Why Universities Are Just A Corporate Conveyor Belt

A Career Fair is a microcosm. A dizzying snapshot into the absurd world of work. Fake smiles, branded ‘gifts’ and the unnaturally perky trainee enlightening you how his internship last summer really gave him an insight into “the culture of the firm” and explaining how he is now “making a global impact” working with multinationals seeking to “restructure their taxes more efficiently.”  

The hollow atmosphere and disorienting degree of pretense is an apt introduction into the artificial and often contradictory way of corporate life. The initial flood of smiles and joy mimic the beginning of the corporate career. Lively work nights out and complimentary company perks are used as bait during internship programs to give the illusion that life at the company is a balanced, eclectic mix of work and fun.

Yet as soon as you sign your name on the dot the fun quickly evaporates and is replaced with entrapment and demands of constant productivity. Fourteen hour days at a desk drowning in cesspools of endless files and spreadsheets sacrificing every piece of your soul to help Company A merge with company B to make profit X – because “that’s just how the world works – whether you like it or not.” 

Yet it’s our resignation and acceptance of this status quo which is most baffling. With the existential crises of climate change, smartphone addiction and global corporate domination all looming large, why are we content with the best and brightest minds of our generation being snapped up by banks and law firms putting endless energy into continuing the cycles of profit maximisation and wealth insulation to further cement and exacerbate the problems threatening our collective future?

Former head of Data at Facebook, Jeff Hamerbacher aptly summarised the situation when speaking about his genius graduating class from MIT, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads – that sucks.” 

The people best equipped to tackle and solve the world’s problems are the ones being actively recruited to make them worse.

The people best equipped to tackle and solve the world’s problems are the ones being actively recruited to make them worse.

Universities should carry a considerable portion of blame. The biggest banks, investment funds and law firms have been allowed to monopolise the career opportunities of graduates and given an unfettered access to students without any pushback. Luxury events, sponsored lecturers, paid internships and on campus brand ambassadors are just some of the ways they cement hegemony and normalise corporate careers at a time when students are apprehensive about their future.

Many are not even aware that there are viable alternative career options outside corporate. One minute your in university, then suddenly all your peers are scrambling for job application deadlines and your family keep asking you “what are you doing after college?” In a flurry of insecurity and pressure you decide to apply for lack of better alternative and take the security of salary over the time to do something different. 

Many of those who enter these industries never re-emerge. They initially justify taking the position by saying things like it’s a steady income straight out of college or a good stepping stone to the career they really want. Yet after two years the lifestyle becomes so draining, so exhausting and so financially comfortable that most never decide to take the risk of stepping outside and trying to do something with meaning and value.

In order to confront this corporate capture of youth and redirect the next generation of work to meaningful, constructive and fulfilling jobs it’s essential we begin to break down the false image and empty branding of the corporate lifestyle. It is not glamorous successful and prestigious, it is brutal, greedy and callous. The sooner we accept that the sooner we move forward.

 

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Why Satire Isn’t Funny

It’s often promulgated that satire is the great weapon of the powerless against the powerful. Nothing can send the unhinged megalomaniac or deranged despot faster into a toddler tantrum than simply being laughed at.

Yet there is growing criticism that today’s mainstream political satire serves to promote rather than undermine the establishment and extremist politicians. By providing the likes of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg a platform to sit on comedy panel shows and project a “down to earth” persona, willing to “have a laugh” often at their own expense, the viewer (voter) is more likely to associate that politician with the entertaining likable character from TV as opposed to the extremist politician who wants to take away their healthcare or reproductive rights.

Author and scriptwriter James O’Farrell argues that politicians are actually desperate to be satirized as they know it elevates their profile and popularity. He is scathing of the smug, condescending, supposed “satire” of Donald Trump on shows such as SNL, arguing that there is rarely any meaningful or constructive purpose to sketches but that they merely exemplify the arrogant, dismissive attitude of America’s elite toward a serious threat to the future of democracy and global power dynamics.

“At times where there ought to be outrage, comedy substitutes it with ironic acceptance”

The countless number of comedians who masquerade as political commentators see Trump as a goldmine, an endless supply of gags. But is this laughter helpful? Or is it emblematic of the same ignorance The New York Times editor Dean Baquet acknowledged when saying  “we missed it” in relation to the paper’s failure to chronicle the rise and genuine appeal of Donald Trump in a grossly divided, unequal society before it was too late.

