Facebook makes you miserable…

I came across this item a few days ago – the hardly surprising revelation that lurking around on Facebook makes you miserable.  Although ‘lurking’ – looking at social media without interacting with anyone – is specifically mentioned, social media in general get’s a bit of a hammering.

This isn’t anything new, of course – I remember some years ago some studies being published that suggested that people got depressed when looking at the social media – particularly Facebook – feeds of their friends who always seemed to be telling us all about their wonderful lives featuring beautiful people in beautiful places doing exciting and fascinating things with and to each other.

Of course, most of these feeds were actually less than 100% accurate, with people cherry picking their lives to put up a good image, or even lying their pants off.  Whatever else, social media doesn’t seem to always induce truth-telling!

I’ve never been able to understand why people tell porkies on their social media feeds.  If you’re trying to impress people who know you more than a little, then surely those folks know when you’re stretching the truth.  And if you’re trying to impress people who don’t know you very well, why bother?

“Researchers warn of envy and a “deterioration of mood” from spending too long looking at other people’s social media stories, induced by “unrealistic social comparisons”.

The funny thing is that I KNOW all this, but even I fall prey to it.  If I’m feeling a bit down, a bit lost, a bit ‘Meh’ and I see someone on Facebook who appears to ‘have it all together’ I have to say that I get envious and I get that deterioration of mood. I know in my head that everyone has their own problems to deal with, and that a story or photo on Facebook is very much a snapshot of an instant in that person’s life, but it still sometimes gets to me.

I think I agree with the other findings of the researchers “Actively engaging in conversation and connecting with people on social media seems to be a much more positive experience,” It’s only when you start to engage with people that you do find out whether their lives are as ‘picture perfect’ as they appear to be or whether you just caught them on a very good day.  Or, who knows, whether they are lying narcissists after all.

There’s a couple of pictures of me out there where I appear to be (for me) in ‘party animal’ mode.  What folks don’t know (or many don’t know) is that those pictures were taken of me at a time in my life when I was under the hammer somewhat, and that ‘shit was going down’ in my life that I hadn’t seen fit to share on social media. I do wonder how many other pictures and posts we see from people who appear to be having a perfect life (compared to ours) are taken when things aren’t good at all?

There’s a book called ‘Survivors of Steel City’ about people in Sheffield, written by psychologist Geoff Beattie, and in it there’s a story of a guy who drove the top of the range cars, was seen in the top night-spots, dressed immaculately.  However, this was his ‘weekend persona’ – the rest of the time he live din a flat on a council estate, the car was hired, and the weekend club life was the total high-spot of his week.  I guess that that shows that there is nothing new under the sun – had social media been around back then we can only imagine his posts!

One solution to the angst produced by social media suggested by the researchers was to take a week off social media every now and agan.  I can say that this works; every now and again I take a time out and it resets my attitude and my online bull-shit detector.

In the meantime, can I interest you in some possibly faked up photos of me ski-ing down the Eiger accompanied by a multitude of bkini clad beautiful people?




When unfriending is the friendly thing to do

I’m not a great social media junkie; I think I have a Tumblr account, somewhere.  I don’t have an Instagram account or use Reddit, and whilst Blackberry Messenger is (apparently) installed and available on my Blackberry I don’t have anyone to talk to on it except charming young ladies who seem to be short of friends and clothes.

I DO, however, use Facebook extensively, and to a lesser degree Twitter.

The rules of the game for me is that Twitter is for following companies, folks I do business with, magazines, websites, etc. Anyone or anything that I’m interested in but wouldn’t necessarily want to discuss my favorite films, the weird dream I had last night, politics or religion. I.e. – contacts, colleagues and comrades.

Now Facebook is rather different – that’s family and friends and some friends of friends – on the whole people that I care about in terms of their day to day lives – their ups, downs, successes and failures.  Folks who at some level or another I like or love, and who I’d happily spend time with in the pub or around the dinner table. Facebook is also where I am who I am – the unadulterated me. You’ll get me on bad days, good days, I’ll talk about cats, blog posts, state of the garden, food, my faith, and occasionally my politics. I’ll bitch about work, go ga-ga over a new TV show, share cat videos and generally project an online presence that, for better or worse, is similar to what folks get from me on a daily basis.

