The Smartphone Era, Republished


Someone from my hometown of Kidderminster left a comment on one of my latest videos last night, questioning whether I liked the area and its people.  I mulled it over and thought that it signalled that the time is now right to republish the Flickr blog posts I ran years ago during what I called ‘the Smartphone Era’, a brief time where smartphones were available, but not widespread in certain areas, like my hometown of Kidderminster and when social media was hitting its peak in terms of its quality, thought not in the number of users.

These Flickr posts cover an all too brief and unique period where social media wasn’t quite mainstream and when smartphones were, to many, still somewhat mysterious devices. I would experience hassle in my hometown for using the new tech, though since I had links with a local university at the time, I could compare my hometown’s approach with attitudes in Birmingham, a nearby city, where tech use was openly encouraged and even celebrated. It was quite an interesting comparison to make, showing how lives lived so close in proximity can still be worlds apart.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Kidderminster and its county of Worcestershire are fairly backward and socially conservative areas, something of the UK’s ‘bible belt’, suffering many of the social problems you might expect of such an area.  Birmingham, a city, is more progressive and politically aware in outlook – or at least the Birmingham I was exposed to.

What I found in Birmingham was a more relaxed atmosphere, with a population generally more open and friendly.  Kidderminster, on the other hand, for reasons I see partly as cultural and material, has a general population which is hostile and suspicious, especially of new things and new people (to them ‘outsiders’).  There is a widespread and thorough imposition of numerous restricting norms, imposing limitations not least on creative expression, especially when it includes analysis of the area, making those who try to be creative, in the thinking of one relevant professional, especially vulnerable to adverse reactions.

At the time, I was exploring such norms partly by defamiliarising myself with what had become the everyday over time.  I was seeking to get to the heart of what made the place tick, though aware of how hostile people around here can become with such things as analysis and exposure, especially if it looks like word might get ‘out’. To be fair to the people here, they tend to be politically ignorant and unaware, limited by a damaging, blinkered, myopic conservatism, and don’t really know any better, which is why they’re essentially powerless to address issues with themselves and the area.  Regardless, though, it was a stressful period for me, at times, but it was also an interesting one, which I hope comes across in the content.

To me, though this doesn’t always come across, it was an attempt to use social media in its best use: to do a job of improving things, somehow, by highlighting what hadn’t been publicly highlighted before.  Again, though, in such an area, this approach carries a number of risks.

Which is why, I suppose, there were things that I didn’t mention even back then.  It was obvious that the time would soon come when online activity would become more the norm than the exception and that what you could get away with posting openly and freely would become more limited.  So, for example, not enough mention of the sadistic little character who ran the social scene at the coffee shop in town, an individual psychiatric services believes fits the bill of a sociopath.  There are many other examples where, because I knew this time of openness would be brief, I had to hold back and maybe wisely so.

There were also comments left almost certainly by locals.  It’s possible that you have to have experience of such people to know how they operate, trying to corrupt not only their direct audience, but the wider one, and anyone else they can assimilate into their ‘ways’.  Specialising in a toxic approach of ‘divide and conquer’, it’s in the water of the place for many of its inhabitants to play people (including unwitting officials) off one another to win at all costs, which is another reason why the mindset of the place, according to one official, hasn’t essentially changed for 500 years – they’re very effective at it.  The tragedy is that, as is possibly the case with the comment left last night, the very methods such people use highlight the issues which urgently need to be addressed for the well-being of the locals, with their blind spots to matters of self and place, issues which are yet again left in place – as they no doubt have been for centuries – by people adept at cutting off their nose to spite their face.

In the subsequent years since these posts I’ve developed the sort of education I wish I’d always had, leading to a level of awareness that’s a world away from  what was, a breath of fresh air, even though it has the potential to distance me from the bulk of the local population.  But, thinking back to the posts, I was already starting on a journey which would develop with the disciplined and sharpened lens a thorough appreciation of theory and research can provide.  Linked with having had the experience of seeing the place play out what it was always going to play out (once its key participants got it in their collective mind to do so), you have a powerful and informative combination which may, one day, be of some positive use if not in the specific area, then perhaps somewhere.

The Smartphone Era, Republished (via Flickr)

Let me get this straight…


If you’re prepared to publish and be damned, whenever you are damned, you’d better be sure that if you want to count for anything you’re prepared to publish that you have, indeed, been damned, especially when it’s been by your own hand.

I’ve been getting consumed with thinking that I was about to go into war yet again, when nothing much has been happening at all. Putting the pieces together, I’ve come up with something that was so convincing it could easily have escalated into what I was guessing at, acting as a twisted form of confirmation. But I checked my facts the first realistic chance I got and came up with nothing to verify even the slightest conscious emotion in someone that would have suggested war was on the horizon, which in a way makes this different to a case of pure paranoia, where there are no checks and balances available to offset an imagination gone horribly wrong.