Satire can be a brilliant means of entertainment but is it the politicians who are getting the last laugh?

Empowered Woman? Who is She?

Author: Khadija Begum

I was at a local film fest earlier this week that was screening movies by amateur film makers on gender based violence. During one of the audience discussions, a girl who must not have been older than 13 and an actor in the movie, in a very well-meaning manner asked a question: How do we teach boys/men to deal with the new generation of empowered/progressive women?

A lot of answers flew around the room but the question bothered me for some reason and I couldn’t put my finger on it for a long time. Then I realised it was the very phrasing of the question “How do we teach boys/men to deal with the new generation of empowered/progressive women?

It gives us an insight to the problem of power imbalance. That female empowerment is a problem that men must “deal with.” Instead of teaching men to “deal with the new generation of empowered women” we should be teaching them to “understand the new generation of empowered women.”

Perhaps the best way one can begin to understand an empowered woman is by defining her. Is she someone who wears a red lipstick? Is she ambitious and career minded? Can she be called empowered if she wears a hijab? Does she have to be well-versed with theories of feminism? Can she really be defined by her choice of lifestyle and clothing? It isn’t that hard to say.

We must begin to change the question from “deal with the new generation of empowered women” to “understand the new generation of empowered women.”

While an empowered woman is definitely not a single construct, at the heart of it all lies one idea – an empowered woman is the one who is able to devote herself to that which she finds meaning in; who can exercise her rights and her choices.

If this idea can be grasped by everyone, the Indian society which has been opening up slowly for a while now, through the efforts and initiatives of many, will reform at a quicker pace. Our business is and always will be to ensure that this awakening is uniform in all cultures and classes of society.

How to ensure? By addressing the issue on all levels that it exists, i.e., societal, professional, household and the individual. There must be gender sensitization sessions in schools, colleges, offices etc. That media and literature is needed which challenges the mainstream notions and stereotypes. The gender roles in office spaces and homes have to be redefined or rather undefined so that they loosen any paradigm of unwarranted limitations. As an individual, one can understand an empowered women by being conscious and critical.

However to truly check the problem of power imbalance, we need to take the next step of awakening, which is, evolving. We evolve when we leave behind our distrust in change; when women empowerment is not a topic of discussions, dialogues or debates but a way of life; when the idea of empowered woman becomes a norm. All of which could take a little more time. Until then, one can strive to be more empowered each day because the best way to make someone understand an empowered woman is to project one.

Khadija Begum writes at ‘Unduly Unruly’ and is a contributing writer at the Conversation Room. You can follow her blog here:

Catalonia: Is Independence Worth It?

Author: Anna Pomortseva

Puidgemont in Brussels, members of Catalan Parliament under threat of imprisonment and more than 1000 firms transferred from Catalonia to Madrid, has Catalonia declared Independence ?

 

” 8 segundos de independencia ” – a new proverb for Catalonia, which speaks of a temporary phenomenon.

The temporary phenomenon is the time period of independence, when on October 10th Carles Puidgemont signed a declaration of separation from the Kingdom of Spain. However, after just 8 seconds he stopped the process. What was it? The failure of the referendum and the triumph of Madrid?

The decision of the Parliament of the Generalitet of Catalonia resulted in negative reactions among supporters of independence. Yet it is necessary to mention that the process of separation needed to be paused to guarantee security and stability for residents.

In dealing with such a volatile situation, Catalonia isn’t ready for an immediate and violent break in relations with Spain. Who will control borders, how will wealth and power be shared, and will a new republic remain within the European market ? The best case scenario would be if Madrid & Barcelona could discuss and solve these questions and salvage the Catalan economy from the turmoil it is in now. But it sounds like utopia, doesn’t it?

In Article 155 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution, which has never been invoked in Spain’s four decades of democracy, the central government is allowed to take control of any of its 17 autonomous communities during crisis situations and may restrict power in the region for a certain period of time. However, the Article does not give a right to completely abolish autonomy in the region.

