Porn and the internet – a thoughtful review of ‘The Butterfly Effect’ by Jon Ronson

Unusually, I am sharing a book review written on my writing blog here. Normally I keep the two blogs separate but, from time to time, I write something which I think is worth sharing on both.

Jon Ronson’s book may possibly be the most interesting and illuminating book I’ve come across in a long time. That the subject matter be about the porn industry is simply rather typical of the way I don’t back away from discussing difficult subjects which others would rather judge from afar.

In the spirit of open debate (and in union with my current articles on this site written to provoke thought) I offer this book review for your consideration. I should point out that though ‘adult issues’ are openly referred to in Ronson’s book, this is not a book of sex or porn but a book about the people behind the industry and the unseen effects that online porn has had on both individuals and society as a whole. Nevertheless, it is not advised for the easily shocked or the very young. 

Ken

The Butterfly EffectThe Butterfly Effect by Jon Ronson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I often find myself championing strange, even unpopular, causes. Prostitution, for instance, is something I’d like to see un-demonized. Not because of some perverse predilection of mine (I’ve simply never found the idea of ‘stranger sex’ appealing) but because of following the blogs of one or two ‘sex workers’ and finding there is a human and intelligent side to that work which is often dismissed by the very society which keeps these people in employment.

For that reason, when Audible (a platform I use a great deal as I can listen to a book while doing other tasks such as housework) offered me a free copy of Jon Ronson’s audio book of interviews about the rise of free internet porn, I accepted it with my interest piqued.

But even I – with my foreknowledge that the stories behind these kind of industries are interesting and rarely what you are expecting – even I was surprised by how deeply this ‘book’ affected me. There were times when I actually cried tears, and others when I was surprised by joy.

The premise of Ronson’s book is that of one man (a boy really), Fabian Thylmann, decided to get rich by giving the world free internet porn. He bought Pornhub in 2010 and, from the vast sums he made, bought up pretty much every other porn site too. In effect, Thylmann created a ‘YouTube of porn’ where anyone and everyone could download their porn videos – home ones as well as bought ones.

The ‘Butterfly effect’ of this was that the traditional porn industry was all but wiped out. Film producers making a new video would find that within weeks or months of its release it was available to watch for free on Pornhub. Ronson goes on to look at several other surprising knock-on effects of Thylmann’s legacy.

Many of the stories were touching. We are told that pornstars now have short lifespans in the traditional industry. Either they need to look like teenagers or like ‘MILFS’ (older women acting the role of ‘mom’). In between, the industry is closed to them. So the rise of the ‘bespoke’ custom-made porn industry has been the result. Now production companies make videos for fans, following scripts and fetishes desired by fans, for cash.

While, of course, much of this is kinky and pervserse, some are bizarre for more sympathetic reasons. Take, for instance, the man who wanted pornstars to set fire to his stamp collection. I won’t reveal too much, but in researching the reasons for this, Ronson uncovers not only the sad story of this one fan but those of others too. There’s some truly heart-wrenching stories here.

Other results are more complex to figure. Because of internet porn men are suffering erectile dysfunction at younger and younger ages. But at the same time, teenage pregnancies are dropping –
and for the same reasons. Is free porn then, a good thing or bad?

Oddly, I find myself asking this more than Ronson does of his interviewees. Although he presents quite a balanced view, it is to Thylmann that he puts the evidence and asks him if he feels bad or responsible for the havoc he’s wreaked on the traditional porn industry. I found myself thinking that the complaints of the porn industry are themselves hypocritical. After all, the video makers stole the market from the magazine peddlers of decades ago. I remember as a teenager being warned of the dangers of porn by evangelistic religious zealots because ‘porn makes it harder to get erections’ – long before porn was easily available in animated form. While that was propaganda, it was true to an extent though about erectile dysfunction. Thylmann’s work has merely accelerated it a little (and as he points out, this can be rectified medically and, hey! Teenage pregnancies are down!). I doubt these film makers gave much thought to the loss of income suffered by the previous generation. To an extent, all it should mean is that the industry finds other ways to generate income and shrinks until it is economically sustainable. After all, Pornhub can’t exist without porn being made. There is a balance somewhere.

