Saturday, March 03, 2012

They're trying to build a computerised community...

“Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life”

“Facebook is a gross waste of time and effort that could be better used in the real world”

From these two quotes it is not difficult to surmise that there are massively varying opinions on Facebook and its place in the world. But what are the positives and negatives of it? (and social media as a whole?) Is it a useful tool, harmless fun or a dangerous invasion? I’m not even going to attempt to answer that question, but here are my musings on some of things that need to be considered on the way to trying to answer it.

The main issue most people immediately point to is privacy. As soon as you join facebook it becomes difficult to keep things away from it, whether it is because you say things on it or because other people are continually writing you messages and uploading photographs etc. Although much of this is harmless, it is almost certain that people will find out things you either don’t want them to know or that they just have no business to know.
Is it good, bad or both?

Following up on this point there is the idea that records will be kept long into the future. After all, it’s one thing to make comments etc now, but are they things you will want to be available for people to find 5, 10, 20 years into the future? Who knows what things, which mean nothing now, could come back to haunt you, especially if they are taken out of a context you may by that point not even remember.

There is also the aspect of privacy in terms of personal information. Many users register their email, address, phone number, date of birth etc on their accounts, which are then available to anyone who is able to view you profile. Even with the added security features that have been introduced, there are still relatively few hacking skills required to gain access to them. Is having an account, at least one with this sort of information on it, a risk in terms of fraud or even identity theft?

On the positive side facebook does provide an easy way to keep in touch with people. This can be especially useful where people have moved away and tend to slip from your mind. I have been reminded many a time that I haven’t heard from someone for a long time when they crop up in facebook and it provides a spur for me to get in touch.

The immediate flip side to this is that it’s very easy to end up maintaining the same level of friendship with people we actually barely know. A quick trawl through my friend list reveals that many of them are people I know and see on a regular basis. But there are also people I was a school with 10 years ago and haven’t seen since, people I used to work with and even people I met once at a conference and, no offence intended, I wasn’t that close with them when I did see them regularly. It may not be a massive downside, but it is difficult to maintain different levels of friendship as everyone is treated the same. Would it be a big deal if my ‘friendship’ with someone I’m not that likely to see again were allowed to be lost?

I think probably the biggest advantage of facebook is that it provides an easy way of sharing things with friends. You can announce news instantly to lots of people, you can put up photographs of things you’ve been doing and you can organise and invite people to events all from a computer screen or a phone. Gone are the days where people had to get prints of their holiday photos and then take them into the office and go through them with anyone that wanted to see. Now they're online with comments and descriptions before you’re back from the holiday!

Are scenes like this a thing of the past?

The upsurge in the use of facebook to share this sort of stuff has however led to facebook in fact becoming the main way some people relate to each other. The danger of it being so easy and quick is that we never actually spend time with some people. Sure with our closest friends we would do, but there are lots of people that I don’t see that often, or when I do see them I don’t make a concerted effort to go and chat with them, because I commented on their photo a few days ago and they ‘liked’ my status just before that. It creates an illusion that we are maintaining friendships that in reality are becoming neglected and suddenly aren't there when you need them. When was the last time you saw a wall post from someone bearing their soul to another and asking for help?

A final benefit, though it pains me somewhat to include it is the simple fact that, with so many people using it so much, you feel like you’re missing out if you’re not involved. Didn’t get invited to a massive birthday gathering? Haven’t seen someone’s wedding photos? Didn’t know they were having a baby? The chances are that you would have done if you were their facebook friend rather than just a friend.

So there it is. I’m no nearer a conclusion than when I started but please do feel free to weigh in on the debate or make points of your own!
PS: The irony of promoting a blog that denigrates facebook  via twitter on facebook is not lost on me!

Friday, February 24, 2012

There'll be equality and no suppression of minorities...

I would apologise for heading down the football route again, but I think this one is worthwhile, in the wake of the news that Blackburn Rovers have appointed former coach Terry Connor as their new manager. He has served the club for the last thirteen years under four previous managers, and seems a logical choice, so why is this so high profile? Because Connor is black.

Terry Connor: The premier league's sole black manager
This has led to PFA (professional footballers’ association) chief Gordon Taylor (amongst others) lamenting the lack of black coaches and managers in football. Taylor in fact goes one step further by suggesting that the football league adopts the NFL’s “Rooney Rule”. This is a rule for American Football teams that states that when candidates are interviewed for the head coach position at least one of those shortlisted (and subsequently interviewed) must be of an ethnic minority and is cited as a great example of affirmative action to avoid discrimination. So should this rule be adopted?

One in three members of the PFA is black as apparently were 21% of those who took their UEFA coaching badges in the last three years which, assuming all other things are equal, should mean there are between four and seven black managers in the premier league. How many are there? One. Terry Connor.

