Social Anxiety | Pushing the Wave

Social Anxiety

Opinion, 18 November 2022
by L.A. Davenport
The Rolling Stones at Glastonbury 2013
Watching the Rolling Stones at Glastonbury 2013
Another week, another set of updates to this website. I can’t stop! Actually, what’s happening is that the more I do to the site, the more I realise I need to do. For example, it occurred to me on Monday that I didn’t have a cookie notice, to warn people that there is Google and other tracking on here, and that clicking on the purchase links will take you to an off-site page so you can choose your preferred vendor. It’s very dull all of this but it’s important that you know all that stuff is there, not only so the site is compliant with internet regulations but also so you are aware and can make informed choices. That’s the idea anyway.

Yet after the fretting over the EU’s GDPR law, which is a flawed but well-intentioned attempt to ensure that its citizens know how they are being tracked online and by whom, everything seems to have settled down again and all those concerns have receded into the background. (It’s not like we don’t have things to fret over nowadays other than the nuances of internet privacy, of course.) I for one have ended up just accepting cookies or dismissing the cookie notice whenever I arrive on a new site. Instead I rely on Safari or other browsers to stop me being tracked from site to site, and content blockers to remove annoyances and frankly unnecessary attempts to monitor what I am doing.

It all reminds me of when software licence agreements became a big talking point back in the doctom boom of the late 90s. We were presented with reams and reams of clauses and subclauses governing how we could use the software, how our usage would be monitored and what level of access the software would have to our computer and our files, among other things. It was beyond impractical and nigh-on impossible for the average person to read everything and understand it, especially as it was presented to them while they were in the process of installing a piece of software that they needed to use straight away. How could one stop mid-installation, take a month off to consult the meaning of what one was agreeing to with an internet lawyer (of which there were precious few), and then finally install the software? It made me think of the sketch in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life when a man has his liver taken from him, even though he’s not dead, just because he signed a donor card.

The response, in the end, to all that was a collective shrug and to move on. We nowadays merrily click ‘Agree’ on all those licence agreements without even a thought that we might actually read them and wonder what they mean for our privacy and security. We are already going that way with internet privacy, even though the threat from online monitoring to us as individuals and as a society is far greater than that from the licence agreement to use MS Word.
Another addition to the site fresh this week is the ability for you, the visitor, to add your thoughts to pages on this site via Disqus comments (you’ll see how it works at the bottom of this piece). I have resisted this for a very long time, and there are two broad reasons.

The first is because in general, and rather hypocritically, I prefer to read print publications (although I do have Apple News+ and use it a lot). I have been avidly reading magazines and newspapers since the 1980s and I am relieved to find that, after the existential threat they faced with the rise of the internet and everything moving online (or so it’s claimed), they are still around, even if print newspapers are on life support. Print publications obviously don’t have a comment feature at the bottom of their pages, and frankly I have never missed it. I don’t see why my two penn'orth has anything to do with the price of fish, as one might say and I prefer to keep my sometimes unreasonable reactions to myself or those around me.

(This is different from a person’s right to reply, which is fundamental, and has always been present in media via the letters page. Following in the same tradition, I have always welcomed well-meaning feedback and commentary via the Contact page.)

The second is that, having worked in journalism and media for many, many years, I am amazed and appalled by how badly people behave below the line, as it’s called in the newspapers. The comments that articles receive on The Guardian and other newspaper websites are often so cruel, contrary, vexatious and deliberately obtuse that it puts one off from ever wanting to expose your words to the chance you’d receive a similar onslaught. (Where my journalism is posted, the readers are polite and largely remember to critique rather than insult, but that’s the benefit of working for trade publications.) Maybe I’m too thin-skinned, but a certain distance is achieved by a media organisation publishing your work, as they can always be blamed for something being poorly taken. When you are solely responsible, it can all seem a little personal.

