Whenever I hit publish on a blog post, I imagine myself attaching it to a catapult and propelling it into the sea where it will sink to the darkest depths of obscurity alongside all of the other blog posts that only get traffic from erroneous search terms in Google. Down here, oblivious prose and paragraphs scuttle around the ocean bed seeking the social solace of a like or a retweet. Despite the fact that they are mostly ignored, the blog posts quiver with purpose, bubbling opinions that rise in a synchronised ascent of insignificance until they reach the surface and fade out like a noiseless qweef.
In a world where the news cycle is impossibly short and only early-adopters are spared the apathetic eye-roll of the information-addicted reader, there’s a real risk that my blog post is just adding to the white noise. I mean, how many more Top 10 lists does the internet really need? Even the subject I’m writing about this very second has been done to death. What if I’ve missed the Good Ship Topical? And even if I haven’t, even if my blog post is impeccably well-timed and I manage to rise above the sheer volume of words on screen, I then risk something far worse than apathy, far greater than insignificance… I risk comments.
In the olden days of print media (*turns eyes mournfully skywards*), readers had few options when it came to complaining about an article. They could send a letter to the editor with absolutely no guarantee of it being seen, moan to their friends or stop reading the offending publication altogether. That was it. They could call the writer a brainless twat all they wanted but chances are, the writer would never know about it.
These days, the comments below an article (not to mention on Twitter) are like a verbal mosh pit - except everyone has knives in their hands. And there’s not a writer today who hasn’t been caught by the pointy end.
Googling “don’t read the comments” pulls up 4,320,000,000 results and a twitter campaign, illustrating the enormity of the issue. In fact, Google’s recent and unpopular profile integration with YouTube was, according to them, an effort to clean up the abuse on the notoriously venomous video sharing website (although to everyone else it was a thinly veiled attempt to get everyone on Google+). Similarly, the Huffington Post has stopped accepting anonymous accounts in a bid to do something about what they call “online toxicity.”
And it doesn’t stop there. In September, Popular Science decided to shut off their comment system all together, sighting ”vexing commenters” as the predominant cause. For the self-same reason, Charlie Brooker took to his Guardian column in July to announce a break from writing. “I’ve recently been overwhelmed by the sheer amount of jabber in the world,” he writes, “Reader comments form part of the overall wordstorm… and it’s true I’m not a huge fan of them.” In the article, he seems genuinely world-weary and it’s a sad thing. If vexing commenters can break Brooker, how the hell are the rest of us supposed to cope?
Although mankind has relocated to the internet, writing for the web still lacks the romance and respect associated with print media. It’s this kind of attitude that makes people wrinkle their nose at parties when I tell them what I do for a living. “I’m a writer,” I say. “Who do you write for?” they ask, hoping for a national or a magazine they know. “Um…the internet?” Queue the stony silence that means “we’re all writers on the internet love.”
Maybe that’s why some readers are so unflinchingly critical? Despite our increasingly virtual lives, we still value the tangible. We’re still more impressed by a published book with pages and a spine than a Kindle edition because the internet isn’t real, it’s just an ephemeral clusterfuck of information lingering somewhere between today and tomorrow. If we can’t see the direct impact of our actions, the impact doesn’t exist.
However, the measures taken by the Huffington Post and Popular Science signal a cultural shift and the heady days of unaccountability are numbered. People are realizing that it’s not okay to vilify and publicly shame a stranger just because you can (although, as Caitlin Moran found out in August, if you’re going to start a campaign against online abuse, make sure your own digital footprint is clean first).
Luckily, although publishing this article fills me with aquatic metaphors and dread, I’m no way near as traffic-baity as Charlie Brooker and I can cradle my adolescent ego in the relative safety of the blog post abyss. Oh, the bitter sweet protection of obscurity.
Originally published by the Huffington Post.
With people reading blog posts more than they read traditional media, online content marketing has become a highly valuable industry that’s worth in excess of £4bn in the UK alone. This means that writers, particularly those capable of spinning gold out of a sales pitch, are finding an abundance of work online.
