On Smartphones and Thinkpieces

And thinkpieces on smartphones.

Over the last week, I’ve read two excellent articles on smartphones: this essay on the sociology of smartphones by Alexander Koerner; and this article on the creation of the iPhone by Lev Grossman. (The latter is a book review, but still worth reading if you’re curious about tech in the modern era.)

The iPhone turns 10 this year, which means that at some point there is going to be a deluge of thinkpieces and op-eds and maybe a “Build a Phone and We’ll Guess What Year You Were Born In” article on Buzzfeed. (I’m usually never on top of the trends, so it’s nice to be ahead on this one.)

The iPhone was born in 2007. I got my first phone the following year. It looked something like this:

Definitely not an iPhone: a silver, chunky Nokia phone with a dark outline on a dark brown wooden background.

I was only to use it for two things: texting my parents that I’d reached school, and calling my parents in emergencies. That Christmas, I chose five friends to text holiday messages to. Emojis were forbidden (they cost extra) and the internet was a big no-no. Snakes was fun though.

Looking back, the whole practice is so archaic, especially if you consider what I do on my phone just in my first hour of waking: turn off my alarm, practice Duolingo and Elevate brain training, check my emails, check my social media and listen to music. (I sometimes work out to the music. Sometimes.) Even these few actions, which span at least ten different apps, show how rapidly our technology has moved, and the vast changes to both our attitudes and behaviours it has forced.

Now, this is by no means an empirical study: I’m what they call a Young Millenial, a Digital Native, but I’ve also been at least two years behind cutting-edge of commercially available technology, because, well, I’m a Young Millenial. We’re poor, bro. My current phone, despite updating its OS twice, now struggles if I have too many apps open, refuses to use the torchlight under any circumstances, and half of the screen flashes a hideous green if I turn the brightness down to minimum. It’s been in my life for two years, and when I got it, the technology was already two years out of date. That’s like receiving bruised brown bananas and watching them slowly grow mould as you fight to make smoothies with them.

Despite all of this, I’ve grown quite attached to my phone — it does what I ask it to most of the time, and I’ve become used to deleting photos to make room for app updates. It’s a special kind of love, really, because this is only my second smartphone, and I wouldn’t have been able to do nearly half the things I now do on a daily basis even five years ago. Example: Whilst my peers were busy downloading Facebook onto their phones back in 2010, I was busy trying to figure out which two songs I wanted on my Samsung c6112 (I eventually settled on Owl City’s Fireflies, which is making a welcome memeified comeback, and Justin Bieber’s Baby, to my eternal shame).

My Samsung c6112 slider phone, which held a grand total of 2 songs and 6 photos.

Back then, I’d still have to ask for directions. Back then, I’d stand by the radio to record my favourite song, or beg friends to Bluetooth me their better, probably illegal version. Back then, if I wanted to use the internet, I’d have to wait until lunchtime to see what everyone else had been doing on Facebook the night before.

It really astounds me how much life has changed in the last decade. I remember being outraged by toddlers having their own mobile phones (I got my Nokia brick when I was 13); now I have to deal with my five-year-old students having YouTube channels and Minecraft accounts, admiring vloggers and gamers with the same sort of enthusiasm that I held for Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels. (Which, by the way, is an absolute romp through the traditional white male world of spies, and I thoroughly recommend it.)

Which brings me to the thinkpieces. I think I understand it, this very real need to write and create about everything we know and witness, because so much of human history has been lost to time and we now have the ability to record almost everything. It’s very much a development that has sat alongside and been accelerated by our ability to create and disseminate articles, opinions, videos and other media at an exponential rate.

I wonder where we’ll be in a decade’s time.

Divya is a writer, poet, singer and trainee teacher from Leicester, UK. She’s currently trying to figure out what she’s doing with her life, and once she has, she’ll let you know.

Follow her on Instagram for poetry and singing; and follow her on Twitter for… well, everything else.

Deep Work vs Teaching

A curly-haired teacher smiles at the paintwork of the four young students that surround her. The photo is full of bright colours and is in a classroom.

