Stunted By Reality Just another know-it-all talking about life, business, technology, sports and music.


Frustration on Freecycle

Yes son, it is the thought that counts. But your mom would appreciate an expensive thought much more!

Like most people who go through a lot of stuff, when I heard of the idea behind Freecycle, I thought it was brilliant. Advertise any stuff you wouldn't mind giving away for free, or post a request for stuff you're looking for and anyone can offer you their own unwanted but useful items.

I signed up about a year ago after moving home because I fell into both camps. I wanted to be a giver but I could also use some stuff that I didn't need to buy brand new. Well today I'm cancelling all my subscriptions because in a year, I haven't completed one freecycle either in responding to a wanted ad or when I've wanted to pick up the stuff advertised by others.

My biggest frustration is that all the stuff is always taken. That's not a bad thing in itself of course. However, I only get to know that an item has been taken AFTER I have clicked on a posting, been forced to log into the site, and then filled out a message to the advertiser. Only when I've clicked send does the system tell me that the item is no longer available! Well, if they knew that the item isn't available, why am I forced to jump through all the hoops just to find that out?

There are other annoyances too, like

  • the huge number of 'freeloaders' who seem to use the site as a source of free stock to sell-on. A scan down the wanted ads can be disheartening, though there are of course some genuine people.
  • the huge number of emails you get (mostly of said wanted items) even when you're only getting a digest of site activity. Invariably when you come to click on an ad, the item will be taken, thus rendering all those notifications useless.
  • The broken nature of the website. You can't freely move from one group to another without signing up and logging in to each group. Groups are based on area you see, but of course most people are near enough to 2 or 3 groups and to want to join them all. There's no free movement in freecycle, because the tech is really quite outdated.
  • The fussy posters on the wanted ads. I've responded to some wanted ads only to be told that my item is not exactly what the poster is looking for. Ah, dude I'm offering you something that would suit your needs and is in good condition, for free and you still wanna be fussy about it? Man, whip your card out and go to a store!
  • (Updated) People are also pointing out that it's very common for someone not to turn up and collect items they have requested. I guess the fact that items are free, means that people can't be bothered really!

It does make you wonder whether this is more reinforcement for the idea that freemarkets (pun intended) are able to solve society's problems better than some of these utopian ideals. There are certainly a lot of moderators as a result of the disenguonous swamping the genuine. Ironically the moderator involvement on Freecycle only serves to put off the genuine people. It's as far removed as you can get from Laissez-faire, but it still lacks the order of a highly structured, social utopia which I think was being aimed for.

Even as an ardent capitalist, I still like the idea of social utopia, but I  just don't think it would work on any sort of big level. However I would have thought it would work in doing something as simple as redistributing unwanted goods. For me that hasn't turned out to be the case, and I'll be cancelling my subscription today. So long freecycle.


Zimbabwe and Africa’s children suffering from overexposure

Tonight I lost the remote control wars and paid for it by watching a documentary on BBC 4 called Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children guessed it....suffering African children. 5 specific kids living in harrowing conditions to be exact. It was quite an interesting programme though and it had decent technical production however in parts it seemed like it was scripted. For those who watched the program, I'm refering to the exchanges between Obert and his Grandma.

Personally I have a problem with programs like these because they’re all about highlighting the problems. I'm starting to find that to be counter-productive because hardly anyone doesn't know that Africa has problems. I’m not sure when this started but I’d guess that the media focus on Africa’s problems has been going on since the Ethiopian famine 25 years ago. I believe that highlighting a problem is for specific disasters like Haiti, the Indonesian tsunami, Ethiopia’s famine, Hurricane Katrina where you want to show the reality so that people respond accordingly. The on-going African tragedy, which has the world rubber-necking at our misery doesn't need this. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn't see the Africa that is frequently shown on TV with the suffering, crime, corruption, wars and all. I’m realistic enough to know that whatever prosperity we’re building in Africa we must not gloss over our problems.

My issue with all this is that these programs never highlight the solutions to the problems. I know for a fact that there are people in Africa doing something to get out of the mess they’re in as individuals. And I’m not talking about collecting aid from the agencies as this program and others never hesitate to show.

Personally, I end up feeling like the film makers are taking advantage of the situation because they are bringing nothing to the party. Or funeral in this case. We’re no wiser in watching some of these programs except that we now know the name of a particular African who’s suffering. I fail to see how that helps except to feed stereotypes and act as some sort of CV padding for the likes of Xoliswa Sithole, who produced the program. No doubt awards will be forthcoming for ‘braving the conditions’ and ‘daring to show the reality of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.’ I’m not fooled by this and if it was a beer (something that I have expertise on) I’d call it a chemical beer. One made with no real imagination.

