Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Work, work, work, work, work

OK, you might say 'Oh here he goes again, throwing his toys out of the pram. Be grateful for what you have. Many locals would jump at the chance to be in your position.' I understand that. What's more, compared to said locals, other colleagues that is, I've had a fairly easy ride of it. Yet, when we experience first-hand rather questionable practices, are we just meant to let them slide?

Working lots of overtime in Colombia is not only readily accepted but expected.
"Working lots of overtime is not only accepted, it's expected." (Image from web.)
What I'm referring to here is the way that many Colombian-based employers, from a private sector perspective in any case, expect their employees to go well and truly beyond the call of duty. From my days teaching English to business professionals, I'd heard about this culture where spending the majority of one's waking hours at work was par for the course.

Some of this I put down to inefficiency. You know, workers not really working when they're meant to be which then leads to panic when it comes to home time. A lackadaisical Latino approach, it could be said.

Warrior workers
With one year down in my first full-time office job in this country, I can say, in this marketing agency at any rate, that inefficient practices do indeed play a part in this. However, it's only part of the problem. A bigger factor appears to be a general acceptance that people will work well over what's stipulated in their contract, resigned to the 'fact' that 'it's just the way it is'.
"Speak out about long hours and you'll be viewed as a troublemaker."
For sure, fear and the need to pay the bills are significant in this. If you start making a fuss about having to work another 15-hour-plus day, you'll more than likely be viewed as a troublemaker by management, one not pulling for the team. With plenty of eager young folk waiting in the wings, you're easily replaceable. 'Like it or lump it, bucko.' Some people may even find a purely chaotic work environment more advantageous.

Linked to this is the idea that putting in ridiculously long hours is a sign that you are a 'true warrior'. Such thinking is skewed, it's of the short-term gain, long-term loss variety. Indeed, it may not even result in short-term gain.

In the 'creative' field I'm in, for one, having a mind as fresh as it can be to write texts, be they from scratch or 'non-literal' versions of Spanish, in crucial. Working hours on end in front of a computer with an unrealistic deadline looming doesn't lead to the best results. It's the kind of work, for me anyway, that's best done in short bursts.
"Rather than earning extra for this overtime, I'm actually at a loss."
For example, I recently had to burn the midnight oil, nay add to my employer's energy bill and my own burnout, when having to work on an 'emergency' presentation. (It never ceases to amaze me how such non-life-or-death things turn into 'emergencies'. The client or whoever gets what the client wants, I guess. My ire was aroused even further when I subsequently discovered it wasn't quite the emergency it was made out to be.) 17 continuous hours at the office.

The last six of those were spent solely on the presentation, so obviously enough I was starting off on a low-energy base with that particular task. While I did my best in the early part to write the English version as appealing as I could, a few hours in I was opting for almost undecipherable Google translate suggestions. The brain couldn't really function anymore.

Apparently I'm entitled to a 'bonus' for those endeavours. The princely sum of 10,000 pesos, less than three euros, to be precise. While I wait to receive it, I've been studying where best to invest it. One must make one's money work for oneself, mustn't one? (I'm actually technically at a financial loss considering I spent money on snacks that night, snacks that I wouldn't have had the need to buy had I gone home at my usual time.)

Dirty dealings
Now, this was the first time I had to put in such a shift. For a good number of my colleagues, many of them earning even less than me, it happens with worrying regularity. All this in the multimillion-dollar advertising and marketing industry. Somebody's making a killing out of it. Capitalism at its best, eh? 'But guys, you've never had it so good!'

It's important to note that, in theory, I've no major issue with giving a little bit extra every now and again when there is a genuine need to do so. This is much easier to do, of course, when the work is your own or it's something you truly enjoy. As I've said before, marketing for third parties, doing somebody else's dirty work, is not a major passion of mine. Not in the form I've been experiencing it anyway.

Alas, with the lack of a reliable alternative at this moment in time plus the fact that my current employer is a relatively easy route to a visa that allows me to stay in the country and carry out some of my labours of love, walking away right now might be a rather rash move.

Ride out the frustrating times, control the controllables and aim for better. Something to that effect. 'Toys back in the pram now, good boy.'
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Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Colombia's and Ireland's eastern troubles

Making comparisons between Colombia and Ireland is about as useful an exercise as sweeping leaves in a hurricane. Even where there are similarities, something previously touched on by this writer, their day-to-day relevance would seem fairly minuscule. Colombian-Irish ties, while apparently growing, are still pretty weak.
Just when things were looking up for both Colombia and Ireland, the neighbours to the east throw a spanner in the works.
Colombia and Ireland: Dealing with 'nasty' neighbours.
Nonetheless, as an Irishman based in Colombia for eight years, becoming aware of these similarities has been rather interesting, insightful even.

