Of Punk Rockers, Superheroes and Villains

Before I even had a driver’s license, I was cavorting with much older punk rockers (or other breeds of alternative musicians) in Los Angeles. Beyond the spikey-haired skate-punk heartthrobs and dopey flannel enthusiasts there was a scene of Hollywood weirdos in the spirit of David Bowie and Brian Eno’s glam movement that ignited a fire of creativity and teen cheekiness in me.

They were peacocks of Hollywood’s  music scene underbelly, your mother’s worst nightmare, clad in platforms, and glittery frocks — and they had a taste for ‘jail bait’ like me. At the time, that seemed about as edgy as it got — grimy 30-year-old men chasing 15-year-old uniformed school girls from Beverly Hills. There was one band that lived illegally in retail spaces above a pizza parlor on Hollywood Blvd. I stayed at their space, which drew the likes of transsexual prostitutes and sleazy opportunists.

At their gigs, you’d often see some shady characters — beyond the requisite slutty, angry rock chicks (one of which was Courtney Love). El Duce, a bald, angry, pot-bellied, foul-mouthed pig who sang about raping and sodomizing women was one of them. That was about as scummy as it got. And my little girl friends and I reveled in that scumminess. We thought it was coolbadass and even a bit evil.

All of this to say that while I am sickened by what I see every day in the news in regards to IS recruiting teenagers in Britain and Australia to join its barbaric forces in Syria, it makes some warped sense to me. These are not your mother’s teen-angst filled rebellions. These are the angry rebellions of a generation that has grown up forced to worship at the altar of capitalism — an empty, pre-fab, ideology of increasing obscolescence and alienation through technology which clearly makes some of these kids yearn for something to believe in and fight for (even if it’s the most misguided of ideologies).  Add to that the hormones coursing through their veins and the teen anger and you’ve got the ultimate recipe for disaster — on a global level.

My aforementioned glam-punk reverie pales in comparison to this dark shade of rebellion. But in a time of tweets, fake Facebook friends and pop stars like Miley Cyrus and  Lady Gaga (who’s even gotten sick of her own exaggerated image) trying to one-up each other in salaciousness and shock value, the ante has been upped tenfold on teen rebellion and Islam may well be the latest excuse for “anarchy” and “destruction” (two keywords from the early punk era). In short, rebellion — like weed (post-’The Chronic’) and drugs have gotten more extreme.

In my youth, it was enough to pierce a body part or get a tattoo — that got you noticed as an outsider to this fucked up capitalist system — a hell-raising iconoclast. Now, squeaky clean Olympic athletes and teen idols have piercings and tats, rendering such modern primitive body adornments impotent — as far as shock value goes. I am aware that the aforementioned pop cultures may have no direct bearing on the girls who have thus far been recruited into IS, but make no mistake, this global (thanks to the internet) culture is having some influence — albeit indirectly and in the form of a decades-in-the-making tipping point.

So this Grand Theft Auto, adrenaline junkie generation — or at least some of its denizens in the right demographic — is saying ‘fuck you’ to the system by joining a cult of beheading terrorists. These days, that’s pretty must the worst thing you could do to break your parents’ hearts (since your parents probably already have tattoos).

Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot

Of course, there are others who put their rebellion to positive use — think Pussy Riot, taking blows from Putin’s henchmen just to uphold values it holds dear, all the while rocking out and punking it up with those ski masks! They’re cool. So as you can see the intent of my blog entry is not to give the teen girls who just left London for Syria to join IS a free pass for what will likely be their life of terrorism ahead. Obviously, there are heroes and villains in the world of teen rebellion and angst — but there are also anti-heroes and ant-villains.

I don’t know how I feel about letting these young London girls back in the UK after they so clearly and decisively left to get up to the most extreme form of no good. I’m concerned for my welfare here and for that of the ones I love and care for and that part of me says ‘F the lot of them — they knew what they were getting themselves into when they joined this infamous gang of murderous thugs’.

The other part of me remembers how I filled my own parents with worry, hanging out with the ‘wrong’ crowd, staying out until all hours, and so on. I didn’t mean any harm of course (and luckily my brand of rebellion didn’t include harming others). So, I do understand the need to rehabilitate these young girls and give them a chance to grow up and outgrow this nasty “phase”.

