Reflections on being an undergraduate in my seventies
Reflections on being an undergraduate in my seventies
In July, just one month before my seventy-third birthday, I heard that I’d been awarded my BA in History from Birkbeck, University of London. A ‘second-class upper division’ (or 2.1) to be precise. So, my student career is over. I can honestly say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience and met many really interesting people of all ages who have come from many countries to teach or learn in London. How lucky we are to live so close to such a dynamic, cosmopolitan city.
Of course, the whole learning process was disrupted by Covid. In March 2020, towards the end of my second year, teaching moved online, and stayed that way until the end of my third and final year. I know that the teaching staff moved heaven and earth to make the process of mass online learning as fruitful as they could, but it’s just not the same from the student perspective. Online learning is a solitary experience. The main thing that you miss is chatting with fellow students before and after the lecture. From the teachers’ perspective, it must be even more frustrating as the teacher has so few body language clues about how his or her message is getting across. In theory, this year’s graduates should be attending a graduation ceremony in November, but we don’t know whether that too will be forced online. I will be really disappointed if it is.
In the first year of the course, students choose to study history by period, and there are nine periods to choose from, from classical times to the twentieth century, I chose to study three periods of world history covering from 1500 to the present day. My main interest is twentieth-century history, but I also thoroughly enjoyed learning about the early modern world (from 1500 to 1789), which is of course the period when Europeans first encountered other civilisations. Spaghetti Bolognese is a quintessentially European staple, but what would it taste like without pasta - from China - or tomatoes and chilli peppers - from the Americas - or basil - from Africa? What would be left on the plate?
In return for the indigenous Americans introducing us Europeans to tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, maize, and a whole host of other food staples, we gave them horses, which they found quite useful; but we also introduced them to measles and influenza, which may have killed more than forty million of them. If that wasn’t enough, we then sent thirteen million Africans to the Americas to be enslaved, but several million of them never arrived on American shores, because the journey was so dangerous. So much modern history is about slavery and genocide that it was a great relief to choose, as one of my second-year modules, a course called ‘Being Good in the Modern Age’ which is history of altruism and morality. This course began by examining why the Enlightenment philosophers considered kindness and politeness to be important, and went on to cover, inter-alia, the campaign to abolish slavery, the campaigns of the nineteenth century feminists, and, from the twentieth century, the disability rights movement, environmentalism, and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I think that if I had to choose the course that I enjoyed the most, it would be this one.
In the third and final year I wrote my dissertation. Those of you that are already familiar with my blog will know that one of my interests is disability rights, and that I have written the life stories of my parents, both of whom were disabled by polio as young children. So, you won’t be surprised at my choice of research project, which was a study of the foundation of the British Polio Fellowship in 1939 and its work between 1939 and 1970. This charity was a self-help movement which in many ways was years ahead of its time; as most charities with this kind of ethos did not emerge until the 1960s. Writing a dissertation during various stages of lockdown is not to be recommended; the library that holds most of the relevant material for a dissertation about polio is the Wellcome Library in Central London, but at no point when I was working on this project was this library open to new readers. Other students will have had similar problems, so I guess we’re all in the same boat. Anyway, these are trivial problems compared to what many other people have had to endure during the pandemic. At least it was my final year of university that was disrupted. I feel a lot of sympathy for those eighteen-year-olds who had to endure the stress of the 2020 A-level examinations fiasco, and then go into a university hall of residence to be solely taught online. They deserved better, and it’s not the fault of the colleges that things weren’t better for them.
The question that I’m asked most often is what next? Am I interested in a master’s degree? I have to say that the answer is no. There is no government funding for the over -sixties to go further, and while there are scholarships, I think that there are many younger people who deserve them more than I do. I will carry on writing and start to update my seriously unloved and dated blog more often, starting now. But would I recommend going to Uni to other seventy-somethings. You bet I would!
|Posted on November 20, 2012 at 10:30 AM||comments (0)|
"Twitter is in constant tension between people wanting dialogue and people wanting monologue"
Posted by Scott Berkun on Twitter, 19 November 2012
In January 2011 I attended a self-publishing course. I was just about to self-publish a family memoir called "Live Eels and Grand Pianos", and I needed the course to give me ideas about how to market this book. I was told that Twitter was essential, so I logged in and joined up. I knew very little about it, most of it from hearsay. I had two conflicting ideas about Twitter.
One was that it was full of people telling each other what they'd had for breakfast and how many vodka shots they'd drank last night, but the other was that this forum had been used by protesters in Egypt and other Arab countries to convey news that would be suppressed by government controlled traditional media. I also knew about Trafigura.
In October 2009 London law firm Carter Ruck obtained an injunction barring the Guardian from reporting about its client energy and mining firm Trafigura, The injunction prevented the newspaper from reporting a parliamentary question from Paul Farrelly MP to justice secretary Jack Straw about Trafigura's activities involving the dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast. Trafigura had had to pay €152milion damages to thousands of Ivorians whose health had been damaged as a result. UK Media outlets had been unable to report on the story up until then due to persistent threats from Carter Ruck.
The Guardian simply reported that it was the subject of an injunction from a law firm it couldn't name, acting on behalf of a client it couldn't name, barring it from reporting proceedings in parliament concerning an MP who it couldn't name. Within hours the hashtags #Trafigura and #CarterRuck were all over Twitter, and Carter Ruck withdrew the injunction.
So what was Twitter? A liberating force for freedom of speech and a means where people whose voices are not normally heard could be heard, or just a mass of empty headed banality, or could it be both? I needed to find out.
