From BBC Ideas.
I went to Berlin last year and asked Twitter what to do there. I got a ton of responses so I’m putting them here for the Public Good (and more immediately because Rachel asked for them and I needed something to link to).
A lovely fortnight on the Costa Blanca has just ended. I got through five books.
Four alternate worlds – and Kim, which reads like an alternate world in Kipling’s extraordinary imagination.
Cross-posted from Medium.
As a parent whose kids grew up alongside the developing ubiquity of mobile connected devices and social media, I have grown pretty used to adopting a curmudgeonly line on the subject of ‘being present’ at the kitchen table, in the car, on holiday. We all know the routine — where humans, and especially young humans, cluster together their eyes will inevitably flicker towards tiny screens behind which lurk all their social connections, hungry for chatter, vampiric in their need for attention.
‘Just turn the bloody thing off,’ I’d say, stabbing the air with my fork in the general direction of a connected device. ‘Be with the people you’re with.’ At which points eyes would roll and a tut would sound and we’d all feel comfortable with our assigned social roles: the Traditional Old Dad Who’s Playing Up His Inner Luddite will tonight by played by Lloyd, the surly offspring who thinks he Just Does Not Get It will be played by one of two adolescents.
In fact, my view has, if anything, become more prevalent. There’s a new working assumption that constant distraction is A Bad Thing, and that we are somehow becoming a species of needy morons twitching at the sound of every new mobile notification.
Thing is, though — I think I might have been very wrong about this. Because now my daughter’s at university, and my son’s often at work when I’m at home because he runs a bar and that means late nights. A couple of hours ago, I texted my daughter a picture of a Welsh castle we’d visited, and she replied an hour later to say she’d seen it. My son will often text me weird questions in the early hours of the morning, which I’ll find on my phone when I wake up.
Both of these things are ‘presence’, just of a different kind. What mobile connected devices have provided is something my parents never had — a continual and intensely satisfying reassurance that my children are potentially present at all times, that we remain connected at all times if only digitally so, such that my daughter’s university room is almost a shadow room in my own house, and the reality of my son sitting on a stranger’s sofa discussing obscure movie references is available to me as a confirmed memory the following morning, even though I never experienced it directly.
So, if you’ve got teenage offspring, and you’re cheerfully chastising them for Snapchatting with the friends they saw LIKE AN HOUR AGO, remember this. Their friends are present to them in ways you will only be able to dream of when your children are no longer alongside you, when a few words and a picture on a palm-sized screen provides reassurance, connection and remembrance. This is entirely normal to your children, but this does not make it any less wondrous.
I really didn’t like Spectre but couldn’t quite be bothered putting down into words why not. It’s only a Bond film, after all, and we’re all grown-ups, aren’t we? Luckily, someone could be bothered, and their review is bang on.
Spectre is like coitus interruptus over and over again, a series of scenes that encourage hopes of a big bang and then, rushed or abandoned, end with a whimper.
I’ve just been reading a really interesting post about CGI effects in current movies, and why they have become so screamingly underwhelming. It’s a long piece, but worth your time, particularly if you’re in the business of telling stories, and what it comes down to is this: pacing, style and creativity will trump raw power, every single time. Here’s what he has to say about this scene, from the upcoming (and obnoxiously crap-sounding) Jurassic World.
Sure, that looks pretty awesome, but destruction on that scale should blow our fucking minds. The response to dinosaurs wrecking a helicopter should be nothing short of paralysis, but this scene has no sense of gravity or consequence. Theres no scale to it. Theres even going to be a scene where (minor spoilers) a Pteranodon picks up a woman and literally drops her into the mouth of the Mosasaurus. It doesnt matter how real the CGI looks, because that scene belongs in a fucking Sharknado movie. Its an absurd cartoon orgy.
As I’m writing a thing at the moment which could, unless I’m very careful, degrade into an ‘absurd cartoon orgy’, I found this very relevant.
I resisted reading this for a good long while, I’m not quite sure why. It was so enormously praised when it came out, I suppose I must have decided, in my miserly way, that it was over-hyped. Well, it wasn’t. It’s an elegantly-done thing, full of threat and beauty, but for me the best and most interesting thing about it was the structure, which flips between the now and the past, with the now stepping forward but the past receding, with each chapter moving further away until the last chapter reveals the past of the main character, Jake, with the strange scars on her back and her apparent flight from her family in Australia to a sheep farm on an unnamed British island.
It’s not a long book – barely more than 200 pages – and the story it tells is a simple one, but that just gives the story room to breathe and the words room to grow in your head after you’ve put it down, until you can almost hear those birds singing yourself. A lovely thing, and very recommended.