Over the last few months this blog has somewhat been lacking posts and for this I apologise. It is not because I have become slack at blogging. Far from it in fact. For the last few months I have found myself writing, editing and running blogs for others (most notably Anya 17 and Hope City Frankfurt). Only thing is, between that and holding down two part time jobs, it left me with no time to write in my own blog (although with probably only six readers in the whole wide interweb I doubt my ramblings have been missed too much!). But now it’s 2012, it’s time to pick up the old keyboard and screen and start over.
There was a day this summer where I was simultaneously proud and ashamed of my country and the people in it. In August 2011 the British newspapers suddenly had something to talk about on what would have otherwise been a slow news day. What’s more, they could speculate on the impact of social media on our society.
It was one of those weeks where you’ll remember where you were as you watched the surreal, movie-esque news coverage of London burning. Watching BBC News late on the Monday night I was waiting, almost willing, the credits to roll; as if this was all some terribly realistic film that would soon be over leaving us all thinking how wonderfully lucky we are that this was a clever cinematic creation.
But the credits didn’t roll and London continued to burn.
It burned in Tottenham, it burned in Enfield, it burned in Clapham. Five generations of family business lit up the London skyline in Croyden.
Twitter was all a-flap with news of the latest developments, as unbelieving eyes and ears took on board what they were living through. Facebook was littered with messages of love and concern, disbelief and fear of the events unravelling across the capital. As time wore on, these messages were added to with photos and videos hastily put together by Joe public. It became apparent that the riots of 2011 had taken hold of social media and they weren’t about to let go.
In the breakfast news of Tuesday morning the London Eye was set against a backdrop of smoke, a stark reminder that the previous night’s events weren’t merely a War of the Worlds remake.
While the daylight allowed the nation to take in the true horror of the night before there was still hope for humanity. Amid the claims social media sites had been used to encouraged the riots; Twitter, Facebook and a heap of other social networks were loud with information on clean up jobs happening across the country and the encouragement to join in if you could.
While the newspapers clattered about with reports of people inciting violence through using Blackberry Messenger to bring together what would have otherwise been an unorganised riffraff; the general public used the same social media networks to mobilise an army of defiant retaliation.
Epitomised by one iPhone captured image on the streets of London of the so-called Broom Army, Twitter, Facebook and the rest, empowered individuals to come together in a comradery arguably not dis-similar to the “keep calm and carry on” attitude we British like to believe prevailed through wartime in the early twentieth century.
The British Riots of the summer of 2011 showed the good and the ugly side of social media. If we learnt one thing, it’s that social networks hold the power to motivate a people into action – be it for good or for destruction. After the initial start in London, riots elsewhere in the country appeared to be a bunch of individuals coming together to jump on a bandwagon and join in for whatever they could get – all supposedly inspired by tweets and facebook posts.
Social media, while perhaps a vital tool in aiding groups of hapless individuals to reek havoc in their cities, also provided the antidote to the mindless destruction. Even the Police forces were in on the social media. South Yorkshire Police used Twitter to inform those in the area of the lack of riots happening in the region. (As a Sheffield resident I just want to say here how proud I am of the youth, teenagers and young adults of South Yorkshire for not rioting.) Videos captured on mobile phones and posted on internet sites aided the naming and shaming of people involved. People rallied together in the post-riot shambles, inspired by the support coming from Twitter and Facebook.
Without social media networks the events of August 2011 could have been very different. The riots might not have spread beyond the localised attacks in Brixton, but the unity and sense of community as people rose up against the rioters and looters was enhanced by social media networks. And in these times of uncertainty, community and unity is exactly what Britain needs. Long live social media!
It’s that time of year again; time for round ups, retrospective opinions and contemplative previews.
As December draws to its wintery end and the world gears itself for a fresh batch of 365 days seen in with a decent amount of revelry here’s some music to add to your NYE playlist of acts to watch in 2011. (So when they make it big next year, you can feel smug knowing you’ve been ahead of the game)
Ritzy, Rhydian and Matt are otherwise known as The Joy Formidable and come highly recommended by Radio 1’s new music connoisseur, Huw Stephens. This spritely, enthusiastic little Welsh band have been doing the rounds for a good few years and have just completed a tour of the US.
2011 sees the release of their debut album The Big Roar at the end of January. It is preceded by the single Austere (check out the new video), available on limited edition vinyl and to download from January 17th.
All that is followed by a tour kicking off in February, which takes them across the UK, Europe, back to the US and to 2011’s SXSW in Texas.
If you can’t wait a few weeks to hear more then lurking in the depths of the internet is their previous EP A Balloon Called Moaning.
Another band releasing their debut album in January 2011, and also hotly tipped by Huw Stephens, are northern foursome Little Comets. Think the Mystery Jets meet The Coral and you might end up somewhere close to the sound of Matt, Mark, Michael and Robert.
Hailing from Sunderland and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Little Comets have already created an extensive fan base and gained a notoriety for gatecrashing university lectures and performing on public transport.
