Book Club… So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

Discussing today: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Hi everyone and welcome to today’s Book Club on http://www.themagichappinessof.com. Today we’re discussing Jon Ronson’s ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’.

It is an uncomfortable truth but lots of people buying this book will have been guided by the same motivation that causes us to slow down at the scene of a car accident on the motorway. In the UK this behaviour is called ‘rubber – necking’. Though most of us would attest that we find it disagreeable to rubber – neck, the tailbacks on Britain’s roads every Friday night would suggest that plenty of us are morbidly curios enough to see what it looks like when a life spins out of control.

The modern phenomenon of Twitter shaming described in ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ ranks fairly highly amongst the things that can wake me up screaming in the middle of the night. Just how bad does it feel when 20 thousand or 50 thousand, or in the case of Justine Sacco, the PR executive who tweeted an ill advised joke, when over 1.2 million people focus their fury on you?

Ronson chronicles public shaming from it’s medieval role as a weapon of justice to some of the worst social media shamings of recent times. He travels the world interviewing the victims about their experiences before, during, and as they try to piece their lives back together, after the shaming. The case studies range from journalists caught fabricating stories to a learning support worker who defiled a national cemetery. In each case the spiral from basically happy, ordinary people, to central figures in the story of their own demise, is precipitously fast.

Social media presents a fascinating opportunity to study the dynamics of large populations. Never before in human history have we all been so interconnected. The theory that everyone is connected to everyone else in the world by just 6 degrees of separation was postulated by the Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy in the 1920s but new research shows that the figure needs updating. Studies of Facebook reveal it’s more like half that number, and with the opportunity for complete strangers to follow you, I would imagine that Twitter returns an even smaller degree of separation.

The upshot of all this connectedness is that we’re dealing with a social landscape that we didn’t evolve to operate in. In his book The Organized Mind (incidentally also the subject of this week’s self help binge) Daniel Levitin gives and illuminating analogy,

Imagine you are living in the year 1200 […] You know a couple of hundred people, and you’ve known most of them all your life. Strangers are regarded with suspicion because it is so very unusual to encounter them. The number of people you’d encounter in a lifetime was fewer than the number of people you’d walk past during rush hour in present – day Manhattan.

Now the number of people we can reach in the click of a mouse button dwarfs the world population in the year 1200. Something humans are particularly bad at grasping is the scale and the reach of social media. Just why do otherwise normal, well – adjusted people descend into a vicious frenzy of denouncement when a target emerges on Twitter? Ronson investigates the theory of group madness as a possible explanation.

Published in 1895, Gustav Le Bon’s The Crowd, was the central text in the study of crowd dynamics. The work is referenced in Bill Buford’s superlative study of British football hooliganism in the 1980s. During the 80s displays mass social unrest could be witnessed in virtually every city centre in the country as rival hooligan ‘firms’ battled each other for supremacy on the terraces. The scale and brutality of the violence is staggering when regarded from a contemporary vantage point.

Buford addresses the question of why thousands of young men up and down the country would turn out every Saturday afternoon to gouge, kick, punch, stab, slash and burn their way up and down the country:

why do young males riot every Saturday? They do it for the same reason that another generation drank too much, or smoked dope, or took hallucinogenic drugs, or behaved badly or rebelliously. Violence is their antisocial kick, their mind-altering experience, an adrenaline-induced euphoria that might be all the more powerful because it is generated by the body itself, with, I was convinced, many of the same addictive qualities that characterize synthetically-produced drugs.

Social media certainly has it’s addictive properties. That adrenaline – induced euphoria that Buford talks about? Every re-tweet, new follower or like that you receive on Twitter creates a little release of dopamine – a hormone associated with the brain’s response to pleasurable stimuli. So social media has a measurable effect on the brain’s biochemistry.