However, to be clear, we’re not talking about spray-painting ‘fuck the police’ on a wall, romper-stompering around a gig and getting into a fist fight or pissing in someone’s backyard. There’s a sanctity of life issue here — and even amidst raging hormones and an age-appropriate attraction to chaos — beheading someone, to say the least, ain’t cool.

Vanity Fair: FanFiction and the Fifty Shades of Grey Effect

Fan fiction or Fanfic and the 50 Shades of Grey Effect

Image: fan art.rob kris

What if Edward Cullen was a submissive and Bella Swan was a dominant? What if Peter Bishop from Fringe fancied Eurasian journalists and began courting one? — I, ahem, digress here. The point I’m making is that fanfiction — fans fantisizing about their favorite movie and TV characters and rock musicians and so on, and writing about them — is a hot commodity with literary agents in the wake of what I’ve dubbed the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey effect’ (i.e. the seven-figure, Big Five publishing house treatment).

I wrote about this very topic recently and the finished product is now up on Vanity Fair‘s site, timed with the release of the ‘Fifty Shades.’

Here’s a teaser:

When Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James first signed a seven-figure contract with Random House’s Vintage Books imprint in 2012, some literary agents dismissed the deal as a fluke. The trilogy started out as posts on the seminal site Fanfiction.net as an amateur writer’s erotic take on Twilight; after its popularity online, the first title was released by a small publisher as an e-book and a print-on-demand title—not exactly an origin story fit for the notoriously elitist literary world.

Despite its populist backstory, Fifty Shades was an easy sell for James’s literary agent Valerie Hoskins, thanks in part to the online accolades and word of mouth fueling its demand. “There was already a buzz about the trilogy in early 2012, appreciation for the books had gone viral,” she said adding, “all of the Big Six (five now) publishers in New York City were very keen to offer for it.”

Three years later, with Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan bringing the guilty pleasure to life on the big screen this weekend, the fan-fiction world where the movie originated seems more relevant than ever for literary agents hoping to bank on the coveted “Fifty Shades effect.”

“We’re getting deals everywhere,” explained London-based literary agent Lorella Belli, who snagged a six-figure advance from Simon & Schuster for her author Sophie Jackson’s forthcoming trilogy, A Pound of Flesh, which also started out as Twilight fanfic. “[Fan-fiction writers] already have such a huge following without doing any kind of promotion,” she continued. Jackson’s story drew more than 4 million reads on Fanfiction.net, and she’s gone from being a schoolteacher in Britain to having three major publishing houses bid up her debut novel. Just last month, Hollywood agent Steve Fisher at Agency for the Performing Arts signed on to secure the film rights.

Belli and her colleagues have gotten into the practice of scouring popular fan-fiction sites, as well as Amazon’s comparatively new fanfic portal Kindle Worlds, for potential talent. But her current crop of writers from the fan-fiction pool solicited her, she noted, adding that the submissions she receives from fan-fiction authors are often higher in quality than the average submission. “Readers of fan fiction are much more sophisticated than most people give them credit for—they’re quite discerning.” Accordingly, they’re not shy in expressing their opinions about stories.

 

To read the rest on Vanity Fair .com, click on How Fifty Shades of Grey is Dominating the Literary Scene.

The Unbearable Heaviness of 2015

I’m a news junkie — to my own detriment. Ever since I can remember, it’s been bad news all the time. Only now, I can’t explain it, but it feels like we (earthlings) are reaching the tipping point of bad news, trapped in a world that has completely lost its innocence — not in a sexy way but in a scary way.

The daily news stories tell of gang rapes, long-time celebrity sexual abuses of power, beheadings of journalists, hostage sieges, terrorist attacks, church pedophilia rings, child trafficking, gunned down schoolchildren, and rock star baby molesters… the sickening list goes on… until it leaves many of us (I can only speak for myself) feeling utterly defeated and deeply sad.

The world has always been a violent, angry place. It’s as if, after enjoying the warmth and peace of our mothers’ wombs, we come out angry and screaming at the audacity of birth: that we should be forced to live in this ‘cold hard place.’

But something about the current darkness feels different, more ominous. As Pope Benedict said, ‘oh how the world needs tenderness.’ Whereas before the darkness was comprised of the usual ‘world gone mad’ stuff of wars and ‘otherness,’ now it’s a compacted throbbing mass of the aforementioned atrocities coupled with an inability to protect and encourage innocence.