By highlighting the solutions, filmmakers could give us viewers the call to action we frequently need to do something. I know I’m not the only one who sees an initiative and thinks ‘Wow, that’s a good idea. I wonder if we could do something similar in my rural area?’

As an example I read a blog called AfriGadget, which shows some of the ingenious ways Africans overcome their problems with improvised gadgets. What’s impressive about it is the number of readers that feel compelled to do something upon seeing some of these solutions. I’m talking about stuff like giving advice, replicating the gadgets and donating materials. That is because it’s not all about donating money. Not every problem in Africa needs money to be overcome. The media could play their part by highlighting what’s being done and how. That knowledge needs to find its way to other suffering Africans; and the only way it can do that is if those of us watching these programs are informed.

The irony is that if it really is all about showing a skinny African on TV, you don’t lose anything by showing us how others in Africa are overcoming their situations at the end of the program. The TV network gets their skinny African. We see some solutions. Problem solved!

Our code says we can only film but not interfere. So sorry, but if you're dying of thirst we'll just have to keep the camera rolling.

UPDATE: A year later on the 17th of March 2011, the program was screened again with an update on the situation of the 5 kids featured in the program. The 2 girls lost their eventually lost their dad to AIDS.

However all are now in education and cared for as a result of benefactors who came forth after the program was screened. Help is now being administered by local organisations and all the children are well. I feel glad knowing that these kids' situations have improved a lot.

Despite that I feel even more vindicated on the opinions mentioned above. Specifically the decision to highlight Zimbabwe's problems on a national and international level, whilst only offering the experiences of 5 children as evidence of those bigger issues.

The program still offered no facts, figures or trends and I personally feel that the harrowing stories of the 5 featured kids has been used as emotional bait that even now does not result in solutions to the greater problems of African children.


The gap between rich and poor doesn’t matter

The gap between rich and poor

There has been a lot made recently about the gap between rich and poor getting bigger. In the UK, the opposition Conservatives blame Labour who have been in power since May 1997. Labour of course blames the Tories saying this is one of the legacies they inherited. Specifically they blame Margaret Thatcher, that bastion of evil, the wicked witch of the west. Their words not mine. OK I'm paraphrasing here but those may as well be the words they use seeing as Mrs Thatcher is blamed for pretty much everything that has gone wrong in the UK since 1980. Considering that she hasn't been in power since 1990, you'd have to say her powers of destruction would be up there with the Dick Dastardly, Lex Luthor and all other super-villains rolled into one.

Funnily enough plenty of research will support both arguments, but my thinking is that the premise doesn't matter at all! Why should society care about the gap between the rich and poor when in fact we should only concern ourselves with the poor?

I believe that it's the level of poverty in our society that really should be the focus of government and by extension the society itself. If opportunities are made available to the poor (I don't mean benefits and welfare!) and our leaders are able to mobilise society to reach for those opportunities by being aspirational, then I think we will be in a better place.

I know that others also rail against aspiration and say it's overrated. That's correct if by aspiration you mean getting the cars, bling, flat-screen TVs and Armani jeans. No my friends. Wanting to get those things is NOT aspiration. That's just being materialist. Aspiration is when a person wants to make a lasting difference to their WAY of life, which results in material benefits being a by-product of the hard work that's been put in and the success it brings. As one commenter put it in the article linked to above

If the top of society becomes too rich, (which I don't think there is such a thing) then that's not a bad thing. What matters is how poor the rest are and whether or not the rich do not take advantage of them. Should you care that Richard Branson has x billion in the bank when you and your wife have a combined income of 40,000 per yr, your kids go to a decent school and providing they work hard they can make it through university? That would be just stupid right? It's bordering on envy, and that's pretty much where this whole debate on the gap between rich and poor seems to lead to.

Coincidentally university education, which is one of the traditional means for aspiring working class kids to uplift themselves, has been made way more expensive by the self-appointed working class party. Labour. It's ridiculous to blame the Tories for the society gap which supposedly increased more during the 80's because Thatcher brought this country up to date economy-wise. By spoon feeding the poor Labour has stagnated the living conditions of the bottom 10% which I believe is the true crime. I won't go into that debate too much right now, but I believe Labour (and the Tories when they get in) should just concentrate on providing opportunities to the poor and making the conditions that will enable us to help ourselves.

If the rich get richer during that time, I couldn't care less. And that is why I don't begrudge the bankers, footballers and other high earners. Just so long as you all can be a banker, doctor, footballer or MP, had you wanted and been able to.