On 'Father Forgets' by W. Livingston Larned

I am slowly making my way through Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, which apparently everyone knew about before me. I might write a separate post about it when I’m done, but for now, I want to talk about a piece that particularly rubbed me the wrong way. It is a story originally written by W. Livingston Larned and reprinted in the book with his permission. Apparently, the story was a bit of a viral hit in its day and was reprinted in many publications and read at many gatherings. It’s called ‘Father Forgets’ (PDF). People online seem to be loving it to this day and I wonder if I am the only one who feels the story has an overlooked sadist element.

‘Father Forgets’ seems to refer to the fact that the father forgets that his son is just a little child so he sets expectations that are too high and is too brusque with the little one. One evening, something happens that prompts him to think about his behaviour: before bedtime, the son hugs him as hard as he can and gives him a kiss in spite of all the harsh words he’s had from the father. And the father has a change of heart, or so he would at least like us to believe. ‘Tomorrow I will be a real daddy!’, he says, and it’s as ambitious and dubious as ‘Tomorrow I will start exercising!’, ‘Tomorrow I will quit smoking!’, and all those other self-improvement lies we tell ourselves. Tomorrow is the cheapest word in the dictionary. If you want to make a change, what’s wrong with starting now?

People online call it a ‘heart-breaking poem’, and I hope at least some of the hearts are breaking for the son, not just for the father, because there is one very problematic line that made me balk: ‘(…) your small arms tightened with affection that God had set blooming in your heart, which even neglect could not wither.’

That sent chills down my spine. That is where I thought ‘sadist’. God has nothing to do with it; evolution has made the human young wholly dependent on their parents for years after birth, we need them for pure survival, and the only thing babies and toddlers have to barter with is cuteness and affection. That affection is not a virtue in the Christian sense, it’s there to ensure survival, and to think neglect can not wither it is in itself neglect - or worse. ‘You will still love me no matter what I do,’ seems to be the message. ‘This is the power I have over you.’ How can we then believe his, ‘Tomorrow I will be a real daddy!’?

Yes, I would like to think he magically, radically changed overnight. It wouldn’t just benefit the son, you see, but the father himself. Too often do parents forget that children grow up and learn and realise the flaws of their parents. It won’t be long before the father will need the son more than his son will need him. And if the neglect was too great, he can rest assured that the affection he took for granted as his God-given right will wither and die.

We need to talk about the cult of content creation

Have you ever looked into starting a blog or a podcast or a YouTube channel? How long was it before you were told you had to post content at least every week, if not more often? It’s one of the first pieces of ‘advice’ you’ll see online from people who have been blogging, podcasting, or making YouTube videos. You have to stay current, satisfy the algorithm, keep people coming back for more. There are thousands of resources online telling you ‘How to grow your audience’, and hardly any of them spend any time talking about what you even want to do. Heck, there are online resources to help you come up with topics when you clearly don’t have anything to say, all in the interest of keeping the word vomit going.

Not only do you need to keep your website or channel constantly updated, you are told, you also need to promote it on several social media, as spread around the clock as possible. Services like Buffer will let you schedule posts that can keep the machine running even while you’re asleep. If your online presence is unpredictable, or if there is too long in between your posts, people will forget you, and so will Google. As a result, you can find blogs and YouTube channels about minimalism that post every single week. What precisely is minimalist about that? The lack of variation and originality?

No wonder so many of these content creators burn themselves out. With the kind of schedule I’ve seen people set for themselves, there is a lot of pressure to force creativity and relevance. Can you really think of new on-topic things to say every week, year in, year out? Unlikely. How many different ways are there to talk about your niche? Not as many as you would like. So you keep rehashing the same old stories, and you’re all looking increasingly the same. I see you reusing your own stock footage. I understand that you think you need to do that, but guess what? I don’t need to watch. The other day I heard someone say how you should promote your content over and over and over; ‘the users won’t mind, only spammers get punished for that’. Well actually, that sort of constitutes spam. I’ve muted more than one twitter account because I got sick of their compulsive link pushing.

I follow(ed) a number of bloggers on twitter, and it used to puzzle me to see how many of them would tweet and retweet requests for followers. ‘I am only X followers away from my September goal of Y, follow and retweet!’ But why? What do you do? Who are you even? What will you do with those followers? The implied answer is, of course, monetise. Alright. But why should I turn myself into your product?

I once commented on something Fat Gay Vegan had tweeted, something about oumph! frozen pizzas coming to UK supermarkets. I asked if it was going to cost £15 because it’s not like their existing products are very affordable (don’t get me wrong, I adore the oumph! chunks and buy them regularly), but instead of telling me the price or even acknowledging the attempted joke, he replied, ‘You can click on the link to find out the cost. It is mentioned in the article.’

The message was loud and clear. ‘We are not here to talk. We are here for me to make money off you.’ Hey, thanks! But no, thanks.