Right now, the current process would have no influence on the economy. According to the available data, on October 22nd almost 1200 firms transferred their headquarters to other regions in Spain. The lists include CaixaBank, Sabadell, Gas Natural & Agbar. Companies explained their actions by citing how the uncertain political situation could lead to losses.

This is not hard to understand considering the complete chaos in Catalonia. Carlos Puidgemont has left Spain and fled to Belgium in order to avoid arrest. The decision came after the Spanish Prosecutor filed charges of sedition, rebellion and other violations against Puidgemont and members of the Catalan Parliament. One day later the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for fresh elections in December:

On October 31, Carlos Puidgemont announced in Brussels that the Parliament of Catalonia, which was dissolved by the Spanish government, recognized this decision and stopped its work before holding a long-term elections. Deposed leader Puidgemont said he was not trying to escape justice by travelling to Brussels; ” I’m not here to demand political asylum but in order to put Catalan crisis at the heart of the European Union ” he told reporters in Brussels. He added that his return to Catalonia depends on ” guarantees” of   “fair and independent treatment from Madrid “. It is important to also note that the former members of the regional government of Catalonia are accused of misuse public funds. The crime is punishable by 30 years in prison. On November 2nd, already 8 Catalan ministers have been jailed by a Spanish judge over their role in independence on October 1st that was declared illegal under Spain’s Constitution .

Puidgemont reacted to this decision in a televised address on Thursday evening, in which he claimed that “It is a very serious attack on democracy” and the elections on December 21st would be a “coup against the elections”.

There is still a huge divide between demonstrators. They are diverse, coming from all age groups and socioeconomic levels. More and more articles are highlighting that not all of Catalonia supports independence and many believe the Catalan government played their political game in order to meet their own ends.

“I want to be Spanish and I want to live in Barcelona. Who is the Catalonian government to take those rights from me ?” asked Maria Garcia , a resident of Barcelona.

Now on the streets across Catalonia we often here not “Si , Independencia Catalunya” but “Todos Somos Cataluna”, Spanish for “We are all Catalonia”

British historian Sir Antony Beevor believes in unity and that the separatist’s euphoria will be under threat of existence . He states, “Where the Catalans go from here , it’s difficult to tell -but one thing is certain: that the December 21 elections will show that there is not a majority in favor of independence and the world will breath a slight of relief , particularly the EU.”

It should be noted that the concept of holding referenda is becoming popular among regions nowadays. What does it mean for Scotland , Kurdistan , Basque Country and Catalunya to be separate ? Is it a right to self-determination or something more ? There are numbers of self-proclaimed states which are not internationally accepted and this is the major obstacle for such “communities ” in the international arena

Today,  many political scientists place more emphasis on the growth of nationalism as a precondition for separation . Simply said “back to the roots.” In the case of Catalunya , it is return to 1469 when the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castilie laid the foundation for a unified Kingdom of Spain .  There are no other reasons except the high level of nationalism in those communities to be separate from their country and call to the world that they have established new states. However, here is another question : Is it a possible for us to see a new referendum in the near future? Unilateral way to declare independence is an uneasy road for success.

An unrecognized state cannot join the UN or the EU , nor can they avail of the benefits of international financial institutions. Its citizens are less privileged than citizens of other recognized countries. There is always a possibility of territorial dislocations of newly formed states which may lead to contradictions between neighbours . Economic difficulties also can take place : a different currency , difficulties in attracting investment and often economic sanctions.

According to such scenario with so many disadvantages , new countries will face many difficulties on their road to independence . There is nothing to say it is impossible for such states to declare independence but they may not be internationally recognized and not hold status of statehood from the standpoint of international law.

It is a necessary question to ask: Is it worth it ? Instead of making a division of us on black and white , Catalan and Spanish , Turkish and Greek Cypriots , we should put our attention and maximum efforts to the burning problems in the world: poverty , pollution, climate change . As without the world , there will be no sense to the referendum.

This article was published in association with the IRAS Global Observer an eclectic blog of news, politics, history and philosophy from students at Jagiellonian University, Krakow: 

https://irasglobalobserver.wordpress.com/

Fast Food News And Information Obesity

Article was originally published on the Iras Global Observer as part of a new collaboration project between their site and The Conversation Room

Be it the colossal shift in our diets towards snacking processed food to the life changing opportunities of international travel arising from commercial aviation, history shows that for better or worse human behaviour and consumption patterns are shaped by new technologies.