At first it seems like an obvious step to redress this balance and I want to be the first to say that more black coaches and managers would be no bad thing; but is introducing a rule like this fair? And would it help?

Club managers are appointed by varying combinations of directors, owners and chairmen and as such those people reserve the right to appoint whoever they deem the right person to the role. Based on the average number of qualified professionals we might expect a higher number of black managers, but that doesn’t mean that there should be. But if we decide that for equalities sake there should, would football’s own Rooney rule help?

The rule in fact only states that a minority person has to be shortlisted and interviewed for the job and whilst that may be a step in the right direction (you are certainly more likely to be appointed if you are actually considered!) it need go no further than that. The Detroit Lions were the first NFL franchise to fall foul of the Rooney rule in 2003 when they sacked one coach and immediately replaced him with Steve Mariucci, the recently sacked coach of another team. Their arguments of firstly not interviewing anyone (they only had one candidate, he got the job by default) and secondly that anyone else who wanted to be shortlisted had not put themselves forward for interview as they thought the appointment of Mariucci was a foregone conclusion were rejected and they were fined $200,000 for not interviewing a minority candidate. They paid the fine, interviewed candidates, appointed Steve Mariucci and everything carried on as before.

Keith Alexander was a managerial legend at Lincoln City
It should also be considered that such “positive discrimination” to further the cause of minority coaches is on the other hand discriminatory against “non-minority” coaches. They are interviewed based on the whim of the chairman or the owner, why should other candidates be interviewed solely based on ethnicity (or any other minority category for that matter)?  

Whilst the basis for introducing a rule like this is right, the main change surely has to come from within the clubs when appointments are made. Black coaches and managers such as Leroy Rosenior, Chris Powell and the late Keith Alexander have proved that when given the chance they can do the job well, but then, isn’t that the belief of all managerial hopefuls? The bottom line is that all other things are not equal and so the jobs will continue to be given to the board’s preferred man, regardless of colour.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

He always shakes you by the hand...

No prizes for guessing what the theme of this post is but after this I will move away from the theme of football related issues, I promise!

This weekend saw the farce of Luis Suarez refusing to shake Patrice Evra’s hand, then Rio Ferdinand withdrawing his hand in retaliation, then Evra celebrating the win in Suarez’s face, then Ferguson labelling it a disgrace, then Dalglish’s outburst… The end result? Apologies all round and then we’ll do it all the next time they play each other.

In the last few months/years we have also had Wayne Bridge refusing to shake hands with John Terry, Raymond Domenech and Carlos Parreira and even the pre-match handshakes dispensed with altogether over fears that Anton Ferdinand would refuse to shake John Terry’s hand. 

Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay has followed Mark Hughes (amongst others) by this week saying that he thinks the ritual should be scrapped and I have to say that I agree with him. I wish I didn’t, but I do. As (IMHO) a respectable and polite man there is something almost British about the idea of shaking hands before a contest that I like, but in the cases above and indeed many others it seems to be just a charade. These people clearly don’t like each other, don’t respect each other and admittedly some have good reason for not wanting to shake hands with certain players, so why force them to? It’s only been in recent years that it’s been happening in more than the cup final and as Mackay said “It certainly never happened in my day”. 

In fairness, I don't remember this game!
Remembering football matches from when I was younger the captains would shake hands in the centre circle with the referee and each other at the coin toss and that was it. It’s generally accepted that the managers will shake hands at the final whistle, regardless of the result and Mackay suggests letting the players do that as well, if they so choose. Whenever I’ve played football I’ve shaken hands with ref’s, managers and opposition players with whom I have no problem (thankfully, the vast majority) but I’ve also refused to shake hands with those who seem to think that a handshake at the end papers over the transgressions of the previous 90 minutes.

It is, in my opinion, a shame that all players cannot respect and treat each other fairly, but if they can’t why force them into pretending? Surely that just cheapens the value of the genuine shake between men who have played well and enjoyed the contest?

Monday, February 06, 2012

He is the captain of the team?

Given my previous piece describing my views on the whole John Terry / England Captain issue it seemed only right that I should continue in this vein after today’s news, that Terry has been stripped of the captains armband without any reason  (see previous post for justification).

Fabio Capello, for his part, has come out on TV to express that he was totally against this and since the FA made the wrong decision and is now being lambasted for doing so. For a positive view on this visit here but for my part here is why I think David Bond and Capello’s other detractors are wrong.

As previously said – there is no proof of what John Terry is alleged to have said and done and there is certainly no guilty verdict which I think is the only justification for the FA to intervene in the matter.
The FA are arguing that Capello is wrong to denounce their decision in public and are even claiming that it breaches his contract as manager. Now, it may well breach the contract, I don’t know, but it surely says something about the level of the FA that they need to right into a contract “must agree with us when we make decisions that are nothing to do with us”. Capello is being paid a lot of money to make team decisions for England and has already made public his intention not to change his captain until a verdict was reached. Is it any wonder that he feels slightly aggrieved at what the FA have done? If anyone has undermined a previously stated opinion from the man in charge it’s them.

