I am a Melbourne based writer, primarily of speculative fiction. I find the writing process fascinating; the links below include examples of my work, fiction and non fiction, but also another story. How has a chapter evolved? How have places and the fictions of others informed and inspired my own. How do I research, develop ideas and turn them into narrative? Each page offers a different insight into the work and the story behind the work.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Lies, lies and more damned lies!!

WARNING, if, like me, you don't like spiders, there is a large picture of one practically popping out of the screen at the beginning of the post at this link... so beware

Ancient, venerable and decrepit creature that I am these days (though my 90+ Grandmother would undoubtedly and rightly laugh at such notions) I was born in the closing years of the 1960s. As a result I grew up in a world so different to that experienced by those now 30 and under, my memories of the 1970s and early 1980s seem like recollections of some kind of long past, rustic and naive era more in keeping with times centuries, rather than years past.
Take for example, 1980. I was twelve. There were two or three hours of childrens' TV programmes a day, no computer, console or other entertainment device in my home, and toys were limited to board games, Airfix models, Metal cast 'Dinky' car models and building activities such as Lego and Mechano. I passed my time drawing, reading, riding my bike or playing games like hide and seek with friends and neighbours, damming streams in the local woods, the cub scouts, or making models of spaceships with card board off cuts begged from the local paper factory.  Note that the limited amount of TV I was allowed to watch was the only activity that involved looking at a screen of any kind, and what was on it, was something neither I nor or anyone else other than TV programmers had any control over.
At that time, the only sources of information available to the average UK citizen were whatever could be gleaned from conversations with people around, a handful of national newspapers and perhaps one local newspaper, three television channels, none of which ran programming past Midnight, and whatever books happened to be available in the local library or bookshop. The ideas one was potentially exposed to in any given day were severely limited, and the means to explore them further, laborious and time consuming.
Today of course, there is no real division between contemporary civilisation in countries like the UK and the Internet, and the range of information available and indeed the sources of such, are practically infinite.

Infinite also, are the visions, viewpoints, styles and indeed the varying accuracy of the information available. To state the obvious, the problem today is not a lack of information, but the lack of reliable means of finding what you are looking for, and knowing whether it is something that can be trusted.  
There are many paths of exploration and argument along which to continue a post such as this, given the issues I have posed in the last paragraph. What I wanted to focus on is the issue of reliability, and one small aspect of an aspect of that vast and important subject.

Back in 1980, if someone wanted to pass on information to you, they could point you to a book or TV documentary, both of which would be fact checked at the very least by a reputable publisher or research team, or they might explain what they knew in a conversation or letter. There were rumours of course, but generally one was limited to one or two circulating in any given week or month.  
Today one's friends and family can and do pass on sometimes dozens of pieces of information a day, by forwarding an email or a post on various forms of social media. It might be a heartstring-plucking anecdote about some heroic survivor of extreme circumstances finally rewarded by uplifting, morally justifying happenstance, an exposee of wrong doing by our masters, or a lurid scare piece involving the danger of being the victim of the flesh melting bite of some new hybrid spider.

If it is a link, one has some opportunity to evaluate the reliability of the context of the originator of the piece, and perhaps determine whether it is a reputable news site or blog, or at least isn't hosted on And material such as the racist anti-Muslim propaganda a women I used to chat to in a shop started to send me, stick out like a sore thumb. Much of the information circulated on any given day however, is in the form of viral emails or Facebook posts one often has no idea the origin of, and no hope of understanding how or why someone came to produce the information in the first place. One would think most of us would treat such with some healthy scepticism or suspicion and yet time and time again I see people circulating stuff like this without take basic precautions to find out how trustworthy it is.   
A recent example was a friend who shared a post on Facebook about the lurid history, repulsive composition and shocking dangers of that 1000 foot high, tentacled horror... margarine - and the angelic, all enriching qualities of the dairy alternative. Now I had no doubt there are some disadvantages of margarine compared to butter, and I had already read that certain types contain some kind of fat that increased the risk of heart disease. But I spotted two factual errors in the post from my general knowledge at a glance. A 10 second search of the post on the web immediately uncovered evidence it was a piece with some half truths and some darn right lies and was basically a viral scare piece no different in intention than the stuff circulating about flesh mutilating spiders.

I am always curious about the origins of information, and indeed trained to evaluate and investigate information in various media by way of techniques learned in my undergraduate degree in Media Studies. I often cross check newspaper articles and things I have seen on TV or the internet before I am happy to accept them as presented in good faith and reasonably accurate. Even without that sort of intellectual curiosity and paranoia, there are various resources on the web to check this kind of stuff quickly.
Here for example is a site that, even if one might treat it with as much health scepticism as any other, is a good starting point for the most notorious of the circulating viral falsehoods And here is another

And here, for example is what one of them had to say about the margarine post.
I suppose in the final analysis, here I am being a bit of a know it all, but that is not my intention in writing a post like this. There is so much falsehood and deception going on at many different levels in the world today, much of it requiring considerable work to unmask and understand in its relevant context, it seems only polite and loving to me that we take the time to make a basic check of information we pass on to one another, so at least deception we do have control over is not an unthinking characteristic of what binds us together in our online communities.

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