The kidnapping of schoolgirls by Boko Haram and droves of victims who suffered abuse under British celebrity Jimmy Savile are just the tip of the iceberg (of course, despite the Pope’s much-needed words, the Catholic Church and its regional leaders’ systematic abuse of children is the ‘bad guy’ too). When our world is not just dark, mad and evil but when, on top of that, we can’t protect our children (by ‘our’ I mean in a general community sense), we have failed, as spiritual beings, to spread the universal spiritual values of purity and love.

This is the kind of stuff that makes my heart ache uncontrollably. The only thing that may make it ache more is the thought that even my words — in this cynical world — could be construed as cliché or postured. A disproportionate amount of irony, sarcasm and snark in a society is a true sign that we’ve lost our way.

I was watching the Roman Polanski HBO documentary the other day and while I love this brilliant director’s films, I was deeply disturbed by Hollywood’s unabashed support for him on a personal level and for people like Woody Allen (who, even if he didn’t molest his daughter, has a few vices, including inappropriately marrying his adopted child after grooming her from a position of trust).

When I saw a clip of an awards ceremony with people like Martin Scorsese and Jack Nicholson cheering the then-absent award-winning Polanski, it made me feel a bit ill. Let’s just say that growing up in LA around the Hollywood machine, like I did, you hear things about people, things that may not make it into the tabloids but that point to some seriously broken moral compasses.

I briefly wanted to be an actress and attended classes at Strasberg (even met Lee Strasberg), was taken under the wing of my godmother/family friend, actress Barbara Parkins as a little girl, went on some auditions, and was flown to Germany to do a screen test for director Wolfgang Peterson for one. I’ve gone to school with celebrities, the whole nine yards — I know a little bit about how the system works in Hollywood.

It’s a scary system that has not only thrown women away when they became too old to play the female lead (and were too young to play the mom) but also grooms young women (and possibly men too, to be fair) to use their sexuality and work the casting couch system otherwise they’ll be passed over. Hollywood (and the music world as well) teach people to look the other way when a perverted old man is leching on an underaged girl (after all it’s not part of the boring ‘normies’ system of ethics and morals).

I’ve seen this up close and personal and now having lived in other cities/cultures I see it for the sickness that it is. Along with terrorists, governments, corporations and data harvesters, Hollywood lays down its gauntlet and the world complies (perhaps fawns and sycophant-ishly adores, is more appropriate).

So it wasn’t surprising to see so many people point fingers at Polanski’s 13-year-old victim, making her out to be a ’70s Lolita. The truth is that, even if she were a highly sexual 13-year-old (most adolescents are highly sexually charged anyway — par for the course), a grown man offering her drugs and having anal sex with her is still rape — or at the very least an abuse of someone in an adult (privileged celebrity) position.

Looking back to when I was a teen and coming of age, I thought I was pretty badass hanging with much older guys in bands and flaunting my sexuality through rebellious clothing. I believed that was what being an adult was. Sadly, only now do I realize that being an adult is looking back on those days and wishing I had spent more time with people my own age and remained a kid for longer.

Such is loss of innocence. It means never being able to return to that pure, unadulterated sense of yourself and never being able to experience a world that filters out sarcasm, where everything is fresh and possible. Perhaps that loss of innocence is what makes anguished people like Polanski (with his devastating personal history) yearn for innocence so much that they prey on the innocent, like vampires living off the life force of the young.

The world is tired and disconnected from the sacred and pure today. It’s not just evident in kids who are certainly growing up too fast (that happened in the ’70s). It abounds in adults unable to connect to their own innocence (rather than cynicism or sexuality) and more detrimentally, not being able to pass the torch and act as guardians of that innocence, in protecting the young and preserving the spiritual notion of innocence.

What is the answer? I don’t have one. But I do know that from time to time, when I’m feeling particularly wounded and raw, I think back to a wind-up musical jewelry box I had when I was little. A ballerina spun inside the magenta container as the tune chimed on. But far more valuable than all this pomp and prettiness was a little gap in the fabric in which I stuffed handwritten notes which whispered happy secrets into my childhood ether: which boy I liked or who I wanted to be when I grew up. That tiny gap, I sense, is where my innocence resides.

A Kinder, Simpler 2015

flip

I recently went into a bookstore and was predictably drawn to the self-help and business sections. Like many others at this time of year, I had intended to start the year right with an appropriate course of action. Titles like ‘How to Get Things Done’ lept off the covers as I was tempted by the suggestion that 2015 could finally be my year of productivity and abundance.

