about £184 000. Based on my take home pay which is just over £2400/ month, or about £29000/ year, this equates to about nearly six years of my life.

The only ‘rational’ response to this situation is one of anger. Anger at the fact that in this social system where land ownership is concentrated in the hands of the few and where a handful of financial institutions are given the right to generate money and thus interest out of thin air, I end up giving away 5 years of my life in order to make profit for the propertied elite and a further 1 or more years to pay the rentiers.

If I were given a quarter of an acre of land, some tools (which I could borrow not own), some people to work with occassionally, and the odd bit of expertise for the techy stuff, and I could build my own place for less than £10 000 – and do it in six months – so less than a year of total work-money-time.

Instead of this, however, restricted by Britain’s archaic planning regulations and the near certainty of not being gifted a quarter of an acre in a Tory heartland, I’m forced into a situation in which the only means** whereby I can meet my basic human needs results in my giving a further 5 years of my time to pay the profits of the various institutions surrounding the construction and financing of my flat – the original landowners, the construction company and the financiers.

Given all of this, I think people should not see ‘getting on the property ladder’ as something to be celebrated, not when our efforts to climb it are fast followed by the shaft-pole of capital.
To go a bit Baumanesque on this, housing is a basic human need, but the housing market in the UK is, I believe, a great example of one of those parts of the system that most of us have very little control over, and we are forced into accepting an extremely inefficient individualised solution to meeting this basic need – Renting in insecure accomodation for the first decade of our adult lives while we scrimp enough for a deposit, and then paying a hugely inflated sum when we finally purchase the property.

We never even imagine that we can change this system – And for many of us we think we’ve  ‘won’ when we ‘play hard ball and get 10k off the asking price, or we might feel smugly satisfied when we ‘save’ a few grand from shoppping around for a good mortage deal, failing to face up to the fact that a few grand is nothing compared to the £100K in interest we’re facing over the next two decades.

Having settled into our mortgage repayment schedule, our house then becomes part of our ontological security, and we go about filling it with our identity-markers to further make ourselves secure….We forget about the fact that this object which ties us to the system more so than any other object only does so if we allow those with more power than us to leech years of our lives from us.

What is really grim about this situation is that although the house, that locus of ultra-individualised privatism offers a very insecure security because the same system that ties us into the 25 year mortgage is also the same system that can generate both high unemployment in the interest of short term profits or high interest rates in the interest of long-term (relative) stability, not to mention the current issue with inflation.

Someone remind me again while I’m going along with this>>>????**Actually I am being somewhat melodramatic, there are alternatives… As I’ll outline later.

*Over the more standard 25 year term,  I would pay back £84 000 in interest – brining my total life-work up to about 7.5 years…..

 

 

Some Thoughts on Renata Salecl’s The Paradox of Choice….

In this RSA Animate, Professor Renata Salecl explores the paralysing anxiety and dissatisfaction surrounding limitless choice


Summary

Especially since the collapse of Communism, more people have tended to associate increasing freedom of choice with positive social change, however, psychologists have found that too much choice has negative consequences

  1. It can lead to feelings of anxiety
  2. It can pacify us as we are frozen in indecisiveness

Why does choice lead to anxiety?

Firstly, Because our choices are not simply an individual action: when we make a choice we are thinking about how others will judge us on the basis of  those choices and the critieria we used to make those choices, so choice is social. To illustrate this she used an example of someone who agonises over a wine choice in a restaurant – too expensive = showing off, too cheap = skinflint and so the range of actual choices narrows to something in the middle.

Secondly, because we are always trying to make an ideal choice – Switching partners or electricity bills for example

Thirdly, choice always involves loss: when we make a choice, we lose the possibility of another.

Another process at work in a society obsessed with choice is that we look at our own lives and know that they are mundane compared to the fantastic lives of those who have made the ‘right choices’ which are presented to us in the media (mainly through celebrity culture where people get famous for just being rather than doing). But we do not state how mundane our own lives actually are, we keep quiet because we feel  a sense of shame, a sense of personal responsibility for our own failures – We think that if we fail it is our fault, our fault for making the wrong choices.

This all goes back to Capitalism cashing in on the idea that anyone can make it, anyone can become a self-made man (despite the fact that. structurally, this is impossible), and today this same idea is perpetuated through the ideology of choice, both in terms of consumption, and in every aspects of our lives (‘I should be free to choose my job/ partner/ sexuality/ etc.’).

To round off, Salecl draws on Freud to point out that Capitalism, a system that ‘progresseses’ through ever faster changes, and through making us work longer hours, and through turning us into consumers, creates subjects who at some point come to think that they are in control of their own lives… But they understand this control through ‘consumption’, and at some point they start consuming themselves – which is why there is so much Bulemia and workaholism, so much addiction, in society…

Finally, Salecl argues that the ideology of choice prevents social change.. because when we mistakenly think we are in charge of our own destinies, when things go wrong, this turns to self-criticism and strategies for making our lives better or just coping.

Brief comment –

Some nice ideas here that bring together themes from Giddens (addiction) and Bauman (individualisation, and I even get a smattering of Jamison’s postmodernism as the cultural logic of late capitalism… but TBH I don’t actually see that much that’s actually new!

