Social Media – then and now

What would be your immediate reaction if you were on the move and then needed to make a call to someone, but this intention was scuppered by the lack of mobile connectivity? It is not an uncommon situation to be in; while mobile masts have sprung up by the hundreds and thousands since their inception, certain areas, particularly rural ones, struggle with a lack of mobile coverage and it is not possible to get a signal. Unfortunately, it is often the case that at these points in time a signal is most needed! Imagine if you were walking in the woods and twisted and ankle. How would you get help if you were on your own? And wouldn’t it just be the case that the mobile signal would be non-existent in that kind of situation?

We can possibly replace the case of needing to make a phone call with a similar need, to check emails or social media updates. Work and social media companies have cultivated a dependency in us to check our accounts at frequent intervals. What would your reaction be if your ability to do so was hindered by a lack of connectivity for a period of, for instance, four hours? According to social psychologists, many of us would feel slightly depressed and have elevated heart rate levels because the lack of control over our immediate circumstances would imposed these emotions upon us.

The dependency on such forms of technology may be a good reason for us to break the cycle of need. Not only do they create a negative effect when they work – they are forcing us to be dependent on them and to engage in repetitive behaviour such as checking for updates, but because of the negative impact they have when they do not work – causing us to be stressed and frustrated, and actively checking the internet connection so we can access our updates – it can be surmised we are slaves to that technology.

The piano composer Franz Liszt was a very social person, seeking the limelight as an extrovert, but managed to do so without the slightest level of social media that we have today. But being sociable without technology is possible, and arguably richer. You establish deeper levels of face to face relationships, because that is the only meaningful time you will get, instead of having two relationships (face to face and virtual) which may conflict with each other.

What would Liszt do if he were alive today? He might just have dispensed with the mobile phone. He would have preferred the live handkerchiefs thrown to him instead of the virtual emojis!

Hunting the perfect job

What makes a perfect job? A job is the combination of many factors and maybe the blend of these factors really depends on what you want to get out of it, and the lifestyle you want to lead. Lifestyle? What has that got to do with a job? Well, actually, a lot – because a job is something that allows you to obtain the means to live the life you want, then certainly the first thing to decide is the kind of life you want.

What kind of life do you want? Obviously we want to have meaning in our lives. We want to do things we enjoy, and have the means to do so. For some people, living thrill-seeking lives are important to them. They may spend weekends jumping out of airplanes, climbing mountains, going on long marathon runs – the adventure bug keeps biting and they have a zest for life and living. If you are one of these people, then you must find a job that allows you to do this. It may be you already are a good runner – in which case you may have to find sponsorship deals to allow you to do the things you want. But what happens if for example, you enjoy being an 10,000 metre runner and as you age you find you cannot keep up with the younger runners? After all, it is unlikely you will be running when you are 65 and still expecting to compete with twenty somethings. You may have to obtain financial sustenance in another form. Look at your track career and leverage that to your advantage. Become a life coach, or a motivational speaker. Speak of your training and the things you have learnt in life. Sell your experience – and be a coach in another field for another generation.

Life always presents opportunities but the best things to ask yourself are – what am I good at? What can I do? Then look for opportunities to do them. It may be something like playing the piano. You may want to follow a career in music. But you may not want to tread the difficulties with a piano career; in which you case you could take up a more stable job, while earning the money that would give you the chance to buy a piano and have lessons – still pursuing your passion! The balance of all these things will do wonders for your mental health.

The mental health strain of unwanted fame

What would you do if over a period of months you awoke to the reality that you were some sort of a popular celebrity? And what sort of a celebrity? The kind that features everywhere across the world, and has your face recognised and seen by many people.

The welcoming image of Shubnum Khan is one of the first things that people to countries such as Canada and Uruguay might notice. It is probably one of the things they have seen before they arrived, actually – because they will have had seen the face that welcomes immigrants to various countries such as Canada and Uruguay in a newspaper advertisement. But Khan is a muti-skilled entrepreneut. She manages a career as a writer and artist, in addition to being a consultant to a business in New York that sells carpets. She has also led treks to far flung regions such as Cambodia, she has appeared on advertisements by the McDonalds group in China, and also is involved in dentistry in Virginia. A multi-skilled lady, she also has links with a French dating website.

The wide scope of her involvement is amazing. Unfortunately none of it is actually real. It turns out that the South African author’s image was used without her knowledge when she unwittingly signed over the rights for her image to be used as a stock photo image. She claims that she was unaware, perhaps slightly naive in her thinking then, but many years earlier she had participated in what was called a 100 Faces Shoot, where a photographer promised professional portraits in exchange for being snapped.

