Tuesday, 25 October 2016

We are what we tweet

In these social media times we live in, it seems that virtual reality has become reality. Or at least our smartphone updates have allowed those who read/view them to believe they know us and make judgements about us, even if they've only briefly met us or indeed never have at all.

Your social media profile: Is it a true reflection of yourself?
'I tweet, therefore I am.'
Of course, social media profiling is not just a lonely layperson's pastime. Companies often check out the Facebook pages, tweets, Instagram photos and what have you of prospective employees to 'get a feel' for the person in question before saying 'yea' or 'nay'. In some cases, that may be pre-interview selection, thus a decision is taken on your personality or suitability before they've actually met you. At times that might be a good thing, on other occasions not so.

It does, nonetheless, beg the question: Does how we portray ourselves on social media reflect accurately how our real lives actually are?

We may post fairly honestly, but for the majority of us these are just snapshots in time, brief moments detailing some particular aspect of our life that we feel is worthy of sharing. (Whether we should bother to share these things at all is a valid consideration; maybe those of us who do it will get over this phase as we come to terms with the continuously evolving social media landscape.)

The more mundane, everyday aspects of our lives usually aren't publicised — at least that's how it is for most people. It's a highlights package of sorts, and often a very skewed one.

Moreover, what is 'put out there' is open to falsities and manipulation. Just as someone can lie to you about themselves in person, it can be done, but with greater ease, virtually.

In terms of on-line discussions — Facebook debates for example — there's the issue of tone and sentiment perhaps not coming across as intended by the writer. Linked to that, some people can write in a rather aggressive, argumentative manner when in reality they're big 'softies' so to put it. 'Virtual warriors, real-life sheep' you could say.

As has been posted on this blog before, all these social media outlets are just tools, and like any tool they can be used in a productive way or improperly. A lot of the time 'user restraint' is advised. Completely switching off from them may be almost impossible for some people in certain lines of work, but letting them dominate your life doesn't seem the best idea.

There is a real world out there, distinct from the social media one. It's not always the case that 'we are what we tweet', despite what some people may think.
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Sunday, 16 October 2016

Colombia's gringo tax

One of the most frustrating things non-natives, especially Westerners, in Colombia (and other similar countries) have to put up with is the arbitrary 'foreigner tax'. This is basically the additional cost put on to a host of goods and services simply because we're outsiders. The mentality behind it is that we can afford it and/or won't know that we're being charged extra than those in the know.
Yet another place that makes a distinction between Colombians & foreigners ...
Rip off Colombia (if you're a foreigner) ...
For many tourists, short-term visitors and some long-termers here, both of those beliefs hold true. If you think the price you have to pay is reasonable, cheap even, fair enough; ignorance being bliss and all that. Although, it must be said that this 'clandestine overcharging' is a betrayal to the oft-heard line that 'Colombians are the friendliest in the world.' When it comes to money, some — but not all thankfully — are a little two-faced.

Now after five years of having Colombia as my base — and earning a modest amount of Colombian pesos I hasten to add — I've learnt, slowly, to always ask the price of something before committing to buy. Yet, at times the guard is dropped.

One of the most frequent of times this erratic pricing happens is when you enter a bakery, or panadería as it's called in these parts, for the first time. In your bog-standard panadería, the price of a perico — a small coffee with milk — generally ranges from $700 to $1,200 COP. So there have been occasions, even to this day, where I've not bothered to ask the price before ordering. This opens the door for a little inflation and very often the person at the till isn't shy about seizing that opportunity.

Even worse, in recent weeks I started checking out panaderías in the barrios close to my new abode. For the four or five I 'inspected', I was charged a standard price on my first solo visit. In the following days I returned to most of them, this time with a friend, a fellow countryman, and in two of these we were charged more for the same products I'd had on my own.

This isn't exclusive to panaderías; it happens in other restaurants were prices aren't displayed (or at times even if they are), tienda bars and also, unsurprisingly, with taxis; hence my general dislike for most of those yellow parasites. Needless to say it's commonplace with tourism-related things, too.