Ronson discusses the feedback effect:

We express our opinion that Justine Sacco is a monster. We are instantly congratulated for this…

And so we are more likely to believe that it is true. He also notes that you are only likely to share information on Twitter that is likely to go down well with your circle of followers.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a difficult read in many ways. Not because of any defect in the writing which is lucid and intelligent, or the arguments which are backed by infallible reasoning. It is a difficult read because it holds up a mirror that shows a distorted reflection of society. A society viewed through the warped lens of social media. A social world where the voices of moderation and reason have been filtered out of the conversation leaving only the raging poles of opinion. Is 170 characters too short to sum up all the shades of meaning and nuances of language needed to communicate effectively? I think it probably is, and maybe the move to abolish the character limit for a Tweet might be a good thing.

Comment below or tweet me. Let me know what you thought if you’ve read this book or any of the others mentioned. Happy reading.

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It's not how good you are, it's how good you want to be. By Paul Arden

One book to change your life? Could it be this one? The Magic Happiness of… thinks it could.

Every week I try a different self – help guide’s life advice. Last week I reviewed Marie Kondo’s The Life – Changing Magic of Tidying. This week I tackle Paul Arden’s It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be.

Sandwiched somewhere between a career’s advice lecture and an evangelical call to self – improvement for anyone with a creative bent, this little book is small enough to fit in the pocket and short enough to read in a matter of minutes. That’s not to say the ideas in it aren’t profound though.

Arden’s little book was a sensation when it was first published in 2003 and has entered the hearts and minds of many an ambitious, bright young thing since. Arden’s prose is direct and bossy, but his message is never less than engaging and thought provoking.

‘So how good do you want to be?’ he asks at the outset.

So how good do you want to be asks Paul Arden
So how good do you want to be?

Well, I don’t know, you think. Probably quite good. Fairly soon though you get the sense that this isn’t good enough for Paul Arden. ‘You can achieve the unachievable.’ he exhorts. By the third page in I’m feeling ecstatic.

Many of the messages are counter – intuitive: ‘It’s right to be wrong,’ ‘fail, fail again, fail better,’why do we strive for excellence when mediocrity is required?’ And Arden’s wisdom is delivered with such clear – eyed certainty that you get caught up in it. The layout of every page is delicious, the bold titles and large text allied with clean, monochrome images mean that it’s easy on the eye. You wouldn’t expect anything less from a former  Executive Creative Director at Saatchi and Saatchi though would you?

So I’ve been trying to apply the book’s message of ambition, self promotion and positive thinking to my life. I’ve been relentlessly chipper at work. Emma, my colleague, took me aside to ask me if everything was alright. ‘You keep talking to everyone like you’re reading from a leadership manual,’ she said worriedly. ‘Have you been getting enough sleep?’ ‘Without a goal it’s difficult to score,’ I replied, assertively.

I’ve designed myself some business cards. I’m a teacher so they say ‘Headteacher’ on them.

Design your own business card says Paul Arden. Impress people with a completely made up job title.
Get your own business cards. With a made up job title on them.

I handed them out in the staff room at work which went down well. People asked me if I’d gone mad and the real Headteacher said he wants a meeting with me. ‘Getting fired can be a positive career move,’ Arden assures me on page 70. Which is comforting to know.

It’s not How Good you Are…’ is not really a self – help book. You will find it in Waterstone’s in the grey area to the right of the self-help section headed ‘smart thinking’. I’m not sure how much of this book is smart thinking and how much has little thinking behind it. If you suspend your judgement then it’s freshness and energy is infectious.

And then sometimes you come across a picture of some pigeons on a plinth and you are a little baffled.

‘Don’t be afraid of silly ideas.’ (Page 58)

Next week I’m trying Daniel Levitin’s The Organised Mind. If you have read any of the books I’ve discussed on my blog or would like to suggest a favourite self – help book for me to try out then please comment, tweet @TmhoLudek, check out my Facebook or email themagichappinessof@gmail.com.

Look forward to hearing from you all.

 

 

 

Charity Shopper #2

Charity shopper is a weekly blog post. The rules are that I have to visit a charity shop every week and purchase something from it. I cannot leave the shop without making a purchase and I must use the purchase at least once. I will report every week on what I buy.

It’s more fun if you play at home: if you would like to be next week’s Charity Shopper all you have to do is contact me on twitter @TmhoLudek or email: themagichappinessof@gmail.com with details of what you’ve purchased and be able to answer some simple questions about why you bought it (otherwise I’ll just do it again!).