There’s a lot of evidence coming out at the moment telling us that in fact, less is more when it comes to work. This article from the BBC reports that working with minimal interruptions is the best way to accomplish what you set out to do; it is also crucial to give yourself “unfocus” time, when you should be idle. This is when your best ideas occur.

Somewhere between the Industrial Revolution and the Protestant work ethic, we have reached a point in which people are dying from working too hard. (The Japanese even have a word for it: karoshi – and they’re now developing a way to deal with this crisis.) Freelancing and a fragile, ever-inflating economy means that my generation is having to work 10 times as hard for a pittance. Working 80-hour weeks, sometimes on many jobs, is an incredible strain on any person’s physical, mental and emotional resources. It’s not sustainable, but there’s not much else that can be done if you’re trapped in the system. Work yourself into an early grave, or die now. Not much of a choice at all, if you ask me.

I must confess at this point that I’m not currently teaching. After my last attempt, I was utterly broken and I’ve spent the last few months recovering and mending. The idea of teaching now both excites me and fills me with absolute dread. I love working with children and young people — it’s certainly one of the best things you can do with your life if you want to make a difference — but teaching in its current state is dire.

At my best, I was working 60 hour weeks. At my worst, 80 hours. I was being paid for just over 30. Now I’m not really a grouch; I’ll happily go above and beyond for my students, because their learning and wellbeing is paramount for me. However, “above and beyond” remains a requirement of the teaching profession precisely because of the shortcomings in both recources and the antiquated framework of education in which we are expected to function. There is no room, no space to “unfocus”.

This means that the teaching profession attracts optimistic people who are not good at protecting their time. The teaching profession is full of people who take their work home with them, to bed even, in the hope of simply staying afloat once they’re back in the classroom. Ask any teacher: it’s a never-ending, all-consuming game of catch-up that doesn’t have time for petty things like sleep, food, or a social life.

This is all in direct contradiction to what research is telling us is both the best way to work and to learn.

More importantly, it’s in direct contradiction with what we teach students when they move towards independent learning. How are they supposed to do “deep work” — short, focused bursts of work — when their idea of learning and studying relates to sitting down and working from 8–3? This system might have worked for an industrial society. However, we now live in a digital one, and depriving children of an educational system that adequately prepares them for adult life is akin to purposefully dequipping an entire generation of young people for adult life.

“Deep work”, at its best, requires maybe 3 hours of work a day. Why don’t we start teaching our children how to work smartly, rather than adhere to the outdated notion that we must be busy?

Why don’t we teach our children that time is precious? (Why don’t we teach them less and let them play more? So many common sense decisions, all of them made the wrong way.)

In my experience, the current system pushes the burden of every child’s social, emotional and academic growth onto the teacher. We now have a teaching shortage in an age of austerity: the government is unable (read: unwilling) to provide the resources, time, and training that would lead us towards cutting-edge education. In teaching, we are not able to do “deep work” — there isn’t the time. We are, as a profession, entirely driven by numbers: meet targets, or your budget will be affected. We shepherd children into “achieving” grades when they’re unable to hold a pencil, when we should be fostering their natural curiosity and developing their emotional intelligence.

Teachers bear the brunt of children’s learning without the support to say, “I don’t know how to do this” or “I need to get X child a diagnosis from CAHMS” or “My class is falling behind and I don’t know how to get them up to speed”. Hell, I couldn’t even justify having loo breaks!

As teachers, we are forced to compromise what’s best for the students in favour of what looks best for the school. Better grades will trump curiosity every time. We don’t get to teach children that actually, the way they speak is fine, that grammar is an imperialist construct, that yes, you should learn it, but also learn how to code-switch ’cause there’s nowt wrong with the way you talk.

Deep work requires time, support and no interruptions — three things that you’d be hard pressed to find in many struggling schools. Maybe if the government were more invested in children and young people themselves as opposed to the budget concerns attached to them, we’d see progress.