That said, I do feel like I’ve been at war, still. It’s not easy to put into words the thoughts and feelings you can get when you think the system’s about to rape your soul again, effectively on the basis of a poor level of analysis from institutions you always believed were there to protect against such abuses. A succession of physical illnesses, traumatic anniversaries, compounding sleep loss, maddening sleeping pills, memories of past injustices (to which I could add some crackers), how I crashed off the back of them, along with the remaining potential for all of it to happen again, have hit me from all angles, grinding me down when I’ve been near my weakest.

But this is important, this error, in a way that isn’t merely the positive thinking of our times. Not being someone who believes in sweeping things under the carpet, which I think only gives them a greater potential for harm, I’ve brought on the memories and given this year as good a battle as it always had in store for me, and in facing down the threat of overload, I’ve dealt certain damaging thought processes what could eventually turn out to be a fatal blow. Too much time on my hands? Maybe, but if that time’s going to significantly improve in quality, I’m certain some things need to be done.

This isn’t the end of it and the instant birth of endless good times. Too much has happened down the years for anything to be that easy. This is going to be gradual, this evolution of life and, though I’m making more progress than appearances may suggest, I’m hoping it all starts getting a lot easier pretty damn soon and the natural change of time returns to its conventional approach.

This is the first day, after 13 of them, that I’ve woken up having not taken sleeping pills the night before. My mind’s no longer feeling ragged and the world’s finally stopped melting. My body’s craving more sleep, but that’ll surely come. I’m not desperately chasing peaceful experiences, now, and looking out of my window to test this out, the scene looks settled, nothing out of the ordinary at all. It’s good to see.

Say it ain’t so…


You try detoxifying after years of dodgy experiences while still having to make allowances and guard against the potential of an ongoing toxic social environment that makes Chernobyl look like Disneyland.

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The dust settles on the new horizon and it’s a bit like the morning after embarrassing sex – you’re not quite sure how to handle the situation, you just know you need to get out of it somehow. Everyday life needs to resume as soon as possible while new (and some old) methods need time and space to bed in. Meanwhile, elements in my toxic environment are none too pleased and have a track record of even manipulating organs of the state to subvert their own safeguards while thinking they’re fully justified in brushing crimes under the carpet, as they’re telling you you’re the crazy one. Say it ain’t so.

You can never do enough to protect against such things repeating and it’s a factor you have to compensate for that when you rise from being submerged in a disempowered – especially when that’s been an abusive – state, people who’ve become comfortable with the former state of affairs can go to almost unimaginable lengths to maintain the status quo. No matter what psychatric medication is used, though, the facts, when so badly handled, will always tend to rise to the top eventually. Saying that, I have tried to address what could be about to happen in the coming months. Yet again. If it works, my environment will cohere with reality for the first time in 20 years. If it doesn’t – as is the more likely scenario – then I’ll have to work on an alternative compromise as I coexist with this costly environment.

I’m outgrowing the limitations of who I was supposed to be, here. The community now offers me no social opportunities which fill the gap of what I’ve created by learning key facts about, and lessons in, life. That could sound like bragging, but if anything it’s a sad moment which will take time to evolve into something more satisfactory, but if I’ve learned anything over time, it’s that substantial change can take years to become fully realised. It’s time I might not even have, but it’s a course that’s now been set and is irreversible. All I can do is shift gears and alter, but not change, direction. Will that be enough? Right now, I can’t be sure.

Meanwhile, there’s plans, but they’re up in the air at the moment as I need to look into them further. There is, though, a potential solution to this. There’s no more compromises I can make, I’m sure of that, so from my current perspective, the solution is to find an environment better suited to me and that means an escape from my hometown and even its county. I’m no fan of the culture here, my needs can’t be met by the place and if I don’t move on life will become very stale, claustrophobic and disheartening. That’s not what it’s all about. I’m at an age in life where I’d love to settle, but the only way I can see me settling in Worcestershire is under six feet of dirt.

Sitting here, as my playlist has ended and the birds put on a better show without really trying, I realise that you can work out whatever issues you’ve faced, but in the process fresh challenges will probably emerge which can submerge you again if you’re not careful. Toxic relationships are all about power, not understanding, so my methods won’t ultimately work and leave me at risk of official bodies extending abuses yet again. The trick is to know that could easily happen, that I won’t be able to do much, if anything, about it, that no-one else will do anything about it, and to be cool with all that. I’m not Superman, but I think I can pull that off. At least now, anyway.