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Do Smartphones Connect or Disconnect People?

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We’ve all seen it – friends looking at their phones instead of looking at each other; people trying to avoid visual contact by pretending to be preoccupied with their phones, etc. Or have you ever been so caught up in clicking likes on Facebook that you’ve ignored the last 15 minutes of a conversation? We’ve all been there. And it’s fully normal. We live in the 21 century, where technology has become an integral part of our lives. We all want to keep up with the newest trends and stay up to date. But how does this affect our ways of communication?

We can all agree that technology has changed our world and has made communication easier than ever. News travels from one part of the world to the other in seconds, every person with a phone or a computer can publish content on the internet, which could reach millions of readers. But it’s not the technology itself which has altered our means of communication with others but rather our understanding of how this technology should be used.

A simple example shows how fast we’ve adopted new technology, not in order to make communication easier but rather to hide from it. Those of you who remember the bulky Nokia 8210 with its monochrome screen, plastic buttons, everlasting battery, and, of course, the snake game, probably have a different attitude toward iPhones than your teenage children. You probably still dial a number with the actual idea of talking to someone on the other side of the phone. However, what the new and fancy toys offer is a variety of ways to avoid talking to other people. You can see what other people are doing through social media applications, you can click likes and send emoticons without ever having to talk to your friends. You basically know what people are doing, who they are with and how they are feeling without ever talking to them! Ain’t that something!

So while trying to make digital communication easier, we’ve managed to make face-to-face communication harder and more awkward. As a result, we’ve become more distant and isolated, we’ve become obsessed with what other people are doing, which often makes us feel excluded and can even lead to an inferiority complex. It’s not wrong to enjoy the shiny new things on the market as long as we don’t get lost in the world of social media and applications. You always need to keep in mind that your smartphone is never going to hug you or laugh at your jokes.

Does Banning Face Veils Help Us Fight Terrorism?

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After the ban on burkinis in Cannes, the issue of Muslim women covering their faces has become the focal point of discussion recently. Is it right to cover your face and your whole body for the sake of religion and are European governments right in their assumption that banning full-face veils and burkinis is the way to “liberate” Muslim women? I have the feeling that this topic is so sensitive that any attempt to scrutinize it made end up tragically.

Ever since France became the arena of frequent terrorist attacks, the French government has been trying to figure out a way to increase the security of its citizens and to prevent any future disasters. But we should ask ourselves whether banning the traditional veil is the right way to manage the situation, especially now when other European countries like Germany consider banning full-face veils as well.

Sara Silvestri, a professor at City University London argues that “the effect of these laws is that Muslims feel marginalized and in turn, the feeling of being unwelcome impacts their ability and willingness to integrate into society, can cause withdrawal and lead to engagement with radical groups”. What this means is that such measures, which have a purely cosmetic effect and do not tackle the real problem, may result in the further encapsulation of Muslim communities and may even contribute for their radicalization. And while Christian Europeans support the idea that wearing burkas is oppressive and disparages Muslim women, it is also true that such a ban is also a measure, directed against these same Muslim women that we are trying to liberate. This ban will not affect the majority of the Muslim men and will definitely not help the fight against terrorism. 

But if that’s not the proper way to address the problem, then what is? Muslims who have been living in Europe for decades refuse to be integrated and remain fairly isolated within their religious and ethnic communities. Attempts for social and cultural integration are still being perceived as a frontal attack against their religious beliefs. This together with the influx of refugees, the majority of which are Muslim, creates a tense situation, which is bound to escalate at some point. However, there is still no consensus on what actions need to be taken in order to facilitate proper integration without raising concerns over discrimination or assimilation of Muslims.

 

Why is Germany Ignoring the Signs?

german-useful-idiots-welcome-MuslimsIt hurts me to see what is happening to Germany – a country so welcoming and warm that it couldn’t have imagined the horrors that were going to unfold as a result of series of bad political decisions. Germany’s week of terror started on Monday, July 18 with axe train attack in Wurzburg, which was then followed by the shooting spree in Münich on July 22, and ends with yesterday’s machete attack in Reutlingen and the suicide bomb attack in Ansbach.

This devastating tragedy, however, is the outcome of the poor refugee policy of the European Union and Germany in particular over the past few years. Why did German politicians turn out to be so ignorant and why do they continue with their “Welcome Refugees” policy? And why do Germans continue to say nothing? After all, aren’t German citizens entitles to object to this open doors policy that threatens their security, their demographics, and their culture? Why are they so paralysed to afraid to speak their minds freely?

All these issues have deep historical roots dating back to the aftermath of the Second World War. Ever since Hitler was defeated and national socialism was condemned, the German people have been carrying the stigma of intolerance and brutality. Every mentioning of nationalism, every complimentary note on the achievements of the German people has been viewed with suspicion. And now, more than 70 years after Hitler’s defeat, Germany is finally rehabilitated as a free and tolerant country, where multiculturalism is seen as one of the foundation stones of society. However, it is because of this stigma and the fear that they are again going to be condemned as racist that Germans think they are not even allowed to “dislike” the refugee policy.

Dare to object, dare to think freely and don’t be afraid of labels. Wanting to preserve your culture and way of life and not wanting to feel constantly threatened by external and violent forces does not make you a nazi.

Consuming Environment

451541-bigthumbnail“Our consumption of goods obviously is a function of our culture. Only by producing and selling things and services does capitalism in its present form work, and the more that is produced the more that is purchased the more we have progress and prosperity. The single most important measure of economic growth is, after all, the gross national product (GNP), the sum total of goods and services produced by a given society in a given year. It is a measure of the success of a consumer society, obviously, to consume.”