Naturally, this has created significant opportunities in the graduate employment market for those with digital skills. And yet, a recent report from Facebook exposed a digital skills gap amongst UK graduates; with many not possessing the necessary experience or training required for a career online. “It’s really not easy,” said Simon Milner, Head of Policy at Facebook, “We don’t tend to find a lot of British young people who are ready to come and work.” It’s a convoluted dilemma. The jobs exist and the graduates are certainly willing and capable, it’s just a case of experience.
When Fountain Partnership, a local internet marketing company, recognised this dilemma, they alerted the University of East Anglia to a commercial opportunity. The company needed to outsource some copywriting and felt compelled to offer the work to students – they just didn’t have the means to do so.
Fountain’s initial interest represented a wider employability opportunity. If UEA could create a pool of talented student writers and offer their skills to online businesses, they could plug the digital skills gap by giving students professional references, portfolio material and hands-on paid commercial experience.
Based on this understanding, a pilot scheme was quickly created.The University Writers Service, as it became known, was designed to hire 7 students as copywriters for Fountain, who would train and mentor them in the ways of the web. If this was successful, there existed the potential for expansion in the New Year.
In the first week of the new semester, UEA held an introductory workshop to gauge student interest. It was a sell-out, with over 160 students signing up. The initial talk was led by Fountain’s co-founder, Marcus Hemsley, and explored the basics of search engine optimisation (SEO) - teaching students how to optimise their online presence and how to develop their writing and research skills for the web.
After the event, students could apply to become writers for the service by submitting a short article on a chosen subject. Almost 50 students applied for the job and seven were chosen to take part in the pilot. Since then, it’s been a huge success, with one student writer saying, “I already feel like I’ve learnt a great deal. Writing concisely and to a specified brief -and especially writing for the web- is completely different to anything I’ve studied within my degree. It’s really nice to see potential uses for my interest in writing in the future.”
Looking to the future, the University Writers Service has two long term goals: to provide applied digital skills training to a large number of students and to create a national client portfolio of agencies, publishers and businesses that want copywriting services from an employability scheme. The service hopes to double its database of writers by the New Year and to offer its services to a host of new clients. Should this be successful, it will become the country’s first self-sufficient, university-based writers’ service that not only produces great content for the web, but significantly improves graduate job applications.
For the latest updates, follow the University Writers Service at @uni_freelance
Originally published by the Writers’ Centre.
This year, a number of actors with disabilities enjoyed success in high profile television roles. From Emmy Award Winning Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones to RJ Mitte as Walt Junior in Breaking Bad, both television programs have been commercially successful and have turned Dinklage and Mitte into red carpet regulars.
And yet historically, able-bodied actors have been cast as disabled characters and are often praised for their “realistic” portrayal. Leonardo Dicaprio famously played an intellectually disabled character in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and said of the experience “I had to really research to get into the mind of somebody like that.” Able-bodied Sam Worthington played paralyzed marine Jake Sully in Avatar and Patrick Stewart has been paraplegic Professor X since the X-Men franchise began in 2000. Whilst suitable roles exist for actors with disabilities, it’s extremely difficult to get cast because big names equal box office success.
However, television has often trumped cinema in terms of its progressive attitude. Who can forget Star Trek breaking from the prejudice of cultural tradition and screening the world’s first interracial kiss in 1968 (an episode that was pulled from the British BBC until 1994)? Consider, too, The Cosby Show and Oprah – both immensely popular TV shows that have been widely credited with improving race relations in America.
The Cosby Show helped many sitcoms with lead black characters get air time, namely The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (which launched Will Smith’s career). Whilst empowering black females the country over, Oprah has also been dedicated to high impact media visibility for the LGBT community, a dedication that has normalized alternative sexualities on television and popularized shows like The Ellen De Generes Show and Will and Grace.
And yet, a 2011 report on television minority representation revealed that credited characters with disabilities represented less than 1 percent of all scripted, regular characters. Furthermore, a vast majority of characters with disabilities were played by white able-bodied males - highlighting major gender and race disparities in the representation of people with disabilities in the media. For example, Hugh Laurie (House) and Kevin McHale (Glee) both play white male characters with mobility issues. Both actors are able-bodied.
