“Slacktivism” – Is internet activism actually effective?

There’s no denying that the internet, in particular social media, has been an incredibly useful tool when it comes to spreading word on just about anything. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr mean that celebrity news reaches people nearly immediately, and provide a place for people worldwide to discuss and debate social issues. Links to petitions and public service announcements are shared and spread by thousands of users, but is it actually effective?

Many people say “no” – they regard this kind of “activism” as “slacktivism”, focusing on the apparent laziness of the current generation, and think that clicking a button instead of putting in any real work for charitable or social cause is simply the easy, and not every effective option. Others believe that the global network that these sites provide have been a massive step in spreading awareness and education of sociopolitical issues, and easily allow people, particularly young people, to get an insight from people from all walks of life that they wouldn’t necessarily converse with otherwise. Before the information age, people didn’t know much about what was going on in other parts of the world, and it was much easier to disregard things happening far away as not affecting us.

I’m in two minds, as I think it completely depends on which actions we’re talking about. The things that I regard as inefficient “slacktivism” are the trends that people seem to view as a game more than sociopolitical or charitable activism. One that springs to mind is the so-called raising awareness for breast cancer, where women post a statement such as “I like it on the tabletop”, which is meant to seem sexual but is actually meaning the location of their handbag, or “I am going to Germany in 12 weeks”, which I can’t even remember what it was referring to. The biggest issue with these, in my eyes, is that because they’re cryptic, no one actually knows what they’re about! So in effect it does absolutely nothing to raise awareness. How does, as a man, seeing one of these statuses without being clued in to the reason (which is meant to be kept completely secret from men) going to raise awareness to me about breast cancer? Also, women who haven’t been clued in will also not gain anything from it. That it excludes men is also a massive problem, as men too suffer from breast cancer, but this is not known by many people.

Another issue I regard as “slacktivism” is the campaigns of changing your profile pictures to combat child abuse, for example. While everyone tends to be more clued in as to the reasons for this, simply changing a picture does absolutely nothing to contribute to charities for children’s protection, or to raise awareness regarding being vigilant about the signs of possible abuse. Many people simply change the picture and do nothing more, but it’s important to supplement it with links of information, to charities who work in the field, etc.

However, many people who cry “slacktivism” are not actually contributing themselves to sociopolitical issues or charitable purposes. At least “slacktivists” actually believe that they are making a contribution, and this intent is due credit even if not very effective. They also lump any kind of internet campaigning into the category of “slacktivism” without giving attention to the success stories. Personally, I think it’s fantastic that the world can come together online, and it’s a joy to see young people in deep discussion about sociopolitical issues, even if it can be problematic at times. People’s eyes are being opened to issues that don’t necessarily affect them in their everyday lives, and they become better people by learning about various issues like supporting LGBT rights, feminism, or combating racism or other rampant prejudices in the everyday sector.

Furthermore, many petitions DO work. I am part of various petition sites such as Avaaz and AllOut, whose petitions cover many different issues and have actually seen success. They range from putting international pressure on countries such as Russia re the anti-gay laws and the Brazilian government re cutting down of rainforests, to seemingly “smaller” issues such as asking brand names to remove sexist labeling from their products. A current highlight on Avaaz’s website is the success of working with the Maasai community in Tanzania to prevent their eviction from their lands in order to bring in tourists to hunt wildlife; another is the success of a petition that led Maldivian president to intervene in a flogging sentence of a young rape survivor for having consensual sex with a partner. AllOut’s Project Relocation has successfully relocated thirteen people who were on Iraq’s “Kill Lists” for being gay or suspected of being gay, and led to a reform of the Dutch government’s refugee policy to help others in this situation. These are no small feats, nor even the petitions to get British supermarket Asda to remove a transphobic card from its shelves.

I support charity outwith online petitions and spreading information; I volunteer for a local charity that aids the homeless, an animal charity, and at a cat shelter, and pay monthly to Oxfam. However, this is limited by my health issues, and anyway, other people can’t devote such time to charities for health and other reasons! I think it’s great that we can take a few minutes to do something small such as signing a petition; after all, raindrops in their millions make oceans. It’s fantastic if people do have the time and resources to donate directly to charities, but it’s also those who spread the word who contribute to the difference.

