Public transport, to many observers, personifies a modern day tragedy. On any train or bus, you will see endless commuters slumped over tablets and smartphones, a businessperson drafting emails, tabloids and broadsheets discarded on empty seats. There are more keyboard clicks than human voices. Everyone is connected and disconnected simultaneously. Such a scene evokes nostalgic, whimsical reflections about the Western world, the combined curse and blessing of the information age.
Newspapers, of course, are timeless. They entered circulation for the first time in the late seventeenth century and since then, their primacy in enlightening the public on political, economic and cultural matters. Magazines serve a similar function. Technology, however, is revolutionary by continuously changing both the amount and the type of material we can access, while emboldening us to become ‘content creators’ ourselves.
Few people reject technological change as entirely negative. After all, we are lucky to have anything from knowledge to business opportunities at our fingertips. But it can be pretty overwhelming. The world, for one, is polarised. Concerning divisive subjects such as politics and the human condition, opinions and sources conflict everywhere. Each one claims to ‘debunk’ the others. Regardless of whether the subject matter in question is the ideal political candidate or way to quit procrastination, each one markets itself as the voice of authority. And with the restrictions on who can produce informations for others to consume loosened, anyone can elevate their voice to that of an authority. The internet is a window and a shield, giving an insight into who one wants others to believe them to be. The right response to this is not nihilism but on the contrary, a critical eye, a display of selectiveness in choosing your sources and role models.
Little suffers from ‘information overload’ to the same degree as blogging and the ‘self-improvement’ niche. Entrepreneurs, bloggers and writers address the cultural aspiration to become our best selves and meet our goals, providing sometimes conflicting and sometimes harmonious advice on anything from time management to organisation
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The culture of a given society has several layers. Firstly, there are the arts and the achievements, symbols, the figures who represent the nation’s history and contemporary circumstances. A deeper layer, requiring consistent engagement with the culture to understand, encompasses everything from common worldviews and attitudes, to humour and mannerisms. Language is somewhere in between. Objective meanings of words and phrases can be learnt from any textbook. However, exposure to how the language operates within the culture and social interactions reveals its emotional dimension. The connotations of words, their flavour and the pictures they paint, must be felt and cannot be formally taught.
I am familiar with the character of two countries, far removed from each other in geography and culture: immigrating as a nine year old, I’ve retained a strong memory of my native land, the Russian Federation. British teenage years followed a predominantly Russian childhood. Acquiring a a second citizenship at a lively ceremony in 2012 symbolised my assimilation of everything from the South-Eastern dialect to the manners and customs of my new compatriots. Nowadays, I think, speak, and write predominantly in English. During my annual visits to Russia, I receive a few laughs from loved ones at my odd manner and accent. For sure, a different person would have emerged from the absence of an immigration experience, but through bilingualism I have retained ties to my ethnic origin. My soul combines hues from both countries and I am profoundly aware of their disparities.
I’ve learnt that submerging yourself into a second culture or language reveals facts that can seldom be conveyed through a secondary account.
Humour, for example, gives translators more nightmares than laughs. Jokes have roots in history and the intricacies of a given language. A whimsical anecdote from Russia may receive blank stares from a British audience if it depends on the historical resonance of a particular word or character. Likewise, my mum still scolds me for self-deprecating quips, which translate into Russian as a deliberate and cruel effacement of oneself. View Full Post
Without detail, the world would seldom be able to function. Detail ties everything together, from our day to day schedules to the most intricate machines and international trade deals. Understanding the subtleties makes you an expert in any given system. Applying rigorous planning (think everything from countless lists to time blocking and editorial calendars) to your life engenders organisation and productivity. Sometimes, while tapping away on my phone or swiping my contactless Visa, I am stopped by the realisation of just how complex familiar mechanisms are below the surface.
When I was younger, my grandma taught me to ‘think about detail’, using fashion and writing as an example: your choice headwear or a sheeny bracelet can turn a bland outfit luxurious. Similarly, a spelling mistake can undermine the credibility of your argument. These lessons stuck around because as I grew older and older, I found further examples of where details matter. Understanding something beyond a surface-level overview in education creates a valuable learning experience and facilitates information retention. Good essay writing, in turn, requires you scrutinise the details of your topic (in the form of objective evidence, facts, statistics) before assembling a thesis or argument. In other words, you must avoid cherry-picking evidence for a preconceived idea and focus on where the facts actually lead.
The beauty of details lies in how they melt at the edges and into each other, forming an outward picture which hides the technicalities underneath. However, when we think about such technicalities, don’t we do it, either consciously or subconsciously, with the intention of producing a specific, final result which is enshrined within our minds? For example, through your choice of accessories or jewellery, you produce a distinctive style without any missing components, and by meticulously editing your writing – a resulting piece which flows and engages. Even the extraction of viewpoint from evidence in academia follows deeper principles, an admiration of unbiased research. Thinking bigger, therefore, is not a negligence of detail but an understanding of why these details exist in the first place. View Full Post
Comparison permeates our society down to a subconscious level. We know measuring our own success or value against other people is unproductive, we set goals to focus on ourselves, we try to recognise the unique character of our pathways through life. Yet, this is much easier preached than put into practice. From bloggers who have seemingly mastered the Instagram algorithm to friends with enviable wardrobes and social lives, we find ourselves disheartened by our own relative ‘shortfalls’, because stepping back and observing the bigger picture – the futility of pursuing something superficial – on a day-to-day basis can be a tricky skill to master.
I’m all too familiar with this phenomenon and have been since a very young age. Growing up in Russia, every little girl aspires to be either a gymnast or a ballerina at one point, attending countless clubs and practicing for countless hours in her spare time. I did too, I tried my hardest and aspired to stardom, but just did not have the genetics nor an immaculate sense of rhythm, flexibility or grace required to enhance an audience – as much as I to this day am awestruck by anyone who does. Equipped with the power of hindsight, I know my talents lay in other areas which family members such as my mum and grandma tried to refine, but because my social circle measured appeal through your competence in the performing arts, the length of your hair, the size of your dad’s car, I started life feeling somewhat undervalued.
Moving to England settled me in a society which is much more lenient, a meritocracy which emphasises social mobility and equal opportunities for everyone. It was a shock to the system. But, ‘young people culture’ is quite similar everywhere, in the sense that children and young teenagers champion certain traits and ostracise those who behave, look or speak differently. Beside the pressure of integration (learning a new language and customs from scratch), I saw myself as inadequate in comparison to people with enormous social circles and girls with a reputation for their external beauty. Once secondary school started, this atmosphere of competition became much more pronounced. I was neither a fabulous extrovert nor gifted with the voice or looks of an angel, and made myself miserable in the pursuit of happiness supposedly associated with such attributes. View Full Post