While the blog posts referenced above made internal comparisons, here we're going to add an international dimension.

The neighbour to the east
Basically — stick with us here — Venezuela could be seen as Britain, and that's not just because of its geographical position to Colombia's east. Historically, Venezuela was seen as the more advanced, organised and cosmopolitan country. In contrast, Colombia was (is) a violent backwater, insular and conservative. Friendly folk for sure but untrustworthy schemers of sorts. (See where we're going with this?)

A lot of the locals with any get-up-and-go did just that. They left. What's more, a not-insignificant number of them went to that more developed neighbour to the east for a better life. Well, either there or to the US.
"The political problems next door could see the old inferior nations return to their inglorious past."
However, over the last few years these violent backwaters, Colombia and Ireland, have found their mojos, of sorts, while the eastern neighbours appear to have hit the self-destruct button. Now, not only are those who had emigrated coming back but people from other countries are keen to give the current 'cool kids' a try, including many from the near east, reversing long-standing migration flows. (The influx of Venezuelans to Colombia needs no elaboration while there has been a significant rise in the number of Brits applying for Irish passports pre-Brexit).

Uncomfortable at the top
Added to this of late have been the neighbours' current political problems and the risk of contagion to the now, um, flourishing 'cool kids'. As the latter harbour men who have a proven track record at subversion, there is a belief that it will only take a little bit of instability to plunge them and their centre-right administrations right back into the bad old days of violence and economic decline. Of course, outside 'help' isn't a prerequisite for this but it can be an important catalyst.

The eastern guys, for their part, have leaders who seem hell-bent on getting their way or, as some view it, are being unfairly hindered from doing their job. Now while a Jeremy Corbyn victory in the UK's December election would work wonders for this analogy from a left-right perspective, it's not completely necessary. Bungling Boris Johnson, while politically poles apart from Nicolás Maduro, fits the narrative here in so many other ways. For one, you've both men's penchant for putting their foot in it.

As the problems to the east show no signs of easing, there's a bit of schadenfreude on display in some quarters of the once inferior nations. However, looking down from a lofty position not only doesn't sit well with them but it also tends to be followed by a swift, painful comedown. 'Back in your place with you.'

When that comedown has well and truly landed, by their own doing or otherwise, assistance from the eastern neighbours will yet again be badly needed. After all, these countries have more in common than they may like to admit.
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Thursday, 24 October 2019

Wake up to Pinker's wonderful world

"The world has never been better and very few of us know it." That was the hook for a talk given by the 'celebrity' cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker in Bogotá recently. It's also the thrust of his latest book, Enlightenment Now.

No one can really argue with the various statistics that he rhymes off as to why the human race has never had it so good. We're living longer, peace rather than war is the norm, global poverty levels have dramatically fallen while the world's calorie intake has increased. What's more, it's not that it's just that oft-vilified top one per cent reaping the benefits. Everyone is.
Canadian cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker delivering a talk in Bogotá, Colombia.
Steven Pinker in Bogotá: 'Never mind the future, things are bright now.'
So, compared to the not-too-distant past, current challenges notwithstanding and acknowledged (climate change, populism and such like), it's all positive, it's progress.

Malignant media
To be honest, it surprises me somewhat that very few people, according to Pinker anyway, know this. These health & safety and material advancements are obvious, aren't they?

Of course, from a news media perspective, one could be forgiven for thinking the opposite was true. Pinker, with good reason, does lay an amount of the blame at the media's door for all the negativity swirling around the planet.
"That we are statistically on Easy Street these days matters little at the individual level."
Indeed, I recall my late sister and her husband taking a decision a few years back not to read, watch or listen to the news because it just depressed them. We can easily lose sight of the good when we're consuming a large, unhealthy dose of the bad.

So we're agreed, at a macro level, there's never been a better time to be alive.

Yet, that's the crux of it for me — the macro level. From the individual viewpoint, this 'zoomed out' approach very often doesn't hit home, quite literally. While we're more connected than ever and can converse and share experiences with people on the other side of the planet in an instant, virtually albeit, we still have to live out our lives, tackle the trials and tribulations that we personally face, on a daily basis.