The next time you condemn someone as being a “slacktivist”, make sure that you’re actually making some sort of contribution yourself, whether it’s patronizing charity stores, making donations, giving your time to charitable organizations, or simply by signing petitions or educating yourself on sociopolitical issues. I will repeat that even if a “slacktivist”‘s actions are not necessarily effective, at least they’re making an effort and believe they’re doing the right thing rather than hypocritically demonizing others for a lack of action.

To “slacktivists”: next time you receive a message in your inbox to post a cryptic status based on breast cancer awareness and are told not to elaborate what the reason behind the status, consider instead to make a small post about cancer and cancer awareness and post in a credible link that people can go to for more information. We all know that breast cancer exists, so doing something “in the name” of breast cancer without actually adding information, outside links, or perhaps donation links, doesn’t actually do much to raise awareness.

How safe is aspartame?

To follow up to my last post on science journalism, I wanted to write something about an article I read today about aspartame, how safe it is, and the myths surrounding it. I’m pretty much going to paraphrase the original, originally by Skeptic Magazine, which you can find here.

First off is the claim that aspartame is derived from bacterial “excrement”, and many people believe that the use of bacteria in its production results in “contamination” by E. coli. As I explained in my previous post, using genetically modified organisms to produce certain things does not contaminate the foodstuff with the bacteria or virus, and in fact the product is largely structurally equivalent to the natural version. Aspartame is composed of phenylalanine and aspartic acid, both of which are amino acids that naturally occur in proteins. Again, people hear the word “acid” or the names of “scary chemicals” and worry based on mixed message we receive from media regarding chemicals, additives, and so on, without the opportunity to learn that in actual fact much from the media is inaccurate fearmongering. Products that are made using genetic modification are not derived from excrement at all, and the final product that appears in your food does not have viruses or bacteria in it.

Also quite common is the concern over aspartame’s breakdown products and the effects they have on our bodies, when actually, its breakdown products (aspartic acid and phenylalanine as well as methanol) are also produced from the digestion of other natural foodstuffs, and do not harm us. “Correlation does not necessarily equal causation” is a concept you have to bear in mind – many people complain about various health issues which they attribute to consuming aspartame with no proof that aspartame is actually the cause. For example, one could take a pill for some reason, then unwittingly eat food that has gone off; if they then become ill, they might attribute the sickness to an adverse reaction to the pill, rather than the food, and it’s the same principle with consuming aspartame. Another example is the apparent statistic that cities with more churches have more crime; this may have nothing to do with religion, and is more likely tied to the fact that cities with higher populations are more likely to have more churches, and also to have more crime! Not only have there been no adverse health effects found to be caused by aspartame, controlled scientific studies haven’t even found a correlation.

The conclusion: the fear of aspartame being harmful and a “poison” is largely media fearmongering. Unfortunately, the average person tends to listen to unreliable sources such as the media or celebrities who comment on things like diet and additives, without listening to the researchers who actually know what they’re talking about. Suddenly, glossy magazines know the hidden disadvantages and effects that doctors and researchers are supposedly not telling you about. Please try not to be sucked in by this media sensationalization; if you hear something that gives you doubts about what you’re eating and what is added to your food, do some research of your own online before making a judgment that you then spread throughout your social circle. Make sure to be vigilant about what sources you use too, and try to find those that are more reputable. It’s quite obvious that a glossy beauty magazine isn’t going to be as reliable as the FDA website, for example!

If you still don’t want to consume aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, that’s absolutely fine, as long as it’s an informed decision, and you don’t then spread the same fearmongering to your friends and family. It’s sad that society is getting to the stage where people don’t trust doctors, but think that their friends without degrees or PhDs suddenly know everything there is to know about a subject! A PhD doesn’t mean you know absolutely everything and that you’re always 100% right, but in general, controlled and randomized studies are going to be more accurate than what you see from commercial sources like magazines. Also, if you are concerned about bad health effects based on what you are eating, bear in mind that if you’re a smoker or drinker, cutting down or stopping these is likely to give you much more benefit than analyzing every little additive in your food and worrying about things like aspartame, which are actually harmless. Curiously, people latch onto sensationalized claims like “aspartame is a poison!”, yet blatantly ignore health warnings regarding smoking, alcohol, the consumption of high-fatty foods, and so on. An example mentioned in the Skeptic Magazine article is high-fructose corn syrup, something that people shoot down all the time as fattening and dangerous additive to food, whereas actually various fruits, like pears, have a higher fructose content!

