Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “friendship”

Is life without Facebook even possible?

There have been lots of “social media” sites on the web, but Facebook has undoubtedly been the most successful. Some years ago Yahoo made my account inaccessible for 6 months. They hosted my web pages (because they had taken over Geocities), they stopped me managing my mailing lists because they had taken over a mailing list host, and so  to be contactable on the web I registered for MySpace, but MySpace was clunky, its pages were cluttered and it was difficult to navigate. Then I found Facebook, which was clean, simple and easy — but it was only for current students at tertiary institutions. So when Facebook opened for everyone I joined.

Soon afterwards Yahoo! let me back in, but I still found Facebook useful, because Yahoo closed down most of the services I found most useful, including Geocities, MyBlogLog and WebRing. The only useful service they still provide is their mailing-list host, YahooGroups, and they’ve tried pretty hard to make even that less attractive and more user hostile.

Facebook, however, has succeeded in making itself almost indispensable, as this article shows I tried leaving Facebook. I couldn’t – The Verge:

Facebook had replaced much of the emotional labor of social networking that consumed previous generations. We have forgotten (or perhaps never noticed) how many hours our parents spent keeping their address books up to date, knocking on doors to make sure everyone in the neighborhood was invited to the weekend BBQ, doing the rounds of phone calls with relatives, clipping out interesting newspaper articles and mailing them to a friend, putting together the cards for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, and more. We don’t think about what it’s like to carefully file business cards alphabetically in a Rolodex. People spent a lot of time on these sorts of things, once, because the less of that work you did, the less of a social network you had.

And, as the article also points out, everyone is on Facebook because everyone is on Facebook.

Facebook took over from MySpace because they did what MySpace was doing, but they did it better, making it less clunky and cluttered (they’ve cluttered it up now, but after eliminating rivals they don’t need to make it better).

Someone recently invited me to an alternative called MeWe, but they kept sending me e-mail  saying “Please read this message in an HTML capable reader”. I replied to the first couple saying “Please send me this message in plain text format”, but they didn’t, and I got tired of those identical messages, so just filtered them off to the spam bin. If they deliberately choose to make their messages unreadable, then the rest of what they are doing isn’t worth bothering about.

For a while Google had a better alternative to Facebook. It was called Orkut. It retained the simplicity of the early Facebook when Facebook began to get clunky, but it somehow only caught on in South America and South-East Asia, and Google dropped it.

So even though I sometimes find Facebook frustrating, especially when they come up with stupid ideas that make it more difficult to use, I haven’t tried to leave it, because in what it does, even when it tries to place obstacles in the way of doing what it does, it’s the only game in town.

One of the problems with Facebook is that it tries to make itself the only game in town even for the things that it doesn’t do, or doesn’t do well. One of the most egregious examples of that was when they changed everyone’s e-mail addresses in their profile to a Facebook one, and didn’t tell users that they had done so, and also didn’t tell them how to find mail that was sent to the address that they provided. So they tried to force all their users into using an e-mail service without telling them how it worked or even that it was there.

Many people are wary of Facebook because they are concerned about “privacy”. The people at Facebook are aware of these concerns, and they keep nagging me about them. My concern is the opposite — there’s too much privacy. If I want to keep something private, I don’t put it on Facebook. But Facebook doesn’t want that. Facebook wants me to use Facebook for everything. They want Facebook to be the whole Web, and even the whole Internet (as the linked article above shows).

Facebook keeps asking me “Who can read this?” and when I click on it, it tells me that anybody can read this. I’m more interested in knowing who can’t read this. I post links on Facebook thinking that some friends may be interested, but very often Facebook doesn’t show it to those people, but rather shows it to other people who find it boring or irrelevant, who then sometimes make silly or incomprehensible comments on them.

So I sometimes think of leaving Facebook, but I don’t. Why? Because, again as the linked article points out, I would lose contact with friends and relatives that I’ve found through Facebook. The contact is intermittent, scratchy and broken, like an old shortwave radio in a thunderstorm. But at least is there, and if I left Facebook I would lose it.

A couple of days ago we had lunch with Jim Corrigall, an old friend I had last seen more than 40 years ago. He told me by e-mail that he was going to be on Joburg last weekend, and we arranged to meet by phone, but it was through Facebook that we found each other, and without Facebook I would have have had no idea how to get in touch with him.

Jim Corrigall with Steve & Val Hayes, 28 April 2018

Most of my “friends” on Facebook are people like that — old friends who live far away, and in the past, if I stayed in touch with them at all, I might have sent a Christmas card, or a duplicated newsletter once or twice a year. In the days before duplicating, people would send “round robin” letters — write to one member of the family, and ask them to pass the letter on to another member of the family, and so on. Facebook has replaced those functions with something more immediate.

Facebook makes it possible, but Facebook also tries very hard to make it extremely difficult because of the obsession with “privacy”. You might write something in a round robin letter that you think will interest Aunt Joan, but Cousin Pete has fallen out with Aunt Joan and sends it to Uncle Bob instead. And Facebook often behaves like that.

Thirty years ago people use to talk about the “information superhighway”. Facebook built one, but then puts concrete blocks across all but one lane, so you have to negotiate an obstacle course.

