Monday 19 September 2011

Chinese Whispers on Facebook

Another hoax springs up this morning, and one that is especially sad.

According to a posting doing the rounds on Facebook:

The Royal British Legion are not selling poppies in certain areas this year. This is because some minorities say that it will upset them. The poppy is a symbol of reverence for our fallen heroes of all the wars the BRITISH military have fought in. BRITAIN STAND UP AND SAY 'WE WANT THE POPPY SOLD EVERYWHERE IN THE UK'. THIS IS OUR RIGHT TO REVERE OUR FALLEN.. Copy and paste this if you think poppies should be sold everywhere... R.I.P fallen soldiers

If it were true, that would indeed be shocking. However, once again, this is a hoax. What's happened here is that one news story about poppy-selling (the problems relate to local council red tape and have nothing whatsoever to do with minorities of any kind) has been picked up and expanded into an excuse for anti-minorities propaganda. The very useful That's Nonsense site gives the story, and includes a link to the original report in The Telegraph.

If you can't be bothered to follow the links and read the full story, the truth is quite simple.

Simple, isn't it? A bit of red tape to disentangle, some commonsense and sensitivity from other charities, and the whole thing is resolved. Not a dickie-bird about 'minorities' being upset. Yet this bit of crap is presently flying all over the social media networks in a frenzy of self-righteous indignation.

It's too easy to believe this sort of thing, and to get very upset about such stories... and the anger and indignation would be reasonable if they were true. The knee-jerk reaction is to repost, to cut-and-paste, to get this shocking message out as soon as possible.

Please don't. Please consider every posting - just for a few seconds - before you throw it into that great melting-pot of speculation, rumour, deliberate falsehood and manipulation of public opinion that is the internet. That is, by the way, the same internet that is also a source of inspiration, valuable information, sharing, generosity and the highlighting of genuine concerns.

It isn't hard to find out which of those categories the latest alarmist posting belongs to. Truly. Try it.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Facebook: whose postings can you see?

Oh, lovely. Another lot of tosh that's doing the rounds at the moment.

This one says:

"Facebook has changed its News Feed AGAIN, so that by default, you can only see updates from people with whom you've recently interacted. To change this, click on 'Account', then 'Edit friends' then at the top left, click "All Friends.""

NO. The Account > Edit Friends setting is simply to display the list of friends you want to see listed at that time. It's a way of conveniently filtering your contacts - helpful if you want to find somebody quickly (e.g. by group, recently added, recently interacted or whatever). It makes no difference to updates you see on your wall. You can prove this by going back to the setting after you have ostensibly changed it (go back to your wall, then back to the Account > Edit Friends setting again); you'll find that it still says the same as it did before.

To change the 'who you see postings from on your wall' setting, you need to click on where it says 'most recent' (as opposed to 'top news') on your front page; choose Edit Options from the drop-down list; and *there* you'll see the choice between 'all friends' and 'those you interact with the most'. That's the setting that will make a difference to what you see on your wall.

PLEASE - check these messages properly before reposting. This one is inaccurate, but I've seen it several times in the last few days.


I do get a bit uptight about these postings. It seems to be that they are most prolific when the users can scream 'FACEBOOK HAS DONE IT WRONG AGAIN'. Don't get me wrong - I completely agree that there have been many occasions when the default settings could potentially compromise privacy; when they've made yet another change to the interface without giving suitable guidelines; and much more. However, this sort of run-round-in-circles-screaming nonsense doesn't help anybody - especially when, as in this particular case, it's completely inaccurate and misleading. The funny thing is that the business about 'whose updates you see' is a genuine issue, and was correctly flagged up as such on postings a while back. Why on earth, then, do people feel the need to put up incorrect advice like this?

Like all other 'send this to all your friends' postings, I always beg, plead and request on bended knees: DON'T. At least, not until you've taken the trouble (and it truly doesn't take long) to establish the truth of it. If you're not sure of the verity of a posting - be it a virus warning, a setting on Facebook or whatever - then find somebody who will know. There are plenty of excellent sites - HoaxSlayer, FaceCrooks, Snopes and the rest - who will probably be able to help you out; and most of them have groups or pages on Facebook, so you can easily post a query there, and somebody will be able to help you.