What matters more to me is the spotlight Ronson throws onto society in general. There are heartrending stories of male nurses sacked, good Christian fathers committing suicide, autistic kids given virtual life sentences, and even wives doing their best to support seriously disabled husbands who are wrongly tarred with a brush that society does not deserve to wield.

At least one statistic suggests that around 40% of the UK watches porn online. Other researchers have found similar results around the world. Some suggest even higher figures. When looking at such figures, there is no longer room for disgust and condemnation of the porn industry. Instead, it is increasingly important to embrace the inevitable and appreciate that online porn is here to stay and it is acceptable to watch it if you choose to.

Perhaps the most important reason for this acceptance is that it is probably teenagers who are watching porn the most and there really is no way to prevent this happening. Nothing has changed. I used to steal my brother’s porn mags from his bedroom as a nine-year-old when he was in his late teens. My first experiences of the female body were informed by those early viewings (until our mum found them and the magazines promptly trashed). It is the same today only kids look on their phones rather than on paper. Teen sex education really occurs online.

Rather than attempt to keep them away (which will fail), it is better to teach kids to safeguard themselves -both in their online habits and in their interactions with the opposite sex. Certainly in the UK the reaction has been to both infantalise teenagers and make them responsible adults in a mix which is catastrophic and inappropriate. So now we have the absurd situation where two 17-year-olds can freely and legally engage in sex together but as soon as one sends a naked image of themselves to the other, they have broken the law by supplying porn to a ‘minor’ and face being placed on the sex offender’s register, potentially for life. They are treated both as ‘child’ and as ‘responsible adult’. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so horrific.

Similarly, the rise of crying rape and abuse as a weapon for revenge is alarming. This is not to dismiss the very real cases of abuse which occur every day but such cases will soon stop being listened to, I predict, because more and more enraged and aggrieved ex-spouses, partners and dates are seeking retribution in their upset and laying claims which ruin lives. This is especially true of teenagers and those in their early 20s. Soon, the tide will change and authorities will stop listening to genuine cases because of the wealth of false ones. I would go so far as to guesstimate that, of cases where someone claims a partner or someone known to them has raped them, around 50% of these claims are false. This is not a situation which can be allowed to continue for long.

Ronson’s book throws up the need for us to re-evaluate porn in the life of society today. Gone are the days where it was seedy men in macs buying top shelf ‘Men’s magazines’. Now it is fashionable, trendy even, and needs discussing for right and appropriate use rather than pretending it doesn’t exist.

The one thing Ronson’s book does not cover is that of the reputation that girls are forced into appearing in porn films and lead wretched lives of coercion and abuse. This is perhaps because, as his interviews show, this is the exception rather than the rule. The majority of those starring in porn movies do so because they enjoy it and choose to make money this way. In a sense, Fabian Thylmann’s legacy proves this. Gone are the days when you could become a rich and famous pornstar. It’s a struggle to make money at all and even then, only for a short few years. Yet the girls keep coming – more and more every year – and many love getting into the somewhat ‘odd’ world of the custom-made movie industry. Thus is the change in life. We all need to get used to it.

Get Ronson’s book, be challenged, be amused and be ready to have your mind blown. This is perhaps the best book I’ve listened to thus far this year.

View all my reviews

 

Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out over summer – don’t miss them! 

Sign up for Ken’s new writing project – ‘The Pukur’ – at Patreon.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com

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Posted in Book Review, Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Pukur and thoughts on the Rohingya situation

As a few of you know, last month I began a new book project using the Patreon site. I’m publishing the first (official) drafts of my novel set in Bangladesh – ‘The Pukur’ – one chapter per month to subscribers (actually, you get two, shorter, chapters for each of the first two months).