The fact that we are statistically on Easy Street compared to our ancestors matters little in the here and now. It's all relative.

What's it all about?
As that other celebrity Canadian speaker and psychologist, Jordan Peterson, puts it, "Life is suffering."

For the majority of our species born just 100 years ago or so — or even more recently — the initial challenge was simply to stay alive. If they dodged an infant death, managed to find some sort of income or whatever was needed to get sufficient food and shelter, the next goal was to reproduce. After that, exiting stage left was usually the least-worst option. In such a scenario, it was all purely about survival.

These days, for those of us lucky enough to beat the exceptionally long odds of actually being born, the chances of us then living to an age of 60 plus are very high, as the statistically astute Pinker is well aware. Therefore, basic life and death issues don't tend to constantly come into play.
"In the secular world, finding meaning becomes our 'cross to bear'."
For many, these are replaced by questions of "What's it all about?" and the like. Deeper concerns about meaning, or what some might term spirituality, are what fill this space.

Added to this is the fact that we're now 'smarter'. Not only have global literacy levels increased but so to have our IQs, as highlighted by Pinker.

Thus, it can be argued, in our search for more concrete truths about existence as a greater number of us leave behind old 'comforting' beliefs in this secular liberal democratic world that both Pinker and I espouse to, the meaning of life becomes our 'cross to bear' so to put it. We're here, going through the motions, 'working for the system' or what have you, for what?

You would be right in thinking that I'm writing this from the point of view of a single, childless man who isn't exactly 'loving' his principal job right now. I'm not alone. And it would appear we're on the rise, thanks in no small part to a lack of wars to check our numbers.

It's not just men who are at risk from this, although we are more likely to end things prematurely compared to women. Listening to Pinker in relation to technological advancements and artificial intelligence, I couldn't help but think of an episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets a new well-paid job and moves with the family to an ultra-modern house, replete with all sorts of gadgets to do the housework. With very little to do, wife Marge takes to the wine. There's always alcohol to fill the void, isn't there?

Believe in better
Of course, this isn't to say that technology and the accompanied 'softer living' are killing us, um, softly (although, in some spheres, this might very well be the case). That same human ingenuity that has made our lives easier can also come good to ensure we remain strong and feel fulfilled.

That being said, that our lives in this world have never been better could be put into the 'lies, damned lies and statistics' category. One way to view it is like a football team that has had the lion's share of possession, the most shots on target, the most corners, etc. and goes on to win the game as expected. However, for the players, it seems like a defeat. It should have been much better. They think more about what they did poorly rather than what they did well.

That's human nature really. It's what keeps us striving for better and it is where we can find 'meaning'. This is where Pinker and I are in agreement, the ability of mankind (can I use that word in these politically correct days?), collectively, to keep on improving. The problem is that some don't feel part of the game at all. Or at least they feel like they only have a very minor, insignificant part in it.

So yes, the world has never been better for the masses when we crunch all the numbers. Yet, we can't experience the lives of those in the past to appreciate just how good we have it now. Also, the stats usually count for very little. Pinker can publish all the graphs he wants to show how such a 'wonderful world' it currently is. It's how we perceive things to be going, though, this is what generally matters most.
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Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Medellín's Plaza Putaero

Bienvenidos a Medellín - 'Bangkok light'. So ran the title of one of my earliest Google blog entries. I wrote it after spending a month in Colombia's second city where I worked in the Greek-owned Arcadia hostel in the "gringo infested" Poblado neighbourhood, a somewhat exclusive party zone.

I'd grown frustrated at seeing the many ladies of the night in the area strutting their stuff, subtly as most did albeit. In that way, the Bangkok comparison may have been overstating it a bit — I did use 'light' all the same. The prostitution was more discreet but it was prostitution nonetheless. (Indeed, it could have been even subtler.)

Plaza Botero, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia.
Medellín's Plaza Botero: There's a bit more to it these days than just its iconic statues.
Missing Medellín
As a rather innocent country boy from the west of Ireland, it tainted my otherwise largely positive impression of Medellín, a city that has much more than just sex tourism going for it.

It would be wide of the mark to say it was because of this I had no desire to return there. It was more down to the fact that I live in bustling Bogotá, so when it has come to escaping its 'madness' I've opted for much smaller places to unwind.

