Now let’s really take back control

I don’t believe “My country, right or wrong”. I’m not a jingoistic supporter of the England team in football tournaments. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m not at all proud of Britain’s colonial past.

Don’t misunderstand me – there are some things about the country that I’m proud of. The sense of humour, proper pies with a complete pastry enclosure and a good filling (and of course steak and kidney pudding, which is clearly ambrosia with added gravy)… The British plug, which you can plug in safely, in the dark, without the slightest struggle, unlike the stupid bloody continental things. Maps; you don’t realise how lucky you are to have the Ordnance Survey until you’ve tried to navigate through another country with a “map” that was clearly drawn up by a halfwit after an extremely alcoholic lunch.

But the thing that makes me proudest to be British – and which has always done so – is how, as a nation, we have always been able to show a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. You only have to read the Sharpe novels to appreciate how tough the British army and its followers were. You only have to watch the “World at War” episode about the Blitz to admire the resilience and determination of the population as a whole.

And that’s what makes it all the more soul-destroying to see social media filling up today with people confirming that they’re OK, or changing their Facebook avatar to a Union Jack.

A few people have been killed by someone in a car. I admit, it’s sad for them and their families, but it’s hardly a national disaster. And someone else has tried to attack London… using a knife.

Let’s just think about that for a moment. One man. With a knife.

Every year in Britain about 25,000 knife offences are officially reported, and about 1700 people die on the roads. Many of these are not accidental. But we’re not all changing our Facebook avatars over these. Why not? Are people killed by terrorists worth more than those killed by random nutters or ex mates or alcohol?

“But it’s terrorism”, is of course the answer that will be given by the Daily Mail reader in the street.

Well here’s a thought. Today, after the ‘terrorist attack’ on Westminster, which would make these terrorists happier – sober, minimal reporting of their efforts or a wave of hysterical reaction? Aren’t they most likely to be sitting now looking at their computer screens and grinning at the Union Jacks gradually taking over their friends lists?

If you really believe that terrorism is war, then surely you’re just encouraging the enemy by giving any credence to the fact that these attacks really constitute threats to us all as a nation?

Whatever happened to the good old British stiff upper lip? Or are we so weakened by reality TV and Starbucks and wet wipes that we just don’t have one any more? What would Churchill have made of us?

 

So, yeah, I’m fine, thanks. I’m like really traumatised because I have actually travelled through London in the past couple of years, so it was like *really* close, but I’m coping. Just about.

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“Look it up” – or why we don’t have a word for “to internet”

 

The other day I was listening to the Escape Pod podcast with the lovely Alasdair Stuart, and he made a claim – I can’t now remember what – then said “Go on, look it up”.

And of course I knew that what he didn’t mean was “go to the library and look it up in an encyclopaedia”. What he meant was, “get online and check the veracity of my words there”.

Which reminded me once again that we don’t have a verb for “to internet”.

I mean, yes, you can Google something. But what if you don’t need to go via Google? What if, instead, you click on a bookmark or type straight into the address bar to take yourself to Wikipedia? What if, like me, you “look stuff up” every day, sometimes hundreds of times a day, using dictionaries, terminology resources, EU legislation and so on – all of which you have permanently open in browser tabs? Am I “looking up” or “tabbing”?

wiki

But then of course looking stuff up isn’t the only thing we do online. We also use social media, waste hours on Bored Panda, try to beat our own records on Sporcle, watch Netflix, flirt on Tinder… And you can’t describe all of those things with a single verb.

It’s that very versatility which makes it impossible to neatly describe the activity. When you “watch TV”, that’s all you do. If you “use the phone” – at least in the old-fashioned sense of an instrument for calling someone who will then turn out not to be at home – again, that is all you can do with it. But the fact that the internet is more of another world than a piece of technology means that it’s difficult to limit the purposes to which we put it with one nice tidy term.

One thing I’m sure that none of us is doing is “surfing”. I have never “surfed the web” in my entire 25+ years of online existence. I’m sure it’s a term invented – and used – by people who would, in a previous life, have called a radio “the wireless” and cars “horseless carriages”. The kind of person who might have used the term “information superhighway” in cold blood.

And anyway, “surf” is such a misnomer. Even if you’ve got a reasonable connection speed, there’s nothing remotely graceful or linear about your progress through/across/in/on the internet. Hopscotch might be more like it, but even that usually involves having some kind of idea where you’re going. My feeling is that if you plotted most people’s online activities, the best description of their movement style and content would be “buggering about”.

And that’s my suggestion. If has the merit of being logical, descriptive and – above all – accurate.

So next time I go to say “I’ll just look that up”, I’m going to make the effort to be truthful and instead say “I’m just going to bugger about for a bit”. And when, 45 minutes later, I snap out of my digitally induced stupor and find that I’m deep into an article about how gecko tape works (it’s fascinating stuff… look it up) then at least I’ll be able to say that I meant to be there all along.