Facebook is, for me, the world of and according to, Joe.

Every now and again I do Facebook Purges.  These may sound quite Stalinist, and I guess at one level they are. I’m getting rid of folks who no longer belong in the filtered society of my Facebook friends list.  I’ve read all the articles about creating closed worlds of people that you agree with, and the problems that that can cause when interacting with wider society.

And I’m not bothered. The different view points I get from Twitter or trips to discussion boards.

Facebook is where I don’t mind my views being challenged, but I expect the challenging to be in a respectful way.  Facebook is my online living room; I don’t mind intense discussions around the dinner table at home; I would object if someone came in and started ranting at me for my politics or religious views.  In fact, I’d not expect such people to come and visit me at all if that was all they were going to do….they’d come over rather like the bods on the High Street with the placards proclaiming that the Second Coming is nigh and that Socialist Worker is the answer to everything.

Being a God-bothering man means that I will and I expect to get my faith questioned; I don’t proselytise too much on Facebook, and I think that most folks I know respect my views (though they may disagree with my belief in sky-pixies).  My political views are quite a hotch-potch, though, and this has caused increasing amounts of friction, especially with regard to Brexit.

The automatic response of some folks that everyone who voted to leave the EU was a racist bigot was quite hurtful – I’m a leaver and can walk and breathe at the same time, don’t drag my knuckles, and don’t believe that ‘they should all go home’.  I believe in giving home to genuine refugees. I also believe that we should have some degree of control of borders, and that international trade deals are not always good. And that building in a transnational super state in Europe may not be the best way to world peace.

Some folks I know have debated these issues with me and we’ve agreed to disagree. I may have moved closer to them, they may have moved closer to me. Others just called me names and I’m afraid I unfriended them.

And that was probably the kindest thing to do; unfriend on Facebook, keep on Twitter, keep contact to some degree in the ‘real world’ if necessary but avoid that risk of either person saying something that they will regret online in the heat of the moment.

At the moment another purge is in the offing; there are some folks who I rarely seem to engage with on Facebook and all I see from them are shared statements – often politics of one sort or another – or anti-faith posts of varying types.  Nothing ‘original’, lots of viral stuff.  It feels like having the folks with the ‘Jesus is nigh’ and ‘Socialist Worker’ placards simply turning up at your house and standing in the living room, waving the placards and shouting slogans.

No thanks.

Come and be my friend when you have something more to offer me than slogans.


Dandelion Breaks and how to avoid them

I have always been a great fan of Berke Breathed’s cartoon strip ‘Bloom County’. For those of you whose life is as yet incomplete, lacking reporting from the strange world of Bloom County, I refer you to https://www.facebook.com/berkeleybreathed/ where the current ongoing daily adventures of the characters can be found.

Originally Bloom County stopped being published in 1989 or thereabouts, and was reactivated in 2015, and details the adventures of, amongst other characters, a penguin called Opus, a dodgy, sleazy lawyer called Steve and a monster-packed anxiety closet.

But for me, the most important thing to come from Bloom County was the concept of the ‘Dandelion Break’.  When life became too intense for Opus, he would decamp to the top of a local ‘grassy knoll’ and sit among the dandelions for a while until he gained his composure.  Here’s the strip in which I first saw the concept used…


I doubt a month goes by without me resorting to a virtual dandelion break of some sort.  In fact, with my inability at gardening I can, if needed, indulge in a real life dandelion break for several months of the year by simply going in to my back garden.

What’s lovely about this particular script is that whilst the details in that first panel have changed, the course of Opus to resolve the anxiety is still valid today…turn off the tech.  For those of us old enough to have been around the first time, the list of news stories being broadcast is a litany of anxiety from the 1980s – the old Soviet Union, teh Lebanon, Central America, Northern Ireland, the Falklands – the great Cold War, Post-Imperial, Contra-Irangate hotch-potch of issues that used to give the rolling TV news consuming folks in the world ulcers.