Of course, this complaint is hardly new, and one sees the same thing on Twitter or anywhere else on social media, and has led to many people to quit Facebook and other platforms. The cloak of anonymity seems to bring out the worst in people, and the moors of the mediaeval market place don’t seem to be far below the surface, despite all our apparent modern sophistication. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of social media (a bit like how people say they like the idea of socialism), it’s just putting it into practice that seems to be problematic.

Back in the day, when the internet was young and relatively few people used it, the equivalent of what one might call social media (GeoCities, anyone?) was a much more restrained and civilised affair. It was largely used by internet enthusiasts and those who wished to connect with others. Now everyone is connected, and the calling time pub mentality has seeped into everywhere where people might congregate online. It’s a shame, and it has meant that I have been on social media, then off, then on, and then off again so many times that I have lost count.

The upshot of all of this is that, yes, I have implemented Disqus comments, but for now at least I will moderate everything that gets posted. I am not expecting a deluge of comments, or really any at all, but at least there is some control. (If you want to read my guidelines on how to comment on this site, you can find them here.)
On a lighter note, I have become incredibly excited about next summer. It’s not because the nights are drawing in and the weather is turning towards winter and so my mind is naturally drifting to dreams of basking in the sunshine on long summer days, although that plays its part. But rather because tickets for gig and festivals have recently gone on sale.

The first up for me was Pulp, and I am very, very happy that I and a group of close friends are going to be able to see them play in Sheffield next July. After that, Glastonbury Festival went on sale and, incredibly and very much against my expectations, we managed to get in. All of us in our group. That has been unheard-of since the mid-2010s. To be honest, it hasn’t yet fully sunk in that we will be there, and I am still pinching myself. And finally, Blur, at Wembley Stadium. Just those four words next to each other is enough to inspire excitement, in me anyway.

The only thing is that, with the headliners not yet to be announced for Glastonbury, I have a slight fear that both Pulp and Blur will play, as unlikely as it seems, and make my efforts to secure tickets to see them rather redundant. My hope with Glastonbury is that Roxy Music, who I stupidly managed to miss when they were doing their extremely short 50th anniversary tour last year, will play the Legends slot, following on from Diana Ross last year. Again, it seems unlikely, but what is life if not a series of dreams, both realised and unfulfilled.
Finally, I returned to a film recently that I hadn’t seen in many, many years.

You know how it is. You have cosy, warm memories of watching a movie in your childhood or teens, and recall it lighting something in your soul, something you have carried with you far into the cold cynicism of adulthood. There’s a few of those for me, and it is always with trepidation that I return to them, hoping against hope that they don’t turn out to be a massive disappointment. I was encouraged after re-watching Into The Night, with Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfieffer, which for some reason I saw in my teen years maybe 100 times. Amazingly, not only was it not awful but middle-aged me loved it, and I could see why I had been a bit obsessed with it, although perhaps not to the degree of watching it so often.

A couple of weeks ago, it was another Jeff, this time Bridges, who I nervously recalled being wonderful in Starman with Karen Allen. I should say that Jeff Bridges is one of my absolute favourite actors, not because of The Big Lebowski, although he was fantastic in that. I have been a huge fan of his since the 1980s, and I would say that if you haven’t seen The Fabulous Baker Boys (talking of Michelle Pfieffer, another firm favourite), you should.

Back to Starman. What I remembered was a tender, thoughtful exploration of the idea of an alien coming down to earth and dealing with the mindless brutality of humans. I suppose it is a The Man Who Fell to Earth-lite, made for family consumption. I was talking to a friend about the movie after I saw it again, and we both had remembered the scene in Starman with the deer, which had clearly touched our young selves. What I hadn’t perhaps appreciated at the time was its emotional impact.

In fact, one could say that for the whole film. It’s a quieter, more subtle affair than many of its contemporaries, but it’s a really effective drama and a nice example of John Carpenter’s work. Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen are of course brilliant, and it’s a nice film to turn to after Raiders of the Lost Ark.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Social Anxiety | Pushing the Wave