I sent my first tweet in November 2010 and I've now sent about 1,000. What do I tweet about? Very occasionally I shamelessly plug the two books that I've self published, "Live Eels and Grand Pianos" and "Dotty Dorothy: The Perfect Spy". "Live Eels" is the story of my parents, Kathy and Charlie Bradford, both of whom were left seriously disabled by the Polio virus in the early years of the last century, so I needed to get some followers who may have an interest in the topics of disability rights and disability history. Somehow I stumbled on disability bloggers Sarah Ismail (@Samedifference1) and Kaliya Franklin(@BendyGirl) who have both retweeted my posts about this book, for which I thank them. I also thank them for enlightening me about the discrimination and stigma that people with disabilities face today. I am ashamed to admit that although I knew a lot about the struggles for inclusion that people of my parents generation went through in the early and middle part of the twentieth century I didn't know nearly enough about today's challenges and injustices.
I also tweet about books, writing, publishing and self-publishing, and follow several bloggers on these subjects. I particularly recommend Mick Rooney's (@Mick Rooney7777) Independent Publishing Magazine to anyone contemplating self-publishing. I follow many Guardian and Daily Telegraph journalists, and devour and usually retweet posts about the abuses of power by Rupert Murdoch's evil empire that the Leveson enquiry will pass judgement on shortly.
In the spring of this year Greenacre Writers (@GreenacreWriter) discovered me on Twitter and asked me to read from "Live Eels" at a literary festival in North London. I enjoyed that a lot, and Rosie Canning (one of Greenacre's founders) is currently campaigning against library closures in the London borough of Barnet. I am of course following this campaign on Twitter.
I find that I increasingly depend on Twitter for breaking news, and I worry that as result of these digital initiatives that there may not be any printed newspapers in a few years time. I love the online world, but I think that we would be a much impoverished society if here were no printed newspapers, magazines or books, and no high street outlets where we could browse them.
But my conclusion is that Twitter is a force for good. It does give people and causes a voice that may not otherwise be heard. I hope it's sustainable though. Twitter posted a net loss of $25.8 million on revenue of $23.8 million in the first three months of 2011, and its backers do not have unlimited resources. Let's hope it manages to build the revenues to ensure its long term survival.
For those of you who want to know more about the growth and use of Twitter, here are some facts:
1. Twitter had 400,000 tweets posted per quarter in 2007.
2. In 2008 there were only 3 million registered users and only 1.25 million tweets per day.
3. In 2009 Twitter had 8 million registered users.
4. From 8 employees in 2008 to over 400 employees in 2011.
5. Top 3 countries: US (107.7 million), Japan (29.9 million) and Brazil (33.3 million).
6. It took 3 years, 2 months and 1 day to tweet to the billionth Tweet.
7. Today it only takes one week for users to send a billion Tweets.
8. In March 2010 the average number of tweets people sent per week was 350 million. In February 2011 the average number of tweets people sent per day was 140 million.
9. The most popular Twitter user by number of followers is Lady Gaga. She has more than 18 million followers. She gains followers faster than Twitter adds new accounts.
10. When Michael Jackson died (June 25 2009) there were 456 tweets per second (a record-breaker for its time).
11. The current tweets per second record is 6,939 tweets per second. This was set 4 seconds after midnight in Japan on New Year’s Day.
12. On March 12, 2011, 572,000 new accounts were created on that one day.
13. The average number of new accounts per day created in February 2011 was 460,000.
14. The number of mobile users have increased by 182% over the past year.
15. There are an estimated 225 million users in March 2011.
16. In 2010, 25 billion tweets sent and 100 million new accounts were added on Twitter.
17. The first unassisted off-Earth Twitter message was posted from the International Space Station by NASA astronaut T. J. Creamer on 22nd January 2010.
18. 92% Reweet due to interesting content.
19. 69% decide who to follow through suggestions from their friends.
20. Twitter is ranked as one of the ten most visited websites.
21. Tweets are mostly conversational (38%) and pointless babble (40%).
22. Demographics of Twitter users: 54% female. 53% no kids. Users range from incomes of £0-30k (17%) to over £100k (30%). 41.5% are aged 18-39.
23. Twitter is approaching 500 Million Users – Estimated to reach this in 8 days, 7 hours.
24. Currently, Twitter is growing at over 1.123 million accounts per day, which amounts to more than 13 new accounts per second.
25. In the 5 years since launching it has attracted significant investment funds with an estimated total capital raising of over $1.3 billion. The most significant investment was Digital Sky Technology in August, 2010, which was at over $800 million.
26. In June 2011, it was announced that Twitter would be embedded in the new Apple mobile operating system. After the launch of the new Apple mobile iOS5 operating system, Twitter registered sign ups had increased by 300% per day.
27. 60% of new users are coming from outside the U.S.
28. 10 tweets per second mention Starbucks.
29. IBM can predict wait times at airports by crowdsourcing information from tweets. They search tweets for mentions of airports, then send an @reply to the tweeters and ask them to reply with wait times.
30. Scientists can tell with great accuracy where you are from just by the words you use in your tweets.
31. People are more inclined to Tweet something negative than positive. 80% of customer service tweets are negative.
32. Every public tweet since Twitter’s inception in March 2006 will be archived digitally at the Library of Congress. IBM plans to map every archived tweet to Wikipedia, and tag it with sentiment, to make them more digestible.
33. Twitter has been valued at $8 billion.
34. 85% of recruiters use Twitter for recruitment.
35. 81% of users follow less than 100 people.
36. 61% of all tweets are in English.
37. 5% of users create 75% of the content
38. 75% of traffic comes from outside of the Twitter interface.
39. 66% of questions asked have some commercial intent.