Today it’s Trump, ISIS, the Middle East, the Baltic region, Brexit, climate change, fascism, xenophobia, homophobia…you get the picture.  But today we’re equally – if not more – likely to get our drip-feed of anxiety inducing horror through our social media feed as we are through Sky News or CNN. We tool rolling news and rolled it up and put it in our pocket on our phones.

I was again reminded of this in recent months when I’ve felt the urge for the Dandelion Break growing – not particularly in me, but in lots of people around me and people I know through social media. I recently saw a comment on my Facebook feed to the effect that the person concerned was incredibly depressed to the point of crippling anxiety by the state of the world, and another comment from a gentleman being interviewed:

“When I look to the past I get depressed, when I look to the future I get scared.”

I think I’ll be returning to that particular story on another occasion.

There is certainly enough to make so many people take dandelion breaks that the whole of Bloom County’s grassy knolls would be full of anxiety crippled folks sitting and meditating on the beauty of nature. Everyone has to find their own version of the Dandelion Break to save their sanity…or do we?

Whilst loving the concept, I’ve managed to cut down my need for Dandelion Breaks caused by the external events in the world by simply not immersing myself in the day to day stream of ‘world news’ stories that buffet us.

I turn off the tech.

I’ve chosen instead to put myself on a strict diet of ‘catch the headlines if they’re passing by’ and focus on things closer to home – family, cats, friends, work, church. I strengthen my relationships with people around me; I look after my own community and my job and my church. I guard my soul, and hopefully support the souls of others.

As I said on Facebook the other day:

“I catch the headlines online and then that’s it. If WW3 breaks out I’ll know when I see a big flash of light and hear the local ‘Comic Book Guy’ say ‘I have wasted my life.’

Being aware of the weight and tumult of the world when we’re unable to prevent it is a form of torture; I prefer to work locally and try to make things better that I can make better.”

We all have circles of action – the world around us in which our doing or not doing something has immediate and lasting action.  The part of our lives where we can do something to reduce our anxieties in a practical manner.  Then we have circles of influence – we might argue a point, make a decision and communicate and delegate action to be done – the part of the world where we don’t necessarily have that direct impact on the world but we stand a fair to middling chance of influencing it.  Then we have the circle of concern – stuff ‘out there’ that we can’t realistically impact.

Right now, I’m pulling back in to my circle of action. My circles of influence and concern can, for the moment, go screw themselves.  I am not going to cripple myself and by extension my family, cats, friends, work and spiritual life by gaining sleepless night worrying myself stupid about issues I cannot influence.

I know that people will accuse me of being isolationist, uncaring, selfish – please fill in your own words here.  But I can do nothing for the world if I’m broken; and the constant, daily – no, hourly – forcing of the issues of the world over which we have so little influence in our day to day actions simply kills us.

One day, I’ll be strong enough to grow my circle of action further in to my circle of influence – to extend the area around my life where I can do things that have a direct impact on reducing my anxieties.  Until then I intend to push my existential anxieties in the my equivalent of the Bloom County anxiety closet, and use my energy on DOING stuff that benefits me and those around me – family, friends, community – rather than getting in to the depths of ‘The world sucks, it’s all pointless.’

I like having the fallback of a Dandelion Break if needed, but it will be down to earth, practical worries that sends me there.





Due Diligence….

My reading habits – OK, I tend to read everything that’s put in front of me, from books to the backs of toothpaste tubes – lead me in to all sorts of places.  As part of my daily spiritual development I often read essays / blog posts from a number of Christian websites, and today encountered the following phrase:

a diligent person must learn to be neglectful

If you’re interested, the article it came from is here.  It’s quite an eye-opener, isn’t it?  I have to say that when I read it I did a little re-take and then started thinking.

What does the word diligence mean? It’s probably one of those words which we all have a similar but slightly different meaning for.  It’s one of those old words which carries with it a hint of adult responsibility and legalism.  We speak of being diligent in our duties and responsibilities; we have phrases like ‘due diligence’ that have special meaning in law and business.  But what does the word actually mean?

The best (to me) definition I found was :

constant and earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken; persistent exertion of body or mind.

I also learned that diligence is one of the seven heavenly virtues.