Thus, a stronger reason than 'just because' was always needed to bring me back. That reason came in the form of a semi-business-related trip, flights paid for. OK, it was to the airport based in Rionegro, a city about a 40-minute drive from Medellín.

Yet it's the airport that caters for most Medellín-bound passengers, so when I knew I'd be landing there the idea of a brief reacquaintance after almost eight years with the Antioquia department capital was always on the cards.
"Unlike the Poblado prostitutes, these ones were not one bit discreet."
Incidentally, I did spend one night in Rionegro as it was there I had my business meeting. It seems a pleasant enough place with a well-kept main square, if a little pricey for the staples (read 'tienda beers' in this instance; at 25,000 pesos for a quite decent hotel room, accommodation was reasonably priced, though).

With just over 24 hours in Medellín, to keep things simple plus a curiosity to see what my old employer's hostel was like after all these years, I decided to spend my one night in the aforementioned Arcadia.

As the bus from Rionegro dropped me close to the city centre, I took the opportunity to have a wander around there first before heading further south to Poblado. Get a feel for Medellín's 'raw' side — well, rawer compared to the leafy middle-class vibe around the hostel.

It was certainly lively in any case. There seemed a lot more going on than you'd normally get in Bogotá's historic centre. A big tourist attraction is the many Botero statues in the eponymous plaza.

Noisy public works aside, Plaza Botero was hiving with foreigners. Great for Medellín tourism.

Prostitution Plaza
The thing is, a good number of those foreigners were young ladies from neighbouring Venezuela. And they weren't there to get photos taken next to the large Botero works. Well, unless those statues were willing to pay them that is, if you get me.

I'm sure the many beautiful women offering their services there would much prefer it if that were the case, rather than having to get 'down and dirty' with what often resemble real-life versions of Botero's oversized male sculptures. Needs must and all that, however.

In contrast to the subtle, nighttime manoeuvres of the Poblado prostitutes, in Plaza Botero they were anything but that. A fair-haired (what's left of it, that is) man walking alone, think of a moths-to-light scenario. "There's plenty of money in them there pockets", or whatever the equivalent expression is in Venezuelan Spanish.

That prostitution is happening in Medellín, sad for those who feel forced into doing it all the same, is not the issue here. It's the fact that it's so blatant in a very popular part of a city that prides itself on being one of the most progressive in Latin America.

Perhaps my visit this time coincided with a particularly promiscuous Friday afternoon on the not-so-free-love scene. However, with the hotels nearby readily set up for the trade, it would seem it's standard practice these days.

Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong or illegal with it. I'm guessing, though, it's an image the city's tourism board doesn't want to portray. It's fair to say many visitors would find those much-maligned Pablo Escobar tours far less uncomfortable.
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Friday, 23 August 2019

Untangling Chaparral

Back in mid-2009 during my few weeks travelling around South-East Asia a German I met, a guy who had been in the region for some time, introduced me to the initialism AFW. After seeing my relative excitement about the prospect of visiting another impressive Buddhist place of worship, he said he could take or leave viewing an AFW.

"An AFW?"
"Another f**king wat!"
"Ah. I see." (Well, something like a punny WTF would have worked better. He was German, though, so I cut him some slack.)

I didn't stay in that part of the world to become completely indifferent to the, um, power of the wat but I could see where he was coming from.

Parque de los Presidentes, Chaparral, Tolima, Colombia.
A helpful reminder of where you are!
After a while, no doubt, the novelty of seeing these magnificent monuments well and truly wears off. A case of 'seen one wat, seen them all.'

Same same but different
This thinking, superficially at least, could be extended to the small towns in this part of the world: 'Seen one Colombian or South American pueblo, seen them all.'

A colonial-style main square home to a standout cathedral/church with, if the settlement is of adequate size, another few similar squares dotted around, all in the standard grid plan.

In terms of Colombia, the general belief is that if you've been to either Barichara or Villa de Leyva (or both, as I have), then you've seen the best the country has to offer in this regard.

Again, aesthetically in any case, there is merit to this viewpoint. Yet, such high acclaim tends to reel in the tourists in big numbers. For some, this isn't a major deal. Plus, off-peak visits usually see the towns at their more normal rhythm, whatever that actually is nowadays.
"A 'town' of 50,000 people here seems rather rural."
Nonetheless, as I've let it be known on umpteen occasions, their obvious similarities aside, I do like to check out the less well-known towns. And in a big country of close to 50 million people, there are many to discover. What's more, each place has its own story to tell, its own unique character with its own unique characters to boot (not literally, now), from the interesting to the annoying and everything in between.