Ultimately, I left the shop empty-handed. Last minute, I decided that 2015 would be my year to simplify, and through this simplification of my life and attention to the present moment — and not via some prescribed step-by-step process — the new year would be productive and abundant.

Instead, I popped into a phone shop and purchased the above flip phone. Sans data, with its elegant spartan simplicity, this device will further my commitment to de-vice in 2015. I’m hanging onto my iPhone for those days when I have to travel or am expecting an important email and need access to my data plan; but otherwise, I’m paring down all the information that’s coming my way. Hopefully, this will increase my focus on whatever the task at-hand is and enable me to enjoy my life more.

In addition, I cannot continue to support Apple’s culture of obsolescence. No sooner did I buy my new iPhone than I was prompted by the latest Apple update — interestingly enough, one that would take up the lion’s share of space on my device (and ultimately force me to upgrade yet again!) So, with this new purchase I’m saying a big giant ‘screw you’ to Apple and companies like it for this and other breaches of consumer trust and planned obsolescence (and don’t even get me started on the ‘privacy’ issue).

Several years ago, I grew tired of complaining about Facebook’s unfriendly privacy policies and took the big step of deleting my account (never again to return to it). This was a moment of reckoning. So many of my FB friends had complained and petitioned about such things ad nauseum but in the end didn’t put their money where their mouths were. Personally, I’ve never looked back.

And so again, I find myself at a defining moment when it comes to the tech in my quotidian life. I’ve once again decided to let my values guide me, to stop complaining about iPhone and Apple’s ‘newer-is-better’ culture and to take a big leap forward. As I said to the phone salesgirl when I purchased this old familar flip phone: ‘Welcome to the ’90s.’ Hopefully, something from that simpler more robust era comes through in my experience this year.

Tonally, my new year will also be guided by tenderness. I was very moved by Pope Francis’ Christmas midnight mass speech, in particular when he said: ‘“How much the world needs tenderness today.” I also loved his turn of phrase when he said “God is in love with our smallness.” Between beheadings, rapes and hostage sieges, I think we can all attest to the fact that what the world needs now is love, sweet love… and humility.

Charity begins at home, so for me, this ‘resolution’ revolves around being more patient and tolerant when I’m out there in the frantic thick of it dealing with others. It’s easy to get frustrated in crowded urban environments and that’s how tension gets infused into the proverbial melting pot so I’m vowing to be more tender in words, thought and deeds in 2015.

Happy New Year!

My Article On Female Computer Coders Is Up At Marie Claire UK

Female coders Kathryn Parsons decoded

I can’t say that my rudimentary html coding skills make me a coder per se but I do feel solidarity with female coders as this tech-nerdy pastime has always been a secret love of mine (between curses at my screen — when I forget to include a caret or a quotation mark and mess up all my coding).

As such, I did a bit of light exploration into the world of female coders in Britain — their organizations, tech superstars and coding schools and wrote a piece up for Marie Claire UK which went live on their site today: ‘Meet the Women Coders Who Are Britain’s New Face of Tech.’  I talked to Kathryn Parsons from Decoded and Amelia Humfress from Steer, among others. See the article excerpted below:

The world of computer coders has classically been the domain of scrawny dateless male geeks getting ever more squinty-eyed behind laptops in garages and other man caves.

But, it’s undergone a much-needed makeover in recent years, with women getting under the skin of software and apps to carve out a digital niche for themselves — and not a minute too soon.

Last month, Microsoft’s male Chief Executive revealed that he thinks women should leave the thorny issue of equal pay to ‘karma’. Throughout the year, Gamergate — the hostile video game community response to females in its midst — cast an ugly shadow over women in tech. Despite such Victorian attitudes, UK women are discovering female-friendly tech communities that are demystifying coding and making the JavaScript jungle more accessible.

Read the rest of the article at MarieClaire.co.uk

My Alan Turing Feature Is Up At Vanity Fair

WWII British codebreaker mathematician Alan Turing, subject of the Benedict Cumberbatch movie 'The Imitation Game'

The Imitation Game, the biopic about British WWII codebreaker Alan Turing (starring Benedict Cumberbatch) just came out in the UK; it will be released in the US on Friday. It didn’t take the movie to bolster the auction market for all things Turing-related, but I’m sure it will give it that extra push.