                                                                     ( – Richard Robbins, Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, Allyn and Bacon, 1999, p.209)

What Robbins skillfully point out in this paragraph is that mass-consumption has become an essential part of our culture. And what we need to realise is how much our new “culture” of consumption affects the natural environment. Because when we order our next item on Amazon and anxiously await for our so much need purchase to arrive in the next hour or so, what we don’t actually acknowledge is that уwhat lies at the back of all the pretty websites that invite us in and encourage us to buy with their inspiring slogans like “Shopping is inspiration” is an enormous industry that abuses the natural environment on which all our lives rely. The expansion of consumer services aims to spoil consumers with an even greater variety of goods and even quicker deliveries to our homes. However, what this expansion also entails is more logistics, more transport, more energy, and more trees to be cut off for new routes to be built.

But it’s not only the environment we need to worry about, but also the degradation of our morals that allows us to believe it’s ok for us not to step a foot outside our homes while ordering online thing we never really needed before seeing the ad. Don’t get me wrong – progress is always good, and as I’ve mentioned in my previous post, only capitalist societies, in which the consumer culture has become dominant, can secure our freedom and prosperity. However, being a part of this culture of mass-consumption is ok only as long as we don’t lose grip on the consequences.

Capitalism Kills Culture!?

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Is capitalism really that bad? When you come to think of it – no, certainly not! How can we blame capitalism for all that’s wrong in the world, when clearly capitalist states are the heralds of progress, prosperity, and modernity. Don’t  people, living in capitalist societies, have higher living standards, a greater access to education, a wider variety of careers to choose from? Isn’t our culture enriched by capitalism with its neverending demand for discovering something new?

Well, the critics of capitalism would definitely disagree with my optimistic and slightly naive view on capitalism. They would instead argue that capitalism kills culture with its impetus to gain more profit and thus leads to economic inequality and social alienation. But as Winston Churchill has put it:

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

What we need to consider when arguing for of against capitalism is this: Is there a better alternative to capitalism? Is there a better functioning system, which guarantees private ownership and the freedom of speech, and encourages self-expression in any way possible? Let me put it this way: If I was living in a socialist state like North Korea, I wouldn’t be allowed to be writing the blog, to freely discuss and debate, I wouldn’t be even allowed to read as much as a sentence from a book that has been blacklisted. I wouldn’t be allowed to dress however I want, to study and work whatever I want, to travel wherever I want. So I am leaving you with this: Yes, capitalism may not be perfect, but it’s the closest we’ve ever been to “perfect” in out entire history.

The New Online Identity

 

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Illustration by John Holcroft

We are all probably familiar with Facebook, Twitter, and all the other amazing social networks. And we are probably all used to updating our statuses, uploading photos, liking and sharing. Social networks have become such an integral part of our lives, that we should stop and think about how much our ways of communicating with others have changed. And what implications social networks have on the way we see and project ourselves in the public space.

Since the rise of social networks, we have become more and more concerned with the way we are perceived by our “friends”. We need to pose the right way for our selfies, we need to constantly showcase our adventures so that we do not seem boring and we are constantly hunting for new followers. In this sense, Facebook has unintentionally provoked the emergence of a whole new psychology of reinventing our identities, not in order to improve but rather to promote ourselves in the digital world. The result from our obsession with social networks is the creation of a whole new online identity . And that, in my opinion, is the greatest threat that social networks pose.

Don’t get me wrong – I love social media and I use them all the time. I think they are a great way to keep in touch with the people you care about, a wonderful tool to share information and to promote all kinds of causes. So here is when things start to get unhealthy: when you befriend people you don’t know and you don’t care about just so that you could increase the number of “friends” you have; when you use your profile as a safe way to leave hurtful comments and to argue fiercely just because you’re not arguing face-to-face with your opponents ; when you start feeling bad about yourself just because somebody else seems to enjoy greater popularity on Facebook.

So I am asking myself – does this really matter? What happens to your popularity if your profile is hacked? Will you seize to have a social life just because you don’t have your profile anymore? Of course not! But however fun it is to spend your time on social networks, please don’t forget that there is life outside of Facebook. Keep in touch with the people that actually care about you and show them your genuine interest in what is going on in their lives instead of just hitting the like button. Be yourself and be proud of who you are instead of trying to be somebody else just so that others will like and accept you.

The London Riots: A Display of Consumerist Rage?

article-2023949-0D5B131D00000578-510_634x444Between 6 and 11 August 2011 riots stormed several parts of London and other cities in England. The unprecedented looting and arson began after a protest in London, following the death of Mark Duggan, shot dead by police on the 4th of August. There have been a number of speculations as to what caused the escalation of the disturbances. Debated contributory factors range from socio-economic causes to social media, gang culture and criminal opportunism. However, all the suggested reasons revolve around the dysfunctional system of moral values among youths.

According to an article in The Guardian, the riots in London were the product of an “out-of-control consumerist ethos”. Referring to the report by Tim Morgan, the global head of research at Tullett Prebon, the article suggests that challenging the dominant formula of “I buy, therefore I am” and replacing the material with non-material values is the way to overcome this consumerist obsession. What this means, is that the frustration of being excluded from the league of consumers is the underlying factor for the eruption of hostilities in London. Here is what Zygmunt Bauman writes about the character of the London riots in his article for the Social Europe Journal:

“These are not hunger or bread riots. These are riots of defective and disqualified consumers… The objects of desire, whose absence is most violently resented, are nowadays many and varied – and their numbers, as well as the temptation to have them, grow by the day. And so grows the wrath, humiliation, spite, and grudge aroused by not having them.”

The London riots represent not only the dark side of consumerism, articulated through the raging discontent of what Bauman calls disqualified consumers. They are also symptomatic of the flaws in the wide-spread culture of consumerism, which values objects over people and form over content.