However, as Christine Bruno points out, there is no substitute for the lived experience of a real disability. Bruno is co-chair of the Tri-Union Inclusion in the Arts & Media of People With Disabilities (I AM PWD) and goes onto say, “It is not a technical skill that can be easily turned on and off. Disabled actors bring with them a lifetime of unique experiences that allow them to present authentic, nuanced portrayals that add not only to the rich, diverse fabric of our country, but create a greater understanding about the society in which we live.”
Whilst disability on television is still dominated by white male roles, increasingly the actors playing them have disabilities themselves. The Michael J. Fox Show began airing in September. Depicting Fox’s real life battle with Parkinson’s disease (and featuring RJ Mitte’s on screen aunt, purple-loving Betsy Brandt), the sitcom is about a retired anchorman who’s returning to work. Fox, whose four children have only ever known him with Parkinson’s, told the Guardian, “If you asked my kids to describe me, they’d go through a whole list of words before even thinking about Parkinson’s. And honestly, I don’t think about it that much either. I talk about it because it’s there, but it’s not my totality.”
Then there’s the aforementioned RJ Mitte, who suffers from cerebral palsy and has recently been named by The Screen Actors Guild as a spokesman for actors with disabilities. “Playing Walt Junior has been an eye-opener to what I’ve managed to become,” he says, “Until I got the role, I never thought what I went through was something odd… I just thought that putting on [leg] braces was one more thing that I had to do to get ready for the day.”
RJ now regularly campaigns for the inclusion of disabled actors in television and is currently filming two movies, due for release next year. “My disability made me who I am today. Hollywood shouldn’t be afraid of actors like me. Diversity can only make the stories better.”
However, what about female actors with disabilities? Whilst representation is still nominal, there has been some positive traction. Just the other week, a hugely popular contestant on the X Factorrevealed that she is blind in one eye and has limited use of her hands due to a medical condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. Thanks to her great attitude, Rion Paige has become somewhat of a spokesperson for disability rights.“You have to be accepting of yourself,” she said, “Which is a difficult thing, especially when you’re 13 and a girl.”
Moreover, Lauren Potter, who plays Becky in Glee, was recently hand picked by President Obama to join the ranks of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. “We all can do whatever we put out minds to,” she told Glamour Magazine, “And I hope to show people that we’re all different in our own way. But that’s okay. After all, I always say that different isn’t bad—it’s just different.”
Whilst there’s still a long way to go, hopefully this signals a shift in minority casting and one day, we will witness a more gender and race representative Hollywood that truly reflects the society it seeks to portray.
A version of this was originally published by the Mobility Resource.
By Emily Buchanan.
I’ve started working on a new pilot scheme at UEA based in my old school (Literature, Drama and Creative Writing). I’m still working at Further, albeit part time, and my week is now cut into slices of agency and university life. It’s challenging but I’m managing to keep my head screwed on.
As project coordinator, it’s my job to establish the processes, feasibility and future of the University Writers Service. This means funding applications and succession planning and profit forecasting and market research and quantifying everything within an inch of its life. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before and I’m relishing the opportunity to dust off my unloved left lobe.
The University Writers Service recruits UEA students from every school of study as writers. With training and guidance, students are paid to write commercial content for the web - a platform that is positively teething with opportunities, if only students knew how to harness its potential. We’re aiming to establish a regional and national client portfolio made up of agencies, publishers and businesses that want to support an employability scheme.
In this difficult graduate market, I think businesses are starting to recognise their social responsibility to young people. The University Writers Service plans to leverage this social conciousness and in doing so, give students the opportunity to build their portfolio before they’ve even graduated. Plus, any money the service makes will go straight back into the school - an aspect I find particularly gratifying.
We launched just over two weeks ago and had 160 students sign up for the introductory workshop in under a week (Freshers Week at that!). The fact that we’ll pay our writers is a massive incentive, but we’re also offering SEO training and digital careers advice. I’m hoping that in the near future, the service will become the country’s first self-sufficient, university-based writer’s service that not only produces highly polished content for the web, but significantly improves the success rates of graduate job applications.
Have a look at the coverage on paper or check it out the article online.
By Emily Buchanan.