Subscription starts at just $2 per month which is pretty much as cheap as I can make it but you can subscribe for a lot more if you wish and receive extra goodies over time (such as signed copies of my book, extra stories etc).

But the real reason for doing the book this way is to raise funds specifically for various charity work projects I’m involved with (such as education for street children in Dhaka) or to continue supporting charities I’ve worked for in the past (such as LAMB, the NGO where I lived and worked in Bangladesh for five years). Earmarking funds like this allows me to raise money for flights through private means and still be able increase the amount I can give. You can view the opening pages of my Patreon page and see more details there.

The supporters on Patreon all get mid-month blog posts and video posts (the chapters are sent to them at the beginning of each month) with my thoughts about the book, Bangladesh and life.

This month I’ve just done a video log which, after a little something about the book, talks about the situation at the moment regarding the Rohingyas which has finally hit the mainstream headlines. I thought, as a one-off, I’d share this video with you guys too. I won’t normally, but I felt it important to get this out to a wider audience. I hope you’ll take the time to watch and, if you feel appropriate, to reblog, share, tweet and otherwise encourage others to watch it too. Feel free to join me on Patreon too!

Thanks guys,

Ken

 

Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out over summer – don’t miss them! 

Sign up for Ken’s new writing project – ‘The Pukur’ – at Patreon.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com

Posted in Bangladesh, politics, Racism, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Seven-year Itch

Facebook told me today that I started my first blog seven years ago today. It wasn’t this one but after a few posts the site I was using stopped working properly and I switched to WordPress. I never looked back!

I migrated all my first pieces to this site and never went back to the first one (I’m surprised anyone uses that particular ‘leading competitor’ site to be honest. Compared to WordPress it just looks really cheap). So in a sense this blog of mine has been there from the beginning of my writing career (which I guess is also seven years old then!).

It’s been a ride. I’ve gone from being a full-time classroom teacher living in Bangladesh to being a full-time writer living in the UK. I used to pay visits to my home country (UK) now I pay visits to my ‘heart country’ (Bangladesh). I was unpublished when I began and now I have two books published, a novel project on Patreon and two more books on the verge of being published! On top of that, my articles have been published all over the world, translated into various languages and there are people out there learning from numerous courses I’ve written.

I’ve made many friends through being a blogger too. I’ve even met a few as I blogged about recently. Alas, some have been relationships which have ended too. I think it’s right to accept that. I don’t believe in holding on to something that’s not meant to be; some people are meant to be ‘friends for a season’ and that’s all. Still, it’s my curse that when someone made an impact in my heart I’m going to miss them.

That might seem rather over the top or melodramatic, I don’t know, ha ha. When I started, my ‘real world’ friends and family all thought I was a bit weird making friends with people across the world who, in some cases, I’d never even seen. Now, it’s common-place. Social media has exploded and I’m guessing there’s very few of us nowadays who don’t have friends whom we’ve never met, or only met after knowing online for a while, or who simply live on the other side of the world and without it we’d never be in contact with them. There’s no doubt to me that many I’ve met online are as important in my life as those I’ve only known in the real world. It’s silly to differentiate considering often those real world people are work colleagues or former school friends – as if the randomness of those situations is somehow more ‘appropriate’ than choosing friends because you like their blogs, their tweets, the things they do on Facebook or a host of other reasons.

With that in mind, I’ve never differentiated between ‘online’ and ‘real world’. If I love you, I love you. What I say, I mean. Doesn’t matter what age, sex, occupation, status or marital status, religion, culture or country you belong to.

If you’re one of those whose been here since the beginning of those seven years, I thank you. You are valued and wanted and I’m grateful for you contribution – even if that’s just reading my ramblings! I still have the blogging itch and no matter what life has in store for my future, I suspect blogging will continue to be a special part of it. So I hope you’re still following in another seven years!

And if you’re one of those who came and went (here, or in my life) well…you’re probably not reading this anyway. But if by chance you are, the door out swings both ways. People may leave your life for a season but I’m old and haggard enough to know that sometimes they come back. The choice is yours.