So her image is plastered all over the internet, and she cannot do anything about it because the legality of the matter is that she HAD indeed signed off the rights to those images. I suppose anyone who woke up to that reality of unwanted fame may have cause for mental health concerns from others around them. After all the unwanted publicity can be detrimental to health. But Khan seems to have embraced it well, and the publicity from her sharing of her story can be actually leveraged to make the public familiar with her work. Her real work, of course.

A lesson to be learnt is that sometimes being shrewd and cautious are good skills to have in business dealings and can work to your advantage. In this particular case, owning the rights to your own image and other things you create can work to your advantage. So don’t be too keen to join things such as the Creative Commons Licence, because it is signing away your developed work. The composer Irving Berlin, for example, made sure to own the rights to Alexander’s Ragtime Band, a tune that made him millions in royalties and leveraged his career. (You can read more about this from the Piano Teacher N4 blog.)

But if you ever find yourself a victim of misrepresentation, because an image of yours was used without your knowledge, don’t panic – calm down and seek proper avenues of redress.

What football fervour can tell us

You can’t really escape World Cup fever this month in England. The football fever has taken over the country and everyone has been following the exploits of the England football team, and tracking the highs and lows.

England’s victory over Sweden in the quarter-final game was greeted with jubilant scenes. Fans were expectant and thought that this might be the year that football was coming home, to quote the words from the song by David Baddiel. It took place on a hot sunny afternoon, at 3pm, and so when the final whistle blew, an alcohol-fuelled crowd celebrated the victory. There is footage of fans smashing taxis, trashing furniture in IKEA, and generally other forms of anti-social behaviour. To say that this is the work of a few is rather masking the issue. It was a handful that caused the damage, but they were egged on by others who took part in the festivities.

Why are we such a repressed nation? And why is it that celebration cannot take place without alcohol, or happy scenes cannot be celebrated without the need to let loose and trash things?

Unfortunately – and you may disagree – this lack of respect for society and shared social things is inbred in people nowadays. Despite the technology and number of followers on Twitter or Instagram that people have, technology has made us less sociable in real life. People seem to care less about the things that go on around us unless it affects us directly, we have a stake in it, and it has the possibility of affecting us adversely. Otherwise we just carry on, ignoring the stimulus of life around us. We can blame the overflow of information around us – overloaded by information stimulus of life, we just switch off the parts that don’t matter. And as life continue to overwhelm us with information – remember that many terrabytes of information are produced every single day – it is not conceivable to think that society will become more and more disconnected with each passing day.

One may argue that we are just showing different sides to ourselves. We all have many faces that different people see parts of. The music composer Mozart, for example, was privately melancholic, yet outwardly choleric and effusive. (You can read about this in the Muswell Hill Piano Lessons website.) But is it healthy to partake in that contradiction – a happy celebration that involves anti-social behaviour? It only promotes mind and body disconnect, and sets up human beings to be more deluded in the future.

Why outlets for stress help mental health

According to data scientist Seth Stephenson-Davidowitz, Google searches are a more accurate indicator of our innermost thoughts and emotions, because people believe they are anonymous on the internet. Well, in light of the recent developments of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, people are more aware of the issues of privacy, and if you haven’t, certainly you would have been bombarded by companies asking your data consent, to opt in voluntarily, instead of being opted in. But the latter concerns over privacy also are a breeding ground for spam. Wait to receive “opt out” messages from spammers who then ask you to fill in your account details on their site – beware!

Coming back to the issue of using data trends for insights, people are less inclined to tell the truth face to face or in a survey, because of how they feel it would reflect on them. They may worry about how their innermost thoughts are perceived and the effect it has on others around them. For example, did you know that many adults regret having children? The time and energy devoted into parenting detract from promising careers and pursuits. But yet admitting this would be akin to telling a child “I never wanted you”.

The problem with modern life is that we have to manage a lot of contradictions. For some, children are a source of happiness, but they detract from our own and cause us unhappiness. Ever seen an adult who wanted to do something but couldn’t because he or she had to stay home with the kids? In the 1980s, work was rebranded to look cool, to be able to do the thing you enjoyed most as a career, but for many the enjoyment of work is not as what it seems. We don’t necessarily do the things we enjoy, just the things that give us the financial freedom. Enjoyment is secondary.