Facebook’s “privacy” precautions are just that: obstacles to communication. If you are concerned about privacy and information leaks, then you won’t solve them by leaving Facebook. Disconnect your phone line. Get rid of all your mobile phones. Disconnect from the Internet, and build a high wall so that nosy neighbours can’t see what you are doing. Don’t go out of doors, lest a passing satellite spot you.

You used to be able to go to websites like Zoominfo, where you could find an amazing amount of information about you trawled from the Web.  At one time they used to let you edit it, and identify which applied to you and which didn’t. Now they don’t, so there’s no way of checking for accuracy, but they still sell it. You don’t need to subscribe to it or have ever logged into the site. So worrying about privacy leaks from Facebook is a bit like children playing at damming a stream when a flash flood is on its way.

And everyone is on Facebook because everyone is on Facebook.

Borderliners

BorderlinersBorderliners by Peter Høeg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Borderliners is the second book about “abnormal” children I’ve read this week, the first one being The outcast, so I can’t help comparing them.

The Outcast is about a privileged child from an upper middle-class background, and the action takes place at home, in the school holidays. Borderliners is about an orphan, a ward of the state, with a legal guardian who had more than 200 other children to care for. He has no home to spend holidays in, and the action takes place at the school.

The Outcast (my review here) was about my contemporaries, those who were at school in the 1950s. We had or rebellions, too. I was at Mountain Lodge Preparatory School in Magaliesberg, and when I was 11 the whole school went on strike to protest against an unjust and authoritarian teacher. When the strike ended the headmaster lined us all up outside the classroom and made each of us bend over at the door for two cuts with his cane (I think more for the ringleaders), and once we were all inside he made a little sexist speech about the teacher, saying women were sometimes like that. Even at that age I thought it was sexist. I’d known other female teachers who weren’t authoritarian. But she did not return to the school the following term, so the stiike achieved its purpose.

Borderliners, however, is about those at school in the 1970s, and I remember the 1970s quite well. What do I remember about the 1970s? I saw the film If, which was also about a rebellion in a boarding school. I was on the board of governors of St George’s School in Windhoek. I was manager of several farm schools in Northern Natal. But never did I come across a school that was anything like the one in this book.

Borderliners is set in Denmark. What did I know about Denmark? When I was at school our geography teacher Steyn Krige told us the story of a South African visitor to Denmark who threw an empty packet out of a car window. After driving several miles a traffic cop stopped him and gave him the packet and said “You dropped this.” “Oh I don’t want it,” said the South African. “Denmark doesn’t want it either,” said the traffic cop.

In the 1960s I was a fan of Kierkegaard, and was impressed by the bourgeois morality and dull conformity of people in Denmark that he described. But that was in the 19th century. In the 1970s my impression of Denmark was that it was free. It was the model of the “permissive society”. But Borderliners gives an entirely different impression. Both books reminded me of my own schooldays, but Borderliners impressed me by how regimented it was, far more than any school I attended in the 1950s — especially the lengths they went to to stop pupils talking to each other or having friends, with never-ending surveillance. It was 1984. Could a Danish school in the permissive society really have been like that? No social interaction permitted. Pupils forbidden to talk to each other or even be seen together?

This is never explained in the book. Perhaps for a child at school, it needs no explanation or interpretation, but the book is written from the point of view of an adult looking back and an adult would try to make sense of childhood from the point of view of the wider world. So I’m left wondering why a school in Denmark in the 1970s should be worse, far worse, than a concentration camp. In a concentration camp people are locked away and for the most part forgotten about. The aim is to isolate them so that they can’t influence others. The perimeter is guarded to prevent them from escaping, but there is not, as in this school this constant surveillance, this prohibition on talking to other pupils, a kind of solitary confinement in the company of others.

In the book Peter Høeg links it all to a perception of time. I suppose in any school one becomes aware of time. There is a timetable for classes and other activities, so one’s life is regulated by bells ringing to mark the end of one activity and the commencement of another. But no theory of time can explain the concentration camp character of this school.

So it seemed a very strange book. It also seems to be at least semi-autobiographical, with a good measure of teenage solipsism. That I could identify with. It seems that many people toy with solipsism in their teenage years. Perhaps all do, or perhaps only those who go to boarding schools where time is strictly regulated.

View all my reviews

Social networking and social media

Over the last 30 years or so we’ve seen a tremendous increase in electronic communication by computer networking. Thirty years ago I mainly communicated with distant friends and family by snail mail. Now I mainly use email, if I have their email address. And there are social networking web sites like Facebook and Twitter where you can find friends and family even if you’ve lost touch with them.

But though the internet in general, and social networking sites in particular, make communication easier, the owners of the sites seem to go to great lengths to place obstacles in the way, so that the potential of the internet for communication is never fully realised. One of the most notorious examples was when Facebook, without telling its users, changed every user’s email address in its directory to a Facebook address, and hid mail sent to that address in a place where no one could find it.

I’d like to make some suggestions for improving the utility of social networking to the users. They probably won’t be tried, because there is a huge clash of interests, so Facebook is perpetually fighting its users in order to manipulate them and sell them, offering them the minimum of what they want in order to keep stringing them along.

