Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Internet Holidays Are Highly Recommended

At the risk of giving away my age, I grew up without the Internet. It didn't come along in my life until around the age of 16. It was very blue from I remember. Seriously, it really was. MSN and local messaging services freaked me out - once I was sitting in the computer room at college doing something when suddenly a little box appeared in the corner of the screen saying, "your cute, what's your name?" - so I never used those, except for rare occasions. Hotmail and Yahoo search were the main sites I remember, and I seem to recall reading lots of things that looked like entries in encyclopedias. Hell, they probably were exactly that. I never bought anything online, and I never had a My Space page, though I knew people who did.

I was not that fussed about the Internet or what it had to offer. Now though I not only work for one of the biggest online companies in the world, but I also have profiles on almost every single social media platform going, accounts with tonnes of online shops and a Twitter feed that I can't stop checking a few times a day at least. In essence, I am as much an Internet junkie as plenty of others. And this weekend I was pretty much cut off from all of it, because I was away and my phone throws a fit whenever I try to do anything with it beyond text or call someone. And you know what? It was wonderful. 

To not be able to go online for that amount of time left me to enjoy myself with my friends, to admire the beautiful countryside we walked through and just be in my own head for a while. It was, in essence, how things used to be before the Internet. I'm beginning to think it may be time for it to be mandatory for everyone to step away from all things Web for at least a weekend once every few months. 

Last Tuesday, humanity landed a spacecraft on a moving comet. Just reread that sentence: humanity landed a spacecraft on a moving comet. It took ten years but we (meaning those smart folks in the European Space Agency) have accomplished something only mentioned in science fiction until now. And the response to this overwhelming accomplishment? The Internet exploded with criticism and diatribes against Dr Matt Taylor, who appeared in the press conference wearing a terrible shirt. Don't get me wrong, when I watched the proceedings live I thought to myself, "what an idiot for wearing such a stupid and inappropriate shirt on this day of huge achievement". I also did have the thought cross my mind that he was yet another guy who never questions how his actions and choices could be seen by others, especially those of the female persuasion, but recognised that was as much to do with my thought processes as it had to do with his actions.

Seriously, the most offensive thing about it is how garish it is.
Little did I realise that what was to me mildly annoying swept up a host of furious hornets waving the feminist flag, and decrying Taylor as a misogynist. Wow. I dread to think what the reaction was to Kim Kardashian displaying her buttocks all over the front cover of a magazine... oh, wait. There wasn't much of a reaction. And throughout all the hysteria over a shirt not one of those complaining took time to call out the female scientists who were also involved in the comet landing, like Monica Grady, or Kathrin Altwegg.

There are plenty who are milking this ludicrous #ShirtStorm to once again bad mouth feminists in general. It's a great headline for them, "Feminists care more about a shirt than they do Science!". Of course it isn't really true, anymore than Taylor's shirt being a misogynist's statement is true. All of it is a symptom of too much time spent on the Internet, with the media fanning the flames for click bait purposes. People get outraged over the slightest thing and it sweeps through the web like a fire made up of straw men, logical fallacies and widdle hurt fweelings. Just as the toxic rhetoric of the Gamergate fiasco in no way represents Gamers at large, neither does this fuss about a shirt represent Feminists. It just shows what happens when you spend far too much time on the Web, living in an echo chamber of affront and offence.

All someone had to do was quietly mention to Taylor that maybe the shirt wasn't okay. Y'know, it's a bit... well, stupid to be wearing that in front of the whole world on this momentous day. And sure, mentioning that women are under represented in the Sciences is not a bad thing, and raising a question of whether a shirt like that is likely to help or hinder that situation is not, imo, beyond the pale. But condemning a man for making a bad fashion choice for the occasion is just too much. Unless we can also condemn Kardashian for objectifying women - or would that be "slut-shaming?"

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