Wednesday, 23 January 2013

System Addict - UK Vogue Jan 2013

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Being in the middle of a move has disrupted some of the things I take for granted on a daily basis - like internet access. The semi digital detox has made me remember an article I found really interesting in the January 2013 issue of British Vogue by Kathleen Baird-Murray:

"Outsmarted by smartphones; too Pinterested for our own good; over-pecked by Twitter... Kathleen Baird-Murray asks: is it time to pull the plug on 'anti-social' media?"

The article explores a cross-section of experiences where technology could be said to impinge, rather than enhance, our lives; weaving personal anecdotes together with scientific evidence, the author makes a persuasive case for a more thoughtful approach to social media use.

It's a topic that caught my attention because it has recently been brought up in conversation by different friends from different social groups: it seems to be one of the questions of the moment, and one that is definitely on my mind as I continue to try and make sense of how I use my time.

My own answer has been to create a kind of 'personal policy' - something flexible enough that allows me to respond to changes in circumstances, but disciplined enough for me to feel like I'm in control of my social media use, instead of being dictated to by it.

Elements of this 'personal policy' encompass blogging, facebook and even email use. At the heart of what I want to achieve is being able to use technology to improve myself and the relationships I value in a constructive way, without opening the door to the little insecurities I know I'm prone to. 

One example has been the decision to largely check facebook via my email account so that I'm only responding to the interactions that are actually relevant to me, instead of being sucked into spying on other people and comparing my life to theirs. I also try to avoid checking facebook more than a couple of times a week, unless I know I have a reason too, otherwise I'm all too tempted to feel neglected if there are no messages or notifications. 

Similarly, although I have a smartphone, I deliberately don't receive email and facebook alerts on my mobile so that I can preserve some semblance of blissful ignorance and attention to the present throughout my day.

Distancing myself a little from the 24/7 availability of social media enables me to be a bit more focused about what I want to achieve through it. I can more easily keep a sense of perspective and it's easier to appreciate the good things access gives me, the things I enjoy and benefit from - a creative outlet and opportunities to write, the chance to catch up with or encourage people spontaneously and with very little legwork.

The article was a reminder that these kinds of decisions really do matter, and I'm not alone in grappling with them. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Wardrobe Stories

Preparing to move flats has given me ample opportunity to reassess the clothes I own: what to keep, what to donate, what can be 'up-cycled' and begin again as something new. This dressing-gown is a keeper for sure. Normally my wardrobe stories are about clothes that have been with me for a while - things that have earned their place. But this is an item I love largely because of the future I imagine for it.

I adopted it recently out of necessity. Staying at my parents' house on the morning of my sister's wedding I needed something to wear whilst running around dealing with bridesmaid duties before getting all dolled-up. This had been lurking in the back of my Mum's wardrobe for close to three years - a seldom worn charity shop purchase that very nearly suffered the indignity of being cut up and turned into a fancy dress kimono costume when we went to a 'world themed' party at her work.

Maybe it was the glamour of the occasion when I first wore it, or the fact that I'm currently watching Mad Men box-sets and being inspired by a more sophisticated fashion era, but somehow this dressing gown suddenly makes sense in my everyday life. I love throwing it on over joggers or pyjamas and feeling instantly presentable and polished with minimum effort. I love that the scent of my cocoa butter lotion has irreversibly seeped into the fabric and the freedom of the birds in flight across the print.

Its labels were cut out before it came my way so I'm not sure what material it's made with or the shop it originally came from. Even though I know very little of its history, it feels like an heirloom in the making. It reminds me of my Mum, my sister, of intimacy and comfort. I feel so well within myself when I wear it that I can't see myself getting rid of it anytime soon. And I wonder whether its distinctive pattern and scents will lodge themselves in the early memories of any children I might have one day - in the same way that certain 'house clothes' my Mum wore repeatedly when we were young are indelibly impressed on my own mind.

Beautiful thoughts.

'Wardrobe Stories' are a string of posts helping me to appreciate the clothes and accessories I own in an atmosphere where it's easy to end up taking things for granted.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Picking Sides

When I rocked up to the bank half an hour before closing time, I expected to just carry out my transaction and go home. What actually happened was a little more interesting: I got to see two distinct sides of human nature played out in response to the same situation, and it got me thinking about how easy it is to exceed or fall short of our best selves in a split second.

The bank seemed short-staffed: two cashiers were tied up in dealing with one person's complicated affairs, leaving one lone woman to handle the rest of us. The queue extended out the door, but I was close enough to the service counters to witness an elderly lady try to convert her bags of loose change into larger coins and notes. When the bags were weighed, she turned out to be 10p short and after rummaging around in her purse and pockets she didn't have the extra money.

Enter Exhibit A: the man behind her in the queue, maybe in his late 20s or early 30s, who immediately fished the missing money out of his wallet and offered it to her. After some hesitation, it was accepted and the coins were changed into a note. The lady then stepped aside and was on her way out, only to be called back by the same man who noticed that she had forgotten to take the money she had just converted with her. He joked that he could have kept it and made "a tidy profit"; she joked that - judging from his honesty and kindness - Christmas clearly wasn't over; everyone in the queue laughed and smiled at each other and for once it felt like we might live in a community after all.

Enter Exhibit B: a man, same demographic, who was one of the next customers in the queue. When it was his turn to be served it transpired that - after waiting all that time - he hadn't brought the correct things with him, at which point irritability surfaced and the cashier's face fell. The situation was resolved relatively quickly and he tersely thanked her and huffed out.

Queues are inconvenient. They derail and hinder us and stop us from being the centre of our world. When I'm forced to queue, I'm forced to acknowledge that other people's agendas are also important, and that certain things are outside of my control. Without wanting to make metaphors out of molehills, queues are just one minor example of a whole range of situations it's possible to have to endure when we'd rather not.

But isn't it always said that when we can't choose the circumstances, we can still choose our attitude? It struck me that I have been both these people. I have been alert enough to others to recognise an opportunity to randomly step in and help. I have also been self-absorbed or targeted my frustrations at someone else, making their day that little bit worse.

I don't know the reasons why being held up was so annoying for Exhibit B - he was probably completely justified. But I do know I'd like to be more consistently like Exhibit A because - let's face it - who doesn't want a little more kindness and community in everyday life?
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