Other social networking sites have been less successful at this. They start offering something that people find useful, and gain a lot of users. They then sell the site to a big company that announces that they are going to improve the site, and remove the very thing that attracted users in the first place. Yahoo! was notorious for buying up such sites and killing them — for example Geocities, BlogLog and WebRing.

When BlogLog went, there was another similar site called BlogCatalog, but they tried making “improvements” that crippled the main thing that attracted users.

Yet another was Technorati, which was a very useful tool for finding blog posts on similar subjects by means of tags. It also showed a list of trending topics in blog posts, some of which I did not understand at all, but curiosity made me investigate some of them, and so I leant something about popular culture, and the meaning of words like Beyonce, Pokemon and Paris Hilton (no, not the hotel, the daughter of its owner). And one of the things that trended was Twitter. I didn’t see much point in Twitter at first, but when Technorati abandoned its main function, Twitter became a less satisfactory substitute.

friendsWhenever I link to a new blog from one of my WordPress blogs, there is a kind of social networking questionnaire. It’s an idea that’s been around for a long time, and I’ve filled in the information in the hope that someone will find a use for it one day. It’s called XFN, or the XHTML friends network, and you can read more about it here.

The rationale behind XFN’s categories of relationship is given here. While I don’t agree with all their decisions and categories, I think that it is a pretty good starting point, and that social networking sites like Facebook would be immensely improved if they instituted something like that.

In terms of XFN categories, all these are obviously "met". But otherwise, from left to right -- (1) friend kin colleague; (2) kin, friend; (3) me; (4) acquaintance (5) friend, colleague.

In terms of XFN categories, all these are obviously “met”. But otherwise, from left to right — (1) friend kin colleague; (2) kin, friend; (3) me; (4) acquaintance (5) friend, colleague.

The only thing I would add for a site like Facebook would be the time dimension — the “met” category can mean last week or 40 years ago. I find Facebook most useful for contacting old friends and far-away friends.

But the use of categories like the XFN ones could enable Facebook to improve their algorithms of what they show to users. At the moment Facebook shows me lots of stuff from some people in the “contact” category, people I have never met.

Allowing users to categorise posts would also help. Some categories might be family news, general news, professional news, humour, trivia, etc. And possibly an importance rating — I don’t want to learn of a death in the family after the funeral has taken place (as happened in a couple of cases recently), while a new bird seen in the garden might be of less importance.

Does anyone else think any of this would be useful if implemented by Facebook or some other social networking sites?

Old friends met or remembered

In the last few weeks we have made contact with a lot of old friends, or their families. All of them were friends from student days in the 1960s, and all of them had attended conferences of the Anglican Students Federation (ASF) at Modderpoort in the Free State in 1963-1965. So these meetings brought back memories of student years. Perhaps others who were there will see this and also make contact.

Nomtha and Antony Gray

Nomtha Gray, Centurion, Gauteng, December 2015

Nomtha Gray, Centurion, Gauteng, December 2015

First was Nomtha and Antony Gray. Nomtha is the daughter of my friend Stephen Gawe, and she contacted me through a blog post she read, in which I described our experiences of culture shock when we went to the UK to study.

Nomtha’s father Stephen Gawe was a student at Fort Hare, and was elected vice-president of the Anglican Students Federation in 1963. He was also on the committee of the national Students Christian Association (SCA) which, in 1964, was on the verge of being torn apart by apartheid. The ASF was a unified federation for all Anglican students at universities, teacher training colleges and theological seminaries. The SCA had four sections — Afrikaans, English, Black and Coloured, and the Afrikaans section wanted these four sections to become completely separate from each other, and Stephen Gawe had to attend executive meetings where this was discussed. He also attended the annual congress of Nusas (the National Union of South African Students) so for him the July vacation was rush of going from one congress to another.

Stephen Pandula Gawe, Modderpoort, July 1964

Stephen Pandula Gawe, Modderpoort, July 1964

In August 1964 Stephen Gawe was detained by the Security Police under the 90-day detention law, along with 3 other students and was held for several months. Eventually he was charged with being a member of the then-banned ANC, and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. His father was the Anglican parish priest at Zwelitsha, near King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape.

On his release from prison he was banned. He applied for, and was given, an exit permit, which allowed him to go to study in the UK The exit permit was given on condition that he never returned to South Africa, so it was, in effect, permission for permanent exile.

He studied at Oxford University, and while he was there he married Tozie Mzamo, on 19 August 1967 (click here to see wedding pic etc).

Antony and Nomtha Gray, Centurion, Gauteng, December 2015

Antony and Nomtha Gray, Centurion, Gauteng, December 2015

On completing his studies he became a social worker in Southampton, and he and Tozie had two daughters, Nomtha and Vuyo. After the first democratic elections in 1994 he was able to return to South Africa and he joined the diplomatic service. We had a reunion in July 2001, just before he went to take up a new post as Ambassador to Denmark.

Ten years later his daughter Nomtha got in touch after reading the blog post that mentioned his wedding, and when she and her husband Antony visited South Africa in December 2015 we met them off the Gautrain and had a drink together in Centurion. It was really good to meet them.