I should also point out that in much of what I do I am probably less than diligent. I can be diligent when I want to be or need to be, but let’s say it’s one of those aspects of my character that is still under development and, given that I’m now 55 years old, is likely to continue to be a work in progress.

To some degree I guess that if we do what we plan to do we’re all capable of being diligent.  Constant and genuine effort, exerting the body and mind over time and repeatedly.  The ‘persistent’ part of that definition is probably where I fall down – I’m usually capable of being diligent for a while but then what I call the ‘Oooh….squirrel’ moment occurs when I get distracted. Within this definition is also the idea of ‘focus’ – keeping at it, not being distracted by those squirrels or your phone or your social media feeds.

And then we have that phrase I found earlier this morning :

a diligent person must learn to be neglectful

How does this all gel together?

I need to be neglectful of my social media when I’m being diligent about doing something else.  I need to be neglectful of those distractions. I need to be neglectful of the niggling worries and anxieties that I may have brought to the desk with me when I started to write this piece so that I may be best able to exercise that ‘constant and earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken’.

I’m currently attempting to be diligent with my writing – I’ve sent a time in my diary for each day at which point I will do 30 minutes of writing.  It’s a test of my own self-discipline and a desire to get creating again after some years of neglect. The diligence I’m exhibiting has positive behaviours for me to engage in – a set time, set place, stay there writing until the 30 minutes is up.  And it has things to ignore – or neglect – no social media, no faffing about getting tea or going to the loo, ignore the day job, ignore the money worries.

I think that being diligent involves a picking up and a laying down of things. The word diligence has a weight about it – perhaps it’s worth regarding it as a habit that can be practiced for and hopefully attained, at least to start with in small doses around certain aspects of our lives.  Being diligent in all we do would be great but I think for me, right now, un-achievable.  But if I can exhibit diligence in 30 minutes of writing here at my desk, I can also exhibit diligence in how I answer my emails at work, how I approach my daily errands, how I find new work. As the article I read pointed out, there’s a scriptural take on diligence which I also need to take on board!

Maybe ‘neglectful diligence’ is something we can all practice under a less loaded name.  Perhaps it’s the same as ‘focus’.

And on that, I need to diligently save this article and write for another 10 minutes.




As always, late to the picnic, but I recently encountered the acronymn FOMO. It’s not a new type of washing powder, but short for Fear Of Missing Out.  It’s defined in Wikipedia as :

Fear of missing out or FoMO is “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”. This social angst is characterized by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”.

Some commentators and researchers have laid the blame for FOMO firmly at the door of social media – http://time.com/4358140/overcome-fomo/ – and I think that they’re probably spot on the money. I know from my own experiences that it’s easy to portray a totally different lifestyle on Facebook than actually happens.  One gets to be able to interpret the status posts you sometimes see : “Another Saturday evening partying hard.” translates to “After watching Strictly I went out but couldn’t get in any clubs. I ended up drowning my sorrows sitting on the kerb outside the cheap off-license”

I’ve been lucky – I think I’ve a bunch of friends on facebook who put over quite an accurate view of the world they inhabit.  Maybe they’re all as ‘stay at home’ as I am, or maybe they’re mature enough to not have to post every aspect of their lives online to try and create envy.

It started me thinking about whether a similar phenomenon existed when I was a teenager and a young adult, and I THINK that it probably did.

It was the Monday morning debrief, when you got together with friends and colleagues and actually talked about the weekend just gone.

It was the stories you told when you met friends about what you did the last time you were out without them – often exaggerated, frequently for comic effect, occasionally to big yourself up.  The concept of ‘what happens in Vegas (or more likely Skegness) stays in Vegas was not stated; discretion (at least amongst my friends) seemed to be expected.

I think it’s safe to say that FOMO doesn’t bother me anymore; I think it did once upon a time, and even now there are the occasional times when I see a social media post and think ‘You could have invited me’ or ‘I wish I’d been there’. I have seen posts where people are doing something of a ‘party hop’ to ensure that they get to multiple events that are taking place at the same time – definitely the ultimate in FOMO generated behaviour!