Christmas Survey

I don’t celebrate Christmas because I don’t have anyone to celebrate it with. Instead I meditate a lot and do my annual spring clean. If you’re also alone this Christmas, I recommend this as a coping strategy. It’s still pretty bleak, but waking up on 27th having had no Christmas with a clean flat is definitely better than waking up on the 27th with a not-so-clean flat.

This year I’ve decided to really go to town and literally clean EVERYTHING. Although I’m starting to wonder whether moving the fridge and physically washing the walls down with soapy water is maybe a bit excessive. Even though I’ve been in my flat three years, the walls behind the fridge don’t look dirty to me, so my present dilemma this Christmas Eve is should I wash them or not?

I think I will, because I have committed to washing everything, but I got to wondering, is this excessive, how often do people wash the walls behind their fridges?

Anyway, I created this survey to find out, so please if you’ve found this site, humor me and complete it, thanks and for what it’s worth, Merry Christmas.

 
NB: The survey refers to whether you wash the walls behind your fridges at any time of year, not just at Christmas time. 

 

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

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This is also my first embedded survey, something of a practice run… So apologies if you can’t see the results, I will update later as I’m sure they’ll be a lot of interest in this….

Also if the survey just doesn’t work for some reason, do let me know, as I say, this is a trial.

Actually just in case the embed doesn’t work – here – Click here to take survey

To Pole or not to Pole, is that Objectification?

My sixth form college (16-19) has just started ‘pole fitness’ classes and put this very large banner up to advertise them. The college’s take on this is to see ‘pole-fitness’ on a level with Zumba – It’s simply a different form of exercise that young women (let’s face it – it’s primarily women who will attend either) can use to empower themselves, but the former’s just a bit more aethletic and more ‘Burlesque’ than Zumba.

However some staff have commented that it just doesn’t seem appropriate for a 16-19 college to be promoting something that is associated with the sex-industry. The sexual connotations are visible in the banner – you can ‘clearly see cheek showing’ as one member of staff recently pointed out.

Of course I had to go away and do some digging on the issue, and it comes as no surprise that there are a wide range of opinions about whether or not Pole-Fitness is empowering or oppressive to women. To summarise just two…

Clare Mohan, writing at the Varsity Blogs about Pole Fitness in Cambridge University sets out the argument against it….

‘Whatever you name it, pole fitness or pole dancing, you’re still participating in the social context of the pole. Everyone knows where it comes from, that pole dancers are to be found in strip clubs and sex establishments up and down the country, and that pole dancing (which is, a huge percentage of the time, an activity carried out by women) is a dance form specifically designed to excite the watcher (who is, a huge percentage of the time, a man). So pole dancing encourages a view of the dancer [as a] sexual object.’

For more information on the objectification of women see the ‘Object‘ website.  

The ‘Pro-Pole’ voice comes from a number of women who both ‘pole’ and identify themselves as Feminists over at the StudioVeena.

Two of the more compelling arguments for ‘poling’ being empowering include…

(From ‘Nilla’) “Maybe people feel that way because stripping as a profession is often seen as something women would only do as a last resort, and that it’s degrading for any woman who does it (It can be, but so can working in the fast food industry).  So in a way, taking pole dance out of the stripping/sex industry context and doing it for your own enjoyment is the ultimate act of feminism, kind of taking the activity back for your own control and enjoyment rather than having to do it for the enjoyment of someone else.”

(From ‘Poledanceromance’) ’”To me, the answer is very simple (sex positive feminist): feminism must be about choice. It’s about women supporting other women in our efforts to explore undiscovered parts of ourselves. If I want to explore my potential by staying at home full-time to be the best mom I can be, you’d support me in that. If you wanted to explore yourself as a sexual being by experimenting in different sexual relationships, I’d support you in that (provided everyone is being safe!)”

If you read through the arguments for poling, many of them focus on the notion that it’s good for women to be allowed the freedom to express whatever they like through dance, including their sexuality if they damn well please, and they argue that in pole-fitness this process of exploration is completely liberated from the context of male domination and objectification that may exist in stripping.

What’s interesting is that both Pro and anti-pole stances see a sexual link in the activity, which brings me back to the original question – Is it right for a 16-19 college to be promoting something that has obvious sexual connotations? Moreover, is it right to do this when we all know that it will be mainly, probably solely young women, rather than young men, engaging in this sexualised activity?

Personally I don’t feel particularly comfortable with the college’s promoting pole-fitness, but am I just showing my age here? Or maybe this is my ‘inner patriarch’ just wanting to control young women from expressing their freedom? Or my ‘inner dad’ wanting to prevent young women from growing up?

Maybe I just need to get over it and start promoting pole-fitness in tutorials? Maybe that’s the future… ‘And don’t forget… final UCAS deadlines are this Friday, next Wednesday there’s a guest speaker talking about how to break into Journalism, and any young women wishing to explore their inner sex kitten are welcome to attend our new pole-fitness classes on Tuesdays… Please undress appropriately.’

Comments more than welcome…

 

The growing power of corporations?