After the success of previous singles Adultery, One Night In October and Isles, Little Comets are set to grace airwaves up and down the country with the release of their debut album In Search of the Elusive Little Comets at the end of January.
Catch them on tour at a venue near you in January starting at Liverpool’s Shipping Forecast on the 28th.
Technically Everything Everything aren’t a brand new, emerging act for 2011 but they are taking part on the NME Shockwaves Awards Tour which has often provided a platform for bands ready to hit the mainstream bigtime (notably The Killers, Bloc Party, We Are Scientists and Arctic Monkeys).
Sounding a little like a noughties indie version of The Pet Shop Boys (and that’s a good thing), Manchester quartet Everything Everything are already leaving their mark with their 2010 album Man Alive.
Expect great, probably slightly surreal, things from this band in 2011. They’ve been 6 Music’s album of the day, met Rolf Harris on a ferry and have already hidden themselves away to write that “difficult second album”.
If you want to get a taste of Everything Everything and their more than slightly quirky style then check out the single Photoshop Handsome – available to download from January 17th – or their previous single My KZ Ur BF.
If you’ve never come across The Go! Team before you have been missing an audio/visual treat. They are a six piece from Brighton and 2011 brings a brand new album that’s bound to be jam-packed with feel-good bouncy tunes galore.
Rolling Blackouts is due for release at the end of January. It is the third album from the band and looks set to continue their happy, psychedelic party throwback sound.
February will see the band make a welcome return to the live scene, starting with a show in London’s Heaven on February 8th. If you’ve wanted to see how a band incorporate various instruments including an African Thumb piano, harmonica and glockenspiel into a rock band, The Go! Team are the ones to catch.
She looks a bit like a moody Joss Stone or a tastefully dressed Jennifer Ellison and sounds like PJ Harvey got pumped full of adrenaline. She’s recently supported Athlete on their UK tour, unleashing her attitude-laden voice and guitar rock on the unsuspecting crowd.
Born in Camberley, Alice started writing at age eight, toured America on her own in a 1978 Winnebago and generally appeared to live a bit of a nomadic-esque life according to her myspace profile.
Keep your ears out for her album Seven Rainbows which is due in the summer, and expect a single in early 2011. Describing her sound to The Sun as ‘psychedelic pop played with soul’ Alice is sure to crop up in the music press every now and then if nothing else.
So that’s it, your five to listen out for in 2011. This list isn’t by any means comprehensive; comment, criticise and add your own top tips below.
Other notable acts to make sure you delight your ears with include Sheffield band Feelix, James Blake, Lyrikkal (she’s nine and could give Willow Smith a run for her dad’s money) and if you haven’t happened across these yet make sure you give Sleigh Bells and Cold War Kids (who are back with a new album) a listen.
First published by Sheffield’s free magazine Exposed
Photos to follow just as soon as I get them uploaded!
Everywhere you look the familiar block red speech mark surrounded by a white circle that is the Vodaphone logo greets you. Street traders selling the latest knock-off Nokia mobiles pitch next to a fruit stall and right by that is a ramshackle stand with t-shirts, shirts and dresses pouring out onto the roadside. If it wasn’t for the Grace of God beauty salon next door and the stifling heat you could be in any local market in the western world.
But this is Ghana, West Africa.
As the rain drips down my kitchen window the thick, suffocating heat of Africa seems a distant memory. In reality, it’s been just over a week since my feet touched down on English soil again and I still have to take anti-malaria tablets that I swear are doing me more ill than good. But despite being a creature happiest in English Autumnal climes I miss Africa. A lot.
The lifestyle, the heat, the friendliness, the bustle. The people of Ghana have left their mark on me. From their strange hissing noise to get your attention to the constant marriage proposals. The crazy smells of the market places (decapitated fish anyone?), the interesting toilet facilities and the tropical rainstorms. From just ten days in Ghana I have come away with more memories than I can comprehend. And I want to go back. Not to live there long term you understand – after just four days I was sick of drinking water out of bags – but to go back and embrace the people and enjoy a simpler way of life.
That said, life in the city is preoccupied with the information super highway. Everyone wants your mobile phone number and browsing (Ghanaian English for surfing the internet) is rife.
It is impossible to go more than three steps without finding yourself greeted by Vodaphone logos, Tiga network slogans and adverts to get you to sign up for broadband internet. Life in the villages is not much different in terms of the constant awareness of modern communication. Visiting children in one of Compassion’s programmes, a short 90 minutes (give or take some traffic and Ghanaian time keeping) from the capital Accra, more than one school blackboard had the phrase “mobile phones are a means of communication” scrawled on it.
If you’ve got it, the internet and mobile phones are the way to communicate in Ghana. I didn’t experience the Ghanaian postal service but I understand it’s on the expensive and slightly unreliable side.
I, on the other hand, relished the lack of communication services at my beck and call. Ten days without my mobile, without the internet and without Facebook and Twitter was certainly refreshing. Not only that it got me thinking about another little blog I can come back and post later.