No, I think as an older man I’ve noticed a new source of angst in recent years, but one that I think I can keep under control.  And it’s probably as old as the hills, in one form or another – FOHMO.

Fear Of Having Missed Out – that feeling you get when you see younger folks that you know taking part in social activities that are now past you due to your age, or that you’d have loved to have done when you were that age but that didn’t actually exist!  I think it’s related to the things that lead to mid-life crises, which are never good to have.

FOMO and FOHMO are both polite ways of saying ‘envy’ – the difference is that FOHMO is you being envious of things and situations you can never have; FOMO has within it the possibility that by keeping in touch, keeping watching the statuses, hopping from event to event you can become one of the ‘in crowd’, the social elite of your world.  FOHMO has within it the past tense; it’s gone, that’s it. You can break yourself against it but the bottom line is that if you suffer from FOHMO you’re on a hiding to nothing as you’re basically railing against lost time – and hence your age.

My name is Joe; I’m an occasional sufferer from FOHMO; I hope to soon grow out of it!

Hope springs eternal…

One of my favourite films is ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. There are a number of reasons for this – one is that I’m a big fan of the novella it’s based on – ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’ by Stephen King.

The story was originally published in a book of 4 stories called ‘Different Seasons’. Each story had a subtitle based on a season.  If you’re interested, the other stories were ‘Apt Pupil’ – subtitled ‘Summer of Corruption’, ‘The Body’ – eventually filmed as ‘Stand By Me’, with the subtitle ‘Fall from Innocence’ and the final story was ‘the Breathing Method’, subtitled ‘A Winter’s Tale.

And ‘Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption’?  That was the story for spring, with the subtitle ‘Hope Springs Eternal’.  And that is another reason why I love this film – because it is about hope in a major way. Indeed, one of my favourite quotations about hope comes from this film:

“hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

I’m a Christian, and in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, there’s the lovely line ‘These three remain; faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’.  Well, I sometimes beg to disagree with Paul – sometimes I think the greatest thing we can have is hope, especially in times like the ones we’re living through right now.

This is the closest thing you’ll get from me to a comment about the Paris terror attacks.  I’m not a soldier, not an intelligence operative, policeman, counter-insurgency specialist or witness. Anything I say about the attacks would be second hand – gleaned from mainstream or social media – and I have no answers.

I want to comment more about the reaction of people; I think it was barely 24 hours after the attacks when someone pointed me at a video someone had put together as to why the whole thing was somehow related to the Illuminati and the Knights Templars. (King Phillip IV of France suppressed the Templars – to whom he owed money – on Friday 13th October 1307)  As Saturday unfolded, I was regaled with ‘the truth’ from all and sundry on the wilder regions of social media – it was an inside job, it was the Jews / CIA / NSA / Boy Scouts (one of those was made up…), it was fault of the refugees in Calais, like Charlie Hebdot the attacks were stage managed (I assume the dead bodies are all some sort of dummies, or is the french government now slaughtering it’s own people?) There’s also the expected reaction from the bigots of ‘Throw out all the refugees and close the borders’, which is interestingly counterpointed by the conspiracy theorists with ‘Ahhh…the EU WANTS the refugees coming in to allow them to blame them for terrorist attacks and hence bring in more totalitarian measures…’  Oh, and it’s all been done to start WW3.

My take on this whole thing right now is that people are dead – and this week it’s been Beirut and Baghdad as well (whether those attacks were part of the same conspiracy or not I don’t know)  – and that the rest of us need to have some sort of hope that things will get better.  Does the whole conspiracy thing – with it’s endless proselytizing of unproveable ‘truths’ – give hope to anyone? I don’t think it does.  I’ve written on this blog before about this issue – 3 years ago – and it’s sad that nothing changes – here’s the previous posts, and I don’t intend to re-hash my thinking….

Oops Apocalypse – or get a fricking grip
Whoops! No Apocalypse!
Seven of Nine and the Illuminati

I think that it causes despair. I think the active conspiracy theorists are at best overly imaginative or suffering from problems with fact finding and elucidating cause and effect. At worst they’re just plain evil, and a major problem.  There are undoubtedly some conspiracies around – but sometimes, most of the time, Occam’s Razor Rules.

