5 ways to make 2015 less of a dick than its predecessor

As we all wave and turn our backs on the year that was and stare forward into the cold, dead eyes of the year ahead, extending our middle fingers aloft in both directions, it’s quite easy to be daunted. Daunted by how exhausting 2014 was to live through, and daunted by the twelve months ahead of us that holds the promise of more of the same awfulness. 2014 was, let’s face it, a pretty unpleasant time to be a human being. Sure, you might have personally had quite a good year, and good for you if you did, but if you did, you did it against a background of absolute dickishness. A widening chasm between rich and poor, deadly racism, barbaric sexism, transphobia and good old fashioned religious intolerance; with the benefit of hindsight 2014 looks more and more like the year of intolerance.

Wherever you looked in the news over the last twelve months, there was someone being oppressed by someone else. Nothing new there, you might think, and you’d be right, but that doesn't make things any better. Let’s have a whistle-stop tour of the last twelve months, shall we? It’ll be fun!

oh george

The UK coalition government continued the deep cuts to public services, the wealth gap got wider and cuts to disability allowance in particular led to rises suicide and homelessness in the most vulnerable. The rise of UKIP in the media and in the polls was not even remotely hindered by their patently racist narrative and a misogynistic streak a mile wide.

Not that that should be a surprise, given the widespread misogyny and the rise of the so-called Men’s Right’s Activists. These miserable internet-based neckbearded trolls decided to punish any woman who put her head above the parapet by threatening them with rape and murder, because once a girl was mean to them, or something. This started with the pathetic Gamergate ‘scandal’ and escalated until you had the ultimate f-you of hundreds of female celebrities and then thousands of ordinary girls and women having their privacy violently assaulted when their personal photos were hacked out of their phones and posted online, then were slut-shamed by the media while the same neckbeards gleefully chalked it up as a victory for them. image

Then there were events in Ferguson and wider across America, where the racial divide there turned into a gaping chasm. Across the states, black men and women were reminded just how little white America thinks of them after unarmed black men just kept getting gunned down or strangled by over-militarised police forces, and then the media looked down its collective nose at the ensuing protests and backed the police, all to the background of white people being able to walk around armed to the teeth and nobody batting an eyelid. image

Lastly, at the end of the year there was the story of a young transgender teenager in America, Leelah Alcorn, who took her own life in desperation at her own family’s refusal to accept her for who she was. The indignity that followed as her own parents refused to acknowledge the way she died or her orientation in a series of Facebook messages that looked to the outside like the coldest, most uncaring eulogy of all time (even getting the age of their own child wrong) in some ways served as a microcosm of the year. It was a horrible tale of religious intolerance, family neglect and finally tragedy, completely unavoidable if people could be just that bit more accepting of other people’s differences. image

This is hardly a comprehensive list, but I know I have felt increasingly powerless over the last twelve months to the brutality of people, the endless well of human suffering that seems to go on around us. You just can’t turn back the tide, try as you might. Not on your own, at least.

So, as I sit here staring at another year to come, and in the grand tradition of meaningless internet lists, I’ve pulled together a list of five things that we each can do to turn 2015 into the year of tolerance. This should totally work, mainly because they're completely self evident truths you already know. Still, I got you to read this far, didn't I?

1.       Don't vote for ideologically insane right wing lunatics. Russell Brand doesn't think you should vote. He's an idiot. You may have already worked that out though. If you are of the thought that there’s no point in voting, may I just remind you that if everyone in every constituency in the whole country refused to vote except for one wrinkly old Tory, they wouldn’t call the whole thing off, it’d be a Tory landslide. For the last five years we’ve had one of the most ideologically right wing governments this country has ever seen, slashing the welfare state, selling off the NHS, and dumping billions of pounds of public money into the pockets of the already wealthy. If there is a widening gap between the haves and the have nots in this country, it’s down to them. That's why it's never been more important to get into that voting booth. This isn;t me telling you who to vote for, just who not to vote for. Totally different.

Are the alternatives on offer perfect? No, of course not. Some of them are comically inept, some are untrustworthy, others woefully undersized. But are they better than Cameron and Osborne and their desire to shrink state spending to pre-war levels? Of course they are. We have a general election this year, and the best thing we can do to help the worst off in our society is make sure those bastards don’t get back in.

2.       Seriously, don't vote for ideologically insane right wing lunatics. If you read the above and it made you think about voting for Farage and his merry band of hatred, then stop. Read it again. Yes, a strong UKIP turnout might be one of the easiest ways to unseat the Tories, but that’s like fighting a cold with a shotgun to the face. UKIP’s message is one entirely based on hatred. Hatred of change, hatred of the other, hatred of women. Look at the picture below, it’s a direct comparison of UKIP strength and actual immigration. image Clearly, UKIP have no foothold in the areas where immigration actually impacts because people in those areas know it’s not a problem. Everyone is just folk. UKIP focus on the areas where there is no immigration, where they can scare the shit out of the white middle classes that the immigrants are coming, and they’re coming to take your pretty house and turn it into a Bulgarian brothel.

These people are absolute poison, and the only way that the media will stop bleating on about them is if nobody actually turns up to vote for them on election day. If you think I’m wrong then ask yourself, when was the last time you saw Nick Griffin’s demented face on your television screen?

3.       Stand up against intolerance. The chances are that most of us never really come across major racism or sexual intolerance on a day to day basis, unless we’re out for a walk on the internet. But we do come across it. It might be a ladish comment by someone at work, or a catcall on the street, or even a teen on the bus calling their friend a 'mong'.

My main aim this year is to start calling it out, rather than tutting inwardly and moving on. A lot of people don’t realise their behaviour is unacceptable until they are told it is. That’s how we’ve moved away from monkey chants at football grounds and open homophobia, because it gradually dawned on people that these were not acceptable ways to treat others. So this year, whenever I feel I can, I’m going to call out things. As someone who hates confrontation this is quite hard for me, but if I want to make a more tolerant world around me that’s what I have to do.