It’s time to spice it up, get adventurous, experimental, kinky. It’s time to bring out the big box of sexual Kleenex and push your comfort zone to the absolute limit in order to achieve a multiple-tantric-g-spot orgasm that lasts for six days and makes you feel like a glowing golden goddess of the night.
On top of this, you need to be hairless from the neck down, thin, tanned, body confident, in possession of a menagerie of dildos stored tidily in a gilded case, perma-horny and most importantly, great in bed. Forget work commitments, the kids and every other responsibility that comes with adulthood, your wild sex life is the top priority and you simply cannot be happy without one - or so the heteronormative mass media would have you believe.
And yet this concupiscent everywoman and her well-thumbed collection of BDSM literotica intimidates me. I mean, do I really have to endure an Ann Summers party with my gal pals and put a vibrator on the end of my nose to prove that I’m a liberated, modern woman? Do I really have to explore the backdoor with the blind abandon of a naked mole rat to show how comfortable I am with my beau? Why should I stomach these exotic flavours when in my heart (or loins, to be more accurate) I long for the sweet straightforwardness of vanilla?
Sure, the very word vanilla suggests something that’s bland, unadventurous and neutral. No one wants to identify themselves within these innocuous limitations because it hints at a failing on their part to be spontaneous, sexy and free. Modern women don’t want vanilla sex. They want Rihanna’s NSFW whips and chains. They want to be like whatshernamefrom Sex and the City. They want Mr Grey in the Red Room with the spank paddle. They don’t want to consign themselves to a lifetime of sexual mundanity, wedded to a memory foam mattress in the marital bedroom with the lights switched off and a lukewarm cup of peppermint tea sloshing about on the bedside table. That’s olden days - belonging to a time before you could buy a cock ring in Sainsbury’s.
But I want to reclaim vanilla sex, if I may. To remind and reassure you that it’s a lovely way to spend the afternoon and truly nothing to be ashamed of. Enjoying it doesn’t make you any less of a woman or indeed, a man, and you don’t have to master the Kama Sutra to be a memorable lover. Vanilla is intimate, stripped of the theatrics of a casual affair and unsullied by the relentless wurr of a rubber rabbit. I’m not saying that I want vanilla every day - who does?
Sometimes I’m up for mango or tabasco or even mint choc chip. But after a long day of life, when I need to abandon cognizance and experience an authentic carnal connection, vanilla is my flavour of choice. And guess what my friends? That’s okay.
I started university when I was far too young. Fresh out of sixth form and with only a couple of months cushioning my transition between A-levels and degree, I chose to study literature because it was a subject I was very comfortable with. I didn’t want an intellectual challenge or to learn anything new, I just wanted to move away from home. It was a natural traction in the grand old game of growing up.
Unfortunately, this meant that in the September of 2008, I began studying for a degree that I didn’t really care about. I liked reading well enough but my choice was perfunctory and when I met people that were passionate about their subject, I dismissed them as strange.
As one learns with a little bit of life experience, these bookish types were infinitely more interesting than anyone I would meet on the dance floor. They knew who they were. They were not afraid to be eccentric and this intimidated me. Instead of interacting with them, it seemed much safer to follow the VK-swilling student body into yet another shit club. After all, why would I want to spend my evenings in a cramped dorm room watching Withnail & I and talking about literature when that’s what lectures were for? And so I followed them and clumsily tried to piece together some semblance of self.
Once out the other side of higher education, I blinked at the cold light of day like an mentally unstable bambi and adjusted to my new reality – a humanities graduate with no idea what to do next – the employment market was saturated with lost children like me. I drifted from job to job. Coffee shop to café. Green grocers to bar. Disenchanted.
I felt like I’d been short changed of the career that I was entitled to. I’d paid my many thousands of pounds and I had a perfectly satisfactory degree. I’d been in education for seventeen years straight – where was my just dessert? What more did these people want?
But with no real comprehension of which dessert I actually desired, I was subjected to eighteen months of directionless depression that was punctuated by the shallow cries of those asking me what I was going to be. Why, after so much education, do I still not have an answer to that question?