Capello wanted Terry to remain captain
There has also been a lot of self congratulatory applause for David Bernstein and the FA for being willing to take a strong stance on an important issue and making the decision that everyone knows is the right one. I’m afraid I have to disagree here as well, because the allegations about Terry stem from a match three months ago! If the FA had a policy (which as far as I’m aware it doesn’t) saying that a player under investigation for racial abuse and other like offences will be removed from captaincy until the investigation is complete AND the FA had then immediately stripped Terry of his position then it would make sense (though to my mind, still be completely unjust). By doing what they have done Bernstein and his colleagues have shown once again that the FA are completely clueless about how to deal with big issues and instead have dithered for 3 months before making a decisions the manager didn’t want because they thought it was what the people wanted. The people may have wanted it, but that is far from a compelling reason to do it and does not make it the right call.

Finally, there is also the comment that I made in the previous post that if Terry is not fit to lead the country because of allegations and pending court cases, how then he fit to represent the country at all? But wait I forgot – that’s the manager’s decision picking the players! Unless of course the public makes a clear compelling case in which case watch this space is about 3 months time….

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Guilty until you're proven innocent?

"John Terry should stand aside as captain until the case is resolved, and any doubt either way removed,"
This is the opinion of Damian Collins MP, a member of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and an opinion shared by many according to various internet sources. 

Piara Powar, the executive director of European football's anti-discrimination body (FARE) said “…should John Terry remain as England capt through the Euros? I can't see how he can." Reading striker and radio pundit Jason Roberts Tweeted: "Believe me...the Dressing room at the Euros will be TOXIC unless the correct decision is made..!!!

But is this the only opinion on the matter? I have struggled to find anything to suggest people disagreeing with this view so thought I would have a go at it myself by way of a series of points.

1.       John Terry has denied these allegations vociferously ever since being charged and no-one to my knowledge can prove that he is guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand.
2.       Far from being proved, there has not been a trial and a presenting of evidence from either side to allow people to form an (informed) opinion.
3.       John Terry has not faced any sanctions at either club or national level from the sport’s governing body to prevent him taking the field.

If he is to be considered innocent until proven guilty, what are the grounds for stripping him of the captaincy? If he is not considered fit to captain the national team, should he be allowed to represent the team at all? On this basis Fabio Capello promised to assess the captaincy situation after the trial, which I trust he will do – if that happens to be after the European championships, so be it.

The problem of removing him from captaincy now comes if he is found not guilty of the charges. We would be punishing a man, who from outward appearances, loves playing for and captaining his country on someone else’s say so. Don't get me wrong here, if Terry is found guilty then I think there is no defense and he should lose the captaincy, but until then this just looks like a witch hunt.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I like my football on a saturday...

What exactly is it that makes someone a fan of a particular team? There are lots of different ones I’ve heard over the years, from born and raised (usually a family devotion to the team) to they were winning (or challenging for) the league when I first followed them. There are many other reasons in between these extremes as well – a good example of which being an old school friend who had an unnatural love for Les Ferdinand and so became a devoted Newcastle United fan.

True Fans?

All very well you ask, but why do I question this in blog form? I want to know whether the reasons behind following a team affect the strength of that devotion and indeed the likelihood of abandoning the club in dire times (the word relegation is not to be uttered as we approach the business end of the season!).

As many will know I am a Nottingham Forest fan. As we appear to be staring down the barrel of the ‘R’ word yet again it saddens me to think that we are not fighting to be restored to the top flight of domestic football, it pains me slightly that we may be destined to be the only former European champions in their countries third division (for the second time!) and it is a bitter reminder that we are unlikely to regain the glory days of the past without handing over ownership to Sheikh somethingorother. BUT, I cannot imagine not being a fan. I would not dream of abandoning the team no matter what depth they sank to. Am I though an exception to the general rule as a follower of non-league football – a habit inherited from my dad, also a forest fan and season ticket holder of 30+ years, who can regularly be seen at local non-league games when the reds are not at home.
Would others continue to follow a club into the 1st, 2nd even 3rd division (Championship, League 1 and League 2 for those unfortunate enough not to remember the times of sensible names for the divisions). And if ‘fans’ would abandon their team is that because they were never really true fans, merely glory supporters? Can you then adopt another team, perhaps performing better? Or is the measure of a fan how long they would continue to follow a team (honourable mention for Darlington fans here given current circumstances). 

If you support a team, is the reason you do strong enough to keep you there through thick and thin, or like my friend, would the movements of Les Ferdinand cause you to decide maybe the team wasn’t right for you after all?