My recent trip to Chaparral in the Tolima department certainly fell into this category. Why I decided to go there was simply down to the fact that an employee in a local panadería told me she was from there. I'd never heard of the place but at about a four-hour bus journey from Bogotá it fell, just about, inside the travel-time limit of a long-weekend escape from the madness of the capital city.

The landscape around Chaparral in Tolima, Colombia.
Dry surrounds.
A quick Wikipedia check confirmed that it also met another important requirement. It was small enough, just under 50,000 people in its greater urban area. (By Irish standards that might seem pretty big. Here, though, a town of that size is relatively bucolic. It must be down to the way they space themselves out. Or is that cramp themselves in?).

Now, I generally don't like travelling on holiday weekends as you've to deal with all the extra traffic. However, the full-time job these days has limited my flexibility — I'll have my vengeance on that yet — so I have to take advantage of a day off when it comes along.

To give me a little more time and avoid the horrible traffic returning to Bogotá on the holiday Monday, I booked the next day off. Unfortunately, it seemed a lot of other people had the same idea considering the Tuesday afternoon's congestion entering the capital.

Outbound, the queues to buy bus tickets at Bogotá's southernmost terminal on Saturday morning almost led me to abort 'Operation Chaparral' before it got going at all. Thankfully, these were for the more popular destinations such as Girardot and Melgar. My hour or so wait was relatively minor all things considered. Indeed, being allocated the passenger window seat in a minivan for the trip was a nice little bonus.

Great chaps
Now before I start talking up Chaparral, I must say I went with little or no expectations. I knew it would be warm. I knew I could grab a beer or two or three to unwind in somewhere that was new to me and with few other tourists around. I didn't need anything else really. Anything different from Bogotá would have sufficed, it just needed to be somewhat rural.

Aesthetically, there's nothing too special to the place. One immediate difference I noticed from other similar towns is that its main square, the plaza principal, isn't named after the great liberator Simón Bolívar (akin to Paipa). It's called Parque de los Presidentes, the Presidents' Park.

The reason? The town is the birthplace of no less than three men who held the office of Colombian president: Manuel Murillo Toro, José Maria Melo and Darío Echandia. Attorney General Alfonso Gómez Méndez was also born there. It's not for nothing that its old mottos were 'Tierre de Grandes' and 'Cuna de Presidentes', 'Land of Greats'/'Cradle of Presidents'.
"Chaparral has played a significant part in Colombia's history."
The story also goes that Chaparral and its surrounds, in the form of the Pijao people, was one of the last bastions of indigenous resistance against the Spanish conquistadores. There's a monument representing this a few streets down from Parque de los Presidentes.

More recently, it was this part of Colombia that gave rise to the Farc guerilla movement. So in terms of the country's history, it's well served, for good and bad, whatever your viewpoint. (Perhaps as a nod to emerging, hopefully, from that recent bloody past, the town's current motto is 'Cradle of Peace and Progress'.)

A monument to the Pijao & other indigenous peoples in Chaparral, Tolima, Colombia.
The last stand: A monument to the Pijao & other indigenous peoples. 
Tourism infrastructure wise, common to most less-popular Colombian locations, it's not well served. It did, after all, have to deal with more life-or-death matters of late.

Nonetheless, there are some locals trying to change this as I found out thanks to a serendipitous encounter — you never know what afternoon beers in a quaint tienda might throw up.

There I met Diego Ceballos, son of the very affable owner Cesar. Diego is currently taking a course in tourism and has already established a fledgling company with a focus on birdwatching. He gave me an impromptu photo presentation of the impressive, secluded sights — with an ornithological flavour as is his wont — all around Chaparral, areas that were very much 'off-limits' to most only a few short years ago, being in rebel hands as they were.

Time constraints meant I couldn't actually visit any of them (did I mention that uncooperative full-time job?) on this occasion. Their apparent remoteness and very interesting recent history have given me solid reasons to return, though.

For sure, you can find comparable places all over Colombia. Yet, as similar as Chaparral is to other towns, it has, as we’ve seen, its standout differences. In the region's bid to join Colombia's tourism rush, here's hoping it doesn't lose sight of its unique identity.