In 2017, nowhere is technology changing our behaviour more rapidly than through mobile consumption of news and information. The research group Pew found that the number of United States citizens who receive news through a mobile device rose from 54% in 2013 to 72% in 2016.

In their more detailed report analysing the demographics of news consumption, Pew found that:

“While solid majorities of both those ages 50-64 (72%) and those 65+ (85%) often get news on TV, far smaller shares of younger adults do so (45% of those 30-49 and 27% of those 18-29). Alternatively, the two younger groups of adults are much more likely than older adults to turn to online platforms for news – 50% of 18- to 29-year-olds and 49% of those ages 30-49 often do so.”

The data shows the explosive effect of smartphone technology and a global youth migration to social media platforms for news and information. In the past people might skim the morning paper on the train to work or catch the six o’clock news while making dinner but today we have an endless minute by minute drip of news and information at the end of our fingertips.

For news outlets this presents stark new challenges. Rather than only competing with other newspapers and magazines in a shop window, news outlets must now fight on a global scale through the thick grass of cat memes and clickbait to fight for our attention and clicks.

This seismic shift in publishing and consumption was aptly summarized by Katherine Viner, editor of the Guardian and Observer who noted in a recent address:

“The transition from print to digital did not initially change the basic business model for many news organisations – that is, selling advertisements to fund the journalism delivered to readers. For a time, it seemed that the potentially vast scale of an online audience might compensate for the decline in print readers and advertisers. But this business model is currently collapsing, as Facebook and Google swallow digital advertising; as a result, the digital journalism produced by many news organisations has become less and less meaningful.”

Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds contain everything from superficial selfies to news of nuclear Armageddon, delivering content in one messy mashup without significant demarcation between news and fun. Information is not ranked in degree of importance or category but algorithmically ranked in its importance to advertisers and what the hosting platform believe will hook your attention the most.

From annoying, automatic advertisements to eye catching, irresistible clickbait, cynical tactics are employed to suck us into a never-ending cycle of meaningless clicks and consumption.

Viner notes:

“Publishers that are funded by algorithmic ads are locked in a race to the bottom in pursuit of any audience they can find – desperately binge-publishing without checking facts, pushing out the most shrill and most extreme stories to boost clicks. But even this huge scale can no longer secure enough revenue.”

This highlights how the capacity for mainstream media to operate its dualistic goal of being a trusted information outlet and a commercially viable business in the digital age have come into radical reconsideration. Subscription based services have failed to garner significant support and reliance on ad revenue means journalists are evermore replaced by BuzzFeed style “content creators” often pumping out 10 commodified stories a day without making a phone call.

“Where once we had propaganda, press releases, journalism, and advertising,” the academic Emily Bell has written, “we now have ‘content’.” Readers are overwhelmed: bewildered by the quantity of “news” they see every day, nagged by intrusive pop-up ads, confused by what is real and what is fake, and confronted with an experience that is neither useful nor enjoyable.

The information overload is having drastic consequences on our mental health and collective social wellbeing. On an individual level the constant competition for our attention can leave many miserable, anxious and eventually feeling they have lost valuable time and years to aimlessly scrolling through newsfeeds and consuming junk news.

There’s also the superficial egoism which has crept into news consumption. If you share an article from the Guardian about climate change, you are signalling to the world that you are a caring liberal who is concerned about the imminent ecological collapse of our world. Sharing news, just like sharing photos of your food has become all about ego and brand. #Vegan #NewYorkTimes.

From a wider societal perspective, we cannot underestimate the massive loss of a common sphere of news. One of the primary public goods of media is the power to engender public debate and provide a platform for different societal groups to communicate with one another. Yet Facebook is wilfully blind to the interests of community and the public good. All its algorithm sees is individual consumers whose attention can be captured and monetized by concentrating content they know you will click upon.

When claims that Russia had hired trolls to bombard certain demographics of the U.S population with “fake news” during the 2016 U.S Presidential election the damage caused may have been more subliminal than obvious. It is not that people believe fake stories (well some believed Hillary Clinton was operating a child sex ring in a Washington DC Pizza parlour) but that they are bombarded with so much information that it becomes disorienting and difficult to determine what to believe and who to trust. This misanthropic media landscape of misinformation and mistrust is a serious threat to the future of liberal democracy.

