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Jane McCallion’s shameful secret

7 Jan

I have a shameful secret.

I buy books almost compulsively, but read so infrequently that soon they will outnumber the books I own that I have read. It’s true.

See what I mean?

So, in 2017, Ive decided to try and rectify this situation. First: stop buying books. Seriously. Second: take stock of the books I do have and try to read all of them over the course of the year.

The list below is the list of shame. It’s organised thematically (fiction, essays, classical literature, science, management, general non-fiction, technology/robots and the future of work, feminist literature), but not necessarily in the order I will read them. That, I’m going to leave up to Twitter (after all, this was originally a blog about the use and misuse of social media!) If you want to help me and don’t already follow me, I’m @janemccallion.

I also intend to write brief reviews of the books after I’ve read them, so stay tuned for that. Now, without further ado:

The List


  • Maddaddam
  • Origin
  • Space
  • Time
  • The Circle
  • Arrival
  • Dracula
  • Our Friends from Frolix 8
  • Foundation and Empire
  • Second Foundation
  • Dune
  • Ficciones
  • Les Belles Images
  • Master and Margarita
  • Asterix Chez Les Pictes


  • The Collapse of Complex Societies
  • Art of the Soluble
  • Retour au Meilleur des Mondes (Brave New World Revisited)
  • The Mind’s Eye
  • Seeing Voices
  • Netymology
  • After Babel
  • The Secret Life of Words
  • La Voz Dormida
  • The Tanner’s Figure

Classical Literature

  • Utopia
  • The Republic
  • The Odyssey


  • Question Everything
  • Why are Orangutans orange?
  • Computing with Quantum Cats


  • The Art of War
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People

General Non-Fiction

  • Eyewitness to History
  • Dial M for Murdoch
  • Googled
  • Join Me
  • The Life Changing Magic of Tidying

Technology, robots and the future of work

  • Our Work Here is Done
  • The Rise of the Robots
  • The Rise of the Humans
  • Postcapitalism
  • Society’s Genome

Feminist literature

  • Living Dolls
  • Moranthology
  • Men Explain Things to Me


And there you have it – the 47-book long list of shame. For reference, the one I’ve had the longest is Dracula – I was meant to read it for AS-Level English Literature and, er, well I didn’t.

As each book is completed, I’ll cross it off the list. Here’s to a more well-read me!



14 Aug

A week ago yesterday, Tottenham in North London erupted into violence after the shooting of local man called Mark Duggan by armed police. That’s really all there is to say about that at the moment, as everything else is totally confused, but that event can be pointed to as the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. The riots then spread the following night to Brixton in South London and Enfield and Wood Green in North London. On Monday, we had Croydon, Ealing and Enfield again, with the riots spreading to other areas of England on Tuesday. There is a lot of information elsewhere about the riots, including in depth analysis and coverage and I will put some links on the resources page. Because what I want to talk about it the role of social media.

There must be some very sore knees in Westminster this week with all the knee-jerk reactions going on and what has once again been shown in stark relief is how people in power not only don’t understand, but are scared of new technology (in the broadest sense of the word). Lots of people have been expressing ideas that go something along the lines of “during a social disturbance, all modes of communication need to be shut down.” There was a lot of this kind of talk very early on, but the person who has really got it in the neck is MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire Louise Mensch, who called for the shutting down of Twitter during civil unrest. The irony of the fact that she did this on Twitter was not lost on anyone and she received a torrent of tweets lambasting her for it.

When people make statements like this, they reveal two things about themselves: 1) they are scared of new media 2) they don’t understand how it works.

So the rioters were apparently organising through an internal messaging service offered through BlackBerry phones, creatively named BlackBerry Messenger. This therefore means that all people using any ‘social media service’ during civil unrest are doing so for the purposes of evil? I find it slightly odd to hear a messaging service being called social media, for a start, but I’ll roll with it. It does seem to have been an issue, although how much of an issue I don’t know, however it doesn’t mean all social media is bad or that shutting them down will be a solution. It’s still as easy to text or call so short of shutting down all communications networks (a la China, Libya, Syria, Iran etc etc etc) you are not going to overcome this problem.

Knee-jerk reactions like this also overlook what are really quite obvious facts: Rioting has existed since time immemorial and can continue without new technology. However, before social media it would have been extremely difficult to organise such a large number of people who don’t know each other into spontaneous acts of community minded-ness such as the ‘broom army’ who helped to clean up the damage done in Clapham. Social media helped people to contact their friends and families in the riot hit areas to check they were ok. And without social media we wouldn’t have the video of Pauline Pearce, the Hackney grandmother filmed chastising the rioters right in the eye of the storm.

Nor would there be footage of the young Malaysian student, Asyraf Haziq, being mugged after being seriously assaulted (you may not think this is a particularly good thing, but it would have happened, video or not. The video helped to galvanise the criminal justice system into finding and prosecuting the guy who did it.)

This is what the majority of people were using social media for – how is any of it a bad thing?

So onto my second point, which can be reduced down to “that’s not how it works!”. Louise Mensch suggested pulling down Twitter for maintenance during the riots, seemingly ignorant of the fact that Twitter is a world wide service. If you pull it down for one country, you pull it down for everyone. Same goes for Facebook. Do you really see either service doing that for the sake of a couple of boroughs in London? They are commercial entities after all. There are also not the only ways of spreading information online – There are forums, more long-standing popular messaging services (AIM and MSN are two examples off the top of my head), IRC services, other social networking sites, message/image boards, the list goes on and on. The only way to even attempt to get round this is to shut down the internet all over the country (which is not easy, not to mention undemocratic) and, really, shut down the whole telecommunications network of the country to stop messages being send through mobile phones.

Anyone reading this can probably see the first problem here: It’s a lot harder to call the emergency services if the phones have been cut off. But also, the internet was vital for spreading good information, for keeping people up to date with what was happening and was even used by the police to do both of these things. To my mind, the good outweighs the bad. Yes, there were rumours going round, particularly on Monday and Tuesday, that there were riots going on in areas where there were no problems (riot in Milton Keynes was probably my favourite), but the majority of information was good and I was able to confirm/deny rumours simply by asking the twittersphere.

So before we all go bashing our knees out over ‘OMG NEW STUFF WE DON’T REALLY UNDERSTAND AND YOUNG PEOPLE!!’, lets step back, maybe have an anti-riot cup of tea and look at the bigger picture.

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