The bottom line is: make your decisions and choices informed ones. You have a wealth of information at your fingertips on the internet; be wise about which sources you choose, and try to read things up for yourself. As I stated in my previous post, the miscommunication of science is actually one of the biggest problems, in my opinion, because it hampers further research that would make a difference to all of our lives. It’s a very frustrating thing, and I admire anyone who is trying to put out the truth, and educate people a little bit at a time. So if anyone reads this and starts to think twice about the sensationalism in the media of scientific concepts, then I feel I’ve done my job!

The importance of accurate scientific journalism

Perhaps I was just naïve, but halfway through my bachelor’s degree in anatomy, I was somewhat surprised to discover that there was such thing as a master’s degree in Science Journalism. I wondered how necessary such a thing was, and what could possibly comprise a year’s course on this subject. As time went on, I realize that I’ve always held it necessary, and the evidence is all around us.

Science is the big field that is very often miscommunicated through the media. I want to start with the furore over “additives”. I believe in healthy eating, even if I don’t always adhere to it myself, and there’s no denying that a healthy diet can very much lengthen your life, taking into account that a majority of people in developed countries die of cardiovascular disease. Even though I know this statistic, it was still somewhat disconcerting in one of my lectures to have the lecturer proclaim that most of us in the room would meet such a fate; it gave me a more palpable reality of that statistic to consider. So on one hand, I appreciate that people are more on board with what goes into their food, and they care about what they’re putting into their systems. However, media fearmongering has made things very problematic. People demonize substances such as aspartame and various preserving agents, without realizing why they are in food in the first place, and what effects (or not) they actually have upon the body. I’m sure we’ve all seen such pictures of fast food that has been sitting for two years and looks perfectly intact. People then panic over ingesting such preservative agents and wonder what they’re doing to our bodies, sparking a desire for “natural” and “organic” foods. (The misnomer of “organic” is another story altogether; the word simply refers to things that are carbon-based, which all life is.) But is all natural really more healthy and beneficial? EDTA, or ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, is what is called a chelating agent, or sequestering agent, and one of its uses is in drinking water. Some people see the chemical name, or perhaps the word “acid” and start panicking as to what “they” are putting in “our” foods. Actually, what EDTA does is to bind metal ions that are found for example in hard water, and render them much less reactive. Now the question is: would you rather consume your more “natural” hard water with all its impurities, or the water that has been treated with something that actually isn’t quite the scary chemical people think of it as, that renders it more clean and suitable for drinking? Another example may be sweet corn, which actually allows a nice segue into my next topic, which is GM foods.

Sweet corn is a genetic mutation of field corn. Now, immediately, fearmongerers and impressionable people will jump upon the phrase “genetic mutation” and panic without realizing what that actually means. Genetic mutations are a natural part of life, and are what prevents all animals, and indeed all life-forms, from being genetically identical, or clones. Genetic mutations give us the variety we see, whether in eye color, height, hair color, blood groups, or even inheritable diseases. A mutation happened spontaneously in a corn plant that made the crop taste much sweeter, and by selectively breeding these sweeter plants, we get a whole new crop that is naturally sweet, with little or no sign of the original copy of the gene present (that did not give a sweet flavor). It can be likened to selective dog breeding, where breeders pair animals with desirable characteristics in order that the offspring will inherit these characteristics. These differences in coat, health, or behavior have their basis in genes, and different copies of a gene will give a different result. Genetically modifying foods gives various benefits; for example, here in the north of Scotland, it is too cold for various crops to grow successfully, but by introducing the characteristic, or gene, from another plant that can grow in cold conditions into the corn plant that does not, that corn plant can then be grown in cold conditions. And that’s basically what GM foods come down to. It’s like organ donation in a way, if you can think in principles, whereupon a defective (or in this case undesired) part of the plant is replaced by a part that does function (in this case allows the characteristic we want to introduce).

