Digital Proletariats

Those of my readers who can recall back to around May or June will remember my waxing lyrical about Ones and Zeros… Our virtual personalities on the web. 6 months later (considering therapy for my MySpace addictions) I think this subject needs a revisit.

For those who have not read that piece, in précis I discussed the ideas presented by the likes of Giddens, Baudrillard, and Castells concerning the way that our digital existence shrinks the world as we communicate and in some ways, even replace travel through the use of the net: “I was computer code, I was ones and zeros” (this being a sample from a psy-trance tune by the way, Ketamine influenced I suspect…)

And it’s great. Through the marvels of the Network Society I have had guys in LA complimenting my tunes. Talked to people in Illinois (and on a side point, experienced the pain of loss at the death of someone I’ve never met). Through DSI I keep in touch with people from Glade from whom I’d never have bothered to get a number, and of course get to see what antics I got up to t the West Indian Centre when I’ve been too fucked to remember. MySpace has done wonders, I think, for solidifying the Cabbage and Riff Raff scenes, as people now talk, sometimes even sense during the week. I have built some amazing friendships that have contrary to remaining Simulacra, gone back into the real world.

But there is, as ever, a problem. How much does the net bring you together when you are a poor single mother, a substance farmer, one of those for whom society has no place or no employment it has found a reason to imprison?

A new (even basic) PC suitable for digital communication costs around 3 months unemployment benefit in the UK, or the annual income of a schoolteacher in Calcutta, or about 50 times the approximate subsistence income in the same place.

Now of course I am lucky. I can afford a PC – I’m sat at it now. Though I too at time struggle to keep up with the new and exciting developments in technology – this old chunterer runs Win98 on 700MHz 196mB machine that used to belong to my mum. That’s a pretty impressive amount of processing power in real terms. But not by todays terms. A little under 20 years ago my Grandfather took me the see the pride and joy of Reading University, an Ardent Computer Corporation Titan Minicomputer, a beast of a machine taking up a room the size of my living room, with a staggering 8mB of memory running at (I believe) 75MHz. At home we had a paltry 48kB of RAM and a 3.5MHz processor in our spectrum.

10 years later something similar to the Titan in power was sat on my desk, having just bought it for £100 of off some student lad (though the stingy bugger deleted all his porn before selling it to me, as me and Derek discovered when we trawled the hard drive with undelete). Maybe this was ‘cos he was pissed off ‘cos it cost him a grand 2 years before.

A grand, incidentally, is what I paid for my music PC 3 years later. Running over 16 times as fast with 32 times the memory. A top of the range desktop PC now will have two processors running over twice as fast again and perhaps another 16fold memory increase.

But why do we need all this power? Fortunately the rush seems to have died down, and low-end PCs are in the shops (about the spec of my better one).

The answer is, we don’t. They do.

Don’t worry, this isn’t some conspiracy theory about world governments hijacking your machine to further their nefarious plans. I’m talking about the people who make money from PCs. The software houses. By bull-shitting us that they are writing software that takes advantage of the latest technological developments, they can then cut support for the legacy products. And then of course you need a new PC so that the electronics corps can get fat whilst paying fuck all to the sweatshop workers dragged in from their villages in South-East Asia to sit in a sea of arsenic, selenium and cadmium making the chips and switches. And so it cycles.

This is bollocks. OK, I’ll confess that the MySpace pages of the likes of Nesbitt that are full of random flashing crap do chock up the memory on my baby computer occasionally. But then I only go there to insult him and tell him to lay off my ass. 99.% of what I want to do on this PC I could do on my old one. Except now the software is just not there.

And I may also simply not want to use it. I use Open Office. This manages Microsoft Office files like a dream – in fact it’s more stable than Word. Will Microsoft ever support .odt files. Doubt it.