The exchange highlighted one thing. For today’s content creators in the gig economy, clicks are the cryptocurrency of choice. No wonder a comment from a fellow twitter user about the cost of oumph! falls on deaf ears when it’s all about the mighty Click. We are not on social media to be social. We are there to advertise and be advertised to. At the time of writing, oumph! is the only twitter account that has liked his response.

We can partly put it down to the gig economy and people working around the clock because every penny is so hard to come by, and partly to the lack of transparency around the big platforms’ algorithms. The reason you can’t know how the Mighty Algorithm works is that in order to keep you scrambling, they need to keep you guessing, they need to keep you trying to appease it, working yourself half to death. Google is not a product you use. You are the product. You are there for the advertisers, not the other way around. Remember The Matrix? It’s not even 20 years old, and look how far we’ve come.

That mantra of ‘Always Be Creating’ is absolute poison for mental health. And quantity over quality benefits only one player in this game: the advertisers. Through indiscriminate carpet bombing with content they increase the number of potential minutes with their ads out there, and relevance is probably the least of their worries. If it’s true that obscene amounts of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, what hope do any of us have to sift through the muck and find something good? Who cares! That is not the point.

According to YouTubers, the platform’s algorithm currently seems to want them to upload longer and more frequent videos. People are turning themselves into slaves to the machine, feeding it constantly, sacrificing to the algorithm god more and more frantically. (I’m not even going to go into the ethics of some YouTubers here.) It’s the same thing with SEO; once people have ‘cracked the code’, the rules change, and you’re back to square one. All this does not serve us. It serves Google and the advertisers. Let’s not kid ourselves.

Those successful bloggers who say they make thousands and thousands of pounds / dollars / euros a month? Their main source of income is selling online courses in how to make money from blogging (hint: it’s by selling courses). Their success comes from telling others they are successful. The natural progression of Paris Hilton and the army of Kardashians famous only for being famous. It’s a snake eating its own tail.

For the love of quality over quantity, create when you have something to say. We may all like empty calories every now and then, but the internet is turning into a brain fast food binge fest of epic proportions and it isn’t healthy for anyone. I am certainly on the lookout for good, meaningful content, so leave your recommendations below. I know the good stuff is out there somewhere, I just need to find it. Or, perhaps, create it.

Vegan Eats: Warrington's Old Town House Pub

I've been hearing about this place for a while without managing to go and try it for myself, but when even a non-vegan friend from Manchester recommended it to me, I couldn't delay any longer - the vegan food of Warrington had to be sampled. Today!

The Old Town House Pub plays punk music and has a quirky décor, and all the food can be had either with meat or with vegan substitutes. The choice of pizzas was overwhelming, so I asked the landlady if she could recommend one. She said she quite liked the vegan pepperoni, so I ordered The Don (which doesn't seem to be on the online menu, at least not under that name).

I had a feeling I wouldn't need any sides and I was right; I was full by the time I was about halfway through, but I continued eating because how often do you find good vegan pizza? Often when you eat out, pizzas will have some strips of unmelted Violife on it, and bless those restaurants for trying, but after a few years of being vegan, you really want to just be able to indulge for once rather than handing out stars for trying.

This cheese was melted and nuclear hot, just like the dairy variety, and the pepperoni was lovely. The crust was thin and crispy, and the only thing I missed was maybe another topping (sweetcorn or olives would have done nicely), so I will be going back to try some of the other pizzas. Maybe the Sweet and Salty One, because this girl does not mind pineapple on her pizza.

The interior was cute with all the fun details - a Tardis door, anarchist stickers, upholstering with cats on it, and I hope it gets busier later in the evening (I was there at 1pm when they had just opened for the day). Running an alternative venue like that in a small town like Warrington can't be easy, and in fact, the owners launched a crowdfunding campaign earlier to help them stay afloat. So here's my little bit of support: go to The Old Town House, have the food, enjoy the music, leave some money.

Maybe you'll run into me!

Update: I went by in the evening and it was busy with people having fun. :)

Come with me to: Liverpool

The other day I looked in my old stuff and found an unfinished travel scrapbook from over 20 years ago. One of the last things in it were some entries about my first visit to Liverpool, with school, back in 1998. We had been to the Walker Art Gallery, saw a play in the Empire Theatre, went on the Magical Mystery Tour... and Skeet Ulrich was hanging on banners all over town.

It would be 18 years (!) before I would go back on day trip with friends, where we revisited the Slavery Museum and the biggest cathedral I had seen in my life. 

 

Yesterday I went again, this time on my own. I wanted to try to find some places I very vaguely remembered from that trip two decades ago, and while I didn't succeed (it was a very long shot anyway), I made some very cool new discoveries. Now that I am living in Manchester, it's a terrible oversight that I haven't been back to Liverpool more often as the city has so much to offer. And just look at these brilliant photos of it!