A friend put it well today “the thoughts and attitudes of people that I like and love even more scarey than the awful things that are happening in the world“.  When folks you regard as good, intelligent people start spouting this crap, or start becoming bigoted fascists, or start losing their common humanity – what do you do?

On Facebook today I posted:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rogers

Today is a day to be a helper for humanity. Be compassionate, hug your friends, bury a few grudges, share food with family, pray, meditate, kill your hate.

Be good to yourself. I’m engaging with the world for a while as social media is going to be full of anger, hate, conspiracy theories and bigots, and I just don’t need that right now.


I think I should have added…be a hoper. Keep that good thing alive. Don’t succumb to despair.

This morning as I pondered this stuff, I looked out of my study window and to my great pleasure saw a rainbow arcing across the sky.  That was a hopeful sign.


The Ring of Gyges and the cat’s backside


The Ring of Gyges is a magic ring discussed by the philosopher Plato in his Republic. It granted the wearer the gift of invisibility, and was used by plato to explore what would happen if an intelligent,  moral and upstanding man were to be given this gift.  After all, he’d be able to go anywhere, do anything, with the absolute minimum risk of being caught. Would such a man be able to stay morally and ethically upstanding, or would his morality stretch as far as “I can’t get caught, therefore it’s party time!”

In other words – would such a ‘gift’ corrupt even the most upright citizen.

Sounds familiar? Well, HG Wells’ ‘The Invisible Man’ certainly features this idea, and it’s been suggested that the ‘One Ring’ in The Lord of the Rings is a more forceful version of the Ring of Gyges – one that actually corrupts the wearer rather than allows the wearer to corrupt themselves.

I started writing this post – OK, I wrote the title – about 3 years ago, back in 2012, just before I fell away from blogging. Back then I was pondering whether the relative anonymity of the Internet was acting like a Ring of Gyges that was available to anyone online who chose to operate behind an anonymous account or an alias. At the time I was still recovering from spending a few years as Admin of an online forum with a few folks wearing such rings and acting like idiots.

What’s surprised me in the meantime – and what triggered me to finally write this post – was that it’s now possible to see people being total arses under their own names, often with a photo visible! Online anonymity in some places has fallen by the wayside, and I have to say that I expected people to behave more like they would in ‘face to face’ discussions.  It’s a sobering experience to look through the posts in discussion threads on Facebook – where real names are at least in principle required – and see just how belligerent, aggressive, and abusive some people are, even under their own names.

I have to say that I’ve been surprised. I’ve always used my own name when publishing online; part of this is that ‘once a writer, always a writer’, and I just love seeing my name out there, but there’s also an element of removing the temptation to behave badly!

So…is the Ring of Gyges an outmoded concept? Are people just more shameless? Do folks just not care when they’re being badly behaved and everyone can ‘name and shame’ them for it?

Or, is it what might be called the ‘cat’s backside’ syndrome? Just after we adopted our cat Jarvis he was quite nervous for a few days, and would try and hide in various places around the house.  Unfortunately, his approach to hiding was to hide his head so he couldn’t see me, whilst leaving his backside out in the open.  Not a cunning plan….

Maybe all these folks just think that because they can’t see us, we can’t see them?  And if so, just how dumb are they?

Denver and the progressive knee jerk point-scoring…

I rarely write about serious stuff like mass murders here on this blog.  It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that I regard it as pompous and pretentious for me to pontificate on the bleedin’ obvious disasters that befall this world unless I’m somehow involved.

The Aurora cinema shooting is just another tragedy in America’s long and difficult relationship with firearms and the Second Amendment of the US Constitution (for those who don’t have a copy : “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.“)  It’s a combination of multiple personal tragedies, cultural and governmental failures to legislate and one person’s evil or psychosis. I guess that we may get some idea of why this young man did what he did – whether it will make any sense is another matter.

I’ll come straight out – I love a lot of Americans.  Their governments may make me weep on occasion, and they have some religious leaders that make we wonder whether we read the same Bible, and they also produce the Khardssians.  But – on the whole, I like ’em.  I like to think of myself as a left-wing libertarian in political terms, so I sometimes find myself dealing with a lot of people from the left who disagree with my views of the American people, and a lot of people from the US who think I’m a particularly weird type of Libertarian.