Throughout formal education, not enough attention is given to personal development. Educators are obsessed with results, statistics, Ofsted reports, UCAS points, Oxbridge – it’s easy to forget that beneath the qualification certificates are young human beings that don’t have a clue. And yet when you leave school (particularly grammar school, as was the case) there’s this enormous pressure to make up your mind. To be a success. To put a finger on the map and say “Yes, that’s it, that’s who I am, off I go to pursue that identity with blind conviction.” But this is not the case - particularly when no one has shown the slightest bit of interest in the development of your identity before.
This realization makes me rather sad now. Age brings with it a willingness to learn, an appetite for otherness and the ability to make peace with who you are. Given the chance, I’d love to go back to university and study something meaningful, something that needs more than 6 hours of contact time a week. I’d relish the opportunity to be surrounded by knowledge and the sparkling eyes of those who are eager and passionate about the Arts. When I was immersed in that life; I never once took the time to appreciate what a wonderful position it was. Instead, I slept until 3pm, never finished my reading list and pissed my minuscule student loan up the wall.
Hindsight is the cruellest of mistresses and whilst life did eventually lend me an identity that I’m getting comfortable with, I wish I’d given myself the time to reach that conclusion a little less self-destructively.
There’s a strange disparity in British classrooms at the moment. Whilst self-identifying outdoor educators are unplugging their pupils by taking their class outside, technical types are doing the exact opposite - immersing themselves and their students in the complete technological gamut.
And yet, in an age when ecological technology is promoting the sustainable management of resources, I don’t think this division should exist – particularly in the classroom. In fact, I think that if we unite outdoor education and technology, a unique educative opportunity will emerge, one that will equip pupils with the technical tools to manage the burgeoning environmental task ahead.
As a holistic (arguably zeitgeisty) movement influenced by environmentalism, outdoor education is a concept I can get behind. It regenerates a child’s relationship with nature; it engages their imagination, puts them in direct contact with authentic experience and teaches them the importance of conservation. What’s not to like? With outdoor play becoming increasingly endangered, I understand why teachers want to liberate their lessons – well away from the wiles of the web.
At the other end of the disciplinary spectrum, digital technology is introducing a number of new tools for learning. From Google Education to iPads, Skype to Schoology , evidence links the use of technology to improvements in learning and exam results. With a variety of rich media resources available, including online video, data analysis tools and interactive software, pupils acquire skills and knowledge using an engaging, effective and current medium.
However, these two schools of thought are very rarely united and I think that, should this important symbiosis occur, teachers and pupils will benefit from an ideal platform for environmental education. Whilst practitioners are still few and far between, eco-innovation is achievable in the classroom. A great example of this unification in action is the work that’s being done at Hartsdown Technology College, a green flag eco school in Margate, Kent. Using iPads to record their findings and multimedia green screen technology to share their work in the classroom, Hartsdown students are studying the environment using the devices that shape their home lives and their consumption of the modern world.
“iPads are a fantastic educational tool, particularly outside the classroom,” says Hartsdown Principle Andy Somers, “Students and teachers can immediately review electronic data in the field - rather than waiting to get back to the classroom to download it to a static computer. It mobilises learning.”
“Of course,” Somers continues, “You need the right technology for the right lesson but in terms of its immediacy, the iPad has revolutionised the way we teach our students.” Ergo, Hartsdown use technology to heighten the outdoor experience, rather than treating it like a threat.
In theory, I think eco-technology education seems like the ideal. In practise though, there are a number of government-placed stumbling blocks in the way – the most significant being draft curriculum reforms and the removal of climate change education for Key Stages 1-3. View this alongside the gaping tech gaps in many a school and classroom and you’re left with very little room for educational innovation.
As an Academy, Hartsdown has the freedom of self-governance – hence its progressive attitude. However, state schools with a lack of resources might need to outsource theirs to outdoor education facilities. Offering an effective half-way house for schools all over the country, certain environmental courses provide students with digital cameras, state-of-the-art digital mapping tools and data analysis software. “The broadening of a child’s experience of the environment is our main concern,” says Matt Healey, Head of Education at one such organisation, “Whether this process is afforded by technological means or by a more traditional creative mechanism is of secondary concern. However, the increased affordances for action, behaviour change and learning can be increasedif mediated by technology.”
