Posts tagged ‘Stephen Fry’


A brief misadventure into the Chinese internet

28.04.2021

When I was a kid and wanted to hit back at someone for being mean to me, my parents would often say that successful people, true leaders, would be 大方, which is roughly akin to saying that one should rise above it. I would say that goes with nations as well: you can tell when a country is in a good state by the way its citizenry behaves, and online behaviour is probably a proxy for that.
   As many of you know, my literacy in my mother tongue is just above the level it was at when I left Hong Kong, that is to say, it’s marginally better than a kindergartener’s. And where I come from, that means age 3, which is already in the big leagues considering I started at 2½, having passed the entrance exam, and had homework from then on. What I can write is in colloquial Cantonese, devoid of any formal structure that someone with a proper education in the old country would know. If you’re Cantonese, you’ll be able to read what I write, but if your only idea of Chinese is Mandarin, you’ll have little clue. (Bang goes the official argument in Beijing that Cantonese is a ‘dialect’. It can’t be a dialect if a speaker of one finds the other unintelligible.)
   With Meizu having essentially shut its international forum, I decided to head to the Chinese one to post about my experience with its Music app, and was met by a majority of friendly, helpful people, and some who even went the extra mile of replying to my English-language query in English.
   But there were enough dickheads answering to make you think that mainland China isn’t a clear global leader, regardless of all the social engineering and online credit scores.

   When I used Facebook, I had ventured on to a few groups where people simply posted in their own language, and those of us who wished to reply but didn’t understand it would either use the site’s built-in translator, or, before that was available, Google Translate. I still am admin on a group where people do post in their own language without much issue. There’s no insistence on ‘Speak English, I can’t understand you,’ or whatever whine I hear from some intolerant people, such as the ones sampled below.

   That makes you despair for some folks and one conclusion I can draw is that members of a country who demand such a monoculture must not see their country as a leader. Nor do they have much pride in it. For great nations, in my book, embrace, or believe they embrace (even if they fall short in practice) all tongues and creeds, all races and abilities. They revel in their richness.
   Of the negative souls on the forum, there was the crap you’d expect. ‘Write in Chinese,’ ‘Why is a Cantonese person writing in English?’ ‘Think about where you are,’ and ‘I don’t understand you’ (to a comment I wrote in Cantonese—again supporting the argument that it isn’t a dialect, but its own distinct tongue).
   Granted, these are a small minority, but it’s strange that this is a forum where people tend to help one another. And it tells me that whether you’re American or Chinese, there’s nothing in the behaviour of ordinary folks that tells me that any one place is more likely to be a centre for 21st-century leadership than another.
   I’ve had far worse responses to Tweets, by a much greater proportion of people (the UK still stands out as the worst when I responded to a Tweet about George Floyd), but it’s the context. Twitter is, as Stephen Fry once put it, analogous to a bathing pool into which too many people have urinated, but a help forum?
   It’s the globally unaware, those who engage in casual xenophobia, who are intolerant of other languages, who are the little people of our times, having missed out on an education or life experience that showed them otherwise. They reside in the old country as much as in so many other places. The leading nation of the 21st century does not look like it’s one of the obvious choices. Future historians, watch this space.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, internet, leadership, New Zealand, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


The descent of Twitter

22.09.2018


Dawn Huczek/Creative Commons 2·0

This Tweet was probably half in jest:

   Then, within days, it played out pretty much exactly like this when Frank Oz Tweeted that he did not conceive of Bert and Ernie as gay. Or how Wil Wheaton can never seem to escape false accusations that he is anti-trans or anti-LGBQ, to the point where he left Mastodon. In his words (the link is mine):

I see this in the online space all the time now: mobs of people, acting in bad faith, can make people they don’t know and will likely never meet miserable, or even try to ruin their lives and careers (look at what they did to James Gunn). And those mobs’ bad behaviors are continually rewarded, because it’s honestly easier to just give them what they want. We are ceding the social space to bad people, because they have the most time, the least morals and ethics, and are skilled at relentlessly attacking and harassing their targets. It only takes few seconds for one person to type “fuck off” and hit send. That person probably doesn’t care and doesn’t think about how their one grain of sand quickly becomes a dune, with another person buried beneath it.