Palesa Vuyelwa Dwaba

Then last week there was another comment on a blog post by Palesa Vuyelwa Dwaba, who said I had mentioned her father, Sechaba Noel Lebenya, in the post on Tales from Dystopia II: Enemies of the State. I was writing about an official list of enemies of the apartheid state, and listed those I knew, or thought I knew.

Sechaba Noel Lebenya, Modderpoort, July 1964

Sechaba Noel Lebenya, Modderpoort, July 1964

So I wrote to her, and said I had met a Noel Lebenya at the Anglican Students Federation Conference at Modderpoort in July 1964, and I thought he was possibly the person on the list. I fished out an old photo of him taken at the conference, and she confirmed that it was her father, and said that he had died in 2005.

In July 1964 he was a 1st-year social work student at the University College of the North at Turfloop, and he lived at KwaThema, near Springs. Another friend, Cyprian Moloi, who had been a student at the Federal Theological Seminary at Alice the previous year, and had been at that year’s ASF conference, was serving as a deacon in KwaThema, and those of us who were not (like Stephen Gawe) attending other student conferences, spent quite a bit of the rest of the vacation running around seeing each other, and talking incessantly about anything and everything.

I also found a group photo of several of us at Modderpoort, all wearing blankets, because Modderpoort was one of the coldest places in South Africa, and the winter of 1964 was one of the coldest winters ever. I had borrowed my mother’s car to drive to Pietermaritzburg and take some fellow students to Modderpoort, and as we drove up Van Reenen’s Pass with a full load the engine temperature dropped to “cold” and the heater stopped working — the water was simply not hot enough to warm the cold air. From Bethlehem to Modderpoort we passed patches of snow — but the snow had fallen a fortnight earlier.

Henry Bird, David Shory, Jerry Mosimane, Noel Lebenya, Stephen Hayes at Modderpoort, July 1964.

Henry Bird, David Short, Jerry Mosimane, Noel Lebenya, Stephen Hayes at Modderpoort, July 1964.

I lost touch with Noel Lebenya after 1965. I went to study overseas in 1966, and on my return in 1968 I was in Durban and then Namibia. His daughter Palesa filled me in on some of the details, but her parents separated when she was quite young, so she is still hoping to learn more details of his life.  He seems to have spent some time on Robben Island, and perhaps with his social work background he was starting a centre for the disabled in Daveyton in the early 1990s and continued to work on it for about 10-12 years.

Nomvula Dwaba, Dambisa Dwaba, Palesa Palesa Vuyelawa Dwaba, Sechaba Noel Lebenya

Nomvula Dwaba, Dambisa Dwaba, Palesa Vuyelwa Dwaba, Sechaba Noel Lebenya

It was good to have news of him from his daughter Palesa, and the picture of him, looking older (don’t we all?). Palesa completed her LlB degree at the University of Johannesburg last year, and is now articled as an attorney, but the picture is of her half-sister’s graduation.

Of the other people in the blanket photo, I last saw Henry Bird in the early 1980s. He was living in Eshowe, and working as an estate and general agent, when we were living in Melmoth. David Short visited us in 1987, and is living in Bedfordshire, England, where he is a shepherd; he has a web site here. I saw Jerry Mosimane in Johannesburg a few times in 1968, after my return from studying in England, but lost touch with him after moving to Durban.

Martin and Wendy Goulding

Yesterday we visited Martin and Wendy Goulding in Melville, Johannesburg. Martin also attended ASF conferences in the early 1960s, and we have seen them more often, since they were living in Durban when I went there in 1969.

Martin Goulding, Melville, Johannesburg, 18 January 2016

Martin Goulding, Melville, Johannesburg, 18 January 2016

Martin has retired as a chemist in a glue factory, and they usually live in a cottager in the Drakensberg foothills, but they were in Johannesburg to help their daughter Elizabeth with their latest grandchild, Rebecca, aged just four weeks when we visited.

When we were students Martin had an old Morris Minor and we did some of our frenetic running around and seeing people in that, except that it often broke down, and so the journeys either took longer than expected, or had to be completed with another vehicle.

In July 1965 he drove to Johannesburg from Durban to give me a lift back to Pietermaritzburg for the next university term. The car died in Villiers, and he had to hitchhike the rest of the way. We hitchhiked back to Villiers, and discovered that the car dynamo was dead. We spend an uncomfortable night sleeping in the car, and fortunately discovered someone in Villiers who could sell us another dynamo on a Sunday morning.

Wendy Goulding with granddaughter Rebecca. Melville, Johannesburg, 18 January 2016

Wendy Goulding with granddaughter Rebecca. Melville, Johannesburg, 18 January 2016

Back in Durban Martin said that one of the stories that had always impressed him was the story of the sinking of the SS Titanic, and while the ship was sinking the orchestra sat on the deck playing “Nearer my God to thee”. We then went for a drive in the Morris Minor, with Martin sitting on the roof playing “Nearer my God to thee” on his ‘cello. A traffic cop stopped us and stopped our fun by insisting that all passengers must be inside the vehicle.

Barbara van der Want

Perhaps the most astounding of all these old friends meetings was when we had knocked on the Gouldings’ gate, and Martin had just opened it to let us in, I heard someone calling me from across the street, and it turned out to be Barbara van der Want (formerly Hutton), who happened to be passing at that moment and saw me.