Until then, teachers are going to continue working ourselves to the bone, trying to provide an education for our students that our government is entirely disinterested in.

Divya is a writer, poet, singer and trainee teacher from Leicester, UK. She’s currently trying to figure out what she’s doing with her life, and once she has, she’ll let you know.

Follow her on Instagram for poetry and singing; and follow her on Twitter for… well, everything else.

Pain Sells

I wrote an article at the beginning of the week about a shitty experience I had recently. I eagerly opened up my weekly email summarising my stats and found that this has been my most read article to date:

(The previous record was held by this article – 18 views and 12 reads, FYI.)

36 reads is minuscule, I know. It’s early days yet.

A lot of you will be wondering why the fuck I’m complaining about this. Success or failure, there’s no pleasing me!

I’m not complaining. Really, I’m not. I’m thrilled that people are taking the time to read my articles, and I’m chuffed to bits that the number of reads is, overall, rising. (It gives me hope for my future career, whatever that will be.)

I just want to make an observation: in this world, pain sells. In a world dominated by Western social and economic ideology, pain sells. It’s literary capital.

Have you ever read a good story about someone being happy? A book about happiness? Roxane Gay, in her collection of essays Bad Feminist, discusses and explores the ease with which we, as a society, require pain in order to create a compelling story.

Even a quick glance at the news will confirm this. The majority of all reporting is of some tragedy or another, some terrible crime or a natural disaster. It sets a tone of pessimism and apathy, which leads to fewer civic contributions on the part of the working-class majority. (See: readers and watchers of the Daily Mail and Fox News respectively voting for Brexit and Trump, neither of which are even remotely going to serve their long term interests.)

I’m not saying we should stop reporting on bad news. I’m saying we should stop making it our only focus. Allowing pain to be the dominating factor in your reporting (and therefore the main thing that makes you money) further inspires fear, anger and outrage.

And that’s not way to live.

Divya is a writer, poet, singer and trainee teacher from Leicester, UK. She’s currently trying to figure out what she’s doing with her life, and once she has, she’ll let you know.

Follow her on Instagram for poetry and singing; and follow her on Twitter for… well, everything else.

To the Gay White Man who groped me

TW: (sexual) assault

Hey. You probably won’t remember me, or what happened last week. Let me refresh your memory:

I was lining up at the club’s cloakroom with my friends, hyped up for a really good night out. The tunes were rumbling through my organs and I was pumped to be out for the first time in months. 

You were in the queue in front of me. After handing your coat over to a member of staff, you slung your arm around me and slurred into my ear, “got any gay mates I can fuck?”

Now, me being more than slightly drunk, I actually consider your request and mentally skim through as many gay friends I can think of, discounting all the lesbians and the brown folk and the ones who weren’t actually there with me. I was left with one friend (let’s call him Jamie) and he’d made it perfectly clear that he was not looking to get any that night.

So after a two second pause, I turn to you and shake my head. “Nah, sorry mate.”

And I thought that was the end of it. You clearly did not.

You managed to acquire three bottles of blue WKD somewhere between the top floor and the middle one, which you spilled on almost the whole gang as you offered them around.

(Don’t take bottles of drink from strangers, kids. Just trust me on this one.)

Then you forced your way into the middle of the circle and started flailing pretty violently. It would’ve been funny if it wasn’t so annoying.

But that’s all it was: annoying. Until you grabbed me by the pussy.

This is a PSA to all the men out there: my body does not exist for you to dominate or prove your worth. You have no right to put your hands on my body. 

I get it, I do. Even though you’re not interested in me, you have to assert your dominance over me to prove your masculinity in a world in which desiring gay men makes you feminine. 

But that’s just the thing. That pussy grab? It was a power grab, and it scared the shit out of me. It ruined my night and fucked me up for a good week.

(Just a week? You ask. It can’t have been that bad.)

(I don’t have the luxury to wallow for longer than that. My life must go on.)

This is a PSA to all the men out there: my body does not exist for you to dominate or prove your worth. You have no right to put your hands on my body. 

