Archive for April, 2010

Self-censorship on facebook: The tragic loss of truth on the web

“There was an estimate last month that Facebook has something like 130 million unique visits every day. It now acts as a vast market place for ideas, preferences, suggestions and actings-out, extending far beyond the capacity of conventional institutions to influence.”

-David Aaronovitch


I used to live in Berlin. It was a glorious period during which I wallowed in wonderful hedonism. My life in Berlin meant maximizing my net pleasure together with a group of people with which I worked for “Zitty”, a magazine for the night. We lived together in a “WG” (wohngemeinschaft=sort of a living community) in Prenzlauer Berg. 27 people, 13 nationalities, and 1 kitchen. Just imagine the beautiful chaos.

I had especially developed a mutually reinforcing relationship with some guys from Boston, who were studying German in Berlin. I showed them how we spend the night in Europe -which they seemed to appreciate, and in return they introduced me to strange drinking games featuring ping-pong balls and something called a beerbong, but most importantly, they introduced me to facebook. Hundreds of pictures I have from these guys, pokernights that got out of hand, Thursdays at club Weekend, that one night Mike peed in a beer bottle and accidently drank it, the time Cody passed out face-down on the floor, that drunken boxing match in the middle of the night. The list is endless.

After I moved back to the Netherlands I wanted to relive those moments, and to my unpleasant surprise I found out I was -in fact, the only one who wanted to relive them. To make things worse, I started to get requests to stop tagging them in my pictures, or to even delete entire albums (Especially the album called “The gay bar” -the night everyone got naked-). When I refused, because I did not have the original pictures, they got really pissed off, telling me it was non of my business and I should “respect their privacy”. 

You see, my Boston friends had all finished their studies, and wanted to become bankers, stock brokers and government officials. And apparently, people in those lines of work never ever once step out of line. They never go to clubs or bars, they never get drunk, never even hold a beer in their hand. Their lives consist of continuus polite smiles and decently posed pictures with equally decent friends. If you have to believe their facebook profiles, family gatherings are their favorite pastime, together with some sports and cultural activities.

What has happened? What went wrong? We all cheer when Google decides to stop censoring in China, but we blatantly self-censor our very own lives until all that’s left is some hypocritical, politically correct version of it. A lie!

So I ask myself this question: Is privacy more important than the online truth about ourselves? And what do you know? There is an amazing article in the Times with exactly that phrase as a title! David Aaronovitch, columnist for the Times and award-winning writer has beaten me to the punch. You can find it here.

According to him, privacy is a cultural phenomena, and thus subject to cultural changes and influences. That makes the value of privacy fluent: “My view was that privacy was a culturally determined concept. Think of those open multiseated Roman latrines in Pompeii, and imagine having one installed at work.” More recently, I can think of other (cultural) influences on privacy. Take Saudi Arabia. It’s an entire society where certain aspects of privacy have become unnaturally important, or India, where en-mass pooping on the railroad is as normal as buying a pack of gum.

So it seems that the ease with which we can pretent online is going to mean the end of truth on the web. A truth that is, according to mr. Aaronovitch “essential to the value of the internet.” He continues: “Lack of privacy may be uncomfortable. Lack of truth is fatal.

Let’s hope that the cultural forces from facebook and other online networks as ‘insitutes’ change our concept of privacy before it’s too late, and we are stuck with facebook as a accumulation of fake lives and half-truths.

 Mr. Aaronovitch seems not to worry: “My children — Generation Y, rather than the Generation X-ers who make most of the current fuss about privacy — seem unworried by their mother’s capacity to track them and their social lives through Facebook. In fact, they seem unworried by anybody’s capacity to see what they’re up to — until, of course, it goes wrong. They seem to want to be in sight, and much effort goes into creating the public identity that they want others to see.”

I guess what I am trying to say is, post those embarrasing pictures online: that one drunken night, that nip-slip, that picture of you making out with a german midget, LET’S GET IT OUT THERE! Let’s change our culture!

Let me start:


Beirut street art continued

Before more taxi driver stories (currently working on the “incredible stories” part of the triptych) will find their way to this blog, let me first show you some more stencil art straight from the walls of Beirut.

Also, here I have a link to Ella’s blog, you can see her make some of the paintings I took photographs of.

Found this one on a construction site on Hamra street.

"Don't get any closer, my heart might swallow you"

More Ella

I think this is the same artist as the “triangulated city” stencil from the last street art blog. Anarchism is still alive in Beirut… At least on the walls it is.

It says “smoke” and a guy choking himself (?). This I found on these stairs near the sea. I was told that a lot of “forbidden things” happen on these stairs when night falls:

Getting ass-raped by the grim reaper. “Bareback” is a part of a larger group of stencils and graffiti artists in Beirut that deal with homosexuality.                        There is even a website on the top-10 gay stencils in Beirut. Click here to view.

This one is obviously also part of the gay stencil art series… Nice eh?

This one is fairly self-explanatory

This particular wall provided a lot of material…

Beirut taxidrivers Part I: How this city works

Taxi drivers. In every city in the world they are the ones on top of things. Constantly driving around they are aware of everything, not just by looking at the world around them through their car windows, but also by talking with their passengers. They can tell you everything that is wrong and right about their city, the latest news, the juiciest gossip: they are the people to talk to. Although taxi drivers are not known for their intelligence or exceptional social perception, they do sometimes give a very accurate, and usually extremely funny look at the world around them.