And Internet Explorer. Possibly the most buggy, insecure and dangerous piece of consumer software out there. I DONT FUCKING WANT IT! Since running Firefox under Win98 I have never had a problem with viruses, spyware and trojans. MSN messenger has handled webcams for years, but could I even receive a cam connection to watch J making faces at me last night. Nope. ‘Cos the new MSN won’t install as I don’t have IE6. And of course, can I still download a legacy version of MSN. Like a squirrel’s chuff can I?

I could play mp3s fine on my old PC. Could I grab the astounding hours worth of Awesome metal off Pinky’s page. Narp. iTunes format. Dunno if iTunes runs on Win98, anyroad I don’t want it. And don’t even get me started on my quest to find a Win98 compatible hardware mp3 player or digicam.

Laydees and Gentleblokes… There is s request here. As far as you can, use free software. Loads of people write it, for the love of it. Much of it’s far better than the shite Microsoft put out. Lets take the cash and the power out of Gates’ hands. One day, just maybe, (said the tired old anarchist) all software will be free, written as cleanly as possible, and they we will be one more step away from cybercapitalism and there will be fewer information poor.

I want an ASBO!

I want an ASBO.

No, this is not ‘cos I feel left out, see it as a badge of honour or any other such nonsense spouted by the Tabloids.

I want to get an ASBO for the most stupid thing I can.

ASBOs are a civil order, created by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which can be imposed following any persistent behaviour “likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons…”. Police officers, local authorities and some social landlords can apply for an ASBO to be given by the courts. This is rarely denied, and this can be based (being a civil order) on hearsay evidence. Breach of ASBO is punishable by up to 5 years in gaol (or if under 17 up to 2 years Detention and Training order – i.e baby gaol) (Burney 2005)

Now of course this all seems well and good when some little scrote is discharging pellets at your cat, when the local wide-boyz are trying to find the clitoral response frequency with the 3k subwoofers in their boots (I guess they never use their cars for shopping do they?), or that weird bloke who smells of poo and evo-stik shuffles behind you begging for change.

But let’s analyse this statement a bit further.

“Likely to harass, alarm or cause distress” – What is likely to cause alarm or distress. This is a very woolly statement (intentionally so) enabling all manner of behaviours to be criminalized. Ok, the above examples are fairly antisocial, but are they crime. What about (the very current) wearing of a hoodie, spitting, swearing… Maybe I don’t even need to try to get one! The Home Office Guidance states that “distress” can be caused by creating a fear of crime. This may be the ladz hanging out on the street corner in their hoodies, but research such as the British Crime Survey suggests that reactions to crime may cause fear – so the fact that there is such a visible police presence in Hyde Park during freshers week makes me fear crime. ASBO those coppers! And what about Wilson and Kellings (1983 cited in Kelling and Coles 1996) “Broken Windows” thesis that rundown areas create a fear of crime and are in fact criminogenic themselves. ASBO the road menders, the street planners, the bin men and the rogue landlords.

“one or more persons” – If one looks at the public order offences, such as affray, there is the qualifier of “a man of reasonable firmness”. This does not exists in ASB legislation. So if I say that my neighbours cat peering out of the window at me causes alarm, can I get it ASBO’d? Yeh I know that’s not particularly scary (my neighbours girlfriend however is another matter), but no where does it say how scary the cause of the distress must be…

“Police officers, local authorities… …rarely denied… …hearsay evidence” – What this means is that a number of persons, who may simply have an axe to grind (not that coppers ever behave thusly) can simply decide to slap down an ASBO for any behaviour they take umbridge to. Frankly, this causes me alarm and distress…

Perhaps though, the most worrying thing about ASBOs is the people receiving them and the things that they can be banned from doing under them.

A teenager with tourettes banned from swearing. A prostitute banned from carrying condoms. A family of 3 siblings and their cousin banned from congregating in a group of 3 or more. A child banned from saying the word “grass” in public (Burney 2005). A depressed and suicidal woman offered no treatment but banned from going near railways (http://www.asboconcern.org.uk/). WTF??