Here’s a teaser of my Vanity Fair article on this, currently one of the feature stories gracing VF.com’s landing page today:

The machine referred to in The Imitation Game as “the crooked hand of death itself,” and simply as “beautiful” by Benedict Cumberbatch’s Alan Turing, still exists—but you’ll have to fight the competition to get your hands on one.

The auction market for the Enigma machines, the notorious World War II encryption devices used by the Nazis, whose codes Turing cracked, has soared in recent years, along with a surge of interest in anything associated with the British code-breaking mathematician himself. Last year, two signed offprints of one of Turing’s scientific papers fetched a mammoth $321,800 at auction, partly because, as Christie’s scientific specialist James Hyslop explains, “to find something that has a direct personal connection to Turing is extraordinarily rare.”

Convicted of gross indency (homosexuality was a crime in Britain in 1952), Turing agreed to be chemically castrated as an alternative to prison; he was treated with hormone therapy meant to suppress his sexual urges. When he died of cyanide poisoning of 1954, the death was ruled a suicide. Even before this tragic end, much of his career and related written work was shrouded in mystery by the Official Secrets Act and didn’t come to light until the 70s. Hyslop says that the rare pieces that have made it onto the market had been guarded closely by his family and close friends. “The declassification of his wartime work and recent anniversaries [of his birth and death], by increasing public awareness of his astonishing achievements, have seen the upsurge in market demand for his works,” he adds.

Read the rest of the article on VanityFair.com

De-Vicing

grass-phone

After much prolonged bitching and moaning about the ubiquitous state of technology, I’m finally doing it: De-Vicing. To be clear I’m talking about a sensible digital diet, not a full-scale Luddite hunger strike. Obviously, I’m writing about this in my blog so I can’t completely rebuff tech — nor would I want to as I have a love/hate relationship with it.

I was the first of my friends to tote around a digital diary in the Naughty Nineties and wrote about QR for Wired magazine before the ugly-looking Mondrian-esque bar codes were cropping up all over town.

So my De-Vicing is to involve a simple, reasonably balanced plan to reconnect me with my creative, innovative self and creativity DOES come in a vacuum (i.e. sans constant distractions and abrasive digital assaults on one’s nervous system).

I want to return to my intuition and to really being in the present moment with my surroundings and other humans. I want to be alert to opportunity and till the soil for serendipity and the miraculous. In my mind, I’m setting a modest period of one week as a tester (so as not to dive in over my tech-addicted head).

The precursor to this De-Vicing occurred in two phases of my life — years ago when I deleted my Facebook account (never looked back, best thing I ever did); and again months ago when I decided to remove my iPhone from my bedroom during sleeping hours. After all, there’s something disturbing about the all-seeing eye of Cupertino watching over you as you slumber. This would have had a greater impact had I thought of a ‘no laptop in bed rule’ but I digress.

Day 1 of the official reasonably balanced De-Vicing:

Knowing that I was going to need to be out and about for about a four hour block largely in one location, and that I didn’t have to meet anyone at the end of that period, I left the ‘Evil i’ at home.

Certainly, there were moments when that old familiar reflex jolted me into attempting to check the phone that wasn’t there — even if just to read earlier emails in the Wi-Fi-less Underground. Most of the time when I wasn’t otherwise occupied I found myself staring into space. With no other option, I let my subsconscious have free reign.

Some interesting thoughts popped up related to issues I’d been having — no definitive solutions but ideas at least. And I definitely noted that the real world ‘up there’ seemed to pop more — in a Technicolor way — than usual. I had also made the conscious decision at some point not to listen to music (I had brought a non-phone MP3 player) so perhaps this played into the mindfullness I experienced.

Ultimately, I felt more real. I know that sounds bizarre but I am getting the sense that the world I experienced on a quotidian basis as real (constant device-checking and info-seeking) is NOT real. Of course that’s intellectually a given but seeing as this was more of an experiential, existential feeling, I’m going to see it as progress — a nice first step.

For starters, I am giving myself at least a couple of iPhone-free blocks of time during my week (when I know I won’t have to meet anyone or go way far out of my usual stomping grounds). Then we’ll see where we’re at…

Gene Therapy: Lessons From the Entrepreneurial Kiss Frontman (MP3 Talk)

Gene-Simmons-by-Alberto-Cabello

When I was a little girl, my favourite toys weren’t Barbie Dolls (although I did own a few and they promptly got punk rock makeovers at my little rebellious hands). I adored my precious Kiss T-shirt and most of all my Kiss transistor radio. I was so young and naive that I thought that the low-tech device only played Kiss songs. I’m sure — had that been possible at the time — that Gene Simmons would have manufactured the musical accessory to do just that.