All are welcome.

Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out over summer – don’t miss them! 

Sign up for Ken’s new writing project – ‘The Pukur’ – at Patreon.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com

Posted in Life, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Why we are all extremists

This article is part of a series of political and religio-sociological essays intended to provoke thought and discussion. You can find the first here.

“The myth of the age is that it is possible to hold an accurate, fact-based or reasoned objective view.”

Extremism is everywhere. It’s in our news, on our social media, we see it on our TVs and phones. It’s in our street. It’s next door to you. It’s here. It’s you.

There is a very good case to suggest that we are living in the most polarised world we’ve known for  at least the last 50 years. The irony, at least in my lifetime, is that this seems to have come out of a post-war mood of reconciliation, peace and renewed desire for mutual understanding which gripped a world devastated by fighting during the Second World War.

With so-called Islamic terrorists taking the lion’s share of the news for nearly 20 years we’ve become used to the term ‘extremist’ and its variations to the extent that I suspect primary school children could probably spell it and give a fairly accurate description. But have we actually come to a point where we have stereotyped the idea of ‘extremism’ and made it synonymous with ‘terrorism’?

Shaffer’s Equus

I remember reading a superb play by Peter Shaffer in the 80s when I was a young man. The plot follows a psychiatrist trying to uncover what made a boy poke out the eyes of several horses. The boy himself won’t talk about it. It’s a highly disturbing idea – especially as previously this same boy seemed to love horses so much. How could anyone commit such a sick crime?

Like all good plays, Equus takes us from one way of thinking to another. We find out that the love of horses is really a substitute for the desire to worship which was thwarted by the boy’s aggressive atheist father. The horses become, in effect, God. But when the boy begins to discover sexual desire in the form of the sensuous stable girl where he works, the clash of an all-seeing God and desire to commit sexual sin is too much and the boy’s mind snaps.

Interestingly, it is the psychiatrist who comes to envy the boy. He has lost his way with the bitterness of life and does believe in anything any longer. He is almost jealous of how this boy can believe with such passion.

In a sense, the boy in Equus is an extremist – his need to worship something is excessive. But so is the atheist father who refuses to countenance any (Christian) images or church-going in his house. The psychiatrist has to face his own extremism – a belief that psychiatry can help others – when he is forced to acknowledge in the final scenes that he is lying to the boy when he says ‘it will be okay’. It won’t be okay and there’s nothing he can do to help this young man. His belief in science is wrong.

“History tells us that much we take seriously today will be scorned in the future.”

The impossibility of objectivity

The myth of the age is that it is possible to hold an accurate, fact-based or reasoned objective view. We’re trained from school age to reason things, to state hypotheses and test them accordingly. Science, we’re told, is reliable and is the golden mean by which we should test everything.

In the social sciences and journalism worlds, the myth is enforced that by referencing sources and holding to key principles such as ‘primary sources’ and citing ‘reputable experts’ that you can remove bias and subjectivity. As a result, your work is ‘valid’ and useful.

But increasingly it is being recognised that the experiment to write in such ways is flawed. In fact, the guiding principle in science is not to prove anything at all but to disprove it. This is a fact which is often forgotten by scientists themselves but is the foundation for all scientific research. The aim of experiments is to find that something is false. It is an iterative process: you replace what is false with something slightly less false, and so make another step nearer to the truth.

When Rutherford and his assistants discovered that the atom is ‘mostly empty space’ he did so working with the ‘Christmas pudding’ theory of the atom which thought that the atom was a bulbous mass of neutrons and protons with electrons ‘studded’ around the outside like raisins in a round Christmas pudding. It was only through firing alpha particles at a thin gold sheet that he found that the particles go through the sheet for the vast majority of the time and only occasionally reflect off it. From this he concluded that the nucleus of an atom is actually tiny compared to the radius made by the electrons on the outside and so most of the atom is empty of particles. The Christmas pudding model, which served well enough up until then, was wrong. Quantum physics then went on to obliterate much of what was considered solid fact in the physics world and researchers in this field continue to find data which contradicts or skews what was believed before.