And that’s the root of it. Whatever your educational persuasion, technology should be viewed as an educational aid – not a hindrance. To me, ‘unplugging’ education seems a little retrogressive, a little intransigent. When faced with an uncertain environmental future, the only thing that we can be absolutely certain of is the enduring forward-march of technology. By exploiting the devices that have come to define a generation and turning them into instruments of pedagogy, there exists the opportunity to fully and sustainably engage students with the plight of the environment, in a way that effects change.
As we march towards an "irreversible change" on our planet, scientists are urgently searching for alternatives to our unsustainable consumption of natural resources. Whilst a cultural and political overhaul is needed before any of these alternatives are considered a social priority, they display a scientific willingness to change and to live in harmony with nature.
Yes, the technology for a number of the following ideas does not actually exist yet however, it’s important to bear in mind that only a few hundred years ago we believed that man would never fly.
The Smart Highways project by Studio Roosegaarde proposes five energy-efficient motorway concepts. Whilst some are still in development, others are being tested on a stretch of highway in the Brabant province of the Netherlands.
From a photo-luminescent powder that glows in the dark for up to 10 hours, to temperature-responsive paint that generates ice-crystal warning signs in hazardous conditions, Smart Highways have already been hailed as the ‘Best Future Concept’ at the Dutch Design Awards.
However, by far the most ambitiously environmental of all is Roosegaarde’s priority lane for electric cars. Although the technology is in its infancy, the lane will charge electric cars as they travel. The basic idea is that moving objects generate energy and this can be recycled and used to boost the vehicles battery. How that will work is another question.
Whilst insurers are promoting electric vehicles with lower premiums and government tax breaks are being used to incentivize a hybrid or electric car purchase, if (or when) this technology exists, the way we power cars may change irrevocably.
More solar energy strikes the Earth’s surface in one hour of each day than the energy used by all human activities in one year. Knowing that, scientists are working on an oil substitute made with ‘artificial leaf’ technology that could mimic the process of photosynthesis and so harness the energy of sunlight.
The artificial leaf (above) has a sunlight collector sandwiched between two films that generate oxygen and hydrogen gas. When dropped into a jar of water in the sunlight, it bubbles, releasing hydrogen that can be used in fuel cells to make electricity. On the other side of the leaf, a cobalt film generates oxygen gas. However, instead of producing organic material from carbon dioxide, scientists plan to manufacture a hydrocarbon ‘fuel’ which could be used instead of oil.
Considering that the 1.3 trillion barrels of known oil left in the world’s major fields are estimated to run out in 40 years, this is a hugely important step in the right direction.
Singapore is not known for its environmental credentials. In fact, it’s often in the media for the exact opposite - particularly this time of year when the city smog descends and Singapore looks more like 19th century London than a modern super power. Indeed, it’s been said if everyone in the world used as much energy as individual Singaporeans do, we’d need 3.5 planets worth of resources.
That being said, Singapore is actively trying decrease their carbon foot print and the interesting thing here is that Supertrees aren’t a concept or a research project, they’re real. Situated in the heavily built-up Marina Bay area of Singapore, 11 of the 18 trees are embedded with environmentally sustainable functions like photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy. Plus, over 162,900 plants comprising more than 200 species are planted on the “living skin” of the Supertrees and these are watered using a unique reservoir system that collects rainwater. The reservoir also collects enough rainfall to feed the parkland, the huge greenhouses and the surrounding water fountains - making the Supertrees self-sustainable and then some.
Check out a 360 degree view of the Supertrees here.
Cloning Endangered Species
In 2009 the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corp. (Embrapa) and the Brasilia Zoological Garden began scavenging and freezing blood, sperm and umbilical cord cells from road kill. In the years since, the two institutions have collected at least 420 tissue samples of some of the world’s rarest birds and mammals.
The stumbling block here is that cloning techniques have an average success rate of less than 5 percent in domestic animals and less than 1 percent in wild. However, the organizations hope that the DNA in these specimens will improve breeding and cloning as a whole. After all, Dolly the sheep was only born in 1996, meaning the technology is still relatively new.
The ambition is for scientists to be able to save endangered or soon-to-be extinct species by cloning them. There are many ethical issues to consider here but then again, this research could potentially save the polar bear.