The procedure of genetically modifying foods is something that people panic at. They hear that bacterial and viral vectors are used, and think that that means scientists are infecting our foods. Or they imagine that by combining characteristics and genes from various plants will produce some kind of strange hybrid. Indeed, there was a radio show a few years ago here in the UK that was discussing GM foods. They called them “Frankenstein foods”, and even ignoring the fact that Frankenstein was the name of the scientist, not the monster, to me this is less “telling the masses what the boffins keep secret”, and more simple fearmongering. People begin to have images in their heads of rats with dog tails growing out of them, or eight furry spider legs. But actually, genetically modifying foods is not about putting distinct parts of one plant into another, but about DNA. There’s another scary scientific chemical word! Deoxyribonucleic acid is the basis of all life. From bacteria invisible to the naked eye to spiders to blue whales to the complexity of primates including humans, DNA has the same basic structure, and many animals have genes that are homologous to each other, or “equivalent” in a sense. They could be termed “cognate genes”; you often hear that we are very genetically similar to chimpanzees, which makes sense, I think, but also people may be astounded to hear that we share approximately half of our genes with bananas! This is because both we and bananas have cells that undergo similar processes, such as the synthesis of proteins, breakdown of various compounds, and so on. So, when foods are genetically engineered, you are not taking half a banana and transplanting it into an orange! You are taking DNA, which is structurally equivalent as a chemical, and taking a gene that is a slightly different copy; theoretically, it would be like introducing the gene that makes eyes brown into a blue-eyed person to give them brown eyes. In a more practical application, this procedure is used in gene therapy, where the healthy copy of a certain gene is introduced into a patient with a genetic disease; their cells take up the healthy copy, reproduce it, thus lessening the impact of the diseased gene. As a crocheter, I can liken the process to my hobby: all crocheted items are made up of the same basic stitches, but by varying them and performing the stitches in a different order, you can come out with very different garments. So it is with DNA, which produces all the variety of life with just four variations: the bases adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine, or ATCG. By putting these bases into different orders on the gene, a different result, or characteristic if you will, can be produced. So with gene therapy, or GM foods, you are almost performing a microscopic organ donation: when pig heart valves are transplanted into human hearts, this doesn’t make them some horrifying half-human half-pig hybrid! This is because the structure of the pig valve is very similar to the human valve, in the way that the structure of DNA and genes is similar across all organisms.

Genetically modifying foods means that they can survive longer in hostile climates, and this could have massive implications on global starvation. Also, genetic modification is used to introduce resistance to diseases that could spoil a whole season’s worth of crops, and for certain communities or villages, this could mean effectively starving over winter with no money coming in. To jump back to the issue of preserving agents, this and genetic modification can be used to extend the life of foods, which has obvious benefits. People have long preserved their food “naturally” with salt; but salt is sodium chloride, a scary chemical name! Why such reluctance then to use more effective preserving agents, simply because they don’t have a common household name? On the “Frankenstein foods” radio show I mentioned, a lady called in at the end. She said she had listened to the show with great interest, and that now she had the knowledge, she would “never eat anything with DNA in it ever again”. Now, I admit, this was so absurd to me that I laughed my head off. I thought “good luck eating anything ever again!” and thought it very ironic because any food without DNA would have to be quite artificial if not something like water, or food products like sugar. But it’s this kind of fearmongering that is extremely problematic for the scientific community – and actually for the general public too. All meats have DNA, all vegetables have DNA, all fruits have DNA; how can we survive without eating DNA? DNA is the basis of our own lives, not some scary chemical that scientists use to contaminate our foods. But because people tend to listen to the media, this is what we get. We have people who swear by fad diets and supplements that have no proven benefits, but they listen to the media and celebrity world who say they do work. People panic about what’s going into their bodies when chemical names are introduced or it’s a procedure they don’t understand, but many same people ignore health advice regarding alcohol (which is a chemical, ethanol!), smoking (myriad chemicals that have been proven harmful), tanning, and so on. Science is relied on to treat the diseases that these things cause, but when the health community says “Yes, this is harmful”, “No, this will bring you no nutritious benefits”, somehow they are wrong. Selective listening is a problem across the board, but it is dangerous in these instances when there may be a resulting impact upon public health.