4.       Support where you can. The best thing about the internet is how easy it is for us to give back. In the wake of Ferguson there was countless ways spread online to help people. There are charities everywhere to help people who are worse off than you, and if you can spare the money, you can help. Sometimes these smaller charities can do so much more with a £5 donation, be they a rape crisis centre, a rights advocacy group, transgender support group or any one of a thousand other things out there. Don’t just tut at the coverage and move on. Get involved, as much as you can. Set aside ten quid a month and donate it to whatever you think best. Do what you can.

5.       Don’t be a dick. I’m guessing I’m not really talking to many of my readers here, but just on the off chance this has made it into the Gamergate headquarters, here's a message for you misogynistic trolls… Don’t be a dick. Seriously. If you’re the sort of person who responds to women online who you disagree with with belittling humour, crude threats or worse then just… don’t. Don’t be that guy. (Yes, you’re probably a guy. Deal with it. If you’re offended by me saying you’re probably a guy, stop. Are you a guy? See, I was right!)

Take off the fedora and step away from the neckbeard, because you are really becoming quite an unpleasant person, and nobody else thinks you are cool. That rape joke you just made wasn’t funny, and if you seriously feel the need to interject that ‘not all men’ or ‘it’s about ethics in games journalism’ then seriously, don’t. You’re a douche. You’re the guy at the party nobody wants to talk to. Get it?

So there we have it. My list of five things we can all do to make the world a better place. Let’s check back in twelve months time to see if it worked.

Death To Scrobble

Disclaimer: I wrote this earlier and considered not posting it because it's officially the most banal thing I've ever written. But then I thought fuck it, I'm going to post it anyway. Sorry.

Today it’s time for me to say goodbye to an old friend. To put the nail in a relationship that has lasted two weeks shy of a decade, leaving behind me a trail of tears, recriminations and statistics.

I’ve got a new phone, you see. For reasons too convoluted to go into here, I’ve moved from an iPhone 4s, which has been my faithful and sturdy companion these past two years until Apple killed it with iOS8, to a shiny new Windows Phone. I quite like it, although it has quite a few shortcomings on the app side that are frustrating in the extreme.

Take Podcasts for instance. I know a lot of people who have iPhones think that the podcast app that Apple provide is a dead duck, a lame app that doesn’t service their needs. Well be thankful you don’t have a Windows Phone. From the in-built monstrosity to the variety of inexplicably unworkable offerings in the app store, I spent two hours last night trying to find an app for podcasts that has even half of the functionality of the Apple variant.

In the end I’ve had to settle on two, one which works as a half decent podcast app for new episodes, one that I can keep working through the Self Publishing Podcast on, because the other one doesn’t let you go further than 50 episodes back. If if that sentence was tedious and dull to read, imagine how it was living through it for two hours. But that’s not my biggest gripe.

I’ve spoken before about my love of Spotify’s premium service. I know it screws over artists but there is simply no better music experience for the end user in the digital world (I say digital world to heed off those people who still think vinyl is the only way to go, the hippie weirdos) and as much as I’d love to be able to spend all my money of paying artists their fair share, the truth is I can’t. I can pay for a legal service though, which is what I do. Guilt be damned.

However, as much as I’ve fallen in love with Spotify over the last few years, I’ve had a much longer online relationship with last.fm. If you’re not aware of last.fm, it’s a service that tracks what music you listen to through something called scrobbling, and then makes recommendations based on what you listen to. It’s brilliant too; rather than saying ‘hey you like rock music, have you heard of U2?’ like a lot of recommendation things (and I’m looking at you here Spotify) it has actually introduced me to loads of really cool stuff I would never have heard otherwise. But aside from the discoverability aspect of last.fm, the best thing is the stats.

Now, I’m a music geek. I’m well aware of that. I’m perhaps not like ‘normal’ people. I like stats, and when it comes to something I’m as obsessive about as music, I really really like my stats. I really like being able to see what has been my most listened to band of the last six months, or what album has received most of my time in the last decade. I like to go into a band and see which album I’ve actually listened to the most. I like seeing what has been my favourite song of the year. I like going onto the pages of people whose tastes I respect and seeing what they’ve been listening to.

I like my stats, damn it, and I’ve put a hell of a lot of time into cultivating them. In fact, since I joined on the 12 Nov 2004 I have scrobbled 70,019, tracks, which averages out to 19 songs a day. Not bad when you consider that I didn’t really get going until I got my first smartphone maybe four years into that time. Last.fm allows me to indulge the geekiest extremes of my personality, and has provided me with endless hours of entertainment looking through my charts.

So, I love Spotify, and I love Last.fm. Together they represent the kind of music experience that the younger me could only have dreamt about. Which is why it’s a complete pisser that as of yesterday, I can no longer use the two together. Spotify’s App on Windows Phone has no functionality for scrobbling, and none of the scrobbling apps on Windows Phone talk to the Spotify app. Since Spotify is now really the only way that I listen to music, and most of the time that’s on my phone, that means no more scrobbling, exactly two weeks shy of a decade into my habit.

It’s shitty, really. I’ll still be able to scrobble on my laptop, but I don’t really use it for listening, so the scrobbles wont actually be an accurate reflection of my listening habits. Now I’m well aware that this is possibly the most obvious case of ‘first-world-problems’ know to mankind, but damnit I’m really annoyed, as the previous 700 words can testify to. I’m pissed off. Pissed off enough to start direct messaging members of the Spotify support forums, and to trawl the message boards looking for solutions. But all to no avail.

So goodbye scrobbling. Goodby stats. We nearly made it a decade.