Backchat: Modern Living

In response Siva Vaidhyanathan’s Guardian article ‘Elon Musk is a lesson in the dangers of unchecked corporate leaders’

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In a summer characterised by Icarian misdeeds, from the loss of the Titan Submersible to the Oppenheimer biopic, the website that chronicled it all experienced its own implosion; as the platform formerly known as Twitter became X. Elon Musk’s series of operational changes – limiting user activity, verification fees, egoist rebranding of one of the internet’s most distinctive domain names – have been highlighted in Vaidhyanathan’s article as another example of reckless behaviour from a corporate leader with more cash than competence.

In my view, the collectively indignant response to Musk’s rapid, unaccountable changes, every bit the bull in the digitised china shop, highlights an issue unique to the online world: We have begun to take for granted these privately-owned sites as quasi-public services. As Vaidhyanathan points out, there have always been issues surrounding private monopoly over essential resources: Thames Water serving as a recent example, accumulating £14 billion in debt after handing out substantial dividends to shareholders, while defective infrastructure continues to jeopardise public water supply. And although the right to tweet is perhaps, perhaps, less essential than the right to water (lifeline though it is for Britain’s right-wing commentators), the internet’s unique facilitation of free-to- use, universal-access platforms better obscures the fact that, when it comes to something as disembodied as communication, there are still private actors pulling the strings.

In 2020 it was reported that 45% of British internet-users were regularly active on Twitter – the evident proliferation of social media sites means that such platforms have come to be seen as a natural and essential extension of our everyday communication. Freely accessible (at least up until this point) to everyone with an account, these private corporations have come to masquerade as havens for inalienable free expression, cementing themselves as integral to the way we communicate with each other. We have become quickly complacent that our right to tweet online is as intrinsic as our right to speak freely within the limits of the law.

When it comes to something as disembodied as communication, there are still private actors pulling the strings

But digital infrastructure, even that with as much heritage as Twitter, is transient and insecure, easily and rapidly razed and rebuilt as it changes hands. Musk’s sudden obtrusiveness, his relatively unchecked ability to limit user expression based on personal agenda (announcing ‘cisgender’ as a slur, for example) is a wake-up-call that the right to express yourself online is not fundamental – that the internet is a minefield of public entities with no enshrined or constitutional obligation to protect free speech and expression.

Navigating these freedoms online is going to be an ever-changing, contentious issue. After all, the internet constitutes unchartered waters, with acceptable behaviour determined by guidelines, terms and conditions, rather than any one country’s decree or constitution. Social responsibility, to a man with such gargantuan wealth as Musk, can become something foreign. It stands to be seen whether governments, whose security is often determined by public satisfaction and limited by set terms, or massive conglomerates, whose success only depends on demand for and effectiveness of product, pose more of a threat to our capacity for independence. One thing is clear: on the question of the genuine security of our freedom of speech online, X marks the spot.

In response to Fiona Millar’s article ‘Reform grammar schools and ditch the GCSE treadmill – here’s how Labour can fix education in England’

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Education is undoubtedly going to be one of the sticking points of the upcoming election. As we send our nation’s children to crumbling schools in a country where the educational divide grows with every exam cycle, it’s hard not to look for ways to fix a broken system. While I don’t have the answer to this question, I disagree with Fiona Millar’s suggestions. If we are struggling to keep young people motivated to stay in school up until the age of 18, why would a piece of paper, a physical baccalaureate certificate, change anything? Education comes in many forms, not just the traditional sixth- form journey. Would this then exclude those who went into apprenticeships? What about those who may have had to take years out? Would they also not receive this certification? Recognition for the extra things students participate in at school, while a nice idea, still inadvertently benefits the privileged, as extracurriculars require a degree of support (often financial) and free time. We will simply be giving people a piece of paper equivalent to their CV, a document we know has done little to increase education equality.


Education comes in many forms, not just the traditional sixth-form journey

And while the banning of grammar school’s may go some way to decrease educational inequality, it’s somewhat naive to think this will magically fix the issue. With the educational divide entrenched more and more every year, we can see that the government’s attempts to fix education through academies, free schools and selective sixth forms are not cutting it. A more thought out, levelled approach is needed; It’s time to go back to the drawing board before we follow any more rash ideas.

While I commend Millar for beginning to approach the lion’s den that is educational reform, we cannot simply stick to the old debates of the past. New radical policy is needed and is needed soon. We cannot let another generation be failed by the British education system.

In response to The Times’ Money Mentor Guide

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A new financial series from The Times has revealed exactly how our society perceives the value of money. Their survey of 1,067 UK parents of children aged between 3-18 highlights how 43% of the adults transferred pocket- money remotely and then rising to 62% once their kids hit 16. Undoubtably, it is becoming more and more common for money to be stored online. Albeit safer in some regards, what harmful habits are emerging within Gen Z and A as we enter this new lifestyle?

Paradoxically, the article reveals how 90% of parents agreed that schools should educate pupils on the value of money, yet the stats above point to how our increasingly digital habits can result in money losing its intrinsic worth. It is so easy now to fall victim to the likes of Apple Pay; tapping away care- free doesn’t quite have the same effect as parting with a crisp £10 or breaking into that new £20. This streamlined, cashless service has pushed spending spontaneity to an all-time high as we gain a physical detachment from the true value of our money.


Kids and young adults become numb to finance with their frictionless spending.

Personally, my use of cash is relatively minimal. You will find my purse filled with an array of cards with cash scarcely to be found, perhaps unless after a calendar occasion. However, physically withdrawing money would irrefutably improve some of my spending habits, particularly when it comes to online shopping. Whilst businesses can capitalise on this to the max, budgeting, cybercrime and the Highstreet are all left suffering. Similarly, kids and young adults become numb to finance with their frictionless spending. Suddenly, our psychological detachment from cash morphs it into an intangible concept.

As the first generation where digital spending is considered the “norm”, it is important to recognise how this new era comes with its baggage, although hidden behind our screens. I don’t think we can escape the looming cashless future. It’s happening, no questions. But as first-hand participants in this monetary landscape shift, we can strive to hold onto the stability paper money teaches us.

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