This is nothing to be scared of and, indeed, most cutting-edge scientists are excited by all this. Rather than a dry process of just deepening whatever is known already, the scientific world is an exciting place where tomorrow a new discovery could mean everything we thought we knew is now replaced by a new theory of how the universe really is. Such discoveries often result in new technology which couldn’t have been possible before. It’s a conundrum but most of the technology we enjoy in life today has come about even though the original inventors didn’t really understand what was going on inside. They worked with faulty theories which were close enough – but that didn’t make them right.

Similarly, in the social sciences, citing an ‘expert’ doesn’t mean you now have an inerrant viewpoint. There is nothing special about one person’s view over another. All an expert is, in the end, is someone who has managed to get published more and be listened to more loudly. That is not to dismiss such people as charlatans or fools (though from time to time it’s found that they are) but to say that their words do not have a magic power of accuracy. Indeed, the number of experts or theories which have been ‘discredited’ over time is astounding. School textbooks abound in humorous stories of the things we all believed, 200, 100, 50 or even 20 years ago and laugh at today. History tells us that much we take seriously today will be scorned in the future.

“…even moderation is a form of extremism.”

The extremism of moderation

There is no such thing then as a purely objective view; not in science nor in social science or journalism. We all work from belief systems of some sort or another. Slowly, this view is coming to be accepted in the academic world though I’m sad to see that some journalists still cling to the view that their writing is unbiased and objective. In fact, we need to be more honest and appreciate that we all come with our biases, prejudices and lenses for interpreting the world around us.

While I consider myself a moderate in almost all persuasions, even moderation is a form of extremism. If we believe that tolerance is important, that we should be free to believe whatever we wish as long as we do not impinge on the lawful pursuits and rights of others we have, de facto, denied the rights of those who do not believe the same things. This is not some vaguely convoluted philosophical argument; it impinges on the real world. The days of traditional mainstream religions being acceptable pursuits are nearly over. Christianity, in the UK, is close to effectively being outlawed if fully believed according to traditional (but no longer popular) values. More widely, if an scientific atheist view is strictly adhered to then the belief that we are just part of the animal kingdom then makes a mockery of human rights and the idea of laws. In fact there is no moral order which has a universal truth – only rules agreed on by relatively few people and enforced by a weaponised few. There is, in reality, no reason why someone cannot choose to rape, murder or declare war on others other than because a majority say they can’t.

The belief in human rights, a lawful system, protection of the innocent, the right to lead peaceful lives that do not impinge on others – all these are an extremist view which contradicts (either subtly or in full) the views of groups which do not believe the same things. They are extremist because, if you take each idea one at a time, most people on a global scale do not agree. Such laws, rules and philosophies are not followed by most. They are then, extreme.

Take homosexuality for one simple example. Accepted and lawfully practised in the West, it is a given in popular modern society that this is an acceptable and appropriate lifestyle. But in reality those who think this are still in the minority around the world. Homosexuality is illegal in many (perhaps most?) Asian and Middle Eastern countries (India briefly toyed with making it legal and then promptly rescinded the law). But even in America, UK and Europe, there are a sizable number of people who still believe it anywhere between ‘disgusting’ and ‘a sin’. Put together and you will almost certainly find less than 50% of the world considering homosexuality ‘ok’ with many believing it should be punished corporeally or even capitally. Globally then, acceptance of homosexuality is still an extreme position even though it is not as extreme as it was consider 50-100 years ago.

Taking a position

I would like to stress at this point that in bringing up a number of views and ideas here I am not insinuating that I agree or disagree with any of them. The purpose so far as been merely to argue that an objective, universally agreeable sense of truth is impossible. This has been argued for and against many times by philosophers but here I am taking a pragmatic, real-world view. In the end it boils down to this:

I cannot say that your view is any more right or wrong than mine.

Except that I can – and herein lies the crux of the matter, potentially unpalatable though it is.