My cousin Jenny Growdon (now Aitchison and Barbara Hutton (now van der Want), Germiston Lake, 22 January 1964

My cousin Jenny Growdon (now Aitchison) and Barbara Hutton (now van der Want), Germiston Lake, 22 January 1964

I knew she lived just down the road at Westdene, but I hadn’t seen her since about 1973. She too had been at most of these student gatherings in the 1960s. We did not have much time to talk, as she was off to a meeting, but she did have time to tell me that another friend, Pam Trevelyan (nee Taylor) had died last year.

Pam Trevelyan (nee Taylor) and Isobel Beukes (nee Dick).at Holy Rood Mission on the Swaziland border, 26 September 1965

Pam Trevelyan (nee Taylor) and Isobel Beukes (nee Dick). at Holy Rood Mission on the Swaziland border, 26 September 1965

One of the memories we chatted about with the Goulding was of a journey we had taken in a short September vacation in 1965. We were meant to go in Martin Goulding’s Morris Minor, but it broke down, and we went in a borrowed car from Pietermaritzburg to Johannesburg — Martin, Pam Taylor, Isobel Dick (now Beukes) and me.

Martin Goulding at Holy Rood Mission near Piet Retief, 26 September 1965

Martin Goulding at Holy Rood Mission near Piet Retief, 26 September 1965

After seeing friends in Johannesburg, we went east to Holy Rood Mission, on the Swaziland border near Piet Retief, and spent the night there. It was just the four of us, sitting round a table lit by candles and paraffin lamps, and we were telling each other the sad stories of our love life, tales of unrequited love.

When it was late, and we were about to go to bed Pam disappeared, and came back and gave us each a card, on which was printed. “Thank you for telling me your story. It is the saddest story I have ever heard. Please accept this card as a token of my deepest sympathy.” She said her father had had them printed to give to people who came to him with sob stories. And now it was sad to hear that Pam had died.

It has definitely been old friends month.

And perhaps there is just space for a couple more pictures and stories.

Cyprian Moloi

Cyprian Moloi

Martin Goulding playing "Nearer my God to thee" on his Morris Minor, Miranda. Durban, 6 September 1965

Martin Goulding playing “Nearer my God to thee” on his Morris Minor, Miranda. Durban, 6 September 1965

After one of those student conferences at Modderpoort a group of us went to a Sunday service at Meadowlands, which was Cyprian Moloi’s home parish (that was when he was still a student, before he was ordained). There was quite a big group of us, with John Davies, the Anglican chaplain at Wits, and his family. Mark Davies, aged 4, was deaf, and John Davies said that the only way a deaf child could see what the church was about was if people in the church showed him love, and did not scold him for being too noisy, as he had no idea how much noise he was making.

After the service we were gathered found the door, and Barbara van der Want (Hutton), leaned forward to look around some people to see Mark Davies coming out of the church, and Cyprian pulled out a packet of cigarettes and offered her one saying, “All right, I know what you want.” All the smokers roared with laughter. As a non-smoker, I didn’t get it at first, but it appeared that at the conference Barbara had been bumming cigarettes off everyone so that she no longer had to ask.

That same night I borrowed a friend’s motorbike to take Barbara home to Kensington , where she lived. It was a puny 75cc bike, and could not make it over Sylvia Pass with both of us aboard, so we went the long way round via Gilooly’s farm. We planned to go to Evensong at Barbara’s home parish of St Andrew’s. Because of the detour, we were late, and because of the cold, we were both wearing blankets, as we did at Modderpoort. That set the cat among the pigeons. Churches were a good deal more fussy about how one dressed in those days, and the following Sunday the Rector, Tom Comber, preached a special sermon on it, in which he said that the only garment one needs to wear to church is the garment of charity.

And to close off, here’s an extract from my diary for 3 July 1964, at the ASF conference, which mentions both Stephen Gawe and Noel Lebenya.

I woke up feeling sick, so did not go to Mass, but got up for breakfast at 8 am. Then Miss D. Aitken, principal of the Rhenish High School at Stellenbosch, spoke on Evolution, Science and Christianity, which was largely based on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

In the afternoon the Bishop of Bloemfontein gave a review of The Primal Vision which was interesting, but not of much use to people who had not read the book, and most hadn’t. Reports from discussion groups showed that most people had dismissed it as being of no value whatever.

In the evening we sang songs, and then later on a few of us – John de Beer, Noel Lebenya, Stephen Gawe and I, sat around talking long after midnight. Noel told us about his many girlfriends, and his steady in Bloemfontein. The rest of us argued with him about this – saying that if he expected to be able to trust his steady, she should be able to trust him. He is a nice guy, went to school in Thaba Nchu, and then worked for a while, and is now in his first year at Turfloop, doing social work. He had taken to wearing a blanket around the place, and it seems to suit him. His grandfather was a Mosotho.