In the last seven years the revenues and profits of the world’s largest corporations have grown at twice the rate of the GNI of the world’s largest economies (and a lot faster than the flat-lining Euro economies.)

NB – There’s no actual analysis here (yet) – make of it what you will!

  2005 2011/12 %change
Total GNI top 5 economies $23.8 trillion $34.7 trillion 45%
Total Revenue top 5 global companies $1.3 trillion $2.4 trillion 85%
% of revenue as % of total GNI of top five countries 5.4% 6.9% 1.5%
Total Profit top 10 companies $151 billion $295 billion 95%

See below for the evidence base – I’m aware of the problems of comparing Revenue/ profits with GNI as a measure of ‘Corporate power’ in relation to Nation State power, but I’m not actually doing that here, am I – I’m doing a historical comparison… 

Global 500 Companies by Revenue in 2012

  1. Royal Dutch Shell – $485 billion
  2. Exxon-Mobile – $452 billion
  3. Wall-Mart – $446 billion
  4. BP. $386 billion
  5. Sinopec Group – $375 billion
Total Revenue of Top five Global Companies 2012 = $2.14 Trillion

The Most Profitable Companies in the world 2011

  1. Gazprom – $44 billion
  2. Exxon-Mobile – $41 billion
  3. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China – $32 billion
  4. Shell – $30 billion
  5. Chevron – $26 billion
  6. China Construction Bank – $26 billion
  7. Apple – $25 Billion
  8. BP. – $25 Billion
  9. BHP Billiton – $23 billion
  10. Microsoft – $23 Billion
Total Profit 2005 for top 10 companies = $295 billion
Let’s look at the same figures for 2005 (Revenue on left, profit on right)
1 Wal-Mart Stores 287,989.0 10,267.0
2 BP 285,059.0 15,371.0
3 Exxon Mobil 270,772.0 25,330.0
4 Royal Dutch/Shell Group 268,690.0 18,183.0
5 General Motors 193,517.0 2,805.0
6 DaimlerChrysler 176,687.5 3,067.1
7 Toyota Motor 172,616.3 10,898.2
8 Ford Motor 172,233.0 3,487.0
9 General Electric 152,866.0 16,819.0
10 Total 152,609.5 11,955.0
Revenue for top 5 companies in 2005 = $1.30 trillion

Profit for top 10 companies  = $151 billion (Roughly – you’ll need to go to the top 100 list on the link above!)

Profits of top ten companies change in 7 years –

  • 2005 – $151 billion
  • 2007 – $295 billion
  • Change = 95%

Revenue of top five global companies change in 7 years –

  • 2005 – $1.3 trillion
  • 2007 – $2.4 trillion
  • Growth = 85%
  1. USA – 12 – 15 trillion
  2. China 2.24 trillion – 7.30 trillion
  3. Japan 4.6 -6.0 trillion
  4. Germany 2.79 – 3.63 trillion
  5. France 2.17 – 2.82 trillion
  6. Brazil 856 bn  – 2.42 trillion
  7. UK 2.38 – 2.4 trillion (Thanks George, you f******* twatt)
  8. Italy 1.78  -2.18 trillion
  9. India 828bn  -1.83 trillion
  10. Canada -1.11 -1.70 trillion
Total increase GNI – Top five economies 2005 compared to 2011 –
  • 2005 – 23.8 Trillion
  • 2007 – 34.7 Trillion
  • Growth – 45%
  • (Growth top ten = 62%)

 

20 teenagers sitting in a room

This isn’t a particularly informative post, more of a spontaneous expression of an epiphany moment (although one without the elation).

The epiphany comes in the form of a question – Is there any worse way of getting teenagers to concentrate than sitting them in a room with 19 other teenagers and one adult for four and a half hours a day?

I mean I know the typical day at school or college, for most kids at least, will be broken up with more active lessons such as sport and music, but the standard model is 20 teenagers in a room with one adult.

This just seems ridiculous – Assuming an hour and half lesson, it’s too large a number for the teacher to engage with one on one in any meaningful way, it’s too many for everyone to have a meaningful input into a ‘whole class discussion’, so teachers are left reverting to either individual work where not everyone gets monitored, or pair/ group work where some students inevitably lose focus, and if you are going to go against ‘fairyland Ofsted’s’ advice, and do the dreaded lecture – well 20 is an equally pointless number, you may as well film it and stream it to 20 000.

The days of 20 teenagers sitting in a classroom must surely come to and end soon? Surely it’s possible for schools and especially colleges to be a little more creative with teaching arrangements – A combination of online lectures and independent learning combined with more intense, tailored, smaller group sessions and occasional one on one meetings with students where they spend less time sitting in class, but where they get more focused attention and thus more focused working when they are in lessons …. Maybe>?

A related question is where did the educational norm of ’20 teenagers sitting in a room’m actually come from anyway, and how did it evolve? Answers in comments please.

So if my Beacon ‘best 6th form college’ in the country doesn’t actually innovate like it’s supposed to, perhaps I’ll forge this path at the institutional level,  perhaps one day, a year or so before I quit in case it all goes pear shaped, I’ll break all the rules and just do this anyway.