And the results are worrying too. A deaf teenager imprisoned for breaching an ASBO by spitting in the street. An 18 yearold in breach by “congregating with more than one other person” (a certain work by Jello Biafra comes to mind here) when he visited a youth club presentation on ASB. WTdoubleF????

Anyone else think that this has gone pretty wrong? And basically they dont work bloody well work in the first place (this assertion based on text books as well as the Sun’s ranting.) Of course the fact that they dont work means it’s a really really good idea to have more of them…

On a far darker level: How many people are aware that on receipt of an ASBO you can and likely will have your full name and photgraph published on a poster and displayed for all to see. Yes folks, and that could be your 10 year old kid who’s spat at a copper once too often. For Christ’s sake – people have been campaigning for years to get this for sex offenders (discussion of this pending btw)… …but we got it for kids who throw stones. And on the subject of sex offenders… Names and photos of cherubic little 10 year olds plastered on every lamp post in the estate. Wow! Fingers the Clown’s gonna lurrrve that isn’t he??!!

So here’s the deal. I need suggestions. They must be: Totally non-distressing to any reasonable person, not illegal trivial, and ideally should have a decent humour value. So maybe something a bit scatalogical?

Post your answers folks..!!

Cited:

Burney E (2005) Making people behave – Anti-social behaviour politcs and policy. Cullompton: Willan

Kelling G & Coles C (1996) Fixing broken windows, restoring order and reducing crime in our communities. London: Kessler.

B’Issue..?

I am getting seriously annoyed with some Big Issue Sellers in Leeds. I’m aware that this is gonna make me sound like an Intolerant Arse, and I will say straight off it is not directed at all of them, and that the concept behind the Big Issue is probably moderately sound…

But…

A very large part of what the Big Issue is about is (as it is clearly displayed on the tabards) “Working not Begging.” Ideologically I have actually not got a huge problem with begging, annoying though it can be, as the paltry amount of benefit that this Government considers adequate to live on is even harder to live on if you don’t have any secure accommodation and the only place to keep it is in your pockets.

However, if you are “working, not begging” then my buying a magazine from you is not a case of” helping the homeless”, by doing so I am providing an income for one (albeit homeless) person who is selling a product. If I was to leave a donation to the Big Issue Foundation, or indeed any other housing charity I would be helping “The Homeless”.

Saying “Big Issue please”, polite as it is, is also not instantly going to make me buy a copy. Saying “thank you” in a particularly sarcastic tone when I politely decline (as one particular vendor does) is only going to piss me off such that if I was going to buy a copy anyway I would walk straight round the corner and get it elsewhere.

What might make me buy a copy, would be if you were to give me some indication of what I was buying. If such a point is going to be made of the fact that this transaction is a commercial, rather than an altruistic one, maybe telling me what wonders await my reading pleasure would persuade me.

However consider the reasons I may not wish to buy a copy:

I may already have one.

I may also have no money on me, or what money I have is needed for lunch/bus fare/toilet paper/any other thing that I may need to purchase while I am in town.

I may also simply not want one. As I have no idea what is going to be in this magazine, and in the past have simply been disappointed with my purchase, and as you have not done anything to convince me otherwise there is no reason for me to think that this weeks will be different from the usual guff that is largely aimed at making middle class bohemian like you bank workers feel good about themselves whilst spouting the same sad rhetoric as every other mainstream rag in the nation and failing to really challenge the Policy and greed that means that homeless people cannot actually get a worthwhile job that will actually be fulfilling and secure rather than a tokenistic gesture to keep them off the dole books.

I don’t doubt that for many, selling the Big Issue and the support that comes with it is very valuable (in fact I know that for a fact, from the experience of people I have both worked with and call friends) and I am also aware that, sadly, it is the behaviour of a few that spoil it for many. And sadly this makes a mockery of something that could be very positive.