I propose that I can indeed decide that my view is better than yours. I just have to be honest about the fact that I cannot justify it, quantify it, reason it or otherwise persuade you of its veracity. In the end it boils down to belief. It may be that I believe it because of a religious doctrine I follow, or because I use Greek principles of reason, or because my parents brought me up to believe in law and order or because God told me in a dream or, simply, because it suits my own needs and purposes to believe it. I may believe something which millions or even billions around the world also believe (in which case, I will probably be left in peace – for the most part – to believe it) or I may believe something which no one else believes (in which case I am likely to suffer persecution and be labelled ‘deviant’). The attitude towards my belief may vary from country to country or even region to region. In my area, for instance, I am unlikely to curry much favour if I loudly promote my positive views on immigration. If I move to London however, I am likely to find a more welcoming audience.

Like the psychiatrist off Equus, we need to acknowledge that we have no other standard by which to judge the actions of ISIS or other unpopular groups other than by our own personal belief system. But so then are members of ISIS (or any other group) at liberty to believe according to their own systems.

Does this mean I condone the actions of ISIS? No, of course not. But that’s because I follow a belief system which says that their actions are evil and I am against bigotry, prejudice and oppression of people in all forms. My view is an extremist one and not one that I can justify by calling to any universal and globally accepted truth. I believe it, and that is sufficient.

This may sound very negative and lacking in hope. But it could be very liberating. Ultimately, I do not need to be scared of what you believe. I don’t need to fear my beliefs being hurt by your beliefs. I can hold firmly to my own views and simultaneously accept yours. I can believe that you are wrong and yet remain your friend. I can accept you because I choose to without having to justify it in any way.

Instead of trying to push our views by deception – claiming evidence and reason as our assistants – we can merely explain our views and listen to those of others, always acknowledging that there is no ultimate proof, no intransigent theory, no revealed higher power which makes our view any more or any less valid than the opposing one.

And in doing so, perhaps we can take away something of the murderous urge groups and countries seem to have today to prove themselves right.

If you liked this article then please share on your own social media (tag me on twitter @DKenPowell ). Thank you!

Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out over summer – don’t miss them! 

Sign up for Ken’s new writing project – ‘The Pukur’ – at Patreon.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com

Posted in Life, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

When the Apple Junkie came to stay

Blogging was one of my very first ventures into writing. Back in 2010, when I started to pursue this as a potential career, all the best advice was: write a blog.

It was good advice. I honed my craft, spoke my thoughts, gained an audience, found my niche(s). Back then, blogging was all the rage. Millions were doing it, before the days of vlogging and before Twitter made the 140-character ‘word-bite’ popular (and a lot easier than writing articles).

Along with the advice that blogging was good practice for writers came the advice that to get an audience you need to read, follow and comment on other blogs. It was good blogging etiquette in those days to follow someone who follows you. Sure enough, I waded in, following hundreds of blogs.

My problem is that I’m a very loyal kind of chap and I tried to read everything that was posted. With some bloggers, in those heady days, posting two or three times per day it was too much. I had to cut down – especially as my writing career was truly taking off. These days, it’s a labour of love to write for my two blogs at all. The social media community has changed and blogs are no longer so popular. Those of us who continue them do so with a more professional eye, seeing them as websites rather than blogs. Indeed, most business websites I write for now use WordPress formats and work behind the scenes just like a blog. There is no difference.

One large difference in the blogging world though is that the number of likes on your posts is no longer indicative of your audience. In the early days having 2000+ bloggers following you page was a sign of prestige. Now it isn’t. The vast majority of my readers are not from the blogging world any longer but from such an assorted variety of places that I can’t keep track! Bloggers are the minority now.

Nevertheless, there are some from those early days who continue to support me and, on the whole, most of them have become firm friends. Some have come and, eventually, gone again. It is always disappointing when that happens. But others have grown into true friends well beyond the blogging platform.