Everyone else drifted off to bed, and only Stephen Gawe and I were left. We played a couple of games of chess – he beat me easily both times. Then we talked about people at the conference, and who would be suitable to elect to the executive at the AGM tomorrow. Mike Stevenson was the obvious choice for President, if he would stand again. Stephen thought Clive Whitford for Vice-President, and I thought Jeremiah Mosimane would be better. He is doing 2nd year BA at Turfloop. We both thought Mavourneen Moffett would be good as Secretary. Then, as it was about 4 am, we said Mattins together, and prayed, and went to bed, lying next to the fire in the common room.

One of the nice things about blogging is that it one suddenly gets discovered by old friends, or their children, so the last few weeks have been very interesting.

Charlie Hebdo, polarisation, Quakers, Orthodox

The Charlie Hebdo murders have sparked off widely-differing reactions around the world, and ripples of solidarity and hostility that go way beyond the original event.

It seems that people are being friended and unfriended on the basis of Je suis Charlie and Je ne suis pas Charlie. I had two such opposite reactions to one of my blog posts on the subject.

A few days ago I posted a blog article Je ne suis pas Charlie.

One person posted a comment saying

Thank you Steve for your post. It has given me courage to post my own views on Facebook which I copy below. On Facebook, I can be found as Brigid O’Carroll Walsh. I am also interested in your comments, Steve, about modernity and fundamentalism and think that this is an idea well worth exploring. Anyway, thank you and here is what I said on Facebook:

Dear Facebookies, All the stuff I am reading about the protests of the dreadful killings in France seems to me to leave so much unsaid. My own view, I think, is a minority view and I did not want to air it because I fear a thoughtless howling down. However, this post by my oldest internet friend, Steve Hayes, has given me courage.

Another, an old friend I have known for nearly 50 years, not only online but also face-to-face, wrote in a very different vein, on Facebook:

Steve Hayes, I find your whole attitude offensive in the face of such sad events. I think you are being deliberately bloody-minded. You are very close to being unfriended so please keep your comments on this issue to yourself from now on, or at least don’t post them on my page.

So the events of last week have certainly polarised people, and seem to have lost me an old friend, which makes me very sad.

And that would be the end of my sad story, but for one thing that strikes me as curious. Both the friends who reacted in such very different ways are Quakers, and I wondered about other Quakers’ views. Someone posted some links in a comment on  my encouraging/offending blog post, which included this one from a Quaker. I find myself in broad agreement with it.

QuakersI have quite a number of Quaker friends, including some linked on Facebook, but not many of them have posted anything directly on this issue. But some of those who have have seemed to wonder how one can do peacemaking in this kind of situation.

Most of us are a long way from Paris, and it is impractical to do anything there, but the division seems to have spread so widely that it would be worsh looking to see what it is that is causing it. How is it that two Quakers can have such radically different views?

One thing that strikes me is that it could be a misunderstanding, and that instead of “unfriending” and breaking off relations in other ways, we should be talking through our differences. Modern technology has made communication much easier in many ways. This should, in theory, make it easier to discuss and resolve differences, clear up misunderstandings etc.

But very often it has the opposite effect. If you had a friend on another continent before about 1990, you could send one another Christmas cards once a year, and not be aware of any fundamental differences of opinion. Modern communications technology makes it more obvi0us and immediate. In some ways, ignorance was bliss. As one person put it, we live in an  age of communicati0n without community.

So one of the challenges of peacemaking and peacebuilding is to see how we can use the advances in communications technology to build community, and try to reduce misunderstandings.

I’m not a Quaker, but an Orthodox Christian, and some see the two as very far apart. Fr Alexander Schmemann, an Orthodox theologian of the last century, told of attending an ecumenical conference as an Orthodox delegate. One of the organisers offered to seat him with the “high church” group — Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and the like. He saw this as the organisers puting him in a box of their own making, and he said Why not with the Quakers? They share our emphasis on the Holy Spirit?

Fr Alexander went on to say:

The important fact of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement and in the encounter – after so many centuries of almost total separation – between Orthodox and the West is precisely that the Orthodox were not given a choice; that from the very beginning they were assigned, not only seats at a certain place, role and function within the ecumenical movement. These ‘assignments’ were based onWestern theological and ecclesiological presuppositions and categories, and they reflected the purely Western origin of the ecumenical idea itself. We joined a movement, entered a debate, took part in a search whose basic terms of reference were already defined and taken for granted. Thus, even before we could realize it,we were caught up in the essentially Western dichotomies – Catholic versus Protestant, horizontal versus vertical, authority versus freedom, hierarchical versus congregational – and we were made into representatives and bearers of attitudes and positions, which we hardly recognized as ours, and which were deeply alien to our tradition. All of this was due not to any Machiavellian conspiracy or ill will, but precisely to the main and all-embracing Western presupposition that the Western experience, theological categories and thought forms are universal and therefore constitute the self-evident framework and terms of reference for the entire ecumenical endeavor

And perhaps that illustrates the kind of assumptions we make about each other, that leads to miscommunication, misunderstanding, and, sometimes, hostility.

I think that is one of the obstacles to attempts at peacemaking. And perhaps it is something that Quakers and the Orthodox Peace Fellowship could work on together.

The Waves (book review)

The WavesThe Waves by Virginia Woolf

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is different from most novels. It’s about six friends, Bernard, Susan, Rhoda, Louis, Neville and Jinny, from childhood to old age, but it says little about their external circumstances. It is told entirely from the viewpoints of the people concerned, and is an internal description of how their friends and life affect them.