The whole thing points towards a big, fat disconnect between the way our lives are going and the way we want them to.

And disconnect breeds mental stresses and health deterioration in the long term.

It is my opinion that society is walking towards a social and mental health timebomb.

As companies trim their workforce, and job security wanes, and the stresses of life impact on us and causes us a disconnect between the reality of life and our expectations, what can we do?

We can learn to manage our expectations of life.

There are many things that people around say which are not necessarily true. Things like “You should enjoy your job”, “no pain no gain” and other sayings or axioms that we take to heart but are actually not helpful. Try telling a homeless person “no pain no gain”, or talk about “trading it all in, to do the things you love” to someone who is struggling with job security, with a mortgage and children to bring up. Don’t listen and accept blindly the things around you, because as Seth says, everybody lies.

The second thing you can do is to find outlets for your mental triggers.

Seth’s research into Google data trends suggest that money and climate are high causes of depression. So what if you live in a cold place, and have no money to spend? Are you screwed?

Seek to establish some form of financial security. Spend less, save more. Work towards maximising income and minimising expenditure. Forget momentarily the trappings of modern appearance; we all want to look cool but life involves knuckling down and setting aside the need to look hip. This is how society encourages us to spend – it tells us we need the most modern gadgets and things, the best clothes – but we really need to live frugally, although it is easier said than done.

Find outlets for expression. Listening to music may be cool or great, but it is also receptive, not productive, so too much music can only cause you to feel more stressed. Instead, seek to do things such as learning to draw, or learning the piano, which uses a different part of your brain and allows you some temporary from of escape from life’s stresses and stressors. And learn to channe frustration into something creative, like many other Classical music composers in the past. And something like taking up piano exams could provide a target to aim for, in terms of self-fulfillment, and a diversion from daily life too. It is something meaningful you can do for yourself.

Modern life is about contradiction, and we have to learn to bridge the ever-widening gap. Learning to straddle the two is one of the most important skills we could teach the generations to come.

Triumph – but at what cost?

Guess who the most hated man in Egypt is right now?

Clue: It is one of their politicians.

It’s not even Donald Trump.

In fact, it’s got nothing to do with politics.

The man that is fanning the flames at the moment is footballer Sergio Ramos.

Ramos plays for the Spanish team Real Madrid as a centre-back. That is to say, he is one of two players in front of the goalkeeper, to stop opposing players from getting their strikes in.

Ramos has made a reputation for himself over the years as a hardman, using physical play to intimidate or put off opposing strikers from coming into his zone. This means that instead of shooting directly from the front of the goal, where the width gives a larger target, opposing players have to go from the side, where the angle is narrower. Ramos’ reputation as a hardman has meant he has been sent off many times in his career.

And as he has aged, and his physical skills have declined, Ramos has resorted more to guile and trickery, to get players sent off or carded, to influence the game. He writhes around at the slightest contact as if he has been hit by a train, and he is always playing mind games with the opposition.

So why is Ramos the most hated man in Egypt right now? Last night’s Champions League football final saw Real Madrid take on Liverpool. And in the game Ramos practically arm-barred talismanic Mo Salah into the ground, slamming his shoulder into it and dislocating it.

You can see that Ramos deliberately traps the arm before using his left leg to deliberately induce a fall.

The old wily fox realised that the only way to have an edge was to take out the opposing team’s most influential player.

Salah is out for the World Cup. Which is why many Egyptians will be fuming at was what not a deliberate attempt to play the ball at all. With Salah out, Egypt doubts.

The sad message is what it sends to kids and fans. Real Madrid is one of the most popular teams in the world, and Ramos is one of the more well-known players in it.

But subscribing and following a team means justifying such acts and condoning them. It breeds a “win at all costs” mentality that includes negative competition.

Drive is a good thing to have. The Baroque music composer J S Bach once walked two hundred miles to watch a concert by Dietrich Buxtehude. And Bartholomeo Cristofori went through many revisions before he produced the working version of the piano. But when the drive to win is tempered by ill practice, it sets up the wrong mindset, which, exacerbated over time, compounds a disconnect between perception and reality, which is where mental deterioration begins.

The problem is also because supporting bad practice demands we re-frame evidence. Is Sergio Ramos a dirty player? If you are an Egyptian, or a neutral, you might say “Yes”. If you are a Real Madrid fan, you would say “No”, despite his reputation over the years (look how the Real Madrid and Barcelona matches always end up with Madrid trying to roughhouse Leo Messi). But in saying “No”, you are forced to accept and even justify an incorrect act.