Date: Sun 7.02.2016 

Shop: Age UK, 15 Market Place, Pocklington, East Yorkshire YO42 2AS

Purchase: 1 book: How to Be a Brit by George Mikes and a CD: Shall We Dance? Elegant Classics from the 30s.

Cost: £1.98

 

Lets start with the CD; what motivated you to buy a collection of Jazz standards from the 30s?

I thought it had ‘Cheek to Cheek,’ on it – the song Fred Astaire sings to Ginger Rogers in the film Top Hat.

fred and ginger

So romantic!

Indeed.

And does it?

No.

The cheek!

Though I believe the answer to the question, ‘shall we dance,’ should always be ‘yes’ so I bought it anyway.

And the book? How to Be a Brit?

Correct.

Sounds like a pamphlet from a right leaning think tank. Nothing to do with the government’s ‘British Values’ agenda is it?

Hardly. George Mikes was a Hungarian immigrant. It’s his take on British manners. Regarding English attitudes he has this to say: ‘In England it is bad manners to be clever, to assert something confidently. It may be your own personal view that two and two make four, but you must not state it in a self-assured way, because this is a democratic country and others may be of a different opinion.’

A clever dick by the sounds of it.

Umm… possibly, though I didn’t buy it for the witty analysis of the famed British stiff upper lip.

Well why did you buy it?

The cover design caught my eye. I thought it would look good on my bookshelf. Or on the coffee table.

Tsk! Shakespeare and Milton will be spinning in their graves. Don’t you know you should never judge a book by it’s cover?

Not true. How to Be a Brit is published as a Penguin Classic. The minimal, two tone design with large blocks of colour has represented quality since its’ inception in 1935.

Some of the cover designs are as lauded as the books inside them. There are Pinterest boards dedicated to them. You can buy your favourite cover on a T -Shirt, as a Penguin Classics deck chair, tote bags… the list is endless.

What were you saying about quality? Wasn’t Morrisey’s debut novel published last year as a Penguin Classic?

You mean List of the Lost? Ah, it’s not in the Classics imprint. It’s merely a Penguin book. His memoir Autobiography, however, was slotted straight in the Penguin Classics stable.

Have you read List of the Lost?

Umm… I try not to.

Mmm. Didn’t get great reviews did it?

Michael Hann called it ‘an unpolished turd’ in The Guardian.

Yes, he did didn’t he?

And the Telegraph published a list of the 10 most embarrassing lines from the book.

Including: “Preciously kneeling on the upper-crust carpeting, the boys were inexpressive and almost beloved…”

And, ‘Tracey finds the manly central issue too slight to grip…’ Snigger.

Now that’s going too far…

‘Bulbous salutation…’

Enough.

Sorry. Talking of Penguin book covers and The Smiths, have you seen the work of Chris Thornley?

Eh, sorry, what? I was just mopping my brow. I’ve come over all florid…

Chris Thornley has taken a number of Smiths lyrics and turned them into Penguin inspired book covers. They’re really rather good.

Ah. One thing though – if you click on the link above and look carefully you’ll see that Chris, although a very good graphic artist, should be careful what he wishes for!

chris thorley

The charity shopper will be back next week. If you have any particular items you would like to see me discussing (with myself) or if you would like to have a go at being the charity shopper yourself then comment below, Tweet me @TmhoLudek or email: themagichappinessof@gmail.com. 

In the meantime, if you can’t wait until next week, have a browse of last week’s Charity Shopper and the other fabulous content on http://www.themagichappinessof.com

 

 

 

Clear out confidential…

So it’s time to embark on ‘Kondoing’ our home but there’s a stumbling block already. We’ve decided that clothes are the Achilles heal of our tidiness problem so following Marie Kondo’s advice to work on one category at a time we’re starting with a whole scale clear out of our clothes.

ugg boots 2

My initial skepticism about the KonMari method overcome I am enthusiastically ditching my clothes by the bin – bag full. The vile lime green and black checked Burberry shirt – does it ‘spark joy’ KonMari asks? Presumably it did around 15 years ago when I paid £215 for it at Birmingham Bullring but I have worn it a handful of times and it has languished in a early – noughties ghetto in my wardrobe for a decade and a half. I feel a small tug at the heartstrings as I pitch it into the bin bag but as soon as it disappears inside the guilty feeling is replaced by a strangely vertiginous rush of euphoria. Turns out that throwing away, donating, disposing, consigning one’s possessions to oblivion is actually quite addictive.