   It highlights just how far ahead of the game Stephen Fry was when he abandoned Twitter for a time in 2016:

Oh goodness, what fun twitter was in the early days, a secret bathing-pool in a magical glade in an enchanted forest … But now the pool is stagnant …
   To leave that metaphor, let us grieve at what twitter has become. A stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended – worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know … It makes sensible people want to take an absolutely opposite point of view.

   Not that long ago I was blocked by a claimed anti-Zionist Tweeter who exhibited these very traits, and I had to wonder whether he was a troll who was on Twitter precisely to stir hatred of Palestinians. With bots and fake accounts all over social media (I now report dozens of bots daily on Instagram, which usually responds with about five messages a day saying they had done something, leaving thousands going back years untouched), you have to wonder.
   Years ago, too, a Facebook post I made about someone in Auckland adopting an American retail phrase (I forget what it was, as I don’t use it, but it was ‘Black’ with a weekday appended to it) had the daughter of two friends who own a well known fashion label immediately jump to ‘Why are you so against New Zealand retailers?’ I was “unfriended” (shock, horror) over this, but because I’m not Wil Wheaton, this didn’t get to the Retailers’ Association mobilizing all its members to have me kicked off Facebook. It’s a leap to say that a concern about the creeping use of US English means I hate retailers, and all but the most up-tight would have understood the context.
   This indignant and often false offence that people take either shows that they have no desire to engage and learn something, and that they are in reality pretty nasty, or that they have one personality in real life and another on social media, the latter being the one where the dark side gets released. Reminds me of a churchgoer I know: nice for a period on Sundays to his fellow parishioners but hating humanity the rest of the decade.
   Some decent people I know on Twitter say they are staying, because to depart would let the bastards win, and I admire that in them. For now, Mastodon is a friendly place for me to be, even if I’m now somewhat wary after the way Wheaton was treated, but the way social media, in general, are is hardly pleasing. Those of us who were on the web early had an ideal in mind, of a more united, knowledgeable planet. We saw email become crappier because of spammers, YouTube become crappier because of commenters (and Google ownership), and Wikipedia become crappier because it has been gamed at its highest levels, so it seems it’s inevitable, given the record of the human race, that social media would also descend with the same pattern. Like in General Election voting, too many are self-interested, and will act against their own interests, limiting any chance they might have for growth in a fairer society. To borrow Stephen’s analogy, we can only enjoy the swimming pool if we don’t all pee in it.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, New Zealand, politics, technology, UK, USA | 3 Comments »


Why Stephen Fry left Twitter, and what could be next

16.02.2016

Stephen Fry wrote a witty blog post (he is the Stephen Fry, after all) on why he left Twitter. I won’t quote the whole thing, as it’s his copyright, but I will excerpt a chunk here:

… let us grieve at what twitter has become. A stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended—worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know. It’s as nasty and unwholesome a characteristic as can be imagined. It doesn’t matter whether they think they’re defending women, men, transgender people, Muslims, humanists … the ghastliness is absolutely the same.

   I agree with him about how damned annoying it is to deal with ‘the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended—worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know’. Political trolls are good at this, too, except they only pretend at being self-righteous in order to fuel their sociopathy. This is the behaviour that makes social media tiresome. I still don’t see this being the end of Twitter, even if some are predicting it, for the reasons outlined in this earlier post. However, the tendencies are there with Facebook, too, and what makes that site worse are the very regular outages and the tracking it does of all its users. I can deal with the self-righteousness to some degree, if the damned site worked as a reasonable person would expect.
   What does this mean? Consider the renaissance of the blogosphere. Those who have things to say might enjoy articulating them in long form. We don’t seem to need that instant gratification any more as we’ve become either desensitized to it, or we find it through many of the other sites and apps out there that act as our personal echo chamber. Linkedin’s blogging function seems to get used more and more, and many professionals, at least, have decent followings there. As lives get busier—remember, social media grew easily because people were either looking for new ways to market because of the recession, or they were simply less busy—we may find it easier to manage our time each day without Facebook. So why not something like Linkedin, if not your own blog? I’ve said for years that Facebook is basically the 2010s version of Digg or Delicious. Look at your news feed and tell me that that’s not the way it’s heading—to me, this has been evident for years. And I don’t really need Digg or Delicious now in 2016.
   When you know that, then you realize that it’s not that hard to get your time back. Twitter for short-form “social” communications, blogs for long-form—and there mightn’t be that much room for something in between.

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