Confessions of an Apple Junkie

Back in the beginning I didn’t just pick blogs willy-nilly to follow. I went for ones I would be interested in. Education, living abroad, politics, writers and, of course, Bangladesh. Some were heavy, most were deep, many touched my soul.

And then there was Confessions of an Apple Junkie

This was a totally different blog for me. This young girl, fresh from university when I started following her blog, spoke openly and intelligently but also with great humour and honesty. Forever getting into mishaps and misadventures, her posts entertained me and gave me light. She wasn’t a comedian; she wasn’t trying to be clever. It was just all about her life and the bizarre things which happen along the way.

We followed each other and regularly commented (she rarely blogs these days but still continues to follow mine and leaves lovely comments) but somewhere along the line the girl I came to call ‘Apple’ got in contact with me privately and a true friendship was born.

This girl’s real name is so secret that even I don’t know it. Well, ok, I’m lying about that – I do know! But in honour of all these years of calling her ‘Apple’ on the blog-o-sphere I will continue to call her that here.

These days, with my world largely being sat around my laptop or on my phone, everyone I get involved with comes from the virtual world. As someone who likes to ‘make it real’ as much as possible, I soon have phone calls and video chats with new friends if they live too far away to actually go and see. But even the ones further afield I keep a bucket list of intentions to go visit as soon as I can afford to.

Weirdly, Apple and I had got so used to text communication that we’ve never video chatted or spoken on the phone – not even voice messages! But as we both live in the UK, we have talked about meeting up for years.

It finally happened last week. Apple came to stay with my family and I for three nights up here in Cumbria and it was only as I opened the door to her that I realised I didn’t even know what her voice sounded like. It’s not the first time I’ve done something as mad as invite a stranger (in real life) to stay with me, but even for me I realised this was taking a risk.

She’s just a little bit bonkers…

Apple goes ‘wow!’ – a lot…

What an adventure it turned out to be.

Friendship, for me, is one of the precious jewels of life and I’ve got so used to what seems like gems eventually turning out to be worthless fakes that it’s hard to take anyone seriously any longer. But Apple proved to be a definite exception. I’ve known her so well for so many years but I was taken aback by her sense of humour and love of life. I expected some awkwardness, some compromise which is normally the case when someone invades your house. Not in this case – Apple was a member of the family by the end of the first evening. She slotted right in, accepted the chaos which is my family and brightened the place by her enthusiasm.

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Equally enthusiastic was her response to Cumbria which I, as good host, showed her around. Apple brought superb weather with her (as I write this, it has been raining solidly ever since she left!) and as a result had the perfect conditions for seeing lakes, hills, fields and beaches. She was constantly stunned, forever taking photos and saying things like “oh wow” and “how can this even be possible in this country?” I’m pretty certain the Lake District was a hit for this apple junkie!

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The last evening was spent humiliating Apple at pool (this video is a good indication of how the entire game went) which, in my family’s language, is the best way to tell someone you love them.

The down side to friendship

There is, however, a negative to all this.

In the end – all too soon – Apple left us to go back home down south. To say I felt bereaved is too strong a statement; and not possibly true seeing as I’m messaging her on my phone as I write this! But it is true to say that this house feels a lot emptier without her and is missing her bounce.

Apple has been invited back, and she has promised to come back. I hope she will and soon. It is for moments like this that I spend time online developing friendships with interesting people, hoping they will blossom into more than just casual acquaintances. The world is so bleak at times that it is the love, the friendship, the fun and the laughter we share together which makes life worth living. For three days my online world met my real world and it was a joyous moment.

But now she’s gone and the sky is, quite literally, grey outside. So what do you do when such a pain occurs?

Well, you blog about it of course because that’s what bloggers do! And while the blogging community may have changed over the years I’m still proud to be keeping this one going – spouting political opinion one moment and talking mushy about a friend the next. If nothing else, it makes life interesting – and that can’t be all that bad, can it?

 

Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out over summer – don’t miss them! 

Sign up for Ken’s new writing project – ‘The Pukur’ – at Patreon.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com

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