*For a town that doesn't seem to get too many tourists, it is well served on the hotel front. The one I happened upon was Hotel Tuluni, a couple of blocks from the main square on Carrera 8a #6-54. At 20,000 COP for a basic yet spacious en suite room with fan and a decent internet connection, you could find worse (I didn't bother trying!). Mob: +573183178898.
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Thursday, 1 August 2019

Wonder women

I recently received a somewhat fitting, reassuring reminder from Twitter (see image below). It was a notification informing me that my report of 'behaviour unbecoming' from a particular user was deemed to be a rule violation under "hateful conduct".
"Hateful conduct" violation by @NanaMGNS on Twitter. A rare "victory" against the radical feminists!
A virtual slap on the wrist. That'll surely teach her! 

This 'nasty' episode happened quite some time ago that I can't fully remember exactly what the woman in question — @NanaMGNS is the handle, very much a former friend/acquaintance now — wrote but she basically went on a virtual tirade, calling me a misogynist (and then some) following a tweet I posted. (Unfortunately, Twitter doesn't provide the tweets in question when giving its response to complaints.)
"They say what they like about the other 'side' and this must go uncontested. This is their version of 'equality'."
From what I recall, my tweet was in relation to an incident I'd had with a Colombiana, in a dating sense I think. It was probably along the lines of previous blog posts where I've detailed what I see as some common traits in women I've encountered in these parts. See A prostitute by any other name or Ignoring is bliss for an idea of where I'm coming from in this regard.

Radical logic
The offending, nay 'offensive', woman, a radical feminist by all accounts, took umbrage at the line I was taking. Contrary to what she seemed to believe, however, I wasn't having a go at all woman. I was merely commenting on experiences with, on this occasion, one particular individual whose conduct I'd also witnessed in some other Latinas.

Again, not all that is to say, but some and enough to notice a connection among such types. My bad luck that I keep meeting them. Or kept meeting them really; I'm largely managing to avoid them these days. So this was my perspective on real events that happened to me. I wasn't making it up or just trying to have a cheap, unsolicited shot.

I say this notification from Twitter labelling @NanaMGNS comments as "hateful conduct" is 'reassuring' because in terms of verbal or written attacks against men by women these days the general attitude is to laugh it off. To lap it up even. "Sure you're a man! Suck it up lad, grow a pair."

Fair enough, I guess we are the stronger sex. Oh no, wait, isn't that the thing these radical feminists are raging against? We're only the stronger sex when it suits their narrative to say so. And how dare a man comment about women in the first place. How discriminatory and sexist. Only women can talk about women. What's more, they can say what they like about men and it must go uncontested.

This is 'equality' for 21st-century radicals, of all shapes and sizes. 'Careful now, don't nonchalantly refer to their shape or size. You might get yourself into trouble.'
"I do more practical stuff to help feminism than most feminists."
The thing is, I'm more on the side of the feminists and the quest for gender 'equality' than the campaigners might care to imagine. For example, I pretty much demand 50-50 when it comes to paying bills. Or, on the rare occasion where my earnings are more than the woman I'm sharing time with, I suggest we pay the appropriate percentage based on our income.

For the first couple of dates I don't bother bringing assets and the like into it, I'm happy to let that slide at the start. One wouldn't want to over-complicate things.

'Equality on our terms'
I also don't go out of my way to be extra special with women on a day-to-day basis, that is to say, treat them any differently to men when it comes to engagements in the office or in public life (if a woman, um, takes advantage of me in a private setting, things could play out differently, closer to the way Mother [and Father et al., for equality's sake] Nature intended).

Unlike a lot of other men, especially here in the Latino world, I don't condescend or patronise.

Yet, in the female-dominated advertising/marketing job I'm currently engaged in, I've been talked down to, indeed screamed at on one occasion for simply explaining, calmly, why the use of one English word worked better in a certain context over another, by a colleague who is of the not-so-fair sex, so to put it.

It's safe to assume that had it been the other way around, a man carrying on that way towards a woman, disciplinary procedures would have been instigated. But we're men, we're meant to take all of this on the chin whilst constantly being told how everything is fixed to our advantage.

For these radical feminists, it's a case of 'be careful what you wish for'. Equality, "the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities" to give it its dictionary definition, is just that.