Kiss Transistor Radio

Simmons will forever be etched into my four-year-old mind as the scary rock n’ roll ogre who spat blood (residing in my subconscious alongside other terrifying figures like Medusa and the Creature From the Black Lagoon), However, today, as an adult, on a conscious level, I can appreciate his business sense and entertaining way of delivering motivating messages — an unlikely muse!

Gene Simmons and Shana Ting Lipton, April 2014

Gene Simmons and Shana Ting Lipton, April 2014

Over a month ago, I met the man, the myth, the legend when on assignment for British Airways’ High Life magazine, covering his Rock n’ Roll Fantasy Camp. Apart from a previously hidden passion for pelting out punk metal vocals, the other surprise of my sojourn, was getting inspired by his talk. I only listened to a recording of it today and am getting even more milage out of it now.

The previously mentioned Kiss kiddie-friendly memorabilia notwithstanding I was never a huge Kiss fan. But I am a self-help addict. And, I can resolutely say that, from Paul McKenna to Jack Canfield — helpful as they have been — none of my motivational cheerleaders struck a chord (pun intended) to the degree Simmons has.

He spoke of course of merchandising Kiss — a feat which has been celebrated in business magazines like Forbes (‘What Gene Simmons Teaches Us About Entrepreneurship’ by Gene Marks). He also celebrated the art of listening and of embracing one’s one personal style — not particularly complex ideas, yet delivered with his ‘old Jewish dad’-meets-Dad’s-worst-nightmare’ humour, something clicked. His jokey wisdom doesn’t only apply to careers in rock — but to just about any field.

So, I’m sharing an abridged (20 minute) edit of Gene Simmons’ funny and poignant talk to put a bit of a fire in your belly. Warning: said fire may produce flame-spitting and other hard-rockin’ side effects.

Gene Simmons’ Rock n’ Roll Fantasy Camp Talk (abridged mp3, 1 minute load time)
Note: the interviewer was Rudy Sarzo (Whitesnake, Quiet Riot); Lita Ford also chimed in from the audience

See Through You

offline

So far, 2014 has been a very big year for Neo and his gang — the proverbial Matrix freedom fighters.

Google, the company—whose now quaint and retro-sounding catchphrase was ‘don’t be evil’—recently lost its battle with Spanish detractors via the European Court of Justice (CJEU), and ‘the right to be forgotten‘ finally became more than just a catchy concept.

The cyber-snooping against Miss Teen USA prompted a realisation amongst mainstreamers that people (like myself) who have been covering up their webcams for years are not tinfoil hat wearing crazies who pin up old newspaper clippings in our basements, but actually intuitives who sensed the very real possibility that such tech could easily be abused by anyone — even some hard-up teen loser.

And, next month, Blackphone — apparently the world’s first encrypted ‘spy-proof’ consumer smartphone — will ship its first pre-orders. This is my dream phone, so if this blog post perchance ever reaches anyone at Silent Circle, I wouldn’t scoff at a review copy (hint hint).

In any case, the media posits that this zeitgeist (a word that Google has robbed the intellegentsia of) is merely a backlash regarding the Edward Snowden NSA spying revelations. I think not. Albeit massive, those revelations were part of something much bigger. In simple terms, this tech-policing wave is more akin to whiplash—the causally linked result of being driven by technology at literally breakneck speeds.

This is, folks, the turn of events I’ve been waiting for for many years: the moment of consciousness—when humans get to rediscover our humanity and seemingly lost values, rather than being led like eyes-cast-down  smartphone zombies by an endless cycle of novelty-driven ‘advancement’ into who knows what, at the cost of being, well, human.

The documentary 2009 We Live in Public demonstrated how being under constant scrutiny and having no sense of intimacy with oneself achieves the opposite of a transparent, open, connected community. Why? Because humans are not machines—we’re not the web, so the ideology of links and connections only works when there is an element of intimacy involved.

What is intimacy? I don’t have the answer. I have my answer but I think that’s the point, everyone has to pause for a moment, break away from their screens and devices and ponder what intimacy means to them.