What I have found is that hatred of the US is one of the last remaining acceptable bigotries.  So I wasn’t desperately surprised to see this little gem pop up in my Twitter stream – still not sure whether it’s serious or a ‘joke’:

“What American’s don’t understand is that they’re insane.”

Now….let’s pretend I tweeted…”What Greeks don’t understand is that they’re insane.”  I wouldn’t do such a thing – they’re exhibiting some of the sanest behaviour in the world right now – but listen carefully….hear that low rumbling, that sound of wailing and gnashing of teeth, the sharpening of disembowelling cutlasses?  Good.  Because that’s the sound of ten thousand people who’d support that sentiment about the Americans on Twitter getting ready to turn around to me and yell ‘racist’.

I can’t see the difference in comments, but one would be acceptable to a lot of people who consider themselves to be liberal, free-thinking, non-bigoted progressives and one wouldn’t.

To my friends on the left – this isn’t the time for cheap political point scoring based on the actions of one lunatic, no matter how often this particularly American tragedy is played out. The shadow of the man with the gun is long in US culture – it will not easily go away and I’m sure that we’ll see this sort of thing happen again.  But I’d like to think that we could all have the decency to get through these dark times without point scoring and cheap jokes.


And Facebook carries on downwards….

In my last post I questioned the value given to Facebook in their IPO.  It became clear at the close of first day trading that things hadn’t gone according to plan; the usual ‘Day One Spike’ associated with high profile technology IPOs just didn’t happen, and I have a feeling that the only reason that Facebook didn’t end the day lower than it did was because the underwriters of the IPO bought up stock to shore up the price.

Of course, that what the under-writers of IPOs are partially there for; they pick up the spare stock and keep the price up, but given that the slump has continued for two days trading now, I am beginning to wonder whether the initial price was artificially inflated for the egos / benefit of those involved.  If so, that is totally unacceptable beccause it means that the ‘civilian’ buyers of the stock – those not in on the game – paid over the value of the company from day one, and it is increasingly possible (and indeed likely) that everyone involved in the launch KNEW that.

There is an interesting article here, by Michael Wolff, that states what quite a few of us have wondered for a while.  Given that, beneath the hype, branding and bells and whistles, Facebook is an advert supported site, how on earth do they expect to make such money as a 100 billion dollar price tag suggests?  And Wolff should know; he wrote the book ‘Burn Rate’, which documented the crash and burn of the first dot-com boom a decade ago.

The problem is that it’s not just Facebook at risk here; a bad IPO in a sector colours the views of those preparing other stock market launches.  Out there are lots of technology start ups, all wondering about financing.  A solid Facebook IPO would have possibly led to a market place that was more willing to put money in to smaller companies that needed much less money and that might even have been producing goods and services of greater value than the ability to play Farmville or post statuses.  And by ‘solid’ I mean exactly that – a sound valuation – if the fall continues then it may well be that a valuation of 40 to 50 billion dollars was MUCH more realistic – that didn’t require urgent under-writer support, that showed healthy secondary trading over the days after launch and that also showed a steady growth as people realised that Facebook had some value that could be exploited – given availability of money.  After all, that’s what an IPO was ORIGINALLY supposed to do – give some money to the founders but mainly give the company money to develop.

As it is, Facebook was clearly over-valued – whether by intention or accident we don’t know – and analysts are finally asking the questions that should have been asked months ago.  Facebook’s last minute purchase of Instagram to try and grab mobile traction looks increasingly like panic.  The company may settle down to around $50 billion dollars – still, IMO, overvalued but the markets could probably live with it.

But back to those other comanies in the wings.  Based on previous technology trading cycles, a bad high profile IPO:

  • Makes the companies queuing up to do an IPO pause in their tracks.
  • Reduces the value of such IPOs and dents market confidence
  • Causes investors in any technology companies to remember that there might be a downside risk and so be more careful about investing – which isn’t always a bad thing, but sucks if you’re a ‘real value’ company.

Historically this tends to lead to a deflation of the tech market place – the last thing we need now.

