Click for identity
Knowing who you are in times of rapid change can be a tricky beast. If, like me, you are someone who naturally avoids conflict, then you probably balk at taking firm stances on things... in public. Now, I know there will be people reading this saying 'hang on... i've often heard you being quite strident in your point of view and happily bang on about x,y and z'. Well, you are in the group that I feel comfortable expressing myself with- congratulations, I think. But for most of my life I have been the sort of person that has a pretty solid, left-of-centre moral compass and always tried to live my life by it quietly, without causing any waves or entering into any discussion. Recently, that has become increasingly difficult with the further evolution of the information age, referenda* and upsurge of populism world-wide. So this Blog will be interspersed with posts exploring what that means for ageing genXers.
Before I go any further, dear reader, I must lay out a few points of order. A lot of this will be a bit UK-centric(ish) and, more specifically, lowland(ish) Scotland-centric. That's a lot of 'ah but yes maybe' and inferred wriggle-room use of 'ish' right off the bat but, as my first point coming up will show, it's been necessary for me when I am trying to define myself. I hope a lot of what I am talking about in this will be universal enough, no matter where in the world you are reading this, but keep my world position in mind. For further context, I would define myself as Anglo-Irish, am past the age of 40, white, have a penis and happily give my pronouns as He/They. I'm a humanist, can't abide religion in politics, and generally don't give a flying fuck how you conduct your life as long as you are not harming others. If you need any further context, feel free to ask. Oh, and I typed 'Gen X' with very, gritted teeth.
To those 'ish' statements - I have always had an intolerance of sweeping generalisations and will attempt to avoid making them myself, but it is hard when the world revolves around them. As humans, we are generally prone to grouping things in an effort to understand and control our environment which, in turn, has always made us prone to being swayed by advertising, pitchfork wielding crowds and smiling psycopaths. To make assertions from a "UK point of view" is flawed here, as there is a difference between the nations of the kingdom in outlook and approach. Scotland has always promoted itself as being more socially democratic in outlook than England, but there are plenty of studies that show that difference is lessening in recent decades. It is true, however, when I attended a convention (in the north of England) in the run-up to the Brexit vote, that I was quite 'surprised' at the rhetoric many of the wider online community, gathered awkwardly in person, displayed in conversation. There is also the difference between talking with an essentially lowland voice from the edge of the Highlands compared with a Highlands or Islands voice. This is an important distinction- Scotland isn't one with its voice, despite the constant re-election of the Scottish National Party, election after election. The island that makes up the (dis)United Kingdom is a very messy affair, and you can find areas in Scotland that are Conservative with a small 'c' - usually where there is money or landowners (Aberdeenshire and Perth & Kinross, two that immediately spring to mind).
The tension between media generalisations of population opinions/intentions versus how people think on a regional level is a mind-boggling morass. It's undoubtedly amplified by Social Media where anyone with half a grasp of SEO and a web-domain (looks at self) can pick and choose assertions to tie to carefully mined 'facts' to create a heady concoction that can find an audience at any time. At a minor level, this can entail Social Media influencers promoting a certain product, game or service that on the face of it appears harmless enough. But these promotions hook in an audience to a certain community and all the buzz-words and lifestyle associated with it. The modern phenomena of hyping a community around a new online game pushes the sales figures and allows the creation of a fervent fan base who can then be conveniently managed to overlook short-comings, pushing an 'Emperors New Clothes' development cycle as close to the pointing and laughing moment as is comfortable. This is not new, that's just advertising 101, but with the always on, direct to your brain-stem age in which we live even minor influencers are of consequence. And when we're willing to do it with our phones and computers, logging into Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Twitch and YouTube multiple times a day it has become a hyper inflated, soul-scouring beast. You don't have to look too hard to see the negative effect of harnessing the double-edged sword of social media has on Community Managers and community alike.
Minor influencers can have an impact (hello!) and the information age has also opened up a new, target-rich environment for populists, papping out concocted assertions with laser-guided accuracy to target audiences. When not swaying elections through bodies such as Cambridge Analytica they are employing client media in their run to government or from behind the desk of power, carpet bombing their audience with select statistics that some journalists parrot while slick social media campaigns work tirelessly to reinforce the thinking. It all becomes a bit human-centipede. Don't Google that- but it takes the whole "it's a huge shit sandwich, and we're all going to take a bite" analogy to a much more rancid level. Horribly, it's not an inaccurate description of how information churns through our societies, wreaking millions of merry havocs. I have certainly become a lot more circumspect about where I get my information from these days, and much less tolerant of the peddlers of conspiracy theories, who are often only in it to make money from their misguided beliefs.
