Are you living in the same place as in 2004/05?
No and yes. I’m not in the same place I was in 2004, but in June 2005 I moved from Ealing to south of the river – the non-Nappy Valley part of Clapham, to be imprecise – which is where I’ve remained ever since. Five floors up in my rather pokey, down-at-heel, draughty, noisy flat, housed in a block that probably looked rather imposing in its art deco heyday but is now falling to bits, and rather dependent on a 76-year old lift to get to the ground floor.
I’m also still renting rather than on the housing ladder (for reasons of family strife that are far too exasperating to detail here), which I find interesting considering that the vagaries of the UK property market used to be a favourite gripe of mine even in 2004/05. At my age I think it’s likely that I’m going to end up being a lifelong tenant – a fact I find ever more annoying.
Every now and then I do ponder moving, but various commitments keep me here right now. Oddly, despite living in London for the past 24 years on and off, after growing up in the same small rural town for the first 18 years of my life, I still don’t feel ‘at home’ here. It’s a place to live, rather than a city for which I retain any great affection.
Would we recognise you if we passed you in the street?
You mean apart from the prosthetic right leg, the jerking of the mechanical knee, the resultant walrus-like gait and the two crutches? Yes, yes you would. Apart, as I say, from those slight telltale signs. The only other possible difference you’d discern would depend on when, in my hair-growing cycle, you happened to pass me in the street – either at the “You appear to have left a shaggy dog on your head” stage or the “You’ve just been to the hairdresser and forgotten to tell him when to stop cutting, haven’t you?” period. Each of those extremes makes me look like a completely different person, I think. (I am kidding myself.)
What do you think is the best/most important new technology/online thingy to have appeared in recent years?
This answer depends on whether or not you want to read an extended critical reaction. If you don’t, then I’ll say smartphones, starting with the iPhone, because they really are the ultimate portable computer that we all imagined we’d be carrying around in the future, making calls while whizzing around on our jetpacks.
Still here? Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Like a number of the esteemed bloggers and former bloggers who have appeared here before me, I’d have to agree that social media has changed the entire experience of being online, as well as a fair amount of being offline too. Primarily Twitter, but also Facebook to a lesser degree. These days, however, I’m just not sure it’s changed things for the better.
Unsurprisingly, given my work and blogging background, I was an early adopter. At first, I was a complete fan of the medium. Not being great at face-to-face communication, I enjoyed social media as a way to put out quick thoughts (something I was never very good at with blogging) and to keep in touch with people. In my job, I took the site I was working on at the time onto various social networks before the dear old Broken Biscuit Company had even thought to write a ‘social media policy’. All of it felt so exciting and full of potential, just as the internet had done when I first went online in late 1997.
The problem is that I think we’ve gone overboard in our dependence on social media and, as a result, in our trust and belief about what it can do. In our friendships, for too many people Facebook and Twitter seem to have become the only way of keeping in touch. First, emails went out the window – honestly, when I get an email from a friend now it feels almost as quaint as receiving a handwritten letter – and in the past year or so I’ve noticed that the frequency of text messages appears to have lessened too. Both seem to have been supplanted by the @, the DM, the Facebook private message or the post on one’s wall. Maybe that’s just my experience, of course, but I do find it a great loss – because while it’s certainly possible to chat on social media, I don’t think you can replicate the experience of having a decent conversation. Ultimately, social media communication between close friends – and I’ve deliberately specified close friends rather than acquaintances, as that’s an important distinction to me – feels rather impersonal. I’m obviously showing every year of my near 42 years of age, aren’t I?
Meanwhile, in the wider world, the Arab Spring somehow convinced many of us that ‘clicktivism’ (I grimace whenever I type that awful term) via social media could change the world and bring down governments. People seemed to forget that while the seeds of the Egyptian uprising were planted thanks to the actions of a clued-up Google employee starting a group on Facebook, it wasn’t really the ‘social media revolution’. People still had to go out onto the streets in their tens of thousands to fight, chant, be shot at and in some cases killed in order to get the change they desired. But no, now we’ve got meaningless e-petitions and idiotic Twitter campaigns coming out of our ears. For me, the absolute nadir came a few months ago when I saw someone feebly trying to start a social media campaign with “Tweet @David_Cameron to demand a General Election NOW!!! PLEASE RT!” Great idea, I’d love an election now too. Except for the fact that the Coalition have written it into law that there won’t be one until 2015, and somehow I don’t think a bunch of people demanding one via Twitter is exactly going to terrify the government into acquiescence. After all, nearly 500,000 people petitioned Iain Duncan Smith – primarily thanks to posts spread on social media – to live on £53 a week, and he still hasn’t done so. Social media can definitely be a tool to assist with political and social change, but I don’t think it’s the be all and end all that so many people imagine – sorry to burst your bubble, campaigners.
Okay, I’ll stop now. In short, social media has changed everything – but too much. It’s time to remove the rose-tinted spectacles.
We all had a blog back then. Do you still have one, or are you mainly present somewhere else?
Well, one of the things that social media undoubtedly changed was blogging. I managed a paltry 7 posts apiece in 2011 and 2012, and most of them began with some kind of statement recognising my absence from the place. I do still have my blog, but it’s definitely a shadow of its former self – and I haven’t changed the design for over five years. WordPress keeps wanting me to do things with widgets in the sidebar, and I have to tell it – yes, out loud – that I don’t have any widgets in the bloody sidebar because it’s all templates that I edited by hand.