This short-sightedness is understandable in some ways. For many who do it, they don't see their future being a life on easy street, or 'calle facil' as they might say, so it's 'extract what you can now, to heck with the future.' Yet plenty of places have lost and will continue to lose business and potential loyal customers by engaging in such a strategy. 'Short-term gain, long-term loss.' (It's worth noting here that in the much frowned upon, 'disorganised', neighbouring Venezuela, prices seem to be displayed in almost every café and restaurant, so you can make an informed decision before you commit.)

In further mitigation, Colombia's working classes are more screwed against than screwing (um, in some contexts anyway). Indeed, in other areas 'el extranjero', the foreigner, is treated much better. Just one example of that is in the world of film/TV extras where a foreigner can up to eight times more for doing the same work.

This horrible inequality, however, is not our fault. What's more, the foreigner who is willing to socialise in popular barrios is giving a greater endorsement of a now somewhat safer, less divided country than most more well-off Colombians.

Thus, to the 'price inflators', you would do well to remember that not all Westerners come heavily laden with euros, dollars, pounds or whatever. We're here to contribute, hopefully in a positive way, so don't push us out.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The Trump card

It's been quite a year so far. In the sporting world people have called it the 'year of the underdog'. The biggest representation of that was Leicester City Football Club's remarkable triumph in England's Premier League; from 5000-to-1 outsiders to top dog in the space of nine months. You also had the unheralded Iceland, with a total population of just over 300,000, light up Euro 2016, going all the way to the quarter-finals.

Switching codes to rugby, my own province of Connacht, a region not traditionally seen as a stronghold of the sport with a franchise that was almost disbanded by Irish rugby authorities a few years back, impressively claimed the league title contested by sides from the Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Donal Trump et al. after a campaign rally ...
Will Team Trump be celebrating next month? Unlikely, but ... (Picture from Facebook.)
In the political world it's also been somewhat strange. We've had the much talked about Brexit in the UK, Colombia's 'no' vote to the historic peace deal reached between the government and Farc followed by President Juan Manuel Santos winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts despite this big setback. Even back home in Ireland there was a protest vote of sorts when the electorate returned in numbers to a party that was seen as the chief culprits of everything that went wrong during and after the Celtic Tiger boom years. We're a forgiving bunch it seems.

In such an environment, a Donald Trump US presidential victory would seem to fit the narrative, as unlikely as that now appears this late in the game. Nonetheless, in less unpredictable times, a brash billionaire promising to 'make America great again' (just the United States of America that is, not any other part of it and especially not Mexico) would appeal not just to rednecks but plenty of city dwellers as well.

Thus, with a strong whiff of anti-establishment air whirling around, it's easy to see how the Trump card is attractive to many. He represents the middle finger to the old tried-and-trusted way of doing things. The system needs a little bit of a shake up, a shock, and Trump would deliver that, both at home in the US and abroad. That's the thinking (and the hope for some, the fear for others) anyway. Yet didn't the outgoing Barack Obama offer a sort of new approach as well? (Then again, don't they all?)

Throw in the fact that Trump's main rival, Hillary Clinton, doesn't exactly inspire confidence — even though if she is elected as expected she will become the first woman president of the self-proclaimed greatest country on the planet and therefore a significant new departure in itself — and the ingredients for a Trump triumph are clearly there. The US's Electoral College system could also work in his favour; lose the popular vote but still make it to the White House.

So as much of the rest of the world looks on with trepidation at the chances, decreasing as they are, of Trump becoming the de facto leader of the 'free world', is it really a huge cause for concern?

He does hum to a different beat than most politicians, but were he to take power, how much of what he says he is going to do would he actually carry out? A good bet is not much at all. Indeed, he's more likely to become the best-known figurehead on a stage of other political figureheads who in reality kowtow to the real movers and shakers of this world; the money men, of which Trump is one of course, but only one.

In fact, he might find out that he was able to exert more of an influence behind the scenes than being centre stage.

In the end, by going 'radical' as some see it with Trump, the US might just be opting for the 'same old, same old.' And exactly how the real powers want it to be. Plus cą change. Oh well, there's always sport to provide us with the novelties.
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