Describing it like that, it doesn’t sound like much of a story. Seeing the world through six pairs of eyes, moving from one viewpoint to the other, sounds as though it will be like living in six separate boxes, but it isn’t. It is a marvellous evocation of friendship. The trouble is that it is so evocative that my mind kept wandering, every paragraph at least, if not every sentence. When it describes the feelings of one character when leaving school, I was taken back to when I left school, aznd got so absorbed in the vivid recollection that I must have remained stuck on the same page for about 20 minutes or so,

It was the the same with the description of their leaving university, and I was taken back 46 years (gosh, was it as long ago as that) when I took the train from Grahamstown to Alicedale, and waited on Alicedale station for the train to Johannesburg, and the realisation suddenly struck me that I would never be a full-time student again. I hadn’t been a student all the time before, but even working for two years full time I was still saving up to go to university, and suddenly it was all over. And Virginia Woolf captures that “it’s all over” feeling brilliantly. To one character it’s a drop of water gathering and growing, and then suddenly it drops, and life changes, irrevocably.

But at the same time there is a continuity. As the characters move from youth to age, so there are interludes describing, quite impersonally, the course of a day, the sun rising and setting over the sea shore, with the waves continuing to crash down, so there is also a repetition, and it reminded me of the verse of Psalm 41/42:

Deep is calling to deep
as your cataracts roar;
all your waves, your breakers
have rolled over me.

Actually there is a seventh friend, Percival, who was at school with the boys. We hear of his unrequited love for Susan, and Neville’s unrequited love for him, and he goes to India and is killed in a fall from a horse. But his viewpoint never appears, he is seen only only through the eyes of the others, and the effects of his life and death on them.

View all my reviews

97% of you have not danced

Sometimes I feel like that generation.

And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like?
They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept (Luke 7:31-32).

I sometimes feel like that, especially when I look at Facebook and similar web sites, and the kind of communication they promote.

LoveMom2When people repost (“share” in Facebook-speak) something second-hand, trite and derivative, it gets lots of shares. Turn a worn-out cliche into a graphic, and say “97% of you won’t share this” and a lot more than 3% will.

I love my mother, and I love my daughter and I love my sons, and I love my cousins (even if they don’t all love me), and I don’t need to click on some mawkish graphic to prove it. Yet a huge proportion of Facebook “communication” is made up of just such trite trivialities.

Of course quite a lot of these are scams — people set up such a thing to get lots of “likes” for a page or site, and then sell it to the highest bidder. That’s why they say that on web sites like Facebook you are the product that they are selling.

But I have noticed in the last couple of weeks that when I share things that other people have posted, they get a lot more “likes” than actual personal stuff. And even if those things are not just tarted up cliches, I find that rather sad. It might be a news item, or comment that I think is worth thinking about, even if I don’t entirely agree with it. And sometimes people comment on such things too.

97percentBut when I posted something of my own, as opposed to something derivative and second hand, like this, for example, Tuesday 4 August 1914 | Khanya, it got precisely one “like” and one “share”, and no comments, either on the blog itself, or even on Facebook. It’s not that I go soliciting “likes” and “shares”, and I’m not posting this to urge my friends to “like” stuff that they dislike, or that they don’t give a damn about. I am rather noting that Facebook as a medium seems to favour and promote communication in the second-hand and derivative. Much of it seems calculated to appeal to those who are more amenable to our blackmail than our message — like the appeal to mother love above, or the ones that begin “97% of you won’t repost this”.

So I’m not asking people to “like” things that they don’t like, or “share” things that they don’t agree with, though I really do wonder what people are thinking when they imply that I am among the 97% of their friends who love cancer, and just hate their spouses, parents, children and other relatives.

LikeFacebookWhat I would like to solicit, however, is comments — preferably on the blog post itself, but on Facebook if you must. You can comment on something even if you don’t “like” it, and even if you don’t actually like it. You can disagree and say why you disagree. In that way sites like Facebook can facilitate communication between people, rather than just endlessly recycling sentimental cliches. Having said that, if by any chance you do actually like this (or any other post on my blog) there’s a button down at the bottom where you can click to “like” it on Facebook.

97percent2After observing these things, I think I’ll be trying to cut down on the number of second-hand things I recycle on Facebook. I’ll still “like” things that my friends post that are theirs — their photos, their articles, their blog posts. But I’ll try to resist the temptation to repost fancy illustrated slogans, no matter how witty they may be. It’s not that I think they should not be there at all. It’s just the proportions are all wrong. It seems to be 10% personal and 90% derivative. It should be the other way round.

Of course this post is 99% whinge, complaining that “We have piped for you and 97% of you have not danced.”

That’s enough whinging for now, so let there be an end to it.

My very own Internet stalkers?

I seem to have got my very own Internet stalkers, or perhaps I share them with a zillion other people.

I got an e-mail this morning, with the heading:

This is pretty interesting…

and it goes on to say:

Colin Bruce sent you a private message

I keep getting messages from this “Colin Bruce Milne” saying he wants to be my “friend” on this, that or the other social network. He sends me private messages to say that he has private messages for me. But I don’t know him, I’ve never actually talked to him or met him, he’s never left a comment on my blogs, which is quite easy to do.