Individuals are following news that never challenges but only reinforces their ideas about the world and tailors a narrative of world events to suit the audience. Thus, once established an online community can be far more important to individuals than their geographical one. Democracy today is waking up to a world where people are physically living beside each other but digitally couldn’t be further apart.

 

Why Young People Are Ditching Social Media For Good

The featured image is a work by the incredibly talented Steve Cutts.

Kids growing up in 2017’s digital dystopia are sold one of the biggest lies ever told. That social media is an innocuous online tool to “connect” with friends.

In reality social media has destroyed meaningful connection and replaced it with artificial online packs of “like-minded individuals” who all hold the same beliefs and subscribe to the same dogmas. This meticulously designed,  hyper-addictive technology’s only mantra is to keep the audience hooked for as many hours of the day as possible, monetize their attention by collecting data and sell it to advertisers.

Facebook says it has an eye-popping 2 billion users. It is staggering to see how globally, so much of our lives have migrated to platforms controlled and designed by a few Silicon Valley engineers. The exciting explosion of smartphone technology has overshadowed the questions as to whether tech companies should have such an invasive, intimate role in our lives. Leader in tech design ethics Tristan Harris explains why we should be concerned about tech changing our behaviour:

“Companies say, we’re just getting better at giving people what they want. But the average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Is each one a conscious choice? No. Companies are getting better at getting people to make the choices they want them to make.”

Young people are particularly vulnerable. Being introduced at such a young age to this addictive, disconnected lifestyle has created drug like dependencies among teens and desensitized many to sex and violence as they are daily exposed to porn and brutality online. This constant stimulation and competition for our attention also leaves many miserable, anxious and eventually feeling they have lost valuable time and years to aimlessly scrolling through newsfeeds and trying to convince others that they live a perfect life.

Is there hope?

Yet this business model of enslaving us to our phones is unsustainable. History shows that when advertisers and attention grabbers go too far, the people fight back. No more so than in 1860’s Paris when an aspiring young artist named Jules Chéret discovered the “billboard” as a technological innovation in commercial advertising. By creating seven foot tall, brightly coloured posters displaying eye-catching imagery such as half dressed women Chéret quickly became widely famous as a pioneer in art and commerce and others quicky began imitating his work.

Eventually though it became all too much. The constant attention grabbing of commercial advertising stripped Paris of it’s architectural beauty and engendered a social revolt. Parisians declared war on “the ugly poster” and began lobbying the City government to limit where advertisements could be placed, ban billboards from train tracks and heavily tax them in other public spaces.

The government took aggressive action and today many of the advertisement restrictions are still in place which is why Paris remains in many parts a beautiful city, unperturbed by the constant assault of advertising.

Will a similar revolt occur today in relation to social media? It’s difficult to say, we have become so individualized, I sometimes question whether young people still have the drive to organize and mobilize on mass or whether our conception of protest amounts to signing an online petition and joining a protest Facebook page.

But I do have hope. The first sparks of rebellion are already beginning to fly. Figures released in October show that 57% of schoolchildren in the UK would not mind if social media never existed and an even larger, 71% say they have taken “digital detoxes” to escape its constant stimulation, distraction and pressures.

The BBC also reported that pupils in Kent have  set up a three-day “phone-fast”. With sixth former Isobel Webster, describing:

“There’s a feeling that you have to go on Instagram, or whatever [site], to see what everyone’s doing – sometimes everyone’s talking about something and you feel like you have to look at it too”.

One Year 10 pupil, Pandora Mann, 14, said she was a bit annoyed at the phone-fast initially, but soon realised “we don’t enjoy our phones as much as we think we do”.

“In terms of the way we view ourselves and our lives negatively,” she explained, “I think people put what they see as their best image forward – it’s not always the real image.”

Isobel said that the ban stopped her from sitting in her room scrolling through social media and encouraged her to spend her work breaks chatting to friends.

She said it reminded her “what it was like before” – when as a Year 7 (aged 12) she would spend more time socialising in person.