Vaccination is another controversial hotspot. People were quick enough to believe the initial study that showed a link between autism and the MMR vaccine, which makes sense as it was a scientific study; however, no one listens when the scientific community says it was proven fraudulent, and actually there is NO proven link, because people are too busy listening to celebrities who have no scientific experience or knowledge whatsoever, and are apparently a more reliable source than people with PhDs and who work daily in the field. Again with vaccines, people hear the viruses are used, and ignore the fact that the viruses are deactivated and cannot make you ill, and then jump on conspiracies about how vaccinations are a ploy to inject the populace with illness. Many people go on about how much more ill they became with the flu vaccine than with the flu, but the vaccine stimulates a response from your immune system, so you are going to feel the results of your immune system working against what it thinks is a disease-causing virus (but which is actually deactivated). Also, there must be emphasis upon the fact that symptoms are not always proportional to the damage inside: a very simple example is how much a harmless papercut hurts, but you can have a massive traumatic injury that can kill you, but you barely feel at the time, such as losing a limb. Another example is the fact that many people are suffering from stage 4 cancer without realizing it, because the outward symptoms are not always as severe as what’s going on inside.

I feel the scientific community can’t really win. On one hand, we have people saying “Why haven’t you cured cancer yet?” but on the other, saying “Research is evil/a waste of time/a waste of money”, “Stem cell research is inhumane”, and so on. People look to us for answers and for breakthroughs, but simultaneously do not listen to advice and information that they don’t want to hear over the messages from media and celebrities that they would rather hear. As someone with a chronic disease and also an anatomy degree, I have heard many absurd things from people who seem to think they know exactly what they are talking about, and why their 20£ a month magazine supplement will cure my disease, that their knowledge somehow surpasses that of my specialists. I have very often had on my tongue, “Oh, what medical school did you go to? I didn’t realize you were in the field”, but that would be quite bitterly impudent! I’m also reminded of those who eschew medical treatment in favor of “natural remedies”; I don’t pooh-pooh all natural remedies at all, and acknowledge that many will work over a pill, but I strive to always remind people that they are very often coming from the same thing! For example, back in the day, people chewed willow bark for pain relief, and the basis of this is the chemical(!) salicylic acid, which is the main ingredient of manufactured aspirin. However, the big difference in manufactured aspirin is the alteration of salicylic acid into acetylsalicylic acid, and this prevents the stomach and gut irritation that salicylic acid gives. So, would you rather take the natural route and chew willow bark and receive stomach ulceration, or get the same benefit from the manufactured pill without the dangerous stomach upset? Natural is not always better, and I personally believe in a combination of natural remedies and medication prescribed by people who know what they’re talking about, no matter what your magazine article tells you.

This went on longer than I planned, but basically this is why we need science journalism from people who actually know what they’re talking about. It’s easy for Joe Average to get the wrong end of the stick and then spread what is inaccurate and possibly harmful viewpoints. I think it’s very irresponsible for various publications to release info that is fearmongering, without even a simple background that would allow readers to grasp a little of the science behind it. It’s a constant fight, and I try to do my bit to correct those who are disillusioned by inaccurate information.

Is our “society of convenience” making us lazy?

I don’t think anyone can quite deny that this is a “society of convenience”; in general, everyone is trying to do as much as they can with the smallest effort, technologies are geared toward making things as simple as possible without tearing your heart out and having to learn the ins and out of an operating system or computer program. As much as many of these steps should be celebrated, my worry is that it’s actually setting us back as a whole, because, rather ironically, the more access we have to things, the more lazy we generally get. (Note: If you are someone who relies much on technology, and would be lost without your gadgets, please do not take this as an insult, but rather my musing of people who do not fully grasp the opportunities at our fingertips that new technology gives us. After, I’m writing this on a laptop; I enjoy a lot of tech myself!)