Beirut is not an exception, and I would like to start with a small personal project on Beirut taxi driver stories. In the short period that I have been here, I’ve already heard so many, I just can’t help to share them with you guys. 

On our way to school, our driver gave us an insight into a growing problem in the streets of Beirut: parking. (Traffic issues are, unsurprisingly, known to be very high upon the list of favorite subjects that taxi drivers like to talk about…) We drove through a busy shopping street, which was also an important vain for traffic going to the city centre. Our driver pointed out the many double-, and sometimes even triple-parked cars on the side of the road. The parked cars sometimes blocked the road completely, and this resulted in deafening, and mostly pointless horn-banging by drivers. “You see my friend, in Beirut parking is impossible! Stupid people parking everywhere blocking the road making many people angry, this is not good!”  He shared his insights with us while we waited for a small truck which was unloading vegetables with an excruciating lack of urgency. “It is a problem yes? You know why? Building a parking garage is not making many people rich, instead they built other building making them very rich, so they buy more cars, and they cannot park also!”

Baffled by the brilliant simplicity of his logic, I asked him whether he could perhaps enlighten us with a solution to this problem. “No problem!” he told us, “We will have only taxi’s, no normal cars. Taxi’s never park, and also many dollars for me yes?”

That same day I took a “service” (the difference between service and taxi is an extra zero to your fare, good thing to know when moving around the city), and we passed a military checkpoint. I quickly grabbed my camera to make a picture of the dangerous looking men carrying loaded M16 assault rifles. The driver was quick to interfere. He told me that in Beirut you cannot use a camera anywhere, and if the military catch you using one, they won’t hesitate to break it or take your film/memory card.

Hold on a minute. We went to Beirut to undertake a huge mobile media project, and we are not even allowed to use our mobile media devices, by penalty of vandalism? Something is terribly wrong here, and I even started to doubt the usefulness of te entire mission. I asked the driver why the military is so paranoid about camera’s. “They are afraid of Hezbollah spies, they are afraid of them because they have bigger guns, and maybe they take pictures of the soldier and the Hezbollah come to his house and kill the wife and kids…”

Hezbollah, who still controls large parts of the city actually outgun the Lebanese army on many fronts (they have missiles, something the Lebanese army apparently don’t have access to), I knew this, but I never realized what this meant for the city. There is a constant sectarian power struggle going on (Hezbollah-Lebanese army is merely one of the many power struggles that are going on), and one of the countless intangible “victims” of this power struggle is the freedom to document as you please.

So how will we deal with this? Our main project is a large “mapping Beirut” project, in which we use small camera’s and hand-held devices to capture Beirut on as many fronts as possible. This ban on camera’s is making this rather difficult, to say the least. For example, if you get caught using a camera in the Hezbollah controlled part of Beirut, members of the militia could easily capture you and hold you for interrogation for several hours, or even days. They don’t have to follow any laws. This has happened to many Lebanese students I met and heard of.

So a challenge indeed. Me and Rawad will take this on. Armed with concealed camera’s and microphones and a crappy looking car to avoid attention and blend in, we will attempt to capture on film as many checkpoints and cranky looking soldiers as possible. We’ll drive past the president’s house, politicians houses, military bases, etcetera. When stopped by the military, we will try to capture the conversation on tape, using my mobile phone. We will implement the same strategy when we visit Dahier tomorrow. Let’s see if we can successfully take on this suffocating veil of sectarianism that lies over this city by using simple mobile technology and a passion for freedom of media.

Wish us luck…

Unravelling Beirut street art is an art in itself

Beirut is a vibrant place, an intense place, a chaotic place. A place full of conflict and harmony, a place filled to the brim with emotion and history. It’s a city that collides with itself on religious, political and social grounds. And all this results in inspiration. Inspiration that can be found on the city walls in drawings and graffiti.

I was lucky enough to walk the streets today with Ramona Hijazi, looking for people we could interview on the history of Hamra, a neighborhood in Beirut. We passed some streets and I was drawn to the political and non-political graffiti on the walls, and took pictures. Without Ramona, I would never even have had a clue what it all meant. Hereby I share them with you.

this one does not need a lot of explaining…

President Mubarak of Egypt built the wall on the border with Gaza, this is not received well (to say the least) by many Arab countries. He is helping the enemy (Israel) contain the Palestinians. Indirectly, he is killing Palestinians, his fellow Arabs.

Underneath it says “smile”

I absolutely adored this one. Kinda reminded me of the movie 300. This. Is . Sparta!!!! hahahaha!

“Ella” is a female street artist with a very personal style. I was told by the internetcafe owner her work is so popular some people tear out pieces of the wall to take it home. This one was too big for that luckily…

yeah well, i can’t say smart stuff about all of them:)…

apparently the arab on his underwear says ” Mohammed put his hand on top of this”… Danish cartoonist eat your heart out:)

This is the last one for now. I have so may more, but uploading them takes AGES… And I desperately need a cold Lebanese beer… Shukran for reading people!