The kids have got in on the act too. Gretchen (who we call G) is sifting through piles of decapitated and limbless barbies, dismembered teddies and broken roller skates. She draws the line at disposing of Mifkin, her 9 year old Steiff bear who, having very little fur left and only one, leering glass eye, is frankly terrifying, . She does, however, consent to have him washed so at least we can rid him of the faint whiff of piss that clings to him. Small steps.

All is going so well until I check on Annie’s progress. She is sat on a vast clothes mountain on our bed, her head only a foot away from the ceiling.

‘How’s it going?’ I ask.

‘Good!’ She is reading a copy of Take a Break magazine. ‘Have you heard about this woman? She didn’t know she had a mouse living in her hair for three months until it fell out one day!’

‘I meant with the clothes. Have you thrown any away yet?’

‘Some. A bikini. A pair of pants with some brown stains on them.’

‘What about these boots?’ I ask.

‘THOSE?!’ She is incredulous. ‘They’re Uggs! They were really expensive. And you bought them for me.’

It’s true, they were, and I did. We got them on our honeymoon in New York. I remember the exact day, the weather, how much fun it was to wander around Manhattan visiting all the shops and how happy we were, high on the euphoria of being newly married and in The Big Apple. If you parachuted me into Central Park tomorrow I could find the exact Ugg shop we purchased those from. Holding them in my hand awakens some of those memories.

But the zip is broken now and in any case, they are pink and Annie hasn’t worn them in the five years she’s owned them because pink doesn’t go with anything she owns.

‘I can get the zip replaced,’ she says, raising her eyebrows in a mock sad expression. I feel like a mean spirited bailiff stripping a penniless woman of her television or something.

‘OK! You can have those,’ she says springing down from the clothes pile, ‘but I am keeping these.’ She clings a vile pair of luminous orange Crocs to her chest as though they were a naked baby.

‘They’re vile Annie.’

‘But they’re mine!’ she says defiantly and flounces out.

Small steps.

 

The magic happiness of a self – help binge?

A quick internet search for the term self – help reveals it to be the worlds biggest selling genre. The most commonly quoted figure of the industry’s worth is $11bn, most of it spent in the US admittedly, but the UK is catching up.

Shelf Help packshot shelfAs with most things I am a little behind the curve on this one. I have never read a self – help book or considered myself to be in the target audience for a self – help book. Recently though a new branch of the genre is making waves in the market: the so called ‘intellectually credible’ self – help book. The publishers Penguin assure me that it is OK now, if not even cool, to own books with titles like ‘The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves’ . Well why wouldn’t it be you may ask? And I suppose you’re right.

Through their imprint Vintage, Penguin are promoting a series of 10 books they say have the ‘power to make life brighter’.

In response to the latest crisis in my life I decided to make a positive change to the way I live and have drafted a list of 6 things that I want to change before the end of the Year:

  1. To be happy(er)
  2. To not be nearly bankrupt
  3. To not feel disorganised
  4. To have more time with my kids
  5. To have time to be creative
  6. To feel physically healthy

With 2016 set to be dominated again by the publication of a slew of self – help titles from some of the biggest hitters in the field I began to wonder whether self – help could lead me to a happier, more sustainable and ultimately more rewarding lifestyle.

In this series of blog posts I’m asking have we become a nation of self – help bingers? What are the best self – help titles out there? And what are the worst? Have you got a favourite example that you think I should try?  Throughout the year I intend to read as many titles as I can get through and to post the results here for you all to read about.

Comment below or tweet me @TmhoLudek to leave suggestions.