What spurred me into thinking of this was actually getting a new laptop at Christmas when mine was on its way out. The new one came equipped with Windows 8, and frankly, I was dreading it. I was dismayed to hear there was no proper Start menu, and that the interface very much resembled a smartphone, something I have no interest in purchasing. But I thought, there must be settings to make things more the way I want them; I’m rather tech-savvy, so I thought it wouldn’t be too much of a problem to browse about and personalize things a bit. Well, I was right; I’ve managed to personalize the computer quite a bit, and altered enough settings that the new Windows 8 isn’t making me want to throw the computer through the window as it was in the first week. But, I thought to myself, by apparently “simplifying” much of the interface, Microsoft has actually made things more difficult for those who have a bit more knowledge of their computer, and in fact, for novices, they have to relearn a completely new system without having the know-how to make things more simplistic and back to what they are more used to.

I think in general, people want everything at their fingertips. They want to be able to hit the Start screen here and have their emails update in real time, to see Facebook updates without having to actually open email or Facebook itself, new headlines appear immediately in the app box, the weather information updates too. But I wonder: what have we become that people are unwilling to put in a bit of “work” for these things? Is it really such an inconvenience to have to open a program to use it? My prime example is Facebook’s integration with myriad other programs – in many ways, this is useful: I have a Facebook myself, and I find it very nice and handy to be able to click a Share button on another site and have a petition, for example, delivered to my Facebook Wall. However, what I don’t understand is that while people are recently very concerned about internet safety and privacy, programs like Facebook allow you see almost everything your friends are doing online in real time. I frankly think it’s unnecessary.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy Facebook to keep up with what friends are up to, to have a look through any photos they upload, and to watch some videos that they wanted to share. But is it really necessary to hook up all of our external accounts to Facebook: do I need to know, in real time, what books are my friends are reading, what songs they are listening to right now on Spotify, what comments they are writing on YouTube, what they are writing on Twitter? And so on, and so forth. Now, none of this information is exactly private, and I’m not ashamed of what I read that I wouldn’t want my friends to know. But I just ask myself why? Why is there such a focus on the details of other people’s lives? If I want to read someone’s Tweets, I can log onto Twitter. If I want to see what videos they’ve favorited or enjoyed on YouTube, I can log on there instead of having their every comment uploaded to Facebook. Are we really so lazy that we can’t log ourselves into another website to see this information?

Smartphones: I think that they are really smart! (*groan*) I can imagine some occasions where I would have really benefited from one; for example, when I was once lost in a small town in Tanzania, or when I was in Greece and Italy last year, and needed some information quickly regarding buses or directions to certain places. Instead I came home and used the hotel’s computer, albeit with a very slow connection. (But in Tanzania, there was no such option as we were camping, and thankfully one of the men on the trip found me and got me out of a massive crowd!) I wouldn’t denigrate someone for having a smartphone for these things, nor would I severely judge them for smaller things, such as listening to a song on the radio and wanting to know who sings it, or chatting to a friend via Facebook or chat or whatever. But I am so frequently dismayed to see, for example, a girl on a bus in front of me, and every five minutes, she is opening the Facebook app on her phone, seeing nothing has changed, closes it, and then opens it again five minutes later, and the same thing for the whole journey. Now, maybe she was waiting for a certain update, I don’t know, but it’s disheartening to see people so reliant on technology. I am on my computer every day, and I would be very sad to lose it full-time, and I don’t know how I’d cope without the internet, but I’m more referring to those who panic and get really suddenly bored and perhaps even upset if their internet connection temporarily cuts off. My little sister is the prime example; she is completely lost without her smartphone and constant, 24/7 access to the internet. I, on the other hand, am inconvenienced by it, but I have more than enough things I can do without an online connection.