So why does he want to be my friend if he never talks to me, except for sending me private messages to say that he has a “private message” for me?

It’s a bit like getting a slip from the post office asking you to call for a registered letter which tells you that you have a registered letter that tells you that you have a registered letter that tells you that you have a registered letter.

Why the infinite regress?

So I now find myself wondering if perhaps this “Colin Bruce Milne” is some kind of new internet species, the “professional friend”. Perhaps he’s not a real person, perhaps he’s a ‘bot. But if he is a real person, I now suspect that he gets paid a commission by conning people into joining social networks by inviting them to join the network in order to read a message to tell them that he has left them a message on another social network that they will have to join to read the message that says that he has left them a message on another social network, and if he gets enough people to join enough networks he’ll qualify for the grand draw for the grand prize of a weekend in a timeshare resort in Naboomspruit, listening to salesman wittering on boringly about the benefits of timeshare.

So perhaps he’s not my very own internet stalker, perhaps he’s stalking other people as well, having discovered a new way to propagate spam.

He’s not the only one, though.

There’s another one, who sends messages saying:

I have a message for you.
E-mail:oxfam_05@yahoo.gr
Regards,
Mr.John Erere

Same technique: send a message saying “I have a message for you”. Well, he obviously has my address, so I’m waiting for the message, and sure enough, a couple of days later it arrives:

I have a message for you.
E-mail:oxfam_14@yahoo.gr
Regards,
Mr.John Erere

What I really need is to find a way of introducing Colin Bruce Milne to Mr. John Erere.

I’m sure they’ll get on like a house on fire.

I could become a professional Internet friendship broker, introducing professional friends to each other, and possibly to my old friend, Mrs Mariam Abacha, from whom I haven’t heard for a long time. Perhaps I should forward the messages from Oxfam5 to Oxfam14 and vice versa, mutatis mutandis.

Friendship as a marketable commodity

“Can’t buy me love”, the Beatles sang 45 years ago, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to sell it to you.

uSocial – Buy Facebook Fans & Friends!:

Friends: people say they can’t be bought, though in this day and age it’s simply not the case. Our newest service will enable you to get more Facebook friends with ease by buying them in packages up to 5,000.

How we get you friends is simply by finding out exactly what industry, niche, or target market you are wanting to find people to target and then we go about attaining relevent friends for you and adding them to your Faceboook account. Every single person we gain for you will be real users and exactly relevant to what you are looking for — this is our guarantee.

In a consumer society, why shouldn’t love and friendship be a consumer item like anything else?

Perhaps we need to think more seriously about an alternative society.

Your school chum’s not asking about you: Classmates.com sued

Everybody hates me, nobody loves me
I’m going to go and eat worms
Big fat juicy ones, little itty bitty ones
See how the big ones squirm
First you bite thier heads off
Then you suck the juice out
Then you throw the skins away
Nobody knows how I can thrive
On worms three times a day.

Did you sing that, or something like it, at school, when you thought no one was your friend?

Well, guess what — in spite of advertising by some social networking sites, they’re still not your friends.

Your school chum’s not asking about you: Classmates.com sued:

San Diego resident Anthony Michaels had been a free member of Classmates.com since last year. However, the site—like dating sites that offer paid membership tiers—doesn’t let you do anything all that interesting with the free tier. In order to see who has been looking at your profile and read messages from other members, users must first upgrade to a Gold Membership. That’s when Michaels said he was tricked. He said that he began receiving messages from Classmates.com claiming that old classmates of his had been looking at his profile and trying to get in touch with him through the site. If only he would fork over some cash for a paid membership, he could see those messages and reconnect with that old high school crush!

Who could resist such a temptation? Michaels couldn’t, and that’s why he finally paid up in hopes of reading all those messages that his classmates had been sending him. Upon doing so and logging in, however, he was greeted with crushing disappointment. Not a single message was waiting for him in his Classmates.com inbox, and none of the people who had been viewing his profile were ones he knew or was familiar with.

Clasmates.com is not the only or even the worst of such sites. There is also the Names Database, and Alumni.net, and several others. Many of them practice sneaky advertising of one kind or another. The Names Database, for example, offers to give you some of the interesting information, provided you give them the e-mail addresses of 20 or more of your existing friend so that they can spam them (I don’t know if they sell the addresses they harvest in this way so that others can spam them too).

There was one called Word of Mouth, which I think has now disappeared. They invited people to give information about others anonymously, so that they could post malicious rubbish if they wanted to. Then potential employers could pay them to consult the gosspip — and they could keep spamming to say that someone has written about you, come and see what they’ve said — but of course you had to pay to do that. Entering malicious gossip was free, reading it was for subscribers only.

Some such sites are actually quite useful. One of the better ones is ZoomInfo, which just collects stuff from the web. They charge business users, but don’t charge people for simple people searches. Not all the information they collect is accurate, but you can sign on and organise the information that is really about you for free.

Another of the better reuniting old friends sites is:

Is someone looking for you? Who? Me? Type your last name and search!

I’ve not actually found any old friends using their site, but I like their style.

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