Your identity is a valuable commodity as a consequence of our rampaging information age and it's not just as passwords and email addresses on the dark web that are prized. Like it or not, if you have a mobile phone, use the internet, walk down the street past digital billboards, use streaming services or consume news, your identity is akin to a cell, constantly under assault from viruses that latch on to cause a reaction and mutation. Take myself as a self-confessed left of centre voter who has been through two big UK referendums- Scottish Independence and Brexit. In calendar order, the Scottish Independence Referendum drew a 'no' vote from me after carefully looking over the arguments (I still have the printed reports from both sides). I believe my family history, rooted in conflict, has made me more sensitive to possible chaotic scenarios and desirous of compromise and cooperation. This has changed on the back of the outcome of the second huge referendum on Brexit (giving up membership of the European Union) where the UK voted to leave (i voted remain). Scotland voted by a majority to remain, as did Northern Ireland, but the consensus of Wales and England led to the leave result - England and Wales with a population of about 56 milion versus Scotland and Northern Ireland with a population of 5.6 miliion. That desire for cooperation and compromise, voted for in the Scottish Referendum was ground into the dirt by Brexit. The rise of Boris Johnson and the shambolic culture he created only served to take my concerns and crystallize them as a new-found desire for Scottish Independence. The current UK administration continue with their high-handed over-riding of anything Scotland tries to do differently, most recently gender-reform and recycling, whilst quietly copying what Scotland does well to great fanfare. Scotland has always been a tsting ground for policies by the UK government, most bitterly remembered in my generation with the Poll Tax (I still remember the picture of a friend from school bellowing, shouting and pointing at police from the front of a protest line).
I would consider myself fairly politically literate and have never missed a vote. I like to do my research and had many debates in the run-up to and after each of the referendum votes, but I was probably a little naïve as to how furiously I was being manipulated. Streaming on Twitch has given me some interesting insight behind the scenes of various communities and how the influencer game operates. Do you think you are a passive consumer of media or are you aware of how much your engaged or slack-jawed clicks feed the algorithms with ripples of consequence that swirl around the world? Ok, so I accept it's a bit of a stretch to suggest that vegan chocolate brownie recipe you clicked on is going to change a government somewhere, but I am now a lot more wary of where I throw my attention and data. Incidentally, that recipe I linked is by Natasha Eats Plants who has created recipes based on their very real need to deal with being diagnosed as a coeliac. They've not revealed themselves as some terrible right-wing bigot to turn their recipes to ash in my mouth yet, but don't at me if they want to become the next despotic ruler of Sealand with a desire to overthrow the illunminati or the like.
It is a fact I can share that I can look back on some unedifying episodes which I have been witness to whilst caught up in a cult of personality, driven by influencer culture. We are all trying to find our tribe and are looking for those people that will be there for us in times of stress and happiness; after all a shared memory is so much more powerful and perhaps validated by the participation of others. Creating these experiences and memories can be addictive for those being dragged along, as well as those twitching the puppet strings. It is just as easy for a perfectly reasonable person to lose self-awareness within the social media world and become a promoter or amplifier of an agenda, conciously or otherwise. Conspiracy theories, small and large, are expressions of a loss of control, fear, and the need to find others to help protect against unseen forces being blamed for their feeling of dislocation. There is undoubtedly an element of mental health associated with their appeal but loss of control and dislocation on the back of a global pandemic makes a fertile environment for influncer culture. Lots of lovely new targets for the algorithm! Clout chasing, piggybacking off trending conflicts or conspiracies on the likes of Twitter to promote their own content, is a reason why you should look at what's 'treending' and studiously ignore it! It's worth considering also that for a large number of people, the pandemic was their first exposure to the death of close friends and family. It certainly was for myself and my family. Such traumatic events when we were restricted in how we could socialise to share that burden, turned the internet into an easily accessible pick and mix of parasocial coping mechanisms.
(RIP Rhona, Neil and the gallus aunt Maureen who all passed during the pandemic but none from Covid. I wish we could have all gathered together more closely to ccelebrate your lives.)
I started to write this during the pre-amble for the #Scotland versus #Ireland Six Nations game (spoiler.. Ireland won.. yuss... and went on to beat England to win the Grand Slam). The match drew the jovial battle-lines between myself and my better half with Minime2 repeating my history, dancing the line between the country of their birth and country of their father's ancestry. With admirable honesty, they stated they would quite happily throw their weight behind whoever was winning- it's a valid survival technique that I often used myself in the more febrile atmosphere of the playground. Growing up in Scotland with a noticeably different accent quickly identified me to bullies and, though MiniMe2 hasn't had the same to contend with, I was amused to see how the mixed identity played out along the same lines, thirty years later. My mild quasi-Midland/Mercian accent has subsided to an odd, posh Edinburgh (apparently) which I decorate with Connelly-esque swearing and @Lenniesaurus informed Scots words. Minime2 instead fluctuates between East Coast Scotland and Internet English, an odd hybrid of the American/Irish/English Twitch/Tik Tok accounts they consume. I am pleased to confirm they relocated to the 'Ireland supporters' couch a few minutes into the second half. Smart. I need to ask them how aware they are of this duality but it doesn't seem to be as marked as when I was growing up and could, perhaps, be a consequence of the shrining of the world and a positive side effect of the information age.
It's more difficult than ever to understand who your tribe is at a personal level whilst slotting it semi-comfortably into a constantly shifting world-view, battered on all sides by hyper-media of varying accuracy. Conversely, the individual has never been more empowered to make mischief in the world, grabbing theories and viewpoints to push an agenda and gather a following. Traditionally, I am supposed to have grown more right wing as I have gotten older however I would say I have remained solidly left of centre but have grown much more suspicious of any one side that claims to have all the answers. If the rise of populism has proven anything to me, it is the beliefe that now, more than ever, following a single ideology in the governance of a people is anathema to progress and happiness.
Be kind. But mean it.
*Those blasted referedums:
Scottish Independence Referendum (2014) - Yes (44.7%) No (55.3%)
United Kingdom Membership Referendum (2016) Yes (48.11%) No (51.89%)