What some women appear to be looking for is the complete subjugation of men. They might just find that the status quo in many liberal democracies is already tipped in their favour. If it goes any further, we could all tumble over the edge.
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Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Facebook, Instagram: Killing us softly

A few weeks ago on CNÑ (CNN in Spanish that is), in a discussion about social media, an Argentinian expert on the subject predicted that in years to come we'll view our use of Facebook and the like in the same way that most of us view smoking today. That is, a dirty, unhealthy habit that we can't believe we actually used to find "cool and sexy".
Is our current use of the likes of Instagram doing severe damage to us?
Insta-life. Or is that Insta-death?
Some people might view such an opinion as rather dramatic. Exaggerated scaremongering from the Argentinian fogey. Maybe so. The jury is still hearing all the evidence on this one, it's not even close to being sent out in order to come back with a verdict yet.

One thing we can say with certainty is that the arrival of social media has led to a seismic change in how we communicate and interact with each other. Save for the invention for real of teleportation, it's hard to see how more virtually connected we can become.
"Physically meeting those we might envy often allays any insecurity issues."
That's the crux of the issue here really: A growing virtual contact at the expense of face-to-face interaction. Worse still — for those on the social-media-is-bad side of things that is — virtual communication, or using our digital gadgets in some way, is dominating even when we are in the company of others.

We've all witnessed it. A group of people at a bar or dinner table or wherever, all with their heads stuck in their personal electronic devices. We shake our heads in disapproval. Yet there's a fair chance we've been looked at disapprovingly doing the exact same thing on another occasion. Practically everybody with a smartphone gets "caught" at some stage or another.

A new (dis)order?
The question is, "Is it actually doing us any harm?" Well, we do now have a social media anxiety disorder. A cynic — of which of course I am not one — might say that the fact we've "invented" a disorder for it means very little in this day and age.

We've disorders for all sorts of things now where in the past they were simply conditions that required nothing more than a stern "for goodness sake lad, would you pull yourself together", or something to that effect. It's all much more softly-softly now, for better or for worse.

That being said, as documented before, the false impression that social media platforms create of the lives of others can be quite damaging to those susceptible to the "keeping up with the Joneses" condition. "Oh look, there goes Mary on another amazing adventure and here I am stuck in my crappy job." Or, "Bob seems to be doing great with the ladies and I can't hit it off with a single one."

For sure, being envious of others isn't something new, only arriving with social media. It's part of being human. However, our new way of interacting has made it more prevalent, exponentially so. The scale of it has been blown way out of proportion it would appear.

Physically meeting those who we may be resentful towards for whatever reason and, quite literally, seeing "their warts and all", will more often than not make us feel a little less insecure about ourselves. Social media not only takes that away but it puts us in daily contact with people who we would otherwise know next to nothing about and, I wager, care little about.

Take these (and please, do take them and send them off to some other planet) Instagram influencers. Young, pretty people — it's highly unlikely they'll either be the "wrong" side of 40 or not physically attractive — who make a living out of simply posting about their lives.
"Facebook and the like are dumbing us down."
Fair play to them. They're working the system. It's those who follow them, who give them this platform, those are the ones I question.

OK, if it's somebody who travels or the like, somebody who has interesting, informative snippets to share, there's merit to that. The thing is, many of these influencers don't. White, or whatever colour you want, trash.

Before I'm accused of being a hypocrite, I am fully aware that I play this game as well. As an unpaid blogger and podcaster, I need to use all outlets available to get the messages I write and talk about "out there". The hope is that what I do will reach more and more people, eventually putting me, brand "Wrong Way" so to put it, in a position to be a conduit for companies to advertise via me and such like.

Obviously, time is ticking on that one. Or maybe I'm already past my "use by" date. I'm just refusing to accept it. Perhaps I should go underground now, back to unspoilt nature.

Whatever the case, I like to think that I use and take advantage of social media — the ideal scenario — more than the other way around. I like to think that, that is. I could be wrong.

Light up, dumb down
We mentioned the seismic shift that has taken place with social media. As a species, we've gone through this before. The printing press, the advent of radio and TV. Massive game-changers.

So rather than seeing the "new kids in town" as dangerous, perhaps we should take a more benign view. After all those older three, although TV to a lesser extent, in my opinion, haven't done us any real harm, have they?

The key difference for me is that all those, in their more dominant days, were agents of positive social change and largely educational.

At this remove and considering how the majority of us currently use social media and, just as importantly, are used by them, we can't view today's dominators in the same light. On the contrary, they seem to be dumbing us down.

They might leave us feeling a bit lightheaded, even sick at times, but the high is worth it. Gotta light? I need my fix.
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