Or find a passing friendly geek-queen. Like me. I don't bite.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Stuff and storage

One of my clients sent me a link she thought I might be interested in. Published on the BBC website, it expresses the concerns about the 'craze' for self-storage.

People are leaving their possessions in self-storage warehouses for longer than ever. But why are people paying to store stuff they rarely use? It's a monument to our acquisitive society - the brightly lit shed on the edge of town offering "storage solutions".

This rang lots of bells. I've written on this topic in this blog before, last April. Everything I said there still holds true: I still firmly believe that, used appropriately, storage options are a valid way of helping us to deal with 'stuff' - as long as it's with a realistic approach. When either the practical or the emotional considerations mean we need time and space - physical and mental - then this is a sensible option; when we simply don't have the room in our living quarters to accommodate items that we have valid reasons for keeping, renting storage space is no different from renting a garage to keep your car safe.

However, this article flags up very correctly the other side of the story - and the reason for it being an increasing pitfall in modern consumer society. My fellow apdo-uk member, Cory Cook, is quoted in the article:

"More and more stuff comes in and it's not going out. I want to say it's a throwout society, but it's not the case because people are keeping their things around."

Exactly so. We might be living in a recession, but that doesn't mean we are buying less 'stuff'. On the contrary: my observation of the 'stuff' that I help my clients to sort through is that we're more likely to buy more items of a lower value. It can give a lift out of the doldrums induced by dismal economic times, terrible summer weather and back-to-work blues: hey, look, I've got a new toy! And if that 'toy' - whether an electronic gadget, an item of clothing, a kitchen gizmo or a DVD - has been bought at a cheaper price than we might previously have afforded, it's often less likely to last than its slightly pricier alternative.

We all know the scenario in the wardrobe: given the choice, would you spend the same amount of money on one well-made, classy item, or on ten things from the sale rail? And before you ask, I'm as guilty of this sin as the next woman. The obvious result - after the adrenalin rush of I've got a new toy - is that, at a later date, the multiple items are not only more likely to be thrown away (how many of your favourite clothes came from the sale rail?) but there are more of them to be disposed of - when you eventually get round to it.

The matter of whether we store unneeded things or not is a worry; the roots of why this kind of storage is necessary at all is a far greater cause for concern. It's usually because we've bought it in the first place... and we are slaughtered with guilt about how much stuff we have. If we do manage to get rid of it, it feels like a waste. "I couldn't possibly throw that away - it cost me good money." Disposing of the item is like admitting that we got it wrong in the first place.

It's also true to say that there is a lot of association with our identities: we are, often, our stuff. In the same article, this valuable observation is made by Oliver James, author of the superbly-named Affluenza:

Our identity has increasingly become associated with products, and not just the mortgage and the car, but smaller items. "We've confused who we are with what we have," he says. It explains why we're so reluctant to throw things away. "We feel it might come in handy one day. It feels like it's a little part of yourself even though it's just tat. You wouldn't want to throw yourself away, would you?"

This isn't a new scenario. During a recent holiday in France, I visited an eighteenth-century château, complete with the authentic furnishings, décor and bric-a-brac of that era. The Victorians were just as bad: their homes were full of clutter and dust-traps. However, these indulgences were the province of the wealthy. Now, with the help of the high street and the pound-shop, we can all surround ourselves with 'stuff'. And we do.

So: how do we deal with it?
  • We accept the purchasing mistakes we've made in the past, and put it down to experience
  • We pass on the stuff we really no longer need (or, in some cases, even like) to benefit somebody else - and refrain from fretting about the money we paid out for it
  • We use the learning when we next shop for something - and we shop mindfully, not emotionally
  • We take a long hard look at the space we are paying for - whether it's in the context of the house we're renting or mortgaged for, or external space - and ask ourselves whether it's genuinely worth it
We might not get it right all the time. I certainly don't.

But it's well worth a try.