Remember how in the World Wars people claimed innocence for acts of atrocities because they said they were only following orders? The whole evidence of evil actions was reframed by the act of purporting to follow the company line – in this case the national line.

And in not admitting to wrong actions, but trying to justify them in order to avoid the humbling admissions, we only create distortions of truth.

The pursuit of success to obtain triumphs at all costs leaves much to be desired. It demands we be ruthless. And the fact that we could even consider ruthless to have some positive tinge to it goes to show how distorted our senses are.

Mental health time bomb.

Diverting negative energies into positive gains

You’ve heard of Twitter. You’ve heard of trolling. And if you haven’t heard of the latter, you must be of the social media landscape, which may be a good thing for you. Trolling is the process – some may call it art now, unfortunately – of sending someone offensive messages in a bid to get them to respond. Some might liken it to baiting. It was a way of provoking conversation by say something to unsettle someone. I personally call it needling. It is like one of the silly things children used to do, to poke each other with a finger until someone got fed up and reacted. Over the years it has evolved into and art form, of saying something objectionable until someone “flames”. Unfortunately the development of such social terms only conveys how acceptable a practice it has become.

Twitter was a good medium for trolling – some say it still is – because it offered anonymity. And it was instantly responsive to news. Back in the days of the Arab Spring, and the London riots, people were using Twitter to communicate instant messages alongside Blackberry IM. It was almost as if these events opened the eyes of the authorities to the power of social media and how they needed to police it. To this effect, many have social media accounts to “communicate” with the public. Twitter may have had its twitterstorm, and while Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are having their turn in the news, Twitter remains an important feature of the social landscape nonetheless.

The responsiveness of Twitter and its immediacy mean that people can send anonymous messages to others and watch the impact as it unfolds Imagine receiving a message from someone who purports to know you somewhat like “The guy at the next table is watching you”. Immediately you would react to the sense of danger, and then feel a sense of embarrassment if it turns out to be a hoax and that you have been pranked. That’s what one form of trolling is. A cheap, inconveniencing laugh at someone else. And when you’ve been hoaxed, there is the embarrassment too that your hoaxer is in the vinicity observing you. But sometimes others troll (trawl) the Twitter landscape just to be objectionable, to say things to others without being physically around to be accountable for their words.

It’s not nice being trolled. It is akin to be digital bullying. A BBC report investigated some teens who had been trolled. But when they dug deeper, they had a nasty surprise. The ones responsible for the trolling, the cyber-bullies were the teens themselves.

Welcome to digital self-harm.

Why do people leave nasty online messages for themselves. One of those teens said that it was a way of getting attention and sympathy. When we are bullied online, we get some words of sympathy from others and a bit of their time and attention. Julian – not his real name – received the message “Nobody cares what you think. Just deactivate your account. No one likes your posts, and you’re a waste of everyone’s time.” Later it was discovered the digital hate mail originated from himself.

As he says of those who have been trolled, “they were quite popular so their followers would really support them through it and send them nice messages. I didn’t have many followers at the time so I thought sending myself a hate message might be a good way to get attention.”

Another girl, Sophie, sent herself hurtful comments in order to open up a discussion with herself, she said. She said she suffered from anxiety and to bring it out to the open, she penned a 1000-word response to her online hater – herself.

It may be useful, especially if you were concerned about an issue such as, say, one’s sexuality and needed to bring it out to the open. And one can perhaps understand that. But when a trolling comment is used only for the sake of generating attention, it really calls to mind the state of one’s mental health.

What kind of state is the mental health of someone who abuses themselves online to draw attention? Most would say “not good”. To that effect there are attempts to track those who do so. One of these methods involves checking the IP addresses of user accounts, to see if two have the same address – meaning they were sent from the same computer and individual.

What can you do if you are feeling down and need an outlet for your mental frustration? Sometimes it is useful to learn a new skill or do something to deflect your mental situation away briefly. You may find it useful to learn a new skill like learning the piano. And try to channel your frustration into a creative activity, because it will keep you from dwelling on your circumstances and the drive, directed correctly, will propel you to greater heights. The composer Ludwig van Beethoven, by all accounts, had a difficult childhood, but as a Piano Teacher in Crouch End expounds, Beethoven managed to transcend the difficulties faced to become a skilled musician and composer.

Certainly it is better to do something self-fulfilling, rather than self-harming!