It strikes me as quite sad that people don’t really have offline hobbies anymore, but even that aside, I know many people use the internet for only a fraction of what it can do. Now, it’s someone’s prerogative how they live, and what they do with their spare time, so I’m trying not to be rather elitist about this, but many of the older generation think that everyone uses the internet just to go on Facebook, or Tumblr, or watch silly videos all day on YouTube; thus my mother doesn’t realize that I use my time online to write novels, to learn about things, to read the wealth of information that is available in a few clicks. Yes, I also play inane games to wind down, I watch silly cat videos on YouTube, but it just almost saddens me that the majority, I believe, doesn’t realize how much of a world the internet opens up.

As for making us lazy: I feel that people are less inclined to learn anything now, because “I can just Google it”. As long as they have some kind of access to information, they don’t see the benefit in actually committing it to memory. People are more hesitant and sometimes even downright unwilling to put a bit of work into anything, even as simple as “Oh, there’s a link, but I’ll have to open a tab and copy it into the address bar”, or “I’ve taken a photo on my digital camera, but I don’t have a Share button, so I can’t really be bothered copying it to my computer and then uploading manually to Facebook etc.”. Not everyone is like this, of course – what kind of world would we have, if so!? – but sadly I see for example in my young nieces and nephews that people are becoming less willing to put in effort, and fewer children have a sense of achievement, or even work ethic these days, in my opinion.

I’m 22 years old, and realize I probably sound about 52. I acknowledge that my hobbies use a lot more “brainpower” than many other people, and so I’m biased in this way, perhaps thinking how ideal it would be if everyone read more books, or wrote their own poetry, but I’m not an “intelligence elitist”; it’s not that everyone should be out earning Nobel Prizes, but that people should have something to call their own, something they produce and put work into, and get a sense of achievement from it. I acknowledge that even I’m lucky at this stage, for how much technology has helped me; in university, we were kindly given a Periodic Table in exams – my lecturers told of how they had to learn it by heart. In the ancient world, many people learned by heart the works of Virgil and Homer; nowadays, we are lucky if someone has even read them!

I am thankful for what technology has done for me – yes, it has allowed us to cut corners, and put less effort into things that before would have required much input, much blood, sweat, and tears, but I simply fear that things are becoming too convenient, and that people expect everything to be placed in their hands. Many people find it even convenient these days to read a paper book, or write by hand, and I find that astounding. People say online, “How do you spell that?” or “Who’s that?” when they could actually take advantage of their technology and look these things up online! I’ve probably apparently contradicted some points there and there; I’m not extremely pro-technology for every possible task, nor am I anti-technology, of course. But I believe, often “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. All I know is that future generations seem to be losing heart for putting work into something, and fewer people seem to thrive on a sense of achievement. If I have children, naturally I will let them relax and have fun and rather inane hobbies; but I will also try to instil in them that it is worth putting effort into something for the reward that comes out. This will help them not only in their school lives to be more accepting of tasks and do the best they can do for their own benefit, but it helps in normal, everyday life, whether working, whether trying to organize your time, tidy your house, or try to cope when everything seems to go balls-up. Instead of resenting tasks, try to work with some relish, and tell yourself what you’re getting out of it. Don’t dismiss learning things that you find interesting because “Google has it anyway”.

To get back to the original thread, I just know I’m dreading the day my father has to upgrade to Windows 8, and with him not knowing much about computers, I am simply thankful that I’m here to help him out. The new interface has simplified many things for modern people who are used to everything running smoothly and having everything in the one place, but a lot of old-schoolers (like my father) and more old-fashioned people who don’t necessarily enjoy the fanciest interfaces (like me), are going to find it troublesome to use the technologies for what they need to, and after all, isn’t that the point? I’m open to learning as I go, but even some things like Task Manager and such “behind-the-scenes” things are harder to access on newer interfaces. I think because there is the belief that everyone wants the smooth running, no-nonsense, no-effort programs, without having to worry about the ins and outs of organizing files, making repairs, checking the discs. I am someone who prefers to use an HTML input rather than a Rich Text Format because I find it can be inconvenient to make sure I’m highlighting and clicking Italic when I need it, or sometimes the input messes up and the order of things is all wrong; whereas in HTML, something I’m used to and can use with little trouble, I get written what I need to without faffing about with something that is actually designed to make things easier for people; I don’t doubt it makes things easier for a lot of people, but I think companies need to remember that some of us do not find the “simpler” things such, and sometimes we prefer to put in a bit more work to get the end result we want. To give an option is the main idea, but I still worry that too many people are always looking for the shortcuts. We all have something in which we could put some work into and reap the rewards, I don’t doubt it, and for you it may not be writing novels like I do, or attending uni, but there is something to make your own, without having the technologies to lay it all out and do all the work for you. It’s worth it, believe me, to have that sense of pride over something that isn’t how many “likes” you have on Facebook or your YouTube videos, if you’re so inclined.

