Still A European

European Parliament

The European Parliament, Strasbourg. Public domain photo by hpgruesen.

On Friday morning, I woke up to the news that I didn’t want to hear. I had gone to bed quietly confident that the Stronger Together campaign would prevail, but the result shocked the world.

This vote could easily have gone the other way — out of a 72% turnout at the polls, 51.9% voted Brexit while 48.1% voted to stay. I believe that if we had another referendum tomorrow, we would not be facing the uncertain prospect of a future outside the EU.

And I am sad. I feel bereft, as though part of my identity has been stripped away. Oh wait, it has. As it stands, within the next two years, I will lose my European citizenship.

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The ‘curse’ of the smartphone

Two months ago, I joined the 21st century. The keys on my trusty Nokia phone (which, at 14 years and counting, could be described as a senior citizen) began to freeze. One key went first and then another one. It made texting very difficult when I couldn’t use the most commonly used letter in the English alphabet (e, if you’re curious). Gradually all the others followed suit, in a kind of arthritic surrender. My phone switched on and off with no problem, but without the use of its keys, it was nothing more than a useless relic. Thus, I succumbed to the thing I have been resisting: I bought a smartphone.

Public domain image source

Everywhere you go, you see people glued to their phones. A few years ago, phones were functional: you could make calls and send texts and that was the limit of their capabilities. Does anyone remember the game, Snake? I used to enjoy playing that! But that’s so old-fashioned now, when today’s phones are all-singing, all-dancing pieces of technology.

In class, it is standard for people to pull out their notebooks and pens, followed by their smartphones, which they place on their desks as though they are a life-giving force to which they need to be permanently connected. One thing that really bugs me about smartphone use is when I’m talking to someone and they are staring at their phone. Whatever happened to manners? Put your phone away!

Public domain image source

Since purchasing my smartphone, I have made a conscious effort not to become somebody who stares at their phone all the time. It can be tempting to check it when I hear the ping of my email alert, letting me know that another message has landed in my inbox, but when I’m busy working at home, I leave it upstairs and out of earshot. Admittedly, despite my reluctance to get a smartphone, it has its uses. I like the to-do list app I downloaded because it allows me to stay uber-organized. But I won’t relinquish my Filofax anytime soon! Technology is useful but not when it becomes something from which we can’t tear ourselves away.

In the wise words of Steven Spielberg:

“Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone”.

What do you think? Are smartphones the source of a modern-day affliction or do you love your phone?

The problem with feminist characters

During the past few days, I have read at least two or three separate articles on why Katniss Everdeen is such a great female role model. Katniss is the lead protagonist of The Hunger Games series of books and films. She is a very human character with flaws and vulnerabilities. She is also determined, strong and she does things on her own terms. In her fictional dystopian universe, a futuristic imagining of the United States, inequalities between social classes are a bigger problem than inequalities between gender.

The most recent movie, adapted from the book, focuses partly on revolutions and uprisings in the twelve districts which are controlled by the totalitarian regime of the Capitol. And Katniss’s refusal to define herself by relationships with men, unlike some other mainstream franchise characters (Bella Swan, I’m looking at you), has led to her character being acclaimed as a pop culture feminist role model.

Photo credit: © 2013 - Lionsgate Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013).

Photo credit: © 2013 – Lionsgate
Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013).

The issue of gender discrimination in film is nothing new. The Bechdel test was developed in 1985 and it scores movies and other works of fiction based on the criteria that “it has to have at least two [named] women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man” (Bechdel Test). Recently, a few independent Swedish cinemas have started rating the movies they show and giving them a grade based on whether they pass the Bechdel test. I think there are flaws with this: a movie can still be sexist or demonstrate gender inequalities even if it contains two female characters who talk about something other than relationships. But it does highlight the fact that a lot of movies are based on models of gender bias which do not fit the feminist ideology of equality. Perhaps needless to say, The Hunger Games passes the Bechdel Test with an A grade.

However, the fact that we need to make a point out of having strong female characters demonstrates that we have a problem. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great to have feminist characters, especially in mainstream franchises. But I think the fact that we have to make such a big deal out of it is representative of a wider problem: of inequalities which still linger. It highlights the issue, at least in my eyes, that it is necessary to define characters by feminist and non-feminist. By all means, we still need to work towards equality but I hope that it will become standard for women to be represented in all forms of media without gender discrimination. Only then will we know that true and meaningful progress has been made.

Weekly writing challenge: ebook or real book?

This week’s writing challenge from The Daily Post is a “Mind the Gap” challenge, inviting bloggers to share their opinion on a controversial issue.

This week:

How do you prefer to read, with an eReader like a Kindle or Nook, or with an old school paperback in hand?”

Technology
Public domain image: Science And Technology by Petr Kratochvil

I taught myself to read when I was four years old. I have always loved books. If I’m feeling stressed or anxious, I seek out the nearest book store and dive into it; being surrounded by literary tomes is very calming and I will happily spend hours browsing. When I first heard about eReaders, I was emphatically unimpressed. I am not a Luddite. I don’t have a problem with technology. But now that eReaders are ever-increasing in popularity, it is becoming a serious issue.

I would like to skirt around the topic and diplomatically say that both ways of reading have their merits. But I’m not going to sit on the fence bookshelf. I prefer paper-and-ink books: A) With ebooks it is impossible to replicate the wonderful feeling of picking up a brand new book that you have bought, running your finger down its glossy unbroken spine and becoming absorbed in its pages. B) You can’t have chatty conversations with the book store assistant about which books to purchase. C) Looking through the ebook section online is simply not the same as browsing in person. Spending hours on a computer makes my eyes feel like they have run a marathon or the optical equivalent of one. What would that be? A readathon, I presume.

The idea of a world without paper-and-ink books is frankly dystopian. You wouldn’t be able to hunt out a treasure in a preloved book store or go to the library. You wouldn’t be able to flip through the worn pages of your favorite literary treasure so you can find the best quotes. eReader buttons are not an adequate replacement. Furthermore, books have personality! Call me a geek or a nerd or whatever but I love owning different copies of my most loved books. I have around three or four copies of some of my favorite literary classics because they have different illustrations or interesting covers. Personal preference for real paper-and-ink books aside, I am curious about copyright issues related to the popularity of ebooks. Illegal sharing and misuse of files is known to be a common problem in the music and film industries. Will the ebook industry have the same issue?

Have I convinced you about the ebook versus physical book debate yet? Ebooks may be the future, as some people proclaim, but I will not succumb willingly. I will continue browsing in book stores, looking in the library and lending books to friends. Some things are just too sacred to be changed.

Having said all this, I am a hypocrite. The reason for this shocking two-facedness? I am currently thinking about jumping on the bandwagon and buying a Kindle (they are portable and great for traveling), although the mere notion of buying one feels like being unfaithful to my beloved real books.

What do you think about eReaders? Do you think ebooks will overtake paper-and-ink books in terms of popularity or do you think ebooks and physical books can comfortably co-habit? Share your thoughts in the comments section below; I’d love to hear them!