The first pleasant surprise was the Central Library. That had not been on my radar at all and as I 'just popped in for a quick visit' yesterday before going on to the World Museum, the view from the lobby absolutely blew me away. It was like stepping into a nice, old building and finding yourself on board of a space ship.

It's not all hyper-modern though. The library is home to the gorgeous Picton Reading Room, Hornby Library and Oak Room. It struck me yesterday that I enter reading rooms with more reverence than places of worship, but just look at this and you'll understand.

The rooms are so fascinating that I completely lost track of time, and before I knew it, I had to make a dash to the World Museum if I wanted to be there on time for the 'Night Sky' show at the Planetarium. It's a free 10 min show you can catch every day at 10:30 am, lean back and watch as galaxies swirl over your head while a voice narrates what you're seeing. Unfortunately, parts of the museum were closed to visitors, but there were still many interesting things to see - and if you're the kind of museum-goer who likes to get hands-on, definitely visit the Clore Natural History Centre where you'll find huge skulls, tiny insects and everything in between. I forgot to take a photo of the huge skulls though because I was too mesmerised by the pretty colourful butterflies...

After a twirl around Bold Street (where I dutifully went into every vintage shop and also had a lovely lunch at Pie Minister with this sign on their door), I hopped on bus 82 on Renshaw Street all the way to Lark Lane which I heard about in a recent episode of the podcast Spirit of the North by Historic England. As it's nowhere near the city centre, you have to know how to find it, but it's well worth the trip. It's a very bohemian little street with a village atmosphere. Both sides are lined with cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops selling art, gifts, vintage clothes and other fancy things like that. At one end of the street you will find Sefton Park, which, even though it was quite full of people, felt as relaxed and slowed down as Lark Lane itself. If I lived any closer, Lark Lane would be the place I would insist on going to brunch every weekend and my friends would be sick of never getting to go anywhere else.

With that, it was time to get my train back, but there is so much more to explore, so this is my reminder to myself to go back soon. And bring friends. Have food at Lark Lane. Until then, I leave you with some random snaps I took around town.

Social media: Who's the boss?

Recently I was without my smartphone for a week as it needed repairs. I was using a prehistoric Nokia in the meantime, and I thought that my days without my smartphone would be a sort of a detox. After all, the decision to change the way I was using technology (and social media in particular) was partly what inspired this website. I had had a general feeling that I was overusing it, letting it distract and stress me. So, using less of it would be good, right? As I handed my phone over to the customer service, I thought about which of my social media accounts I should delete and which I should heavily curate to bring the number of distractions down.

What my week without a smartphone showed me, however, is that things are a bit more nuanced than that. The number of platforms we use isn't in itself an issue, unless you feel compelled to feed them all. When you think about it, they're all just one thing anyway: your phone. The more interesting question is how we use them. It's easy to be alarmist about technology in our daily lives because it has grown so explosively in just the past couple of decades, perhaps faster than we can really cope with, both as individuals and as a society (see also: Cambridge Analytica). This makes them an easy target for our fears and an obvious scapegoat for our issues. But would we really forego all the good they have brought us? I am betting that not many would.

With just a few taps on our phones, we can not only access each other, but a world of information that is out there, in the cloud, waiting to be found. We need to remember that we're the ones who choose which buttons we push. When I have a spare moment, am I going to reach for my phone and scroll mindlessly? That's why infinite scroll was introduced to Facebook, twitter & co. Or am I going to look at something insightful and useful? Is it not ultimately up to me to decide whether I spend my time in an anxiety-inducing comment thread or looking at art from world-class galleries or scientific exhibits from all over the world?

I realise, of course, that the big social media are designed with the aim to make them as addictive as possible, and there are thousands of people working on them while I am just one person on the other end of the line, resisting them without the benefit of a psychology degree and a cosmic budget. But no one has yet shown up in person to force me to use them, so the decision is mine. The more conscious I am about my use of the technology, the more power I gain in this very unequal competition for attention. So that is what I choose to focus on.

When I got my smartphone back, I reinstalled most of the social apps I had had before. They allow me to tend to friendships with people far away, instantly and for free. That's what they are for. We just forget it sometimes and things get flipped on their head so that we exist for the platforms instead of they for us. Maybe this is the thinking behind the 'seen' indication they have in Messenger; so you'll feel pressured to feed the machine instantly. The other person has been told you've seen their message, yet you're not replying - oh, the anxiety! The nerve on you to be busy or want to think things over before you write back.

We let ourselves forget that text messages, whatever platform they are sent on, are placeholders. They sit there patiently until we get a chance to reply. That's why people very rarely phone each other anymore, because you can't know that the other person is free to talk right then, but we can write a message when we have time, and the other person can reply when they do.

So, we should notice when the platforms resort to bullying tactics and reclaim our time. Realise that the feed is not called that because we must feed it; it is there to serve us. We're in charge.