As is said in the Pythian Scrolls in Battlestar Galactica : “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.”

The obligatory Facebook IPO post….or…Hey! Zuckerberg! You’re my bitch!

Well, despite the state of the world economy, Facebook finally managed it’s IPO today and ended the day at roughly the same level as it launched at, having had a high point of about $42 and a start point of $38.  Now, when I were a lad we did IPOs differently – take the VA Linux IPO in the 1990s – a first day increase of nearly 700% on the starting price…..

But the world is different today, and the markets are older – although given recent behaviours not any wiser.   The Facebook IPO was never going to be a show-stopper of the type we saw in the first dot-com boom, no matter how people hyped it up.  But, even Linked In, that had it’s IPO more recently, opened at $45 and closed at around $90 on the first day. So what happened to facebook, and why should we care?

To start with, the opening price was, in my opinion, incredibly high for a company that simply peddles user generated content, games access, in game currencies, personal data access and adverts.  And that’s why we should care, because ultimately the value of Facebook will depend upon how advertisers and data crunchers value that content and the 900 million users of Facebook, and whether those users will keep playing the Facebook game.

Why did Facebook go public?  Traditionally, companies go public when they need a market in which to sell shares in the company to investors in order to raise money, typically for expansion, moving new products to market, etc.  In recent years – especially in tech industries – the IPO has been seen as a means by which the people involved with the startup can flog their shares and get rich quick, and I’m afraid that’s what I see happening here.

The big question is – how is Facebook worth $100 billion dollars?  That’s more than Ford and more than Macdonalds.  Last year Facebook returned a profit of a billion dollars on revenue of 3.7 billion dollars, which isn’t bad going.  Ford had revenues of over $100 billion, and profits of over $6 billion in 2010, having reduced it’s debt by $12 billion in the same year.  Not bad either. But Ford only has a market capitalisation of $38 billion.  So, that market capitalisation of Ford of 38 billions is related to a profit of $6 billions.  Now, whilst you can’t compare Internet and non-Internet stocks, if I were to apply the same rules I’d start thinking that Facebook should, on those proportions, be floated at no more than $6 or $7 billion.

Let’s be fairer and take Google as our reference point.  It’s Internet stock, after all.  Current Market Capitalisation of $197 billion, revenue of $40 billion and income of $10 billion.  Applying some ratios again, Google seem to have a profit of about 25% of revenues, and a Market Cap. of around 5* revenue.  Now, Facebook has profits which are not that far off of the same ratio as Google – 1/3.7*100 = 27%, so if we apply the 5* rule we get 5*3.7 billion – let’s be generous and say $20 billions.

So, Joe’s rough and ready calculations say that Facebook should have sold at $20 billions.  Now, I’m not a stockbroker – in fact, I’m not brilliant with money at all, but this seems….logical.  The difference between Google and Facebook, of course,  is the magic words ‘Social Media’.  After all, Social is the future, according to the pundits, so it must be logical that the Facebook valuation reflects something of the massive profits that people expect to make from Social Media in future.  Yes?

Right…let’s look at Linked IN.  Recentish float, social media company, not so many users, blah, blah.  Market capitalisation of $10 billion dollars (no missing zero), Revenue about $670 million, profits about $17 million.  Oooer.  So Social isn’t necessarily the magic word.

So what could that magic ingredient be?  What do analysts think makes Facebook worth so much?  Do me a favour.  If, like me, you’re a Facebook user, walk to the bathroom, look in the mirror.  Say Hi.  You’re looking at 1/900 millionth of Facebook’s secret sauce. Those investors are putting a lot of money in to the hope that we will continue spending money that can, in some way, be associated with our use of Facebook.  Now, I’ve not spent a dime through any Facebook related advert, game or doohickey in the 4 or so years I’ve been on there.  I rate every advert that pops up in my Timeline (except for the ones from Charities and non-profits) as offensive.  How we use facebook from here on in will make or break a lot of fortunes.

If you want something to put a smile on your face today, remember that 1/900 millionth of Mark Zuckerberg’s arse is yours.  Collectively, Zuckerberg is our bitch.