I was very active on Twitter for quite a few years, but personal circumstances led me to stop updating (and even temporarily remove) my established Twitter account last year. I’m currently hiding out there on an account with a much smaller following. My status updates on Facebook tend to be far too lengthy (oh, what a surprise) and full of misanthropy and bile (see previous parenthesis), to the extent where I’d really like to give up that particular platform for a while, but unfortunately social media commitments for work prevent me from doing so.
I do miss the blogging communities (plural, because there were many of them beyond the ones many of us inhabited. They seemed rather more personally connected than, say, Twitter. Maybe I’m guilty of looking back with my own rose-tinted spectacles now, but it seems to me that in 2008/09, when social media began to expand enormously, blogging was finally beginning to come out of its own long period where it was – depending on which journalistic puff-piece you read – going to save the world, bring down the government and be our primary method of communicating for the future. The hype had died down, in other words. It’s a shame that more blogs didn’t continue beyond that point.
What achievement of the last 7 years would you most like to celebrate here?
I’ve sat here trying to think of an offline achievement of which I’m really proud, but, well, hmm – cough, splutter – nope, none really come to mind. So it’ll be something else in the online world, I’m afraid. However, I am genuinely proud of what I did with > kill author (http://killauthor.com). When my own writing, such as it was, began to lessen (and has yet to return in any substantial way), I decided to set up an online literary magazine. I did it completely alone, from designing and updating the site to selecting and editing the work, as well as anonymously. The latter was a reaction against the increasing importance of personality editors at the time I launched it, and was hugely controversial at first. The magazine ran for three years, from 2009-12, with a new issue every two months, and introduced e-book versions before they became more common. It even won a couple of fairly notable awards (well, notable in online literary circles, at least).
At some point I’d really like to run another online magazine of one kind or other, but not on my own this time. Too much hard work where you’re your own team eventually takes the fun out of it, as it did in this case.
Lyle wanted us to ask you where the hell have you been? You may feel you have covered that with all of the above, in which case please could you answer my questions instead:
Lyle, Lyle, you just haven’t been looking! Also, can I stop hiding in your wardrobe now? There’s a cat in here and he’s staring at me and hissing.
What are your best and worst memories of Hull University?
The best was really the work I did – I absolutely loved studying Drama and particularly directing plays. Looking back, it seems incredible to me that I would often turn up in the Gulbenkian Centre (now renamed The Donald Roy Theatre, as I understand) at 8.00am to paint sets, then do rehearsals, then disappear to the library for a few hours, then come back and do more rehearsals and sometimes not leave until 11.30pm. Twenty years later, even typing all this in an hour or so one evening after the day job has proved exhausting in comparison. The worst memories – well, none really, other than realising that I perhaps spent too much time working over my three years, hanging around the drama department rather than socialising, and as a result didn’t really keep in touch with anyone from university days (until Facebook appeared, of course, by which time they were distant old faces). Oh, and I’m still bitter about missing out on a First by about two marks – undoubtedly, I would have stayed on to do a funded PhD if that had happened.
I seem to remember you grew up in the same town as PJHarvey. Did you ever meet her?
Same area, not same town. Polly were a Dorset lass, me deario, but then she got involved with the group of bands and musicians connected to John Parish’s studio in Yeovil. (Yes, the famous ‘Yeovil Scene’ that was never known as such in even the most indie of music papers.) Before he worked on her albums he produced a band called The Becketts, most of whom came from my hometown and were briefly talked about for featuring Paddy Ashdown’s son on bass guitar. I met her (I think) on a grand total of two occasions when she visited a pub down the road from my house. I’d love to tell you that I spotted her genius even then, but sadly I don’t even remember talking to her beyond the fact that she was in a circle of people I happened to know. Ah, the fame – you can touch me now, if you like.
Will we ever see your face again?
Look! It’s here! With a comedy beard (don’t ask why I have a comedy beard) and comedy glasses (though the glasses aren’t comedic: they’re entirely necessary and only comedic when attached to the beard). I did consider the other photo of me that I used on Facebook and Twitter for ages, but I’ve realised that it’s now nearly five years old and therefore I’m only fooling myself. My increasing antipathy towards photos undoubtedly stems from social media, once again, because you can’t escape pictures of people online now. P.S. This particular picture has not been Instagrammed in any way whatsoever, I promise.
Who would you like us to interview next, and what shall we ask them?
It would have to be that Hydragenic fellow. Hg. Or Mr Hg. Or Stuart. Him. Yes.
What would I like to ask him? Hmm. Okay, here goes:
– One of the reasons I always liked Hydragenic so much was because it was never possible to pigeonhole your blog. You weren’t a diary blog, an oh-so-tragic confessional blog, a story blog, an opinion blog, a music blog or a link blog. You were all of those, often changing from one post to the next. What kind of blogger (if any) did you think you were? And what about now?
– Like me, you seem to have tried most of the online methods of communication out there: blogging, then Facebook, then Twitter, then Tumblr, then back to blogging (but a blog with asides). However, my impression is that you seem to disappear from each for a while, often quite a long time, and then return. Why? Is it do with your how your life is at that moment, or just because you haven’t found entirely the right medium for sharing your thoughts online?
– Your enthusiasm for and interest in music was always evident. But in 2013, with almost any album you could wish for being easily available somewhere online – often without the need to even own the mp3 (let alone the actual physical object) – has it lessened its value for you? Is there just too much music out there now? How many bands/artists would you say you get really excited about in an average year?