Kids today are showing that they are not just the most tech savvy among us they’re also the most tech sensitive. Counterculture movements are cropping up and tapping into the undercurrent of anger and disillusionment experienced by many.

Folk Rebellion is one interesting example. A movement dedicated to reconnecting people with reality, creating a more balanced relationship with tech and ‘living in the present with actual things.’ Young people are gravitating to these movements as they begin to rediscover the pleasures of physical books, reconnect with the physical world and relearn what it means to live a fulfilling life.

The resistance is rising.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beauty Myth: Time To Wake Up

Nothing in American culture has caused so many health problems as the Beauty Myth. The belief, due to media-crazed hype, that women must be painfully thin to be beautiful has caused both physical and mental distress for so many young women. The fact these issues are mostly ignored outside the medical community is an even larger problem. It is ignored because it affects mostly the half of the population that is thought to be unworthy of thought, women.

Using myself as an example; I have been on both sides of the weight issue and have been part of the problem. As a model in my teens and twenties, I was painfully thin and portrayed that image. I was also suffering from a common disorder among our young, anorexia nervosa. I counted every calorie, lived on salad almost exclusively, and exercised like a madwoman to maintain the weight expected of me. At five-foot-five (66 inches or 165.10 CM), that weight was an unhealthy low of one-hundred-ten pounds (50 KG); right off the BMI chart altogether at the low end. Normal weight for someone my height is roughly one-hundred-eighteen pounds (54 KG) up to one-hundred-forty-eight pounds (67 KG): and I strove to lower that even more.

 

Fast-forward to my forties, and I am attempting to find some relief from a lifetime of major depressive disorder. I was put on a medication called Remeron, a tetracyclic drug, used for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. In six months I gained a whopping one-hundred-fifteen pounds (52 KG)! Suddenly I went from the normal end of the BMI chart to the obese domain. I was devastated, as you may imagine. My delayed research indicated that researchers don’t know why, but some medications can cause weight gain of up to twenty pounds a month and change your metabolism and the way your body stores nutrients. I have struggled for the past ten years to remove that weight, with little result.

I now have all the complications you would expect from being overweight: diabetes, high cholesterol, and self-esteem issues aplenty. As a teen suffering anorexia, my self-esteem has always been largely tied to my weight. I now live with “fat discrimination” and “body shaming” as a regular occurrence. One of my oldest friends does not believe that I don’t just sit on the couch, stuffing my face with pies, cakes, and cookies. I have
been called both a cow and a pig, especially by young men.

I have now seen both sides of the beauty myth coin and would like to call attention to them both. Neither extreme is healthy, either physically or mentally, for anyone, man or woman. For men, it is different. Men don’t live under the beauty myth’s focus. Not to say, by any means, that there aren’t young men whose self-esteem is tied to body weight and image, or suffer the debilitating effects of anorexia, there are, but it is far less common than it is for young women.

Human beings come in all shapes and sizes. Many have medical issues that put them on one side or the other of a healthy weight to begin with. Most women do not meet the glorified ideal portrayed through the media naturally. We expect a young woman to be thin to be beautiful putting a tremendous strain and mental fixation on our youth. Who doesn’t want to be considered beautiful?

Especially in this media-driven, advertising society where beauty is worshiped more than any god. It forces young women who were not fortunate enough to be small-boned and low in body fat into being anorexic to fit that image, to fit in, to be good enough, loved enough. In the case of so many, like Karen Carpenter, a music icon of the seventies, it can lead to death, or at the very least, an unhealthy idea of eating. I know an eight-year-old girl whose mother put her into modeling.

She is already showing signs of developing anorexia, and she’s not alone. The age of development of these disorders drops every decade. Body shaming has become a common term because it is so prevalent in our society which is so enmeshed in social media.

The good part of social media is that people have become more aware of health and wellness. We have begun, as a culture, to educate ourselves about a healthy weight and how to achieve and maintain it. At least among some of the adult population. Our young women are still inundated by the media ideal of beauty being an unachievable or life threatening level of thin. It’s time we started to open our eyes to the problem of the “beauty myth” and start to break through it.

Michele is an American writer, a student of psychology, and a substitute teacher. You can follow her blog ‘a single step’ here: 

https://notasweknow.wordpress.com/