But, to finish off, it’s to each his own, and this is merely me musing over a trend that saddens me. Many people are NOT lazy and unwilling, despite utilizing their technology for many things, and I acknowledge this, for I am one of them. 🙂

The Faces Of The Past

I have been interested in Ancient Egypt since I was a small child, after finding a book in my school library and reveling in the gory details of mummification. I’m not sure whether this is what sparked my interest in anatomy or not, but I know both came around at about age eight. Since then I’ve read eagerly on Ancient Egyptian mythology, and also done some reading about a civilization that has a vast history.

I just finished reading the book “The Search for Nefertiti” by Dr. Joann Fletcher, a leading Egyptologist here in the UK. She described some of her expeditions to Egypt to investigate the identity of three mummies mysteriously walled into a side chamber of the tomb of Amenhotep II in the Valley of the Kings, designated KV.35. The mummies comprised an elder woman, a younger woman (mistakenly identified first as male on account of a shaved head), and a young boy. They were identified as being of the controversial Amarna Period, which was in the latter part of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

The controversy of this period is due to Amenhotep IV, great-grandson on Amenhotep II, who eschewed the Egyptian Pantheon in favor of worshiping only one god, the sun god Aten. Changing his name to Akhenaten, he built the city of Amarna in dedication to Aten, and moved the royal city here in his fifth year as pharaoh. He is known as Akhenaten the Heretic, and correspondence of his successors dubbed him “enemy”. His chief wife was Nefertiti, and he fathered the famous boy-king Tutankhamen with another of his wives.

Back to the mummies in KV.35 – while the elder woman was shown to be Queen Tiye, mother of Akhenaten, the boy’s identity has not been confirmed, and he is thought to be either the prince Webensenu, a son of Amenhotep II, or Crown Prince Thutmose (or Djhutmose), who was Akhenaten’s elder brother and heir to the throne until his death allowed Akhenaten to succeed their father. The identity of the younger woman has been a controversial topic, with Dr. Fletcher identifying her as Nefertiti herself. Although more recent testing has identified the mummy to be that of Tutankhamen’s mother and a daughter of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye (i.e. Akhenaten’s sister as well as wife), the book is still intriguing and well worth the read. If you’re not well versed in the characters of Ancient Egypt, it’s easy to get lost in all the Amenhoteps and Thutmoses, but the book provides an in depth explanation of the Amarna Period and life in the city, and I think that even knowing nothing previously (or knowing quite a lot!) does not prevent it from being a rewarding experience.

Basically, that was a long-winded introduction for me to say how astonished I was to see the mummies of Queen Tiye’s parents, Yuya and Thuyu. They are regarded as two of the best preserved Ancient Egyptian mummies. We often see depictions of ancient people, for example in very life-like sculptures or portraits, but even then it can be quite difficult to really transfer that to what they would really look like in the flesh. The faces of mummies usually give us not much in the way of seeing the faces as they would have been in life, and so it can be difficult to remember that these people did walk about, talk, and do everything as we do now. But with Yuya and Thuyu, you can see the people they were, and considering that they died around 3300 years ago, that is astonishing. That is comparable to seeing someone’s face, who was buried now, so perfectly in the year 5300. It’s inconceivable!

And so my fascination with this long period of history continues. It’s strange to think what we discover of Ancient Egypt even today, and the fact that things from so long ago have lain undisturbed all these millennia. I highly recommend Dr. Fletcher’s book if you are interested in learning about the Amarna Period.