For me it’s having thoughts that I cherish and share with myself alone, not the whole www.orld. The purity of a thought or idea changes when we believe (if even falsely) that we’re being watched or listened to. Right now, even though there’s probably only one person reading this (I love you, Mum!), the process of writing feels tainted, less real than it might feel if I was scribbling something in an old-school offline notebook.

I, like all Londoners, live under the constant watchful eye of CCTV. There are moments, for instance waiting for a train in an underground station, when I try to find a spot on the Tube platform, which isn’t privy to this cold machine gaze. But I can’t.

Surely, there are positives of such constant surveillance: the protection of the innocent (and provision of evidence0 when a crime is taking place. the Metropolitan Police force has apparently instituted a partial programme involving waist-level video cameras to monitor arrests (surely to ensure that civil liberties and process prevail).

However, the flip side is just too dark and ugly to contemplate. So, instead of steeping myself in such gloomy Orwellian thoughts (is anyone in doubt of how ahead of his time this scribe was?!) I turn instead to more uplifting developments. I take momentarily solace in the fact that I have a right to be forgotten, that I can still run with the times and have a smartphone but ensure that my privacy is protected, and that I have a Band-Aid over my webcam.

 Note: I co-wrote and sang on a metal-punk track about privacy incursions with Oz Fox of Stryper and Mark Pontz which is headbanger version of the above :) Listen to ‘See Through You.’

My Richard Branson Interview Cover Story

Richard Branson Interview by Shana Ting Lipton

 

Back in February, I had the ‘lightning strikes’ chance to interview Richard Branson for a second time. I first met with him on-board Virgin America at the time of the then-new airline’s inaugural LA/New York flight. This go around,  on the precipice of his Virgin Galactic commercial launches, I chatted with him for a cover story for Delta Airlines’ Sky Magazine’s April 2014 issue, which is now out… Check it out below…

Richard Branson has the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he carries it as if it’s draped casually over one shoulder—befitting a man whose workday is punctuated by tennis and kite surfing on Necker, his private Caribbean island. And he will temporarily shrug off that weight when he and his children, Holly and Sam, are thrust into zero gravity at the edge of space during the inaugural launch of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo this year—making them the first private space-bound passengers in history.

After a series of delays, the press-fueled pressure is on. Such are the unpleasant side effects of trying to conquer this world and the next—from climate change to banking monopolies. “The program has taken longer than we’d expected,” the Virgin Group CEO admits dryly, “but it is rocket science, and rocket science, as we’ve discovered, is difficult.” It’s a challenge Branson is happy to take on—even for a mere 30 seconds of bobbing around in 4.5 g loads—as the long-term ramifications are vast.

Clearly, others are willing to do whatever it takes to hitch the ultimate ride as well—wheelchair-confined physicist Stephen Hawking chief among them. “[The space flight] is going to be challenging for him and for the people who go up with him,” says Branson. Environmental scientist and author James Lovelock will face his own set of hurdles going into space at 95. “He’s keeping himself as fit as he can to make sure he can enjoy it.” The list of luminaries who’ve paid the extravagant $250,000 ticket price for a chance to follow in Branson’s free-floating footsteps reads like the table of contents of an issue of Vanity Fair, which has added to the media scrutiny.

The British entrepreneur dismisses the notion that Virgin Galactic’s flights will merely be joy rides for billionaires, citing the history of the first transatlantic flights. “It cost the equivalent of $250,000 in the 1920s to fly across the Atlantic,” he says, “It was those people who could afford it who were the pioneers and enabled hundreds of millions of people to fly across the Atlantic in the years since.” The roughly 800 individuals who have bought Virgin Galactic tickets so far, concedes Branson, are “all wealthy people, but without them our program would never have gotten off the ground.” Besides which, he is already brainstorming a way in which thousands of everyday people, “cleaners, dustbin drivers, coal miners or whatever, will have a chance to go to space.” The modest goal: “to democratize space travel.”

For decades, space tourism has been positioned as the next big thing in travel—from journeys to the moon to space station hotels. Although Branson doesn’t yet have any plans to launch a trendy five star in the stars, Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America in New Mexico, designed by British starchitect Norman Foster and his team, certainly looks the part. And that’s not all: “We will be building a very sexy spaceport hotel in New Mexico next to our spaceport,” Branson divulges.

In the meantime,  a bit closer to home, Virgin will launch…
Read My Full Richard Branson Article on Delta Airlines’ Sky Magazine Website