But that’s exactly what you did. You put your disgusting, sticky hands on parts of me that even my boyfriend isn’t allowed to touch in public, and you were too strong for me to pull away. 

I deserve a better night out than that. Everyone does. So please, this brown girl is asking you to keep your hands to yourself. And maybe download Grindr or something instead. 

Divya is a writer, poet, singer and trainee teacher from Leicester, UK. She’s currently trying to figure out what she’s doing with her life, and once she has, she’ll let you know.

Follow her on Instagram for poetry and singing; and follow her on Twitter for… well, everything else.

The Politics of Doom and Gloom

BBC News is on in the background while I try to figure out what colour I should use for my bujo habit tracker. I hear someone mention that Jezza Corbyn is all “doom and gloom” because he is constantly going on about poverty.

I feel compelled to write this article, at ridiculous o’clock at night, because I call bullshit.

Partly because all I’ve heard recently about Labour is that they are a shambles, and that sounds a lot like a concerted effort by the news establishment to maintain a Tory government (yes, it’s all very confusing, but remember when the brothers Miliband were vying for party leadership?), and partly because we need to destroy this idea that politics needs to be cheerful and appeal to the masses.

If the potential ability to make life-changing decisions for and about yourself and millions of others isn’t something that appeals to you… I don’t have an appropriate end to that sentence. Education and pop culture have much to do if we are going to raise a politically literate generation.

I say that because I remember being at school not long ago and being horrified at my friends’ inability to name our Prime Minister. We were only three years away from being able to vote. Fifteen. That just goes to show the extent to which our society, deliberately or not, hinders the civic participation that is suddenly expected of adults at 18.

Anyway. Back to my main point: politics need not be cheerful. It rarely is (although we are treated to little moments of fun). But posturing as though it should be is also bullshit, and let me illustrate why.

Politics is not fun. It’s intriguing, and it’ll keep you on your toes (surprise general election, anyone?) but it’s not fun, and it shouldn’t be. You are literally dealing with other people’s lives.

But there is also a long history of the politics of doom and gloom — an appeal to the bottom line of misery and the peddling of apocalyptic levels of crises at every turn. (The bog roll that postures as the Daily Mail is particularly guilty of this.)

Remember that time when our beloved Theresa May, acting as Home Secretary, sent vans around London telling immigrants to bugger off? As we all know, immigrants are a scourge on the nation, who deplete our hard-earned tax money and give back nothing in return. Why should they stay? Never mind the lobster-faced Brits who’ve made camp on the east coast of Spain, it’s those bloody Romanians we should be watching out for. /sarcasm.

Oh, and what about the Prevent scheme? That absolute gem that doesn’t work and hasn’t since its inception? The one that’s used to stoke fear about the Mozlamics and #creepingshakira even though it’s the white far right we should be worrying about? There’s a literal Nazi resurgance happening under our own noses and the political class is too occupied with ways to screw over the brown people and the women and the poor.

Speaking of the poor — and finally reaching my conclusion — Jezza is finally doing it right, and not talking about poor people, but talking to poor people. And for such a supposedly developed nation, we are fucking poor. We are should-I-pay-the-bill-or-should-I-eat poor. We are my-kid-skips-school-because-we-can’t-afford-tampons poor.

We’re poor.

Theresa May’s record shows she couldn’t give two shits about us.

The Lib Dems are too busy trying to win back our trust (nice try, Farron, ya slimy homophobic prick).

UKIP… I don’t even know if UKIP knows what UKIP is doing, especially after this week’s council election.

Labour are the only ones who actually seem to give a shit. Jezza’s party may seem to be in disarray, but he’s the only one who actually speaks with us, who listens and whose actions back up his words.

Talking about poverty is only doom-and-gloom if you’re looking at poverty from the outside in. It’s just life, the way that most of us are living it. Stop stigmatising poverty, and work on eradicating it.

This article was first published on Medium; for the links to external sites, please access my original article here.