Wednesday, 9 February 2011

What's OK to Say?

I'm seeing, hearing and reading enough bad news about the state of the country right now to fill a thousand blogs. The UK is cutting corporation tax for the largest companies to a point at which they'll soon be paying less in the pound than you and I will. Smaller companies will of course continue to go out of business while the banks refuse to lend to them and bonuses continue to be racked up a few milion pounds at a time. The newspapers have revealed what is hardly a secret at all really - that the Tory Party is bankrolled by hedge fund managers and senior bankers, which explains, if we hadn't already guessed, why this government has no intention of going to town on financial institutions.

But you can get bogged down in bad news, of course. I might not be wealthy, but I'm hardly in danger of starving to death. I may not be a banker, but I'm not tied to a desk for twelve hours a day so that my soul can be sucked out through my eyeballs in a mindless search for profit. Sometimes it's important to get perspective.

While we're on that particular subject, I read earlier this week about the case of Sarah Baskerville, a Department of Transport official who took a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (IPCC) because Twitter posts she had written about being hungover at work were reported by several national newspapers.

Quite how these posts could clarify as a national newspaper story is beyond me, but newspapers will print what they think will be read, so fair enough. The IPCC ruled, correctly in my opinion, that things posted on Twitter should be considered public. But is it really that much of a sin to admit to being hungover at work? It is not as if she had confessed to rubbing shoulders with foreign mafioso, or admitted to cocaine binges with transsexual prostitutes. Even if she had, does her lifestyle matter in the slightest as long as she does her job? Where do we draw the line about acceptable behaviour? Would this lady's employer have preferred her to lie about her vices and stay home instead?

This of course has tremendous implications for anyone writing a blog. The views on this page are mine and mine alone, but I am always mindful that I represent my local county council as an employee, and my trade union as a branch officer. Neither are perfect organisations and I would feel justified in criticising policy decisions made by each. Nonetheless, I have to take a pragmatic viewpoint to such criticisms and realise that there is a time and a place for criticism and conjecture, and maybe this is a place of last resort.

Social media is all about telling other people what you are doing, seeing and thinking. It reflects our tremendous desire to contribute to shared experiences with those around us. Dilbert creator Scott Adams has written about the kind of future society in which our activities are potentially viewable by everyone else at all times. He concluded that he was safe from prying eyes by making sure that his life is, in his own words, 'coma-inducingly dull'. I see a litle bit of fellowship in that admission. Facebook and Twitter positively encourage the publication of the inane, and it is no bad thing. We know that the people who love us are interested in even the most insignificant details of our lives, and this is why we share them. If people don't like your post, there's another one along in a minute.

Social media has tremendous potential for educating prople and bringing them together in the future. However, we should not see it as a replacement for face-to-face interaction and we should also not use it as an excuse to take ourselves too seriously! It is entirely possible to be professional and do an excellent job and still be a human being with all the fragilities and weaknesses that come with the territory. Now, I know it's a weeknight, but does anyone fancy a drink?

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