Africa, or more specifically Ghana, was everything I thought it would be, everything I never expected it could be and something that is going to stick with me in that oh-so-cliched way of forever. Dare I say it? Alright, I want to go back.
Should you wish to know why I was in Ghana.
Even though the outcome is still to be announced, General Election 2010 promises to be one that will remain in the memories of many for a long time.
Whether it’s the tales of voters being turned away from the polls or the uncertainty of the final outcome, #GE2010 as it’s been labelled by the social media masses has presented its fair share of surprises and controversies.
By far the biggest news story of tonight is the number of voters robbed of their ballots. Blamed on, amongst other things, the unexpected surge in voter turnout the Electoral Commission are falling over themselves to try and smooth the cracks and keep the peace offering a full investigation into what happened.
The story broke in Nick Clegg’s constituency of Sheffield Hallam where hundreds of students and residents alike were turned away from St John’s Parish Church in Ranmoor without having had the chance to cast their vote. Reports suggest that students were sidelined and priority was given to local residents. Whether this is true or not many people are looking for a suitable scapegoat on which to pin the fiasco.
But is it really fair to criticise the Electoral Commission or the returning officers at the polling stations all over the country that reportedly turned away eager voters and closed doors? Shouldn’t these voters have arrived earlier to ensure their vote could be lodged?
The next few days and weeks are sure to be full of finger pointing and accusations. Polling stations ran out of ballot papers meaning eligible voters could not cast their votes. The returning officers there should surely have a duty to ensure suitable provision is made for all those in the constituency have the chance to place their cross on a ballot. Surely the point of registering to vote means returning officers and councils can forsee a total possible number of voters, regardless of expected turnout levels? If a polling station runs out of ballots, that has got to be the result of poor forward planning.
However the case that arose in Sheffield Hallam, Manchester and several other regions was too many people still queuing in the final minutes of voting time. Pinning the blame in this instance is less clear cut. Is it the fault of voters who didn’t arrive earlier to mark their ballots, or the ones who delayed the process by not turning up with their polling card? Perhaps blame should fall on the Electoral Commission for restricting polling time to a mere 15 hours – from 7am to 10pm – when we live in a 24 hour society. What about the returning officers? Is it their fault for not providing sufficient numbers of polling stations, booths and staff to deal with a rise in voter turnout?
The figures are still vague but it seems that voter turnout has finally bucked the trend of decline and started to rise. After years of tales of voter apathy and many a political big wig trying to suss out a way to encourage voters to visit the polls it seems that all is needed is a recession, some bad political and financial decisions and a disenchanted generation coming of age.
As I write Gordon Brown has secured his own seat and increased his majority in his constituency, while his transport secretary, Sadiq Khann kept hold of Tooting which saw the largest rise in voter turnout so far tonight, up 10% from 2005.
It seems that increased voter turnout is a double-edged sword. On the one side, improved voter turnout is providing an interesting election with still no clear outcome coming through. On the other, unprecedented levels of voters coming forward to have their say has caused chaos at the polls, showing many regions to be completely unprepared and a lack of foresight and planning.
Tomorrow. Polling day. It looms with a sense of trepidation and nervous anticipation.
Could we wake up on Friday morning with a hung parliament? Will we have the first Liberal Democrat government in 65 years? What will the BNP and UKIP have to show from the 15 hours of voting? As I write this, the once rank outsider is rallying his supporters in the centre of the city of Sheffield. (In case I lost you there, I am referring to Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg).
This is the first time I have experienced such a flurry of activity and discussion about a forthcoming election. I voted in my first General Election in 2005 and while, as a university student I was inflicted with a barrage of political campaigns, I don’t remember as much of a buzz about the whole fiasco.
In 2005 there was no real competition. No party was strong enough to truly dislodge Labour’s grip on the country. They had won by a landslide in 1997 and despite the unpopular Iraq war and WMD scandals, 2005 showed little sign of a slip the other way. The media was full of stories of disenchanted, disheartened, disenfranchised voters up and down the country. Even the students who could usually be counted on to be political vocal and active were holding back. In my hazy memory of 2005, it seemed everyone was resigned to another Labour term.
But 2010 is different. This time, at least in some parts of the UK, it is very definitely a three horse race. Labour MPs seem to be losing face after their 13 years in power. Nick Clegg and David Cameron are providing a competitive opposition where one has been missing for so long.
And you can’t discuss GE2010 without a nod to social media. Twitter and Facebook and other sites are revolutionising the election despite there still not being an option to electronically vote. A survey conducted by Virgin Media Business showed that two fifths of all internet users in the UK believe the option of an e-vote would make them more likely to participate in tomorrow’s election. And surely a fair bunch of the electorate will be checking the internet while they wait in line at the ballot boxes?
Dare I say that the combination of social media pushing this election to the fore of a media savvy generation and the election of Obama has caused the British public to realise that if enough people act upon it, change is a real possibility.
Whatever we wake up to on Friday morning, I hope the second top story will be news of a record high turnout at the polls tomorrow. Change is possible, but only if we all unite.